Science and Technology Select Committee Chair Joins Policy Lunchbox

The chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Andrew Miller MP, joined the Policy Lunchbox network yesterday to discuss the Committee’s current and near-term priorities. Andrew Miller, MP for Ellesmere Port and Neston since 1992, took up the chairmanship of the Committee following the May 2010 election. He has a long history of involvement with science in parliament, having served on the Science and Technology Committee from 1992 – 1997 and as a member of the Board of POST from 1993-1997. He is currently also chair of the Parliamentary and Scientitifc Committee.

Andrew highlighted recent and current inquiries led by the Committee, into the Government’s use of scientific evidence during emergencies – such as the 2009 Swine Flu pandemic and 2010 volcanic eruption in Iceland – and into Technology Innovation Centres. Moving forward, priorities for the Committee included the science budget allocations; Departmental research and development; capital funding; the immigration cap; the impact of the abolition of quangos, and higher education funding. The Committee was also considering an inquiry on how Freedom of Information works in science, in light of the University of East Anglia’s climate change e-mail controversy in 2009.

A lively question and answer session ensued, with some interesting points raised around the Government’s ‘Big Society’ agenda and what this may mean for the use of science advice. If decision-making is devolved increasingly to the local level, efforts must be made to ensure that decision-makers in local authorities have access to the scientific evidence and capability that they require. Andrew Miller highlighted the importance of public engagement in this context – for decisions to be made locally, it’s vital to ensure that these are well-informed, and that those making them and engaging with them are scientifically literate. One interesting point was raised around the ‘kite marking’ of sources of information. How can the public be sure that they are accessing truthful and verified information, if the public is going to be increasingly called upon to seek this out in order to make decisions in their communities? Andrew Miller was supportive of this concept and called upon Learned Societies to take a leading role in public engagement and particularly in the production of accurate resources which the public could access for scientific information.

Policy Lunchbox will resume in the New Year. Full details of speakers currently confirmed for 2011 can be found on the Policy Lunchbox webpage. Further details will appear as speakers are added to the programme.