1 Background |
1. As the new Science and Technology Committee, formed
in July 2010, we were keen to build upon the work of our predecessor
committees which scrutinised science and engineering in policy-making.
In this inquiry we examined how scientific advice and evidence
is used in national emergencies, when the Government and scientific
advisory system are put under great pressure to deal with atypical
2. We decided to focus our inquiry towards four very
different case studies in order to build up a richer picture of
how science is used in emergencies. The case studies were: (i)
the 2009-10 H1N1 influenza pandemic (swine flu); (ii) the April
2010 volcanic ash disruption; (iii) space weather; and (iv) cyber
attacks. In July 2010 we issued a call for evidence, seeking views
on the following questions in relation to the case studies:
- What are the potential hazards
and risks and how were they identified? How prepared is/was the
Government for the emergency?
- How does/did the Government use scientific advice
and evidence to identify, prepare for and react to an emergency?
- What are the obstacles to obtaining reliable,
timely scientific advice and evidence to inform policy decisions
in emergencies? Has the Government sufficient powers and resources
to overcome the obstacles? For case studies (i) and (ii) was there
sufficient and timely scientific evidence to inform policy decisions?
- How effective is the strategic coordination between
Government departments, public bodies, private bodies, sources
of scientific advice and the research base in preparing for and
reacting to emergencies?
- How important is international coordination and
how could it be strengthened?
3. We received over 40 written submissions. On 13
October, the Committee was briefed in private by senior officials
from the Cabinet Office Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS)
and Government Office for Science (GO Science), on "how things
work", that is, the civil contingencies framework and the
central Government response to emergencies. We found this meeting
to be useful in providing background information and context and
we would like to thank the Cabinet Office CCS and GO Science for
taking the time to organise and host this briefing.
4. We held five oral evidence sessions between October
and December 2010; one for each case study (split across two panels)
and a final session with the Government Chief Scientific Adviser
and Ministers (current and former). We took oral evidence from
32 witnesses in total.
i. The first evidence focused on swine flu and
we took evidence from, on the first panel: Professor Sheila Bird,
former Vice President, the Royal Statistical Society; Professor
Neil Ferguson OBE, Director, MRC Centre for Outbreak Analysis
and Modelling; Justin McCracken, Chief Executive of the Health
Protection Agency; and Dr Peter Holden representing the British
Medical Association. In the second panel, we took evidence from:
Professor David Harper CBE, Chief Scientist, Department of Health;
Professor Sir Gordon Duff, Chair, Scientific Pandemic Influenza
Advisory Committee; and Sir Liam Donaldson, former Chief Medical
Officer, Department of Health.
ii. The second evidence session covered the volcanic
ash emergency and again we took oral evidence from two panels.
The first panel included: Dr Ray Elgy, Head of Licensing and Training
Standards, Safety Regulation Group, Civil Aviation Authority;
Dr Guy Gratton, Royal Aeronautical Society; Dr Sue Loughlin, Head
of Volcanology, British Geological Survey; and Captain Tim Steeds,
Director of Safety and Security, British Airways. In the second
panel we heard from: Professor Brian Collins, Chief Scientific
Adviser, Department for Transport; Dr Miles Parker, Deputy Chief
Scientific Adviser, Department for Environment, Food and Rural
Affairs; and Professor Julia Slingo, Chief Scientific Adviser,
iii. Covering space weather, our third evidence
session saw us taking oral evidence from: Professor Mike Hapgood,
Royal Astronomical Society; Professor Paul Cannon, Royal Academy
of Engineering; and Chris Train, Network Operations Director,
National Grid. The second panel of witnesses consisted of: Professor
Brian Collins, Chief Scientific Adviser, Department for Business,
Innovation and Skills; Phil Evans, Director Of Government Business,
Met Office; Paul Hollinshead, Director of Science and Innovation
Group, Department of Energy and Climate Change; and Phil Lawton,
Downstream Gas and electricity Resilience Manager, Department
of Energy and Climate Change.
iv. During our fourth evidence session, on cyber
attacks, we took evidence from: Professor Ross Anderson, Professor
of Security Engineering, University of Cambridge; Robert Hayes,
Senior Fellow, Microsoft Institute for Advanced Technology in
Governments; Malcolm Hutty, Head of Public Affairs, London Internet
Exchange; and Professor Peter Sommer, Visiting Professor, London
School of Economics. The second panel of witnesses consisted of:
Professor Bernard Silverman, Chief Scientific Adviser, Home Office;
Professor Mark Welland, Chief Scientific Adviser, Ministry of
Defence; and Dr Steve Marsh, Deputy Director, Office of Cyber
Security and Information Assurance.
v. We concluded the oral evidence with a final
session of three panels. First, we heard from Professor Sir John
Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser. Second, we took
evidence from Rt Hon Lord Adonis, former Secretary of State for
Transport and Rt Hon Andy Burnham MP, former Secretary of State
for Health. The third panel was Rt Hon Baroness Neville-Jones,
Minister for Security and Counter-Terrorism, and Rt Hon David
Willetts MP, Minister for Universities and Science.
5. We would like to put on record our thanks to everyone
who provided written or oral evidence to this inquiry.
6. Finally, we appointed three specialist advisers
to this inquiry: Mike Granatt CB, Director at Luther Pendragon,
for the whole inquiry; Dr Sandra Mounier-Jack, Lecturer in Health
Policy, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, University
of London, for the swine flu case study; and Dr Richard Clayton,
Security Group, University of Cambridge, for the cyber attacks
case study. Their expert advice was invaluable and we are grateful
for their contributions.
The work of predecessor committees
reports produced by our predecessor committees have provided a
starting point for our inquiry. The 2006 report on Scientific
Advice, Risk and Evidence Based Policy-making examined risk
and public communication in Government.
The 2009 report on Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart
of Government Policy included suggestions for Government scientific
advisory structures and improvements to science in the civil service.
Finally, we note the 2003 report on The Scientific Response
to Terrorism, which looked at how science and technology can
be harnessed to develop countermeasures to chemical, biological,
radiological and nuclear (CBRN) devices employed by terrorists.
8. There has been no recent parliamentary scrutiny
of the way science is used in planning for, and responding to,
emergencies, although the individual case studies have attracted
attention. The last two years have brought two significant emergencies
to the UK: the swine flu pandemic and volcanic ash disruption
to aviation, both of which required scientific advice and evidence
to inform policy. In addition there are growing concerns over
the risks of cyber attacks and space weather. To provide focus
for our investigations, we chose to focus on these four case studies,
and use them to draw out cross-cutting issues and broad lessons
about scientific advice and evidence in emergencies. We begin
our report by providing some background information on the case
studies and relevant Government structures before scrutinising
emergency preparation and response.
1 Relevant interests of the specialist advisers were
made available to the Committee before the decision to appoint
them on 13 October 2010. The Committee formally noted that Mr
Granatt declared an interest relevant to the Committee's work
as a consultant to the Chief Executive of Community Resilience,
an Advisory Board Member of the Science Media Centre, an Adviser
to Media Consulta, the provider of on-site support and advice
to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and
that he had led Luther Pendragon's support for the Independent
Climate Change E-mails Review. Dr Clayton declared an interest
relevant to the Committee's work that he was jointly employed
by the University of Cambridge and the National Physical Laboratory
as a 'post-doc' researching Internet Security Mechanisms and as
Treasurer of the Foundation of Information Policy Research. The
Committee formally noted that Dr Mounier-Jack declared no interests
relevant to the Committee's work. Back
Science and Technology Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2005-06,
Scientific Advice, Risk and Evidence Based Policy-making,
HC 900-I Back
Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee, Eighth
Report of Session 2008-09, Putting Science and Engineering
at the Heart of Government Policy, HC 168-I Back
Science and Technology Committee, Eighth Report of Session 2002-03,
The Scientific Response to Terrorism, HC 415-I Back