Scientists and engineers urge government to establish select committee


12 June 2009

The Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) has today orchestrated a movement to persuade the government to set up a wide-ranging cross-cutting Commons select committee covering science, engineering and technology.

They invited other learned bodies to call for the committee to be created and, as a result, a letter signed by a group of science chief executives has been sent to the Leader of the House of Commons, Harriet Harman.

Richard Pike, chief executive of the RSC, said: "It is vital that we have a body in the Commons that can scrutinise and examine the major issues affecting science in the UK.  Over the years we have repeatedly seen the benefits of such probing, and it is unthinkable that there be a vacuum as a consequence of the newly-established Department of Business Innovation and Skills.

"The Prime Minister's recent changes in the machinery of government combined with his Statement to the House on Wednesday about constitutional renewal - which included a commitment to a "review to ensure that Select Committees can work in a new way" - now provides the Leader of the House with a perfect opportunity to take the lead and create a new Select Committee on Science, Engineering and Technology. 

He added: "It is vital that the House of Commons has a vigorous Select Committee, and the scientific and engineering community outside Parliament will strongly welcome it and strongly support it."

The letter sent to Harriet Harman reads: "The creation of the new Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), which now encompasses science and engineering, paradoxically, threatens the ability of the House of Commons to discuss these highly important policy areas.

"The new Department is so large that no single BIS Select Committee could reasonably be expected effectively to hold it to account across all its very wide ranging responsibilities. 

"Within a single BIS Select Committee, science & engineering would effectively disappear from view despite its intrinsic importance and its crucial role in enabling the UK to emerge from the current recession.

"Moreover, the fact that the current Science Minister is a member of the Upper House makes a Select Committee covering science and engineering in the House of Commons even more necessary. For 10 years (1997-2007) the House had a highly effective Science & Technology Select Committee chaired respectively by a Conservative, a Labour and a Liberal Democrat Member.

"The House now has an opportunity to recreate an even more effective select committee for the remainder of this Parliament.

"We note that this is a view broadly shared by the existing Innovation Universities, Science & Skills Select Committee in its Special Report published today.

"Now more than ever it is essential for the House of Commons to be able to devote serious time and attention to science & engineering issues wherever they arise across the whole range of Government.  A Select Committee on Science, Engineering and Technology (whatever its precise title) would be widely supported within the science & engineering community outside Parliament.

"For our part we would do everything we can to work with the House to make it a success."

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