The future of science scrutiny in Government

On 5th June the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) merged to form the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. As certain select committees are directly linked to government departments it is expected that the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills (IUSS) Committee and the Business and Enterprise Committee will cease to exist and a Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) Committee be created.

The IUSS committee has outlined its concerns in relation to the potential loss of science scrutiny due to this probable merger of committees in special report “The future of science scrutiny following the merger of DIUS and BERR.”

When the IUSS Committee was established in 2007 it succeeded the Science and Technology Committee and was originally named the Innovation, Universities and Skills (IUS) Committee. This change in committee was thoroughly opposed by both members of the Science and Technology Committee and the scientific community who felt it may downgrade or reduce the scrutiny of cross-cutting science issues within Parliament. To allay fears the IUS committee was established with 14 rather than the normal 11 members and the word science was added to the committee name in 2008.

The current IUSS committee feel however, that their fears were founded and deem that cross-departmental science scrutiny has lost out. They believe that the probable merger with the BIS committee will make this scrutiny harder again due to the increased departmental remit. The committee additionally report Lord Mandelson’s recent comment that “The future competitiveness of this country depends on the excellence of its science” yet the committee note that there is only a part-time Minister for Science and Innovation within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which may result in basic science being neglected.

In the report the IUSS committee conclude “We call on the Leader of the House to propose the creation of a Science and Technology Committee alongside the new Business, Innovation and Skills Committee. We urge the Leader of the House to bring forward the necessary Standing Order changes and let the House decide the matter.”