Examination of Witnesses (Questions 71-79)|
17 MARCH 2008
Q71 Chairman: Can I welcome Dr Paul Logan,
principal specialist inspector at the Specialised Industries Division
of the HSE, Dr Matthew Penrose, principal specialist inspector
at the Specialised Industries Division of the HSE, Mrs Ruth Lysons,
deputy director, Food and Farming Group, Defra, and Dr Nick Coulson,
the head of international animal health at Defra. Mrs Lysons,
why did it take the Callaghan review to highlight the flaws in
the regulatory system work on dangerous pathogens? Why did Defra
not pick it up before?
Mrs Lysons: The review makes clear
that the primary responsibility for managing risks lies with the
facility that does the work that generates those risks. As regulators,
Defra's responsibilities do not extend to taking responsibility
for those risks.
Q72 Chairman: Do you agree with Callaghan's
Mrs Lysons: Yes. The government
has accepted all of the recommendations that pertain to government
within the Callaghan report. We were certainly content that our
intention was to identify any shortcomings that there may be and
act to remedy those. That was why we commissioned an independent
review of the system.
Q73 Chairman: The point that we find
a little odd is, if it was so obvious following the Callaghan
review, why was it not picked up before. Why were people not beating
a path to government's door, whether Defra or elsewhere, to say,
"We need the regulations changing"?
Dr Coulson: We were considering
as the landscape to change with Hampton and the better regulation
agenda whether it would make sense to move to a single regulator
and we have had some discussions with HSE on that matter. We were
not aware that the situation as it was currently standing was
going to lead to the type of situation that it did. We did expect
the management of the facility to be implementing the standards
that were in place at the time.
Q74 Chairman: In terms of the outbreak
of foot and mouth at Pirbright last summer, was it principally,
in your view, a fault of the regulatory system?
Dr Coulson: No. As the reports
from HSE and Spratt have found, with the series of events that
occurred that led to the outbreak at Pirbright, we will never
exactly know what happened but there is a likely pathway that
was established where a series of events occurred in order for
the chain to be made. There were regulatory issues that we were
aware of at Pirbright and we were working with them. We had action
plans when we found things that needed improving. We do though
recognise from the Callaghan review that the system can be improved,
that there is a role for a single regulator. We highlighted a
potential conflict of interest. We recognised that the system
could be improved and that was why we were happy to accept his
recommendations in full.
Q75 Chairman: Pardon me for being
somewhat na[doti][lcodot]ve but what you both seem to be saying
on behalf of Defra is that somehow Defra was not culpable here
and yet there is an agreement with the HSE approach, which Callaghan
recommended and you have accepted in its totality, so either something
was seriously wrong before which needed putting right, in which
case Defra that was responsible did not have it right, or somebody
else was responsible. I do not know who else was responsible if
it was not Defra.
Dr Coulson: We accept that the
regulatory system can be improved. We do not accept that the regulatory
system was responsible for the release from Pirbright. There was
a series of failings that the HSE found on the site. We do not
accept that that was the responsibility of the regulator. The
regulator is not responsible for biosecurity. We are responsible
for issuing licences in respect of the site but the responsibility
for biosecurity on the site is for the management of the site.
Q76 Dr Gibson: Why do we not combine
the two functions, licences and the regulation?
Dr Coulson: Within Defra the current
regime under SAPO is that we issue the licence and inspect.
Q77 Chairman: I find it staggering,
if you are responsible for regulation, for issuing the licence
and the inspection, that you are not responsible somehow for the
outcome. There seems to be something seriously wrong there.
Dr Coulson: You asked if we were
to blame for the outcome and I said I do not think we were.
Chairman: I did not mean were you personally
Q78 Dr Gibson: I remember Hilary
Benn said in a debate that there was something wrong when the
two functions were combined like this. He has just been speaking.
Do you agree with that? Should they be separated?
Dr Coulson: The licensing and
Q79 Dr Gibson: Yes.
Mrs Lysons: The Secretary of State
was talking about a potential conflict of interest in being a
customer and a regulator. That is largely where we feel the strengthening
of the regulatory system will come. We did have and do have a
system of risk assessment and an assessment of protocols and documentary
evidence, much as has been described for the way forward. We do
recognise, as was pointed out by Sir Bill, that there is a potential
for conflict of interest because we also are a customer and pay
for quite a lot of the work that is done.