House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
INNOVATIONS, UNIVERSITIES, science AND SKILLS COMMITTEE
innovations, universities, science and skills sub-committee on investigating the oceans
Tuesday 22 April 2008
RT HON HILARY BENN MP and PROFESSOR ROBERT WATSON
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee
Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Sub-Committee on Investigating the Oceans
on Tuesday 22 April 2008
Mr Phil Willis, in the Chair
Dr Ian Gibson
Dr Brian Iddon
Witnesses: Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, Secretary of State, and Professor Bob Watson, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, gave evidence.
Q1 Chairman: Could I welcome the Secretary of State for the Environment, the Rt Hon Hilary Benn MP, and Professor Bob Watson, the Chief Scientific Adviser for Defra to this one-off evidence session of the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Sub-Committee which is looking at the response from the Government into our Investigations of the Oceans report which was done by the previous Science and Technology Select Committee. Could I make a special point of thanking you very much indeed, Secretary of State, for giving us your time, we are particularly grateful to you, and also, it is a pleasure, Professor Watson, to meet you before the Committee for the first time. We hope that you are enjoying your time in the department and that you are as controversial in the department as you were in the States. I wonder if I could start, Secretary of State, to just ask you that basic question. This was a report which actually tried to emphasise the importance of marine science, not only to the UK but as part and parcel of our contribution to world marine science. I just wonder how important it is to the work of Defra? How important is it to you as Secretary of State?
Hilary Benn: It is very important, and I agree, I think the subject needed consideration. I think, if I may say so, it was a powerful report that set out the case for change, and I have got one or two things I would like to say, having reflected further on your report, to assist the committee in the evidence session this afternoon, but, fundamentally, science and our understanding of our oceans and our seas is really important to inform the right policy decisions and, with oceans and seas being about 70 per cent of the earth's surface, we know a certain amount, but, as I think your report demonstrated, there is quite a lot that we do not know, but our understanding of the importance of the oceans when it comes, in particular, to the impact of climate change and the contribution that they can make to understanding what is happening and to dealing with it makes that research even more important than was the case in the past. As you will know, because you looked into it in great depth, Defra funds quite a range of work, but the system, I would say, has not been working awfully well. It seemed to me, if I may say so, you were saying that not everything was getting the attention that it deserved, that we had not got the structure right, that we needed a marine science strategy and there had to be clear ministerial leadership, and I would be happy to say a word about that now or come on to that.
Q2 Chairman: I think it is fair to say, we were hugely disappointed in the Government's response - I say that in a spirit of friendship - and there seems to be a failure by Defra, in particular, to make the connection between marine science and its importance within climate change. I just wonder why you feel that there was such a lukewarm response by the department to the importance of marine science, there did not seem to be that connection between marine science and environmental change, when we know that you are particularly committed to this agenda?
Hilary Benn: I am not sure, Chairman, that I quite agree with what you have just said. The reason I have been looking forward to this evidence session and, indeed, discussion, if we can handle it that way, because it certainly helps me to do my job, is to understand exactly where the disappointment was. It seems to me, if you look at the key recommendations that you made, one that we needed a marine science strategy, we have accepted it and we are going to get on and we are going to produce one, a recommendation that there needed to be a clear leadership. One of the things I wanted to say to you today on that point, I want to make it clear to the Committee that Jonathan Shaw, as the Minister for marine science, is going to be the champion of marine science, that he is going to chair a new ministerial committee that we are going to establish to oversee the new Marine Science Co-ordination Committee, which is what, as you will know, we proposed.
Q3 Chairman: Will that report directly to the Minister then?
Hilary Benn: It will report to a group of ministers that will be chaired by Jonathan, and, as he said to you when he came to give evidence I think two weeks into the job, just so there is absolute clarity about this, because there appeared to be some uncertainty, he is the Minister for Marine Science, he will chair, subject to the devolved administrations being happy with the proposal, this ministerial group. As I read your report, it seemed to me one of the things that you were saying, and I have had my ear bent by one or two other folk in the field of marine science who said, we need a champion, we want clarity about who is leading, and actually when Jonathan and the late and much missed Howard Dalton and Dave King came to give evidence there was a bit of to and fro about the previous IACMST, or whatever it is called, who it reported to, and so I wanted to come to the committee today to say I want there to be absolute clarity. I am saying to you that Jonathan will take that lead, that there will be a ministerial committee, and I think that that responds very directly to recommendation 17 and 58 in your report. The real test of the new committee, given that you said very powerfully that the existing arrangements did not work, is: "Does it address the things that were not working?", and I think it is going to be different from what it will replace in a number of very important respects: one because it will report to ministers, chaired by the new ministerial champion, which is what you said you wanted; it will have a bigger secretariat; all of the members will contribute to its funding; it will draw up and oversee the marine science strategy, which was a central recommendation in your report, and I think that is a very important development. We needed one and we are going to get one thanks to what you have done. It will monitor spend on marine science, because clearly one of the other issues that came out from your work was a lack of clarity about what was being spent, and there has been some to an fro between us, but also there has not, as I understand it, been a kind of regular system for checking how it is going. That is one of the things which this new body will do. I think it will provide us with a better way of dealing with the issues that cut across all of the various bodies that are doing things, because I do not think that you need a central body to take on all of the functions of all the existing bodies, not trying to replicate or duplicate but to fix the bits that are not working, and I hope it will also give a higher profile to marine science, which was another really important message in your report. I have got today, which I could leave with you, if that would be helpful, a note on how we are getting on with setting up the MSCC, because we have not just done a response to you and then gone back to what we were doing before. Colleagues in the department and John Lock, who is also here today, have been working really hard on getting on with working out what this structure is going to look like, what the membership is going to be, how it is going to operate, what its role is, and we have got a note which updates you on the 1 April briefing note that we provided you with previously.
Q4 Chairman: We will come back to that, because I know that Brian Iddon wants to raise an issue on that. That is very helpful, Secretary of State. In terms of resources to actually support the new organisation, there was a real sense when we were doing this particular inquiry that marine science was very much left out in the cold as far as resources were concerned. Is there any new money which is being applied at all to this area?
Hilary Benn: The MSCC will have a bigger budget than IACMST had previously. Straight up, we have got to negotiate with the other bodies that are going to be represented, including other departments, and what they are going to put into the to the pot, but it will need more resources to do its work, firstly.
Q5 Chairman: But nobody is going to agree to that, are they?
Hilary Benn: Why do you say that?
Q6 Chairman: We had a session here yesterday with one of your ministers talking about another area in terms of bio-security, and there was a great reluctance to commit even a penny extra anywhere. So I am sort of fighting for this marine community, that there will, in fact, be the resources to deliver what, clearly, you as Secretary of State anticipate is going to happen?
Hilary Benn: I think the answer to your question would be we will know when we see how we go in talking to the other people about what they are prepared to contribute, and I hope that the decision that I have taken makes it absolutely clear there is a ministerial champion, there is leadership, that we are taking on the role that you asked us to undertake in your report. We will give this some oomph and a boost and a higher profile, and your report has certainly done that. Secondly, must say, I was quite struck reading your report. On the one hand, in the evidence sessions, many people saying the UK has a huge role in marine science, the contribution that UK scientists make, recognised around the world, and on the other hand, as in most areas of life, if you say to people, "Is enough money being spent on your particular area?", in general you get the answer, "No, it is not." Clearly, it cannot all be doom and gloom.
Q7 Chairman: No, but you would have also read in that report that some of our best scientists were haemorrhaging out of the UK, for instance, to Germany, which is rapidly expanding in marine science; they were going off to Japan; they were going off to Woods Hole in States. So it was not that we have not got brilliant scientists, we recognised that in the report, but the matter was trying to keep that community together to enhance it so it could play a much more significant role in climate change, which was an absolutely top priority for government. I think we are trying to balance that rather than say that we are weak in this area, because we certainly are not.
Hilary Benn: I agree with that. Bob might want to say something about the science budget that he has got because, having arrived at the department, one conversation that we have had is in deciding where Defra's research budget is going to be spent. We tended to operate a system in the past where it was fairly devolved, and one thing that we have agreed between us is that Bob in his role will look at the overall priorities in relation to what Defra spends, and I think the role of the new MSCC will give us, with greater clout and profile, ministerial leadership. The object is to do the same looking at the investment in marine science right across the piece. If you take NERC, which is a big funder, they will still take decisions, and a lot of your recommendations as a committee were directed at NERC. I am not envisaging that the MSCC is going to take on that role, but it will have things to say and it will be able to pick up items that, as your report demonstrated, have fallen through some of the cracks in the system.
Professor Watson: There are two things to say. The first is we are trying to get our hands round the whole research budget within Defra, and so, rather than having it disaggregated between the climate change programme, natural environment, food and farming, we are standing back to ask: what are the big policy questions within Defra and how can we have a much more joined-up integrated programme within Defra? Secondly, there is the issue of how do we view Defra in relationship, not only for marine sciences but all sciences, with the other departments and, effectively, the other research councils? Living with Environmental Change, which is the multi-department, multi-research council, I think really gives us an opportunity here. As you know, there are six objectives: climate change, biodiversity, development, human health and animal health infrastructure and an element of behaviour. The oceans, effectively, need to be integrated very much in at least climate change, biodiversity, health and even in the infrastructure, obviously for coastal infrastructure. So, clearly the Living with Environmental Change will be critical so we can leverage each other's resources, and Defra is actually going to take the lead with NERC in putting the original programme plans together on both climate change and on biodiversity. We will work with the other agencies and research councils on the other four objectives. We have also got to place this, though, in a European and a global context, especially for monitoring. One of the things that the Environmental Research Funders Forum found was that when they looked to see how we were spending research money, they had a pretty good idea; when it came to monitoring they had no idea at all, and so I have offered to chair, on behalf of the Environmental Research Funders Forum, a study on how we are spending the monitoring money. We really are quite clueless, whether it is the marine environment or the atmosphere or the land, and there is a number of mechanisms which this new Marine Co-ordinating Committee will fit very nicely into as we establish priorities on research and monitoring and see how we can leverage each other.
Q8 Chairman: While you have got the floor, Professor Watson, in your Fleagle Lecture in Washington I think last year you made a fairly strong comment that scientists need to learn to communicate better with civil servants (and you will remember it caused a little bit of a stir at the time), decision-makers and the media. Do you think the perceived lack of urgency up until now, if I can put that way, of Defra's attitude to marine science was as a result of the science community not conveying their message strongly enough, or was it Defra that was not listening?
Professor Watson: I cannot say, because I only joined six months ago. To be honest, just as Hilary said, I have been lobbied by every part of the community, whether it is the atmospheric sciences community wanting more money, whether it is the animal health community wanting more money, the oceanographers wanting more money, especially with my position at the University of East Anglia some of those oceanographers at the University of East Anglia are lobbying very heavily, and so, as Hilary said, I think most of the academic community will always argue for more money. Where we need the dialogue with the academic community is effectively, from a Defra perspective, what are the big policy issues facing not only Defra but the UK Government? Obviously, some include climate change, but not limited to it, i.e. sustainable fisheries, and so we need a dialogue so they understand the policy constraints and we understand them so that we can put together an academically rich programme with the research councils that meets the needs of the academic research, on the one hand, that the councils do and the more policy-relevant research that we, Defra, need to help formulate policy and implement policy. I think there is two-way dialogue that is needed. Probably there was a weakness on both sides.
Chairman: You will make a politician yet!
Q9 Dr Iddon: Hilary, we talked to a lot of people, of course, during this investigation, including people particularly in America. America does have an operation which oversees all aspects of the sea, whether it be tourism, energy, fishing, shipping, pollution, gaining oil and gas from the sea, climate control and deep sea as well as Continental Shelf work. Absolutely every aspect of the sea is looked at by this organisation in America. When we undertook this investigation, we felt that the whole apparatus that we have set up to monitor all those things was distant from one another, fishing seemed to be way out on a limb compared with everything else connected to the sea, and we made a radical solution in suggesting the Marine Science Agency. I just wonder why we have gone for a much smaller and, we believe, less effective organisation than the Marine Science Agency that we recommended, which would shadow what America has now?
Hilary Benn: First of all, reading your report I was not absolutely clear. You said in your recommendation we need more effective co-ordination and then you said in the recommendation, "Our preference would be for", what you have just described, but it was not absolutely clear to me whether you were talking about a marine science agency or a marine science and maritime agency. I will give you an example of that. I think in the very last recommendation in your report you talked about the EU Maritime Green Paper and said the Department for Transport was not really the right body to look at this, and yet the Maritime Green Paper is going to deal with a wide range of things but among the things it is looking at are maritime security, shipping law, careers and employment, tourism and other matters. Question: would it be sensible to have one body that was dealing with all of those things? To be honest, I was not persuaded that that was the sensible course of action to take, bearing in mind the point I made earlier: do not fiddle with the bits that work but deal with the bits that do not work. You also talked about an executive body requiring the co-operation of government departments, which is quite an interesting concept because I thought it was, generally speaking, the other way round, the government departments requiring the co-operation of executive bodies. Lastly, there are all of the complexities to do with devolution that, I think, made it difficult to see how that could work in practice. Having said that, you have got the co-ordinating committee, which was the first bit of your recommendation, with the functions that I have described and which we have set out and which we are getting on and developing, but that is not to say that having a look at wider maritime needs and issues is unimportant, it is incredibly important, and at the same time as this, of course, since you produced your report the draft Marine Bill has been published and you are going to have the Marine Management Organisation and this completely new departure, and a very welcome one, seeking to do in the UK for our seas and, as I have described it, the wonders that lie beneath them what we have evolved over the years for the land in the form of one way of looking at the competing demands on our seas and working out what it is that we are going to do, and the marine management organisation is going to play a really important part in that and it will be represented, when it is established, on the new Marine Science Co-ordinating Committee. I think it is a different way of achieving the objective that you set. In the end we formed the view that it was a better way of doing it than creating a marine science (question mark) maritime agency.
Q10 Dr Iddon: We called it a marine agency, with a view to looking at the wider aspect, the second alternative that you gave when you opened your remarks a moment ago, and that was our intention, not just to take the science into account but everything that affects the behaviour of the sea, what we gain from the sea and how we use the sea. That is what we felt and that is what, I think, Chairman, we picked up by talking to the large number of people we talked to, mainly scientists, of course, but they have a wider outlook than just the science they are doing, including the long-term observations that Bob Watson has mentioned.
Professor Watson: Let me make a comment. The one thing I actually understand rather well is the US system. I used to be the Associate Director for the Environment in the White House, so at that particular stage - this was 11 years ago, I have to be honest - I had oversight for a seven billion dollar a year programme. Actually, most of the research is not done in NOAA; the really good oceans research is actually done in NASA and the National Science Foundation. NOAA only do the operational part, which is very, very important - do not misunderstand that comment. NOAA do some incredibly important things on the observations in a routine monitoring sense of both the atmosphere and the ocean and fisheries, but some of the most vibrant research is actually done in NASA, the National Science Foundation and the others, and so, again, the way the research works - because I actually helped to put an inter-agency committee together - is very similar to this maritime committee actually, and so the strength of the ocean research embedded within the atmosphere and the land research, which is what you have to look at as the couplet for climate change and even for biodiversity, was actually bringing all the agencies together. So I could argue from a research perspective, not necessarily some of the other fisheries issues, that what we are trying to do here in the Marine Science Co-ordination Committee is not dissimilar to the committee that I helped to put together 11 years ago in the White House to co-ordinate science right across the agencies.
Q11 Chairman: Fisheries are not even part of this.
Professor Watson: No; agreed. That is why I kept my remarks to the research to understand the oceans, including biodiversity, the role in climate, the role in fisheries basically. The pure science behind the marine system in the US is highly fragmented, well, relatively fragmented and so even there you need an inter-agency committee, very much like one is suggesting here.
Q12 Dr Iddon: We picked up strong criticisms of the existing IACMST organisation, which the people we talked to felt was not co-ordinating all the work that needed co-ordinating and, indeed, had very little powers, for example, of compulsion and very little effect on the behaviour of the Government. They felt that IACMST was an extremely weak organisation, but it did have a wider membership than what the Government is now proposing to set up with the new MSCC. For example, there will be no industrial membership, as far as we have been told, on the new MSCC and the research councils do not appear to be playing a role. Why have we chosen a much narrower body? It may have stronger powers, as you indicated, Hilary, at the beginning, but it is a narrower focus than the existing organisation of which we have received, let me repeat, strong criticisms, not of the people who operate it, by the way, but just of the structures and the way it operates.
Hilary Benn: I agree with the criticisms that the committee made. That is why I accepted your recommendation that we should have a new co-ordinating body. What is different about is it what I described in answering, Chairman, your original question. It might be helpful. In this paper, which has got a bit more detail, which I will leave or circulate now, whatever is most helpful to the committee, the proposed structure, "Members of the MSCC will be at director level, representing the following departments and agencies: Defra, BERR, MoD, DfT, DIUS, NERC, devolved administrations, Environment Agency, DFID. It will be supported by a support group with representatives of departments and agencies who have got direct science budget responsibility. In addition to the departments and agencies represented on MSCC, the support group will include representatives from the Met Office, CFAS, UKHO, JNCC, FRS." On the very specific point that you raised about other membership, we are planning, if you like, three independent reps, because I know that has been an issue that has been raised, one coming from the academic world, one from fisheries and industry, which I think picks up the point that you made, and, say, one NGO. We have not quite finalised the decision there. The purpose of giving you the note of the planning group that has now had two meetings is for you as the committee to have a chance to look, and can I make this offer now? If you have got views, which I am sure you will have, about what you think of the membership, could you give us a shout, because we have not set it in stone yet, we are evolving the process, the organisation itself, and I want it to work effectively, to hang on to the good things there were about the previous organisation, not to lose that, but to deal with the bits that were not working, which is why we accepted your recommendation to establish a new co-ordinating body.
Dr Iddon: I think we could say right now, Chairman, could we not, that the balance is so much in the public sector favour that the private sector was very disappointed to learn about the new MSCC. You just mention one industrial/something else amendment. I think if you put that to the private sector, they will be even more disappointed, bearing in mind that the sea is going to be used much more in future, if we exclude shipping and fishing, by the energy sector - for example, off shore wind farms, wave and tidal machines - that part of the use of the sea feel that they need to be represented on this body.
Q13 Chairman: It is also the university community as well which are ignored. So the whole of those three communities. The private sector, if you like, the BPs of this world, who are huge players in marine technology, marine science, the technologies which Brian has just mentioned and the universities are three communities which we felt strongly should be part of the agency or, now, the new committee which has been established.
Hilary Benn: I agree with that, and that is why the three reps that we are currently thinking of in the working draft that we have produced responds to that. The other point I should have made is, of course, do not forget the marine management organisation: because as you came on to the last points that you made in responding to my answer, that is what the Marine Management Organisation is going to be dealing with and it will only be able to do its job if it is supported by and involves and talks to all of the interest groups that you have just drawn attention to. One of the striking things about the Marine Bill and the concept of the MMO is, I have to say, the very wide level of support there is for it and the welcome there has been for the bill, not because people think, "Hey, we are being left out of this", but actually because I think they recognise it is long overdue, it is groundbreaking, it will do something for the seas that we have never done before, and, in effect, it is a means of trying to mediate between all of the competing demands on our seas, which are growing for the reasons that you have set out, so that we have a way of taking decisions about how the seas are going to be used and at one end saying, "Right, this is so is special and precious, nothing can go on here" - that is what marine conservation is about - but it is a flexible instrument because you can go from no activity to not some activities, so you have got a flexible means of protecting what you need to protect, but there will also be the mechanism for determining where you are going to give the go-ahead for wind farms, and so on and so forth. If I may say so, I think you need to look at the two things operating together, because we have accepted, I hope you will feel in the spirit of what you are asking for, a different structure for doing it, the MSCC here dealing with the marine science, which is what your report was principally about but not exclusively, and then the Marine Bill and the Marine Management Organisation over here, remembering, of course, that one of the things that will govern the work of the Marine Management Organisation is the Marine Policy Statement which the White Paper and the bill commits us to draw up, which will give us the place to put---. In a sense, it will do what you have asked for the Marine Science Strategy to do for marine science. The Marine Policy Statement will do the same for what is the policy framework for deciding what is going to happen in our seas and underneath them?
Q14 Dr Iddon: Will we have a bridge between those bodies or a valley separating them?
Hilary Benn: I said a little moment ago that the MMO will be represented on the MSCC, because it has obviously got to have the connection, and, to be honest, the other way round, that is something I will go away and think about.
Q15 Dr Iddon: I have one last question, which is quite simple. When will the new organisation, the MSCC, be up and running, Hilary?
Hilary Benn: If I can refer to the note here, the next meeting of the planning group will be on 15 May, and then Defra will invite MSCC members to a first meeting in June or July to examine the planning group paper in detail, confirm the structure, develop a forward plan of action, consider the shape and content of the strategy. So we are getting on with it, and that is one of the points I wanted to get across to you today.
Q16 Chairman: Do you have a deadline for when you want to see this completed?
Hilary Benn: To be honest, as soon as possible. The fact that we are making the progress that we are, I hope, will encourage the committee that we have taken the recommendation, we are getting on and we are going to make it happen, but I cannot say I have got a tenth of whatever.
Q17 Chairman: But if by the end of the year it is not firmly in place, which this piece of paper says---
Hilary Benn: I certainly envisage that the MSCC---. No, that is not what that bit of paper says, but I certainly envisage that the MSCC will be operational by the end of the year, and you can come and tell me off if it is not. That I will make as an offer to the committee.
Professor Watson: And that timing would actually be good, especially if we can make it earlier. There have already been two planning meetings so far of the planning committee. The third one, as you hear, is going to be actually in a few weeks time, because we hope to have some draft initial strategies for LWEC (Living with Environmental Change) by about the middle of June, so I think all these things are moving together. As I said earlier, I think we have to place marine science, important in its own right, in the context of all these other issues on the land and in the atmosphere as well.
Q18 Dr Gibson: How will I know when we have got a marine strategy? Where would I first see it and how would I first find out, and what is it anyway? John F Kennedy had a strategy: it was to get a man on the moon at the time, and I guess he did that, but that was a strategy. How precise does a strategy have to be before it convinces cynics like me that you have got one?
Hilary Benn: I never had you marked down as a cynic, Dr Gibson. The answer to the question is that we aim to draw it up so it is available in the second half of next year.
Chairman: The second half of next year?
Q19 Dr Gibson: Two thousand and nine?
Hilary Benn: Yes, 2009.
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 it then?
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 time.
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 test it.
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 your experience?
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 direction - do not misunderstand me - and 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 some inducement?
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 ago - a report will come out - what 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 US - they are larger, just the sheer size, to be honest - but 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 might be?
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 programmes - that is the UK, not just Defra - in 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 those intentions?
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 chance - to go back to your question about how many people understand - to 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, discuss - that 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 consult them?
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 the cake?
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 have - what do we already know, what are the research gaps, what is needed to fill them - and 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 years - I was in the World Bank - but 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.
Q40 Dr Gibson: Just to make clear in my mind a conversation I had which was very similar with Arnold Weinstock of GEC many, many years ago, when there was rationalisation taking place, which was not a word they used then. I guess any new strategy could involve rationalisation of some sort, restructuring, job losses, job creation even. Would all that be part of the equation too? We cannot rule out the fact that it is very much an important part of consideration during consultation stages.
Professor Watson: I cannot give you a direct answer to that, I have not been part of the planning committee at the moment, John Lock has been chairing it on behalf of Defra, but what I normally find in all research programmes is that they evolve over time. In other words, with or without a new marine strategy, the type of research that we would do within the marine sciences, or the atmospheric sciences, or the biological sciences would naturally evolve over time as individual questions are answered, so you would actually want to have a smooth transition from the research being done today to the research that would be needed under a new Marine Bill. You would not want dysfunctionality in the academic community or in the private sector, you would want to finish of the pieces of research being done now, and, as we all know, it is always an interesting combination of Blue Sky academic research and very policy-targeted, because you are never sure when you are going to make those scientific breakthroughs, and that is going to be the interesting balance, trying to balance some thing that may look academically interesting but may not be so policy-relevant - which is why we have research councils - and at the other end of the spectrum some very policy-relevant research we already know we want. It is actually betting that balance that is always a challenge.
Q41 Dr Gibson: Would you say that British science now is moving away from the fragmentation stage into the centralisation of scientific endeavours, taking away all the small units and putting them into one? Is that a pathway you see happening?
Professor Watson: What I see with LWEC is clearly that the research councils and the departments are trying to come up with a more holistic strategy where we can appropriately leverage each other. What I would hope is, as those strategies are developed, they will have an appropriate balance between fundamental and academic science and policy-relevant science. One is seeing a movement in some cases towards what I call large and multi-disciplinary teams. The Tyndall Centre would be a perfect example, and it is a consortium of seven universities. I see it is that type of consortia, whether it be for climate change or for some of these other issues, that is the way to bring together excellence across the United Kingdom, so bring those skills together as needed to address specific problems.
Q42 Dr Gibson: But before you have all the confrontation, if that did kind of happen, a centralisation, it is essential that you have the people in the policy-making arena right from the beginning rather than being dragged in screaming, carrying placards late on.
Professor Watson: Sure; absolutely.
Chairman: We are not carrying any placards here.
Q43 Ian Stewart: Good afternoon. I am absolutely fascinated by the implications of this subject and the wider environmental issues. I did not realise before coming to this just how important this is. Having said that, Bob, before you answered Ian's last question you were talking about what the big questions are. In the introduction to the draft Bill it refers to the need for research, as you highlighted, to underpin Defra's ability to make good policy and good management decisions. I want to press you a bit more on that, if you do not mind, but the first thing I would like to ask you is when will the Marine Bill be enacted?
Hilary Benn: We have got the Bill in draft now for pre-legislative scrutiny and it is subject to the normal processes, the Queen's Speech and, since the innovation of last year, the draft Queen's Speech, and just watch this space, I think is the answer to the question.
Q44 Ian Stewart: A year, a year and a half?
Hilary Benn: We have a very clear commitment to enact the bill in this Parliament, and we intend to do so.
Dr Gibson: Has the Prime Minister agreed to that? Do not answer!
Chairman: It will be done before 2010.
Q45 Ian Stewart: I think also, Bob, you, by inference, accepted that there were gaps in the data that is needed to make the proposals in the draft Bill work. Is that right?
Professor Watson: Let us be quite candid and let me pick climate change as a particular issue. There is a huge amount we know and, as we all know, it is a clearly serious environmental development and actual security issue, and we clearly know enough that we must, indeed, mitigate greenhouse gas emissions to try and limit the projected changes in climate. Having said that, there are still some fairly significant uncertainties, whether it be in our understanding of the oceans, i.e. one good example would be what are the implications of the acidification of the ocean? There is more carbon dioxide being taken up by the ocean. What are the implications on marine life in the oceans and biodiversity? The fact that ocean temperatures will change and ocean circulation patterns will change will mean there will be different patterns of nutrient flows. What will happen to fisheries there? It could be that simply the fisheries move; it could be there is a decrease in total catch. So, no, there are some significant questions, especially what are the implications of climate change on fisheries, agricultural production, human health, natural ecosystems, and how can we adapt to them? So, there are uncertainties in the marine science, the atmospheric science, our land science, and it is trying to get the priorities right across the earth's sciences of what are the most important policy questions and how do we get the answers to those important policy questions. One of the key issues is the exchange of energy and chemicals between the atmosphere and the ocean? To what degree will there be changes in storm surges in the oceans? There is a number of questions.
Q46 Ian Stewart: Those are very interesting questions, even to lay people like me, but are you confident that Defra's own research programme would be sufficient to fill those gaps?
Professor Watson: No, not a hope, and nor will the UK's programme, nor will the EU's. This is why I do stress, especially for an issue like climate change, we have to take a truly global perspective to see what research is needed. Again, I hate to hark back to a previous job I had, but even 11 years ago within the seven billion dollar budget of which I had macro-oversight, not day to day oversight, the climate change programme was fairly close to one and a half to two billion dollars a year then. It is probably comparable now. So we have to place not only Defra's research but the UK research within this wider context, and that is why we need collaboration and partnerships. Defra alone could not ever hope to understand the earth's system, even major parts of it.
Q47 Chairman: To clarify, you have identified within the draft Bill that there are gaps in the research which we must plug in order for that bill to become an effective piece of legislation. The question we want answering is: are you confident that Defra has the resources to be able to plug those gaps?
Professor Watson: Defra has to place its research programme in the broader context of the UK at least. NERC funds far more ocean research than Defra. In other words, we should not say what will Defra's role be.
Q48 Chairman: I am sorry. There is no point in having a bill, is there, if in fact you know from the start that you cannot in fact deliver its objectives, because you cannot plug the gaps in terms of research?
Professor Watson: Okay. I have often testified in US certainly and the US House of Commons and they always used to ask me: "If I give you so much money, how many years will it take you to plug those research gaps?" I always refused to answer. You can put funding into research; you never know when the answers are going to come out. All we can do is make sure that we identify the key gaps, identify the best researches and hope that science will follow a reasonable evolutionary course to produce answers. You can never guarantee answers, in my opinion.
Hilary Benn: I would not say that was an argument for not coming forward with a marine bill.
Ian Stewart: If you could come forward with the Marine Bill, you must have some idea of how much additional investment you are going to make to plug these gaps, surely, even at the level that the UK can do on its own?
Q49 Chairman: The bill does not mention research; it virtually ignores it.
Hilary Benn: Clearly the decisions that we as ministers will take---. For example, let us talk about marine conservation zones. The decisions that we will take, on advice---
Q50 Ian Stewart: I am sorry, are those the same as the marine protected areas?
Hilary Benn: Yes, they are called marine conservation zones in the bill. The decisions that we will take, on the advice of the JNCC and Natural England, based on the knowledge that we have currently and the knowledge as it evolves in the way that Bob has described, will allow us to designate more areas as marine conservation zones. As you will know, it is currently 2.2 per cent, I think, from memory. Studies have been done which have suggested it should be about 20 per cent. The MCZ is a flexible means of doing that. You can have what other people have called highly protected marine reserves, but the MCZ is an instrument which can give you as much protection as anyone can possibly imagine over here, a different type of protection here and a bit of protection here, depending on what the nature of the seas are and what it is that you are trying to protect. If the argument was, until you have guaranteed enough funding to answer all of the questions - and I am not saying you are advancing it - there is no point in bringing forward a marine bill, I would not agree with that because I think we need what the Marine Bill is going to provide, but it is going to have to be informed by the science and the purpose of all of this discussion, and the purpose of the science is to find out the answers but to inform policy.
Q51 Ian Stewart: Why I am pressing these questions about funding in that sense is I think, Bob, earlier, as an aside in relation to another issue, you talked about the ability to get research on the cheap and, therefore, it is difficult for us as a committee to scrutinise just what your plans are within this bill if we do not have any idea of the sort of investment that you intend to make, at least at the UK level, to address those gaps?
Hilary Benn: I am not sure that I agree/understand. The bill will do what the bill sets out to do, in the way which the draft Bill describes. We have a certain amount of knowledge currently. That will be drawn upon by those who will advise ministers. Since we are talking about marine conservation zones, part of what we need to do is to provide resources to look, to understand better what is down there currently - that is what we are talking about, because we have some knowledge but not all the knowledge that we do need - but that is going to be a process over time. I would not see it that you hold up either scrutiny of the draft Bill or the enactment of the bill whilst saying, until you can say here is X amount of money which is going to deliver Y results in terms of knowledge, until we know that, we do not think you should get on with it, because actually people have been pressing us to get on with it and we waited a long time for the bill.
Q52 Ian Stewart: The problem you are posing for me personally is that, in terms of filling the gaps in research, Bob accepted that Defra's own research base could not possibly cope with it. There is a need to work with others externally.
Hilary Benn: Fine.
Q53 Ian Stewart: But he then took it to a global level, saying that even the US could not fill those research gaps. I then brought it back to UK level that relates to this bill, and if you accept that there are gaps that need to be filled, there must be an understanding of what those gaps are and how, within this bill, you can fund the research to cover those gaps. That is what I am seeking, to get an idea of what will happen in practice on the ground.
Hilary Benn: Defra can certainly set out - and Bob says he is going to have overall responsibility for it - what Defra's research budget is going to be spent on. The MMO, as I said earlier, is going to be represented on the new Marine Science Co-ordination Committee. One of the things that the Marine Science Co-ordination Committee is going to look at is where are the gaps, seeing what everybody is up to currently, and if the MMO says, "Here are some things that have been really useful for us to know, and the JNCC and Natural England, in advising ministers on where there should be marine conservation zones and of what type and what it is that we are trying to protect", then that is part of the process. I am trying to provide an answer to the question that you have quite properly asked. It seems to me we are in a better position to do it now, and will be in the future, because of your recommendation that there should be a co-ordinating committee that is more effective, with ministerial leadership, and the fact that the lead minister, the champion, for the Marine Science Co-ordination Committee and for the strategy is also the minister in Defra who has been leading on the Marine Bill, I hope, will also give some comfort and the two bits can live together, but Bob may want to add something.
Professor Watson: I think we always manage the environment, whether it is the marine environment, whether it is the terrestrial environment, or whether it is the atmosphere, with current knowledge, which is why we call it adaptive management. You use the best knowledge you have today, so it is always decision-making under uncertainty, and you continue to do research to try and reduce that uncertainty. We have a Climate Change Bill that talks about mitigating climate change, we have uncertainties, but it does not stop us coming up with a well thought through, cost-effective plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It talks about adapting to climate change in the UK. Again, there are some uncertainties, but again that does not stop us coming up with a well-defined strategy that would continuously be informed by further research. Our job is to think through where are the most important research gaps that we should emphasise to reduce those largest uncertainties, which are, on the one hand, the most policy-relevant uncertainties, and so it really is adaptive management where research continuously informs.
Hilary Benn: One of the things we are doing through our research spend is to look at it and ask precisely the question that you have asked of me: what is it we need for the purposes of the implementation of the Marine Bill so that it has an impact on where we prioritise the expenditure that we have got? Perhaps I should have said that at the beginning.
Q54 Ian Stewart: So we agree there is a question, but there is no answer to it at this point in terms of finance. Then perhaps, Bob, you would say what work has been done so far to establish the mechanisms to facilitate the release of data, the interaction between producers, suppliers and users of marine data?
Professor Watson: Clearly, the Marine Bill will be implemented on the knowledge we have today, whether it is knowledge that has come from Defra research or other research entities or the private sector. I think we need to make sure we have all the relevant information up-to-date, peer reviewed, validated, as much as you can validate research findings, as we start to manage the system. This would be the normal way of business actually.
Q55 Dr Iddon: When I visited Plymouth I got the distinct impression that we did not know too much about the areas we need to protect, except in the case of some well-known examples; yet we are putting off-shore wind farms out; we are putting wave and tidal machines out. Perhaps I direct the question to Bob. Do you think we know enough about even the Continental Shelf, never mind the deep sea beyond it, in order to have marine protected areas at the moment, or is this a fairly unknown research area?
Professor Watson: I think the question is: what are we protecting and why are we protecting it? There are many things you can protect. There is a complete dearth of marine protected areas anywhere in the world. If you compare the marine protected areas compared to terrestrial protected areas, there is a couple of percent across the world. I think one of the questions we have, and I have got the same question actually, a major question on terrestrial protected areas, first, do we know what we are protecting and why and do we know how to protect it? Let me say why I think it is a challenge, and I think it is a challenge both in the marine environment and the terrestrial environment. If we are correct about climate change, the climatic zones for a species in an ecosystem could well shift 300 to 500 kms poleward, towards the North Pole in the northern hemisphere and the South Pole in the southern, and could move up an altitude in grading a mountain by 300 to 500 metres. In other words, if you have tried to protect a particular species where it may sit very happily today, it may no longer potentially even reside in the UK, or, if you are in Brazil, it may not even reside in the protected area you have got. So one of the challenges we face is not only to decide what do we want to protect and why but, if, indeed, we are seeing a major change in the environment, and climate change is the classical one that I would put, we have got to think what the implications of climatic change are, to think through the whole concept of protected areas, and so there is a real challenge whether it is in the terrestrial biosphere or in the aquatic biosphere.
Q56 Ian Stewart: Some of the climate change things are going to happen, so why do we try to protect the north Norfolk coast? Why do we protect the Broads, Bob? Why not just flood them? Nature Heritage has said that, has it not?
Professor Watson: I think the question we have to decide is what we want to protect and why, and, clearly, for those living in the Norfolk Broads and in Norfolk, they would want to protect it. I think the question is, and it is a classical question, what parts of the coast do you protect, what parts do you let retreat, and then you have to look at it from an economic, social, environmental perspective. There will be parts, I believe, of the north Norfolk coast that you actually purposefully will protect and parts that you may actually allow to retreat because it is actually the most cost-effective and socially defensible.
Q57 Ian Stewart: So you would protect the Labour seats, I hope, and allow the Liberal Democrats to sink!
Professor Watson: I would hate to make a political statement.
Q58 Chairman: There were a number of rotten boroughs which are in the sea and perhaps others will follow them!
Hilary Benn: Can I just add to the question. When we launched the Marine Bill I went out, for the first time in my life, to see an off-shore wind farm off Whitstable, and one of the things that is immediately obvious when you go and have a look is that the putting in of the piles would have disrupted things down below, but once you have got one of those things there you are not going to go and fish there. One very interesting question for me also as a lay person is: what is the long-term impact of that and do you find that things recover quicker than people thought and do you find that species of fish will actually tend to congregate there because, by definition, people cannot come and fish? The interrelationship between the human activity and biodiversity is something that we need better to understand, because one thing I think we do learn from nature is that in the right circumstances it is pretty vigorous and pretty good at redeeming itself and recovering sometimes in ways that would astonish us. The other thing is that in the publication - I see that Bob has got it here - as someone who was new to this when we produced this very nice brochure publicising the work we are doing on the Marine Bill, some of the photographs there, if you showed them to people and said, "Where in the world do you think these pictures were taken?" - this goes back to your question about public awareness and understanding - people would have said, "That is the Bahamas. That is the Great Barrier Reef", when actually they are taken in the seas around our coast. Understanding what is there and how marvellous and wonderful some of it is, it seems to me, the reason why there is so much support for the Marine Bill and why we are going to go on and get it on the statute book.
Q59 Chairman: Before the election in 2010! Can I finally turn to an issue which you have both raised on a number of occasions this afternoon, and that is this issue of monitoring and the importance of monitoring? In fact those of us that took part in this investigation I think were struck by just how crucially important maintaining long-term datasets is, maintaining our support for the ARGO floats programme and, more so, for deep-ocean piling, and so on, and I just wonder what additional money is in the CSR, to start with, to actually support marine science as a whole, but particularly the preservation of long-term datasets? Is there any additional money at all?
Professor Watson: As you know, we have kept the Defra budget constant from last year to this year for research at around £132 million per year and in the monitoring and surveillance issues we are trying to get a handle around it. NERC, of course, had just over a five per cent increase in their research budget, but a significant amount of that got eaten up by overheads, et cetera. To be honest, I would imagine the total budget for the long-term monitoring is fairly flat, but this is why we need to look at the research strategy and monitoring strategy to ask are we putting enough emphasis on monitoring versus some other elements of research, how does the UK monitoring fit within the global perspective? You are absolutely right, long-term monitoring is absolutely critical - there is no question - for trying to understand things such as changes in the earth's climate and changes in biodiversity. There are short-term fluctuations that can be seasonal, inter-annual, even decadal, so unless you look at the processes over a long period of time you cannot tell what is a natural fluctuation versus what is a long-term trend, which may be induced by human activity. Equally, if you then put a policy in place, say, to try and reverse damage, you also need the long term to see whether or not that policy is having the effect it is. I can only agree with you on long-term monitoring, but to me it is one of the biggest challenges we in the UK face.
Q60 Chairman: I am grateful for that because I think that confirms what the Committee concluded, but we made a proposition. We understood the difficulty, for instance, of the research councils which say, "Look, our job is basic research. Monitoring is not basic research, even though we use the results of monitoring for our basic research". The Departments say, "That is not our job. Our job is to make sure it is the here and now that we are looking after". We made a proposal that, in fact, the agency or the new committee would have a budget which would control the issue of long-term monitoring, in other words to take it out of, if you like, that constant football match between departments and research councils. Why do you think that was rejected, Secretary of State or Professor Watson? It seemed a fairly sensible solution.
Hilary Benn: It remains a problem. The difficulty is finding a solution for it, given what you have just very clearly set out, as to what the different partners think their responsibility is, but I would be very happy to ask the MSCC because it is there to do a job of work to look at this. If you take examples like the ARGO Programme or Jason-2, it would be good to try and find a way of doing it. What I am reluctant to do is to sit before the Committee today and say, "I have got a pot of money that I could draw upon", because I have not. One of the things I have had to do, as all Secretaries of State have to do, is to make sure the budget of Defra balances. We have got things we are investing more money in, going back to Dr Gibson's question, flooding and coastal defence, a big increase over the next two years, I have got animal diseases to deal with and in the end we have to take some decisions. Bob and I have had a lively conversation about the research budget and what Bob describes is what we have ended up with in terms of the cash sum, but could I suggest that we ask the MSCC, as part of its work, to look at this.
Q61 Chairman: The UK Marine Monitoring and Assessment Strategy identified somewhere in the region of £20 to £25 million which was required to plug the gaps within our monitoring system and maintain existing monitoring systems and there is no way of filling that gap. What Professor Watson and yourself agree are crucial areas in terms of maintaining these long-term data sets will not happen, so what do we do about it?
Hilary Benn: I am being straight and saying I have no money that I bring to the Committee today to say, "I can tell you we are going to fill the gap", but the issue that you identified does not go away for the reasons you set out very clearly in the report. I would suggest humbly that we ask the MSCC to apply its mind to this and to see if there is a way of providing some greater reassurance so there is not the kind of hand to mouth existence which there has been. I think that is all I can say in answer to the question.
Professor Watson: That would be my comment. I think we have again to go right back to what are our policy objectives, what are our research objectives, what are the needs in both the research side of the equation, what are the monitoring requirements and then I would also ask how do these prioritise relative to, say, the atmospheric monitoring or the land surface monitoring. Personally, I cannot take the marine, even though we are talking about marine science and monitoring here, completely out of the equation of the other elements of the earth's system because normally we are trying to answer some big earth system questions, of which marine is a part, but I think there are major issues with long-term monitoring. You are absolutely right, I have seen it in other countries as well, everybody points at each other and says, "You're in charge of monitoring", and it is one of the biggest dilemmas. I would argue, just like Hilary, that this co-ordinating committee should look at this as a very specific issue of how you prioritise limited resources.
Q62 Dr Gibson: Of the financial interactions in the consortium sense in other areas of endeavour, you would try to say, "Look, you have a responsibility for this, so have you; can we put something together". In the Norfolk coast you will have Bacton, for example, and the Home Office has got responsibilities there and so on. You do need some kind of creative activity between different organisations to meet the problems because we will all suffer.
Hilary Benn: Let us ask the MSCC to see if they can provide that creativity.
Q63 Chairman: Finally, could I ask you, Secretary of State, both of you have mentioned this issue of raising public awareness and certainly Dr Gibson mentioned it too. Is there a distinct strategy within the Department for you, as Secretary of State, to lead in terms of this raising of public awareness? Some of the issues that we raised within this particular report were very, very crucial to the marine science community but did not really ring many bells, for instance, in the broader media which did not pick it up as a major issue.
Hilary Benn: I could say equally that when the Marine Bill was published, I suppose because there is a large measure of support for it, it did not get as much coverage as it might have got if people were raging and screaming about it. It was a reflection of our broader society, which we will leave for another occasion. The Marine Bill, as well as the Committee's report and the strategy that is going to be drawn up are all opportunities which each of us has got to seize in the most effective way to make the point. The greatest advocates of all for marine science are the folk who are doing the scientific research and providing opportunities for them to tell their stories about what they have done and what they have found; that is actually how you inform, inspire and encourage. It will also help to address one of the other issues that you put down in your report which is encouraging more people to come and do this, for young people to think, "Hey, that's what I want to do. I want to help discover what is down there so we can have good, decent marine conservation zones based on proper evidence". It then becomes a virtuous circle and there is a lot of fantastic stuff out there, which I am just beginning to learn about. Let us work together and find ways.
Q64 Dr Gibson: Have Nobel Prizes been won in this area yet, Robert, not that is the sole criterion, but it certainly helps?
Professor Watson: No. In fact, when you look at the Nobel Prizes they are very explicitly, as you know, for physics, chemistry, et cetera. There is one Nobel Prize for the three scientists who understood stratospheric ozone depletion, Roland, Crutzen and Molina, and there has been one Nobel Prize, of course, the Peace Prize for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. There are other major prizes. The Japan Prize has got two big prizes, the Japan Prize and the Blue Planet Prize and they are quite significant amounts of money, and then there is something called the Zayed Prize, of which the Millennium Eco-System Assessment was one of the winners. They do not get publicity in the newspapers, even the Nobel Prize is there for half a day in some newspapers and it is gone. The way to get to the public is, indeed, through documentaries and maybe we need to work far more with a guy called Robert Lamb, who is a superb person who worked for TV and is an adviser to the BBC, and David Suzuki in Canada. The marine environment, as Jacques Cousteau found out, is so photogenic, so you can bring in the issue of fisheries collapse and the magnificence of underwater, even if they are short documentaries, that is the way we need to get to the public basically the importance of these systems.
Hilary Benn: Fewer body makeover, home makeover programmes on the TV and one or two on marine science. Let us hope somebody is listening.
Chairman: I am sure they have got mindreaders listening. Could I thank you very much indeed, Secretary of State, Professor Watson, for a very, very useful afternoon's session.