Systematics and Taxonomy Follow-up: Government Response - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Systematics and Taxonomy Follow-up: Government Response

The Committee's commentary on the Government response

1.  In August 2008, the Committee published its report Systematics and Taxonomy: Follow-up,[1] following two previous inquiries in 1992 and 2002.[2] The Government response to our follow-up report, which we received in early November 2008, is published in Appendix 1 to this report.

2.  There are elements of the Government response which we welcome—for example: the decision to provide a financial contribution in 2008-09 towards the costs of assimilating the CAB International fungal reference collection at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew (recommendation 7.21); the commissioning by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) of a study to ascertain the current number of taxonomists in the UK (recommendation 7.4); the agreement to develop a roadmap for delivery of Internet-based taxonomy, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and NERC (recommendation 7.12); and the commitment of NERC, with the Natural History Museum, to continue to facilitate dialogue between those with interests in taxonomic issues (recommendation 7.5).

3.  The Government response, however, also gave us cause for concern. As a result, in December 2008, we wrote to Mr Ian Pearson MP, Minister of State for Science and Innovation at the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS), and requested the following:

  •   Further reasons for the Government's refusal to accept the recommendation that DIUS should be the lead department for systematic biology.
  •   An explanation as to why the Scottish Government had not been consulted by DIUS when drawing up its original response.
  •   More information about the governance of science within DIUS generally.
  •   Further reaction to the Committee's criticism of NERC that it had given out mixed signals about the whether it was prepared to fund classical taxonomy.

4.  In February 2009, the Government responded to our request for further information. Our letter and the Government's reply are printed in Appendices 2 and 3 to this report.

5.  We have considered the Government's reply. We are pleased that NERC has recognised that its approach to funding systematics and taxonomy appeared to be unclear and that efforts have been made to remedy this (recommendation 7.19). We are disappointed that the Government continues to be unconvinced of the case for DIUS being designated the lead Government department for systematic biology (recommendation 7.26), and we remain confused as to why the Government did not consult the Scottish Government at the outset of its consideration of our report, instead of seeking the views of the Scottish Government only in response, it seems, to our letter to Mr Pearson in December 2008. We will continue to keep these matters and other matters arising from our report under review.

1   5th Report (2007-08) (HL Paper 162). Back

2   First Report (1991-92) Systematic Biology Research (HL Paper 22) and 3rd Report (2001-02) What on Earth? The Threat to the Science Underpinning Conservation (HL Paper 118). Back

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