House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE
Monday 10 January 2005
PROFESSOR ALAN NORTH and PROFESSOR NANCY ROTHWELL
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Science and Technology Committee
on Monday 10 January 2005
Dr Ian Gibson, in the Chair
Dr Evan Harris
Mr Robert Key
Dr Desmond Turner
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor Alan North, Vice-President and Dean, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester and Professor Nancy Rothwell, Vice-President for Research, Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Manchester, examined.
Q190 Chairman: Welcome to you all to your friendly Select Committee in this friendly subject! Alan North and Nancy Rothwell, thank you very much for taking the time to come out here today to help us with our inquiry into NIMR and the process that has been going on there. Can I wish you all the best in the New Year as well, and I am sure the one thing that unites us all is British science and technology - much to do, and I am sure that together we are going to do that. So in that spirit let me ask either Alan or Nancy to start off by answering my first question: why all these difficulties and antagonisms, do you think? Why have they developed? What have been the key problems that have caused this to happen, in your opinion?
Professor Rothwell: I was part of the Forward Investment Strategy Committee but have not been part of the Task Force, where I think you are referring to the difficulties?
Q191 Chairman: Did the trouble start with FIS or did it start with the Task Force, or both?
Professor Rothwell: Possibly both. It is difficult for me to comment on anything relating to the Task Force.
Q192 Chairman: You are here to answer for FIS.
Professor Rothwell: I think it is fair to say that this is a difficult and very sensitive issue. It was always going to be. I do not know how you can avoid considering the future of an Institute as anything less than very serious, very important and potentially very sensitive. I think that is unavoidable.
Q193 Chairman: Do you think that there has been an impression all along that minds have been made up on this matter? That FIS was set up to establish what a lot of people thought had to happen anyway, in terms of your report and so on being approved before it went through consultation, et cetera? That is what is alleged; is that true, do you think?
Professor Rothwell: It is absolutely not true.
Q194 Chairman: Then tell us what has happened, please.
Professor Rothwell: I have seen those allegations. I saw no evidence that any member of FIS had any preformed opinion at the outset. Secondly, you need to remember that this was a draft for consultation and it was not a recommendation or a decision, and indeed any suggestion that I have heard that Council had made up its mind is clearly flawed given that Council then took on the Task Force. So if it had made up its mind then the outcome would now be that NIMR would be moving to Cambridge, so obviously that is not the case. I think Council had an open mind, I think FIS had an open mind. I cannot speak for Task Force but colleagues I know I think had an open mind. They tried to face a very difficult and challenging issue to the best of their ability.
Q195 Chairman: Did the NIMR staff engage with this FIS enterprise and examination, and if they did not, for example, would that have caused a lot of trouble, do you think? Would that set the hares running and so on? Or do you think that they were well consulted and knew exactly what was going on?
Professor Rothwell: I think that they were consulted towards the end of the process. Again, a difficult decision that we considered very carefully - would it be better to leak things out and ideas being formed before a draft consultation had been put out? I think it would not actually; I thought so at the time and I maintain that view. It is very difficult to make that decision. To start to talk about, "We wondered about this, we will know now for the next meeting; we wondered about that," I think probably would have been even more damaging.
Professor North: Can I just add that the Directors of the four Institutes that were being considered under the Forward Investment Strategy were consulted at the very beginning of the operation and they came and met with the Forward Investment Strategy group, I think at its third meeting, and argued their presentation. So the directors of the Institutes were certainly involved with what was going on.
Q196 Chairman: But did the MRC Council not endorse your proposals for the consultation exercise?
Professor North: The MRC Council endorsed the draft for consultation on 4 April and that went to a period of consultation for the next six or seven weeks. Then at the Council meeting subsequent to that we looked at the responses to the consultation and it was clear that there were a lot of people who were not content with the suggestion that had been made in that draft, and that is when Council then decided to look at the matter further and put in place the Task Force.
Q197 Chairman: Were there accusations running around then that minds had been made up and suspicions were running free?
Professor North: I was never accused by anyone of having my mind made up. I do not think there were those accusations.
Q198 Chairman: Can you perceive that the workers at NIMR thought that?
Professor North: I visited NIMR at about that time and certainly there did seem to be a perception around that minds had been made up, but, in fact, I had a full and forthright discussion with colleagues at NIMR at that time. In fact we were there together at that meeting.
Professor Rothwell: I was there on that visit and I would endorse that, that there was some sense of feeling that minds had been made up and we did the best we could to assure them that our minds had not been made up at any stage and this was still a draft consultation, as it was said.
Q199 Chairman: Tell me a little more, please, if you would, about the interaction with the Director of NIMR. Did he see the report before it was floated around? What discussion was there with him about Addenbrooke's movements and so on? Or was it carte blanche as far as the FIS Committee was concerned - it did not really matter?
Professor North: None of the Directors were members of the Forward Investment Strategy group and I think that is probably appropriate - it was a fairly small group to draw up suggestions. The draft for consultation was passed, I think, to the Directors at the time when it was released for consultation.
Professor Rothwell: Just before it was released.
Professor North: I think probably a day or two before.
Q200 Chairman: What happened after that? What did the Directors say or do?
Professor Rothwell: Nothing to us.
Q201 Chairman: Nothing was said or done?
Professor Rothwell: I had no direct interactions with the Director.
Q202 Chairman: So do you think that there was then constructive engagement with the NIMR staff; is that your conclusion, looking back? Or would you do it differently if you had to do it again, without thinking about the animosities?
Professor Rothwell: There is a tendency to think you would do it differently and I have thought this through quite a lot. I am not quite sure how you could do it differently because the alternative is then to engage throughout the process. I still think that might have been even more destabilising. It is possible that there might have been a better outcome with a slightly different approach or an earlier approach. That is very difficult to say and it is very easy to be wise in hindsight. But I still come back to the point that I think that when a group is looking at a difficult issue, trying to engage NIMR staff at all stages through it, I do not know if it would have been any better or not. I am not convinced it would.
Professor North: It may be the difficulty would have been that we would have had to engage the Directors of all four Institutes because all four Institutes were being considered by the Forward Investment Strategy.
Q203 Chairman: Was that discussed at any point in your deliberations on the Committee?
Professor Rothwell: I think we did talk about involving them more. The other issue then is whether the engagement is just with the Director or with all of the 700 staff because the Director had been passing all the information on to the staff - that is his choice, of course, as Director, and he obviously thought that was his best course of action. But we would then be trying to engage with 700 staff at NIMR and the many hundreds at the other Institutes and, again, I am not at all convinced that that would have been the right way to do it.
Q204 Dr Turner: Professor Rothwell, you said effectively that you started out with an open mind and that the Committee did not have preconceptions, but that is a little difficult given that the MRC had just published its 10 Year Vision for the Future. That surely must have had some influence on your thinking?
Professor Rothwell: That shaped our general thinking about biology. We had the very strong preconceived idea that we had to look at what was best for the future for NIMR. We were not thinking of five or even ten years, actually, we were looking ahead to 20, 25 and 30 years, and of course driving that was a lot of thinking about biology and how biology has changed and how it is likely to change in the next ten years. What we did not have a preconceived idea about was whether NIMR should move, where it should move, what size it should be, how it should be shaped, and I think that the FIS, even at the end of its recommendations, made a suggestion and made some general suggestions but even then did not have detailed views.
Q205 Dr Turner: Having said that, you evolved a template of what you thought the future pattern of research should look like, and you could almost say, looking at it, that it would be extremely difficult for Mill Hill in its present form to fulfil the criteria if that template; would you not agree?
Professor Rothwell: I would agree.
Q206 Dr Turner: Do you think it could?
Professor Rothwell: No, I think it would be difficult in its current position and in its current shape to fulfil that.
Q207 Chairman: Impossible, not just difficult? Impossible?
Professor Rothwell: Slightly splitting hairs. Very difficult.
Q208 Chairman: As an optimist you would say that nothing is impossible.
Professor Rothwell: Of course! We were looking at what would be best for Mill Hill 30 years from now.
Q209 Dr Turner: When you were looking at the shape of the MRC scientific future did you do any sort of cost benefit analysis - for want of a crude word - because clearly we are talking about investing large resources? Did you consider which kind of option would provide the best value for that investment in scientific terms for the future?
Professor Rothwell: The primary driver was the scientific value. Any discussions about costs were very much secondary and not in any detail at all. It was what would deliver the best science, which was first and foremost in all of the discussions.
Professor North: I think it is really difficult to envisage a cost benefit analysis, which is projecting 15 or 20 years into the future. I think we can only be guided by what we felt would be the major drivers in terms of improving the scientific environment, which were largely interactions - interactions with clinical people, interactions with basic physicists, mathematicians and so on.
Q210 Dr Turner: Clearly one of your first considerations is in fact clinical links and the facilitation of translational research. What evidence do you have to show that actual co-location produces the best results?
Professor North: I think it would be quite difficult to move forward on the basis of evidence because if all science progressed on the basis of published evidence then progress in fact would be rather slow.
Q211 Dr Turner: It is.
Professor Rothwell: It would be even slower!
Professor North: It would be even slower, so obviously where evidence exists one has to take it into account. I think it is very difficult to look for evidence of what will be more effective in 15 or 20 years' time. But I think there was a sense around on the Committee that the way that medical research is now being done and is likely to be done in the next ten or 15 years is changing, and it is changing very quickly, and I think one of the reasons that it is changing quickly - one of the reasons - is because of things like genomics. Technology is changing extremely quickly. This means that it is much easier now to make links between human disease and fundamental mechanisms than it was 15, 20 years ago. I think it was the vision based on this that was in many ways directing our ideas rather than hard evidence that co-location of clinicians and basic scientists works.
Professor Rothwell: Could I just add that I think a lot of the decisions were based on the collective experiences of the Committee, which, put together, were really quite extensive. I think most, if not of all, of us have had experiences of working on single sites and on large sites. I worked in fact in a hospital and medical school but it was an isolated hospital and medical school and I would never want to go back to that situation. I did clinical research and what I did not have there was the link with the fundamental scientists. Co-location does not automatically mean collaboration but it makes it easier. I have just moved into a new building where I am co-located with a lot of colleagues and within weeks it has made a difference to me, just having the students able to bump into people. It will not automatically help but it certainly can help.
Q212 Chairman: Are you saying that none of this went on at Mill Hill?
Professor Rothwell: No, I am not saying that none of it went on, nor am I saying that isolated sites do not produce outstanding science; what I am saying is that the likelihood of it improving is significant with co-location.
Q213 Dr Turner: Is there not a risk with co-location that it can also be, as it were, straightening because not all clinical institutions cover the entire spectrum of clinical science, they all have their specialities and their areas of excellence, whereas you are taking an Institute of basic research which covers a very wide range of disciplines? So although translational research and collaboration may be facilitated for a part of that Institute by putting it next to whichever hospital, is there not a danger that you may inhibit or change direction for the rest of the Institutes?
Professor Rothwell: Quite the reverse actually. A major part of our rationale behind relocation was inter-disciplinary fundamental research. It is interesting that you called it an Institute of basic research; it is an Institute of Medical Research - that is its name. So it was not just the translational clinical, it was also the proximity to basic scientists, to physical scientists that was considered to be important.
Professor North: I think it is an important point that you have made, that Mill Hill focuses on a few things, which it does spectacularly well; but it does not cover the whole breadth of basic medical research. Clearly for an investment of £27 million a year you do not get more than a few strengths in focused areas.
Q214 Dr Turner: Did you actually as a Committee regard the future of the Mill Hill site as unsustainable?
Professor Rothwell: I think it is summarised very well in our report that we did not find compelling evidence for it to stay there. It may be in the end that in any decision you identify your three best choices and none of them work out, for a variety of reasons; but I think the statement was a very true reflection of what that Committee felt, that there was not compelling evidence that this was the best place for NIMR to be, and I still think that is true.
Professor North: In 15 or 20 years' time.
Q215 Dr Harris: The MRC Vision talks about this move towards more translational research and indeed even though the Vision was published around the some time you were doing your work you probably would have been aware of that shift. It could be said that you decided, or it was the view of both the FIS and to a certain extent the Task Force that that means co-location and that is the be all and end all in the move to translation, if you can show the OST and the DTI that you are doing that, and tick the boxes. I would like to ask how much consideration was given within the FIS and indeed generally to issues around how grants are awarded as a way of ensuring that there is a move to translational areas or individuals or the focus of other Institutes as well.
Professor North: I do not remember any discussion of that kind in FIS. In fact I do not remember any discussion about OST. It was in the Vision and we certainly took the Vision seriously.
Q216 Dr Harris: But the remit was just to look at it?
Professor Rothwell: The remit was to look at the long-term future of these four research Institutes; that was the specific remit. The issues about grants are being dealt with under other Committees or by Council itself. Coming back to your point, I think the OST probably would not be happy with ticks in boxes, the OST looks for actual outcomes and looks for discoveries and translational discoveries and ability to treat disease. So I do not think co-location is the solution.
Q217 Dr Harris: That comes a bit later. What I am saying is that if they see that the MRC are taking radical steps of considering big capital projects that might be seen to be in a way that is more discernible than other things which are much more fluid to be acting on this initiative. I am not saying it is a bad thing.
Professor Rothwell: It was not part of our consideration.
Q218 Chairman: But did your considerations change during the meetings with FIS? Did the remit change? You started looking at Mill Hill in the light of the Director's retirement, and then it seems to me that you moved on to other research institutes as well - MRC Institutes.
Professor Rothwell: No, the initial remit was the long-term future of the four research institutes; that is what we were set up to do.
Q219 Dr Harris: Do you think that the MRC has put as much work into these other issues, like the focus of Institutes, whoever they are, and grant policy as it is put into issues around the long-term capital investment and co-location and issues like that in respect of the agreed need to move to translational research?
Professor Rothwell: Yes, I think it probably has in different ways. I am no longer a member of Council, I am a member of the Training Board and that has paid a lot of attention to translational and clinical research. But it has been in other parts of its activities. There is no doubt that NIMR has taken a huge amount of time for staff serving on the sub-committees of Council and Council and perhaps more time might have been spent on the other issues if this had not taken up time. This has taken up more time than I think was predicted.
Q220 Dr Harris: Was it a consideration that reducing spend on institutes in the FIS area, where there was a suggestion that you could reduce the size of NIMR in its move, might free up money to increase grants to more disparate groups, including outside the "golden triangle"?
Professor Rothwell: No.
Professor North: I do not think there was any discussion at that time.
Professor Rothwell: I do not think there was.
Q221 Dr Harris: You were members of the MRC Council, I think, that looked at the Task Force report in July, and that recommended co-location to the same size broadly, to a Central London location, which was a different finding from that of the FIS, which was not that long ago - there have not been huge changes. Do you feel that you on the FIS missed, overlooked this possibility, because clearly you cannot both be right? This is a different option, for the reasons given that it would keep people together.
Professor Rothwell: I think we need to take a step back. I think that the details of the two reports are different, inevitably. The FIS was a draft for consultation with ideas put down; the Task Force was a much more detailed in-depth analysis. I think the principles of the two reports are the same. Any potential relocation of NIMR has not yet been agreed and it may be that there is more work needed to be done. So we suggested Cambridge because it had so many of the potential benefits that we thought would bring success to NIMR. We also considered London as a possibility but thought it might be more expensive - but did not rule it out. Nor did the Task Force rule out Cambridge. In their initial discussions they came to a different conclusion. I am not concerned that they came to a different conclusion to FIS.
Professor North: I think it is important to look at the chronology. The Forward Investment Strategy started with all four Institutes. It came out with a recommendation which dealt with one of them. The draft recommendation was modified by Council in the event of the feedback that it received. The Task Force then set up was a much more expert focus group dealing specifically with Mill Hill.
Q222 Dr Harris: I want to ask a slightly different question because, as I say, you were on the Council at the time it considered its report. One of the questions we are considering is whether adequate consideration was given by (a) the Task Force and (b) MRC to whether Mill Hill should have been an active third option, or a fallback option and not simply something to be compared with and then to reopen it all again if none of the London bids work. It has been argued to us that despite issues around not being able to agree in the Task Force a unanimous report that the MRC Council did hear the view of those who felt that the Mill Hill option should be either an active option or a fallback option because there is a report and I think Professor Flavell spoke to it specifically. Are you happy that therefore when reaching the conclusion that the Council did that the Council did consider arguments for the inclusion of Mill Hill as an active or fall back option within the Task Force report?
Professor North: We heard those arguments and, as you have said, they were presented by Professor Flavell. I cannot speak for other members of the Council. I was satisfied that the main principles involved, which had actually been agreed unanimously by the Task Force, as I was led to understand, was that co-location of the renewed NIMR Central London site was favoured by the Task Force.
Professor Rothwell: I finished on Council in July 2004 so I was not part of the later discussion, but, similarly, up to that point we had understood that at least at its meeting of the Task Force there had been agreement and it is just that there had not been discussion of a fallback if the London options turned out not to be viable.
Q223 Dr Harris: Were you a member of the MRC Council that considered the report and decided to go with what I am calling, in inverted commas, the "majority" report?
Professor Rothwell: Yes.
Q224 Dr Harris: And in making that decision do you feel you were exposed to the argument that Mill Hill should be considered as an active or fallback option, as opposed to what was eventually decided, which was that if the London bids did not work then MRC would look at it again as a whole?
Professor Rothwell: Yes.
Q225 Dr Harris: Are you happy that you two personally received that information or do you think that ideally you could have seen more?
Professor Rothwell: No, I think we received very, very extensive information, either directly through NIMR or through MRC.
Q226 Dr Harris: Professor North?
Professor North: Yes, I was happy with it.
Q227 Chairman: Can I just come back, for the record, Nancy and Alan, about this issue about your remit? We have documents that are going to be publicly available - you may not have seen them so I will read it in some detail. It is from the current Director. This is an answer from Sir Anthony Cleaver at our last inquiry, so it is minuted, and the reply says: "This account fails to mention the initial proposal for a review presented to me" (that is the current Director) "in August 2002 entitled, 'Planning for the Future of the MRC National Institute for Medical Research that I discussed with Sir Anthony, Sir George Radda and Nick Winterton on 19th September. At this time they presented their views on the date of my retirement and the proposed date of the institute building as a reason for a review and here I indicated the inadequacy of these arguments. On 25th September the same year I wrote to Sir Anthony about his misgivings and in reply Sir Anthony said that MRC had decided on a different approach - and I enclose a copy of the revised draft Council paper - entitled, 'Planning a Forward Investment Strategy for MRC support and now addressed, as well the NIMR, the lab of molecular biology at Cambridge and Harwell Campus University of Oxford. Plans for major investments at Oxford and Cambridge I believe had already been made." Is that a true account of what happened in your opinion? Were you aware of this during your deliberations?
Professor Rothwell: I do not think that was an issue for Forward Investment Strategy because Forward Investment Strategy was set up to look at the four Institutes.
Q228 Chairman: But I am saying it was not right from the beginning, Nancy, it was the NIMR from the beginning and that changed for some reason, and I am trying to find out why it changed.
Professor Rothwell: In the Council papers of 2000 the issue of the long-term future of NIMR was raised and it was stated that that should be looked at. In other reports you will find for other institutes there are comments that we need to look at long-term future. So I think to suggest that there was something there and then it changed is not quite the right interpretation of that. I can see that you could put that interpretation on it, but I think you have to look at each Institute's long-term future. The idea then was to bring it together into one group. The remit was to look at the long-term future of the four Institutes. So I do not think there was anything that FIS was set up to do this and we then changed our minds; I certainly have no sense of that whatsoever.
Q229 Chairman: Alan, you confirm that, do you?
Professor North: As far as I am concerned, when I agreed to work on the Forward Investment Strategy sub-committee then it was to look at the long-term future of four Institutes, and if there was anything before that I knew nothing about it.
Q230 Chairman: You realise the relevance of that, of course?
Professor Rothwell: Yes.
Q231 Mr Key: So was the development of the Mill Hill site a serious option for your Committee?
Professor Rothwell: It was considered seriously but it was not considered to be a compelling option.
Q232 Mr Key: Were there any investment appraisals or formal financial evaluations taken in order to inform that final decision of yours? Are you aware of any formal financial evaluations?
Professor Rothwell: Formal, no, because our remit was not about money, our remit was about what was best for science, for NIMR. We had some ballpark figures but they were not the purpose of our consideration.
Q233 Mr Key: If it was not about money was it about value for money or delivering better value for money in terms of investment and research?
Professor Rothwell: It was about getting the best research. I would not phrase it as value in terms of --- Money was absolutely secondary; we discussed money very little. We discussed how we could ensure that NIMR will remain a world class Institute in 20 years' time. Money was secondary. But obviously by inference ---
Q234 Chairman: I think the title gives the game away, does it not? Investment Strategy must involve money?
Professor Rothwell: It was investment in science, but yes. We spent very little time discussing financial issues.
Q235 Mr Key: I do find that rather extraordinary for a Forward Investment Strategy, that so little work was done on the financial side of this. If the science case for co-location is agreed by the MRC should they go ahead then regardless of the cost?
Professor North: I think that is the next stage. The Forward Investment Strategy Group, as I recall, as Nancy has said, had only really limited consideration of the financial agenda; it was driven by what we believed would be the best environment in which to do science, internationally competitive science, in 15 or 20 years' time. There was some discussion in the sense of added value and the size of Institutes and co-location with medical schools and other higher education institutes as being possible ways of saying money because you can share in some of the infrastructure costs, but there were no detailed financial considerations.
Q236 Mr Key: That again I find interesting because your report concluded that, "A new smaller investment in a clinical multi-disciplinary environment would be likely to deliver a similar volume of science and greater value for money in the longer term," which suggests that you have given very serious consideration to financial evaluations.
Professor North: That is essentially what I said, that we thought that you could get the same science for slightly less money if you had it in an environment where certain infrastructure costs were covered and were shared by other operations.
Q237 Mr Key: Do you feel that Mill Hill has had a fair crack of the whip?
Professor Rothwell: Yes.
Q238 Chairman: Would you like to elaborate on that a little?
Professor Rothwell: I think the fact that the Forward Investment Strategy put out a consultation. There was a large response almost exclusively from Mill Hill staff or former staff; Council listened to it and reconvened the Task Force at great cost and time. We do have to remember we are talking about MRC here and the people making these decisions are working scientists, many of whom have no personal interest or agenda, giving up their time freely to try to do the best thing. There was a Task Force with two eminent international members who I think did the best they could with two NIMR members on it and they made recommendations.
Q239 Mr Key: Professor North, did Mill Hill have a fair crack of the whip?
Professor North: I cannot speak for what went on in the Task Force but they were represented on the Task Force and I think that was entirely appropriate.
Q240 Mr Key: And on the Forward Investment Strategy, they had fair consideration?
Professor North: They had similar consideration to the Directors of the other Institutes.
Q241 Dr Turner: How does the process that you have been involved in square with the Quinquennial Reviews of the Institutes because we have two quite different processes going on here? Just how do they relate?
Professor Rothwell: The Quinquennial Review is largely an assessment of the quality of the science and the future proposals and that had been undertaken, and we are currently in another cycle. Indeed the last Quinquennial Review commented on the extent of the science at NIMR, which was never questioned by the Committee that I sat on. The Quinquennial Review does, however, often look at long-term infrastructure issues - not in detail - and the last Quinquennial Review did raise these and there are some very specific comments about concerns. In one of the sub-committee reviews the minutes state concerns raised about isolation and about clinical translational research. But the Quinquennial Review is a very different and separate process undertaken by a group of scientists, often several from overseas, whose job it is to assess the quality of the science. That was not our job; it was very different.
Q242 Dr Turner: Was that difference clearly understood, do you think, by Mill Hill staff?
Professor Rothwell: We repeated it time and time and time again, so I hope so.
Q243 Dr Turner: So you can say with hand on heart that the quality of the scientific work carried out at Mill Hill was not a factor in your considerations?
Professor Rothwell: It was a very strong factor in our considerations in that it was the excellence of that science that led us to spend so much time and effort on trying to ensure its future.
Q244 Dr Turner: How much did your view of the rationale for moving from Mill Hill change over time?
Professor Rothwell: It became stronger in my case.
Professor North: How much did the rationale change?
Q245 Dr Turner: Yes.
Professor North: I think the rationale was there from the very first discussions of the Forward Investment Strategy Group, so I do not think that changed very much. The desire to give it an exciting relocation alongside basic scientists of other disciplines and alongside clinical colleagues was pretty much formulated at early meetings of the FIS group.
Q246 Dr Turner: So as far as you are concerned there is nothing which FIS did which should have given anyone involved with Mill Hill any reason to doubt that there was a long-term future?
Professor Rothwell: No. I realise that there have been discussions about - I have seen in the Press - closure of Institutes, but that was never ever part of our discussion, never part of the thinking of anybody that I spoke to on that Committee, and still is not.
Professor North: I suppose it is fair to say that when the draft document for consultation came out one end of the spectrum could be to interpret that as a closure of Mill Hill. The other end of the spectrum is to interpret that as an exciting opportunity for relocation of an extremely strong and thriving Institute.
Q247 Chairman: I want to ask you about the question of the new Director and the current Director retiring in 2006. Why does that have to be a major feature of the rationale for change, a new strategy of looking at it all and so on?
Professor Rothwell: I do not think it was a major feature.
Q248 Chairman: The literature that we have had, Nancy, it keeps coming up time and time again.
Professor Rothwell: It is an issue. The Director of an Institute is a critical position. They need to lead what is a very large group of people and the Director of any unit or institute within MRC is extremely important; they are not a manager they are a leading scientist. So that position is extremely important and recruitment to those positions is treated very, very seriously.
Q249 Chairman: I guess I know and you know of many situations where a Director does not have to be going before you put pressure on the change of scientific direction and I am just wondering why in this case that things that had to be done that should have happened 20 years ago, ten years ago, ten minutes ago, whatever, why did it not happen before? Why was this made to be the key feature?
Professor Rothwell: I think probably a combination of factors of which the change of Director was only one and not the most important one. I think the formulation of MRC's Ten Year Vision, the fact that all of the Research Councils are now taking much longer-term views at their institutes - BBS OST is doing the same thing - I think a general coming to the point of "We must do it now"; it has been talked about quite a long time. So I suppose you could ask the question would we have done this had the Director not been retiring? It is impossible to answer but I suspect probably we would.
Q250 Chairman: There is another argument too that in a unit like NIMR some of the units within that either he or she is not the actual Director of those units and the focus and the direction of the research, so you are taking them on as well in a sense if you are trying to modify the whole structure. Is that a fair assessment of what was going on, because that could affect the way that people felt about it, that not only would the Director feel sensitive about what was happening but the individuals in their units might feel that they were under some kind of attack too? That is how I would feel if I were running a unit there on stem cells, for example, I might feel that - we all go down together.
Professor Rothwell: I can understand the concerns; there are bound to be concerns. I just worry a little about the terminology, "taking on" and "under threat". Certainly that was not the intention.
Q251 Chairman: Not my words, I am quoting. There is massive literature I have here.
Professor Rothwell: Inevitably this is a period of great sensitivity and concern for the staff and we recognise that fully.
Q252 Chairman: Do you have a view about this, Alan?
Professor North: I do not think that the retirement of the present Director in 2006 really played a terribly strong motivating role in the deliberations of the Forward Investment Strategy group, I think it was more the opportunity to look at an Institute that was physically becoming isolated and that in the next ten or 15 years we thought that that isolation would probably make it less competitive in an international sense in science.
Q253 Chairman: You are aware that there are different views about that time and why it is that time and so on?
Professor North: Yes, of course.
Q254 Mr Key: What impact do you think the current dispute between the MRC and Mill Hill has had on relations between those two institutions? Has it been very damaging or is it all about personalities and not science?
Professor Rothwell: It is quite difficult for me to comment on because I am no longer a member of MRC Council. Do you want to comment?
Professor North: I cannot say whether it is about personalities but I do not think it is about science. I think Mill Hill is full of excellent scientists who have enjoyed very good relationships with other scientists within the UK and I fully expect that that will continue.
Professor Rothwell: I think it is unfortunate that we seem to be losing track of the most important thing, which is the best investment for science for NIMR.
Q255 Chairman: Let us talk about that. If you and I were working in the NIMR together and all this was going on, we would say, "Sod it, let us get out of this," would we not? If we lost all that teamwork and that force and that work it would put British science back quite a bit, would it not?
Professor Rothwell: I do not know that we would do that because I am not aware of any staff who have left NIMR.
Q256 Chairman: Because it is still up in the air at the minute with this whole thing. But that could happen, could it not?
Professor Rothwell: But if I were at NIMR I might - and I do not know because I am not and I think it is dangerous to speculate - look at massive investment on a new site with a new building with fantastic facilities as an opportunity. I could put it that way.
Q257 Dr Harris: You both said in your written evidence - and I do not want to paraphrase it so feel free to restate it yourself - but you feel that this has now taken up too much time and money and really decisions have to be made and we need to press on and put it behind us. Is that an accurate summary of what you are saying? Or do you think if necessary to make sure as many people are kept on board as possible it could be looked at again in a different way, for the sake of harmony?
Professor Rothwell: I think the paraphrasing is a little extreme. I think we said it has taken up a great deal of time and there is now some urgency to move forward actually because of the new Director. But I think we have to get it right.
Q258 Mr Key: Do you think that there is any case for actually revisiting this whole decision or recommendation - because of course a decision has not finally been made by the MRC yet? If NIMR has really made such a strong case that it has not had a fair crack of the whip should we as a Committee be recommending that it all be reopened and started again?
Professor Rothwell: There will be a danger in doing that, I think, because it would mean that any decision taken by - and I come back to what MRC is, I presume you mean the Council, which are the working scientists?
Q259 Mr Key: Yes.
Professor Rothwell: Some of whom are funded by MRC who do not feel that they have been treated fairly, and there are many people, because these are difficult decisions, who do so, that I do not think the Council will be able to make decisions. So I think we would have to consider that before making that decision. I would have concerns about the way this has been done, about the Task Force representation and the independent members of that Task Force acting, from what I have, seen in good will to make a recommendation, to then overthrow that, I think, could have serious consequences.
Q260 Mr Key: Professor North?
Professor North: I think the Task Force and indeed Council have worked quite hard and with very good intent to solve the problem and the current process has some way to go. The bids from London have to be looked at and if they are not satisfactory then obviously one is left with the status quo and the Medical Research Council will then have to decide what to do next.
Dr Harris: You both know the people involved here and this has all got quite unpleasant in terms of some of the allegations. I am asking you whether in your personal opinion there is a process out there that could exist or that could be devised and used that would bring everyone on board? Or, as it might also be considered, it is now really time to press on because, as you have just said, that you think the Task Force actually, the people on there, was not a bad process.
Chairman: And if I could just add to that, what is the hurry? You indicated that you would like to get it over and done with in a way. So where is the hurry?
Q261 Dr Harris: Two separate questions there.
Professor Rothwell: The hurry is that MRC will not be resolved and will have extreme difficulty in recruiting a new Director and I think that will be extremely damaging, and there will be a continued period of uncertainty. It is very difficult to imagine - I am sure there are other processes but it is speculation and I have not been involved for several months. I think it would be very difficult to say that we could now go back. I think it would cause significant difficulties to say that we are going to ignore the Task Force.
Professor North: I am not sure what process you would put in place that would give you any better ---
Q262 Chairman: It would give the Director an extra year of life, to get a result. Too radical?
Professor North: When you say what is the hurry, I do not think there is a hurry in the context of a 15-year plan, which is what is behind it. But in terms of the process that you would then use again in the future it is hard for me to see how you would improve on this process unless you got a different Task Force with different representation and different people on it.
Q263 Chairman: How did you interpret what Paul Nurse told us last time and Richard Flavell kind of agreed with him? I know that you are not the Task Force as such, but you are well known in the field and we respect your views, and I am just asking you the question. Did you read what Paul Nurse said?
Professor Rothwell: Which bit?
Q264 Chairman: The ideas for the future.
Professor Rothwell: Having another meeting of the Task Force you mean?
Q265 Chairman: Yes.
Professor Rothwell: Yes, if it had happened some time ago. I have not been involved enough to know whether it would be viable now or whether relationships have broken down too much to have a useful meeting of the Task Force. I just do not know; it is all second-hand.
Professor North: I know not enough about what went on in the Task Force to comment sensibly.
Chairman: That seems a good point to have some of the Task Force people in. Thank you very much. I know that you are not directly involved in the Task Force but thank you very, very much. I do appreciate you taking time off from your real jobs to come and give us the evidence! It is very, very helpful to know what FIS is about.
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Professor Stephen Tomlinson, Provost, Wales College of Medicine, Biology, Life & Health Sciences, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Cardiff University and Professor Kay Davies, Department of Human Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford, examined.
Q266 Chairman: Kay Davies, thank you very much for coming and I noticed that you and Stephen Tomlinson were there for the first session so you know some of the issues that we are interested in, but you as members of the Task Force have more to add to it and you can tell us how you feel about your responsibilities. Let me ask the first question. We heard from two non-NIMR members of the Task Force talking to us about "strong persuasion", talking about "somewhat inappropriate" discussions with the Chairman and so on - short of coercion certainly. Did you feel that kind of pressure from the Task Force? Was the Chairman - I am not going to say bullying - squeezing just a little?
Professor Tomlinson: Absolutely not. I think in the written evidence that I submitted I made it very clear that from the start I think Colin Blakemore behaved as I would expect a Chairman to behave, with integrity, and, as far as I am concerned personally, I certainly never felt coerced, with all the implications of that word. I think that there were very many robust discussions, both within the Task Force itself and there was robust correspondence in terms of the various emails; but speaking for myself I did not feel that Colin exerted undue pressure on me personally, no.
Q267 Chairman: Kay?
Professor Davies: I would endorse that view. There was a lot of lobbying outside the Committee, perhaps one could say more than one would normally see in the Committee itself, but we had a lot of business to get through and had a very tight timetable. Some of us obviously could not attend some meetings and therefore had to be filled in with the background of particular meetings.
Q268 Chairman: Tell me about that lobbying outside the meeting room, what kind of form it took, short of coercion, again, but pretty tough stuff?
Professor Tomlinson: Again, I think you have seen in the evidence that has been submitted previously to the Committee that in fact there was one email to me from Colin, which was said to be evidence of undue pressure or even coercion, and I understand that some or even all of that email was read out at one of the meetings of this Committee. I think, possibly for privilege reasons I do not know, my reply was not read out. If you would like me to read it ---
Q269 Chairman: We will come to that question later on and you will have the chance, but I am asking in generality about the lobbying pressures.
Professor Tomlinson: I think the lobbying pressures were very much around if you like, a dialogue that you would expect to have taken place. I must say that between each of the meetings of the Task Force it is inevitable, as Kay has said, being pretty busy people that everything that we might have wanted to consider in detail in the meetings of the Task Force was not considered in as much detail perhaps as some of us would have liked and as a consequence of that naturally we used email correspondence. I personally do not recall a specific time when Colin Blakemore, or anybody else for that matter, actually telephoned me to try to present arguments in favour of one position or another.
Q270 Chairman: What about the other members of the Committee, they must have had views? Did their views change because of the lobbying, the discussions in the bars, the coffee bars, wherever?
Professor Tomlinson: No, absolutely not.
Q271 Chairman: So you felt really quite neutralised all the way through?
Professor Tomlinson: I felt very comfortable with the way that the Task Force conducted its business, and indeed at the end of the fifth meeting I had thought that we had reached a consensus that what we had concluded was that the preferred view of the Task Force was that the National Institute for Medical Research should be relocated to Central London with a managed transition from Mill Hill. That was what I thought and that was an exciting vision, which has been alluded to by Alan North and Nancy Rothwell, and I thought that was what we were all signed up to. It was with a degree of disappointment and, I guess - if you are going to ask me about the emails - a degree of increasing irritation after the fifth meeting of the Task Force, that I observed this increasingly acrimonious correspondence, in which I was not personally involved; I was an observer of the correspondence which, as you know, was in the domain of the Task Force members.
Q272 Chairman: Kay, you are an experienced person. How did you feel about the lobbying that went on here? Was it more intensive than you have ever had in your life before?
Professor Davies: It really was intense but I am not sure that it was any more intense than occasions that I have had in my life before because of personal experience. I think the problem was that quite often we came out with a report that was agreed by the Task Force meeting and then 48 hours later we had a dialogue about various aspects of those reports and it is that which caused the extensive lobbying outside the meeting. So the lobbying was prompted by those email exchanges rather than the lobbying just being an extension of pressure, as you have called it, outside the meetings, which was not the situation. It was an evolution that came about.
Chairman: We will come back to those emails. Robert is going to question them.
Q273 Dr Harris: Professor Davies, you alluded to time constraints. Do you think that the work was done rather quicker than it need have been or perhaps a little more time, a little more consideration might have avoided many of the problems which have subsequently arisen because it was rushed?
Professor Davies: No, I do not think at any stage it was rushed except the communication of what we concluded from the fifth meeting when we wanted to report to Council in July and I think we had a consensus at the end of that meeting where we had a favoured option of looking at the London locations. I was not at the meeting so I do not know, but the conclusion of that meeting from the report was that we would not consider Mill Hill at that stage and we would look very carefully because we all at that Task Force meeting felt that that was a very exciting opportunity, and in order to examine that in full and to give it our full attention the conclusion of that meeting was to concentrate on that option.
Q274 Mr Key: Professor Tomlinson, did you regard the confidential email sent to you by Colin Blakemore on 28th June as evidence of coercion?
Professor Tomlinson: This was the email about my proposing that we should now, if the Task Force agreed that Mill Hill was a fall back position, am I correct, then rather than go for a fall back position then I suggested that we might go for Mill Hill being included in the competition? That is the email that you are referring to?
Q275 Mr Key: Yes.
Professor Davies: Chairman, may I read out my email response to that?
Q276 Chairman: Yes.
Professor Tomlinson: "Colin, thanks. What I was trying to do was to move us onward. I absolutely endorse the view that the future of NIMR is not Mill Hill. You know that my initial prejudice was to simply close it and redeploy the £27 million of annual funding across the UK. The strength of the arguments of relocation in Central London persuaded me otherwise and I stand by that view. What really irks me is the inference that Mill Hill is the fallback position and that is okay then. I simply do not understand why that should be. It implies that MRC will fail in its negotiations and we will have to accept second best. I am certain that is not acceptable to any of us, it places Mill Hill in a privileged position. My suggestion was intended to ensure a level playing field for those bidding. The playing field is level for KCL and UCL but Mill Hill simply waits to see if negotiations fail. That is just not good enough. I am more than happy to withdraw my suggestion but must repeat that I accept no fallback proposal that gives Mill Hill an unfair advantage. Again to repeat, I believe that the Task Force agreed on relocation of NIMR to either KCL UCL with a managed transition from Mill Hill over an appropriate period of time. If both bids are rejected by MRC then the Council must reach its own conclusions but must not be able to use the recommendations of the current Task Force as the reason for NIMR remaining at Mill Hill. I hope that makes my position absolutely clear. I am sorry for creating further turbulence by my frustration-induced, perhaps ill-judged proposal. Steve."
Q277 Mr Key: Thank you, Professor, very much. So you did not feel coerced?
Professor Tomlinson: Absolutely not.
Q278 Mr Key: What other allegations of coercion were you aware of?
Professor Tomlinson: I was aware that when I went to the meeting at Mill Hill in October ---
Q279 Mr Key: Was that meeting on the 8th of NIMR staff and Professor Blakemore?
Professor Tomlinson: That is correct, yes. When I went there with Colin Blakemore and with Professor Andrew McMichael, who is a member of the Council of MRC, we had a meeting with the heads of divisions and I know from the evidence that has been submitted - and again may I read? This is fairly brief. From the evidence that I read in response to questions in this Committee there is one that begins, "In reply to a question Blakemore said that he had put no pressure on Task Force members to reach the conclusion that Mill Hill should not be an option for the renewed Institute. Robin Lovell Badge immediately challenged this assertion saying explicitly that Colin had made threatening telephone calls to him. Colin at first denied this but then admitted that he did recall a heated telephone call. The discussion was curtailed at this point by Steve Tomlinson saying he was becoming irritated." That sounds a bit like Sir Lancelot Spratt - and I am a physician, not a surgeon. I do in fact at that meeting recall the dialogue becoming increasingly heated and I was aware that such accusations had been made in Robin's e-mail of 26 July, in which he said: "I have had far too many unpleasant phone conversations with you (Colin Blakemore) where you have completely ignored what I said and in some cases even threatened." However, I do not recall at the Mill Hill meeting Robin accusing Colin Blakemore of threatening him. The question was whether undue pressure had been used. Robin Lovell-Badge said that it had; Colin Blakemore said that it had not, and it seemed to me that this was a dialogue of the deaf; it was getting us nowhere and certainly not moving us on. In terms of additional evidence of coercion or threats, as far as I am concerned that is all hearsay. I have no direct knowledge of that.
Q280 Mr Key: There was no other evidence apart from that one person that you are aware of.
Professor Tomlinson: That I am aware of.
Q281 Mr Key: Professor Davies, at one point you took offence at the suggestion from the chairman that you might succumb to pressure on the issue of Mill Hill as an option. What sort of pressure was exerted on you? Were you conscious of the pressure?
Professor Davies: No. It was just lots of telephone calls and lobbying, which I have already referred to.
Q282 Mr Key: Were you aware that other people might be under pressure or succumbing to pressure?
Professor Davies: I was aware that Robin Lovell-Badge was under pressure or becoming under pressure.
Q283 Mr Key: Anybody else? Can I ask both of you whether the chairman sought to persuade the task force to reconsider the federated option for Mill Hill split into several parts within London, after that had been rejected by the task force? Did he ask you to reconsider?
Professor Tomlinson: After we had reached a conclusion?
Q284 Mr Key: Yes.
Professor Tomlinson: No. That option, as I understood it, was considered as one of the options at the first meeting.
Professor Davies: And again at the second meeting probably.
Q285 Dr Harris: You said you thought that Robin Lovell-Badge was under pressure. Who do you mean under pressure from?
Professor Davies: From the whole process, the task force and Colin Blakemore.
Q286 Dr Harris: Not from NIMR?
Professor Davies: Well ...
Q287 Dr Harris: I am going to let you answer that in the way you want.
Professor Davies: Robin certainly indicated that he felt under pressure. He never indicated he felt under pressure from NIMR but generally both Steve Gamblin and Robin played a very professional part in this whole exercise, but it was very difficult for them because they would have to go back with interim reports where there were vagaries. There was paranoia about whether the NIMR was going to be closed, and we never mentioned that NIMR could be closed at any stage. What we are looking at is a two-stage process: what NIMR can offer now, which is excellence of science, and what it might do and contribute best to the MRC portfolio in the 20 to 30-year time frame; and that is going to be a phased transition, whatever the time and the MRC council are very clear.
Q288 Dr Harris: Some strong allegations have been made about the chairman of the task force, Colin Blakemore, putting undue pressure and indeed threats to Robin Lovell-Badge in particular; and the implication is - and I do not have the specifics in front of me - that this was on more than one occasion. Obviously, that has been rejected and that has been denied by Colin Blakemore - and indeed we have seen evidence to show a reasonably friendly exchange of e-mails even after some of these cases took place. Did you, at the meetings you attended, in retrospect I accept, and indeed at conference calls, detect that there was this problem underneath, that someone had been threatened allegedly?
Professor Davies: No. There was disagreement when we had the final conference call, trying to put the final report together, where there was clearly no consensus on the wording, particularly of whether Mill Hill should be a fall-back option.
Q289 Chairman: Did the task force discuss how to prevent all this lobbying and scurrying about and all this kind of stuff - how to ignore it or just to run with it? It seems to me somebody has to be tough and say, "cut it, stop it". Was that discussed?
Professor Davies: It was only after the fifth meeting that things started to go wrong. Before then, this was part of a constructive dialogue that went on between the meetings.
Professor Tomlinson: I would endorse that. The exchange of e-mails between meetings was essential because, as we all recognise, the people involved with the task force were very busy people. We had five meetings, which were lengthy meetings, and conference calls in between. Just because there was a great deal of e-mail correspondence and even telephone calls does not mean that there is a conspiracy; it is a task force trying to inform itself.
Q290 Chairman: It sounds as though it was a continual task force meeting.
Professor Tomlinson: It was, you are quite right.
Q291 Chairman: Day to day. Meetings are usually meetings, and then you get on with your work or whatever.
Professor Tomlinson: I accept that.
Q292 Chairman: You were carrying on all the time with the issues.
Professor Tomlinson: One of the issues definitely, as Kay has already said - and certainly after the fifth meeting when we thought that we had reached a conclusion - was that clearly that conclusion was not acceptable to some members of the task force. That was extremely disappointing, particularly because of the nature of that fifth meeting and the excitement that people all felt about the consensus that had been achieved.
Dr Turner: What is your impression of the role of the chairman in the operation of the task force? Did you feel he was an impartial arbiter and an equal member of the task force, or did you think he was leading the task force?
Q293 Chairman: Or like me - completely neutral!
Professor Tomlinson: I think that Colin was in a difficult position, and this was discussed at the first meeting of the task force - what exactly his role would be, when there might be potential conflict of interests. Indeed, that was one of the reasons why we sought the support of the consultants, who I might say were extremely good. The company concerned had put in some very high-quality people who supported the task force, both in terms of gathering information and in terms of facilitating the meetings. If you are asking me whether Colin Blakemore started off with a pre-conceived idea, he certainly did not betray that, as chairman of the task force. Indeed, when things got difficult at the fifth meeting, you will see from the evidence that he offered to step down as chairman, and the task force reaffirmed that he should remain as chairman. That would be rather strange if we had no confidence in his chairmanship, if the task force had agreed that he should remain.
Professor Davies: As part of the process of the meeting you have to understand that the consultants did facilitate it greatly, not just during the meeting but they also made a summary towards the end. They would put the points up in a flip chart and we would go through the points and agree the consensus that we had reached. It was not Colin Blakemore who did that; it was done jointly, so in no way was it steered by Colin as chairman.
Q294 Dr Turner: Various members of the task force have suggested that the chairman was in a difficult position because obviously he was Chief Executive of the MRC at the same time as chairing the task force. Do you think that that might itself have been a complicating factor?
Professor Tomlinson: I think that if we were to start again, the question would have to be asked. The counter argument to that, in other words that Colin as chairman was inappropriately leading - and I do not believe he was, let me emphasise - is that having been a senior scientist involved with the MRC for many years and knowing biomedical research and health sciences research in the UK extremely well, and knowing the MRC, having been involved with it and knowing its vision for the future and its strategy, then there you have a chairman with the appropriate background. If you are suggesting that you could have somebody else, who did not happen to be the chief executive officer of the MRC, then maybe in the future one might, if it were to happen again - God forbid -have to address that question because he was in a difficult position.
Q295 Chairman: How was he appointed as chair? Was he elected at a meeting? How did it happen?
Professor Davies: He was elected by MRC council - Sir George -----
Q296 Chairman: He did not volunteer!
Professor Davies: No, he did not volunteer.
Chairman: I bet he would not do it now!
Q297 Dr Turner: I do not think he would! Equally, representatives from the NIMR were in a slightly sticky position, or could have felt that; so how do you think they performed? Do you think they were representing views of Mill Hill or were they being independent?
Professor Davies: From a personal point of view, I thought that they would just present a narrow - which I knew they would not - let me rephrase that. There was always a possibility that they would take a very personal view from the NIMR point of view, but they did not; they acted in a very professional way and engaged in all of the discussions as scientific members of the community, and nothing to do with whether they were members of NIMR or not, although obviously towards the end, as a fall-back position, that did change; but I think they did an excellent job. Their contributions were very much appreciated.
Q298 Dr Turner: Do you think that there would have been any difference in the acrimony that has emerged if it had been a completely independent task force or completely independent chairman?
Professor Davies: I think it is a question of balance. I think this is a model of transparency. What we have got here is that some of the snags have been completely opened in some ways. I think if we had excluded people from NIMR, we would not have been able to engage their views all the way through, which I believe we did.
Q299 Chairman: Did their views change? Did their body language change at the meetings, during those meetings?
Professor Davies: Their body language changed, but certainly their views evolved the same as ours did.
Professor Tomlinson: I support that. I support the view that Steve Gamblin and Robin Lovell-Badge were also in an extremely difficult position; but they certainly did engage in all five meetings of the task force. In addition, Steve was particularly exercised about the clinical links and he took the trouble to come to Cardiff to see me, initially on his own, and subsequently with a number of colleagues, to talk around the issues, particularly of translational research, but especially of the training of clinician scientists. In terms of engagement, I do not think they could have been more engaged.
Q300 Dr Turner: Given what you have said about the process, how do you account for the fact that it has been suggested to us that a lot of the staff at Mill Hill were feeling very uncertain about the future, i.e., uncertain about whether there was a future for the NIMR wherever? Can you account for that uncertainty having got about?
Professor Davies: It is very easy to destabilise an institution, no matter what you say, because science is very competitive. Any suggestion that either the institution may change its shape because of a new director, or may get smaller because it has a new location - we have at no stage ever given a message out that NIMR would be shut. We have always endorsed the excellence of its science. Any change causes some instability in institutions, and we were acutely aware of that, and that is what you have seen. Maybe we did not communicate well enough the process, but going back to what Nancy said, it is very important that you do not let this prolong because it will get worse. If you do want to take the opportunity of change, you have got to be able to carry the troops with you and you do not leave them in that unstable land for very long.
Q301 Chairman: The question you were asked is, at what point has it got to an unstable condition? Is it there already? Is it unstable at the minute, in your opinion?
Professor Davies: We need to do something to reassure NIMR staff that they are valuable, their role in the portfolio of the NIMR, and the fact that here we have a phased position that we are here now, and this is where we might get to in thirty years' time; and that we need to work together to get the best out of that science.
Professor Tomlinson: Can I add to that that I suspect that people feel that there is some kind of long or even short-term plan to close NIMR, but certainly the task force has never said that. The expression "renewed institute in central London" was in some ways coined to try to provide that reassurance, that what we were about was relocating the whole of the excellent internationally distinguished science from NIMR to a central London location, as a renewed institute. I do not think that any signals have been sent that NIMR as an institute is going to be closed. The recommendation of the task force is that it is relocated, that is not closed.
Q302 Dr Turner: The terms of the bid invitations that you recommended included the accommodation of everybody currently working in Mill Hill.
Professor Tomlinson: As far as I personally am concerned, that was the inference that I drew; that we were not talking about downsizing or splitting, we were talking about the Institute as it currently is, in terms of numbers.
Q303 Chairman: Is the task force disbanded now?
Professor Tomlinson: Yes. I believe that we have been - well, I do not believe - I know that we have been stood down, and if I was asked whether we would meet again, I would say, "please, no".
Q304 Chairman: Do you think that is the one unanimous thing we might get out of it?
Professor Tomlinson: In terms of reconstituting the task force as it was, I think most people would say I think - although it is not unanimous obviously - that an additional meeting of the task force is not going to move us on. It might well be that individual members of the task force, some or all, may be consulted at some future point, but I do not think an additional meeting now - Nancy referred to - I think it has gone past that stage. If there was going to be a sixth meeting, it was August or maybe late July.
Professor Davies: You have the forward investment strategy, which was UK-based. The task force was international, not just the UK. That is an important dimension to remember. MRC got two types of view on the future of NIMR.
Q305 Chairman: You mean the flavour?
Professor Davies: Flavour as far as the international side - what could happen elsewhere in the world.
Q306 Chairman: They were not international in the sense that they were working over there but they are British boys?
Professor Davies: No, no, but Dick Flavell has been there for many years. Paul has not, I agree.
Q307 Chairman: I will tell him he is an American now!
Professor Davies: Absolutely.
Q308 Dr Harris: One of the things we are trying to establish is whether the task force could have been handled better to have reached a consensus, rather than effectively a majority report. I want to ask you therefore about the last meeting. I know that you, Professor Davies, were not there - and then the conference call on 25 June. The things those had in common were that there was a form of words agreed by all present which then subsequently fell apart. I can talk you through the history because I have read it several times now from the e-mails we have been given, but there was a form of words agreed and then a few days later, though not immediately, those were challenged, usually from the Mill Hill side, although there were some other issues as well. Then the conference call was held, which was fully attended, I understand ‑----
Professor Davies: It was not fully attended throughout.
Q309 Dr Harris: Following the message shortly after the telephone conference call on 25 June we see that that then later fell apart on the 28th. A memo came in from Robin Lovell-Badge saying that on reflection over the weekend it was not satisfactory, what was written there. Do you think, in the light of that, that it was not battened down tightly enough at the meetings, or that it was just not going to ever happen?
Professor Tomlinson: I can speak for the last meeting which I was present at, but I do not think that I was present at the conference call. I can certainly speak for the fifth meeting. As I have said already, that meeting was a very productive, constructive meeting. People heard what was presented to them, and we came away - I certainly came away feeling that we had definitely reached a conclusion. There is the summary, the report of that meeting, which clearly outlines what the conclusion was. I think that probably what happened was that people went away from that - most of us - thinking we had cracked it, that it was now sorted; but then Robin and Steve particularly, on reflection, felt that the conclusion that had been drawn meant that Mill Hill was vulnerable to closure in the short to medium term. That is my personal interpretation. I do not know of any evidence that would support that.
Q310 Dr Harris: Presumably then they were reassured at the conference call on the 25th because that heads out of the meeting saying, "at the last full meeting we want to thank you all for the amount of work you have done. We have just completed the conference call and all the participants agreed to the form of words in the attached version." Presumably, following that period of reflection and worry, reassurance was given, and an amended form of words was agreed. Is that how you understood it? Why did that then fall apart?
Professor Davies: I think the general uncertainty crept back in again.
Q311 Dr Harris: Why?
Professor Davies: Because they were not totally convinced in their own minds. We had failed to convince them, or they had to talk to other colleagues, which made them feel a little uneasy about the situation.
Q312 Dr Harris: Do you think the task force could have done more to reassure them at the fifth meeting and in that conference call?
Professor Davies: I have thought a lot about that, and I am not 100 per cent convinced we could have done that.
Professor Tomlinson: I think it is natural that they would consult with their colleagues. They were there as nominees and representatives of the National Institute for Medical Research, and they would go back to their colleagues and report the results of the discussions. Naturally, if they had colleagues then saying "we do not like that very much and we think you ought to go back to the MRC and the task force and say that we do not like it very much", that was their job, so it was bound to happen, I guess.
Professor Davies: Maybe we could have been a bit more explicit in the sense that we could have said that our strongly-favoured option would be relocation, exploring relocation to KCL and UCL; but that in the end we would obviously return to a comparison with Mill Hill, which we did not state. That might have been more reassuring.
Q313 Dr Harris: It happened again. I refer to what we have at 246 in our evidence. "We had held a final telephone conference call on Monday, 19 July, to check word by word through the task force report" - this is Professor Blakemore - "by most members of the task force including Steve Gamblin and Robin Lovell-Badge. By the end of that call we had, after some discussion, reached agreement on the wording of the entire executive summary and the rest of the text." There are a few figures missing. For the third time agreement appeared to have been reached for a unanimous report, with presumably concessions and reassurances having been made; and again that fell apart because there was then a huge series of substantive amendments which appear to be after a deadline - whether that is relevant or not -it probably is not to this line of questioning. Why do you think that happened? Do you think it is inevitable that nothing could be done because this was the third attempt to make unanimity stick?
Professor Tomlinson: I think we can only speculate. Your speculation might be right, that we were getting then to the point where it was really impossible to repair the rifts that had developed.
Professor Davies: The only thing that might have changed that is if you had had a sixth meeting, because very often you can do things face-to-face in a way that you cannot by way of conference call. We did not have a sixth meeting. In retrospect - I am not saying it would have been, but it might have been helpful.
Q314 Dr Harris: The comment was made that the wordings used in these reports were deliberately vague to achieve a consensus that was never there. Do you think that is a fair criticism?
Professor Tomlinson: No. Certainly if I go back to the record of the fifth meeting of the task force, I think it was pretty clear. It was relocation to central London effectively with a managed transition from Mill Hill.
Q315 Dr Harris: I know that Robert Key might want to come in on this issue, but in your view was Mill Hill given adequate consideration during the fifth meeting and in the process, in respect of whether it should be an active option or a fall-back option, or do you think the task force in the end was wanting some more data, information, and chances to discuss the status?
Professor Davies: Can I make a comment on the meetings before the fifth meeting, and that is that it was incredibly useful to have Robin Lovell-Badge and Steve Gamblin there because they could always remind us what was going on in Mill Hill; so whenever we said that we should move to central London because we needed translational research, they could remind us of the significant amount of translational research that was going on at Mill Hill. It was not just translational research; it was also the ability to interact in a multi-disciplinary way with physics, chemistry, nanotechnology - all of the tools of medicine, which are different from the clinical interface. There were two factors here. Again, Robin and Steve could remind us what was going on in NIMR, because not all of us had ever visited Mill Hill before. Therefore, up to the fifth meeting, we were very well informed about what Mill Hill was doing, and we always considered it - but I cannot comment on the fifth meeting.
Q316 Mr Key: I will ask this of each of you in turn. Always and everywhere there is understandable institutional inertia when these sorts of decisions are made. In this very sad row, is it about institutional inertia or have fundamental errors been made by the MRC sufficient to invalidate any decision they might make about the future of NIMR?
Professor Davies: I do not think it did. I think the MRC have done a very good job here. As we have said, the FIS came to its conclusion about NIMR not having a future in a 20 to 30‑year time frame in Mill Hill. They then put that out to consultation and the thing that came back said, "you should pay more attention to Mill Hill". They responded by setting up a task force. That was done in a very transparent, open way, which had international representation. It had representation from Mill Hill on it. I do not believe that the MRC could have done a better job than that. I think the fact that it is a difficult situation is that it is a difficult decision, and it is very important that we do not destroy an institute. It takes a long time to start a new institute, even if you gave me 100 million today - please, if you would like to do that -----
Q317 Chairman: No chance.
Professor Davies: It would still take ten years to do it because it takes that long to gel something like that. We have a fine Institute in NIMR, currently led by Sir John, and we do not want to destroy it. I think the MRC did all it could to ensure that that does not happen.
Professor Tomlinson: I think we are forgetting what the consensus was at the end of the fifth meeting - and it is difficult for me to convey the optimism and the excitement that there was about a renewed institute, and our National Institute for Medical Research. In my evidence I said that originally, before I started on the task force, my prejudice, as a provincial lad, would have been to close it down and redeploy resources elsewhere. It was the strength of the arguments around this exciting new vision of relocation of a distinguished National Institute for Medical Research relocating into central London to produce the added value - it was the excitement of that vision that was driving us, and I really think that that is still there. It is not about closing the National Institute for Medical Research; it is about a renewed National Institute for Medical Research for the 21st century.
Q318 Mr Key: Professor Davies, could I return to the meeting that you could not make, the fifth meeting of the task force. You told the consultants before that meeting that you had in mind a possible model for development of some form of transitional research on the Mill Hill site, if the task force favoured that option, but after that meeting your position was evidently not clear to everyone. You e-mailed the task force on 9 July and said: "Sorry not to make myself clear. As I said in one of my recent e-mails, we all agreed at an earlier task force meeting that the Institute should be in London; thus Mill Hill would be the fall-back position. However, as I understand, because of our clear preference for KCL or UCL, until we have explored those bids the task force has not examined the presentation by NIMR." Are you happy that your consideration here was given proper time for consideration by the task force?
Professor Davies: But I discussed that at length. The report of the task force was sent to me while I was in a conference on June the something - Monday the 21st probably. I was rather surprised by that report, and therefore I talked to other task force members and Colin Blakemore, and when I had finished discussing with people I was perfectly satisfied that I could endorse it.
Q319 Mr Key: You had not changed your mind.
Professor Davies: No. I was always very keen to explore translational research in a multi-disciplinarity of what a UCL/KCL type option could offer.
Q320 Mr Key: Did any member of the task force call you in or telephone you, or put any pressure on you, between your two e-mails that day, 28 June?
Professor Davies: Not that I can remember. They could not have done, actually, because I was at a conference so I was incommunicado.
Q321 Mr Key: Can I ask both of you whether, if you feel that such a major issue as this one - this suggestion of yours, Professor Davies, should have been explicitly addressed by the task force? Do you feel that it was not addressed by the task force?
Professor Davies: I think Professor Tomlinson can answer how my evidence was presented at that meeting.
Q322 Mr Key: He was there.
Professor Tomlinson: That particular issue of Professor Davies's was - I absolutely agree with what she has just said.
Dr Harris: There has been a bit of confusion over these e-mails. I cannot say whether it is important -----
Chairman: There are so many of them.
Q323 Dr Harris: You gave an opinion to the consultants before the fifth meeting, that is before 21 June.
Professor Davies: I met with the consultants.
Q324 Dr Harris: You met with the consultants and you gave a view. According to Professor Blakemore, who was present at this interview, you put forward a possible model for development of some sort of translational research on the Mill Hill site, and the task force was to favour that option. Then it says that you pressed for clarity in the wording of the summary of the fifth task force meeting after you had received it at your conference. In one e-mail on 28 June you said: "I think we should at least clarify what the fall-back position is. If NIMR at Mill Hill is out of the question, it may be important to say that now." The point being raised is that two hours later and without any further exchanges, you sent another e-mail stating: "Since we are all enthusiastic about the central London possibilities, the summary can stay as it is without further discussion, as we clearly think that the new operations are exciting and feasible. I favour no further change." Was that your own hardening of opinion on that or had you been lobbied basically?
Professor Davies: I am not sure I was lobbied, but somebody will have informed me that - I was determined that we were not saying that NIMR was going to be closed. We were not saying it was a fall-back position either because we did not want to give equal status to KCL and UCL; and that is the key point, because we wanted active engagement in the new opportunity, as an inner stage process, so that we could then come back to those new opportunities as opposed to Mill Hill. I was assured by that. It was not lobbying. Somebody will have spoken to me but I can make up my own mind on that. It is very important that those became active options.
Q325 Dr Turner: Why is it so important that your report should have gone to the MRC council meeting on 29 July? Why was that timing so important?
Professor Davies: First of all, we wanted to move this forward. We would always inform council of where we were on this, and we thought it was very important to try and move to the next stage if we could; and in particular from the fifth meeting we could have gone for months and months and still not achieved consensus. We felt that if we moved forward, we might in the end get there, without - minimising the destabilisation of the institution.
Q326 Dr Turner: You thought that by setting a deadline, it would concentrate the mind.
Professor Davies: No, by informing council of what was going on so they could take part in the debate, we might be able to move things forward.
Q327 Dr Turner: Did that necessarily have to be your full and final report? Might it have been useful to take a little more time to try and seek consensus?
Professor Davies: We did say that the council could come back to the task force if it so desired. We did not completely draw a line in that sense.
Q328 Dr Turner: Do you think that the issue, which seems to be the biggest bone of contention, which is the status of Mill Hill as a fall-back option, is an equal fall-back option or a fall-back, fall-back option? Do you think that that could have been resolved if you had had a sixth meeting of the task force?
Professor Tomlinson: It might possibly have been resolved, but soon after the fifth meeting. Again, you heard what I said about the fall-back position: I would have opposed a fall-back position, and therefore I guess I would have caused trouble because the only alternative to that is an equal, level playing-field, with NIMR being at risk actually, just as KCL and UCL are at risk of losing in the competition. As far as I am concerned, what we were doing was correct, which was focusing upon the preferred option. NIMR is the baseline case, is it not, against which everything else will be compared? It is not about closing NIMR; it is about relocating the intact institution.
Q329 Dr Turner: But do you not think it could have contributed towards stabilising the uncertainties if you had formalised the position of Mill Hill, so that whatever happened NIMR is still there, and no-one need to worry about the future?
Professor Tomlinson: But everybody was aware that you cannot just close Mill Hill overnight. What we expected, and what we still expect, is that either KCL or UCL will come up with a deal which is good for British science and people at NIMR. That is what we expect, and that is what we focused upon - the new vision.
Professor Davies: The counter argument to yours is that if you made it a level playing-field, would people at NIMR engage as actively in the process of thinking about the move, than if you just said, "let us just step back from NIMR at Mill Hill and look at these two options"? That is what we were trying to do.
Q330 Dr Turner: That is not what I was trying to argue. I was trying to argue that if you accept the premise that either of the co-location options are the desired solution - and that is what you are working for - but Mill Hill still has surely a position in that if for some reason, whatever it may be - and there is a lot of complicated negotiation to be done - neither of these two options turns out to be viable, then in order to ensure the continuance of the work and building on work that has been done at Mill Hill, that Mill Hill then becomes the fall-back. Do you follow me?
Professor Davies: Yes, I do. I think we were just afraid of making that because of the commitment issue. I do not think it is irrelevant, what you are saying.
Professor Tomlinson: I must say that if neither KCL or UCL come up with a deal, then from my perspective I would be very reluctant - and I have made clear - I do not accept the fall-back position. Therefore, other options would have to be considered.
Q331 Chairman: Kay Davies, in the e-mail traffic that has gone backwards and forwards prolifically, after that last meeting "careful examination of the Mill Hill option should be made but this is not the job of the current task force" (NIM116B e-mail 1248704). What was going on in your head at this time? Why did you have to say, "it is not our job"? Whose job was it - nobody's?
Professor Davies: We were looking at the future possibilities, the new opportunities for NIMR; and that was our responsibility at that stage. We wanted to explore those options.
Q332 Chairman: Do you not think the smart thing would have been to keep the Mill Hill thing in? I know you are not smart politicians like we are, but at the same time do you not think you should have kept that in because it was quite clear that it was some kind of option anyway and should have been part of the task force remit? You could have opposed it, and others might have supported it, but that was really something the task force ought to have argued out. It seems to me that Paul Nurse was saying that too, in a way.
Professor Tomlinson: We have both presented our views, and we do not know what the result of a sixth meeting of the task force -----
Q333 Chairman: I am just asking you whether you think it was smart not to do it.
Professor Tomlinson: We had fulfilled the task that had been given to us, which was to make recommendations about the options for the size and location of NIMR. That is what the task force was asked to do.
Q334 Chairman: You could have changed the remit at any point. After all, the chairman was the Medical Research Council Chief Executive.
Professor Tomlinson: Maybe.
Q335 Chairman: Easy meat.
Professor Tomlinson: We are not smart politicians.
Q336 Chairman: No, okay. What do you think of the step-change option that the NIMR produced?
Professor Davies: That was discussed extensively.
Professor Tomlinson: That was discussed in the fifth meeting, and was not considered to be in the same frame as - following the presentation.
Q337 Chairman: When you say "extensively", was it one minute, ten minutes, one hour?
Professor Tomlinson: I cannot remember how long the task force meeting went on for, but it was discussed. That is all I can say. It certainly was not five minutes. Was it an hour? No, I do not think it was.
Q338 Chairman: Was there much interest in it at the committee?
Professor Tomlinson: No, and I think that again this is where - it is in the evidence and all the correspondence - Paul Nurse made an important contribution, saying that the future of NIMR is not at Mill Hill. That was an important intervention, I think.
Q339 Chairman: Tell me what you think about the MRC council and its ability to carry out such decisions as this. Do you think, looking back, that it was the right place? I know how you were set up and so on, but could the task force not have made a point that perhaps some other organisation, neutral or whatever, might have looked at this - the Council for Science or something?
Professor Tomlinson: No. What we are talking about here is the MRC, one of its most prestigious institutions. The people there at NIMR as I understand it are employees of the MRC. The MRC in that sense is like any other organisation - in my case a university, which I am sure you know a great deal about - and it is the responsibility of the institution to plan and implement its strategy. If, as the head of an institution, as I was at the College of Medicine in Wales, every time we wanted to make serious strategic decisions, we had to go outside our own governing body, then I think that would be dereliction of duty and would be entirely inappropriate.
Q340 Chairman: If I can make the ironic point, Stephen, the fact that the Select Committee is looking at it was not in our remit either until a few months ago, and Parliament does look at many issues. I am not saying it should always come to Parliament - of course not - but some issues do have to like human embryology and laws and all that kind of stuff; and, after all, it is public money that you are looking at. We do look at the MRC.
Professor Tomlinson: Indeed.
Q341 Chairman: It was never really raised in our scrutiny of the MRC, which was some would say savage and others would say served the purpose. What do you think of that in terms of other bodies looking at the thing? Could you not have said that to the MRC council and made that recommendation?
Professor Tomlinson: Could we have said it?
Q342 Chairman: Yes, or recommended it to them.
Professor Tomlinson: No, we were set up by the council of the MRC.
Q343 Chairman: But you could make a recommendation to them for them as MRC council to take the report and think of that.
Professor Tomlinson: The answer to your question has to be that, yes, we could have done that, but it was not something that was considered.
Q344 Chairman: I know it was not, because it is not part of your remit as such and it is not part of your thinking in general - I understand that.
Professor Davies: Nevertheless the MRC itself has enormous experience in this field. It set up the Clinical Sciences Centre; it moved the CSC from Northwick Park to the Hammersmith, where it is now a very successful institution; it has got the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine; it has got the LNB which is less integrated with clinical science; it is the same, this particular problem, every which way. I would argue very strongly that the MRC council and staff had an enormous history in this particular problem, and therefore were well versed in the arguments and problems and therefore in a good position.
Chairman: All I can say is that I understand that, but you should never count your chickens before they are hatched on any big political move; always assume the worst and move from there. I think we missed a trick in this case.
Q345 Dr Turner: Going back to the question of money, were you satisfied when you made your recommendations to the MRC council that you had considered all of the relevant factors in particular the long-term costs?
Professor Tomlinson: My own personal response to that is that until we know what the business cases are from UCL and KCL in the case of that recommendation to relocate to central London, then it is not possible to give full consideration to the financial cases because there are no full financial cases.
Q346 Dr Turner: Fair enough, but do you think you should have considered the cost implications at least in outline? Was that part of the remit of the task force?
Professor Tomlinson: Part of the remit of the task force was to frame the business case for future investment in NIMR, but in terms of identifying clearly the capital investment required and the revenue investment required for a renewed Institute of Medical Research, no, we did not consider that in detail.
Professor Davies: Certainly at the first meeting the issue of how much more expensive it would be to run an institute in central London was raised, so we did not do it in the absence of any thinking at all.
Q347 Dr Turner: Normally, a business case does have some price tags affixed to it, even if they are approximate. They would have to be approximate in this circumstance. Did the consultants help with that in any way? Did they do any kind of thumbnail accounting of the likely cost implications?
Professor Davies: Again, in the earlier meetings we certainly went through those - so many hundreds of pounds per square metre for a new institute. You can do that sort of calculation on the back of an envelope. The real issue is how expensive it is to employ and recruit staff in central London. We measured that against the extra added value that being in central London would bring. That was something that was considered in detail. Paul Nurse certainly contributed to that because of his relevant experience.
Q348 Dr Turner: You were satisfied that that balance came -----
Professor Davies: I was satisfied that there was sufficient information for us to move forward to consider those options. Before we come to a conclusion on those options, we need a detailed business case, which is a different issue.
Chairman: Let us go to where we move on to from here. We have been talking about past history, and I am sure you would be glad to say a few things.
Q349 Dr Harris: How much damage do you think has been done to the NIMR and MRC as a result of this dispute?
Professor Davies: How do you measure that? Some. The job now is to repair it and move forward. That is the only answer to that.
Q350 Dr Harris: What do you think can be done to build trust up again? What consideration is the MRC council giving to that specific issue around relationships and confidence and trust?
Professor Davies: The sub-committee has been set up by MRC council, chaired by Peter Falmer, to look at the NIMR business case as a baseline so that we can compare the other options, so we are moving forward in that sense.
Q351 Dr Harris: Is that just looking at the move or is there a specific effort being made by the council outside of the issues of the move, which is controversial, to try and bring people together, whatever that fluffy term might mean?
Professor Davies: There is certainly awareness in council about the morale of staff, and the MRC are doing all they can to try and alleviate that - and we need to do more probably. I was not at the last council meeting before Christmas so I cannot make any further comment.
Q352 Dr Harris: There is an issue of time because there is a perceived pressure to press on with this both for the sake of the timetable of any move, even though it is rather long term. Is time constraint now an issue, or is it more an issue of not wanting to drag out this process any longer? Is there an argument for having another process to go over some of the issues, not repeat the work of the task force, in order to seek to do the work for example that might have taken place or been achieved arguably in a sixth meeting; or is it your personal view that it is probably best to crack on now with the agreed timetable of agreeing a third option and a detailed business case and so forth?
Professor Tomlinson: I think the latter. It is essential now that we crack on and accept the MRC's decisions following the recommendations of the task force. It is particularly important to set the scene for beginning to recruit the successor to Sir John. It is essential that there is some certainty about what direction the National Institute for Medical Research is going on, because if there is continuing uncertainty, and certainly if there is turbulence, then what will happen is that I suspect it will be difficult to recruit somebody of Sir John's stature.
Q353 Dr Harris: So no more turbulence is an argument for pressing on. Another argument might be that you are not going to get a better answer than that which at least the majority of the report of the task force provided - but is underlying it the idea that the credibility of the MRC is at stake if it does not go ahead with the timetable it has set out?
Professor Davies: I think the credibility of the MRC council - it has now arranged for site visits of KCL and UCL to move this forward, and that will happen in a very small time frame. That will only add to it because that will be an informed decision at the next council meeting in February. That can only help the reputation of the MRC. We certainly need to maintain a dialogue with colleagues at NIMR as well.
Q354 Dr Harris: Some people might argue that the MRC council in and of itself is no longer independent enough because it has so much in the dispute between itself and NIMR, if I can put it in those binary terms. That may apply by definition. Are you of the view that there is no case for trying to get an external view, or would you see this Select Committee report as an external view on process?
Professor Davies: You are assuming that MRC council stayed with its membership the same this year as last, and it is not actually. As Nancy herself said, she has stepped down, and somebody else has come on who worked in NIMR, as it happened.
Q355 Chairman: Are there dangers in that, do you think, with knowledge of history?
Professor Davies: All I am arguing is that MRC council is not a static body and that new views will come in from different positions.
Q356 Chairman: It is quite a baptism, is it not, to come in at this stage?
Professor Davies: If you are a bright scientist and you come on to the MRC council, you expect a baptism of fire whatever; there is always an issue -----
Q357 Chairman: Bright scientists are not always bright politically - we have heard that.
Professor Davies: Some of them are. In any case, it is a new mind, a new contributor to the debate.
Q358 Chairman: What about the possibility of a phased move - unit by unit or whatever? Are there options like that still on the table, that it is not an all-in-one kind of move into the city, and the furore that stirs up? Do you think there is a case to be argued for bit by bit, a phased move?
Professor Tomlinson: It is bound to have phases, the movement of people; not all 700 people will be able to move -----
Q359 Chairman: But there is such a difference in saying "phased". It is like building a road; if you build it in phases it is much different getting it through politically than saying "we want to build one big road" because you will not get the money for one big road, but you might get it in phases.
Professor Tomlinson: This is a very careful balance, if you are talking about phasing the relocation of the scientists and what the impact will be on the science. I think that critical mass is important. You could not move, in my view, a small number of people one year and then wait another couple of years and move some more people.
Q360 Chairman: Stephen, what we are doing is negotiating here about how the whole process would be carried out. It does not seem as if that was a consideration in the whole business; it was all or nothing.
Professor Tomlinson: We were not given the job of implementing our recommendations. Surely, that is the job of the executive of the Medical Research Council?
Q361 Chairman: I am saying that you were in a key position by being given that job to put real pressure on the MRC and determine how it moved, or they would not have appointed you in the first place.
Professor Tomlinson: It might well be that that is a potential role for some or all of the members of the task force, but not as the same task force as has reached the conclusions about the recommendations. I believe that the council, the executive officers, are bound to ask for advice about the implementation of the relocation.
Q362 Chairman: Looking back, do you think the remit was right or wrong?
Professor Tomlinson: The remit of the task force. I think the remit for the task force was very clear, and it was correct.
Professor Davies: I endorse that view. We are not saying there is any idea - if the conclusion that it is better and feasible financially for everything to move to central London, then that is the time to sit down with NIMR staff and say, "what is the best for the science to enable this to happen?"
Q363 Chairman: In your heart of hearts, when do you think that will come about, given that you have been close to the parties concerned and their decisions? Will it be soon, late, 30 years, 100 years or never? What do you feel?
Professor Davies: I would hope the commitment to the future would happen in a short time frame. The enactment of that vision may take a decade or more.
Professor Tomlinson: I agree.
Q364 Chairman: Do you think other task force members might feel the same?
Professor Tomlinson: I think so.
Chairman: I know it has been painful and difficult, going down history, but thank you very much for coming. You can see why we think it is a very important issue, and thank you very much for contributing and doing all the work on the task force and coming here today and giving us your views in a straightforward way. Thank you.