Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480 - 499)



  Q480  Chairman: The serious question is that we do now have a new Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and I just wonder if you see a conflict or a division between Defra and, indeed, the new department in terms of marine science.

  Jonathan Shaw: There should not be a conflict, Chairman. Sir Howard chairs the IACMST, which is independent, but nevertheless he is the Chief Scientist for Defra. The work that we have seen undertaken has been collaborative with many organisations coming together to provide science evidence on which a policy can be formulated. The starting point was Safeguarding our Seas, which I am sure the Committee are familiar with. There are other examples which I will perhaps come on to during the evidence where there is collaboration. The IACMST is the catalyst that identifies particular areas of research that are required and obviously the research institutes undertake their research as well, and they do come together. Perhaps if I can just highlight an example of where that has happened, and where that has happened well: the monitoring arrangements. This chart, which we will provide the Committee with, highlights 350 different programmes of where there is monitoring taking place in the sea and that is undertaken by a range of different organisations, but it is brought together and collated—

  Q481  Chairman: By Defra.

  Jonathan Shaw: By Defra. It was the work of the IACMST that drew attention to the fact that it was very disparate and it is absolutely vital that we do have this monitoring that takes place. It is now brought together, not just for England but for the devolved authorities as well.

  Q482  Chairman: We will come on to the Inter-Agency Committee for Marine Science and Technology a little later but, Sir David, I wonder do you see any real divisions between Defra and the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, which will henceforth be called DIUS?

  Professor Sir David King: In respect of marine science?

  Q483  Chairman: Yes. Is there a conflict anywhere?

  Professor Sir David King: I see it rather clearly. In 2003 Sir Howard took over from me as Chairman of the Inter-Agency Committee and at that point as well the officials moved to Defra and I saw it as becoming a full Defra responsibility with the ministerial responsibility in Defra. Now, of course there are many government departments involved, as there are in many other issues such as climate change, but the practice of giving key responsibility to one department exists right across government, so I do not see the conflict with that.

  Q484  Chairman: Can I tell you why I have asked the question. Currently IACMST actually reports to OSI and OSI is moving lock, stock and barrel into the new department. That was the confusion. You are now saying that has changed and it is going to report to Defra.

  Professor Sir David King: I believe in practice this has been the case. We have a member from the Office of Science and Innovation, as it was, and DIUS as it is now, on that Inter-Agency Committee but the chairmanship and the official responsibility now lies with Defra, and I believe has done since 2003. Your question means that we need to go away and make sure that the reporting lines are absolutely clear. As Chief Scientific Adviser on issues like this I would always pass initial responsibility to the Departmental Chief Scientific Adviser, for example, leaving myself a position of challenge so that I can come in not having been fully involved.

  Q485  Chairman: It is not a trick question, it is just trying to get clarification, please do not think that. Sir Howard, the committee itself thinks it reports to OSI, not to Defra.

  Professor Sir Howard Dalton: It does. It believes it does.

  Q486  Chairman: It believes it does.

  Professor Sir Howard Dalton: We need some clarity here but I think there is an issue about clarity and that is a problem at the moment.

  Q487  Chairman: It is as this is the key organisation that, if you like, co-ordinates marine science.

  Professor Sir Howard Dalton: It is quite true. If you go to the Inter-Agency Committee on Marine Science and Technology website you will see that the Inter-Agency Committee on Marine Science and Technology reports to the Office of Science and Innovation. It is true, and Sir David is absolutely right, I took over the chairmanship of the Inter-Agency Committee on Marine Science and Technology in 2003 from his department and have been chair of that ever since. I act, in a sense, as an independent chair of IACMST because on that committee sits representations from each of the major government departments, including Defra, so I purely and simply serve as its chairman and will continue to serve as its chairman, despite the fact that I shall no longer be formally associated with Defra when I leave government in September, and will continue being the chairman of IACMST for one year at least thereafter. That emphasises that I have an independent role as a chairman but we in Defra and the OSI, or DIUS—the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills—need to be clear about what the reporting lines are and I think there is a slight fuzziness there and we need to get that resolved.

  Q488  Chairman: Could I just ask you, Sir Howard, whether the committee actually produces an annual report? Does it present it to Defra or to OSI?

  Professor Sir Howard Dalton: The Office of Science and Innovation. We have a report.

  Q489  Chairman: The report goes to OSI?

  Professor Sir Howard Dalton: Yes.

  Q490  Chairman: So it does need clarification and you are going to do it, Jonathan.

  Jonathan Shaw: In preparing for the evidence session this afternoon from some of the submissions of the previous evidence that has been presented to you I spotted that there was perhaps the need for clarity and, coming new to the job, that is something that I am going to do. It is very helpful that the Committee has highlighted this point because as we move forward the lines of accountability and reporting are very important. We have got an enormous amount of work ahead of us with the Marine Bill and it is right that we get this in place. Yes, I will get on and do it.

  Q491  Chairman: Minister, you mentioned the Marine Bill. Everybody's eyes lit up at that point. When are we going to get the Marine Bill?

  Jonathan Shaw: I have read The Guardian today and some other colleagues have as well. We are committed to the Marine Bill. We anticipate seeing a draft Bill early next year and in our manifesto it was stated that we would introduce that Bill. We have got a lot of work to do.

  Q492  Chairman: It was not in the Queen's Speech, that is what concerned us.

  Jonathan Shaw: It was referred to in the written statement. The Prime Minister did not say in his oral statement but there was reference to it in the written statement. It will be the first type of legislation anywhere in the world, so the world will be looking at us. We will have a blank canvas within which to paint the new planning and regulation of our ocean. It is absolutely vital that we get this right, both in terms of the science and also, very importantly, the co-operation with the devolved authorities, which The Guardian did not refer to.

  Q493  Chairman: We are not responsible for The Guardian.

  Jonathan Shaw: You are not, no.

  Q494  Chairman: Not yet!

  Jonathan Shaw: In terms of responding to that.

  Q495  Chairman: Can I just lead on from that because the Committee, as part of this inquiry, and we think it has been a very significant inquiry into marine science—

  Jonathan Shaw: And very timely.

  Q496  Chairman: ---visited the United States and three weeks ago we were in Portugal. Both Portugal as a small country and the US as arguably the largest country involved in marine science have comprehensive national strategies and we have not. Why is that, do you think? Are we going to put that right? Do we need one?

  Jonathan Shaw: I referred earlier to Safeguarding our Seas and that started off the process and there was the follow-up charting our progress. What is vital is that good science informs the way that we shape policy. These documents lay out what the Government's intention is. As I say, we have the Marine Bill as well and that will bring in proper regulation and planning arrangements, which do not exist at the moment. It is a bit like on the land, is it not, where there is a myriad of different organisations and responsibilities but we have got a blank canvas. There has been good work in progress.

  Q497  Chairman: But they are not national strategies, are they, the documents that you have referred to, they were part of a strategy rather than a whole strategy.

  Jonathan Shaw: Do you mean in terms of where—

  Q498  Chairman: A comprehensive set of priorities which the UK marine science, marine industries, are working towards.

  Jonathan Shaw: We have strategies to deal with marine life, we have strategies to deal with ensuring our coastal waters are clean, we have strategies in terms of climate change and the effect that is having upon the marine life and the effect it is having on our oceans. By way of inspiration, we also have a strategy for marine monitoring under UKMMAS. We are making steps in the right direction.

  Q499  Chairman: I think we are trying to make the point that this is an important area to pull together rather than have a division.

  Jonathan Shaw: I agree with you, Chairman, and you highlighted in your first points about reporting between different committees in terms of how they disseminate evidence and how they encourage research that is needed in order to shape that overall strategy. There is work in train and we need to do more.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2007
Prepared 18 October 2007