UK scientists are worried that the parliamentary watchdog which scrutinises government science policy will lose its powers
UK scientists are worried that the parliamentary watchdog which scrutinises government science policy will lose its powers.
The House of Commons select committee on science and technology has published critical reports on subjects ranging from carbon capture and storage, space and marine science, to UK policies on illegal drugs, identification cards, and research funding.
’Over three parliaments this committee has proved itself an outstanding vehicle for the examination of science across government as a whole,’ summarised Richard Pike, the RSC’s chief executive.
But it has now been subsumed by the general parliamentary committee which examines the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS), newly responsible for UK science after prime minister Gordon Brown’s departmental shake-up (see Chemistry World, August 2007, p8).
The new DIUS committee will oversee government policy on areas such as research funding and university education. It will not inquire into science across other departments - the kind of scrutiny for which the now abandoned select committee was so admired.
It’s extremely likely that the DIUS committee (effective from 6 November) will set up a lesser sub-committee on science and technology.
In theory, this new sub-committee could conduct the same kind of inquiries as the select committee it replaces. But its downgraded status means that it will lose authority in the eyes of the departments it is supposed to be examining, a worried Brian Iddon MP, current member of the select committee, told Chemistry World. Its reports will go to the DIUS committee, not directly to government. And it may lose financial resources and personnel. ’We suspect it’s inevitable we won’t operate in the same concentrated way,’ said Iddon.
Whether the lesser sub-committee can overcome its degrading relegation in the parliamentary hierarchy depends very much on the attitude of its controlling DIUS committee, whose members and chair will be announced in October. ’This should be a sub-committee with a difference - that’s what we’re fighting for,’ Iddon said.
Richard Van Noorden