The Government has published its response to the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee report Advances genetic techniques for crop improvement: regulation, risk and precaution.
In its report, published in March 2015, the Select Committee recommended that the Government should set out how the Council’s work on emerging biotechnologies has informed its research policy. In particular, the Committee asked the Government how it had responded, or intended to respond, to the Council’s call for structural reorganisation.
In its response, the Government acknowledged the importance of ethics as emerging technologies develop. The Government highlighted the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s Bioscience for Society Strategy Panel which considered the Council’s report on emerging biotechnologies in January 2013, taking account of the need for “a diversity of values to influence research policy, beyond advice from science and industry… so that social and not just economic benefits are realised”.
Regarding the Council’s call for the structural reorganisation, the Government argued there were strong benefits to the Government Office for Science (GO-Science) being located in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, and that this would not preclude GO-Science from taking a leadership role on cross-government issues or from taking a cross-disciplinary approach spanning the natural and physical sciences, engineering, technology and the social sciences.
Referring to the Council’s call in its report on The Culture of Scientific Research in the UK for greater transparency on past and present funding decisions, the Select Committee also recommended the Government provide greater detail on the areas of research in which public funds have been invested, including additional information on past funding decisions in areas where there are common misconceptions, such as plant science.
In its response, the Government stated that while there were no current plans to provide further details on research funded by research councils (currently accessible through the Gateway to Research website), the Government and Research Council’s UK will consider whether any additional information needs to be included in research council annual reports.
Commenting on the Government’s response, Hugh Whittall, Director of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, said: “Whilst we are pleased that the Government has recognised the importance of ethics, and of the importance of societal issues being reflected in science policy, we were disappointed with their response on the particular questions of the location of Go-Science within Government and the publication of more detailed information about public investment in various areas of science.”