FOURTH SPECIAL REPORT
The Science and Technology Committee has agreed
to the following Special Report:
THE WORK OF THE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
IN THE 1997-2001 PARLIAMENT
Our activities in 2001
1. The Liaison Committee 2000 Report "Shifting
the Balance: Select Committees and the Executive" directed
departmental select committees to provide annual reports, reporting
on progress on past recommendations, difficulties encountered
in Committee work and examples of good practice.
In response, we published a Special Report in December 2000, outlining
our activities since the beginning of the Parliament.
Now that the date of Dissolution of Parliament has been announced,
we think that it is timely to update that Special Report, outlining
our activities over the past 5 months and also reflecting on the
Parliament as a whole.
2. During 2001 - and since our last activity Report
- we have published seven Reports and two Special Reports. We
have published the Report of a short inquiry on research and development
at Corus plc.
We have completed our long-standing inquiry into the Scientific
Advisory System, publishing a Report on our final case study (Scientific
Advice on Climate Change) and a Report on our overarching inquiry.
We have concluded our inquiry into the impact of the 1993 Science
White Paper, Realising Our Potential, which we extended
to take into account views on the 2000 Science and Innovation
White Paper, Excellence and Opportunity, and the Science
Budget for 2001-02 to 2003-04.
We have conducted and completed two new inquiries in 2001: on
Genetics and Insurance; and on Wave and Tidal Energy.
3. During 2001, we have held seven oral evidence
sessions. As well as the five oral evidence sessions we held in
our inquiries on Genetics and Insurance and on Wave and Tidal
Energy, we have held two single evidence sessions: on 7 March,
with the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, on the Science
and Innovation White Paper and the Science Budget; and, on 2 May,
with Professor David King, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government,
on the work of the Chief Scientific Adviser, including his role
in the current foot and mouth outbreak.
4. During 2001, we have made two informal visits
within the UK: to the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency's
Chemical and Biological Defence establishment at Porton Down in
Wiltshire on 1 February; and to the Genome Campus at Hinxton Hall,
near Cambridge, on 6 February. We have had informal meetings in
London with representatives of the BioIndustry Association and
the Chemical Industries Association. And - to offer a modest example
of innovative practice, which we commend to other committees -
in advance of a formal evidence session, we invited three wave
and tidal energy companies to give us informal presentations of
the technologies they were developing.
5. In our First Special Report, we reported our concern
about the variable quality of Government replies.
We were not satisfied by the Department of Trade and Industry's
initial response to our First Report of this Session, on Corus
plc - Research and Development, and asked the Department to resubmit.
We have published their second, more comprehensive, response,
together with a response from Corus plc, in our Third Special
Report of this Session.
6. More positively, in March 2001, we were delighted
to receive from the Department of the Environment, Transport and
the Regions a progress report, one year after publication of our
Report on diabetes and driving licences.
It is the first time that a Department has proactively provided
for us an update on progress made in relation to our recommendations.
We have commended the DETR's example to other Departments, and
hope that they will follow suit.
7. In our First Special Report, we reported that
each year we, together with the Lords Select Committee on Science
and Technology, had contributed Members to the UK delegation to
the EUREKA Inter-Parliamentary Conference.
EUREKA is a network for Europe-wide industrial R&D collaboration.
We regret that we are unable to send representatives to this year's
conference, as it is to take place during the Dissolution of Parliament.
Joint working with the House of Lords Committee
on Science and Technology
8. As we reported in our First Special Report, one
of the unique features of the Science and Technology Committee
is that we have a parallel Committee in the House of Lords.
Our relations with our counterparts in the Lords have been cordial
and we have now held a number of informal joint activities. (We
were pleased that Lords colleagues were able to join us in our
visit to Porton Down in February, for example.) But, until recently,
we had no power to meet formally. In December 2000, we published
a Special Report asking for the power to meet jointly with the
We are delighted that the Leader of the House responded positively,
by tabling a motion to extend our powers. On 29 March 2001, the
House ordered "That the Select Committee on Science and Technology
shall have leave to meet concurrently with any Committee of the
Lords on science and technology or any sub-committee thereof,
for the purpose of deliberating or taking evidence, and to communicate
to any such committee its evidence or any other documents relating
to matters of common interest". We hope that our successor
Committee will find occasion to exercise this power in the next
Committee Specialist and Specialist Advisers
9. During the Parliament, we have been greatly assisted
by having a Committee Specialist, with scientific expertise, attached
to our small team of staff. We have also benefited greatly from
the expertise of the specialist advisers who have advised us during
the Parliament: Professor Janet Askham, Mr Roger Baker, Professor
Michael Brady, Professor Ian Bryden, Professor Derek Burke, Professor
John Chesshire, Professor Brian Clarkson, Professor Michel Coleman,
Dr Helena Earl, Professor Michael Elves, Sir David Harrison, Dr
John Hassard, Mr John Ivinson, Professor Peter Liss, Professor
Alan Malcolm, Dr John Pyle, Dr Geoffrey Robinson, and Ms Julie
Sheppard. We are grateful to all our advisers for the assistance
which they have given us.
Reflections on the Parliament
10. The Science and Technology Committee was first
established, as a departmentally-related select committee under
Standing Order No. 152, in 1992, to scrutinise the newly established
Office of Science and Technology.
In 1995, the OST was moved from the Cabinet Office to the Department
of Trade and Industry, and there was some suggestion that the
Committee's brief might be subsumed within the Trade and Industry
Committee (as had happened to the Energy Committee in 1992). We
are grateful for the decision of the House, and for the agreement
of the Government, that a separate Science and Technology Committee
should continue to exist.
We believe that it is very important that there should be a Committee
of the House of Commons dedicated to science and technology -
and to engineering. This has been particularly important during
the period of this Parliament, given the rapid and wide-ranging
developments which have occurred in many fields of science, engineering
and technology (most notably, the explosive growth in genetics),
and, at the same time, the growing public distrust of science
and scientists and the Government's use of scientific advice.
In our view, it is essential that the House maintain oversight
of these developments.
11. In this Parliament, in total, we have, published
24 Reports and 12 Special Reports. A list of all our Reports in
this Parliament, and of the Government Replies, is printed as
an Annex to this Special Report. As this list shows, our Committee
has had a productive Parliament, and our inquiries have covered
a wide range of areas. How effective our work has been in influencing
developments is a judgement best left to others, but we believe
that in a number of areas we have had a marked effect on government
- Our 1998 Report on the Dearing Report helped
to place science and technology at the forefront of policy development
on higher education.
It was followed by a significant increase in funding for science
and technology in the universities, and by the announcement of
the Joint Infrastructure Fund.
- In our inquiry into the Scientific Advisory System
and Genetically Modified Foods in 1998-99 we opened to public
scrutiny the scientific debate about the safety of GM organisms,
a debate which still continues as politicians, regulators and
scientists struggle to accommodate the new expectations and concerns
of the public.
We identified the need for openness and transparency in the working
of the Government's scientific advisory bodies in this and other
areas, and for these bodies to include lay members. We are pleased
to note that our concerns in these matters are now being met in
- Our Reports on the Biotechnology Industry in
1998 and 1999 contributed to the better regulation of this important
- Our 1999 Report on the National Endowment for
Science, Technology and the Arts helped to ensure that NESTA's
freedom to operate was not constrained by short-term financial
- Our substantial and long-running inquiry into
Engineering and Physical Sciences Based Innovation in 1998-1999
drew attention to the UK's poor ability to exploit new knowledge
in these fields.
We highlighted concern that the higher education institutions
were not producing sufficient well-trained scientists and engineers
to provide the future R&D workforce in companies and researchers
in the universities. We welcome a number of government initiatives
designed to encourage the successful exploitation of innovative
UK science and engineering.
- Our 1999 Report on Mobile Phones and Health highlighted
uncertainties about the health effects of mobile phones and their
associated base stations and the inadequacy of the Government's
research programme in this area.
During the course of our inquiry, the Government established an
Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones, whose findings ("the
Stewart Report") very largely incorporated our own recommendations.
- Our case study Report on Scientific Advice on
Diabetes and Driving Licences, in 2000, led to a significant change
in government policy, and to an end to the automatic bar on diabetics
driving small lorries.
- Our 2000 Report on Government Expenditure on
Research and Development drew attention to concerns about the
declining levels of investment in science and technology within
government departments and recommended that this be halted and
We also emphasised the importance of government investment in
the Science Base if the UK is to remain a good place for companies
to conduct their R&D operations.
- Our 1998 and 2000 Reports on the Glaxo Wellcome
and SmithKline Beecham merger, and our 2001 Report on Corus, underlined
the importance of private sector R&D in the UK and the threats
which face it, and the consequences for the long-term economic
vitality of the UK.
- Our 2000 inquiry into Cancer Research was instrumental
in the formation of the National Cancer Plan, and a spur to the
creation of the new National Cancer Research Institute.
It contributed to the weight of evidence which persuaded the National
Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) to approve the cancer
drugs Taxol and Taxotere - which have proven efficacy in the treatment
of breast and ovarian cancer - within the NHS.
- Our recent Report on Genetics and Insurance has
been widely welcomed. Our findings have been swiftly endorsed
by the Human Genetics Commission and noted positively by the Secretary
of State for Health in a speech on 19 April 2001.
12. On a few occasions, the very announcement of
an inquiry appears to have inspired change.
- The announcement of our inquiry into Year 2000
computer compliance spurred Government into action on that matter,
- During our Genetics and Insurance inquiry, several
insurance companies changed their policy on the use of genetic
test results during the course of the inquiry.
- Our evidence sessions on the siting of the Synchrotron
in 1999-2000 clarified the issues, thus assisting in the Government's
- Our recent inquiry into Wave and Tidal Energy
appears to have engendered immediately a more positive attitude
to these technologies in the Department of Trade and Industry.
13. It is, of course, often impossible to say whether
we have brought about changes of policy or influenced them, or
whether we have simply anticipated such changes. Whichever, it
matters little; what is important is that policy has been changed
for the better. We hope that our successor Committee will continue
to monitor progress in respect of the recommendations we have
made, as we have followed up the work of our predecessor (for
example, on human genetics, and on research on climate change).
To be effective, scrutiny must be maintained.
14. In our work this Parliament, we have set out
to be forward-looking. We have not just scrutinised existing or
past policy, but have sought to initiate change. We have tried
to be policy formers, rather than policy critics. We welcome the
increasing importance that Government attaches to science, but
it is still not at the forefront of all departments' thinking.
The Government has, for the most part, responded positively to
our Reports, but consideration of science and technology issues
is not yet systemic in Government. We believe that we have had
some success in raising the profile of science, engineering and
technology, in Parliament and in Government, but there is much
for our successor Committee still to do.
1 First Report of the Liaison
Committee, Session 1999-2000, Shifting the Balance: Select
Committees and the Executive, HC 300, paragraphs 51-55. Back
2 First Special Report, Session
2000-01, The Work of the Science and Technology Committee 1997-2000,
HC 44. Back
3 Second Report, Session 2000-01,
Corus plc - Research and Development, HC 110. Back
4 Third Report, Session 2000-01,
Scientific Advisory System: Scientific Advice on Climate Change,
HC 14; Fourth Report, Session 2000-01, The Scientific Advisory
System, HC 257. Back
5 Sixth Report, Session 2000-01,
Are We Realising Our Potential?, HC 200-I. Back
6 Fifth Report, Session 2000-01,
Genetics and Insurance, HC 174; Seventh Report, Session
2000-01, Wave and Tidal Energy, HC 291. Back
7 Minutes of Evidence, 7 March
2001, The Science and Innovation White Paper and the Science
Budget, HC 274-i; and 2 May 2001, The Work of the Chief
Scientific Adviser, HC 420-i. Back
8 HC 44, paragraph 9. Back
9 Third Special Report, Session
2000-01, Responses from the Government and from Corus plc to
the Committee's Second Report on Corus plc - Research and Development,
HC 421. Back
10 See Fourth
Report, Session 2000-01, HC 257, Appendix 2. Back
11 HC 44, paragraph
12 HC 44, paragraph
13 HC 44, paragraph
14 Second Special
Report, Session 1999-2000, Joint Working with Lords Science
and Technology Committee, HC 980. Back
15 There was
a Select Committee on Science and Technology from 1966 to 1979. Back
16 See Official
Report, 7 November 1995, col 752. Back
17 First Report,
Session 1997-98, The Implications of the Dearing Report for
the Structure and Funding of University Research, HC 303-I. Back
18 First Report,
Session 1998-99, Scientific Advisory System: Genetically Modified
Foods, HC 286-I. Back
19 See HC 257,
Session 2000-01, eg paragraph 60. Back
20 Fifth Report,
Session 1997-98, British Biotech, HC 888-I; Fourth Report,
Session 1998-89, The Regulation of the Biotechnology Industry,
HC 535. Back
21 Second Report,
Session 1998-99, The National Endowment for Science, Technology
and the Arts, HC 472. Back
22 Second Report,
Session 1999-2000, Engineering and Physical Sciences Based
Innovation, HC 195-I. Back
23 Third Report,
Session 1998-99, Scientific Advisory System: Mobile Phones
and Health, HC 489. Back
24 See Mobile
Phones and Health, Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones,
April 2000. Back
25 Third Report,
Session 1999-2000, Scientific Advisory System: Diabetes and
Driving Licences, HC 206-I. Back
26 Fifth Report,
Session 1999-2000, Government Expenditure on Research and Development:
The Forward Look, HC 196-I. Back
27 Third Report,
Session 1997-98, Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham: The
Merger Proposals, HC 627. Fourth Report, Session 1999-2000,
Glaxo Wellcome and SmithKline Beecham, HC 207-I. Second
Report, Session 2000-01, Corus plc-Research and Development,
HC 110. Back
28 Sixth Report,
Session 1999-2000, Cancer Research - A Fresh Look, HC 332-I. Back
29 Fifth Report,
Session 2000-01, Genetics and Insurance, HC 174. See also
HGC press release 1 May 2001, The use of genetic information
in insurance: interim recommendations of the Human Genetics Commission:
Speech by the Secretary of State for Health, at the Institute
of Human Genetics, International Centre for Life, Newcastle upon
Tyne, 19 April 2001. Back
30 See Second
Report, Session 1997-1998, The Year 2000 - Computer Compliance,
HC 342-I. Back
31 HC 174, paragraphs
26 and 75. Back
32 Minutes of
Evidence, The Proposed New Synchtrotron Facility, 15 December
1999, 19 January 2000, and 24 May 2000, HC 82-i to iii; and Volume
of Memoranda, HC 82. See also HC 274-i, Session 2000-01, Q 1. Back
33 HC 291, paragraph