Examination of Witness (Questions 85-99)|
5 FEBRUARY 2004
Q85 Chairman: May I welcome our witness
this morning, Professor Sir David King. It is very good of you
to come and talk to us. We are not a committee concerned with
science but with the administration of public affairs. We are
looking, as you know, at the honours system amongst our different
inquiries at the moment. You have probably worked out for yourself
the line of connection which brings you before us. We had an interesting
session a week or so ago with Professor Blakemore, who of course
figured in the leak of the honours committee's work, and that
is just part of the story that we would like to involve you in,
but then to go more widely because you are yourself directly involved
in the science and technology sub-committee that feeds in, as
I understand it, to the main honours committee, so we thought
we would have a chance in one area, science and technology, to
try to find out how this system works at the moment. And, of course,
if you have any ideas on how it might work better we would be
interested in those too. If I have described it accurately, lest
you feel you are here under false pretences, that is what I think
we are going to ask you about. Is there anything you would like
to say by way of introduction?
Professor Sir David King: First
of all, following your introduction, I ought to clarify that as
Head of the Office of Science and Technology I do chair a committee
within the Office of Science and Technology which looks at a potential
honours list but, in terms of the science and technology committee
to which you refer, as you know, Chairman, the membership of that
committee is not divulged.
Q86 Chairman: So if I ask you if you
are on it, you are not going to tell me.
Professor Sir David King: No.
Q87 Chairman: This is going to be interesting!
Professor Sir David King: I thought
I should clarify that right at the beginning.
Q88 Chairman: Absolutely. That is extremely
helpful! As long as I start my questions by saying "If you
were on such a committee . . ." we will be all right, will
Professor Sir David King: Yes.
Q89 Chairman: Excellent. Let's do it
that way. Let's get Blakemore out of the way if we may. Who wrote
this note about Blakemore?
Professor Sir David King: If I
cannot divulge that I was on the committee, I do not see how I
can answer who wrote that minute. But I imagine the minute was
written by the secretary to the committee and I also imagine that
the minute has not been back to the committee to verify its contents.
Q90 Chairman: I am only repeating, I
think, what you have just told me: A secretary of the relevant
subject committee would have the kind of latitude to write this
kind of thing about individuals?
Professor Sir David King: That
is a good question. I suspect the reasoning behind the secretary's
writing up the minutes would be that there is a higher committee,
I believe, that considers the various committees, including the
views of the science and technology committee, and that committee
could hardly proceed if they did not have some written views from
the lower committee. That must be the purpose.
Q91 Chairman: I am confused about this.
Professor Sir David King: I will
try to help you.
Q92 Chairman: We are talking conceptually,
I know, rather than accurately, but, if I may read the offending
leak quotation so that we can get our minds around it, "The
(science and technology expert) committee were unlike to recommend
[Blakemore] for his scientific work, particularly in view of his
controversial work on vivisection. He has now moved to the MRC,
however, and it was possible his reputation would be improved.
We should look at him again when he has had a little longer at
the MRC." Presumably, this was the main committee . . . Well,
I think we can say there is a main committee, because we have
been given papers, so you do not have to be too coy with us.
Professor Sir David King: No,
it is only a question of the membershipand I think for
good reasonthat the membership is not divulged.
Q93 Chairman: Yes. This was a leak from
the main honours committee, into which the different subject committees
feed, was it not?
Professor Sir David King: I believe
that the leaked minute is a minute from the S&T committee
that went to the main committee.
Q94 Chairman: I see.
Professor Sir David King: That
is what I believe.
Q95 Chairman: So, although it came out
of the main committee, it was reproducing what had been said in
the S&T committee.
Professor Sir David King: It was
reproducing what it is claimed was being said on the S&T committee.
If I could address immediately the question of Blakemore's vivisection
activity because I think this is central to what you are driving
at. I can only express my own view, but my view is well known
in terms of the animal rights extremist activities. I am absolutely
delighted that Brian Cass was given an award, an award which came
after he was attacked by the animal rights extremists. I think
the response of the Government in that case to a brave man who
continued working in the face of very difficult circumstances
was absolutely right. My colleague David Sainsbury and I have
worked very, very hard to maintain the existence of Huntingdon
Life Sciences in the UK as a viable entity. I have worked hard,
as Anne Campbell knows, to keep the neurosciences laboratory,
which was due to be built in Cambridge, as a live issue, and I
am really dreadfully sorry that the long delay, four years' delay,
has meant that unfortunately the project is not any longer as
viable as it once was. I do sit on a committee, that is chaired
by the Home Secretary, looking into what actions should be taken
to deal with animal rights extremists. So, coming to Colin Blakemore,
I admire Colin Blakemore unreservedly, not only for his outstanding
scientific work on the functioning of the brain but also for his
courage in standing up to this very small bunch of extremists.
I do believe we are talking about 20 or 30 individuals who are
acting against the democratic interests of the country, who are
acting against a nation which has decided to tighten up its laws
and its regulations on animal experiments to the extent that we
have the best regulated system in the world and are still battling
against this. I believe that Colin was courageous to stand up
and speak on that issue.
Q96 Chairman: Thank you for that. I do
not want us to go too wide because we do not need to take a view
Professor Sir David King: The
point of my saying that is that I would be very surprised if anyone
on that S&T committee expressed a view differently from what
I have said to you.
Q97 Chairman: That is what we are interested
in. That makes it even more perplexing, does it not, because if
we have had you the Chief Scientific Adviser heaping this paean
of praise on Colin Blakemore, and if we have had the science minister
Lord Sainsbury doing something likewise, why on earth do we get
this statement that they are "unlikely to recommend him for
his scientific work"so they are saying that his scientific
work is not good enoughand then they add "particularly
in view of his controversial work on vivisection". That word
"particularly" is a bit of a giveaway there, is it not?
It is not just the controversy about vivisection; it is that he
is not up to it anyway and particularly because of his work on
Professor Sir David King: That
phrase is a complete nonsense.
Q98 Chairman: Indeed. That is why we
are trying to get behind it.
Professor Sir David King: You
asked me the question: Where did the phrase come from? I believe
the secretary wrote it down. I cannot believe that the committee
expressed that view.
Q99 Chairman: He just made it up?
Professor Sir David King: He or