Examination of Witnesses (Questions 113
WEDNESDAY 25 APRIL 2001
113. Good afternoon. Welcome. Thank you very
much for joining us this afternoon to discuss the concerns you
have expressed. For the shorthand writers, could you identify
the other two witnesses, Professor Floud?
(Professor Floud) I am Roderick Floud,
I am Provost of London Guildhall University and President Elect
of Universities UK. My colleagues are Mr Nick Bohm, who is adviser
to Universities UK on these matters, and Dr Andrew Tilbrook from
Imperial College Business Gateway, particularly concerned with
the work of Imperial College with the Ministry of Defence.
114. Thank you very much indeed. We have read
your original expression of really deep concern when the White
Paper came out at first, and we have just received your two-page
submission to the Committee, in which in paragraph 4 you say that
the draft Bill "goes some way towards meeting the concerns
we expressed in 1998 about interference with legitimate academic
activities." Can we identify where those concerns still linger
or are real?
(Professor Floud) I think our major concern is that
the protection for academic activities and academic freedom is
still not intended to be on the face of the Bill. We believe very
strongly that in the interests of the international aspects of
scholarship and in the interests of the international activity
of British universities, it is extremely important that legitimate
academic activity should be protected and seen to be protected
on the face of the Bill rather than simply by statutory instruments
or decisions of Ministers. That is our primary concern. We have
obviously some suggestions about how that should be done and in
particular we have set out in paragraph 8 of our memorandum three
possible ways which would go some way towards securing what we
would like. They are briefly that all information in the public
domain should be excluded from controls; that all information
exchanged in the ordinary course of academic teaching or research
should be excluded, except of course when the provider knows or
is informed by the Government the matters might be helpful to
the production of weapons of mass destruction, and, thirdly, all
transfers of information within the UK should not be subject to
the controls proposed. What we are really concerned about is that
there should not be unintended consequences of good intentions.
Of course we support the attempts to control the dissemination
of weapons of mass destruction, nobody could be against that,
and I believe the academic community have often taken the lead
in such matters, but we do not believe that the current proposals
sufficiently safeguard the activity which is integral to our work.
115. When you say you want to put it on the
face of the Bill, there is so little on the face of the Bill on
all issues. It is very muchthe word "shell" is
not a fair word perhapsa Bill which spawns a great deal
of secondary legislation. What if you found your concerns addressed
in the secondary legislation as opposed to putting it on the face
in primary legislation?
(Mr Bohm) The Bill does attempt to set out some broad
principles, as the Scott Report recommended that it should, by
spelling out what interests Control Orders ought legitimately
to be able to protect, and it does that in the Schedule but at
a level of principle.
116. In the Purposes?
(Mr Bohm) Yes. Our argument could be summed up by
saying that the protection of academic freedom was a principle
which deserves an equal level of protection and which ought similarly
to be controlled at the level of primary legislation. It should
not be left to the detailed processes of secondary legislation
with their much more limited opportunities for amendment, challenge,
debate and so forth.
117. When I read your earlier submissions, and
I have briefly read this one, I was trying to think of a practical
illustration of a problem which could arise. Can you illustrate
the nature of your concern by an experience that you think is
now happily proceeding but which could get caught by the Bill?
(Professor Floud) We feel that as currently drafted
the Bill could affect major areas of academic activity in virtually
every field of science, technology and medicine, and not only
at post-graduate or PhD level. Part of the concern which underlies
this issue is that the United Kingdom could be potentially training
people, particularly perhaps at the research level, who would
then use that knowledge in the creation of weapons of mass destruction.
Obviously we would not want to do that and the Government has
means to protect the UK from that situation. The Bill as drafted
would essentially affect, for example, the whole of the teaching
of medicinebacteriology, virology, toxicology, biochemistry,
118. In what way?
(Professor Floud) They are all relevant to chemical
or biological weapons programmes, so in theory if a teacher in
this country were to lecture on those aspects of medicine that
would be potentially giving information which might at some future
point be used in biological weapons programmes. There are similar
activities in a whole range of scientific subjects. Computer science
is one example, aerodynamics is another example. Dr Tilbrook might
like to give some more specific examples.
(Dr Tilbrook) To give a very specific example, signal
processing is a technology which is used in many areas ranging
from mineral exploration, non-destructive testing, medical imaging,
but the same techniques can equally well be applied to control
weapons of mass destruction. One important thing for academia
is to ensure there is good and constructive exchange of information
between disciplines and we are certainly concerned that inappropriate
legislation may restrict our ability to communicate things of
that nature, even though the intention is to communicate them
for the benefit of mankind rather than otherwise.
119. But no one can believe that DTI officials
or Ministers, when they produced this draft Bill, would for one
moment think or believe this Bill would sweep up all the activities
you are describing. So when you discussed it with them, what was
their response? Do they feel you are unnecessarily worrying? What
was their response?
(Professor Floud) We are very pleased, as you implied
in your first question, Chairman, at the response there has been
to the concerns that we expressed in 1998. We do accept that the
DTI and other officials are anxious not to put in unnecessary
inhibitions. We still feel however that the principles that Mr
Bohm enunciated are very important ones and that at the moment
the Bill could be read as inhibiting a lot of activity which we
believe is to everybody's benefit.
(Mr Bohm) Could I offer a specific example of a project
that was carried out but that might very well be inhibited if
the controls were extended under these powers? Some years ago
the United States National Institute of Standards set going a
competition for a replacement to the data encryption standard;
a competition to develop an advanced encryption standard. One
of the competitors submitted to that competition, called Serpent,
was a collaborative project between computer scientists in the
University of Cambridge and counterparts in Norway and Israel.
Their work involved a large volume of exchange by electronic mail
which included pieces of cryptographic code, including cryptanalytic
work which was necessary to demonstrate the effectiveness of their
proposed contender. Cryptanalytic software and technology is currently
controlled and under this Bill controls would extend to intangible
transfers. It would not, I think, have been practicable for those
academics to seek consent from the DTI for each successive e-mail
in the course of the several hundred which were required for that
project, at least not consistently with the timetable. Their contender
was, as it happens, not successful but I do not think that detracts
from the quality of the example.