This brief guide to Science in Parliament has been prepared by the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. It provides an overview of activities related to Science, Engineering, Technology and Mathematics (STEM) undertaken in the Palace of Westminster.
HOUSE OF COMMONS LIBRARY: SCIENCE AND ENVIRONMENT SECTION (SES)
Contact: Sarah Hartwell-Naguib, Head of Section
Scientists and other staff in the Science and Environment Section provide confidential, bespoke briefing to Members and their offices on a daily basis and briefings for Commons Second Reading and later stages of legislation available to all.
They also provide support to Commons Select Committees, and produce longer notes and research papers which can be accessed on line at
HOUSE OF COMMONS SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE
Contact: Stephen McGinness, Clerk of the Committee
The Science and Technology Committee is charged with the scrutiny of the expenditure, administration and policy of the Government Office for Science, a semi-autonomous organisation based within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills. The Committee examines the full scope of science policy and related matters across government.
The modus operandi most often employed by Select Committees is an inquiry. Select Committees decide upon a topic, take evidence, both written and oral, and report their findings to the House. As a general principle, reports must rest on evidence, and the evidence is published.
It is for the Committee members to decide upon the inquiries they will undertake, and the evidence they require. Inquiries can be very varied, both in topic and length. Some reports may rest on written evidence alone, others on extensive oral hearings, as well as written evidence. Oral evidence is normally taken in public, is ‘webcast’ and may later be televised. On occasion, the Committee may publish the evidence without any report as a means of placing matters on record. The Committee may also make visits in connection with its inquiries.
The Committee’s reports are followed by a response from the Government, normally published as a Special Report from the Committee, other times as a Government document published “by Command of Her Majesty”. If dissatisfied with the response, or to establish what progress has been made, the Committee may issue a follow-up report or conduct a short follow-up inquiry. On occasion, committee reports are debated either on the floor of the House or in the “parallel Chamber” of Westminster Hall.
The Committee is served by a small secretariat and can appoint specialist advisers to assist it in dealing with matters of an especially complex or technical nature.
Information about the Select Committee, including all published reports and evidence, can be found on the internet, via www.parliament.uk/science
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS
Ever since the middle of the last century, Prime Ministers have sent a steady stream of top scientists, engineers and medics to the House of Lords. The Appointments Commission continues this tradition.
Select Committee on Science and Technology
Contact: Chris Clarke, Clerk of the Committee
In 1979, following the abolition of the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (since re-instated), the House of Lords appointed a committee “to consider science and technology”. This is a very broad remit, covering the many places where science meets public policy.
Most recently, the Committee has consisted of 14 members, with representation from all parties as well as the crossbench peers (independents). Membership has generally been balanced between scientists and peers with an interest in science but with no specific scientific expertise.
The Committee operates as follows:
The Select Committee chooses a topic for inquiry.
The Committee conducts the inquiry, although extra members can be co-opted from the wider membership of the House to bring in additional expertise.
The Committee proceeds in the usual manner of Parliamentary committees, issuing a Call for Evidence, holding oral evidence sessions and producing a report which is formally published.
The inquiry Chairman introduces a debate in the House following the Government response to the report.
The range of the Committee’s interests can be seen from a list of its recent reports, which can be found at www.parliament.uk/hlscience.
The Select Committee reports formally to the House of Lords but its influence reaches beyond Parliament, with a long history of publications informing Government policy and raising awareness amongst the general public. Government responses are the first formal, explicit expression of the impact of the Committee’s work upon Government thinking. While such responses are important, in reality the impact of the Committee’s reports may be felt less directly and over much longer periods.
The Committee also contributes to the formation of policy through follow-up inquiries on many topics, often involving many of the original members who took part in the initial inquiry, providing long-term scrutiny of Government policies.
Co-operation with the Commons Science and Technology Committee staff, and with POST, is close.
Select Committee on the European Union
The largest body of committee work in the House of Lords is done by the European Union Committee and its seven sub-committees. Its remit is to scrutinise the law and policies of the EU. These regularly raise issues of science and technology, particularly within the remits of Sub-Committee B (energy, industry, transport, research and space) and Sub-Committee D (environment and agriculture).
A weekly notice of all House of Lords committee business is available at:
THE PARLIAMENTARY OFFICE OF SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY
Contact: Dr Chandrika Nath, Acting Head
The Parliamentary origins of POST
The initiative to create the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology came from within Parliament itself. Members of both Houses realised during the late 1970s and early 1980s the extent to which science and technology issues permeated Parliamentary business. The need for an organisation which would provide Parliament with impartial information and analysis of science and technology issues became clear.
A funding appeal by the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee enabled POST to be established as a charitable foundation in 1989. Following three years’ demonstration of the services that could be provided, the case for its parliamentary establishment was reviewed by the House of Commons Information Committee during the 1991/2 session. Temporary funding from Parliament continued until in July 2000 the House of Commons Information Committee concluded that POST had demonstrated its value and should be made a permanent institution. The House of Lords concluded similarly. On April 1 2001, POST became a permanent institution serving both Houses.
POST provides parliamentarians with information and analysis to enhance their understanding of current scientific and technological issues. It responds to such needs, whether they reflect a general requirement, or the specific interests of committees. POST places a strong emphasis on anticipating forthcoming policy issues, whose effective handling will require understanding of their scientific and technological aspects.
POST draws on the knowledge, expertise and talents of its parliamentary and external Board members and its staff but also connects with the science and engineering community worldwide. POST acts as an independent and objective source of information and analysis.
POST’s Board is appointed by official parliamentary procedures and has 14 members from both Houses (many of whom have been active scientists or engineers), from all the major parties. There are also four distinguished non-parliamentary members who provide professional input from the main science, engineering and medical disciplines. The Board determines POST’s policy and priorities, and ensures that it has an effective working relationship with members of both Houses, parliamentary committees, the parliamentary libraries and organisations outside Parliament. POST’s Director and staff execute the policies determined by the Board and help it to decide on topics for future analysis.
POST produces two main types of publications. The most numerous and distinctive are 2-4 page briefings, called POSTnotes that summarise succinctly the background to, and policy issues affecting, a particular subject. Longer reports, up to 100 pages, are also produced. All POST publications are extensively peer reviewed in draft, to ensure their accuracy and completeness.
POST and Parliamentary Committees
POST works very closely with committees in both Houses. POST has assisted virtually all the Commons committees as well as the Lords European sub-committees and Economic Affairs committee and ad-hoc committees, including joint committees of both Houses. POST’s assistance can be through oral briefings and various kinds of background research, including extensive follow-up of a committee’s report. Work in collaboration with a committee may lead to a publication.
POST in the Wider World
POST is an active member of the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment network (EPTA) that brings together the offices that serve the European parliament and national and regional parliaments in numerous European countries.
Further details on POST and all publications can be found at http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/offices/bicameral/post/
THE PARLIAMENTARY AND SCIENTIFIC COMMITTEE
An Associate Parliamentary Group
Contact: Executive Secretary: Dr Isabel Spence
Administrative Secretary: Karen Smith
The Parliamentary and Scientific Committee is the longest-serving All Party Group in Parliament. It was established in 1939 to bring together scientists, engineers and Parliamentarians to consider key scientific issues relevant to policy, society and the economy at a critical point in the UK’s history. It provides a primary focus for scientific, technological, engineering and mathematically based (STEM) issues that helps to generate a long-term liaison between Parliamentarians and scientific, technological and engineering organisations, industry and universities. The aim is to provide Members of both Houses of Parliament with authoritative information on STEM-based topics.
The Committee runs a lively programme of monthly meetings on STEM-based topics and their relationship with political issues. Held in the Palace of Westminster, these allow Parliamentarians to listen to some of the UK’s most eminent scientists and engineers. Meetings are usually followed by informal receptions and working dinners where the atmosphere facilitates open and wide-ranging discussion.
The Committee also holds an Annual Luncheon at which an eminent speaker will address Parliamentarians and leaders of the scientific and engineering establishment.
The Committee’s membership currently includes 123 Parliamentary members and representatives of 210 bodies including scientific and technical institutions, science-based companies, universities.
Science in Parliament
Science in Parliament, the journal of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, presents a comprehensive record of science, technology, engineering and mathematics within both Houses of Parliament. It is published four times a year.
STEM for Britain
STEM for Britain is an annual poster competition and exhibition in the House of Commons for early-stage researchers in all scientific disciplines. Full details are available at www.setforbritain.org.uk
There are more than 100 All-Party Groups with an interest in scientific matters. These include:
PARLIAMENTARY GROUP FOR ENERGY STUDIES (PGES)
Established in 1980, the Group maintains an excellent reputation within the energy sector. It is the only bridge at Westminster between MPs, Peers and MEPs of all parties and the outside world and as such enjoys a wealth of contacts. Current membership stands at 197 Parliamentarians, 130 associate bodies and a handful of individual members.
The Group meets on average once a month in the Palace of Westminster to enjoy a topical programme of speakers. Members receive April, July and December editions of Energy Focus, a journal produced by the Group, and also a copy of the annual report which catalogues meetings, membership and constitutional changes.
In addition, domestic and international visits are scheduled during the Parliamentary recess. The House of Lords annual dinner occurs in the Spring and in the Summer a reception is held in the House of Commons Terrace Marquee.
For further details please visit: http://www.pges.org.uk
The Parliamentary Internet, Communications and Technology Forum (PICTFOR) is the leading all party group in the technology sector in the Houses of Parliament.
The membership comprises parliamentarians from both Houses, consumer groups, academic institutions and technology companies.
The group’s aims are:
- to brief parliamentarians and corporate interests on the socioeconomic impact of legislation and other developments around the digital economy;
- to work with industry and other interests to address current and potential problems in the digital economy;
- to provide a meeting place for parliament, government, business and other interests to exchange information and opinions;
- to engage with all interested groups and individuals through social media;
- to reflect the global nature of the digital economy by working in close partnership with other legislatures across the world and within the UK.
A range of events are held in Parliament throughout the year.
For further information please visit: http://www.pictfor.org.uk
THE PARLIAMENTARY SPACE COMMITTEE
The Parliamentary Space Committee is a cross-party group of MPs and Peers in the UK Parliament. They have come together to raise awareness of the huge benefits we all enjoy from Britain’s leading role in space. There is a thriving debate in Parliament on our role in space, with regular select committee hearings, debates in both Houses, and much activity outside the chambers. The Committee exists to inform and to promote this debate.
For additional information please visit http://www.parliamentaryspacecommittee.com
Details of other All-Party Groups can be found at
On behalf of the scientific community the Royal Society of Biology runs several events promoting Science in Parliament, including:
Voice of the Future – an opportunity for young scientists to question Parliamentarians during Science Week in March.
Parliamentary Links Day – an annual seminar on a topical issue (Diversity in 2013) including contributions from all scientific disciplines.
Parliamentary Affairs Committee – a committee of representatives of the scientific community who meet three times a year to consider the effect of current legislation on science and what they can do to improve the understanding of scientific issues within Parliament.
For further information contact Dr Stephen Benn: email@example.com
THE ROYAL SOCIETY
The Royal Society runs an annual Pairing Scheme for scientists, Parliamentarians and civil servants. Participating scientists are paired with either an MP or a civil servant and the Royal Society supports them by arranging a Week in Westminster and reciprocal visits.
The scheme helps MPs and civil servants establish longstanding links with practising research scientists and to help research scientists understand political decision making and its associated pressures.
For details please visit http://royalsociety.org/training/pairing-scheme/
SCIENCE IN THE DEVOLVED BODIES
Science and Technology have become steadily embedded in the life of the devolved bodies over the past decade, beginning in Scotland, followed by Wales and Northern Ireland. The influence of scientific societies has been crucial in encouraging this process.
Cross Party Groups on Science and Technology have been successfully established – thanks to the initiative of the science community – in the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly and the Northern Ireland Assembly. They comprise Members of the devolved bodies (MSPs, AMs, and MLAs) from all the major political parties and include representatives from the leading scientific societies. They meet about three times a year.
Major events are held with each devolved body on an annual basis.