Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 500 - 519)



  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 change—by that I mean warming oceans—impacts 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 for us.

  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 technology—it is one of the things we have learned, the interconnection and the importance between the two—is 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 institutes?

  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 spending review?

  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 Councils.

  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 Harding Foundations.

  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.

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