Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 220-236)

RT HON LORD ROOKER AND PROFESSOR HOWARD DALTON

1 NOVEMBER 2006

  Q220  Dr Turner: That is interesting.

  Professor Dalton: There is a big difference between the level of funding that Defra puts into the system and the level of funding that the research councils have historically, and currently, put into the system. At the moment the BBSRC and other research councils are funding to the tune of 80% of full economic costs and Defra fund 100%.

  Q221  Dr Turner: There are currently plans to redevelop the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in relation to your policy needs in addressing climate change. Are you closely involved in that restructuring programme?

  Professor Dalton: Yes, I have been involved through my role as council member of NERC's council in restructuring and considering the needs that the Natural Environment Research's council has of its research council institutes, principally CEH, so the answer is yes.

  Q222  Dr Turner: Looking to the future, you obviously have a science strategy, albeit one which is constantly evolving. Have you any view, as a department, about the sort of strategic research institutions and facilities which are going to be needed for the future on which you will be able to draw?

  Professor Dalton: That is a good question. Yes, we have been thinking about it to some extent, although we had not thought in terms of specifically what research council institutes or what research institutes we would need. There is little doubt, as Lord Rooker has indicated, that our priorities have been changing and changing quite a bit over the last few years. We have to respond to a whole number of changes that are occurring within society. We heard yesterday of the Stern Report and the implications that climate change is having on the globe. That is going to become a very important issue for us. We fund, for example, the Hadley Centre. The Hadley Centre were a very important part of the evidence base for the Stern Review. Our funding to the Hadley Centre incidentally has increased by 40% over five years, so it is not all, as you might like to think, gloom and doom in terms of what we do.

  Q223  Chairman: We have never suggested it!

  Professor Dalton: We do fund research which is necessary for societal needs and for policy needs and, therefore, things will probably be changing in the next few years. For example, we are responding very much to the agenda on new technologies. Nano-technology is emerging as a new technology. We would be quite interested in being able to support research in that area if it is necessary in order to be able to fulfil our policy needs. The rural agenda is still very important and we do engage, and have been engaging, with the research councils to try and inform research in that area. There will be changes. Exactly which ones they are going to be, I do not know, but certainly climate change and energy are going to be very high up on our agenda. We know, for example, that the Energy Research Partnership has been established already, we know that BP, Shell and Branson even are putting money into biofuels and bioenergy. There is going to be a great demand for that sort of work in the future as well, so I think those are areas that we are indeed responding to, and have to respond to, really quite quickly.

  Q224  Dr Turner: Are you able to play any co-ordinating, levering role in getting those sorts of resources into the research areas that are important? Perhaps I could first ask you, the Hadley Centre which is a world leader in its field which we are all, I think, very proud of, the cost of the Hadley Centre work, is that coming out of your £150 million research budget?

  Professor Dalton: We fund the Hadley Centre, yes.

  Lord Rooker: It is £12 million.

  Q225  Dr Turner: It is part of the £150 million?

  Lord Rooker: It is part of the £150 million, yes.

  Q226  Dr Turner: So can you tell us a little bit about the sort of value that you think you are getting from your research budget which, given its wide coverage, may well be rather impressive and something that you might want to crow about?

  Professor Dalton: Well, we would love to crow about it. We do not necessarily always sing it from the rooftops. Jeff Rooker mentioned earlier on, for example, the science that goes on at Kew and we fund them to the tune of £20-odd million a year. It is seriously important. In fact I had a meeting the night before last with Lord Selborne and Steve Hopper, the new Director of Kew Gardens, about how Defra might get much more actively engaged in the sort of things they are doing in terms of publicity. Very few people at Kew realise that all the science activities that are coming out of Kew Gardens are sponsored and funded by Defra. Very few people understand that the Hadley Centre is also a Defra-funded operation. Maybe we ought to be raising it a little bit more and crowing a bit more about it.

  Q227  Chairman: They know about it now!

  Lord Rooker: You asked a question about the Met Office and the Hadley Centre, that £12 million is out of the £150 million, but the £20 million for Kew is not out of the £150 million and it is a separate grant in aid. In other words, our effort into science is much greater than the narrow budget, I suppose, that Howard is responsible for in that sense because there are other activities which Defra fund, but the publicity point is a fair one because, frankly, when I was at MAFF earlier on, I did not know about MAFF funding Kew and I had the MAFF logo put on all the leaflets there which is why the Defra logo is on them now, but no one takes a blind bit of notice about it.

  Chairman: They do. They talk about nothing else now!

  Q228  Mr Newmark: What do you see as the role of Defra in actually co-ordinating a strategy and would you rather the OSI give a clear lead in ensuring a joined-up approach across government?

  Lord Rooker: Yes. Howard can give you a perspective that I cannot, but if I could come back, I will home in on this because it is not an unimportant matter. Defra's own agencies, which cost nearly £40 million a year, work across government. The Central Science Laboratory, its name actually is quite clever, but it is Defra's Central Science Laboratory, but it should be the Government's as other government departments use it. I am trying to get a wider customer base for that excellent facility that is there. It is a huge, complex operation, so it has to go across government in trying to get other government ministers, if you like, not to just think about—I am on the government team first and I am on the departmental team second and that is the way I have always approached it and, where we can, to try and join things up and I am doing this not only in work on the Foresight Programme but with government chief scientists across other areas of activity. I do not think Defra can give a lead, but I think ministers have to give a lead that you want things joined up across government. There is an argument—

  Q229  Mr Newmark: My question was about Defra actually. What role do you see for Defra taking a lead on this as opposed to government?

  Professor Dalton: I will answer that to some extent and it is almost a bit of déja"-vu because we have already said it before, but the important point to bear in mind is that Defra does take a very important lead on a number of government committees and is responsible for setting up a number of other government committees, which include research council representatives as well. What we are trying to do, for example, we have an Environmental Research Funders' Forum which engages with everybody in the United Kingdom who funds any sort of work in terms of environmental research and I chair that. That was set up between the Chief Executive of NERC, that is the Natural Environment Research Council, myself and the Chief Scientist at the Environment Agency many years ago, recognising that we needed to join forces to understand the issues, so I chair that and many of the research councils sit on that. We have had the Global Environment Change Committee which I also chair which involves many of the research councils as well and we discuss strategy and develop strategies there and Defra takes the lead on that one too. I also have my own Science Advisory Council of course which actually engages very widely with many of the best scientific experts in the country to try and help formulate policy and scientific research responding to policy which of course Defra has taken the lead on as well. I do not take the lead on it, but of course sitting on the BBSRC and NERC councils helps us to try and understand a little bit better the joined-up thinking between the research councils and government departments, so I think Defra is taking quite a strong lead in many areas.

  Q230  Mr Newmark: Is it working?

  Professor Dalton: Well, I think it is working. I think it works extremely well and I think we are doing extremely well in trying to understand what the real problems are and where the gaps in our knowledge are. That is important. We do an incredible amount of work with a relatively small budget and what we also need to try and do is identify where the gaps in our understanding emanate from. The Environmental Research Funders' Forum, for example, has done a very good job in trying to identify where all those gaps are so that we can then plug those gaps and do something about them, but of course we cannot do everything.

  Q231  Bob Spink: We have heard from Lord Rooker that there is concern about climate change and about maintaining the science base. An employee of IGER who works in Devonshire and is responsible for the analysis of greenhouse gas emissions is a very well-qualified postgraduate and he earns just £14,500 per year. Is the Government concerned about this?

  Lord Rooker: Are you asking me about an individual case?

  Q232  Bob Spink: No.

  Lord Rooker: The general-principle argument is that people going into science are underpaid. We all know what the soft options are, the social sciences, journalism, the law and accountancy. You go and get kids to do science, engineering and technology and explain to them that they can change the world if they do that, it is actually quite exciting, but people—

  Q233  Mr Newmark: But people do not want hot air and no money!

  Lord Rooker: Because society's priorities have been, as I have said, on the soft options, they have actually ended up earning more. You are not trying to lecture me anyway, but the point about science, technology and engineering is that actually they should be better paid and better priority because people's understanding of it is vital.

  Q234  Mr Newmark: We cannot do that if the Government is not putting the funding into science departments.

  Lord Rooker: It is not necessarily down to the Government in the sense that—

  Mr Newmark: Well, the Government provides the resources which actually encourages people to go into these. You start off at university and if the Government is not putting the money up in universities and giving the support that is necessary to universities in science and in engineering, there is a problem there.

  Q235  Chairman: Lord Rooker, I would love to continue with this, but—

  Lord Rooker: I should declare an interest, that I was once an engineer, by the way.

  Mr Newmark: You were once part of the Government too!

  Dr Turner: Jeff, an unfair question, but where did the £200 million black hole in Defra's budget come from? What caused it?

  Q236  Chairman: Farm payments.

  Lord Rooker: No. Let us get it absolutely clear because the myths are out there, of the £200 million, some of it came from holdbacks last year which moved into this year in terms of funding because we were dealing with the end of foot and mouth and one or two other issues, so some projects were held back, so there was a move from one year to the other. There have been changes in funding rules from the Treasury which have had an effect. The Rural Payments Agency contribution to that £200 million is £23 million, so it is about 11%. I do not have the full list. The full list I have disclosed elsewhere, there is no secret about it and I could send it to you on a sheet of paper. The fact is that of that £200 million, as I say, it is peripheral in a way, the Rural Payments Agency and Single Farm Payments, the contribution, as I say, is £23 million, about 11% of that.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for that. Lord Rooker and Professor Dalton, thank you for a fantastic hour. We are very grateful to you for the honesty and indeed for the vociferous way in which you defended your case!





 
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