Examination of Witnesses (Questions 340-359)|
MP, IAN PEARSON
MP, RT HON
21 APRIL 2008
Q340 Dr Harris: Looking forward,
clearly the redevelopment is going to cost more than the original
sum. Have Defra and DIUS agreed to pay their share of that increase
in order to implement the Pirbright redevelopment programme or
is that still an ongoing discussion?
Ian Pearson: As a result of the
review of biosecurity that has been taking place the project which
was originally costed at 121 million will now cost more than that.
Work is still going on to scope the additional cost that is going
to be involved in this. As far as the BBSRC is concerned, as you
will have seen in their response to the Beringer Report, they
are prepared to commit long term funding for the redevelopment
of the Institute of Animal Health at Pirbright.
Q341 Dr Harris: Somewhere I have
read that they are prepared to fund 50 per cent of the increased
cost. Where is the other 50 per cent going to come from for the
Ian Pearson: We will have to have
discussions in government to make sure that the project will deliver
value for money.
Q342 Chairman: I thought it was urgent
that this was done?
Ian Pearson: The project is continuing
at the moment. There is a project board. As Lord Rooker has said,
resources have already been committed to it. We do see this as
being an urgent priority for us. Exactly what pockets some of
the additional money comes out of will have to be decided between
us but the project will go ahead. It will be a mixture of funding
from Defra, the BBSRC and its own capital resources and it will
be a mixture of funding from the large facilities capital fund.
We are not in a position to say exactly what those levels will
be at the moment.
Q343 Chairman: When will it be decided?
Ian Pearson: We hope to be able
to make some decisions in principle on the Large Facilities Capital
Fund project which has already had money earmarked to it back
in 2005. It has gone through the road map process again, as you
will be aware. We hope to be able to make decisions on that by
probably the end of May. Obviously it will be up to the BBSRC
as well to decide what capital it wants to provide for it and
some decisions will need to be taken by Defra. I do not think
there is any doubt from all those who were involved in this project
that we see this as being an important priority.
Q344 Dr Harris: That is good to hear.
In the Anderson Report, he made a suggestion that the IAH be transformed
into what he named informally I suppose as the National Institute
of Infectious Diseases to give the Institute of Animal Health
a national name to reflect its importance nationally. Is that
something you are attracted to and is any attraction you have
to that associated with a merger between the VLA and the IAH?
Does the government have a position on that proposition?
Ian Pearson: I know the Anderson
Report made that recommendation and also the Beringer Report talked
about an Animal Health and Welfare Agency. My view on that is
that it might be a bit premature at this stage, before we look
at the overall costs of the project, to come to a firm conclusion
about whether that will be the right, long term direction.
Q345 Dr Harris: Do you mean the merger
of the VLA and the IAH? Is that what you are talking about there?
Ian Pearson: I think we are still
considering some of the recommendations of the Anderson Report
and a lot of this will be a matter for Defra.
Lord Rooker of Perry Bar: It is
early days. We are happy to discuss this recommendation with colleagues
but it might look administratively and managerially convenient.
You have to accept that there is a variety of laboratories in
the country and it is a good thing that we as government use laboratories
that we do not always own and control ourselves. There are universities
and the private sector laboratories as well. A lot of contracts
are let. A simple merger with the IAH and the VLA, where the VLA
is a wholly owned government laboratory, IAH is not. It is a fairly
unique structure, as I mentioned earlier on, compared with a number
of other laboratories in the UK. We are happy to discuss the Anderson
recommendation with colleagues but it is not something we have
drawn any firm conclusions on at the present time.
Q346 Dr Harris: The Beringer Report
made I think a very important proposal that does require a response
and that was that you could not really have whatever you call
this new entity, whether it had a national label or notit
did such important work and was so important to government, being
responsible in answer to the Chairman's first question and as
a customerthat it needed to have sustainable, core funding
in a simple way. I see the term "single owner" used
as well, but long term, sustainable core funding rather than relying
on being successful in winning contracts for its core function.
What is your reaction to that particular recommendation from Beringer?
Ian Pearson: I agree with that
and the BBSRC has already accepted that as a recommendation. There
does need to be long term, sustainable funding. As the Beringer
Report says as well, there are also government issues which need
to be addressed, both in the short term and in the medium term.
I am very keen as well that we respond to those.
Lord Rooker of Perry Bar: Obviously
in the context of responding to Professor Anderson's report, we
will give a view on that later in the year. On the other hand,
I cannot recall which select committee I appeared before with
the late Howard DaltonI think it may have been this one
or a modified version of itwhen it was put to us that,
because we were a customer and as a customer we provided more
than 15 per cent of the funds of an institution, we should therefore
be committing to long term, seed corn funding. That is an untenable
proposition if that is the proposition that is still floating
around. We do not accept that simply because we have to have the
capacity to let contracts to a variety of institutions. Obviously
it is in Defra's interest as well as in the country's, I might
add, that Pirbright succeeds and grows and maintains its world
class reference for the particular diseases. Our commitment of
course is given as a huge chunk of our capital budget in there,
but the question that underlines your question, if I can put it
that way, is what we will seek to address when we address the
Anderson Report. We will respond to it later in the year.
Q347 Dr Harris: Beringer was very
clear and I am going to read exactly what he said on this recommendation:
"BBSRC and Defra must jointly provide long term, core funding
to ensure the sustainability of the new national centre at Pirbright.
We do not believe it appropriate to fund a national facility with
statutory responsibilities primarily through the award of research
grants and contracts." I understand that youand partly
Defraaward research grants and contracts. I do not blame
you for doing that. It is the way some of these things work, but
this is a clear line under that and a recommendation for the future.
In a sense, history is history and, because of the sensitivity
of this to the economy and the rural economy in particular, there
is a specific recommendation. I got the impression you were relatively
negative about that because you are a customer.
Ian Pearson: Can we be very clear
on this? Beringer talks about long term, core funding and core
funding is the right distinction. It does not mean long term,
total funding to the organisation. In any organisation like this,
it will want to compete competitively for research funds and Defra
will maybe want to make different decisions about the volumes
of overall contracts that it wants to put this direction. The
principle that long term, core funding needs to be provided to
the organisation is one that is in Beringer, is one that I would
support and certainly I know the BBSRC does.
Q348 Chairman: There is a fundamental
difference though between core funding of other organisationswe
have obviously been talking recently about STFC's work in astronomy
and particle physicsand animal health or human and animal
pathogens which in fact can have the most devastating effects,
as we have seen with foot and mouth, which we could also see in
terms of human pathogens. What you are saying is that because
you cannot agree with each other we are not likely to have the
core funding issue sorted out for these important, national institutions,
or am I misreading you?
Ian Pearson: I am not saying that
at all. You are misreading me. I am not sure how you can construe
that from what I have said. I have said that it is important
Q349 Chairman: You seem to be committed
but Defra do not. They do not seem to have any role in this at
Ian Pearson: I am sure Jeff is
as committed as I am to making sure that Pirbright has the funding
that is required to maintain its strategic capability to conduct
the world class work that it does.
Q350 Dr Harris: It is not just the
funding, is it? The specific recommendation was sustainable, long
term, core funding which cannot be obtained through collecting
up grants, awards and contracts.
Lord Rooker of Perry Bar: You
may say I am being negative. My line is exactly the same as I
gave when I came to the select committee before. We will respond
to the Beringer recommendation, when we are discussing the response
to Chris Anderson's report, later in the year. Let us get it clear.
Defra have spent an enormous sum of money at Pirbright. This is
not just the capital that we are spending on the laboratories
on a site that we do not own and that we do not manage. It is
done because it is vital. On exotic diseases in the last five
years we have spent over £27 million. Half of that has been
at Pirbright. £10 million has been spent in the last five
years at Pirbright on foot and mouth research alone and yet it
is a world reference laboratory for some ten diseases. I would
not want to give the impression that we are not a funder. If the
implication is that therefore we fund without an outcome, as someone
that does not own or control the site, when we have other funding
requirements, that is a major, major policy change.
Q351 Chairman: The fundamental issue
which I started this discussion with is about who pulls all this
together as far as government is concerned. Whilst you are able
to trade off amongst different departments, you will not get a
resolution to those basic questions as to how we provide world
class animal health and human health facilities. Do you accept
Lord Rooker of Perry Bar: I do
accept that but, although you have a narrow remit on this particular
inquiry, I ask you then to look at the consequences of that for
science and other laboratories in the country where the same kind
of contract relationship applies. In recent months, I have visited
HRI, John Innes, IGER and Rothampstead, all of which we fund and
are vital. We do not fund core funding. We have the Central Science
Laboratory, where I will be later in the week, a Defra wholly
owned laboratory inherited from the previous government to their
undying credit, a major, international resource at York that cries
out for more core funding in my view, and the VLA and CEFAS. You
cannot separate this out just for the animal and human pathogens.
You go for a policy change to say we have a set of laboratories
that it is in our interests we keep. The implication is we keep
them for ever, whatever they do, because of this core funding
arrangement. Whatever innovation comes up in other areas, which
may intervene and say, "Oh no, that money has gone for the
core funding to protect this laboratory; we cannot help fund this
area", this is an area where I am not qualified at all at
the present time and nor do I have any authority whatsoever.
Q352 Chairman: Do you have an opinion
Lord Rooker of Perry Bar: I have
just given one.
Q353 Dr Harris: I wanted to ask when
you think this will be sorted out by government. I accept that
it is not straightforward for Defra because it would be redefining
its relationship with one particular organisation that it funds.
People will argue it is important that it does so but what about
the timescale for sorting this out?
Lord Rooker of Perry Bar: We are
not going to pass the buck. We are not going to leave it to the
chief scientist to sort out. In our previous incarnation when
I came with Howard, everyone has their own agenda. This has to
be sorted out by ministers and government. The buck stops with
us quite clearly. On the narrow issue of the recommendation that
you have asked the question about, when we have a response to
Professor Anderson's recommendation and his report later in the
year, we will have to give an answer that any minister can legitimately
come and defend to this Committee.
Q354 Dr Harris: When will we know?
Lord Rooker of Perry Bar: I do
not know what the timescale is. It says, "In the near future."
We will be discussing these issues. We have only just had the
review in March. We had several reports following the outbreak
last year and we are learning the lessons. We have gone back to
look at what happened in bovine TB as well but certainly with
this outbreak it is fairly unique. We now have five or six reports.
We have to take an overview of all these to make sure there is
no conflict, that we get the right decisions on the finance and
the accountability of that finance to Parliament.
Q355 Dr Harris: Beringer went as
far as saying if there is no prospect of agreeing by April 2009
the matter should be referred by referral through DIUS and Defra
to the Cabinet Office. The BBSRC say it should be by December
Lord Rooker of Perry Bar: I would
not argue about a couple of months but the fact is if ministers
cannot agree this would go to Cabinet.
Ian Pearson: The Beringer Report
only came out last week so it is not unreasonable for us to take
some time in looking at the detail of the recommendations.
Q356 Chairman: We will give you another
Ian Pearson: I hope you are going
to be talking about the governance of Pirbright as well.
Q357 Dr Iddon: Is it generally considered
that we have enough capacity in this country for research on dangerous
Ian Pearson: As I think Sir Leszek
said to you when he appeared before the Committee, he felt that
there was sufficient capacity for research that is presently envisaged
by the Medical Research Council. One of the reasons why he has
commissioned this report and research for the future is that we
want to look at what the future requirement might be for containment
level facilities. We mentioned that earlier and it is George Griffin
who will be leading this work. I think he will be reporting within
Q358 Dr Iddon: The evidence that
we have seen suggests that some of the category four laboratories
at, for example, Pirbright itself and HPA Porton Down need quite
a bit of money spending on maintenance, if not wholesale refurbishment.
Are you aware of that and will funding be made available for that
in the future?
Ian Pearson: We are certainly
aware that Pirbright needs money spending on it which is why,
for a number of years, we have had plans for its redevelopment.
As I said earlier, we are looking again at the costing of those
plans in the light of the information that has been made available
on biosecurity as a result of the reviews that have taken place.
With regard to Porton Down, I would defer to Dawn.
Dawn Primarolo: The Department
funds the HPA by agreeing a core budget and grant in aid, although,
to reinforce the point that was being made by Jeff, notwithstanding
our ability also to contract with other laboratories' research.
On the investments, the HPA have prepared a strategic plan for
themselves about the future, 2008 to 2013. Part of that includes
a strategic capital investment plan for Porton. The outline case
has been submitted. It would come here to the Department of Health
and those discussions are now taking place. Whilst of course facilities
like Porton class four have very high maintenance costsand
so they should because it is about what they are containing and
the work they are doingthe Department is moving on, going
back to the review which the HPA is contributing to, about capacity
of class four, what might be necessary in the future, whilst there
is not a shortage at the moment, it is important to see that in
the wider plans. I too have seen the facilities at Porton. They
are still up to standard but we have to try and look forward here
as your Committee is obviously encouraging us to do as well. That
was already in train.
Q359 Dr Iddon: Are you aware that
there may not be any facilities in this country for carrying out
a post mortem on a body which has been infected by a dangerous
pathogen? Do you believe that to be true? If it is true, do you
think we need such facilities?
Dawn Primarolo: Certainly the
discussions that I have been having with the HPA and their advice
to me is to try as best we can to look forward and say, "What
facilities might we need in terms of public health provisions?"
That is what the strategic plan and the outline case is looking
at. Whilst I have to admit I cannot immediately say on this point
that the whole point of what they are doing is to address these
issues about trying their best to look for the challenges that
may occur, the capacities we have now and the important public
health role, the transformation role that a facility like Porton
can play in the development of important vaccines, that is all
very much part of the discussion. That will have to be part of
what is looked at in this wider, independent review which has
been commissioned by MRC. Some of the other points that you are
raising though we will need to take note of as we get to the point
of receiving that independent review. As I understand it, it may
be in the autumn.
Ian Pearson: Can I make a broader
point about what we do as a government to ensure the sustainability
of the research base? As the Committee will be very well aware,
the movement towards full economic costing that is taking place
throughout the university sector is something that has been very
much welcomed and has helped to upgrade and make more sustainable
a number of university based research institutes. Also through
the government we conduct a Research Council Institute and Public
Sector Research Establishment sustainability study. That is conducted
I think every couple of years. It looks right across the research
institutes to ensure the long term sustainability of research,
including the recovery of full economic costs. I think another
study is due shortly. The evidence from the last one has been
that overall improvements have been made when it comes to public
sector research establishments and their sustainability, so the
buildings are in better condition than they were previously. Have
we got more to do? Yes, clearly we have got more to do and there
are clearly priority areas where more needs to be done but we
are certainly taking action in a number of those areas.