Examination of Witness (Questions 60-80)|
5 DECEMBER 2007
Q60 Mr Cawsey: It incorrectly interpreted
the significance of statistical competence intervals; excluded
important data about justification; failed to consider ecological
data which supported ISG's conclusions; called for badger culls
in areas which are too small to be beneficial without finding
scientific evidence to support the advice. And Professor Mollison
described your work as inexpert, unbalanced, one-sided, muddled,
wrong, untrue, inadequate as a basis for government action and
said, "Had you had the courtesy to discuss your concerns
with the ISG scientists themselves you would have generated more
light and less heat." That is fairly strong stuff.
Professor Sir David King: It is
very strong stuff but there is not one word in there that I would
say, if I had written a paper on thisas I have donethat
it came back as a referee's criticism that I could respond to,
because it is only throwing mud, it is not throwing light.
Q61 Mr Cawsey: Why did you not therefore
think it was appropriate to discuss your concerns with the people
who had done the work?
Professor Sir David King: I am
Q62 Mr Cawsey: Professor Mollison
said that you should have had the courtesy to discuss the ISG
work with the scientists themselves.
Professor Sir David King: I did
discuss the work with the scientists themselves and this was before
the ISG report was published. I am about to see them again. I
will then write back to the EFRA Committee by giving my response
to those criticisms. But let me say for your benefit here: if
you read that conclusion and also read it in the light of the
report itself, you will see that I am not challenging the basic
tenets of the science in that report. I am not doing that. I am
saying to you that their own plots indicate that the peripheral
effect is substantially reduced over four years and there is no
explanation for why there was a high peripheral effect in the
first place. Secondly, their own plots demonstrate that if you
simply increase the area then the beneficial effect completely
wipes out the peripheral boundary effects in terms of the overall
benefit. Thirdly, there is the use of hard boundaries and soft
arable boundaries. That is the argument. I want to hear if anyone
objects to what I am suggesting is a way of handling the biggest
endemic disease in farm animals in Britain to date. If somebody
else has an alternative plan, please come up with it. But the
Chief Scientific Adviser needs to advise government on how to
handle this problem.
Q63 Mr Cawsey: What would you say
in response to the leader of last month's Nature, which,
under the subheading "A government that asks for independent
scientific advice best be ready to take it" says, "The
mishandling of this issue by David King, the UK Government's Chief
Scientific Adviser, is an example to government of how not to
deal with such advice once it has been solicited and received."
It concludes: "It would be a good idea if Defra had based
its policy on the unfettered advice offered by joint committee.
This would be deeply appreciated not just by badgers but by scientists
in all spheres who choose to participate with painstaking and
vital processes in the earnest belief that their advice will actually
make a difference to government policies."
Professor Sir David King: Would
you give me the courtesy of also reading out at the same length
my reply that was published in Nature.
Q64 Mr Cawsey: I do not have that.
Professor Sir David King: I see.
That seems like you are taking up a position.
Q65 Mr Cawsey: No, I am giving you
the opportunity. You are here, they are not. You have the key
seat, not them.
Professor Sir David King: What
you would see if you read the following issue of Nature
is a full copy of the letter that I gave in response to that with
an apology from Nature following it. I need you to look
at that issue in Nature.
Q66 Mr Cawsey: So you do not agree with
the comments that they make in that.
Professor Sir David King: If you
read my reply you will see that I do not agree. There was not
one piece of science contained in that editorial attack. It was
a purely personal attack and they have apologised for that.
Q67 Mr Cawsey: I have obviously taken
out most of that. I have just relied on the bit where they say
that governments which seek independent science advice, if they
want to keep the confidence of the science community ought to
make use of it.
Professor Sir David King: Let
me deal with one detailed point. They say that the key part of
the ISG report had been published in Nature and of course
they had therefore subjected it to good refereeing. I agree with
that. There are two points, however. Because a paper is published
in a journal, even a journal with the standing of Nature,
does not mean that it cannot be challenged. Scientists continually
challenge published work that has been refereed. The second thing
is that the conclusion that you read out from the ISG report was
not published before. That conclusion has never been challenged
through the referee process. Nature misunderstood the nature
of my own challengeand, by the way, it turns out that they
had not read my own paper before they wrote their own story.
Q68 Mr Cawsey: The general principle
was, basically, that, if governments go to the length of bringing
in independent scientific advice, to then toss it out of the window
is not good for the science community.
Professor Sir David King: I was
not throwing the science advice out of the window. I was throwing
out the piece that goes beyond the science advice. That conclusion
goes beyond the science advice.
Q69 Mr Cawsey: If we try to be more
positive, then, it is true to say that you will now subsequently
to publishing your comments be discussing it with the ISG.
Professor Sir David King: I will
be discussing it with the ISG. I would like to find out what further
data the ISG have because I believe there is further data which,
again, does not support the conclusion.
Mr Cawsey: I feel I am starting to exhaust
the patience of the Chairman if not yourself.
Q70 Chairman: Not at all. I think
you have demonstrated the importance of something which this predecessor
committee was constantly trying to assert; that is that if you
are making policy you should in fact have an evidence base on
which to make that policy. It does not necessarily follow that
there could not be two policies as a result of looking at the
same evidence. That is the point you were basically trying to
make. I am trying to be friendly to everybody, hopefully.
Professor Sir David King: Thank
you for that comment, but could I also leave you with this thought:
we have a spreading disease that began in the peninsula of Devon
and Cornwall. It has spread through Herefordshire, it has spread
up into South Wales, and it is going to spread east and north
across the country until we bring it under control. If we want
to bring it under control, we will have to take more measures
than simply removing cattle. Of course we have to remove cattle
but I simply do not understand the argument that says, "Stop
there" because it will continue to spread.
Chairman: I am sure we will return to
that. Could we turn to avian flu.
Q71 Mr Cawsey: You spoke earlier
about being driven by scientific evidence and I think you mentioned
avian flu. Do you think the UK are doing enough now to contain
and prevent further outbreaks of avian flu?
Professor Sir David King: And
we are staying in this question with avian flu, not the human
version of it?
Q72 Mr Cawsey: Perhaps you could
tell us something about both.
Professor Sir David King: In terms
of avian flu, H5N1 is what we are all concerned about. The vector
for distribution of the virus is very largely wild bird driven.
The recent case in Norfolk was a case that looks as if it is wild
bird driven because it matches wild birds in Germany that have
been found with avian flu. One would have to conclude that it
is highly likely that it was a wild bird arriving with the disease
that spread it into local poultry. At the same time, wild bird
surveillance continues in the UK and we have found no evidence
for H5N1 in wild birds, so it might have been one wild bird that
arrived and unfortunately brought the disease. There is no way
we can stop wild birds arriving in the United Kingdom. We need
a rapid response every time there is an outbreak in the UK. I
think the response has been very well contained in each case.
I think we have a good policy in place. Should this virus become
an H5N1 human to human virus; in other words with a high infectivity
rate between humans, then, wherever it happens in the world, within
three months we would have a worldwide pandemic and the pandemic
may well have the fatality rate of the 1918 so-called Spanish
flu outbreak, which, as everyone knows killed more people than
the First World War. We are planning for a fatality rate in Britain
of around 300,000 over a three-month period and that three-month
period occurring within three months of the first signal going
up by the WHO that this has begun. The disruption to our economy
and to other economies would be likely to be substantial. The
disruption to life in Britain would be very substantial. I believe
it is a low probability event that it becomes an H5N1 virus, but,
nevertheless, because the outcome is so dramatic, the Government
is treating it as our number one risk and so we have spent considerable
time on the science of our defences. I have certainly spent a
lot of time working with mainly the Department of Health officials
on this, but also on exercises: exercises dealing with mortuaries
and dealing with how we handle the fatality rate; exercises dealing
with whether or not children should continue to go to schools;
and what the consequences are for maintaining supermarkets so
that we have normal service. All of those exercises are being
conducted in government. Quite simply, on the scientific side
we have examined in fine detailand the Cabinet Office has
recently published our analysisthe three levels of defence
that we are looking at closely. One is stockpiling antivirals.
The use of antivirals is likely to cut down on the fatality rate
but antivirals are a medicine: they are only good as long as you
are taking them. Therefore you have to use them carefully. They
have to be applied very early on in exposure and the disease beginning
for any individual, but, on the other hand, if you take them as
a precaution, if there is an outbreak you may lose your stockpile
of antivirals before people become ill. The use of antivirals
themselves has to be very carefully governed. The second is preparing
pre-pandemic vaccines. This is using the avian version or one
of the clades of the avian version of the H5N1 virus as a means
of generating a vaccine using the very modern development of adjuvants,
so that the vaccine has a broader impact on the virus, so as the
virus changes this vaccine may still have efficacy in defences
for the people being vaccinated. This would be a question of preparing
to apply pre-pandemic vaccine to the entire British population.
The third level of defence is to place orders for a pandemic vaccine.
It is likely that the first wave of the pandemic would hit our
shores before the pandemic vaccine itself had been developed,
so we need those other two lines of defences, but a second wave
may come along and, by that time, we would hope to have had the
actual pandemic vaccine.
Q73 Mr Cawsey: Do you think we have
got better at the work we need to do at looking at these sorts
of diseases that may be coming our way; with blue tongue being
the fairly obvious one that came this year? I met some horse owners
this week who were telling me dire things about African horse
disease which may be moving towards our shores. In your time in
the job, have you found that we have improved our ability to prepare
for these events?
Professor Sir David King: I think
this is the area where we have improved our ability probably more
than any other. For example, during the foot and mouth disease
epidemic in 2001, COBR sort of stuttered into existence only a
month after the epidemic began. For foot and mouth disease in
2007, COBR was called within a day of the outbreak. Several of
us who had just gone on holiday were flown back in. I think that
is exactly the right response. In other words, the entire government
system is brought to bear on a problem early on. We stopped animal
movements around the United Kingdom very quickly so all of the
measures were taken to see that it was globally contained and
that was successful.
Q74 Dr Turner: In your valedictory
lecture to the Royal Society last week you said that science has
the ability to address climate change effectively but of course
there are many question marks as to whether that will happen.
Clearly the political process has tremendous question marks surrounding
it. Another question which I really want to get your view on is
whether the technology relating to the science is there in sufficient
quality and quantity to deploy any if the political will is there
to do it.
Professor Sir David King: The
answer to your question is that if we had acted rapidly after
Kyoto 1997 and taken action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,
I think we could have managed this scientifically and technologically
by moving to low carbon technologies and that might have been
the end of the story. It is too late for that now. We still need
to mitigate. We need all of that aspect, as it were, but we are
already flirting with dangerous climate change events. My worry
is that it is going to get very difficult to manage the impacts
from climate change around the world as we move forward in this
century. I think the inertia in the political systems around the
worldand perhaps it is not surprisinghas left us
now in a very difficult situation. This is the week of Bali, so
it is very appropriate that we should be thinking: "What
are we expecting out of Bali?" My own thinking is that we
really need to be aiming to keep our gross overall global emissions
down to the level where we do not exceed 450 parts per million
if we want to reduce the impacts that we are going to have to
manage to their minimum. If we are going to get that, we need
action even before 2012. It is good that the European Union is
acting. It is good that Britain is acting, but the real action
is required from China, the United States and other countries.
We are almost bound to be disappointed by Bali. Bali is going
to set up a process. It is talks about talks, if you like, and
that process is to provide by 2012 a replacement of 1997 Kyoto.
But, hang on: how much has 1997 Kyoto reduced emissions? A reality
check would be: let us go beyond the process and ask what we have
done to manage the problem? To date the record is very poor. We
need a sea change in political understanding of what needs to
be done. I have been travelling around the world as unofficial
ambassador for the Prime Minister on this issue and I would have
to say we need a big move in the position of Japan, the United
States and China to see that we can begin to manage this problem.
Politically, we still need considerably more science and technology
Q75 Dr Turner: But we already have
increasing scientific evidence that even the difficult to achieve
target of 60% by 2050 reduction in the Climate Change Bill is
inadequate, and that the advance industrial nations like ourselves
will need to achieve at least 80%. You have been criticised for
sticking with the 60% target in public so far. Are you reviewing
your position on that?
Professor Sir David King: I have
been criticised by George Monbiot and his criticism has been picked
up as if it was the Bible. Let me take this opportunity to say
that the Government's policy has been 60% but in any presentation
I have given on thisanyone who has heard me will verify
thisI have always said, "We have policies in place
to reduce our emissions by 60% by 2050 but I expect that as international
agreement comes into place we would need to turn that around into
an 80% reduction." I think it is perfectly reasonable for
the British Government to take a leadership position by announcing
60% reduction, but let us see the rest of the world come on board
and then we turn this into an 80% reduction. More recently the
Prime Minister has also indicated very clearly that we will need
to move on to a 70% to 80% reduction, meaning, I believe, that
if our partner nations come on board we will accept this greater
Q76 Dr Turner: You support that position.
Professor Sir David King: I do.
And always have done.
Q77 Dr Turner: I know. We have talked
about this privately. I am also well aware that, while not necessarily
a proponent or advocate of the role of nuclear power in moving
to a low carbon economy, you nonetheless support the development
of a new generation of nuclear power stations in the UK. Do you
think that the scientific argument for that is compelling, especially
given the timescale? They will not be making any contribution
Professor Sir David King: The
scientific argument is absolutely compelling. As we move to 2050
and we have this now more ambitious potential target of reducing
by 80%, we will certainly not manage that without nuclear new
build. I cannot see how we could manage that. Compare the position
of Britain and France in terms of emissions of carbon dioxide
per person per annum. For Britain it is 11 tonnes per person per
annum and for France it is 6 tonnes per person per annum. What
is the big difference between the two countries? It is the amount
of electricity produced from nuclear. France is 80%, we are now
down to 19%. That is the difference. Let us take the second argumentand
to me this one is just as important as the first. We have enough
plutonium and uranium stockpiled up in Cumbria as a result of
reprocessing to provide all of our fuel needs with nuclear-fission
power for at least 50 years. If we do not reprocess, it would
fuel three one gigawatt power stations operating for 50 yearsthat
is the uranium and plutonium. If, however, we convert the uranium
and plutonium to MOXin other words, set up a MOX manufacturing
stationwe not only remove plutonium from its condition
that it can be used in nuclear weaponsyou cannot unmix
MOX and recreate plutonium for nuclear weapon use, so you remove
that problembut you also then generate waste from high-level
activity plutonium and uranium, which means that we can manage
that large stockpile. Not only do you get free fuel for at least
50 years but, if you reprocess, you could generate virtually all
of our electricity requirements from existing fuel stocks in the
UK for the next 50 years. You either treat the plutonium and uranium
as waste, in which case it is going to cost billions of pounds
to manage, or you treat it as a fuel, in which case you save billions
of pounds and you generate relatively carbon-dioxide free energy.
I do not think there is much argument against building new nuclear
Q78 Dr Turner: There is a residual
concern, of which I am sure you will be well awareand the
technological case you make for it is pretty sound, although the
timescale is a problemand that is the potential for nuclear
build and nuclear investment to displace renewables, so that,
instead of having renewables and the nuclear contribution, there
may not be an "and" but to a degree an "and/or",
so we may not achieve the full contribution which renewables potentially
can make. Would you agree that there is a potential conundrum
there? What would you advise we do to avoid getting into that
Professor Sir David King: I would
say that the Government is precisely avoiding the need for that
situation. We have a renewables obligation on the grid and renewables
do not include nuclear, and that obligation runs at the moment
through to 2023. There is no question that the obligation to the
utilities to place renewables on the grid exists out to 2023.
That also is an obligation from the EU position of 20% renewables
on the grid of all the EU countries by 2020. We have a guarantor
for renewables coming on the grid. By the way, that is providing
the public is accepting of the further generation of wind turbines
around the UK, so we do have a planning problem there. Secondly,
we are not going to manage this problem unless we look at it holistically.
We need to look at transport; we need to look at the built environment;
we need to look at generating combined heat and power systems;
we need to look at micro-generation. I think we need every tool
in the bag if we are going to manage a massive turnaround in our
dependence on fossil fuels. There is no easy solution. To stay
with nuclear for a second: one form of travel depends virtually
entirely now on electricity. That is rail travel. If we can generate
much of our electricity from nuclear, then we have a big part
of our surface transport system which is non CO2 producing as
well. I think there are some very real advantages in taking the
nuclear new build situation to quite a high level, by which I
would mean 30% to even 40% of maximum demand level. I would not
go beyond that on the grid.
Q79 Dr Turner: One of the tools in
the box is hopefully going to be marine energy, not just offshore
wind but wave and tide at sea particularly, which is very slow
to develop and to deploy. Also marine science and marine ecology
is a very important part of the science of climate change. We
have looked at that in the past and recently and decided it needs
more support. Both of those things need a lot more support. Could
you tell us of your involvement in these areas as Chief Scientific
Officer, adviser to the Government, and whether you plan to work
to promote these areas in you are new role as director or the
Professor Sir David King: Thank
you for that question. When I came into government, I set up a
group to look at the current state of energy research in the UK.
That was back in the year 2000. We discoveredno surprise
nowthat energy research in the UK had collapsed as a result
of the privatisation process of the gas and electricity boards.
Immediately we realised that we need to rejuvenate, re-energise
the whole process of energy research in the UK. The outcome was
that I formed the Energy Research Partnership, which continues,
in which government members and all the players, such as the Carbon
Trust, meet with the private sector to discuss how we need to
tackle this very problem of generating low carbon energy sources
and all the associated problems, carbon capture and storage and
so on. The most successful outcome of the Energy Research Partnershipwhich,
by the way is co-chaired between Paul Golby and myself, and Paul
is the Chief Executive of E.ON UKhas been the establishment
of the Energy Technologies Institute, which is a £1 billion
venture. The person who is currently Technical Director at Rolls
Royce is going to take over as Director of the Energy Technologies
Institute. It is going to be initially established on a site at
Loughborough University and by next summer this will be up and
running. That institute is going to be market-facing. That is
the point in having half of the funds coming from the private
sector. They need to take these new energy technologies out to
the market-place. For those small companies developing tidal energy,
wave energy that you were referring to, the idea is to pick the
best of them and pull that through to the market-place using the
Energy Technologies Institute. Let me give my own view: tidal,
very good; wave, very dilute. It is going to be quite difficult
to generate a significant amount of electricity from wave. That
is not to say we should not try.
Q80 Chairman: On that note, I am
going to leave the rest. We could have gone on for some time,
Sir David. Could I thank you for your forthright responses to
the Committee this morning and wish you well with the institute
at Oxford. Thank you again for your contributions to the Committee.
Professor Sir David King: Chairman,
I am going to miss this Committee. It has been absolutely tremendous
to work with it and the members of the Committee.