Science and Technology Committee reformed after creation of new super-department

June 30, 2009 at 12:10 pm Leave a comment

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The government has announced that it will establish a Commons Science and Technology Committee. It will meet for the first time in October.

It will have the same membership and the same Chairman as the Innovation, Universities and Skills Select Committee (IUSS).

MPs on all sides of the House had called for the committee after the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (DIUS) was absorbed into the Department for Business.

The new ‘super-department’ was created in the recent reshuffle for Lord Mandelson, who also has the title First Secretary of State.

In July 2007  the Science and Technology Committee was replaced with the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee when DIUS was created.

The department lasted less than two years.

On Thursday Barbara Keeley, Deputy Leader of the House, told MPs that the reformation of the Science Committee “reflects the creation on 5 June of the new Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

“Shortly after the new Department was created, the Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills published a report recommending the re-establishment of a Select Committee on Science and Technology.

“I am pleased to say that the Government accept the Committee’s recommendation.

“The motion provides for the re-establishment of a Science and Technology Committee as part of the family of departmental Select Committees and it has a remit to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the Government Office for Science.”

The Shadow Leader of the House welcomed the committee but criticised the manner in which it was reborn.

“In the Prime Minister’s latest Cabinet reshuffle, science became a bit of a plaything of the noble Lord Mandelson, and was seen right from the start as being just one part of an over-inflated and largely unaccountable department,” Alan Duncan said.

“The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has 12 Ministers in all, half of whom—including the supposed science Minister—are not in this House.

“The latest report of the Select Committee on Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills made it clear that because the Committee’s remit was stretched so wide, it had struggled to give Government science policy the level of scrutiny that it deserved.

“The new DBIS Committee, being even larger, would have been totally unable to handle the scale of the issues at hand, as it will already have to deal with the Royal Mail and EU regulation, along with universities and measures to stimulate manufacturing.

“There are two reasons why it is particularly important at this time to scrutinise the Government’s spending and activity on science and technology.

“First, as the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee said, there is a widespread view that British technology and its research and innovation can help us climb out of this recession.

“The creation of a new Select Committee on Science and Technology is therefore an important step in holding the Government to account and ensuring that science policy is not merely a departmental addendum.”

MPs from all sides welcomed the formation of the Science Committee.

Lib Dem business manager David Heath was critical of the changes to government.

“The hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) has echoed things that I have said in the past about the way in which the Government changes departmental nomenclature and reorganises desks and offices apparently on a whim, without any thought for the consequences of those moves,” he said.

“It worries me that we so regularly see changes to the structure of Government Departments that appear to be based mainly on the desire for titles for those in the Cabinet, rather than on a genuine cost-benefit analysis of how they will make the Government run better.

“The reason for the changes that we are debating today is that that which was cast asunder has now been reunited, all in order to add to the splendour of the titles of the—what is called now?—the First Secretary of State.

“I think that that is now the principal title of the noble Lord Mandelson of Foy and Hartlepool, or wherever it was.

“I do not think that this is the right way of doing business.

“I hope that we will eventually reach a point at which, if a Prime Minister wishes to change the structure of government, he will argue the case properly by putting a paper before the House and allowing Select Committees to consider the consequences, before then proceeding on a basis of knowledge and understanding of the properly projected advantages and disadvantages, rather than on the rather haphazard basis that we have at the moment.”

Later in the debate Ms Keeley said the govenment had been mistaken.

“We are all grateful that there is such a wide consensus on the new Science and Technology Committee,” she said.

“I regret that a mistaken step was taken in the past when we got rid of something that was doing excellent work.

“I am sure, however, that there is widespread consensus on the views just expressed by the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Mr. Willis).”

In a statement the chairman of the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, Phil Willis, said:

“On 5 June 2009 the Government abolished DIUS and relegated science to non-league status in a monster department.

“This move has reignited our efforts to ensure that science and technology have a select committee of their own, to ensure that they receive the cross-departmental scrutiny that is required to ensure that policy decisions are based on good scientific and engineering advice.

“Today, the House of Commons agreed to the creation of a new Science and Technology Committee.

“I cannot stress enough how vital the role of this Committee will be in ensuring that the Government’s science policy is held to account and that adequate attention is given to such a crucial policy area.

“I welcome the decision of the Leader of the House to bring forward proposals to create this new Committee, and am delighted that the House of Commons agreed to these proposals earlier today.

“I must also thank all those who made powerful representations to the Leader of the House on our behalf. We look forward to taking science and technology back into the premier league this autumn.”

photo: parliament@flickr.com

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