The House of Commons stationery department was working overtime yesterday, after MPs forced the government to accept there was a need for a select committee with explicit responsibility for overseeing science.
The former Science and Technology Committee was borged into the freshly minted Innovation, Universities and Skills Committee in November.
The move was set in train by Gordon Brown’s carve-up of the DTI last year, which scattered the staff of the former Office for Science and Innovation into the newly-created Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills. This left the Science and Technology Committee with no one to watch over. At the time, the MPs on the committee went on the attack arguing that Parliament still needed someone with a brief, and the expertise, to examine the government’s policies on science. And technology.
However, despite losing their fight to keep the Sci/Tech Committee together, the MPs have at least forced the government to accept a name change, so Science will be shoehorned back into the title of the DIUS committee. This gives it the rather unwieldy title of the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, but should make clear that it will be examining science issues right across the government.
Committee chairman Phil Willis MP said he thought the government recognised that it had made a mistake in dissolving the old committee.
He conceded the new committee would not have the single-minded scientific focus of the old committee. At the same time, he said, the committee had been given a 50 per cent increase in resources, compared to the Sci/Tech committee, to help it cover its wider brief.
He said that the new committee had 14 members, where the old committee had 11. Of the 14, eight are veterans of the Sci/Tech committee, and Willis said that as chairman, he would have to “guard against” the committee being overly focused on science issues - at the expense, presumably, of the crucial issues and problems faced by media studies lecturers in the former Polytechnics.
The name change will need a motion in the house, but this should happen within two weeks. ®