Examination of Witnesses (Questions 20-39)|
MP AND PROFESSOR
22 APRIL 2008
Q20 Dr Gibson: So why does it take
that long, Minister?
Hilary Benn: We are talking about
a year and a bit. I would not say that was that long.
Q21 Dr Gibson: Who is talking about
Hilary Benn: There is a sub-group
of the MSCC which is starting work on how this is going to be
put together. We would want to publish it in draft, because I
am a great believer in doing it that way. That is the final publication,
just so you do not look too perplexed. So you would want to get
a draft out, obviously, earlier than that to go round all of those
who have an interest to allow the answer to the question that
you put to me to be given, say, "Okay folks, what do you
think of this? Is it what you think a marine science strategy
ought to look like?", and then the result of that consultation
can inform the final publication of it. That seems like a reasonable
Q22 Dr Gibson: I guess you and I
are living with the anomaly of the Post Office consultations at
the minute. There have been decisions made, three months or three
weeks, whatever it is. During that consultation period, how long
is it going to be and how serious would you take it, you know,
when people from the University or East Anglia, or wherever, want
to come in with their ideas, which may be sharp and bright but
they do not fit in with the political scenery?
Hilary Benn: I do not know, is
the answer to your first question. We will have to decide what
a sensible period for consultation is. Secondly, I can only answer
your second question when people feel, or do not, that what they
had to say in being asked for their view is reflected in a final
document. Certainly the spirit in which I would want it to be
done, and I know that certainly goes for Jonathan in chairing
the ministerial group, is one of openness, but you just have to
Q23 Dr Gibson: Do you think the marine
scientists are as passionate about all this as people who are
having their post offices taken away from them in Yorkshire in
Hilary Benn: It is an opportunity
to express that passion. After all, you talked to lots of marine
scientists in the course of taking evidence for this inquiry and
what a number of them said to you was, "We do not think",
as I said to you earlier, "we get the attention we deserve.
We are not as loved as we feel we ought to be." Here is a
wonderful opportunity to get across to a wider audience why marine
science matters. That is why you made the recommendation that
we should have one, that is why we accepted it and that is why
we are going to get on and do it.
Q24 Dr Gibson: Do you as a minister
think it is more important to have that interaction with the public
and marine scientists, and so on, that just cross-departmental
interactions? You could argue that you believe in both.
Hilary Benn: Both, because you
need all of the people who have got an interest to have a chance
to shape it. Part of this goes back to Mr Iddon's question about
the representation on the MSCC, because it is going to be overseeing
this process, so you want the right people feeding in in the drafting
and the preparation and then the consultation. Bob.
Professor Watson: There are two
points I would make. First, as we put a marine science strategy
together we have got to place it in the context of what else is
going on in the European Union and globally, especially for monitoring,
but we have also got to place it in a context of what is the problem
we are addressing. If it is climate change, you can have a lot
of people advocate for the marine part of it, or the atmospheric
part, or the land part. Our job actually in both government and
working with the scientific community is what is the right balance
to actually get the answers we need on climate change? To what
degree do we need more marine research versus more understanding
of clouds, water vapour in the atmosphere, the exchange of energy
and chemicals between the atmosphere and the ocean, et cetera.
So, one of the things we are going to have to do, and I think
this is where Living with Environmental Change will be
a good platform and all the objectives, we need to evaluate what
are the highest priorities from both the scientific and policy
perspectives for the UK and how do we put that balanced programme
together, of which marine is one element? A bunch of people, scientists,
came to see me arguing, "Why did we not have more carbon
dioxide atmospheric measurements in the UK?" We do not have
them. We have only got one in Ireland. They said, "Do I need
more as a policy-maker or as a scientist to understand atmospheric
carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?" No, but the UK community
said, "But we do not have any measurements, Europe does,
North America does", so we do have to place what we are doing
in the UK within a European global context because we cannot fund
everything. We are one of the world's leaders in, say, the Hadley
Centre, in theoretical modelling. Many other countries do not
have a theoretical model. So we do have to look at the balance,
basically, of what we can do versus what others can do, and marine
is a major element within that broader framework.
Q25 Dr Gibson: When you look at other
countries, like the USA, where you have been, and Portugal, and
so on, what have they got to teach us, do you think, in your experience?
You have been around a long time in this field.
Professor Watson: I think all
of us need to understand how to get a truly integrated multi-disciplinary
holistic programme that is both academically rigorous and policy
relevant. I think all programmes that I have seen to date actually
lack something very fundamental, and that is adequate attention
to the social sciences and behaviour, to be quite honest.
Q26 Dr Gibson: What does that mean,
Bob, at the grassroots though?
Professor Watson: We have got
to embed more social researchers into our programmes to understand
social behaviour at the individual level, the community level,
the private sector, the non-state actors, and it is actually a
cheap form of research, I have to be honest, compared to when
you are in the natural sciences you need ships or satellites,
et cetera. It is a relative statement, of course, but I think
we are moving in the right directiondo not misunderstand
meand the right direction is multi-disciplinary, inter-disciplinary
science that is, indeed, policy relevant and academically rigorous
at the same time. We actually need to get the cultures of Defra
and DFID aligned, or agencies, or departments such as that, with
the culture of the research councils, and there is some cultural
change that is needed. NERC tend to look at the natural sciences,
the ESRC look at the economics and social sciences, EPSRC the
physical side. Like us, they have to think much more multi-disciplinary.
The sciences have to learn to talk to each other, basically, and
so I am not sure anyone has quite got there. Both in the US and
Europe, we are all learning together about what works and does
not work actually.
Q27 Dr Gibson: Can we leave it to
happen spontaneously, those interactions? Is there going to be
Professor Watson: No, it has to
be induced. Clearly, as we develop LWEC we have to have interactions
with the academic community. One of the best ways to understand
what the academic community believe are priorities is through
entities such as the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change,
where they have assessed the knowledge and have actually said
what we know, what we do not know, what is policy and where the
big gaps are. The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, I had pleasure
of chairing, also looked at what we knew about ecosystems, biodiversity
and where the gaps were; the International Agriculture Assessment
I directed that we release last Tuesday looked at the role of
agriculture within both an environmental and a social context.
In each of those cases hundreds, if not more than a thousand,
scientists participated, so they not only evaluated knowledge,
they also identified what were robust findings and what the key
uncertainties were, but this is a continuum. Defra actually about
two years ago organised, before I joined Defra, the Exeter Meeting,
which was a very powerful meeting identifying the key uncertainties
and provided information to Defra. We have actually just commissioned,
about three months agoa report will come outwhat
were the major implications of the IPCC for scientific uncertainty?
So Defra put out a small contract. It has actually reached out
to many, many in the academic community. So, no, it is always
a two-way street.
Q28 Dr Gibson: Do you think this
is a new world for the United Kingdom science-base?
Professor Watson: No, I think
the United Kingdom actually, other than the US, is probably the
leader in much of this. I would actually pick three countries
in the world. It would be the USthey are larger, just the
sheer size, to be honestbut the UK I would either put second
or co-second with Germany in this field.
Q29 Dr Gibson: Do you think the public
or the Government know this?
Professor Watson: The public may
or may not know it. That is a fair point. The scientific community
know it all too well. You only have to look to see what is the
percentage of academics that have been involved in either the
IPCC, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment or the International
Agriculture Assessment, and proportionally it is very high. It
really does demonstrate leadership within the UK.
Q30 Dr Gibson: Is there anything
in the European dimension that we could learn about, areas that
are not touched upon in Europe that we could take up and have
a priority influence on? Transport?
Professor Watson: I have not looked
at it carefully enough to give you an informed answer. I would
have to look at that more carefully, to be honest.
Q31 Dr Gibson: Do you think there
Professor Watson: We cannot be
leaders in everything. As General Electric said, they could only
be as a business either the first or second best in the world,
otherwise as a business they did not get out. I think we all make
too many mistakes by being absolutely broad and trying to do absolutely
everything rather than pick certain things and go into absolute
depth and be true world leaders. With the budgets we have got,
which are clearly generous, we cannot be the leaders in everything;
so what we have to do is place our research programmesthat
is the UK, not just Defrain the context of the US and Japan
to some degree and see where we place it basically.
Q32 Dr Gibson: Have you got a list
of five things somewhere under your pillow, for example, where
you could achieve, in your opinion, very quickly, five, ten years,
or whatever, rather than trying to do everything?
Professor Watson: Sure. Improve
probabilistic forecasts at the spatial level that we need for
impact and adaptation studies in climate. I think the Hadley Centre
is as good, or better than, anyone in the world. The only challenge
there is a significant need potentially for a super computer to
go to that next level. You also need some underlying science to
make sure you have got the physical and chemical processes. I
would say we actually are equal and we can be the world leader
with the right investment. I would argue in biodiversity actually
promoting the ecosystem approach, which comes out of the Millennium
Ecosystem Assessment that Defra announced, would be a world leader
in showing how we could have multi-function agriculture, that
is increased productivity, and at the same time making absolutely
sure that we are protecting our environment and we recognise all
the other attributes. They are two that hit me absolutely immediately
where we can be world leaders.
Q33 Dr Gibson: Are the training processes
getting the people coming into them that we need to carry out
Professor Watson: I cannot give
an answer to that. I would need to find out. We need to look at,
effectively, human capital and to what degree are we investing
adequately in that next generation of scientists, but that is
something I have not personally looked at.
Hilary Benn: Could I add, very
briefly, one thing? It seems to me that the recommendation you
made that we have a marine science strategy provides the opportunity
for all of the things in the questions you have just asked, Dr
Gibson, to be reflected upon, and what an opportunity actually.
I would I hope that the scientific community would be busting
a gut to say, here is a chanceto go back to your question
about how many people understandto tell the story. Actually
the Marine Bill also gives us an opportunity to do the same thing.
Q34 Dr Gibson: The scientific community
cannot provide the resources. Government has to provide those
resources for that to happen.
Hilary Benn: Indeed it does, but
the act of drawing up a marine science policy, the fact that it
will come out in draft, that there will be a chance for people
to express a view, argue, debate, discussthat is the purpose
of it. I have not got one tucked in the corner that I wrote earlier
and I am just going to bring it our according to a timetable.
This is a process. You have started, and I want it to be a success
and so do you.
Q35 Dr Iddon: When we made our recommendation
of setting up a marine agency, which your department rejected,
we consulted widely about that, of course, over a period of a
year. Instead, you have set up, or you are setting up, an MSCC
organisation. Can I ask you how widely you consulted before you
came to that decision and, secondly, in setting up the new marine
strategy, who are you expecting to consult? Are you consulting
all the stakeholders? Will they get a chance to shape that strategy?
Hilary Benn: The answer to the
first question, Dr Iddon, is that we reflected within government
but we did not go through the same process that you had gone through
in talking to lots of folk about it. Having read your evidence
sessions, there were some people who came and gave evidence who
were not entirely persuaded that that was the right thing to do,
but the reason why, in the end, we reached the view that we did
is the reason that I set out in answer to your earlier question:
both because it was not absolutely clear to me what was being
sought but also because we had already embarked, with the Marine
Bill White Paper, the creation of the Marine Management Organisation,
on a course of action and I think we need that body to deal with
what the Marine Bill is seeking to do and, I will be very frank,
I was not persuaded that the right thing to do was to put all
of that together in the way that it appeared you were suggesting,
but I think we achieved the same objective by having the Marine
Management Organisation over here doing the work in relation to
the Marine Bill and the MSCC over here doing the things that you
asked for, including drawing up the Marine Science Strategy. The
view across government was that this was the right thing to do,
and your recommendation said we want better co-ordination, and
our preference was now. That was the way that you chose to phrase
it, and we have thought about it very carefully. I hope you will
feel, on reflection, what we have done is not a rejection, we
do not accept any of this. Not at all. I think it is a different
way of achieving the objective that you set out very, very clearly
in your report.
Q36 Dr Iddon: I think what the stakeholders
who are listening to this discussion want to know is whether,
now, having rejected that first proposal, your department is going
to consult widely about shaping the strategy. Can we have an assurance
about that today?
Hilary Benn: Absolutely.
Q37 Chairman: Before you answer that,
and it is also why the membership of the MSCC is so important
if that, in fact, is going to be, if you like, the body that actually
brings the strategy together.
Hilary Benn: I accept that completely.
The reason that I have brought the bit of paper along today, which
I will leave with you, is precisely because we have had two meetings
of the planning group trying to work out what this thing is going
to look like, and when I say today (and this is a genuine offer)
if as a committee you have got views, having read that bit of
paper, about what you think the balance of representation looks
like, would you please let me know and I promise to go away and
to think bit. Again, this is not a process that we have gone away
with a towel over our heads and said, "Right, we have got
it all sorted." We are in the process of working it out,
we wanted to demonstrate today that we are getting on with it
having accepted your recommendation, but it is not finalised in
stone, so, please, let me know what you think about how it is
evolving, and that is the purpose of the note.
Q38 Dr Iddon: That is not an answer
to my question. The question was can the stakeholders out there
be assured today that in shaping the strategy you are going to
Hilary Benn: The Marine Science
Strategy. Yes, I am sorry, I thought I had made that clear in
answer to the earlier questions, Dr Iddon.
Dr Iddon: Sorry to press you.
Q39 Chairman: Just before we leave
strategy, I was very struck, Professor Watson, with your comments
that we cannot do everything, and I think this committee would
accept that and that we are also part of a European, a global
network and, if you like, the deep-ocean drilling, the ARGO float,
was a classic example of where things are done much better on
a global basis. Could you give us an assurance that the new strategy,
as it emerges, will not in fact be enough layer on top of a host
of smaller strategies within departments or organisations but
will, in fact, be sweeping up everything into a single, straightforward
strategy which actually drives this whole agenda forward: because
there is nothing worse than simply having yet another layer on
Professor Watson: No, we need
to start with what is our vision for the oceans and how is that
placed within the whole earth system. What are the objectives
of the research that we need, whether it is better understanding
of climate change, better understanding of the oceans' biodiversity,
better understanding of sustainable fisheries. So we need to step
back, ask what our vision for the oceans is, ask what the big
questions are that we are trying to understand, ask what research
we already havewhat do we already know, what are the research
gaps, what is needed to fill themand then we must place
that within the overall context of what is happening either within
Europe or within the United States, and I think that is especially
important for the large observational programmes, which are phenomenally
expensive. Even the US cannot afford to do all the measurements.
I have not been in government now, obviously, for 11 yearsI
was in the World Bankbut it is quite clear, especially
when you try to do significant observations form buoys for ships
or from satellite observations, it is extremely expensive, so
some real priorities have to be set, and it has to be set on what
are the scientific questions you are trying to ask and answer.