House of COMMONS
MINUTES OF EVIDENCE
INNOVATION, UNIVERSITIES, SCIENCE AND SKILLS COMMITTEE
DIUS DEPARTMENTAL REPORT 2008
PROFESSOR JOHN BEDDINGTON
USE OF THE TRANSCRIPT
Taken before the Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee
Mr Phil Willis, in the Chair
Mr Tim Boswell
Dr Evan Harris
Dr Brian Iddon
Dr Desmond Turner
Witness: Professor John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills, gave evidence.
Q225 Chairman: Could we welcome very much indeed Professor John Beddington, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, to this very short inquiry on the DIUS Departmental Annual Report. It is very nice to see you this morning, John, and welcome to the committee. You have had virtually a year in post now. It has been an interesting post. What have been the highlights and the disappointments?
Professor Beddington: First of all, Chairman, it is nice to be here and in the proper
job. When I appeared before you in
December, I was still working at
Q226 Chairman: What is the big disappointment? What is your frustration? What have you not been able to achieve this year? About what have you said that you will definitely do something which has not been achievable?
Professor Beddington: I think that getting used to working within government and within the Civil Service: I have not done that before. I would not say it is a disappointment but I find that things move slightly slower than I might have expected, though not necessarily slower than large policy portions of academia that I have been involved in. I would not say I have felt that there were any real disappointments so far. I guess I have been lucky.
Q227 Chairman: You have had a significantly lower media profile than your predecessor. Is that deliberate or is that just your style?
Professor Beddington: My feeling is that if you are going to have an impact, you have to have an impact at a number of levels. Some things require a fairly high media profile. In one of the areas, particularly highlighting the issues of food security and the related issues to food security of energy security, water security and so on and the link with climate change, I think I have been relatively high profile. Particularly within the first couple of months of being in the job, I raised food security as a really big issue for the world. I think I was probably the first in government, and I was very pleased to see that the Prime Minister took that up, raised it at the G8 meeting and food security is right on top of the agenda now. I felt that was one where I really did need to take a high profile. In other areas I think it is more effective to discuss with the appropriate members of government - appropriate Ministers or with Permanent Secretaries or scientific colleagues. I would expect in the future that issues will arise where I will seek to have a substantial media profile. We can get on to this perhaps a little later but there is the recent report on Mental Capital and Wellbeing, which I think is sufficiently important and interesting that it does need a higher media profile than I might have given it in other circumstances.
Q228 Chairman: I do not want to dwell on the issue. Has the move from within the old DTI
programme, where the Government Chief Scientist Adviser sat, to
Professor Beddington: It is hard to compare because in fact that is the only environment I moved into. Comparison is difficult. When I was thinking about really whether to take the job, one of the questions posed to me in the interview was: where would this office be best sited - this was prior to the devolution of DTI into BERR and DIUS - and whether it was better sited in the Cabinet Office. What I said in answer to that question I think holds good now, namely that I thought it was really important to be able to link in with the directors general of the research councils and the chief executives of the research councils in an intimate way, and also to be able to link in essentially with the innovation agenda. Given that - and that was an answer I gave in June 2007 - I think that holds good now. The movement into DIUS I think is the appropriate one. I worked closely with Sir Keith O'Nions when he was there and Adrian Smith, and he has now taken up the job. I think that intimacy of working is really helpful. There are pros and cons for other locations but I think that is the one that I would cite as important.
Q229 Chairman: Effectively, you have to report to the Prime Minister as the Government Chief Scientific Adviser. You are also reporting to the Secretary of State of DIUS in terms of the departmental responsibilities. Does that cause you problems or tensions?
Professor Beddington: There is a potential tension but I do not think there is one in actual fact. Essentially, we use DIUS as our landlord. We have a floor within DIUS. The salaries and rations and so on are managed by the DIUS organisation, but my reporting line is completely clear; it is to the Prime Minister and Cabinet and at a personal level to the Cabinet Secretary. We have to have a clear degree of autonomy from DIUS; I have to have the ability to challenge the science that DIUS is actually doing. That autonomy is preserved by the current arrangements. Of course I talk to the Secretary of State and Lord Drayson in his new appointment and prior to that to Ian Pearson on a regular basis but my reporting responsibilities are quite clear.
Q230 Chairman: You mention Lord Drayson. We had Lord Drayson before the committee on Monday of this week. He talked about his responsibility in setting up a new Cabinet Committee for Science. This is a committee that is very supportive of science, as you know. Does that not cut across you, however, and do you sit on that new cabinet committee?
Professor Beddington: Yes, I will attend that cabinet committee.
Q231 Chairman: Will you attend as an observer?
Professor Beddington: No, like I attend other cabinet committees; for example, I attend the one that deals with pandemic influenza and take a full part, obviously not as a minister but as an official. I will attend that committee and I welcome it. I think that it raises the profile of science in government in an exciting new way. The fact that Lord Drayson is actually attending Cabinet seems to me to be an enhancement of the role of science in government and really is to be welcomed. The other aspect, which I am quite happy to comment on, is that I have a core group of chief scientific advisers; they are obviously chief scientific advisers in a whole range of government departments. The core group consists of HMS, the Ministry of Defence, the Home Office and so on, and I can give you the full detail. I think the cabinet committee is going to mirror that, so in effect you have ministerial attendance at this cabinet committee, and I will attend as well, but also you will have a group of chief scientific advisers of all those departments attending that cabinet committee. I think that really does achieve some degree of joined-up government in science.
Chairman: It is like having a department, is it not, for science? Do not comment on that.
Q232 Dr Turner: John, as I am sure you are well aware, governments love tinkering with structures and think that by doing so they make improvements and solve problems but they can lose sight of the fact that it is people that really matter. GO-Science is another example of this structural tinkering. It was separated out of the Office of Science and Innovation. Do you think it has been successful? Do you think it has established a role of its own in challenging departments and getting them to do things they might not otherwise have done?
Professor Beddington: I hope so. To an extent, nine months into the job, there are some things that I wanted to achieve and I have actually managed to achieve them. In a sense I was answering the Chairman earlier on about that. I think that the way in which GO-Science is now operating is slightly different from my predecessor. I have emphasised the collegiality and the fact that I now have a team of chief scientific advisers across government who work very closely together. I think they are working at a number of levels that is relatively new. For example, when the issue came up of biofuels and the Department for Transport commissioned Gallagher to produce a report, the team of chief scientific advisers that I led added peer review (it was a critical friend of that report) to develop it. That brought in chief scientific advisers from DFID, Transport and from Defra to work together in this team and interact with the Gallagher group to produce what I think was a reasonably good and improved document from our input. I think that is an example of the way in which GO-Science can operate in this way. I am not sure what the correct term is as I am not long enough in government, but we are setting out the aims of GO-Science, how we intend to operate, and that will be published, we hope, before the end of the year.
Q233 Dr Turner: John, I was going to ask you about bio-security later on completely separately but since you have brought it up, it seems quite appropriate to look at it now, especially with you of all people because of the totally correct noises that you have made as Chief Scientific Adviser on the subject of food security. There is a direct conflict between biofuel production and food security. Are you satisfied that the 10 per cent transport biofuel target can be achieved with true sustainability as far as biodiversity is concerned and food security? Are you satisfied because a lot of other people are not satisfied that that is so?
Professor Beddington: I think the report that came out of Gallagher, which we had a large
input into, properly cautioned on this.
The recommendation which was accepted by the Secretary of State for
Transport to slow down the expansion of biofuels was, I think, a prudent
one. The thing that I found surprising
when I became involved in this and looked at it in detail was really that the
data and the scientific information out there on the impact, particularly on
agriculture, was really rather thin. For
example, we found it virtually impossible to get a good estimate of the amount
of arable land that is available and being used. Some of the concerns about the second order
effects from the fact that biofuels generated a change in agricultural practice
- particularly the corn ethanol production in the
Q234 Dr Turner: Do you consider corn ethanol to be sustainable?
Professor Beddington: No. I think corn ethanol is
an interesting issue; it depends on the bi-products and where it is. The point I would be making is that we have
to think very hard about what we mean by sustainable biofuels. There is not a quick and slick definition, and
that needs to be worked out at the moment.
In fact there is a group that is following up the research requirements
recommended by Gallagher, which is led jointly by Bob Watson, Chief Scientific
Adviser in Defra, and Brian Collins, Chief Scientific Adviser in the Department
for Transport. They are going to be
looking in detail at these issues. I
think that we have to look and ask questions because I believe that there is a
real intimate relationship between several of these factors. We have a situation where the demand for food
is going to rise by about 50 per cent by 2030.
At the same time, demand for water is going to go up by about 30 per
cent and demand for energy products is going to go up by 50 per cent, driven by
these factors: population growth,
globalisation, urbanisation and so on.
These factors are intimately linked.
If you try to solve one problem and ignore the other, as could arguably
be the case in the early work on biofuels, you make mistakes. We need to look at a framework which links
those altogether. I also think there is
enormous potential for the second generation and third generation
biofuels. We need to be developing and
putting serious work, money and effort into the research and development of
these second and third generation biofuels. Very early on in my tenure as Chief Scientific
Adviser I went to
Q235 Dr Turner: No, it was an interesting answer. I was hoping you would comment further on the environmental sustainability of biofuels, corn ethanol being the prime example which in some cases consumes more energy than it actually saves in terms of CO2 emissions. This is a criticism to be levelled at many first generation biofuels. Has your office and your advice been sufficiently weighted, do you think, to keep the government away from these biofuels?
Professor Beddington: There is a slight complication, which is to do with first generation biofuels, and that is the bi-products. The bi-products of some biofuels, for example processes that are under development at the moment, use wheat as a main source, but the bi-product is high quality protein, which can be use as animal food. The life cycle analysis when you actually do it says: prima facie this seems crazy using wheat which could be used for either animal food or human consumption as a biofuel, but the bi-product of that, because it is a high quality protein which is a substitute for soybean, can arguably have a more beneficial greenhouse gas emission effect. It is complicated, and I am sorry my answers have been complicated. I would say that this is very active work in progress, both in the community I lead and in the world in general. It has to be addressed and it is a very important issue.
Q236 Dr Turner: We could explore this for hours. What about the identity of GO-Science? It seems to offer information; its on-line material is on the BERR website rather than its own website or even the DIUS website. Are you happy with its PR?
Professor Beddington: I think it needs development. It is not one of the things that I have focused on as a major issue when I walked into the job. As you can see from my media profile, I think PR is somewhat less important than sorting out some scientific problems in government, but it is an issue that we have to address. I take your comment. I think we need to focus quite hard on how we will improve that media image.
Q237 Dr Turner: I understand that you are not a PR person but a certain amount of it is necessary to have effect. GO-Science has kept a particularly low profile with very scant attention in the first departmental annual report. Are you happy with that?
Professor Beddington: I think the point here is that in the DIUS annual report, as I explained earlier in my initial comments to the Chairman, we are, as it were, lodgers; we work alongside DIUS; we are not part of the family. I think that to indicate that we were a substantial portion of their annual report would have been inappropriate. We will be producing by the end of the year, as it were, the GO-Science report and how we see this focusing. I would be very keen to discuss that here with this committee if they want, once that report is published.
Q238 Dr Turner: I was interested by the words you use. You described yourselves as lodgers. This seems to be something of an example of the way science has been treated in government up to now, and it has not had the status in its own right within government that is really required. Are you going to take steps, and particularly in your GO-Science report on the way forward, to change all that and really give science a central, justified role within government?
Professor Beddington: I believe that government recognises that it has to do that and I think the recent appointment of Lord Drayson and his attendance at the Cabinet and the cabinet committee, which we discussed earlier indicates some commitment there. The way in which I believe that we should get science involved is at the level of chief scientific advisers working within departments and I think that has been reasonably successful in the last year. Perhaps I will come back to that later. What I would seek to do is to have chief scientific advisers and essentially the network of scientists and engineers that they lead reporting into the management boards of the departments concerned; they should have access to ministers. By and large, that has been achieved throughout government. That is important. In terms of the larger question, possibly I should have chosen my words slightly more carefully.
Q239 Dr Turner: They were revealing.
Professor Beddington: The point I was really trying to make was that we are not part of DIUS; we work within DIUS and DIUS is clearly one of the very important departments in which we work, particularly because of the funding of the research councils. It is one of the departments with which we work very closely, but I would say we work equally closely with Defra, DFID, MoD and so on.
Q240 Chairman: Could I say, in response to the comment you very usefully made to Des Turner about producing a GO-Science annual report, that of greater interest to our committee and the point that Des was making very strongly is this issue of a report which talks about science across government. Will that be included within your annual report or will that be a separate submission? What this committee is interested in is in fact that whole issue of where science fits across government and what is happening. Can we have that commitment from you?
Professor Beddington: There will be some commentary on it; it is not an enormous report and so to do this comprehensively is more complicated. Can I focus on some of the things we are doing? For example, we have this year brought out a report on the review of science in the Department of Health, which is comprehensive and published separately. We are in the process of doing a review of the Food Standards Agency. These are the detailed reports that actually give you a detailed level of how we believe science is being done in a particular department.
Q241 Mr Boswell: Clearly there are two approaches to this: one is a global one through a GO-Science annual report; the other is a distributed reporting on science in the Department. Do you see that business about encouraging departments to have their own chief scientists and reporting coherently on their work as being an alternative, a complement, or how does it relate?
Professor Beddington: I think it is a complement. Chief scientific advisers within departments obviously will report to their own individual Permanent Secretary and they do not report to me, so that they have responsibilities within the department. I think the role of for example the science reviews is to go in and challenge whilst that science is being done and it can be critical or not of how the chief scientific adviser in the department has been operating within that department.
Q242 Dr Iddon: John, there are a few notable exceptions for departments that still do not have chief scientific advisers; dare I mention the Treasury. Are you going to pursue the line that all important state departments should have a CSA?
Professor Beddington: I believe that is the line. I would say that we have had some reasonable successes. Culture, Media and Sport has now appointed a Chief Scientific Adviser, which was something that my predecessor I know struggled long and hard to achieve. Also the Foreign and Commonwealth Office have decided to appoint a Chief Scientific Adviser, which I think is a very important step. You have singled out the Treasury which does not have one. Yes, I think it is important to examine that issue, but I have been reasonably pleased by the way in which when I engage with departments and have dealt with these issues there is an openness to have chief scientific advisers which I had not expected. I thought there was going to be a great deal of resistance. I would say that the fact that the Foreign Office now has a Chief Scientific Adviser, or will be appointing one shortly, is an achievement, and DCMS has actually appointed one, whom I met last week.
Q243 Dr Iddon: Going back to the departmental individual science reviews, these have been welcomed, but this committee has been critical of how slowly they have been produced. Is there any way we can speed up that process? Can they be done independently of government by appointing outside agencies to do them and, more importantly, when they have been produced with the recommendations in them, are you pursuing those recommendations to see that individual departments are not ignoring these reports?
Professor Beddington: I will answer your question in three portions. First of all, the speed of the reviews: I absolutely agree that they were ludicrous in my view. I took part in the one on Defra and it seemed to be going on forever. I think I had two grandchildren in the interval while that report was operating! I was aware of this. Very soon after coming in, I commissioned a review of reviews in co-operation with the Heads of Analysis Group, which is led by Nick Macpherson of the Treasury. We commissioned a consultant, Peter Cleasby, to come forward with recommendations on what was good and what was bad about the previous practice and to make recommendations about the future. The answer is that he has come forward with proposals which the Heads of Analysis Group have accepted and which I accept, too. The new reviews will be significantly shorter, maximum three months; they will be conducted in a completely different way from other reviews. They will be jointly owned by the Permanent Secretary of the department concerned and myself, and they will be driven at a very high level. There will be an immediate going in to look and see what are the key issue and if some things worry us, then we would start to look at those in more detail. The idea is to go in - I would not call it a quick and dirty look - and have a quick and very detailed look at the way in which science is used in government. The pattern of reviews which we would then plan to start early in 2009 should mean that we will be able to get a lot more done; we will be using consultants to help us and we will be using a much higher level of professional input into these reviews. I think that is the right way to go. That is the answer to the first question. In terms of the follow-up, yes, we are doing follow-ups. At the moment, on the Defra review, which I sat on as part of the panel because at the time I was chairing Defra's Science Advisory Council, we are following up with Defra to see how the recommendations are moving. In fact, before the end of this month, I have a meeting with Bob Watson, Chris Gaskell who chairs the Science Advisory Council and Watson's Head of Science, Miles Parker, to follow up those recommendations. That is important. The one that I inherited from Sir David King was the one on the Department of Health, which has now been published. Reasonably, they are taking some while to respond.
Q244 Dr Iddon: At one time we used to have a Scientific Civil Service. That was a long time ago. David King, during his period as the chief CSA, was rather critical that scientists have become buried within the Civil Service, and did not admit they had science degrees. When we interviewed you just after your appointment, you said you had not detected this anti-science feeling in the Civil Service. Has that become apparent to you yet or do you think Sir David was wrong?
Professor Beddington: Can I answer by explaining what I have actually been doing because I am Head of the Science and Engineering Profession in Government as a whole? I think when I appeared before this committee in December last year I raised this issue and said that I thought this was a role that I had to take very seriously and think about how to take it forward. What I found very early on was that it was very difficult to identify the complete community of scientists and engineers within government. Some work in policy areas, some work in laboratories. The laboratory ones are fairly easy to identify; the others are rather more cryptic. What I have done, and I am reasonably pleased with how this initiative is going, is to set up a Science and Engineering Community of Interest. We have done that by publicising this on the intranets of the various departments and we ask people who are scientists and engineers whether they work in laboratories or whether they work in policy to register their interest in doing that and become involved in this. We have an annual conference, which is going to be regular. The first conference is scheduled for January. We have had about 1300, now I think about 1400, individuals who have indicated they want to be involved, pretty much split between science and engineers. We have a regular newsletter that goes out to them asking for them to comment on the key issues. The conference will take place at least annually. I think the success of that will mean that that community will expand. I have also talked to Prospect about these ideas when I met with them, and they seemed to find this attractive. The feedback we are getting from those who in a sense voted with their feet or touched the right button on their computer is that they welcome this. At the conference, the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, will be speaking to this group. I have asked Lord Drayson and I hope that he will be speaking to it. We will have key hot topics on science and engineering in government. We will also ask about the issues to which you alluded, about the way in which science and engineering is thought about in government in policy. I am really encouraged by this. In terms of the concern about the jargon "science is on tap not on top", which is one of the ways I have heard this phrase, I have not really encountered that. I think, within the areas that I have worked closely, it seems to me that if you have scientists and engineers in the policy areas, they have almost an added value. Certainly in talking to colleagues who are in the sorts of jobs that I had five or six years ago, there was a definite concern that individuals would avoid being classified as a scientist or an engineer because they thought that would affect their promotion. I do not perceive that now. I think things have moved on from that. I hope that this network that I have set up will enhance that.
Q245 Chairman: Do you know how many scientists and engineers there are in the Civil Service?
Professor Beddington: No, I do not. I posed that question when I walked in the door, Chairman. The answer is: it is difficult to tell. The information is not available in any detail to be able to do it. Some departments have it well; other departments do not.
Q246 Chairman: Everybody must have lodged an application form somewhere in that super computer, or have all those been lost?
Professor Beddington: All I can say is that when I asked if we could identify all the scientists and engineers in government, the answer was, "no, we could not at the present". Some departments can. I think, for example, the MoD has very detailed records; other departments do not. There are scientists and engineers, so you have to question, for example, the definition of a scientist. Is it somebody who took a degree in biology some 30 years ago and who has been working in policy ever since, or is it in fact somebody who is an active scientist? I think we can identify active scientists but information on those from the scientific community who are working in government but at policy levels and are not overtly scientists is not available, but we are working on it. It is very important.
Q247 Chairman: When will you have that information?
Professor Beddington: I do not know.
Q248 Chairman: You are a brilliant scientist. You ought to be able to sort that little problem out.
Professor Beddington: I make no promises on this, Chairman.
Q249 Dr Iddon: David Sainsbury suggested in his recent report, and I quote him, that there should be a "more robust mechanism ... to identify and protect departmental R&D budgets". Have those mechanisms been put in place yet to protect those R&D budgets in state departments?
Professor Beddington: It is a difficult time, clearly. To the extent that this has happened within government only in the Department of Health is there a genuine ring-fence on the R&D budget, and that was following the Cooksey Report, other departments are more or less ring-fencing their budgets, but this is clearly important. One of the areas that I am working on at the moment, looking into the future, is I am meeting with the chief scientific advisers to look at the R&D budget priorities for the next spending round. We do not know when that is going to happen. We have already had a couple of meetings about this. We are meeting with the Research Council's chief executives on Monday to discuss where the cross-departmental and Research Council priorities are. Clearly it is important. My aim, and I think it will also be the aim of Lord Drayson, will be to argue the case that R&D is essential in departmental budgets, that when times are hard it is not R&D that should be squeezed. Achieving ring-fencing throughout government has not been achieved yet. I think would be the ideal solution and one I would work towards, but that is not going to be an easy task.
Iddon: This committee was rather concerned
to see, in answer to a parliamentary question published on 7 October, that the
2007-08 expenditure on R&D will be lower than the previous year for DIUS,
Professor Beddington: Yes.
Q251 Dr Iddon: Does that not seem surprising in view of the increase in the science budget in general?
Professor Beddington: I think in the case of DIUS my understanding is that the DIUS science spend in terms of research councils has actually gone up; this is internal within DIUS. Within the Home Office it is quite difficult to assess the scientific spend. The statistics kept by the Home Office do not clearly characterise what is science and what is not. The way that you can compile these figures is slightly convoluted by looking up the reports of various directors and allocating science to that. In consequence, it is really quite difficult to monitor and indeed ring-fence this sort of science budget. It is something I have been taking up with Paul Wiles, the Home Office Chief Scientific Adviser. This is work in progress. I think, in terms of the overall science budget, my concerns are that we try to preserve it as much as possible.
Q252 Dr Iddon: Finally, obviously we are in what looks like the beginning of a recession now. We do not know how long it is going to last. Would you agree with the committee that keeping up the expenditure, if not increasing the expenditure, on R&D is more important at this moment in time than possibly in the past?
Professor Beddington: I certainly agree that it is essential to keep up the R&D spend. We are looking to the future. In difficult economic times, cutting R&D budgets I think would be extremely unwise. We have to recognise there are real difficulties out there. That is why I have put together the Group of Chief Scientific Advisers to look and explore what the absolutely key priorities are, so that we speak essentially as one voice on this. I think that is important when looking into the future. When it happens, we do not know, and of course, as you say, we have no idea how long a recession is likely to last. It is a tough time and one has to recognise that. If we are in a situation where we are cutting, we have to preserve the key priorities. Obviously the overall aim would be to preserve the gross budget, but within the gross budget you still have priorities and that is what we are trying to address.
Q253 Dr Harris: Professor Beddington, in our recent report on Biosecurity in UK Research Laboratories we identified that and detailed in that report examples of core cross-departmental co-ordination. Have you had a chance yet to look into either that example or any other examples and make a difference in terms of improving that? In other words, are you identifying any areas proactively where you fear there may be a problem rather than, as we did, and everyone did after Pirbright, afterwards trying to find out what went wrong?
Professor Beddington: I think Pirbright is a good case. There is an active discussion between DIUS really on behalf of the BBSRC and Defra. We are looking towards solutions to the Pirbright organisation, to think about appropriate new build which would address the biosecurity issues. This is important. This is work in progress and looking at biosecurity across government is going to be really important, whether in animal labs, hospital labs or wherever.
Q254 Dr Harris: Are there any other areas separate from that where you are trying to identify poor co-ordination across government departments before there is a problem in order proactively to solve it, or is that not a stream of work you are doing at the moment?
Professor Beddington: The area that I have been looking at in terms of biosecurity is ---
Q255 Dr Harris: Not biosecurity: I meant any area other than biosecurity where there is a report with recommendations that the Government is responding to, any other areas of government co-ordination that you are looking into proactively to avoid the sorts of problems we saw at Pirbright - not in biosecurity but in any other area?
Professor Beddington: The one area where I was concerned and have been involved fairly closely is in the co-ordination of scientific work to deal with the counter-terrorism issue, particularly in the CBRN and novel explosive areas. One of the things I did was set up a sub-committee of my core group of chief scientific advisers to meet and discuss the issues about how science feeds into the counter-terrorism agenda, linking in closely with the board. For obvious reasons I cannot go into a great deal of detail here but that is one area where I did feel that we needed to be proactive and where work needed to be done.
Q256 Dr Harris: You co-chair the Council for Science and Technology. Would you say that is useful?
Professor Beddington: It is an extraordinarily impressive body.
Q257 Chairman: But is it useful?
Professor Beddington: Sorry, Chairman. I will try
to keep my answers more to the point. It
is an impressive body. I think it is
useful. It has just come up with a report
shortly to be published on the way in which government uses the academic world
to provide advice. In the
Q258 Dr Harris: You say that, and obviously I think I am doing useful work, but you would expect me to have some form of evaluation that could then be looked at to see whether that was true. In what way do you evaluate the usefulness? What are your metrics for evaluating the usefulness of something you are engaged in yourself? I know a lot of the work that has gone through was before you were there, so I am not talking about your involvement. How can someone independently judge? Is there a way of tracking through whether recommendations have been accepted?
Professor Beddington: Are you asking about the CST in particular or generally?
Q259 Dr Harris: Yes.
Professor Beddington: In the CST in particular, as far as I am aware, that has not been done. I think it is a reasonable suggestion. I think I will talk to my co-chair about it.
Dr Harris: Would you describe the Government's policy on upgrading cannabis classification as evidence-based?
Q260 Chairman: For the record, that was a long pause?
Professor Beddington: You can record it as a long pause. To be honest, I have not looked at this, Dr Harris. I should do. I am happy to look at it and come back and answer your question. I have not thought about that or looked at it in any detail in the nine months I have been in the job. I am more than happy to do so and come back with a response.
Q261 Dr Harris: May I say that I approve of that answer. It is much better to say that than to do what politicians sometimes do, which is waffle. Let us just take the general case. You have an advisory committee, and in this case an advisory committee with the police there and engaged. It is not just a scientific-based committee; it is looking at all the evidence of harms, including social harms, with police input. It made a clear recommendation in 2002, which was accepted. It was asked to look at it again in 2005 and advised that it should remain Class C, and the Home Secretary advised that. It was looked at again recently and they said, "Keep it in Class C", and yet the Government's policy is to put it in Class B. Is that a triumph for evidence-based policy making? You have an advisory committee; it makes a recommendation three times. In the absence of any other obvious source of scientific - using the term broadly - advice, the Government does something else.
Professor Beddington: Science can provide advice, and I would emphasis that this is not an area I have looked at all. I hear what you say and I am more than happy to come back to you with a more detailed response, but scientific evidence is just one part of the decision process. One should look at scientific evidence; one should assess it; and then you should also look at other factors, economic and social, in making that decision.
Q262 Dr Harris: We would all agree that you can make a decision that is not based on the scientific evidence because there are other factors, but you would not then describe that as evidence-based?
Professor Beddington: Oh, I think it depends on what the other factors are. If the other factors are economic and there is an evidence base, if there is a practicality which is problematic, I would say that is also evidence based. I do not think you can say that science is the only evidence that you can actually use.
Q263 Dr Harris: One of the questions it is reasonable to ask, if that is still described as an evidence-based policy, is: where is the published data on these other quasi scientific issues and where is the capability to judge evidence, even if it is not strictly scientific, and see if they are following that advice?
Professor Beddington: Yes. I would not disagree with that.
Q264 Dr Harris: In December you told us that your impression was that the Government does not always succeed in forming evidence-based policy. What do you see as your role in identifying, firstly, a problem where it is not evidence-based; and, secondly, where something is not evidence-based but is claimed to be evidence-based? One could argue that is even worse because that is misrepresenting something. Does GO-Science have a role in doing that? Is there any active work in looking at that?
Professor Beddington: There is a number of areas where one has to be concerned about whether evidence is being used properly and whether scientific evidence is being used. I would not single out anything specific that has worried me in the last nine months, Dr Harris.
Q265 Dr Harris: Have you done an audit of evidence-based policy or are you not doing that because nothing has been drawn to your attention?
Professor Beddington: No, in the areas of policy that I have looked at in the nine months I have been in the job, I have not seen anything that has worried me. I think the exception would probably be the one that we have already discussed at some length. I thought that the evidence base on biofuels was potentially significantly problematic. I think the way in which that was subsequently treated seemed to me to be entirely appropriate. There have been other areas where this may be the case. That was the one that I would single out where I have been most involved in the last year.
Q266 Dr Turner: Again, when you came to this committee in December, you gave us an admirable pledge to build up the morale and expertise of the science and engineering profession in government, perhaps implying that it needed that sort of support in a wider context. PR is not an unimportant part of doing that morale-building. What progress do you think you have been able to make in the last nine months?
Professor Beddington: In answer to Dr Iddon's question, I have answered that in terms of trying to build this community of interests and I would focus on that. I also think the way that I brought together the chief scientific advisers into what is a genuine collegiate community has helped. That spins off down within the individual departments, so I think that has been helpful. To the extent that one uses PR to affect the morale, I do not think I have really done that. I have been focusing on individual issues as I felt they were important. It may well be that I should think a little harder about how to do that. I saw this network of interest in science and engineering as one where it would be really an excellent opportunity to get the message out. I will use it at the first conference we are having in the news notice. I will certainly look to see whether there are other things that we can do after that. It is important.
Q267 Dr Turner: It is just that as politicians we know that you can work your butt off but if no-one knows that you are doing it, it is not doing you any good. How do you see your role as Head of the Science and Engineering Profession in Government developing in the future? Will you be taking any responsibly for promoting social science?
Professor Beddington: I refer now to a general analysis in government. The Government's Chief Social Science Adviser is Paul Wiles, who is also Chief Scientific Adviser at the Home Office. The Heads of Analysis Group has on it essentially the chief economists, the Chief Social Science Researcher, the Chief Operations Researcher, and there is one other who I do not recall at the moment, plus myself as Chief Scientific Adviser. We meet pretty regularly as a group. The aim of that group in part is to promote analysis across government and the use of analysis. In response to your predecessor committee, the Government committed to have a chief analyst on the departmental boards. One of the actions of this group was to go out - and information is still coming in - and ask if that has been done in a department and, if not, why not? That is work in progress. In terms of social science, Paul Wiles, the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Home Office, a social scientist, sits on the chief scientific advisers group that I have been describing and plays a major role in it. I think the recognition that certainly I see out in the departments is that social science and biological and physical sciences have equally important roles in solving problems. I have no concerns about that. When I was at Defra chairing their Science Advisory Council, we were constantly recommending to Defra that they really do need to expand their social science base, and I think to an extent that has been done. There has been some achievement there. The review of Defra that was done by Sir David made those recommendations and in the follow-up we were hoping to see that that had been addressed. That is incredibly important across all sorts of areas, and so I am completely relaxed. The other thing I would comment on is that in achieving chief scientific advisers in some of these other departments, in DCMS in particular they appointed as their Chief Scientific Adviser a social scientist, in fact a health economist. Paul Wiles by background is a criminologist.
Q268 Dr Turner: We are taking a particular interest in engineering at the moment and especially in relation to government. Engineers do not have as high a profile as they might do, I am sure you would agree. Are you taking any practical steps or what practical steps are needed, do you think, to enhance the profile of engineers?
Professor Beddington: It is very clear that engineering has an enormously important part to play in government. From early on I engaged with the Royal Academy of Engineering and I have met a number of the individual components of that: civil engineers, electrical engineers and so on. I have been to meetings with their board and given lectures and discussed this. In fact, there is an organisation which I chair called the Global Science and Innovation Forum. Historically that did not have a member from the Royal Academy of Engineering. We have invited that body and it has accepted and is now a member. In terms of the way in which engineering is treated within government, again I refer to this network of chief scientific advisers. We do have a number of Fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering and engineers who are chief scientific advisers. I single out Mark Welland, who is the Chief Scientific Adviser at the Ministry of Defence. I was involved with his recruitment. He is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering as well as a Fellow of the Royal Society. Gordon Conway is a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering. Brian Collins is an engineer. Michael Kelly is an engineer. In terms of their representation at the highest level in science, I think the engineers are there, but we cannot be complacent. There are real issues to engage with the engineers and bring them into this forum. That is my active agenda; I think it is important and I have been working with it. We have put in a fair bit of evidence to your engineering discussions. We are happy to discuss that at that time, if you would like, Dr Turner.
Q269 Dr Turner: Finally, coming down to training, are you doing anything to promote apprenticeships within the government using the government as an employer to advance skills training?
Professor Beddington: I have not done anything on that.
Q270 Mr Boswell: I have some quick questions on Foresight. Are you going to make any changes in the way it operates?
Professor Beddington: Yes. The one change I have made is in the way in which Foresight chooses its topics. I feel that is really important because it was not clear to me how the choice of topics evolved, as it were. When I arrived, I set up an advisory committee for Foresight, which looked at a long list of about 20 projects and came forward with a recommendation. I happened to chair that committee; Jeremy Heywood, who was then in the Cabinet Office, was due to chair it but could not on the day and so I chaired it. We came forward with two new projects as recommendations. One was on the future of food in farming, which is starting this month. The second one under discussion is migration. Those are two of the key issues that came up. This advisory group is meeting in December to look at reviewing how Foresight has been operating and also to look at the future projects.
Q271 Mr Boswell: To use an analogy from the world of pharmaceuticals, you are concerned about your pipeline?
Professor Beddington: Yes, I am. I think Foresight has been a tremendous success. I alluded earlier on to the Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project. We have one coming out on the sustainable energy environment in buildings later this month or early in December. I think the obesity one was a similar success. At the moment in the pipeline we have one on land use; that started this summer and it is well under way. The one on food in farming is starting now. We are actively discussing whether we should do one on migration. We are looking for others to put into the pipeline. Typically projects have been relatively long, of the order of a year and a half or so. One of the things that I have been pushing is that perhaps we should think about doing, as it were, a number of relatively shorter Foresight studies. We have a number under consideration at the moment.
Q272 Mr Boswell: That is really helpful. I am thinking aloud as it were. There was over a year between the publication on obesity and then the one on mental capital and wellbeing, which you mentioned. There are some cognate issues and some social science and human issues as well. Is that a bit of a long gap?
Professor Beddington: I have not really thought of it that way, I am afraid. When I walked in the door in January the
obesity project had just happened and then there was a natural timescale for
the report on mental capital and wellbeing.
I did not start either of them.
They were started under my predecessor.
I think it is an interesting question.
I will reflect on that. What I do
feel is important, and I can claim no credit for this in the sense that this
was set up by my predecessor, is to set up a part of the Foresight group which
is entirely dealing with follow-up. I
Q273 Mr Boswell: In a sense, that anticipates my thought process. On one of the rare occasions when you were let loose, or you let yourself loose, on the media you tussled with John Humphrys recently and he used a rather rude word. He said the findings were "Pollyanna". What is the value-added? Clearly you think he is wrong but tell us why.
Professor Beddington: I have not listened in a masochistic way to the recordings of my discussions with John Humphrys but I felt he accepted that they were not Pollyanna. The point I made to him at the time was that if you are using a bio-marker or some sort of assessment that indicates that an individual has a high probability of developing dementia in later life and you find that at age 55, what do you do? The so-called Pollyanna recommendations that have come out are well-founded empirically and show that they do not have the ability to alleviate and improve on any subsequent dementia. I challenged him with that. My memory of the event was that he accepted that. I think mental capital and wellbeing is enormously important. It has posed the question to government by saying: Interventions occur at different levels during the life course and they are important, so intervening to stop children having dyslexia or dyscalculia can mean a benefit at the school age; it will mean a benefit subsequently. For example, a very high proportion of prisoners have either dyscalculia or dyslexia and so intervention is a benefit subsequently. It is a benefit in employment and it is a benefit in old age. One of the indications of improvement in sub-dementia is actually to learn something. Intervention just at the age of three or four has life course benefits. It presents a problem for government because you are investing at one level and benefiting at another some ten years later. There are many other examples of that study and it is interesting. There will be a pause after the launch and then I will be taking that forward at high levels of government. I hope to bring it to the attention of Cabinet. I will shortly be talking to the Group of Permanent Secretaries about just that report.
Q274 Mr Boswell: That seems to me, if I may say, a very robust reply. Thank you. Can I say a word more about this? I put in my own notes, "When does foresight turn into hindsight?", and you did talk about your retrospective teams looking, as it were, at actioning foresight reports. On the other hand, we have heard from my colleague, Dr Harris, in relation to drugs. Foresight produced a separate study some time ago, I think before your time, on brain science addiction and drugs. You did not feel yourself able today to take a firm view on that. I am not expecting you to have everything back, but can you at least give us the assurance that you yourself will take some hands-on in the management of what for shorthand I will call the hindsight programme, as it were, when it has been reported to government and when, reasonably enough, you are concerned about the implementation and dissemination of this?
Professor Beddington: I see entirely my role as running the Foresight programme. Foresight is not going to be much use to government if, in fact, it just reports and the report is shelved and no action is taken from it. I sit, for example, on the work on the follow-up to obesity. I attend the committee meetings, which are chaired by myself and the Department of Health, so I have very active involvement. Going back a long way, for example, taking the Foresight Report on drugs, it is some while ago but it is a thing that we will be reviewing actively, what I should possibly explain is that the group that we have is not just hindsight, it is actually trying to generate government response.
Q275 Mr Boswell: Of course.
Professor Beddington: So it is not a purely passive thing, it is actually saying: these are the recommendations; this is what should be done; can we organise these particular departments to meet together. It is proactive as well.
Q276 Mr Boswell: That is helpful. Finally, just to wrap this up, presumably it is not only a government response but in certain of these complex issues like obesity it will be a multi-factorial response involving the private sector and even individuals. Are you monitoring that bit as well and can give advice to it?
Professor Beddington: Yes, I think the linking into, for example, industry in particular retailers is part of the activities that we are looking at. So, yes, and organisations like the Food Standard Agency sit on the body that is actually taking obesity work forward.
Mr Boswell: Thank you. That is helpful.
Q277 Dr Harris: To what extent should public opinion directly drive research avenues in the public sector?
Professor Beddington: I always seem to pause just after your questions, Dr Harris.
Q278 Chairman: Very wise, I might say.
Professor Beddington: I take it a pause will be noted! To a certain extent, I think. There is a sort of principle, really the Haldane principle, which says to what extent governments should be driving the research agenda as government, and to an extent I think that some form of similar principle should drive public opinion. I think, if public opinion is saying work should not be done in a certain area, what is the evidence base for it, I think that one needs to take it into account via the political process. To say that banning some particular form of activity because it is either highly unsafe or distasteful, and so on, seems to be part of the political process which takes into account public opinion. On the other hand, the degree of interference of government in the detail of research activity seems to be accepted by government in terms of the Haldane principle, and that seems to be one that is worth defending.
Q279 Dr Harris: So if Parliament, taking into account, presumably, since we have to, public opinion, thinks something is okay to research, then do you think it is right that government should take into account public opinion on top of that at some point in the process?
Professor Beddington: I am sorry, I do not understand the question.
Q280 Dr Harris: Let us say Parliament takes a view that something is legal, should go ahead, is happy that it should go ahead, do you think that when it is a science matter, in terms of the freedom of academics to research in a certain area, there should be any other constraints placed on scientists by government outside of statute essentially?
Professor Beddington: Yes, I think there obviously should be controls on particular activity. Animal welfare would be the obvious one that one would think about, and that seems to me to be one that has proper legislation and controls on. Beyond that, in terms of taking into account public opinion, the other area one might argue about, some aspects of public opinion are in the GM crops work where essentially a subset of the population believes that GM crop research is inappropriate and is actually breaking the law by interfering. How one deals with that seems to me to be the normal processes of the law. The Government and the public have decided that it is perfectly legitimate to do research into genetically modified organisms, subject to appropriate constraints, and those constraints are there. If a subset of the public believes that that should not be the case and they break the law in dealing with that, then it is a legal matter and not a scientific matter.
Q281 Dr Harris: Where there is government policy and Parliament does not seem to mind (and GM is a good example) but there is a media storm, do you see it as part of your role to be out there advocating Parliament and the Government and the evidence-based position, or would you leave that to others?
Professor Beddington: It would depend on the detail of the issue. For example, I have been asked on a number of occasions in the media about GM crops, and my answer has been (I think a made a similar answer to a question to the committee) that it is a case by case thing. You have got to worry about the environmental and health implications but in no way should you actually ban using genetically modified organisms or researching them.
Q282 Dr Harris: That is helpful but it is about your role in the media. You just said, if you are asked you give an answer, and we would expect that, but do you see your role as proactively leaning to say, "I am happy to discuss this if something comes up"?
Professor Beddington: Yes.
Q283 Dr Harris: So if Prince Charles says something and the Today programme ring you and say, "Will you come on and give you your view?"
Professor Beddington: Yes. In that particular case, I do not know if you read---. I gave an interview to The Independent.
Q284 Dr Harris: Yes, I have read it.
Professor Beddington: I think I was asked whether I agreed with Prince Charles on GM crops, and I said not entirely.
Q285 Chairman: Not entirely.
Professor Beddington: Yes.
Q286 Dr Harris: Where do you agree with him, since you raised it?
Professor Beddington: I think my "not entirely" was said in the spirit of Evelyn Waugh's scoop when Lord Copper made a statement that something was incorrect, which was incorrect. His editor was saying. "Up to a point, Lord Copper."
Q287 Dr Harris: So, basically, you are willing to be proactive.
Professor Beddington: I am indeed.
Q288 Dr Harris: And call up the media and say, "Look, I want to counter this"?
Professor Beddington: I think it would depend on the circumstance and how important it is. Yes, in principle, of course. I think the issue that I was very concerned about, which I have had a relatively high media profile on, was food security and bio-fuels and I have been active in soliciting the media and saying, "Get this out." Taking it in that form, GM, I was fairly proactive in suggesting to the Royal Society that they had a study on how bio-technology can contribute to the food security problem, which would include looking at GM organisms. That is in hand and I will be involved in that and thinking about that. The Foresight Study on Food is addressing these things generally, but it is outside that also. Take the issue of the nuclear area.
Dr Harris: I will be back in a minute.
Q289 Mr Boswell: Two quick comments on that. The first one is: do you recognise at all, and this is not an oblique way of trying to criticise ministers or anyone else, that there may be occasions where we as politicians may have a certain view but you as Chief Scientific Adviser will have a certain credibility and, even if our views are coincident, you may be actually the person to establish those views. I think I will settle on that one.
Professor Beddington: I am sorry?
Q290 Mr Boswell: I am just saying that there may well be cases where governments, ministers of different parties, are advised by their scientific advisers - certainly I have had this experience in government - and there is a perfectly coherent case which is accepted, but in terms of the credibility of that case it may be better rehearsed or advanced by yourself as CSA, or your colleagues, because of your scientific background, than it would be by mere lay persons who might be said to have a political or other interest in it?
Professor Beddington: I think the clear case, I would expect, for the various chief scientific advisers and myself is that we would be prepared to speak on any of these issues and indicate what the evidence base is, indicate if the evidence base is extremely strong in one direction or, indeed, if there are uncertainties. I think that is part of the job.
Q291 Mr Boswell: If there are issues, there may be a different view which may not be particularly strongly evidence-based, do you at least accept that there may be a case for proper evaluation of that if no evidence is produced as part of the analysis? I am thinking, for example, of issues about organic farming which I have had some experience with in the past. I used to say, even if there may be no particularly firm evidence, at least it is worth putting some research effort into seeing whether there is such evidence.
Professor Beddington: Yes, I think the answer is if there is an important question on which scientific evidence is required, subject to resource constraints, we should actually look at it.
Q292 Dr Iddon: Finally, let us raise a couple of those issues. I will raise one and Dr Harris will raise the next one. Let me come to badgers, first of all, which is a topic, I am sure, dear to your heart John. Professor David King endorsed the culling of badgers as a means to eradicate bovine TB and then was ignored by the Government more recently. Do you think that has damaged the Chief Scientific Advisor's role to government?
Professor Beddington: In terms of the scientific evidence on badgers, there was a lot of publicity, but in fact the report of the ISG Group and the report that David's group produced are virtually identical in scientific content. There is really no disagreement on science. It was characterised that there was a major disagreement, but I do not think that in terms of the science there was any real disagreement. Where there was disagreement was, I think, between the economics and the practicalities, which were not part of David King's terms of reference for his study, but in terms of the science, it was the question I asked very early in January when I came through, "Are there any fundamental scientific disagreements between the group that Sir David led and by the ISG Group?", and the answer was none. Indeed, there is a report which I think was shared with the EFRA Committee, which was a joint meeting between Sir David and the ISG and a number of the ISG groups. Essentially that report says: "This is where we agree", and the areas of disagreement were effectively either trivial or zero. So the science case is very clear there. Twenty-twenty hindsight is very easy, but I think that the EFRA Committee commented that they felt it would have been better if Sir David's group had engaged earlier with the ISG group; and I had this discussion and I think I would agree with that. As I say, I would qualify that by saying twenty-twenty hindsight is a wonderful thing but also I think the evidence base is growing. New evidence accumulates and, I think, as that new evidence accumulates, the Defra science team, under Bob Watson, are looking at it. I am not involved at in that at the moment, except in the sense that I talk to the Defra scientists who are actually working in this area and monitor if there is any new evidence coming up.
Q293 Dr Iddon: So you would be recommending to the Government, "Cull the badger to control bovine TB"?
Professor Beddington: No, I think I am saying this is the scientific evidence. This is the implication of culling badgers. This is the effect on the peripheral areas. The evidence indicates that there will be an increase in the herd incidence on the peripheral areas, but the level of decline in the incidence is this. I think that evidence is there. It is not a recommendation to cull badgers. It says, if you cull them, this is what is going to happen, and I think that is the appropriate way to phrase it. I do not think it is appropriate for me to recommend whether you cull or do not cull badgers. I should say, if you do, this is what we believe the scientific evidence will tell you will happen.
Q294 Dr Harris: Do you think the NHS should spend money by homeopathic treatments?
Professor Beddington: Again, you have been reading The Independent. I find homeopathy a difficult thing. The question is: is there any scientific evidence beyond the placebo effect that homeopathy works? I know of no such evidence.
Q295 Dr Harris: I will come back to my question. Do you think the NHS should be spending money that could be spent on evidence-based treatments on homeopathy?
Professor Beddington: It depends on the extent of the placebo effect, of course, does it not? It is not just in terms of homeopathy, but, I suppose, less conventional medicines. There does seem to be some evidence that they are effective. In terms of homeopathy, as I have said, I see no evidence beyond the placebo effect that it works, but, again, the point I would answer is slightly similar, Dr Harris, to the way I answered Dr Iddon. I can make that point to government and say that there is no evidence that homeopathy works. The decision on whether you wish to fund homeopathy as part of the National Health Service has other factors which are beyond science.
Q296 Dr Harris: As you know, homeopathic remedies have no molecules of the "active" ingredient in them, yet you can pay quite a bit for this water; so why not just give people, for the placebo effect, water free, tell them its homeopathy and save the money for the NHS? It is a serious point.
Professor Beddington: It is a serious point but not a scientific one. I think this is more policy than science, Dr Harris. I am quite firm with this. I see no scientific evidence that homeopathy has an effect beyond the placebo effect. The question that you ask is a reasonable one, but I think it is possibly better posed to the Department of Health rather than me.
Q297 Dr Harris: What about the issue of the Department of Health insisting that the MHRA, which controls drugs, accepts homeopathic provings as evidence for the labelling of homeopathic medicines as medicines?
Professor Beddington: I would say again, I think there is no evidence base for homeopathy, so the implications are fairly clear, that there is no evidence base to continue to use it.
Q298 Chairman: Why is not the Departmental Scientific Adviser at the Department of Health saying that?
Professor Beddington: It is not an issue I have discussed with Sally Davis. I am not aware whether they have or have not said anything.
Q299 Dr Harris: You have got the Science Review at the Department of Health?
Professor Beddington: Yes.
Q300 Dr Harris: I expected this to be in here, and I have not found it. There are eight annexes as well, so there is lot to read, but you have written the foreword, and you must have read it. Do you recall it being in here?
Professor Beddington: Certainly homeopathy was looked at as part of the study but not as one of the case studies.
Q301 Dr Harris: I see lots of areas of good practice boxed here, but I could not find one area of bad practice boxed. Sir David King when he came to see us just before you did said, "The issue of homeopathic medicines leaves me completely puzzled. How can you have homeopathic medicines labelled by a department", the health department, "which is driven by science? I would say there is a risk to the population because people who take them may be expecting that they are dealing with a serious problem." He then says, "For example, we are currently doing the Department of Health. You may want to look at that. Of course we will look at homeopathic so-called medicine. These external advisers" - because we were talking about whether these reviews were independent of government - "I think, carry the way to objectivity that you are looking for in your idea." So I was waiting expectantly for the Chief Scientific Advisor who started that review (I know you finished it off) to raise this point. Perhaps the answer has just arrived.
Professor Beddington: I do not know. I was going to say could you give me a little time to respond to you on this? As you say, it is a large report. I can indicate that this was published in Annexe 1 of the interviews on the Go Science website, which is probably not what you want.
Q302 Chairman: This is an important issue, it is not a frivolous issue, because it goes right to the heart of the issue of whether or not you have evidence-based policy-making in a key area of health. Could we ask if you would perhaps write to us to respond to that?
Professor Beddington: Yes, I will.
Q303 Chairman: I would much prefer that than us trying to score points off you or you score points off us.
Professor Beddington: I think the matter is highly unlikely, Chairman, but I will certainly do that.
Q304 Dr Harris: I have only got one more question, which is something I did raise with Sir David King. You may have seen the transcript. We have got these scientific adviser committees and the people who are on them, particularly people who chair them in some way, presumably have a responsibility not to speak outside of what their committee says. I raised the example of, I think, the HPA Chairman giving an interview for Panorama in which he said that there was quite possibly a risk from Wi-Fi, and that set several hares running. I was wondering whether you had a view on whether people who chair those agencies or advisory committees have a responsibility to stick within the published view of those committees when giving high profile media interviews and, as I asked Sir David King, if they do not, whether you talk to them about that behaviour?
Professor Beddington: First of all, I think the appointment of science advisory councils is clearly important, they clearly have got to be seen to be a benefit, but if in fact an individual chairman is going outside essentially the agreed position of that committee and does not make it clear that he is actually speaking as an individual rather than as chairman of the committee, that is inappropriate and if I came across that practice I would discuss it with them and indicate that I do not think that it is appropriate. Clearly, you cannot completely muzzle an individual. If they make it clear they are speaking as an individual, that seems reasonable, but they cannot speak as if they are chairman of the committee.
Q305 Chairman: Can I ask you, finally, Professor Bennington, the predecessor committee did a major report on marine science and two recommendations were agreed by government. One was that there should be a new co-ordinating committee established which brought in private sector organisations with an interest in marine science and, secondly, that there should be, for the first time in the UK, a national marine science strategy. Are you aware that either of those two things have happened and, if not, what are you prepared to do to support what is purported to be government policy?
Professor Beddington: I think the history of this is before my time, as you are well aware, Chairman, but in the discussions I have had I understood that, in fact, Defra had taken on the responsibility and were actively taking both these recommendations forward.
Q306 Chairman: Are you aware that they have been taken forward?
Professor Beddington: No, I am not, but I am aware that Defra has agreed, which was problematic at one time, that Defra indicated it would be the government department which took on the responsibility for marine affairs. I cannot tell you at the moment whether, in fact, they have taken it forward or not. I have not checked on it. I am more than happy to write to you, Chairman.
Q307 Chairman: I think the point is a serious one, that where in fact an area of scientific activity is accepted to move forward, somebody should be checking that it actually happens. Do you feel that that comes within your area of responsibility?
Professor Beddington: I encountered this when it was not clear which department was going to take responsibility, and I was involved in the discussions which led Defra to say they would take the responsibility. Following that, I have not followed it up any further, but I can do that.
Q308 Chairman: A note on that would be great.
Professor Beddington: Okay; will do.
Q309 Chairman: Could we thank you very much indeed, Professor John Beddington.
Professor Beddington: Thank you.