Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420-439)

9 JUNE 2004


  Q420 Dr Turner: Yes, that is almost generic as far as PPPs are concerned, is it not?

  Mr Cameron: Yes.

  Q421 Dr Turner: Perhaps partnerships with NGOs might be more appropriate in developing countries.

  Mr Cameron: I think that is so and I think it needs to be partnerships with the professional bodies in those countries who have a great interest in developing in-country capacity. [1]

  Q422 Dr Turner: Before we leave the subject of the strategy, could I ask the rest of the panel what they think.

  Dr Cotton: The one area that comes out is climate change. I think there is definite scope in there. I also agree with Peter's remarks that a concern in the other areas is that some of the infrastructure issues which are actually underpinning the developments may get lost. That is not saying that it should be frontline technology or engineering research but that it should be part of the considerations. That would be my concern, that it comes into the equation.

  Q423 Dr Turner: Clearly climate change has to be a significant one, because if developing countries are industrialised on the basis of fossil fuels there is no hope for any of us. What is your view of the effectiveness of programmes such as REED and DFID's involvement in those?

  Mr Cameron: I am sorry?

  Q424 Dr Turner: Renewable Energy Emerging in Developing countries. The Government is involved in this. It is an international development which brings micro-generation to village houses and this kind of stuff.

  Mr Cameron: I know very little of that. I know that some of our bigger energy companies are investing money in decentralisation of electricity generation and beginning to show some substantial potential gains for providing energy to rural areas. I think that is terrific and needs to be encouraged. It needs to be brought back into the DFID programme to see how that can interrelate properly with other work that is going on.

  Q425 Dr Turner: It does seem to be one of the most important avenues of addressing the climate change issue.

  Mr Cameron: Yes.

  Q426 Mr McWalter: Andrew you nearly said in evidence that the commitment of DFID to training and capacity building in engineering and technology has reduced over 20 years. I said "nearly said" because you put a "seems" in there to slightly dodge the issue, but I take it you really meant that you thought it had reduced. What is the evidence for that?

  Dr Cotton: The evidence is primarily from our own Masters programme which has been running since 1980. I think the Committee has heard before about the change in the funding that went through, so that was one aspect of that. The argument is: We should not be doing it here, so do it in-country or, even better, do south-to-south transfers on some of this work. I think the danger in that is that you can end up with good project-specific training programmes in relation to individual projects and programmes that are going on. I think you lose from that the more generic aspects of it. How do you take it up one level? What happens when you move away from a particular project in terms of its implementation? I would start from the next generation of engineers. I think that is actually where you will start to see outcomes in terms of reducing poverty. One can see why it went to be more focused in terms of project-based training, but I think in doing so it lost out on some of the longer-term benefits. For example, the Dutch government still, I understand, have a more substantial system of scholarship funding, which has been going on for many, many years and they have stuck with that, through major institutes there like the Institute of Hydraulic Engineering in Delft.

  Q427 Mr McWalter: You indicated in your evidence that it is your own institution which say, "Is anybody looking at the overall picture?" and highlighting some data. If DFID are funding MSCs, how many did it used to be and how many is it now? How many of those come from overseas? Are those data available and, if they are available, why was that not part of your evidence? If they are not available, do you not think something should be done so we do have an effective monitoring of this position?

  Dr Cotton: I think it would be important to have an effective monitoring of the position.

  Q428 Mr McWalter: So those data are not available.

  Dr Cotton: I can provide data from my own institution on that. I can provide a breakdown historically.

  Q429 Mr McWalter: This is a pretty sorry story really but what is the reason for it? Peter made the point just now that maybe we ourselves have not been sufficiently pushy about the role of engineering and improvement of infrastructure and so on. Is the reason partly that you have not been pushy enough? Is it partly that the engineering profession itself is desperately fragmented, so there is never a voice for engineering, there are always 20 voices seemingly saying different things? Or is it that there has been a history of government neglect since 1980 which is carrying on really, at least in this regard.

  Dr Cotton: I think you make two important points there, and I agree—I mean, as a chartered engineer myself—that engineers are not pushy enough. They are often, if you will forgive the expression, too gentlemanly about these things.

  Q430 Mr McWalter: One can see it in these documents: "One could say . . ." rather than just something as it is.

  Dr Cotton: I regret that is probably the sort of academic tendency that always allows for the possibility of something.

  Q431 Chairman: You are just shrinking violets.

  Dr Cotton: I actually think we have not been pushy enough. One of the reasons, again as you said, Peter, in terms of the consultation, is we are not upfront enough. We are not blunt enough and I guess we do not access the right people.

  Q432 Mr McWalter: On your left is the voice of engineering. Could he not be blunt enough?

  Professor O'Reilly: Thank you for gracing me with that, but I think the Royal Academy of Engineering and various engineering institutions might feel they had a voice as well, of course.

  Q433 Mr McWalter: We cannot get a peep out of the Royal Academy at the moment. Does that surprise you? We are doing our best to try to get them to come off the shelf. John, you are a bit of a Council expert.

  Professor O'Reilly: Ex-member.

  Q434 Mr McWalter: Ex-member. Can you not get them to take a bit of an interest in these matters?

  Professor O'Reilly: I will take that away.

  Q435 Chairman: Could I bring this part to a halt now by asking a last question on the word "sustainable". The Millennium Development Goals focus predominantly on issues such as alleviation of poverty and hunger, primary education and maternal and infant health, all of which we would want to do something about and which something should be done about, but that does not really augur well for a longer. sustainable improvement programme, does it? It sounds like a short-term political whim and that is it. What do you think?

  Mr Cameron: I think there is a responsibility on engineers to make sure that whatever programmes we implement are sustainable. As an example, we have seen recently that there are some roads in Cambodia (I believe) that have been reconstructed (about five years ago) and now we are reconstructing them again. We have to make quite sure that the contracts providing that sort of infrastructure clearly underline the need for sustainable development. It is in part also related to capacity building, inasmuch as we should make sure that any infrastructure provision that is being made should involve the indigenous population[2] to help construct it so they understand it, so they learn about it, so they can then maintain it and then it becomes sustainable.

  Q436 Chairman: So the answer is yes, it is too short term.

  Mr Cameron: It has been but I think that is beginning to be recognised and changed.

  Q437 Chairman: Who by?

  Mr Cameron: I think by the professional institutions.

  Q438 Dr Turner: Could I go back to this question of climate change. I mentioned the REED programme and I have just remembered that the REED programme was actually initiated by the Foreign Office and not by DFID at all, which you might think slightly strange. I do not think DFID had very much involvement with it. It is very curious that they should not, and very curious that it should not have come to your attention during that consultation process. There seems to be a certain lack of connectivity going on between government departments here.

  Mr Cameron: I understand that DFID have now organised or have been running for a little while—and I cannot remember the exact title of it—a sort of information sharing website which it is hoped will be shared by government departments.

  Q439 Chairman: How many hits does it get a week?

  Professor O'Reilly: I do not know.

1   Note by the witness: Indeed, as well as the excellent links ICE has with many NGOs, it has assisted the Institution of Engineers Bangladesh to move towards becoming a qualifying professional body, and has Agreements of Co-operation with sister professional institutions around the world. Back

2   Note by the witness: and professionals. Back

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