Annex 2: Note of seminar on the future
work of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee
held on 21 October 2009|
House of Commons Science and Technology Committee
Phil Willis MP, Chairman
Dr Tim Boswell MP
Ian Cawsey MP
Dr Evan Harris MP
Dr Brian Iddon MP
Graham Stringer MP
Glenn McKee, Clerk
Richard Ward, Second Clerk
Xameerah Malik, Committee Specialist
Dr Chris Tyler, Committee Specialist
Professor Sir John Bell President, Academy of
Professor Jocelyn Bell Burnell President, Institute
Lord Broers House of Lords Science and Technology
Dame Janet Finch Co-Chair, Council for Science
Professor David Fisk Imperial College
Professor David Garner President, The Royal Society
Lord Krebs House of Lords Science and Technology
Chandrika Nath Parliamentary Office of Science
John Neilson Director, Research Base, Department
for Business, Innovation and Skills
Rachel Newton Committee Specialist, House of
Lords Science and Technology Committee
Lord Rees President, The Royal Society
Christine Salmon Percival Clerk, House of Lords
Science and Technology Committee
Stuart Sarson Deputy Director, Strategy, Skills
and Secretariat, Government Office for Science
Stephen Tetlow CEO, Institution of Mechanical
Professor Jean Venables President, Institution
of Civil Engineers
Sir Mark Walport Director, The Wellcome Trust
Stian Westlake Head of Policy and Research,
Dr Astrid Wissenburg Chair, RCUK Knowledge Transfer
and Economic Impact Group
The work of the Committee
The Chairman asked those attending to identify areas
of work which the Committee should consider in the session before
the 2010 General Election (GE) and what issues they considered
would be important to science in the next few years. The following
points were made and discussed.
66. Participants suggested that the Committee
should examine matters which were of long-term significance to
science and which did not give rise to party political contention.
67. While acknowledging that significant progress
had been made in building the science base in the past 10 years,
participants were concerned that it was fragile. The UK needed
a long-term vision for its science base and a strategy to ensure
international competitiveness. Participants considered that identifying
what success would look like was vital for formulating and achieving
a long-term strategy.
68. Government departments and agencies were
not designed to work together and the "silo mentality"
was the norm on funding and using science. Little more than lip-service
was played to the concept of joined-up Government. Some conceded
that science was not without its own silos which in a world increasingly
reliant on multi-disciplinary research needed to be reduced.
69. The NHS needed to be used by Government to
assist industryfor example, in terms of procurement. Currently,
the NHS did not take account of the effect on UK science in procurement.
A cultural change in values within government was required.
70. Science and engineering also suffered when
the Government halted and restarted expenditure on major public
projects. Undergraduates who started higher education with a good
prospect in one area often found that by the time they graduated
the Government had halted expenditure and they had no prospect
of employment using their qualifications.
71. Government should be better at taking science
and engineering advice when formulating policies and making decisions.
Participants identified Government decisions on major projects
which appeared to be based on little, or flew in the face of,
scientific evidencefor example, the decision to place large
wind farms in the North Sea without consideration of engineering
advice on how feasible the project would be.
72. One topic for a inquiry could be the effect
on policy within a department of the appointment of a Scientific
Adviser. The Department for International Development was suggested
as a possible subject for examination.
73. The UK needed to reduce the timescale for
major infrastructure projects from decision to completion. Participants
cited as unnecessarily long the time taken to agree and build
new nuclear power stations.
74. Participants suggested that the Committee
could examine why science needed long-term state funding. Such
an inquiry could examine the need for greater coherence in funding
and examine the breadth of benefits for the UK.
75. Some participants were critical of the Treasury's
lack of vision for science pointing out that it had no vision
for science and that it was failing to see the big picture.
76. The physical sciences were more vulnerable
than the life sciences to funding cuts as there was less support
and diversity of funding sources. It was noted that there were
many charities funding life science research, such as the Wellcome
Trust. The point was made that the physical sciences underpinned
medical research but this was not often recognised.
77. There was concern that the UK had provided
the capital resources to build world class facilities such as
the Diamond Light Source but that it was now struggling to obtain
revenue costs to operate at a satisfactory level.
International comparison and EU issues
78. The Obama Administration in the USA was concerned
about the US's competitiveness in science and the likelihood that
other countries might overtake it. The recent US stimulus for
science funding had, in part, been a response to this challenge
and was a threat to UK competitiveness as the UK could be left
behind. The US was also directing significant amounts of state
resources into scientific research and trials as well as using
procurement by all arms of the state to support its scientific
base. The UK had been too complacent in assuming it was second
to the USA in research. Other countries, notably in the Far East,
were overtaking the UK in science competitiveness. The Committee
could highlight the UK's strengths using international comparisons.
It was suggested that such comparisons could be based on "hard"
data and not narrative.
79. The UK needed to realign and integrate its
research with the EU and exert greater influence. It was important
for the UK to engage more with Europe, by, for example. lobbying
in Brussels and getting UK experts onto relevant committees. It
might also be necessary to realign the UK's Research Councils
to fit the EU model. Participants drew a distinction between the
European Research Council (ERC) and the European Framework. The
ERC had been careful to stand aside from the Framework, which
several participants characterised as bureaucratic, ineffective
and unworkable. The Committee could examine how the UK influenced
EU science policy and funding and how science and engineering
could benefit from European funding.
80. Participants pointed out that in comparison
to other countries the UK's research council system was the second
most burdensome after Canada's.
81. The Committee could examine the link between
the science base and competitiveness and the growth of the economy
in areas such as health. It was suggested that many of the points
made in the New Augustine Report on U.S. Competitiveness
applied to the UK
82. Several participants suggested said that
the commercial exploitation of science and technology transfer
in the UK needed to improve significantly. The UK had to become
better at growing companies (not just creating them) so that the
UK derived the full benefit of scientific developments. Plastic
electronics was an example of an industry where the UK has failed
to capitalise on its research. The UK also needed to re-grow industries
that it had allowed to decline such as the nuclear industry.
83. Participants suggested that the Committee
highlight the positive effects on the UK's productivity and growth
of increased R&D investment. The UK needed to maintain a broad
R&D base. These effects were often not well publicised and
would help to make the case for continuing investment in science.
84. The point was made that it was possible to
measure the effect of expenditure on R&D. The point was made,
however, that the economic effects could take in, some instances,
17 years to appear.
85. It was suggested that scientists and policy
makers should move away from terms such as "blue skies"
and "applied" science. Participants considered the terms
set up a false dichotomy which implied that the former was futile
and lacking in practical application. In the view of participants
nearly all so-called blue skies research had application. Similarly,
"picking winners" was considered negative as it implied
resources were being wasted on "losers".
86. The UK needed to be a more attractive location
for firms to invest and locate in. For example, the pharmaceutical
industry was disappearing from the UK. By the GE there might be
only one international pharmaceutical company based in the UK.
Participants identified a broad range of factors that were needed
to facilitate companies staying or relocating to the UK: they
ranged from better infrastructure such as transport links to the
87. Participants identified that the regulatory
burden in the UK was a deterrent to chemical and pharmaceutical
industries and an impediment to the UK's manufacturing capability.
The requirements of the REACH,
for example, regulations and the difficulty of carrying out clinical
trials in the UK.
88. The UK had a weakness in management skills
within industry. Participants considered that the improvement
of these skills could contribute to a better ability to commercialise
89. Science education was vital in ensuring the
strength of the UK's science base. The Committee could examine
science and engineering careers, including gender issues. The
question was asked whether the UK offered internationally competitive
careers. Research careers were made unattractive because of lack
of tenure security and grant applications that only provided short-term
funding. Participants raised access to higher education and it
was suggested that there should be more equality of access to
90. It was suggested that politicians had placed
more emphasis on "lower" level skills, with less emphasis
the importance of higher level skills to the UK. There was an
acute shortage of teachers with science degrees in the subjects
that they were teaching.
91. The UK needed to be better at attracting
and retaining scientists from abroad. Participants considered
that visa restrictions deterred the immigration of talent to the
92. While foreign investment was beneficial,
the UK needed more companies based in the UK. The UK had gone
from being a nation of shopkeepers to a nation of shop assistants.
Science and engineering in Parliament
93. It was noted that there were few scientists
in Parliament and fewer engineers. Despite the work of the Committee,
the profile of engineering remained low. The Committee should
have "engineering" in its title.
Other issues for the Committee to consider
94. Before the GE, the Committee should shift
its approach to the examination of the improvement of policy processes.
It was noted that the Evidence Check programme fitted with the
95. Some participants considered that the former
Science and Technology Committee had concentrated on inputs and
that the new Committee should focus outputs and on asking about
outcomesfor example, why were some research programmes
so small that administration costs outweighed funding; and why
did it take so long to secure research funding?
96. The Committee could follow-up on its work
on The Use of Science in UK International Development Policy.
97. In drawing the session to a close the Chairman
identified as a theme running through the discussion: how the
UK could maintain its science base in the face of international
competition. More specifically, possible areas for examination
- How to demonstrate the value
of the UK's science base to industry and society and why sustained
long-term investment was worthwhile;
- The need for a long-term science and engineering
strategy for the UK and how success of a strategy would be measured;
- How to obtain full advantage from the UK's large
- An examination of policy levers and processes
(e.g. government procurement) to sustain and improve the science
base of the UK;
- The need to improve careers in science, retain
skills and attract talent; and how the UK can offer internationally
competitive careers; and
- International comparisons of UK science and engineering
with other countries and how the UK can maintain a competitive
98. An inquiry including some of these items
might draw on comparative data on international science capabilities.
NESTA has produced some work in this area.
78 http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12021#toc Back
Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation of Chemicals Back
Science and Technology Committee, Thirteenth Report of Session
2003-04, The Use of Science in UK International Development
Policy, HC 133-I Back