HC 369-ii Setting the scene


House of COMMONS




Setting the scene

Tuesday 27 July 2010


Evidence heard in Public Questions 55 - 93



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Oral Evidence

Taken before the Science and Technology Committee

on Tuesday 27 July 2010

Members present

Andrew Miller, in the Chair

Gavin Barwell

Gregg McClymont

Stephen Metcalfe

David Morris

Pamela Nash

Jonathan Reynolds

Alok Sharma

Graham Stringer

Roger Williams


Witness: Lord Rees of Ludlow, a Member of the House of Lords, President, The Royal Society, and Astronomer Royal gave evidence.

Q55 Chair: Can I welcome you, Lord Rees, to this session? It is on record, I guess, that you gave me my last physics lesson. When the 1992 Committee were looking at the role of the astronomy and particle physics research council I decided that I needed a physics lesson before I embarked on that, because at least two more particles had been postulated since I last went to a physics class. I enjoyed that class and I hope that I will enjoy this session. With your hat on as President of The Royal Society, could you explain to the Committee what the role of The Royal Society is in promoting science and engineering?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : Thank you, Chairman. Can I, first, say it is a privilege to appear before this Committee, and congratulate you, sir, on taking up this role? I have appeared before three of your predecessors, I think, over the years and it is a great privilege to be here today. I am here today in my role mainly as President of The Royal Society, which is, essentially, the UK’s academy of sciences. Its membership straddles all of science, engineering, technology, and is primary an academy aiming to sustain excellence in research and education but, over recent years, has become rather more involved in policy aspects and has produced a number of detailed reports on matters like geoengineering, nanotechnology, etc. More recently we have produced some reports which we believe might be significant and have input to Committees like this one. Perhaps if I could mention the report on The Scientific Century, which Members may have seen? This came out before the election, and it really set the case for science being an important element in the UK for recovery. Since the election we have, in response to Adrian Smith, produced input to him, and I think you have also received copies of that. This is a document which was made public about a week ago regarding the scenarios for potential cuts and what they would mean for science. So the answer to your question, sir, is we are an academy for science but we are very concerned with the health of science and its links to higher education, technology and the economy.

Q56 Chair: I want to broaden that out now and, firstly, ask you: how do you encourage diversity in The Society in which there are, I think, only a minority of women who are members? What are doing to improve the number of women who are Fellows?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : To put it in perspective, we elected five or six women this year out of 45, which is sad, but I think that fairly reflects the proportion of women in senior professorships in British universities. So we are really prisoners of the situation that has grown up over recent decades, which has led to a small proportion of those in senior scientific positions being women. So our proportions, I think, fairly represent that. Having said that, I would like to say two positive things: one is that we are making special efforts by writing to vice-chancellors etc to ensure that we do not overlook the candidature of any potential women. Also, there is a positive side, which is that one of the things we do in The Royal Society is support the government funding of university research fellows. These are probably the best of the cohort of scientists now aged 30 or thereabouts and given five to eight years of support at universities. The proportion of women among that cohort is up to 30 per cent, so that cohort will be progressing ten years from now, so I think that the trends are moving in favour of a more realistic proportion of women in the scientific community. However, as I say, it is one of our aims to encourage women and we have a number of special programmes for women and opening up careers, but I think the headline figure you quote, which is depressing, which is the small proportion of women among our Fellowships, is a consequence of the small proportion of women in senior positions in science, which is of course no worse than the proportion of women heading FTSE 400 companies or anything else; it is just a social trend we have to combat slowly.

Q57 Chair: How do you work with other national academies? Can you give examples of joint working with other national academies?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : Do you mean foreign academies or other bodies in the UK?

Q58 Chair: Both foreign and other bodies in the UK.

Lord Rees of Ludlow : Let me deal with it in the opposite order. In the UK there is an Academy of Engineering, there is an Academy of Medical Sciences and there is the British Academy which deals with humanities and social science, and we have very good relationships with all of those. In particular, in addition to the input from us to Adrian Smith last week, there was a letter signed jointly by me and the President of the British Academy expressing a common view regarding research in universities. So we do interact very closely with the engineers and the humanities and social scientists. We also interact with the more specialised professional societies, so the Institute of Physics, the Royal Society of Chemistry and the life sciences societies, and of course they have a much larger mass membership than we do. So we are in good liaison with those bodies. As regards international contexts we do, of course, have a lot of interaction with academies of science around the world. The most important, of course, is the American National Academy of Sciences, with which we have frequent links and joint meetings, but there are many other academies. In fact, back in January, as part of our anniversary celebrations, we hosted a plenary meeting of the heads of, I think, 103/104 academies from around the world who came for business discussions and for a conference on biodiversity. So we interact with all these academies. As I mentioned, the National Academy of Sciences is the one with which we have a number of joint activities, but there is also an organisation called the InterAcademy Council which is a federation of a dozen or so leading academies, and we are an active member of that. Perhaps it is worth mentioning – and perhaps we will come back to this later, Chairman - the InterAcademy Council is engaged at the moment in a study of the IPCC organisation and they are producing a report, to be published next month, on how the IPCC structure should perhaps be modernised and improved. In fact, the final meeting of that important international committee took place, hosted by The Royal Society, just last week. So we are involved in a number of bodies such as the InterAcademy Council, to bring together academies from around the world. Of course, that is appropriate as so many of the issues we are engaged with, like biodiversity, climate and energy are issues that have to be approached internationally.

Q59 Stephen Metcalfe: Good afternoon. Do you consider that the use of science and engineering in the formulation of policy has changed over the last Parliament? If so, in what way?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : I think there have been some positive trends. I would highlight particularly the fact that there are now chief scientific advisers in almost all departments, and Sir John Beddington, as the Government’s Chief Scientist, has, I think, done a good job in making them an effective, collegiate body and ensuring that they have more input. So that, I think, has been a positive development. I think, also, there has been a growing realisation among Parliamentarians that more and more of the issues that they have to address are issues that have a scientific or technical dimension, be it in energy, health, climate or the environment. So I think the trends are positive, but, of course, there is a long way to go in education of the wider public and, if I may say so, getting more scientifically qualified people in Parliament. I think the trends are positive.

Q60 Stephen Metcalfe: Could you give us some indication of how we can improve science specifically within the formulation of policy? We have made some steps but what next?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : Select Committees like this one are very important in the Parliamentary process and, also, your counterpart in the House of Lords, where I sit on the other side of the table. They, I believe, can also be helpful. I think it is very important that scientific input should be made available to ministers and to Parliamentarians, although of course scientists have to be aware that when politicians have to make a decision then scientific input is only one of the elements they have to include in it; there are economic and other considerations as well.

Q61 Gregg McClymont: Lord Rees, can I ask you about the spending review scenarios which The Royal Society developed and get you to expand a little more on what the consequences would be on the three scenarios modelled by The Royal Society?

Lord Rees of Ludlow: You will have seen the text in the report we produced and, in effect, we discussed the three scenarios: level cash (which, of course, means real term cuts), and we thought that we could cope with those, and then there was the 10 per cent cut, which we referred to as "slash and burn", and the 20 per cent cut, which we referred to as "game over". Just expanding on those, let me start off by making two points which are important. The first is that, of course, science and technology are among the UK’s strengths. We are number two by most measures in the world in science and technology, and most important is the strength of our university system where we are the only country outside of the US with seven places in the top league, and we have an overall strong system. So we have a strong science and technology base and we are already, in terms of expenditure, number 25 or thereabouts in the OECD table in terms of the fraction of GNP spent publicly on R&D. I think the background to our concerns expressed in this document is that we are starting from this place where, frankly, you cannot say science is generously funded although it did rather well under the previous government, and we are also in the context where despite the financial situation some other countries have had a stimulus package which has actually led to an increase in expenditure on science. The Obama stimulus package, of course, boosted R&D in the US, especially on energy, but overall as well, and Canada, France and Germany have also had stimulus packages. So our concern, really, is that even with flat cash we are going to be falling behind competitors who have increased investment. The reason that is very important is that we have, over the last few years, been very successful in attracting mobile talent from around the world, and that is one of the strengths of our universities and our high-tech investment. That talent is very mobile and the very severe worry which I personally have, and that is encapsulated in this document, is that if we have cuts, even fairly modest cuts when other countries are expanding, then people who are thinking of coming to the UK from some third countries – the Far East, etc – will regard the UK as far less attractive relative to the USA of nearly two years ago, and they will also find that the UK less attractive relative to Canada, France and Germany. So by having a negative funding gradient when other countries do not, then we are going to lose out in terms of attracting mobile talent, and two other things as well: we are going to lose out in terms of inward investment and, also, the signal we send to the next generations. If young people, who are very savvy about career prospects and think on a three or five-year horizon, see a downward gradient in this country, which is not mirrored in other countries, then they will think that there is no great future in science in this country. That will be a negative signal. So for all those reasons - the comparison with the other countries and the effect on investment and the effect on young people - we are concerned that an X-per cent cut in R&D funding would have much more than an X-per cent effect on the outlook, because of all those reasons. On the other hand, if we are positive about science then talent attracts talent and success breeds success, and we will then do better. Our feeling, really, is that we would deplore any cuts on the grounds that we have specific strength in science and we ought to build on it in order to have a strong recovery.

Q62 Graham Stringer: I understand what you are saying, Professor Rees. There appears to have been a falling-out between (not for the first time in history, I guess) the pure and applied fraternities: the engineering professional bodies are saying: "We know we are in a difficult situation but engineering and applied sciences is much more important that pure science." Do you have a view on their view?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : All I know about is a particular paragraph in the input from the Royal Academy of Engineering, which did express specific priorities within science. We in our document felt it was not appropriate to do that. We made the general case for science, both pure and applied. We would regard it as a matter for Adrian Smith’s department and the research councils to decide on priorities and that they should not be discussed at this level. So I think we did not feel it appropriate to prioritise within science in our document. I do not think it is a falling-out; I think the engineers in particular respects took a slightly attitude towards their remit than we did. If I could comment on priorities, I think, obviously, we need to build on our strengths, we have to follow up on strategic priorities but we also have to tackle issues where science is timely and it is not premature to invest. Those are the kind of issues which need to be discussed at the level of the TTRC(?), Adrian Smith and the research councils. I think there is very strong linkage between science, both pure and applied. I always like to quote my predecessor, Lord Porter, at The Royal Society, who said there are two kinds of science, applied and not yet applied. This is the view that we know, in effect, is echoed by my successor, Sir Paul Nurse. Sir Paul Nurse has, in particular, made the comment that we should realise that the biological sciences and the physical sciences are very interdependent. We know we are very strong in biomedical science but many of those advances depend on physics, computing, etc. So I would say that we need to have strength across the board. The other reason we need strength across the board is that in the UK, of course, however hard we try we are going to be doing, at most, 10 per cent of the world’s research, but we want to make sure that we apply to the benefit of our economy all the best ideas in the world, wherever they come from. So you have got to have what is, in the jargon, now called absorbed capacity, which means having people in this country who are sufficiently plugged into the world’s research to be able to seize on a good idea from anywhere and run with it. So I think that rather than prioritising too strictly we would want to preserve breadth particularly, and we argue in this report that we should preserve excellence over the whole of the science, and we can afford to do that even in constrained times.

Q63 Alok Sharma: May I just press you a little bit on prioritisation? In an ideal world all of us would like to see more spending on science and technology, but we do live in an era where there are going to be some difficult choices to be made, and I think you have identified that in the work that you have done. If I may press you a little bit and ask you if there are any technologies that you feel should be prioritised over others on the basis, as you have just explained to us, that we need to look what in the nearer term is going to bring benefit for the economy in this country? Could you give us some examples of particular technologies or areas of science that you personally would like to see prioritised?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : Let me just clarify that. In the context of technologies, clearly, we do need to prioritise. It is only in the case of the blue skies pure research that I think we should support excellence. In the case of technologies and development then, clearly, we do need to prioritise. This is a matter which should be very widely discussed. I would personally say that we should prioritise clean energy. I think worldwide the level of R&D on clean energy is low and I think it is very important that we should try and get a lead on those technologies, and also we know we have great strength in some of the computational technologies. We are, quite rightly, frequently quoting video games where we have a UK lead. So in terms of technology we should, clearly, prioritise.

Q64 Stephen Metcalfe: While I appreciate that no one actually wants to see any cut in funding or even a freeze, the world is as it is at the moment. Are you saying there are actually no areas where efficiencies can be made - joint working and shared facilities - where we can get the same output by the deployment of resources? If there were a cut, even in the short term, would we be able to reverse that, and how long would the damage be?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : Obviously, there can be some efficiencies made and the Wakeham report pointed to some. That is why we said that level cash, which is in fact a cut in real terms, could be absorbed without too much damage. However, I think when you get beyond that it is hard to avoid the conclusion that, as I say, X-per cent cuts would have a more than X-per cent consequence, and that is a reason for minimising cuts. Again, as you say, it is also a reason for ensuring that any cuts are quickly reversed. We quoted in our report the Canadian experience of the 1990s, which the present government cites as an example of good procedure. There they were very careful in what they did for science to make sure that science did not suffer. Indeed, that is why Canadian scientists are now training people in this country because they have done a very good job on science. I would like to make another point, which is the link between research and universities. As I say, the universities will only remain high quality if they can attract good staff in this market, and they can only attract good staff if those staff feel that they can do research in the way they could if they went to the US or Canada. So any perception that opportunities are going to be worse in the UK will have an effect on the whole of the education system. That is something which is very crucial to standards, very high-quality standards, but even there, of course, there are ways in which there can be economies and I think one context, in particular, is to develop clusters of universities and to concentrate graduate education at the PhD level, as is done in the Scottish universities, for instance. There are opportunities there. So that is why we are not despairing of a stay in cash because there can be economies at that level.

Q65 Jonathan Reynolds: Good afternoon, Lord Rees. Two-thirds of R&D activity in the UK comes from the private sector. Can I ask you: should there be more emphasis on increasing private sector research and development in the UK? If so, how could we achieve this?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : I am surprised where your figure comes from. This is talked about in the Lisbon targets, and I think I am right in saying that the reason we fall far short of the hoped-for 3 per cent is the small contribution from the private sector. I think the private sector overall is not putting a great deal in, and that is partly, of course, because the private sector here is not dominated by manufacturing but is dominated by the service sector and finance, which are, of course, weak on R&D, although they do depend on R&D. In fact, one of the other Royal Society reports produced last year highlighted innovation in the service sector, and how that depends on high-quality science. I think the answer to your question is that UK private sector input into R&D is smaller than in many of our competitors, and that needs to be expanded. In order to do that, of course, I believe, there have to be tax incentives. There was the report of James Dyson which had some interesting suggestions about targeting the tax credits, etc. I think you are quite right in saying that one should encourage this, but of course that input from companies is going to be at the sort of development stage when they see a commercial market, not the other part of science which is mainly in the public good. The link between academic research and the, obviously, commercial-isable research is one which, of course, has been quoted in CERN because that is where the UK has not been all that successful. There was a report done for the last government, for Peter Mandelson, by Hermann Hauser about what might be done not only to provide finance to bring ideas to market, but also help with the early stage R&D, which is pretty competitive. That is where the idea of so-called Fraunhofer Institutes or something like that came in.

Q66 Jonathan Reynolds: Can I push you a little bit more specifically on the tax credit point? Do you believe, at the minute, it does need to be refocused and do you support what was said in the Dyson review about aiming more specifically at high-tech companies etc, because it is not getting us the benefits it could do?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : I think that is a priority. Of course, if one looks at the history of these tax rebates they started off being mainly taken up by the smaller companies and then the larger ones took advantage of them, to an extent. That, of course, was not the original purpose. On the other hand (and I am not an expert on this), of course, one does need some incentive to ensure that large companies do their R&D in this country and not somewhere else. So it could be argued that the tax concessions for big companies have also been helpful insofar as they may have encouraged big companies to set up or retain research in this country.

Q67 Gavin Barwell: Last week we took evidence from the Minister of Universities and Science, and one of the points that he made was that he perceived that the UK struggled to turn its pre-eminence in scientific research into commercial opportunities. I wondered whether you agree with that and, if you did, why you think that is and what we might do about it.

Lord Rees of Ludlow: I think this is really a follow-up to what I said in my last comment, that there are two problems: one is the financial incentives for small companies, and the other is this gap which the Hermann Hauser report identified between the kind of research which it is appropriate to do in university and a sufficiently developed concept that is commercially exploitable. Hermann Hauser suggested that one way of bridging this gap would be to set up organisations rather like the Fraunhofer Institutes which would target the ambition to work on some technologies. An example at the moment is plastic electronics where the UK has led the work with academies and elsewhere, but there is a risk that the development will taken up faster elsewhere. So I think there is a need not only for the tax credits to be optimised but, also, to consider the way in which one can fund the early development stages. I am not saying it has to be like a Fraunhofer Institute; it could be some ad hoc funding of research groups based in existing centres, and of course the Minister did mention that Harwell may be a place to have research of this kind. I think, as the Minister said last week, this is a concern that we want to make sure that ideas developed in the UK are brought to market. I would like to reiterate a point I made earlier, which is that we want to bring to market not just the ideas from our own universities but the best ideas from the rest of the world, and that is why the reason for having expertise in our universities over a broad range is not just because they have come up with good ideas themselves but because they are plugged into the world’s best ideas.

Q68 Gregg McClymont: Lord Rees, I was struck by your observation about the extent to which science and math PhDs move into high finance. I wondered if, looking from the other end of the telescope, that is a form of commercial transfer, which perhaps is not quantified or measured, and whether perhaps there is a case for a contribution being made from that sector towards science.

Lord Rees of Ludlow : It is true that when we talk about the service sector, which is absorbing scientific talent, as having ideas, of course, dominant in that sector was finance. One might have debates about whether the whiz kids with these mathematical formulae made a positive or negative contribution, but they certainly made a contribution. Of course, I think there are two ways to that: you can say perhaps too big a fraction of talent over those few years went into the financial sector to the detriment of other sectors of the economy, or you could say that it was good for the economy and, therefore, the financial industries should be those putting something back into science.

Q69 David Morris: Good afternoon, Lord Rees. What do you think the UK’s space ambition should be? Also, do you think it is important that we have space research and a space industry here in the UK? Where do you see it actually going in the next few years?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : Let me say that the space industry, of course, worldwide is much larger than space research and space science, although space science rides along on an applications-led programme. I think the UK has substantial strengths; it has strengths in space science - we have very strong groups like at Leicester University - and we therefore participate in ESA programmes. I think in ESA programmes we do what we, frankly, should be trying to do in all international projects, namely, to get more than our pro-rata share of the action. I think we do that in the case of space. Of course, we also have strengths in space industry and space technology, and in particular the Surrey microsatellite venture - Sir Martin Sweeting’s initiative - which is a world leader in its class. So I think space science and, of course, space generally and indeed aerospace are areas of strength, and the Minister last week accepted that. As regards space research and space science, we have to note that the European Space Agency, which we are part of, is rather small-scale compared to NASA, its American counterpart. In most areas of economic activity Europe, as a whole, is on the same level as the US, but for historic reasons related to the Super Power rivalry it has ramped up space activities in Russia and in the US. NASA is on a much larger scale - about three times larger - than ESA, so our level of publicly funded space activity has been substantially smaller than that of the US. As to what we do about it, there are different views. My personal view is that we in Europe should not do any manned space flight, and if we did entirely unmanned space flight then we could match NASA, because NASA spends only about a third of its two-thirds larger budget on the unmanned programmes. If we focused on unmanned space flight then I believe that we could get a world lead in Europe in miniaturisation robotics and space science, just as we already have in particle physics through CERN and, also, in ground-based astronomy through the European Southern Observatory. That is what I would want to do. The other point to make about space is that within Europe the UK has not been the dominant player; both the French and the Germans have put more money into space, into the optional ESA programmes, than we have. I think we have targeted our limited funds well. I am also very glad that the so-called space agency has been set up, because even though it may seem no more than an administrative change I think symbolically it is important, because I think we in the UK have suffered from the fact that everyone has heard of NASA, most people have heard of ESA but no one had heard of the BNSC, or knew who ran it. I think to actually have a high-profile organisation which is waving the flag for British space would be important, not only for ensuring we get a better deal within ESA but, also, would be good for sending the message to young people that the UK is rather good at space science.

Q70 Chair: Are you not disappointed about how few primary schools participate in, for example, the John Moores project, where they can access the Las Palmas telescope?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : Again, I think it is good that quite a number do. By coincidence, Chairman, I was talking to Professor Michael Bode this morning ---

Q71 Chair: A constituent of mine.

Lord Rees of Ludlow : Indeed, he told me that. He is very concerned about maintaining the funding at the level of a quarter-of-a-million pounds a year for that very important educational function, which is of national not just regional importance. I hope that he can find if not public funding at least some private benefactors for that. I certainly think that the take-up should be larger, but the take-up is already as large as they can cope with, I think. That is a pathfinder project which should be encouraged, and I think it is important that these subjects, which might seem rather arcane, like space and particle physics, are the ones which do get a lot of publicity, do affect the career choices of young people and do inspire young people, to the extent that if it became a general perception that the UK was contracting out of these areas this would have a very serious negative effect on the career choices of young people.

Q72 Stephen Metcalfe: You said that NASA spends three times the amount we do on space ---

Lord Rees of Ludlow : Very roughly, yes.

Q73 Stephen Metcalfe: Of which two-thirds is on manned space flight.

Lord Rees of Ludlow : Again, roughly, yes.

Q74 Stephen Metcalfe: It is probably the manned space flight that is more inspiring than the other side of things. Do you think there are any benefits from manned space flight?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : There are some but it is hugely more expensive and I would actually question what you say about it being more inspiring. If you look at what makes the front pages of the newspapers, it is the Hubble pictures and pictures of Mars, etc. People going round and round in the space station do not make the front page, unless there is some disaster, or the lavatory does not work, or something like that. So the space programme which is affordable is not obviously more inspiring to young people. If they could go to Mars then I agree it is inspiring, but that is off the radar even for the US for the next 25 or 30 years.

Chair: Can we move on to a subject that I know that has caused you some angst over the last few months?

Q75 Graham Stringer: Do you think public confidence has been damaged (and, if so, by how much) by the leak of emails from the University of East Anglia? Where do you think public confidence is in climate science, at the moment?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : In climate science in particular?

Q76 Graham Stringer: Yes.

Lord Rees of Ludlow : Obviously, the publicity over those emails did have an effect, and that combined with the cold winter, etc, did have an effect. What the Minister said last week to this Committee, I think, reflected the situation that nothing has really changed regarding the science. The scientists have been exonerated of any sort of unprofessional conduct. As I say, the science is not affected. However, I think there are lessons that should be learnt. Firstly, the IPCC procedure needs to be modified, and I mentioned that had been done by this InterAcademy study, which will report next month, when The Royal Society hosted a final meeting last week. So the IPCC procedure is going to have to be modified in order to restore confidence and to make it less cumbersome to make the interaction between governments and science slightly different, and also to ensure that it is not just a seven-year cycle where things go into orbit in between but where there is a secretariat that can update the science and respond to concerns. That is one thing. The other lesson that has been learnt is the need to have proper protocols for ensuring that data is made available to anyone who is able to analyse it. I think that, again, is something which has been brought under control now in many sciences, but in space science there are firm protocols. I think what went wrong in this particular case was that some of the data goes back a long way and was collected when clearly climatology was a rather arcane and under-funded subject, whose practitioners had no idea of the importance it would subsequently have. I think lessons have been learnt and this leads to, I hope, a change in the mindset of scientists towards being more willing to share their data with genuine enquirers.

Q77 Graham Stringer: I think the last point is well made. I do not think David Willetts’s point, that you referred to, is as well made because the three inquiries - the inquiry by this Committee, the inquiry by Muir Russell and the inquiry by ---

Lord Rees of Ludlow : Oxburgh

Q78 Graham Stringer: None of them looked really looked at the science, and where they stepped over the science, as Oxburgh did, he said that he was rather surprised that methods that depended on advanced statistics had not used advanced statisticians; he said that they had also used subjective methods. So I think David Willetts was wrong to say that somehow these had validated the science, because the science was not looked at. One, do you think the science should be looked at? If it was to be looked at, how would it be done?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : I would, to some extent, contest what you have just said. These papers were refereed, but the key thing which the Oxburgh Committee did was to actually go and sit with the scientists and see what they actually did and how they analysed the data. As regards the statistics, Professor Hand from Imperial College, who is one of the UK’s leading statisticians, was put on the Oxburgh Panel precisely because he had that expertise. What the report said was that indeed they had not used the optimum sophisticated techniques but he thought it would not have made any difference to the results. So, again, I do not think the science from that group is severely under question from the techniques they used. Of course, I should also emphasise that the science from that group is just one small element in the overall body of evidence on climate change in the past. In my view, the most important piece of evidence that policy makers need to take account of is not the past climate at all but the completely uncontroversial rise in the carbon dioxide concentration over the last 50 years, which is due to, primarily, the burning of fossil fuels. That is, I think, the most important data, and that is not controversial.

Q79 Graham Stringer: Can you explain to us a little bit about your own new pamphlet that you are going to produce on climate science? At the end of May there were three elected Fellows of The Royal Society who complained about the information that was being put out. I paraphrase but they said that the information was too sinister (?) and did not reflect the totality of the sciences as well as it could have done. Is that document being produced and will it be very different from what went before?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : I think you are referring to someone who criticised the document that we put out a few years ago which was a response to the Channel 4 programme The Climate Swindle.

Q80 Graham Stringer: Yes.

Lord Rees of Ludlow : So we need to update that in a number of ways, and we are doing that. More importantly, what we have done at The Royal Society is had a whole series of conferences to address what is happening in climate science. We had a meeting on greenhouse gases in the early spring, followed by a meeting on uncertainty in science. We have another one on computer models. So these are all meetings and all our Royal Society discussion meetings are open to the public, and I would hope that those who are sceptical about the science would take the opportunity to attend these meetings. I think the important thing is to try and push forward the science and reduce the uncertainties. As you say, in terms of expressing the scientific consensus in a form that is important and that is accessible to the public and to politicians, that is one of our roles, and that is what we are doing. So we are updating the one which was on the web earlier. I would say that if anyone looks at The Royal Society’s literature there are several volumes of our journals reporting conferences we have had on climate change which have been very controversial. Anyone who attended these meetings would certainly not be able to say that there is a quiet consensus and that people who make assertions are not tackled. It is a very controversial subject.

Chair: I now want to move on to science teachers, if I may. This is an area that we need to look at across the whole spectrum of education.

Q81 Gavin Barwell: In its recent report, Lord Rees, on science and mathematics education for 5 to 14 year-olds, The Royal Society recommended having a specialist science teacher in each primary school. Can you summarise for the Committee why you came to that recommendation, and do you believe that is the most important thing the Government could do to improve science and maths education today?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : I think it is very important. We had a pie-chart, which you may have seen, in that document which showed the number of primary school teachers who had expertise in science. Of course, that was crudely defined as having a degree in a science subject, which of course we accept is not necessarily the right criterion. I think the message is that if you ask how many primary school teachers there are who have some sort of expertise in science at anywhere near degree level, there is far less than one per primary school; it is about one for every three schools. One worries that that, therefore, means that there is very little chance that the average pupil is going to encounter throughout their primary school education someone who has the sort of feel for science which a university course in science gives you. This is, of course, giving young people a suboptimal chance at a very crucial and formative stage of their education. Of course, if people do not get the basic insight by the age of 11 then that is a handicap for their further education, and if they form negative views about science then that is one of the things that may turn them off studying science at the later stages of secondary school. So I think we are very concerned about the small number of primary school teachers with any special interest or expertise in science.

Q82 Chair: Have you ever checked whether there is any correlation - going back to our earlier conversation about Mike Bode’s project - between the schools that participate in schemes like that and the availability of science-qualified teachers?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : I cannot answer that in the context of the primary schools, but I do have analogous experience of this because I was involved in the Physics Olympiad which is something, as you know, at the sixth form level. One of the discouraging things about that exercise was that a disproportionate number of the schools participating in the activities of the Olympiad were from the independent sector, and obviously selective schools.

Q83 Chair: The same with Big Bang.

Lord Rees of Ludlow : Yes. This is very sad because it clearly requires a teacher with the enthusiasm to take on the extra workload involved in going beyond the standard curriculum. The sad thing is that even at secondary level many pupils are not being exposed to a teacher with that level of enthusiasm. That indeed, as you say, Chairman, deprives them of the opportunity to participate in these curriculum-enriching activities.

Q84 Gavin Barwell: Were the Government to try and enact your recommendation it would need a significant increase in the number of science graduates that go into teaching. How do you think the Government should go about attracting science graduates to do that?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : There have been positive developments. The number of graduates in physics and mathematics is going up, and an increasing proportion of those, one hopes, will go into teaching. I certainly think that one should also be creative in encouraging mid-career transitions into teaching. There are a lot of people in mid-career, whether they have been in industry, business or Army officers, and such like, who would be excellent teachers. I think it would be very good to encourage that sort of move into teaching from other careers, rather than depend on those who are starting out directly from university.

Q85 Gavin Barwell: Final question on this: the Secretary of State for Education has talked about raising the bar in terms of qualifications to become a teacher, so that all graduates would have to have at least an Upper Second degree. Is that something you would agree with and support?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : I would suspend judgment on that because I know very good teachers with Thirds. What I would point out, though, is on average one would like to see the teaching profession get a bigger share of those who are really good graduates. The case of Finland is often quoted, which has an excellent education system, and in that country I think it is the top 10 per cent of graduates who go into teaching. We should certainly move in that direction, although whether one should have an absolutely firm cut-off is, perhaps, a separate issue.

Q86 Chair: Can I just push you on that? Are you saying, therefore, there should not be fixed rules and that the appointment bodies and governing bodies, and so on, should have some flexibility to make judgments about a teacher’s ability to inspire rather than be rigidly based upon their academic qualifications?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : I would hope so because one knows very well that degree class is an indicator of something but not necessarily of what is needed to be a good teacher.

Q87 Pamela Nash: You mentioned earlier, Lord Rees, about the funding that is coming from stimulus packages in other countries that are supporting their scientific communities at the moment. I was wondering, do you think, if the cuts go ahead here, are we going to be left in the UK suffering from "brain drain"? We will lose our science graduates overseas.

Lord Rees of Ludlow : I fear we may be, and this was made explicit in The Royal Society’s report, if we do have significant cuts. I think it would take some time for the brain drain to manifest itself, but I think over the last few years we have had a brain gain. If I think of my own university, we have appointed quite a high proportion of new faculty from overseas, and that is a very good thing; that indicates the high esteem in which British science is held. So I think there will be the risk of a brain drain, but may take some years to manifest itself. The other more immediate effect, although it is rather hard to quantify in the way that we would like to be able to do for the Treasury, is there are lots of people who two years ago would have applied for jobs in Britain but now will not because they perceive that the UK, relative to the US and certain other countries, has become less attractive than it was two years ago. That is hard to quantify but I think that we have been losing strong applicants already simply because they read the newspapers and they hear about the potential for severe cuts, whereas they do not read that in the newspapers of other countries. So that is why I think the perception and the threat is, in itself, damaging in terms of making the UK less attractive than it was in recent years as a preferred destination of mobile talent and for mobile investment.

Q88 Pamela Nash: Just on that problem of attracting graduates from overseas, do you think that a cap on non-EU migrants will compound that problem?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : I think it will. I was thinking, in my answer to your previous question, about more senior people who have already got their degrees. However, of course, there is the separate, important question about whether we are an attractive destination for foreign students. Here, again, we have to make sure that the cap does not work against accepting the best students, and even more we have to make sure that there are not very severe impediments to attracting people who have PhDs. Already the system is rather vexatious, the tier three and tier four system, and it is becoming very hard to appoint a non-EU person. Also, it is getting very hard to attract senior academics for short visits from outside the EU without a lot of hassle. I think this is a sort of bureaucracy which one hopes can be simplified because we are losing out, because it is not only that people are discouraged from coming but hosts are discouraged from going to the trouble of inviting someone if they know it will involve a lot of delay and hassle. So I think simplifying these requirements consistently beyond obvious political goals is something which should not be given priority, because otherwise we will lose out.

Q89 Jonathan Reynolds: Just on that quite interesting point about the attractiveness of the UK as a destination for scientists. Apart from the spending regimes and the immigration rules, what other factors determine how attractive we are for people to come to this country to conduct science? I am thinking, particularly, about some of the issues in America around the religious influence on the stem cell debate, and that kind of thing. How do we compare internationally on those kinds of arguments?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : What you have just mentioned is, of course, one effect, but that of course has diminished because the American regulations on stem cells have been relaxed by the Obama administration. One of our strengths is our university system, which is certainly unmatched except in the US; we are certainly way ahead of the university systems in the major countries of Europe, like Germany, France and Italy. So we are able to attract students and also faculty to our universities. That is a great strength and, as I indicated earlier, there is a strong linkage between our funding of research and the strength of our universities. However, we do have to be careful because there is one obvious advantage which we have had in the UK, which is that we have the uncovenanted benefit of speaking English which is the world language, and therefore many people from, say, the Far East, have been more attracted to the UK than to mainland Europe. However, we are actually losing that because there are many universities in mainland Europe at which, at least at graduate level, use English as a medium of instruction. So we are losing that, possibly unfair, advantage we had. That is all the more reason why we should try and maintain the other attractions, which are linked to the strength of our university system and, I think, also, the general quality of life. I am fortunately based in Cambridge, which has a strong university and a high-tech cluster around it, in a sort of beneficial symbiosis, and that is a very international community, where people from many parts of the world quickly feel at home and find they are in a supportive environment. That is the sort of asset which we have and must try and preserve in our high-tech communities.

Q90 Chair: Can I just, perhaps, finish off? I started earlier in this session by talking about women in The Royal Society. Let us go more broadly and talk about women in science generally. How do we attract more women into the key STEM subjects?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : There does seem to be a difference as between the biomedical sciences and the physical sciences in attractiveness to women and to young people. So this is really an asymmetry that arises at a school level, does it not? I think it is a matter where school teachers would have better evidence than me. There is also the case that in progressive careers where you get successive promotions then the proportion of women thins out as you get to the more senior levels. That is true not just in science but in other areas. I do, however, think that there is a special problem in academia, which we need to do something about, which is that in academia appointments tend to be made on the basis of cubit of record (?) - you look at people’s publication list, etc - and obviously if appointments are made solely on that criterion that handicaps for life anyone with a late start or an interrupted career. Therefore, I think it is incumbent on universities, in particular, to make appointments in a way where they look for quality of work in the past and the prospect of good work in the future, rather than slavishly counting numbers of papers, etc, which will obviously favour those who have had straightforward careers without taking time out. I am not sure I have answered your question, Chair.

Q91 Chair: I think that is an interesting observation, but given what is likely to happen, are opportunities for women going to be disproportionately affected by spending cuts, or can there be initiatives that overcome that potential difficulty?

Lord Rees of Ludlow : I would hope that initiatives like the small-scale ones we at The Royal Society operate will be continued. We will want to do all we can to mentor women, encourage them and have a special category of Fellowship for those with interrupted careers. So I hope that will happen. However, of course, let us not be too gloomy because among vets and doctors, I think, women are the majority among those coming out of school, so it is only in the physical sciences and engineering that women are under-represented.

Q92 Chair: Can I thank you very much for coming to speak to us this afternoon? We look forward to working constructively with The Royal Society in the continuation of our work during this Parliament, and, of course, also (putting your other hat on), with your colleagues down the corridor in the Lords Committee. Thank you very much.

Lord Rees of Ludlow : Can I say thank you very much, Chairman, and I hope The Royal Society report is a useful input into your deliberations. We would welcome any contact with you as individuals and, more so, anything you can do to promote things like the pairing scheme between Members of Parliament. I know you, Chairman, have been involved in this.

Q93 Chair: That is a good opportunity to advertise it, for those who do not know. The Royal Society has established a pairing scheme with Parliamentarians, and I would certainly encourage my colleagues on the Committee to engage with it. It is good fun and it takes you into areas that you did not know existed. I think it is good for the research students and it is very good for Parliamentarians, as it actually does help to address some of those issues about Parliament and its understanding of science.

Lord Rees of Ludlow : I think we would welcome advice on how best to interact with Parliamentarians and, also, Graham Stringer’s point about trust among the wider community in science. That is a very important issue, and anything specific on that which we should be doing we would welcome advice on. Thank you.

Chair: Thank you very much.