Don’t shrink science in the House of Lords, Cameron told

Four learned societies have written to the prime minister to protest against plans to reduce the resources of the Lords Science and Technology Committee.

March 24, 2012

The committee, chaired by Lord Krebs, principal of Jesus College, Oxford, could see its ability to mount inquiries reduced by half under the proposals by the Lords Liaison Committee for it to be “retrenched”.

The money freed up would be used to mount ad hoc committees in other areas.

But the Royal Society, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Academy of Medical Sciences have written a joint letter to David Cameron arguing against any cuts to the Science and Technology Committee.

The letter describes the committee as an “essential forum” for the scrutiny of government policy, and says it also plays a vital role in identifying areas of potential concern to MPs and officials and in driving evidence-based policymaking.

Recent inquiries by the committee have looked into nuclear research and development capabilities, public procurement as a tool for driving innovation, the role of chief scientific advisers, and the state of science, technology, engineering and maths provision in higher education.

“These inquiries consider areas where the UK is undertaking world-leading research, tackle issues of national capacity, monitor the health of the UK’s education, research and innovation base, and identify ways in which evidence-based policymaking might be put on a firmer footing in the UK,” the letter says.

“Any reduction in the output of this committee would be a significant loss to Parliament’s capacity to understand and respond to advances in science and research for the benefit of the country,” the document continues.

“A recognition of the importance of science and research requires not only funding and institutional support, but also acknowledgement of the role that research can play in formulating future policies.”

Lord Winston, professor of science and society at Imperial College London and another member of the committee, said: “It seems ludicrous to abolish a really vital aspect of the work of Parliament before the government has even reformed the House of Lords.

“This is mismanagement of parliamentary resources at a time when so many believe that science is vital to the nation’s health, welfare and economy.”

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

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