Backbench Business — House of Commons Administration and Savings Programme

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 2:02 pm on 8th November 2012.

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Photo of Andrew Miller Andrew Miller Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons), Chair, Science and Technology Committee (Commons) 2:02 pm, 8th November 2012

I am happy to support the amendment tabled by Adam Afriyie, but I also congratulate John Thurso on a thoughtful report and the work of his Committee. He could shave a few pence off the House of Commons print budget by shortening the name of his constituency, but that is not the only inconsistency that I want to bring to his attention. He spoke with some expertise on the issue of generating income. He has now heard the contribution from the hon. Member for Windsor on the role of POST, and I hope to point out the inconsistency of the position that has been adopted in the report in respect of that budget head.

I am the chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, which is the oldest all-party group. It was formed in 1939 and its first report was on the role of brown bread in the war effort. I therefore declare an interest. Some of my predecessors had a cross-party discussion with Baroness Thatcher when she was Prime Minister, and from that the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology was formed. It was originally an external body funded through a charitable organisation, with the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee appointing the trustees. Lord Morris, who was one of the trustees, sadly died recently, and his contribution to that body was exemplary, along with that of others on a cross-party basis.

That charitable body, which has received significant funds over the years from the Wellcome Trust, the Gatsby Charitable Foundation and others, put all the original money into the pot that created POST and still supports some of its activities. Incidentally, I have a responsibility in that regard, because the PSC will appoint the successor to Alf Morris. The project that we conducted through POST in Africa was entirely funded through that process. The point has been made that this House has influence well beyond the shores of the United Kingdom, and when I was in Uganda with the Select Committee, I was delighted to meet a fellow who had been on one of the POST fellowships through that scheme.

The scheme has leverage, but to lose senior posts will do a disservice to that, and that is the point that I want the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross to consider. There are 32 letters in that constituency name—it is even longer than Ellesmere Port and Neston. Every senior post in POST levers in a number of research fellows, and that is a contribution to the House in kind from the wider research community that should not be underestimated.

We have some wonderful people on the Library staff, starting with our chief librarian, John Pullinger. He has just had the honour of becoming president-elect of the Royal Statistical Society, following in the footsteps of the late Harold Wilson. The team John leads have an extremely difficult job, and having the extra leverage from the work done by POST makes a significant difference.

The PSC recently asked Lord Oxburgh to conduct a review of what is happening with science in Parliament. It has just been published and we are working on it. Lord Oxburgh identified the importance of the role of POST in helping to inform Parliament about scientific matters, and I am happy to make that report available to the hon. Gentleman and his Committee.

The hon. Member for Windsor referred to the external views that have been expressed. A letter was sent yesterday to Mr Speaker in his role as Chairman of the House of Commons Commission which is signed by some extraordinarily eminent people, including the director of the Science Museum Group; the managing director of Sense about Science; Lord Krebs, who is my opposite number in the Lords; and Harry Kroto, a Nobel laureate. They all signed a letter pleading with Parliament to think again about how it carries out this work. I urge the Speaker to place a copy of that letter in the Library because it informs this debate in an important way.