Science tends to get on fairly well without legislation and lawmaking, so we weren’t anticipating a lot of science or engineering news from the Queen’s Speech this morning. But there are three issues which we’d like to flag up for your attention; the cap on economic migrants, schools reform, and possible reform to the House of Lords.
These potential reforms are in their early stages, but we’d be keen to hear what you think CaSE’s response should be. You can either leave a comment on the blog, or email me at imran[at-nospam]sciencecampaign.org.uk
The Queen said that her Government will “limit the number of non-European Union economic migrants entering the United Kingdom”. This is part of the coalition’s aim of reducing migration to “tens of thousands, not hundreds of thousands”.
CaSE’s position is very clear – see our Policy Response on International Excellence for an in-depth view. The ability of the UK to attract the brightest scientists and engineers from around the world is a huge strength.
Such individuals share their excellence and skills with the academia and industry here, help us respond to short-term fluctuations and long-term skill shortages, contribute to the economy, and act as role-models for under-represented groups here in the UK.
The former Chair of the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology, Phil Willis, said that “attracting, educating, collaborating and retaining international scientists and engineers is not an option but an imperative”. We’re therefore concerned that the cap on migrants would damage the science and engineering excellence of the UK.
The Government has said it will look to consult before implementing mechanisms for the limits, as well as the the level of the limit itself, and CaSE will be keen to feed into that process.
Downing Street has confirmed that there will be two new Bills on education – the Academies Bill, and the Education and Children’s Bill.
Both of these Bills promise greater freedom for schools with respect to the National Curriculum.
One of the reforms we were disappointed not to see in the Programme for Government was the introduction of universal ‘triple science‘ (Physics, Chemistry and Biology offered as separate subjects) as GCSE level, given that both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats stated it as an aim before the election.
We’re therefore hoping that the Government will use one or both of these Bills as a vehicle to bring in that entitlement, and that greater freedom from the National Curriculum won’t jeopardise science teaching in schools. CaSE will seek to engage with the legislative process in due course.
House of Lords Reform
The Queen said that her Government will “propose Parliamentary and political reform to restore trust in democratic institutions”. It’s been speculated that these reforms might include changes to the House of Lords.
Currently, the Lords are all appointed, hereditary, or religious, and it’s been suggested that they should instead be wholly or partially elected.
Many people see one of the strengths of the current House of Lords being its wealth of scientific expertise. Lords May, Rees and Krebs are just a few examples of individuals with rich STEM backgrounds who sit in the Lords.
Peers such as these play a key role in scrutinising legislation from a scientific or engineering perspective, and it’s not clear that they would be in a position to do so if they had to run for election to the Lords.
No specific reforms have yet been announced, but CaSE will be looking at them when they are, and making the argument for retention of scientific and engineering expertise in any reformed upper chamber.