Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500
MONDAY 16 JULY 2007
MP, PROFESSOR SIR
Q500 Chairman: I will just ask one
last question. The clerk and I were down in Southampton last week
looking at the Oceanographic Centre and we came away having met
a number of the scientists there who felt that there was a need
for a champion for marine science. Sir David, I wonder have you
met a champion for marine science during your time as Government
Chief Scientific Adviser, and who is that person?
Professor Sir David King: The
champion is sitting to my left and would be Sir Howard Dalton,
in my view.
Q501 Chairman: Sir Howard, you have
been named as the champion. Will you continue to be the champion
when you have left government?
Professor Sir Howard Dalton: I
am sure my successor will be happy to accept the mantle of being
champion for it, and it is absolutely right in many respects that
Defra should take some sort of leading role here and we would
be happy to embrace that. It is important that strategically we
get something together which from our point of view brings together
the science, well structured and well organised, so that it can
feed into the policy process. We need a proper marine strategy,
you are absolutely right, and in order to do that it is essential
that we get the science right. My role on IACMST is to try to
bring together all those people in the UK who have a need for,
and are involved in, marine science, particularly in the monitoring
area, the research area, understanding fisheries, understanding
everything that is going on in the marine environment, which has
been rather poorly researched. I told you this when I last gave
evidence to this Committee. I think it is right that we do it
and we do it properly. In terms of developing a proper science
base for that, I think Defra is probably as good as anybody else
in order to do that. IACMST is purely and simply a vehicle for
bringing people together and to understand what the issues are,
it is not the one that sets the programmes up in the first place,
it advises different government departments on what to do.
Chairman: I will bring Des in here because
we would like to follow that up.
Q502 Dr Turner: I do not know who
wants to take this one but having been in the job for two weeks
Jonathan ought to be able to account for the deficiencies in the
last 50 years! Anyway, the Lords Select Committee looked at marine
science 20 years and they described the areas as "under-funded
and fragmented". Nothing seems to have changed very much
over the last 20 years because all of our witnesses have told
us the same story, so why are we in this position?
Jonathan Shaw: I am not sure that
is right. There will be a number of important areas to improve
upon but in terms of funding, it is science that spends around
£26 million and the Committee has been provided with a breakdown
of the areas within the evidence that we submitted. There is also
the science and marine science that goes from the Research Councils
and you will be aware that there has been a significant increase
in funding to the Research Councils. In terms of money and fragmentation,
I would point to the example of MariFish. It is about us being
more collaborative with other countries as well so we can use
our resources with other countries. Defra have led MariFish, which
is a collaboration of 13 countries with a whole series of different
programmes, and that has been very successful. We are able to
work with others and to use the resources available to us in a
smarter way. In terms of how the UK stands up comparatively, and
we will provide the Committee with a league table, we compare
pretty well in terms of other European countries. I accept that
there is bound to be a case of needing to do more. In terms of
you saying that things have stayed the same for the last 20 years,
I think that I could point to examples which would refute that,
although not necessarily entirely.
Q503 Dr Turner: It is a pity that
the marine scientific community does not see it that way. There
are also reservations from the IACMST themselves because they
do not seem to think that it is really fulfilling a proper co-ordinated
and strategic role and it certainly does not have any actual powers.
It does not have funding powers, it is a talk shop. Do you think
that its powers should be increased? Should we consider moving
to a formal agency like NOAA in the United States? We seem to
have a situation where we have got some very, very good marine
scientists at work and the reputation of British marine science
stands very high in the world but they are having problems with
inconsistent support, shall we say, which if you are looking at
it from a strategic point of view, especially the monitoring programmes,
would have been better avoided and many of these programmes have
only been saved by the skin of their teeth by charitable finance.
Do you think that we should be doing something with the IACMST?
God, I hate that acronym, I can never my tongue round it
Jonathan Shaw: I know what we
are talking about.
Professor Sir Howard Dalton: We
can use MST as an abbreviation if that helps.
Jonathan Shaw: Another one!
Q504 Dr Turner: Should we do anything?
Jonathan Shaw: The opening questions
from the Chairman highlighted an issue for me to look at in terms
of the reporting and accountability and who is in the lead. That
is probably the first thing that I need to do. In terms of whether
the committee that we are talking about needs teeth and whether
it needs to be an agency, I am not in a position to be able to
make a proper assessment of. In terms of whether it is just a
talking shop and does not do anything, the example I have just
referred to of the 300 programmes of monitoring did not happen
until the Committee was set up. It was through the Committee's
work that people were brought together to ensure that all of that
monitoring and those programmes then fed into Defra so we can
have a good idea of what is happening on the sea bed. There is
an example of where the Committee has provided an important function.
The point the Chairman raises is something for me to look at.
In terms of whether it needs teeth or money, et cetera, that will
be something for me to consider. I hope that I will be able to
consider that when I receive a copy of your report which will
be very helpful
Professor Sir Howard Dalton: Getting
back to your question at the beginning, which was a fair one about
the funding situation, that is absolutely clear. Historically
the funding in the marine environment has been much poorer than
it has in the terrestrial environment.
Q505 Chairman: In your evidence you
said it was £2 million under-funded.
Professor Sir Howard Dalton: I
gave you the figure in my evidence and that has not changed. What
has changed is the realisation that we need to fund it better
and it is an important and valuable resource for the UK. When
you think about the programme that we talked about before, Oceans
2025, which is a NERC funded research initiative that Defra are
teaming up with and other funders are getting involved with, I
think it is a major step forward in trying to develop the science
that underpins everything to do with the marine environment. There
is a very important initiative and we must not lose sight of that.
Where IACMST fits in all of this is an interesting and valuable
question and it is one for the Minister to contemplate on because
we need to think now what the role of IACMST ought to be. You
are absolutely right. It has been a talking shop. It has been
a vehicle for us to be able to think seriously about what we are
trying to do, what different government departments are doing
in order to address the issues. Maybe it needs some teeth. Maybe
it does need a resource base that we can throw at this and say,
"We think more money ought to be put in there and we have
it to give you." That is a possibility. I would not want
to presume any more than saying this is something we need to think
about but it is certainly something for the Minister to contemplate.
Professor Sir David King: This
may be an occasion when you find you have three different opinions
before you. I personally think that we have rather over stressed
the Inter-Agency Committee and its position in the discussion.
The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is
the right department to take on full responsibility for the marine
environment. The full responsibility lies with that department,
including the possibility to coordinate activities with other
government departments. Coming back to the responsibilities of
Jonathan, I think they lie within the Department. At the same
time, I do support what Sir Howard in the sense that we have not,
despite being a maritime nation, fully recognised the importance
of marine science in the overall picture. As we move forward through
this century, I think we will have to change that quite dramatically.
If we look at the marine situation, we have biodiversity issues,
water quality issues, impacts from climate changeby that
I mean warming oceansimpacts from carbon dioxide levels
increasing which means acidifying the oceans and we have major
issues, I believe, around the food chain beginning with plankton.
All of this impacts heavily on the way we move forward through
this century. We will have to have a much greater focus of attention
on marine science as we move forward.
Jonathan Shaw: One of the first
questions I had for officials was obviously about how much money
we were spending and where the shortfalls were. There are shortfalls.
They have prepared me a chart of the different areas where we
are spending now and where we see the shortfalls. I can very happily
provide the Committee with that. It talks about sea birds, data
assessment project management for productive seas, litter, noise,
a whole range of different areas.
Q506 Chairman: That would be useful
Jonathan Shaw: You will get it
all from me. It is much better that you have all the information.
The government has to make decisions about how much we spend and
whether we will be able to meet all the shortfalls. We will probably
not but it is important that the Committee have that information
so that they can provide the most accurate report.
Q507 Linda Gilroy: I was very pleased
to hear Sir David's comments about the recognition that is growing
for marine science. I think I am right in saying that marine science
and technologyit is one of the things we have learned,
the interconnection and the importance between the twois
something like a £14 billion industry in Europe. It is a
growth industry and it is one where the UK in many fields has
a lead. I would just challenge you to look at whether it really
is appropriate for it to be sited in Defra, that the champion
we were trying to identify should be sited in Defra and not perhaps
in DIUS or whatever.
Professor Sir Howard Dalton: When
you look at that £14 billion, you have to ask yourself who
is generating it. A lot of it is oil, gas and marine engineering
which in a sense fit probably much closer into that department
than Defra. The fishing side of it is relatively small, although
it is a very important part of the livelihood and wellbeing of
the nation. It is important to think about where the major activities
are from that point of view. I am not trying to shove it away
to another department essentially but it might be more realistic
to think about where the major resource earners are in that context.
Professor Sir David King: We just
have to bear in mind that the DTI no longer exists. I think the
department Sir Howard has just referred to is Business Enterprise
and Regulatory Reform, not DIUS.
Jonathan Shaw: In Defra's defence,
Defra leads on sustainable development so it is appropriate that
there is an umbrella that looks after the sea. I think it should
remain where it is given all the work that has been undertaken.
Q508 Dr Turner: Oceans 2025 is going
to need lots of good collaboration between Defra's institutes
and NERC's institutes. Are you happy that this is going to work
well? Are we going to get some symbiosis between all these different
Jonathan Shaw: Yes. At the moment
there is a sustainable marine bioresources programme which is
funded jointly with NERC, in the region of £700,000. It is
happening and it needs to continue to happen. Yes, I am confident
that that will be the case.
Q509 Dr Turner: Marine science is
becoming increasingly relevant to climate change. Defra contains
the Office for Climate Change. Is the marine science community
being brought into the work of the Office for Climate Change?
Jonathan Shaw: It is. This is
the marine climate change annual report card which sets out very
clearly and succinctly where we are, what could happen and how
confident we are about that prediction. That includes a whole
range of different organisations and contributors. I am very happy
that the collaboration is taking place. We have a very high level
of contributors to this report card which is a good document and
sets out where we are. It also includes NGOs and the devolved
authorities and Guernsey and Jersey, for example. Yes, people
are working together on climate change.
Q510 Dr Turner: There is a whole
host of Defra led initiatives going on. Are you satisfied that
there are not too many of them so that they are not going to trip
each other up? Is each of them being adequately funded?
Jonathan Shaw: I have talked about
the programmes in terms of the monitoring that is happening. Getting
the most out of the resources that we are putting in is absolutely
essential but I do not think we should just be looking at it from
a UK perspective. It is obvious that marine life, pollution and
such matters do not recognise borders so it is essential that
we have collaborative arrangements, particularly with our European
partners. That is an important part of the way ahead, how we use
our resources. I will provide a very bold statement about how
much we are investing and where we think the shortfall is so that
you will have that clear picture.
Q511 Dr Turner: You have clearly
come to the realisation that there is some under-funding in marine
science. Do you think it is drastically under-funded? How optimistic
do you feel about its level of funding under the comprehensive
Jonathan Shaw: What I hope we
will see more of is collaboration between the Committee so that
we know what we are talking about and the Research Councils, particularly
NERC. There has been some work and Oceans 2025 is an important
part of that, but we need to see more of that going forward. We
need to be able to answer the big questions as to what is happening
out there. What is climate change going to do in terms of impacting
on marine life, not just within our immediate area but in the
oceans around the world and how they all feed into each other?
That is big research which we need to do in terms of the Foresight
Programme looking forward but within that we need more applied
science as well. I hope that we do see more discussion and collaboration.
I have been advised that perhaps on the one hand the Committee
and the IACMST and NERC have not had a lot of collaboration in
the past. Oceans 2025 is an encouraging development and we need
to see more of it.
Q512 Dr Turner: You carefully skated
around the question about funding.
Jonathan Shaw: There will always
be demands upon funding. Is the level of marine and scientific
research going to get to the same level as terrestrial research?
That would be a huge leap and I do not think that is likely. We
will have to see what comes out of the CSR but it is reasonable
for me to say that we need to use our money in a more collaborative
way with other countries and I also think we need to see greater
use of the significant resources that have gone into the Research
Professor Sir Howard Dalton: The
Minister is absolutely right that we have to get our priorities
sorted. There is an issue over funding for marine science. I agree
with that. If you look at the amount of money that we were putting
into the marine environment research spend in 1994, it is the
same as it is today in real terms. Therefore, it is less. You
ask yourself: are you doing the same amount of research? We are
being quite innovative in realising that there is less money available
than there was. We do need to work very closely with our partners
on it and the Minister is quite right in saying that what we have
to find ways of doing is to team up with as many people as we
can so that we do not all start doing the same sort of things.
Working with our European partners has been very important. Working
with the Natural Environment Research Council is a very useful
and helpful way forward. We have to be more careful in the way
in which we spend our money. You ask any scientist, "Are
you spending enough money on your particular project?" any
scientist will say, "No, we can always spend more" and
we can. What is being clever is being able to do the right sort
of science at the right time with the same amount of money. That
is really what the challenge is for us and we try to do that.
Jonathan Shaw: We do compare well
with other countries as will be illustrated with the information
that I will provide to the Committee.
Chairman: Can we ask Sir David the same
question? The real issue here is that throughout this inquiry
we have been impressed by witness after witness, both the other
side of the Atlantic and here, who have made the significant point
that the research into what is happening in our oceans is absolutely
fundamental to the future of this planet. Therefore, to hear that
we will make the resources go a bit further perhaps is not the
exciting response we need. We need someone to fight for this.
Dr Iddon: We are not even touching the
deep ocean. We are talking about research on the continental shelf
largely at the moment.
Q513 Chairman: Sir David, triumph.
This is your opportunity.
Professor Sir David King: I want
to respond by reminding everyone that there are two forms of government
funding that we are talking about. One is the Research Council
funding which is pushing the frontiers of knowledge. The other
is government funding which is advising governments on policy
decisions. They have different intents and different contents.
At the same time, in the best of possible worlds, they pull in
similar directions and I think this is an example where things
are moving in a way that synergises these two aspects of the work.
We had a discussion about Oceans 2025. That is a NERC led project.
If you read their 2005 to 2008 projected work, you will see that
it is right up there as one of the projects they plan to fund
with increased funding. Within NERC there is a very clear understanding
of the reason why we need to fund marine science more heavily.
For example, the Exeter meeting on the impacts of climate change
held at the beginning of our presidency year of the G8, a big,
international meeting. I was present throughout that meeting and
I can attest to the fact that it was the British marine scientists
who led the way on this new area of concern which is what is climate
change doing to our oceans. It was British scientists, funded
very largely by the Met Office and NERC who were leading the way
in terms of developing areas of science that needed exploring.
This question of acidifying the oceans really became apparent
through British work from Portsmouth and Southampton that was
presented at that meeting. On the one hand we do have excellent
research and I personally think that NERC has a chief executive
and a council that are focused on trying to moved as quickly as
possible into these critically important areas. From the point
of view of the government department, there is much to be done
in taking that research and converting it into policy advice.
For example, we look at the movement of plankton, plankton being
the beginning of much of the food chain. If Arctic plankton is
moving north and we are seeing data showing 1,000 kilometre movement
north, a different variety of plankton is moving up to replace
it around the British Isles. What are the consequences for the
marine food chain but also for the land based food chain, both
in terms of cod stocks and fish stocks generally, because the
fish larvae eat the plankton; but also in terms of bird populations,
because the birds feed off the ocean reservoir as well? All of
this feeds directly into Defra's responsible area in terms of
the fisheries of the United Kingdom but also in terms of the environment.
The Department has a very clear responsibility and, as time moves
on, it really needs to look very carefully at the level of funding
and see that it is appropriate to the needs.
Q514 Chris Mole: The Minister referred
to applied science and Sir David was talking about some of the
products of a particular scientific project. I am not sure whether
these are some of the 350 projects mentioned earlier but Sir David
referred to monitoring plankton and that is part of building up
a long term picture about what is happening in the ocean, along
with measuring acidity, salinity, temperature and all of those
data sets. Whose responsibility is it to ensure that we have that
continuous monitoring? Is that something that is going to sit
with Defra? Has it been with the OSI in the past because of the
project funding approach? Who is going to get hold of that and
say, "We need this information on a continuous basis in order
to properly inform our public policy in this area"?
Professor Sir Howard Dalton: One
of the things the Minister referred to early on and the one thing
that we and IACMST have been very concerned about are marine data,
what we do with marine data, where they go, how are they being
properly used and can it be properly used in the future. There
have been something like, when we started to look into this business,
350-odd data sets all out there, all over the place in different
forms, all of which were necessarily important if we want to understand
what is going on in the marine environment. Through our Marine
Data Information Partnership initiative from IACMST, an activity
that IACMST got engaged with, we said, "Let us try and put
all this together so we have a proper system." We funded
that with some money that came from NERC particularly in order
to be able to set up a very small team of people to bring all
that information together. We in Defra and many other organisations
around the UK collect data together and put them all down so that
they can be thoroughly used. The MDIP partnership has been responsible
for pulling those data together and making them available in a
form that everybody can then use. Defra funds an awful lot of
this activity in what we call the non-R&D side of the budgets
which is to do with monitoring, understanding what the fish stocks
are, understanding what is going on in the environment, doing
the sort of measurements that Sir David talked about in terms
of CO2, acidification, salinity measurements, funding a whole
load of activities out there for monitoring the marine environment
which is an international activity. It is not just a UK activity.
Q515 Chris Mole: Who should be pulling
it together on an international basis?
Professor Sir Howard Dalton: There
are people who are pulling it together on an international basis.
We have this global observation system for the ocean, GOOS. There
is a number of internationally coordinated activities to look
at the marine environment and that is part of it. We pull our
weight by looking at the activities around the UK.
Q516 Chris Mole: Does that mean our
contribution towards ensuring that things like the ARGO floats
are going to be there and replaced when they drop off the system?
Professor Sir Howard Dalton: That
is an issue that I am concerned about. I am concerned about the
funding and deployment and the continued funding and deployment
of ARGO floats, which are playing a very important role globally,
where the UK should be making a contribution to the international
activities. We struggle every year to get money for it.
Q517 Chris Mole: There is no worry
that that will not continue?
Professor Sir Howard Dalton: I
am worried that it may not continue. We need to ensure that government,
if it wants to involved in all of this, funds it properly and
does not give us a situation every year where we have to go cap
in hand, trying to raise money for it.
Q518 Chairman: The question that
we would like an answer to is: whose responsibility is it? You
have mentioned that Defra have pulled this together and the Committee
are very supportive of what has been achieved there. In terms
of some of the long term, continuous plankton records, NERC is
doing that but it is doing it on a cycle by cycle basis.
Professor Sir Howard Dalton: It
is funded by Defra but it is done through SAHFOs, the Sir Alistair
Q519 Chairman: In Plymouth?
Professor Sir Howard Dalton: That
is right. Defra funds it and Defra has taken on board the responsibility
for ensuring it is continued.