Liaison Committee: Third Report — Motion to Agree
Lord Jenkin of Roding (Conservative)
My Lords, I endorse everything that the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, has said. I used to be a member of the committee and I have been co-opted to a number of recent inquiries, including the one to which he referred about the UK's capacity for undertaking nuclear research. I want to draw the attention of the House to one particular point made by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs: that is the wide influence that the Science and Technology Committee has, and the respect within which it is held, not only in this country but across the world.
Some years ago, the noble Lord, Lord Winston, came to see me to ask whether I would be willing to chair an inquiry into a subject on which I had been rather jumping about as a member of the Select Committee, which I called in those days science and the public. He offered me that opportunity and of course I accepted. It became known as the science and society inquiry. Neither the noble Lord, Lord Winston, nor I had any idea at that stage how far that report would penetrate to reach not just thousands but millions of people across the world.
I will not go into the detail but we made the recommendation that the public understanding of science was a rather inadequate way to approach the relationship and that there should be wide engagement by scientists with the public, with ears as well as voices being important. I recently had an indication of how far the impact of that report had gone. The British Council organised a two-day seminar in this country, in London, to reflect the 10-year anniversary of the Science and Societyreport. Representatives of no fewer than 55 countries across the world attended. I was astonished. That report had become, if not the Bible, certainly the guidance for a large number of countries across the world on how relations between science and the public, science and society, should be developed.
To pick up one point made by the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, the committee has always included people like me who are not scientists. I deferred always to my scientist colleagues on any issue of scientific understanding; that was their specialty. However, a number of people have said to me: "You know, that Science and Society report could not have been written by a scientist". Of course, I had had a certain amount of experience in government and elsewhere of dealing with scientists and of trying to ensure that they were explaining themselves properly to the public. Of all the reports which the Science and Technology Committee has produced, that has turned out to be one of the most influential. It was produced by Sub-Committee B, as it was called, not the main committee.
With great respect, the description by my noble friend the Leader of the House-I have the letter, too-of a small reduction in resources simply does not begin to reflect what would be the impact of the Liaison Committee's proposals. If a committee is to undertake a serious inquiry, a minimum number of people have to be allocated to support that committee. As the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, said, it appears to be the intention that the committee should be reduced to one inquiry at any one time. That is a huge reduction in the work of one of the most highly regarded committees in this House and is simply not acceptable. I ask the committee to think again.
The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, will no doubt decide how he will handle the amendment in the light of what the Chairman of Committees says. I would find it very difficult not to support him. The committee is in danger of doing serious damage to one of the most valued and valuable parts of this House of Lords. I very much hope that it will reconsider the issue.