Great news from the House of Commons today – it’s been confirmed that the Science & Technology (S&T) Select Committee will be re-formed for the new Parliament.
Before the election, the Select Committee did a fantastic job of scrutinising Government and public policy across a range of issues relating to science, engineering, and technology. CaSE wrote to the new Leader of the House, Sir George Young, asking for it to be reformed – so we’re very pleased that it’s back.
We don’t yet know what the membership of the committee will be, but MPs today voted to confirm that the new Chair will be selected from the Labour party, which means that it won’t be headed by an MP from one of the governing parties (although select committee chairs have a reputation for being fiercely independent regardless of political background anyway).
The outgoing chair of the committee was Phil Willis, former Lib Dem MP for Harrogate & Knaresborough. Phil is a really good example of a politician who didn’t have a strict background in science or engineering, but became an outstanding advocate for science, engineering, and evidence-based policy issues in Parliament.
Another former member of the committee, Dr Brian Iddon, wrote for this blog on how backbench MPs can help science, including by joining the S&T committee. Making new MPs aware of that is a major strand of CaSE’s work in the post-election period. We would encourage you to speak to your own MPs to do the same – let us know if you want help with that.
Mark Henderson at The Times blogged this morning on the potential contenders for the Chair, who will be elected by MPs. He notes that the only surviving member of the previous S&T committee, Graham Stringer MP, could be seen as the front-runner for the post.
One slight disappointment for CaSE is that it doesn’t appear that the committee has been turned into one of the ‘cross-departmental’ committees, which have responsibility for scrutinising their policy areas across all Government departments (like the Environmental Audit Committee, or the Joint Committee on Human Rights, do). We’re still trying to get confirmation on this.
Instead, the S&T committee’s remit is likely to be more specific, looking mainly at the work of the Government Office for Science.
That said, it’s becoming an established convention that all select committees will have the independence to conduct inquiries into whatever their members see fit, so we hope that it won’t hold them back. Indeed, the former Deputy Leader of the House, Barbara Keeley MP, said that despite the committee’s narrow remit,
“the Government hope that [the S&T committee] will take a wide-ranging approach to its remit, examining the full scope of science policy and related matters across the Government. That approach certainly worked well [previously].”
Whatever happens, CaSE will be looking to engage closely with the new committee and its members.