Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 160 - 179)

WEDNESDAY 16 MAY 2007

DR JOE HORWOOD, DR ROBIN HENSLEY AND DR MIKE BELL

  Q160  Dr Iddon: Professor Hensley, how important is the private sector to you?

  Dr Hensley: Our remit is to meet the safe navigation requirements of international mariners, so the private sector as a customer of our products is very important. In the paper charting the world, I think the figure is approximately 85 per cent of world vessels in the SOLAS market would carry British Admiralty charts. It is very important that we do meet their requirements precisely in terms of up-to-date information delivered on time of reliable products and so on, so they are very important to us.

  Dr Horwood: We obviously serve the private sector as an agent of Defra, for instance with help in licensing and with stakeholders in fisheries. But as direct customers for our services, provided there are no conflicts of interest or they can be managed, we can take on private sector clients. As it has turned out, that really has not to date been a very significant part of our business. The area we seem to be most suited is support to other government departments or even overseas governments or the European Union.

  Q161  Dr Turner: The IACMST takes the view that marine science could be better co-ordinated. What is your view on that from the point of view of your agencies?

  Dr Hensley: We have a representative on IACMST, so we are party to that. We are involved in that. We are also involved in the Marine Data Information Partnership (MDIP) along with our colleagues within the MoD. As I said earlier, we are not responsible for doing research but we are part of that community. We play our part in that respect.

  Q162  Dr Turner: Do you think it could be better co-ordinated? Do you agree with the committee in that view?

  Dr Hensley: I do not really have view. I am not sure whether it can or cannot be, to be honest.

  Dr Bell: The co-ordination certainly between the Met Office and NERC has improved enormously over the past ten years. The National Centre for Ocean Forecasting is a very good example of that. That is a consortium that has been set up to enable the marine research that is done within the consortium within NERC to pull through more effectively into our short-range forecasting operations. I think there things have improved a lot at working level. That is very important. There is co-ordination with the Met Office down to the use, particularly by government departments, of the information and the forecast predictions that we produce. I have indicated already that there are some areas where that could be strengthened. We set up a stakeholders' group to try to encourage that. That is certainly an area where things could be better.

  Q163  Dr Turner: That is within the Ministry of Defence and yourselves, is it not?

  Dr Bell: The stakeholder group includes people from Cefas, from HR Wallingford, from BP and MCA, so from quite a wide rage of organisations. The other area I would mention is marine monitoring. Better co-ordination there is really crucial. Some good steps have been taken with the UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy and the setting up of the policy committee and the sub-committees under that. It needs co-ordination of funding as well as just co-ordination in meeting up to get some common ideas.

  Q164  Dr Turner: Some of that long-term monitoring has nearly been lost because of gaps in funding?

  Dr Bell: Yes.

  Q165  Dr Turner: Dr Horwood, what is your view?

  Dr Horwood: There is a great deal of co-ordination that goes on that I guess you need to be able to see to identify the particular weaknesses. The question was put to us as: you see your work as coming from programmes. Where there are some programmes, these are often aligned to European programmes, and there is a great deal of co-ordination, particularly at the European level because we are essentially an international business. When things happen at sea, we have been used to joining together with other countries for many years. There are key European committees. The International Council for Exploration of the Sea has a key remit to co-ordinate work. The European Science Foundation has a marine board that brings together research councils across Europe. Under the new Maritime Bill, ICES and the European Science Foundation hope to get together to provide even greater co-ordination. Nationally, the devolved administrations and Defra join together to ensure there is a coherent UK programme in fisheries and the marine environment. They are taking the lead on UKMMAS, the marine environmental monitoring programme, which for the first time has brought together national monitoring and includes a review of what resources are needed to deliver that. There is a huge amount of co-ordination that goes on. To me, the weak bit is then the bit from our type of organisation to NERC, the research councils and the universities. There is less coherence there than in some of the other areas where there is very strong co-ordination.

  Q166  Dr Turner: You are all basically agreeing with the inter-agency committee's view then that co-ordination is not as good as it might be. There seem to be far too many organisations doing their thing that may or may not be talking to each other and collaborating. It strikes us as somewhat analogous to the situation we found in space science where there is a relatively weak national committee charged with co-ordinating space science, but it lacks clout and it lacks funding. The question there is: should there be a national agency with its own funding and given far more authority? We are wondering whether this applies to marine science as well. We have the example in the US of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association as just such a body. What would your view be on the establishment of a comparable body in the UK? Do you think it could improve for instance the overall funding of marine science, which clearly is not enough to do everything that is desirable?

  Dr Bell: I think one of the points that you do need to bear in mind is that different organisations have different roles. You have the NERC institutes which are focused very much on marine research.

  Q167  Chairman: We are very anxious to get an answer directly to Dr Turner's question. Is an agency a good idea or not?

  Dr Bell: I will come on to that. One of the questions is what the scope of that agency would be, what it would actually cover, and whether it would cover the whole of marine research, whether it would cover research through to operations and applications?

  Q168  Dr Turner: Assume the answer is yes to that question, then continue please.

  Dr Bell: Across the whole thing, I do not think that would be the right thing to do. For the operational work, the Met Office is very good place to do that because of the gearing that you get from the weather forecasting. If you did that work anywhere other than the Met Office, it would cost an awful lot more money. The Met Office has a rather small group of people involved in marine research. That would not be an appropriate place to bring all the marine research institutes. Those need to be closer to the universities.

  Dr Horwood: It is not entirely clear that we have a UK strategy for marine research to underpin what we need from the marine side. It would seem sensible that somewhere there is a very high level overview on whether we have the strategy right for UK plc, and whether all the key players are contributing. I do not believe IACMST has worked but I do not know why. Lots of the key players are sitting around that table. Maybe that is the organisation you are talking about. I have to say that there does seem to me to be a fair amount of bureaucracy in co-ordination already. I do not think I would relish a further layer of bureaucracy.

  Q169  Dr Turner: Perhaps we might be able to take some layers out. What is Cefas doing to help in promoting collaboration with the marine science community, both nationally and internationally?

  Dr Horwood: Internationally, we are involved in major bodies such as ICES, the International Council for Exploration of the Sea; this is an intergovernmental body. I happen to be their President. We have seats on the council. As a body, it tends to be on the more applied side of co-ordinating research rather than blue skies, although clearly there is not a bar to that. Through ICES, we are seeking to join up at the European level. Through OSPAR, the Oslo/Paris Convention, which has responsibility for the marine environment, there are various key groups there where scientists around Europe get together to comment on the quality of the marine environment and its biodiversity. Nationally, through consultations such as that through NERC 2025, we do join and have partners, although they clearly own that process, and at present Defra and the devolved administrations are funding a specific programme to help join 2025 type activities with our fisheries laboratory type activities.

  Q170  Dr Turner: Dr Bell, no one would suggest I think that we meddle around with the Met Office because it does an extremely good job. I think you can rest assured on that. Do you think that NERC is doing enough to enable researchers to get the benefit of the Met Office's facilities?

  Dr Bell: I think that there is quite a good and an increasingly good working relationship between the Met Office and quite a number of NERC research institutes. We had a NCOF workshop a couple of weeks ago with 50 people present, half of them from the NERC research institutes. I think that there is good support from the directors of the marine institutes to encourage their staff to work with us. There is good grass roots support. We have a list of 50 small collaborative projects between ourselves and the other members of NCOV, which is really helping to pull their work through into our operations.

  Q171  Dr Turner: You are conscious of this issue?

  Dr Bell: Yes, we are. I should say that in the climate area as well, and I have been talking about the short-range forecasting of NCOF, there is a committee for UK strategy for climate modelling. There is good collaboration between the Met Office and a number of groups in the development of the components of system modelling; for example, atmospheric chemistry, land surface modelling and carbon cycle modelling.

  Q172  Dr Turner: Finally, while I am on this theme, there seems to be a player missing in this country. In the United States, the US Navy actually plays a role in marine science now. Do you think we should get the MoD to get the Navy involved here? They still have a few ships, almost as many ships as they have admirals. They could be asked to tow a few plankton monitors while they are at it and so on. Why is the Navy not involved?

  Dr Hensley: May I first pick up on the NERC point? The UKHO provides data for example to the British Oceanographic Data Centre. We do provide our data into the NERC communities through that route. We also exchange data with our NATO partners. We have some work, I hesitate to call it research, for which we will contract some research establishments, such as Southampton, to help us in answering relatively short-term key questions on defence. We do have some links there. With regard to the use of naval vessels, the MoD will set the policy for defence's data collection and FLEET will be responsible for tasking vessels to collect. So if there is a wider question on whether naval vessel could and should be used, I am not the person to answer the question.

  Chairman: Are you ever going to have an opinion on anything?

  Q173  Dr Turner: These are the opportunities that are not being taken advantage of at present. For instance, we have Royal Navy vessels patrolling in all sorts of parts of the world for other reasons but, while they are doing that, they are not fighting most of the time and they could have a scientist on board making observations.

  Dr Hensley: We receive data from the Navy in support of the requirements they have, but I cannot answer on behalf of the Royal Navy, I am afraid.

  Q174  Dr Turner: Nobody listens to this. You can be as honest as you like and disagree.

  Dr Hensley: I have read the transcripts.

  Dr Bell: The Navy does try hard to be supportive of marine research and over the years they have provided a lot of funding for marine research. Some of that funding has dried up a bit in recent years. Robin has mentioned CAROS, the co-operative arrangements for research in ocean science. That is quite a high level group that co-ordinates this and there have been some major programmes which the MoD has supported at the National Oceanography Centre.

  Q175  Chris Mole: We have seen some evidence so far about long-term monitoring in areas such as the continuous plankton recorder and the UK tidal gauge network. What sort of long-term monitoring do your agencies support and how do you share that data more widely in other issues to do with securing the funding for that on a long-term basis?

  Dr Hensley: From an environmental perspective, we have a database on oceanographic observations; that would be sea water temperature, salinity and so forth. As I have alluded to earlier, those data are released into the academic environment periodically. That would be where we could contribute on that.

  Dr Bell: The Met Office maintains a network of moored buoys around the UK continental shelf. It is also the leader of the UK contribution to the ARGO system, so it co-ordinates that.

  Q176  Chris Mole: Is the ARGO funding secure?

  Dr Bell: No.

  Q177  Chris Mole: Do you think it should it be?

  Dr Bell: Yes.

  Q178  Chris Mole: Is it the Met Office's responsibility to ensure that is secured?

  Dr Bell: No.

  Q179  Chris Mole: Whose responsibility do you think it is?

  Dr Bell: It is across government, so it is the government departments which have been involved in that discussion: Defra, MoD and NERC.

  Dr Horwood: On the UKMMAS, they have tried to find out exactly where the UK is in terms of its national monitoring. In the report we did for them very recently, we reported 34 ongoing monitoring surveys covering radiological work, contaminant work and disease—a raft of fish stock assessment monitoring. Again, we made that available through the MDIP website. That is accessible to third parties. We also feed in to the national data storage programme through the National Data Centre and also a range of our data goes to ICES where it is amalgamated at an international level, so you have international fishery surveys and contaminant data being stored there.


 
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