The science Lords

March 17, 2000

Calls this week from the House of Lords select committee on science and technology for a culture change in science will be greeted better by government than other recent policy comments from committee chairman Lord (Robert) Winston (pictured).

In January, the fertility expert was forced to backtrack after criticising government health reforms. With the weighty expertise of the committee behind him, he should be harder to put down this time.

The committee was founded in 1980 with the broad terms of reference "to consider science and technology". It followed a reorganisation of the House of Commons committee system into committees that mirrored particular government departments. As no department of science and technology existed at that time, the House of Commons science and technology committee became defunct, and the Lords stepped in to fill the gap.

The Lords select committee operates mainly through two sub-committees that meet weekly while the Lords are sitting. These each involve about half the 18

committee members and two or three others, often with specific expertise. They receive written and oral evidence and agree a report, which is debated on the floor of the House and receives a written response from government.

The committees generally take several months to compile a report. Members are "rotated off" the committee and sub-committees after four sessions, but may be reappointed after a one-session gap. Membership remains relatively stable because peers do not have to fight for their seats. This also means they are better able to follow up reports.

Alongside the science and society sub-committee, which reported this week, is a sub-committee on complementary and alternative medicines due to make recommendations in the autumn.

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