Examination of Witnesses (Questions 320-339)|
MP, IAN PEARSON
MP, RT HON
21 APRIL 2008
Q320 Dr Gibson: Will it work on the
level of knowing which laboratory has what and what is going on,
so that somewhere that will be known, or will it be the organisation,
the research council, that has all the details?
Lord McKenzie of Luton: Certainly
the HSE would have those details, whoever else does or does not.
Q321 Dr Gibson: So then they are
going to have to go and inspect to see that everything is hunky-dory
presumably; what do you think the frequency of those visits necessarily
should be? I know there cannot be a catch-all time but there must
be some kind of limitation at any site that you really require
to be aware of some of the problems.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: The starting
point on this is the point that Jeff made earlier on, that any
basis of regulation has got to make sure that those who create
the risks are ultimately responsible for them, and that is where
we start the process. In relation to level 4 laboratories at the
moment, there are ten of them and they are inspected on an annual
basis; the proposition for level 3 containment facilities is that
they would be inspected once every three years and that schedule
is roughly being met. I would stress that the approach of the
HSE generally in relation to health and safety as well as in relation
to biosafety is very much a mix of measures. Inspection and enforcement
are part of it but the preventative education side is another
key aspect of it.
Q322 Dr Gibson: That is why I asked
you about the resources that you might need there because you
are really expanding at a great rate and of course as science
and technology develops in this country you are going to have
more and more of these facilities, hopefully.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: I am certainly
assured that what is in the plans, with the additional recruitment
of three more employees for that unit, is adequate to undertake
Q323 Dr Gibson: You will know the
kind of past history I am sure in your lifetime of the Health
and Safety Executive and how they always moan about not having
enough people to do whatever. Do you think that is changing?
Lord McKenzie of Luton: An important
change has been the merger of the Commission with the Executive
which took place at the start of April. In terms of governance
that will mean a much greater focus on planning and resource management
and that will certainly help. Indeed, I will not say that there
are strings attached to it but part of the agreement under the
CSR07 settlement was that the HSE would undertake a review of
its strategic plan for the next five to ten years, partly to look
at what is the most appropriate model for delivery across all
its responsibilitiesinspection and prevention.
Q324 Mr Boswell: Not to editorialise
myself, but I hope ministers would think I was reasonable in saying
that where the HSE is at its best is when it is in a dialogue
with those whom it is regulating as well as just sitting there
signing off a licence and then allowing things to continue. I
just wanted to get, if I could, some assurances about two matters:
one is that if the management of an individual facility has concerns
about a particular facility, or if perhaps something arrives externally
which gives rise to those concerns, they can as it were approach
HSE without prejudice in the sense that I suppose they cannot
escape their legal duties, and I am not asking that they should,
but at least it is more sensible to start by having a dialogue
rather than to have a disaster followed by a prosecution. The
second one, which is also related to this, is the kind of thing
that happens all the time for example in airline safety: if there
is the equivalent of a near miss will you encourage the facility
to put their hand up, own up to it and learn the lessons from
it rather than seek a punitive regime which can only as it were
take people out when they have made a mistake.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: Broadly
yes to each of those questions. I would certainly agree with the
partnership approach and indeed at some of the level 3 containment
facilities there is an intervention programme which has a range
of measures with which the HSE engages. In terms of the ability
to contact the HSE if issues arise which give them concern, not
only would they have the facility to do that but the regulatory
framework would require them to do that. In terms of near misses,
what has happened in the nuclear industry and the chemical industry
has been the development of precursor data so rather than wait
for something to happen so you know you have a problem you try
and identify factors which can be monitored along the way to identify
if there are weaknesses in the system, and there is work under
way to develop those in relation to biosecurity.
Q325 Chairman: Two very quick points
before we move on. First of all you did talk about the fact that
you have not in fact resolved some of the issues regarding how
in fact you are going to work in answer to Dr Gibson's first question,
which was really about if people are planninglet us just
say for instance that NIMR do put a new level 4 facility in central
London would you be part of the planning for that rather than
just simply saying no, we do not touch this until such time as
it is built, in which case we will come and tell you have done
Lord McKenzie of Luton: Just to
be clear on my answer about where things are still developing,
it is whether we end up with a regime which is technically and
strictly run, which is a permissioning one so that you can only
do something if you have specific permission to do it or whether
there is a notification process.
Q326 Chairman: When will you have
clarified all that?
Lord McKenzie of Luton: However
that is clarified it must contain, on one basis or another, arrangements
whereby if somebody wants to build a new facility there would
have to be engagement with the HSE, not necessarily as part of
the statutory planning process as happens at some of the COMAH
sites at the moment, but there would have to be an engagement
with the HSE because at the end of the day the person wants to
know that they are able to operate the facility that they are
building for the purposes that they want and they would need the
assurance. That happens at the moment although it does not happen
with level 4 facilities because there have been no new ones for
quite a while.
Q327 Chairman: Would it not be helpful,
for instance to Camden Council, if in fact a facility was being
built in Camden, that in fact it had to have the statutory approval
of the HSE before in fact it could even apply for planning?
Lord McKenzie of Luton: That is
not the way it operates at the moment.
Q328 Chairman: Would it not be useful
to have that?
Lord McKenzie of Luton: One would
need to think about some of the national security issues around
all that sort of public engagement but it is something which should
be the subject of discussion as the new framework is introduced.
What I would say of course is that the existing arrangements whereby
the HSE is engaged is planning legislation not health and safety
Ian Pearson: Can I just say on
that, Phil, it is important not to prejudge the work of Paul Nurse
and his colleagues in determining what the future requirements
are to be for the UK Centre for Medical Research and Innovation.
Q329 Chairman: I am just using it
as an example really.
Ian Pearson: I would also like
to make the point as well that the work that Professor George
Griffin is doingand I know that you have interviewed George
Griffinas part of the strategic review of high level containment
facilities in the UK is looking at future national requirements,
as we have already said, including the organisation of those facilities
and the degree of centralisation. Indeed, I understand that he
will also make comments on appropriate locations as well and,
as a government collectively, we will obviously want to consider
the report when it is published.
Q330 Chairman: You would support
a strong input from the HSE at the early stage of planning new
Ian Pearson: Yes, it is just good
practice in building any major facility that you would want to
involve HSE at an early stage of the design process to make sure
that you have got facilities that are going to be fit for purpose
and meet the containment levels that are going to be required.
Q331 Chairman: Dawn, did you want
Dawn Primarolo: I just wonder
whether it might be helpful to say to the Committee with regard
to the work that has been commissioned that MRC and HPA are working
Q332 Chairman: We are actually coming
back to the issue of the central London facility.
Dawn Primarolo: The terms of reference
have not been finalised but I wonder whether the Committee would
find it helpful to have sight of those terms of reference and
indeed what the structure is with the steering committee, the
review group and how it is independent.
Q333 Chairman: We have asked for
those and we have been assured by Sir Lesek that he will let us
have them when in fact your department agrees we can have them.
Dawn Primarolo: My department?
Q334 Chairman: Yes.
Dawn Primarolo: Then I shall make
sure that happens without question tout de suite.
Chairman: That is encouraging; I am sure
Dr Turner will be delighted to hear that.
Q335 Dr Harris: Lord Rooker, do you
accept on behalf of Defra the part played in the problems at Pirbright
by chronic lack of investment or under-investment in the Pirbright
site by Defra?
Lord Rooker of Perry Bar: When
you say do I accept on behalf, accept what?
Q336 Dr Harris: Do you accept that
what happened at Pirbright was due in part to an under-investment
in the facilities at the Pirbright sitenot solely by Defra
of course because you were just one of the funders.
Lord Rooker of Perry Bar: We are
putting a big share of our capital budget into that site, as indeed
we have done at our other siteswe have been upgrading laboratories
over the period of the last few years, including the Veterinary
Laboratories Agency as well. It is a multi-million pound investment
and in some waysI know this is historythe outbreak
of the drains and the water, if it had not been for all the construction
vehicles going on and off the site because of the heavy capital
investment there, this may not have happened, but then we would
not have discovered about the biosecurity lapses and the old drains.
The past is the past and the fact is that we are pumping in £121
million; we have spent £37 million on the site, there is
a leaseback arrangement I understand and it is our capital budget
that gets transferred to another department, BBSRC, and we are
the prime customer. The Pirbright site is vital, not just for
this country but for the world because it is a world reference
laboratory for many diseases and so it is very important that
we have an upgrade of the site, and that is what we have been
engaged in doing for several years. It is not a bottomless pit
though in the sense that we have agreed what we will put in but
we are not responsible, if this is part of the question, for every
overrun, and this is why we have to get control of building costs.
We have put in the money that we have agreed over the last few
years, and that is ongoing as we speak today.
Q337 Dr Harris: I know it is history
but it is important, if we are going to solve the problems in
the future, to accept the diagnosis before you go on to treat
the patient. The Spratt review saidI am paraphrasingthe
IAH laboratories were in a poor state and had not received adequate
funding, and the Spratt review recommended that funding should
be available to remedy this until the new laboratories are completed
at the site in 2012. I am interested to know whether Defra and
DIUS, which overall fund BBSRC, accept that funding in this case
was part of the issue because of the impact that had had on the
poor state of the IAH laboratories at Pirbright.
Lord Rooker of Perry Bar: First
of all, the criticism that we have not invested enough in science
and our laboratories is a legitimate one that goes back a long
period. This was recognised certainly within Defra and across
government many years ago and there has been a massive upgrade
in the laboratories, both at Pirbrightwhich we do because
we are a customer and it is a national public good resourceand
our own departmental laboratories. However, in putting in the
capital equipment and the capital assets of the laboratories there
is no way the previous under-investment could account for the
poor biosecurity at the site. I have given you the examples from
the HSE report: not bothering to take the vehicle registration
numbers and count people on and off the site is pretty basic and
that is not related to the amount of capital investment that is
going on inside.
Q338 Dr Harris: I do not want it
to be said that Spratt said it was solely due to that, it was
a component, we could agree. Ian, the same question to you really,
do you accept that funding adequacy into facilities is an important
factor, one of many, for biosecurity?
Ian Pearson: What I do accept
is that there is a need for the redevelopment of Pirbright, that
it is an urgent priority and that as a facility it is not a first
class facility and we want to see modern, first class facilities.
What I would not accept is that the problems that occurred at
Pirbright were as a result of under-investment because if the
problems had been known they would have been dealt with.
Q339 Dr Harris: The problems?
Ian Pearson: If the problems of
the drains had been known, they would clearly have been dealt