Science & Technology in the new House of Commons

Andrew Miller MP is the newly elected Chair of the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee

I am delighted to have been elected as Chair of the Science and Technology Committee. I am sure readers will be interested to know that I was a member of Save British Science, and remain a member of CaSE.

I started my working life in the department of Geology in what is now Portsmouth University where I developed the XRD and XRF facilities. Much has changed since then – not least the way in which modern computing has radically improved the output of the lab. But the one constant (apart from Bragg’s law which was pretty fundamental to this work!) is the pressure on the science budget which I will touch on later.

The election of the chairs is a new departure for the House and as time goes on we will discover whether the new committees are able to exercise more authority as a result of the electoral process. The full committee is:

Gavin Barwell (Con)

Gregg McClymont (Lab)

Stephen Metcalfe (Con)

David Morris (Con)

Stephen Mosley (Con)

Pamela Nash (Lab)

Jonathan Reynolds (Lab)

Alok Sharma (Con)

Graham Stringer (Lab)

Roger Williams (Lib Dem)

We are at the stage of planning our programme of work for the future, but will be having early evidence sessions with the science minister, David Willetts as well as the Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor Sir John Beddington

Having a parliamentary science committee is extremely valuable and important. It sits at the convergence of strong forces: science, government, politics and ethics. Elected members come to science and technology issues from different angles, bringing values and judgements that differ from academics and industrialists.

I see two major issues on the horizon that may shape the new Committee’s future programme.

First as I touched on earlier, there is the challenge of maintaining the excellent UK science base in the current economic climate. The relationship between science and economic growth is complex, but I detect an awareness that investment in science provides the seed corn for future economic growth.

That is not to say that both the public and private sector funding of science may face severe constrains in the next few years. I cannot speak for the Committee, which will formally start to meet in mid July, but I would expect that it will take a close interest in spending on science and ensure that UK science is not severely damaged.

Second, one area I am interested in is how we as a society see and use science. On the one hand, as a society we should be excited about science and get full value from the contribution it can make to our social and economic wellbeing. But many of our best ideas are put into production overseas and we do not get the full economic benefit.

As a society we should feel confident in the use of science but many do not understand science and actually feel threatened by it. Indeed, it could be characterised as an anti-science culture.  It is vitally important and that we have a society that understands and values science and scientists.  Science and society is a subject I would like to the new Committee to examine.

There are numerous, vital challenges facing the new Government. It is my job to ensure that the new Science and Technology Committee continues to make an important contribution to the scrutiny of science and science policy in the new parliament. CaSE was one of the first groups to lobby me on behalf of the science community and that is exactly what I want to continue and I hope to see co-operation between us develop in the interest of our common goals.

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