Cross-border provision of public services for Wales: Further and higher education - Welsh Affairs Committee Contents

Examination of Witness (Questions 900-906)


8 JULY 2008

  Q900  Alun Michael: So part of the question might be, "How serious are you in those aspirations?"

  Professor Diamond: Yes.

  Q901  Alun Michael: On that point I wonder if you would comment on the papers that we have had submitted to us by Sir John Cadogan, who I believe was Director General of the Research Councils UK, who has been—

  Professor Diamond: Sir John was in the 1990s.

  Q902  Alun Michael: Some time ago, yes; but he has made comments that have been quite scathing about the rejection by the Welsh Assembly Government of the suggestion that there should be a Chief Scientific Adviser to the Assembly. Would not that sort of post be necessary to enable the Assembly to engage in the sort of wider dialogue that you have just referred to as being the sensible follow-on from a policy statement?

  Professor Diamond: I take a very strong—I stress—personal view that there is a great advantage to there being a Chief Scientific Adviser. I think Scotland has shown that. There is a Chief Social Researcher in Wales and I think she is excellent, and I think she also provides an excellent link between the policy imperatives in social research in Wales and the Research Councils and we have very, very good relationships and extremely good links with her.

  Q903  Chairman: Could I end with the question which was triggered by Alun Michael's questions, but also in your differentiation between a response mode and a directive mode? This idea that Research Councils could be more interventionalist in creating greater collaboration, it occurred to me that in Mr Michael's own constituency perhaps one of the great research institutions of the 20th century, the Pneumoconiosis Research Unit funded by the Medical Research Council at Llandough Hospital was a case in point where you had people like Professor Archie Cochrane pioneering epidemiology and Julian Tudor Hart pioneering community medicine, Dr Vernon Timbrell pioneering dust diseases. That unit there was a world centre for 20 years but a wrong decision was taken in the 1950s not to integrate it into higher education and to collaborate more fully with the university. It came into being by accident with a Health Minister, Aneurin Bevan, a very proactive union, the Miners Union, and a desire to do something about a very serious problem in pneumoconiosis. Could we not see a situation where a real science policy of the Welsh Assembly Government could be real if you actually had a much closer and interventionist collaboration between the Research Councils and the Welsh Assembly Government, and to have actually, as Sir John Cadogan proposes, a Science Minister, albeit the First Minister is the Science Minister. We have a Culture Minister but we do not have a Science Minister.

  Professor Diamond: I could not speak to the need for a Science Minister. Having said that, I think that there is a real benefit for serious conversations between the Research Councils' and the Welsh Assembly Government—and that is precisely what we have with the Chief Social Researcher from my own council—about the critical issues for Wales. You mentioned Julian Tudor Hart, who is still, even at the age he is now, providing advice to some of the ways in which we are taking forward the electronic patient records agenda, which although it is a UK agenda Wales is leading much of the rest of the UK on, and on which I think there are real benefits for the UK to have. I am absolutely clear in my mind that we need to have the kinds of strategic discussions that you are talking about and we need to make sure that they are integrated into policy within the Welsh Assembly Government.

  Q904  Chairman: The reason we have this inquiry is because this matter has not devolved and what we are trying to address is this need for a synergy between a Welsh Assembly Government which is not responsible for research, which has aspirations in the science arena, and the non-devolving areas of research such as yourselves.

  Professor Diamond: The real commitment that I have given you—and I hope I have given you some examples of the way that has happened over the last two to three years—is that the kind of discussions that are needed we are willing to have and indeed are having and there are a number of opportunities that have come up as a result of those strategic decisions, either with the government or with HEFCW or with WORD, which have enabled there to be strategic investments in Wales in areas which are important to Wales, and we need to make sure that there are no barriers to those happening in the future. That is why in answer to one of the earlier questions I said that I would expect the proportions to go up because we have made some significant investments in recent months that the funding has not really started to flow in yet.

  Q905  Chairman: I began this session by asking a question about posing the question of the difference between Scotland and Wales. Could I request that you provide a memorandum which gives us a route map or an explanation of the qualitative difference between the way in which Scotland responds to you and Wales responds to you? How does actually the Scottish Executive and the HEFCW equivalent in Scotland relate to you and its respective bodies; and how do the Welsh bodies relate? Is there a significance difference?

  Professor Diamond: You have asked for a subsequent memorandum and I will give you that.[4] Had you asked me just to respond I would have responded that I suspect there is no significant difference; that there is a real commitment for us to engage at exactly the same level. I can speak for ESRC, of course, and for ESRC we have very, very good relationships with the Scottish Government; we have very, very good relationships with the Welsh Assembly Government and I would find it very difficult to expect that a very close examination of our processes would see any great difference whatsoever.

  Q906 Chairman: It would be helpful if you could map it out.

  Professor Diamond: I will map it out and make sure that you have a very clear document on which to base your deliberations.

  Chairman: Thank you very much for your evidence this morning and this afternoon.

4   Ev 179-180 Back

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