Select Committee on Science and Technology Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180-199)




  180. Good afternoon, everybody, and welcome. The procedure that we have today is that we are going to be asking a series of questions: we are hoping to be finished by about 5.15. This is on the record, the transcript will be published and you will be able to get it on the internet in just a few days. I would also like to say welcome to members of the general public here today, and I hope you find the meetings beneficial. Our specialist adviser wanted to make the point that he has an interest to declare because, as far as OSPAR is concerned on the current case, on the MOX plant, he is the QC representing the government of Ireland versus the United Kingdom. I will start, if I may, Dr Roberts, by asking you in respect of Defra itself how your Department prepares itself for formal negotiations under the auspices of the OSPAR convention particularly in relation to gathering scientific evidence? What steps, if any, does Defra take to inform itself about the scientific claims or submissions of other parties?

  (Dr Roberts) In my role in Defra I am the head of the United Kingdom delegation to Defra, so I have the overall responsibility for co-ordinating our position. The OSPAR Commission meets once a year, usually in June, and in preparation for that there are a series of committee meetings and working groups, so it is a series of about a dozen meetings over the year. The arrangement we have within the United Kingdom is that before each meeting, first of all, the papers are widely circulated within government to government departments and agencies, and then we prepare for each meeting a brief which sets out the agreed line which the United Kingdom will take at the meeting. In doing that, we consult widely among scientific advisers within government, including CEFAS which is the agency within Defra that advises us on marine and environmental issues, the Environment Agency, English Nature, the Joint Nature Conservation Council, and the equivalent bodies in the devolved administrations. So we seek to form a view on the proposals that have been put forward, including the merits of any particular scientific case or argument that is being advanced. That is the short term answer in preparation for each meeting. There is also a longer term dimension as well in the sense that we know the OSPAR work programme, we have a series of strategies that were agreed in 1998, and we have a report that was agreed in 2000 that sets out the quality and status of the OSPAR marine area, together with an indication of the priorities for further action. So what we have tried to do is make sure that within our research programme we have projects and programmes which will put us in a position to have the scientific evidence that we will need to discuss and negotiate—the issues that we foresee coming up in the regular OSPAR meetings.

Lord Oxburgh

  181. Could you perhaps give us a few examples of the kinds of matters that come up on the agenda of OSPAR meetings?

  (Dr Roberts) Certainly. OSPAR is pursuing strategies in five key areas: hazardous substances, eutrophication, offshore oil and gas, radioactive substances and biodiversity, and there is also a committee on assessment and monitoring. So OSPAR will be discussing what action needs to be taken in terms of introducing programmes and measures to deal with the threats posed to the environment on each of those issues, and I would be happy to elaborate on any of those in detail but may I just give you an example, if that would be helpful?


  182. Yes.

  (Dr Roberts) On hazardous substances we are seeking to identify which substances pose a threat to the marine environment in terms of their properties of toxicity, persistence and bioaccumulation, and then decide what control measures, what action needs to be taken to prevent those substances finding their way into the marine environment. In terms of eutrophication, for example, which is the effect when excess nutrients, either from urban waste water or farming, find their way into the marine environment and can cause algal blooms to form which are harmful to fish and the environment generally, we are seeking there to identify the extent to which there are eutrophication problems within the OSPAR area and then the measures necessary to deal with those problems.

  183. To what extent do you attempt some sort of cost benefit analysis, and the cost of remediation to whatever business or activity was generating this situation?
  (Dr Roberts) That is an issue that we are seeking to develop, certainly in the United Kingdom, by firstly identifying what the costs are, and which sectors will be affected by a proposal, for example, to phase out the use of the chemical, and, secondly, to identify what the costs to that industry might be. If I can give you one example, there is obviously great concern about mercury finding its way into the marine environment. Some of the input in mercury arises from the chloralkali industry which is used to produce chlorine and hydrogen by electrolysis of brine using a mercury cell. That is now old technology and there are better technologies which do not involve the use of mercury but they cost money to introduce, so in the United Kingdom, for example, we commissioned consultants to identify the costs and the capacity of the industry to see how fast it was reasonable to suggest that a changeover from the old technology to the new technology should take place.

  184. I should have asked everybody to introduce themselves for which I apologise.
  (Professor Clegg) I am Director of Science for British Nuclear Fuels. I report to Sue Ion and my responsibility is to oversee the health of the company's science base and its skill base to underpin our international operations.
  (Dr Ion) I am BNFL's Director for Technology, but I also carry at executive level a responsibility for ensuring that technical, operation, health, safety and environment issues are all seen holistically and are collectively joined up.
  (Mr Simcock) I have been the executive secretary of the OSPAR Commission since March 2001. The OSPAR Commission, as I am sure you know, brings together the fifteen countries bordering the North East Atlantic together with the European Community. Before I moved to the Commission, I had been in the Department of the Environment for my working life. I was asked in 1991 to set up a new division in the department to integrate marine environment policy and as part of that I was chair of the OSPAR Commission from 1996-2000. I have also been for three years co chairman of the United Nations consultative process on the oceans.
  (Dr Malcolm) I am from CEFAS, one of Defra's science agencies, focusing on fisheries and the marine environment. In this context I have responsibility for co-ordinating our work on collecting evidence to support the work that we do in OSPAR in support of Defra, and in doing that I also have some specific roles as head of delegation to the OSPAR Assessment and Monitoring Committee for the United Kingdom, and I also have specific expertise in eutrophication issues.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

  185. OSPAR is obviously one of a number of intergovernmental organisations to do with marine issues. Can you describe how you fit those together? There is the IOC which deals with oceans, there is UNEP, there is the EU, and as part of that, within our government, you talk about intergovernmental approaches and it would be interesting to know how you see the comparison with the United States which has an overarching NOAA organisation that deals with oceans and so on. So, firstly, how do you see your work in relation to these other agencies?

  (Mr Simcock) Perhaps I could answer from the point of view of the OSPAR Commission in the first place. The North East Atlantic is one of the five ocean areas around Europe. We have five regional seas organisations dealing with these. As well as OSPAR there is the Helsinki Commission for the Baltic, the Barcelona Convention for the Mediterranean, and the Bucharest Convention for the Black Sea, and then there is a special co-operation under the Arctic Council dealing with the whole of the Arctic Ocean, though part of that is also covered by OSPAR. In addition, there are then fisheries commissions, there is the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission which is meeting in London at the moment, there is the Baltic Sea Fisheries Commission and so on. Then, at the global level, you have a very wide variety of organisations. There are nine United Nations specialised agencies with involvement in the oceans—I will not attempt to list them though if you want me to I can. The purpose of the UN Oceans consultative process when it was set up in 2000 by the General Assembly in 1999 as a result of a recommendation of the Commission on Sustainable Development was to try to bring together more effectively the work of all the different programmes. There is a very great need for greater partnership between the different aspects, whether it is science or fisheries or environmental protection or shipping; there are many interrelationships. What we are trying to do is improve the way in which these work together, and this year's joint ministerial meeting of the Helsinki and OSPAR Commissions was a contribution to that. What is also going to be a very major contribution to it is the European marine strategy, which is being developed as a result of the European Communities' sixth environmental action programme. The European marine strategy is meant to try to set a framework for all activities affecting all five European seas, in all fields. The Council of Ministers and the European Parliament have indicated that this is not intended to be solely a European Union strategy, but a European strategy involving all the partners in Europe, and that is something that is being developed. The aim is to have it in place by May 2005. I hope that gives you some idea.

  186. With this huge multiplicity are we saturated, or are there going to be more? The numbers of agencies now are many more than when you started fifteen years ago, as you said. Have we reached the limit, or is this going to carry on like this for ever?
  (Mr Simcock) The problem is the difference between the need for an integrated policy to the marine environment and the fact that sectoral interests are always going to be significant. You have the problem of how you can put the sectoral interests together. Historically and legally, the sectoral interests predominate. Each of the main UN agencies had its origin in a sectoral interest. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea which sets the framework within which everyone must operate has a very sectoral approach to many issues but, as I say, there is a need to find a way to make these work together. I do not think there has been a large increase in the number of organisations since 1970 or thereabouts, when the regional seas organisations came into being. What you have had is attempts to find ways of getting them to work together better. You raise the question of the NOAA; the point there I think is that even the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration does not cover everything. The Environmental Protection Agency has a very important role to play in the United States, and so do other organisations such as the Coast Guard. I think you are inevitably going to have a tension between the need to develop an integrated policy and the need to have sectoral organisations operating in the field. The problem is to find ways of bringing those together. I do not think there is an organisational solution that can satisfy that tension.
  (Dr Roberts) Adding to that from a United Kingdom perspective, in Europe, where most of the regulation takes place, a key issue for the future will be defining the role of the European Union, on the one hand, and OSPAR on the other. OSPAR has a very long and distinguished history going back thirty years but much more recently the European Union has begun to introduce regulation which is significant to the marine area. A key policy that we are keen to pursue is, firstly, to make sure there is consistent regulation between the two bodies and that there is no unnecessary duplication, so that the right issues are discussed in the right fora, that there is a clear co-ordination between the lines we take in Brussels and the lines we take in OSPAR, and that we do not end up with regulations that are duplicative or contradictory.

Lord Wade of Chorlton

  187. What formal arrangements are there to ensure that Defra co-ordinates with other relevant government departments and agencies with interested commercial actors and sectors and with the NGO community? I know in a way you answered some of that when replying to Lord Oxburgh but perhaps I can ask you to develop a little bit deeper into that issue and maybe I might ask some of the other members later, because what concerns me is here we have very major conventional arrangements which affect an awful lot of people and are becoming more and more important in the way people have to respond, and by and large they limit what people can do. That is the purpose of them. So it is terribly important that, when all you people sit there negotiating, you understand on whose behalf you are actually negotiating and how much you understand the impact is going to be on people right at the end of the line. I would like to understand how you ensure you do. You mentioned some doubts to Lord Oxburgh saying you were reviewing again how you negotiate but you have to feel confident, and when you sit there negotiating who do you see as your customers? Who do you think about when you are sitting there and saying, "Am I helping X, Y, X?" Who is it?

  (Dr Roberts) I think there are three elements to that. Firstly, how we deal with co-ordination within government. As I mentioned, we co-ordinate our opposition with the other government departments concerned, and before the formal Commission meeting the practice is for the Secretary of State to write round to cabinet colleagues and devolved administrations setting out the proposed United Kingdom negotiating line in order to get agreement from all the relevant members of the cabinet. Of course officials will have co-ordinated the line beforehand so to some extent that is a formality, but it does mean that Department of Trade & Industry, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, the Scottish Executive and the Welsh Assembly are all agreed on the line we are going to take. You asked about consultation with commercial actors and with the NGO community. We pursue that in a number of ways. Firstly, OSPAR includes observers within its structure, so at the meetings there will be representatives of the key industrial sectors and of the environmental NGOs. For example, the European chemical industry will be there, the World Nuclear Association, Greenpeace and WWF, so those bodies can see the process: they receive all the policy papers: they can speak at meetings: respond to the argument and join in with the discussion, although they cannot vote on the decisions at the end of the day. Within the United Kingdom, we consult in various ways. For example, for the offshore oil and gas industry on which DTI take the lead, DTI regularly hold a meeting with UKOOA, the association for that industry, before the relevant OSPAR committee and go through the papers with them in order to hear their views on the issues, the costs and the practicality of what is being proposed. Within Defra we will normally speak to the chemical industries association to seek their view on what is being proposed. At the recent OSPAR Commission there was a particular measure on mercury emissions from crematoria, and we specifically consulted the trade association that crematoria operators belong to in order to have their view on what is proposed. When it comes to making the decisions, what we are seeking is good regulation. The aim of the Commission and the objective of the convention is to protect the marine environment, but we need to try and do that in ways which reflect good regulation—so proportionate, practical, realistic and not imposing burdens that are unacceptable—and that is the point of view that the United Kingdom will come from in presenting its arguments, so we will argue for a high degree of environmental protection delivered in a way that delivers good regulation.
  (Dr Ion) From an industry perspective perhaps what I would add is that certainly international agreements are struck and either reflect or mirror policy which is then translated into regulation to allow the framework to proceed, and I guess the issue with respect to the impact of OSPAR particularly on the nuclear industry was the manner in which radioactive substances were dealt with as the negotiations drew to a close, and therefore the timeliness and the effectiveness of the scientific evidence given. I do not think we have any issue with the manner in which Defra seeks to obtain advice in advance of any of the discussions. It is clear that they seek to get as much technical input as they can, but at the end of the day it is a negotiation and it is the extent to which weight is given to that scientific evidence that there may be issues. It is very difficult from a timeliness standpoint but it would be nice if a regulatory impacts assessment was available at the time the agreement was struck, and Dr Robinson has indicated that the United Kingdom has yet to go some way to achieving maturity in that respect. So it is not until after the agreement is struck that you are able to assess the potential environmental impact as the legislation is progressed through and, with respect to radioactive substances, they were bolted on at the 11th hour after agreement had been reached on hazardous substances for which there was very good scientific evidence to underpin the line taken.
  (Professor Clegg) Adding a footnote to that, failure in international agreements is signing up to something that has a cost, a resource implication or an environmental detriment where that downside was not foreseen at the time the agreement was signed up to, so Sue's point about a regulation impact assessment is important in foreseeing these impacts before signing up.

Lord Wright of Richmond

  188. I have a supplementary on this. Clearly the work of the OSPAR Convention and your negotiations in it has at least potential implication for our bilateral relations with other countries and also, I take it, some impact on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. Can you tell us in rather more detail how you co-ordinate with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who are responsible for both aspects of this?

  (Dr Roberts) To answer the second point first, I think OSPAR works very much within the framework of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea, as indeed it must, and I do not think there has been any issue, bar perhaps one, where the action that OSPAR has proposed to take has raised an issue about the extent to which it might conflict or be incompatible with the visions of UNCLOS. The only recent area is the question of the extent to which OSPAR contracting parties can seek to protect the biodiversity in the OSPAR area on the high seas beyond their territorial sea and their EEZ, where there were some issues. On the wider question about relations with the other contracting parties, we very largely manage that ourselves but we talk extensively to the Foreign Office where there are particular issues. We, of course, deal extensively with most of the other contracting parties through the European framework already. Where there are particular sensitivities then we do bring in the Embassy in the country concerned to make sure that we have feedback and make sure that we understand their position and that our position is explained to that country.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

  189. It does sound awfully top-down. You have your ideas, you sit around with the Secretary of State, the letters go out, you consult the industry—do you ever have a meeting in which you say, "Look, we have a congress, what shall we raise? What is really wrong about the situation?", and have an open situation, particularly with a lot of media or some media. Also, the definition of "NGO" is obviously inclined to be organisations like World Wildlife—the Royal Society is an NGO, the biological society, I mean—and I am not getting at you, Dr Roberts, because I feel this is an endemic problem in the whole British civil service science approach. There is no, "Gosh, here we have this opportunity to raise all sorts of things one year from now, let's have a process in which we can get input". Do you not think we should turn it round and do it a different way?

  (Dr Roberts) I think there are some ways in which that does happen. So far we have been mainly talking about regulation through OSPAR, and that is the turning of objectives into specific measures, and that is a top-down process in the sense we have an agreed objective of hazardous chemicals; we then work through the process of defining hazardous chemicals and the steps we take. When ministers meet which happened in 1998 and again this year, the agenda is much wider because they make a political declaration where they flag up the issues that they are committed to work on over the next 5-10 years, and the debate leading up to those declarations is much more open because there you are starting with a blank piece of paper and there is a lively debate. It perhaps tends to be the environmental NGOs who are perhaps pushing at the boundaries of what we might achieve, because they do not have some of the constraints the governments might have in putting forward ideas, so we do have a very lively debate when they are suggesting that we should be more ambitious, we should set targets and take on new issues, and we resolve that by coming to an agreement about what we think is important and ministers at the end of the day decide and sign a declaration that sets out the political aspirations for the next 5-10 year period.

  190. In my role at the Met Office I read the original papers of how these original bodies were set up in the 1880s and 1890s, and the whole concept was completely different. These were international bodies of nations, not of governments. Subsequently you go   to these bodies and they are organisations of  governments—but they should not be of governments. Using your phraseology, you talk about "ministers having ideas". Ministers should be saying, "Look, we are having this meeting; we have no idea. How about some input?" Do you not think there could be more of this? It is not a political lead from government; obviously that is one aspect but is it not a wider? It is the whole question of what the United Nations is about. Is it a framework for nations to come together, or a framework for governments to negotiate with each other? I feel that it was different in the early part of the last century, for example.
  (Dr Roberts) There is a lively debate going around in Europe, some of which takes place in OSPAR and some in other fora, about what are the issues we face, what we should be dealing with, how are we going to deal with shipping, what about problems of fishing. Some of that emerges in the OSPAR debate but that is a slightly different debate I suggest to actually defining the regulatory measures and the steps which have legal consequence, so it is a process that leads through from ideas. Someone realises there is an issue—we need to make shipping more sustainable, we need to tackle the problem of single hull tankers or we need to be concerned about alien species—which is debated and then, when there is a consensus emerging that action needs to be taken, it gets taken into one of these frameworks—be it OSPAR, the EU, the IMO, when the serious work of turning it into regulation with cost benefit analysis and technical assessment takes place. So some of that process may not be as vigorous as it was in the 19th century, but there is a process of policy debate in which a much wider range of actors than government departments takes place.

Lord Oxburgh

  191. This is primarily for Professor Clegg and Dr Ion. In your written evidence BNFL suggest that there should be perhaps formal prompts within government to establish the need for scientific advice on any particular issue. I wonder if you could give us some examples of where scientific advice you feel has not been adequately sought and where formal prompts would have helped? From what you said earlier, I caught the flavour that perhaps you were satisfied with advice-seeking procedures, but perhaps I was wrong.

  (Dr Ion) There are two issues here, Lord Oxburgh: one is about timeliness and effectiveness in that it is not always that scientific evidence is not sought, it is that it is quite often requested late in the process, or given insufficient weight when the final decision is reached. The second issue is about transparency of the scientific information. When you come to look at the weighting given to scientific work it is important that that is transparent and that if, for whatever reason a decision is reached that is for political or other societal reasons, we know and we understand that is the case, and that we do not use pseudo science after the event to try and support a decision already taken. As I indicated earlier, with respect to OSPAR and its dealing with radioactive substances, our feeling generally there was that the constraints which are subsequently applied to radioactive substances were arrived at quite late in the day, and there comes an issue of proportionality with respect to that decision and future utilisation of United Kingdom's resources. On the question of formal input, it is difficult to look to how you could have a consistent process for every single issue because it is clear that they are all different: they are addressed in different ways by the international negotiations that have to take place. The important thing is that, whatever the issue is, there is a commitment to try and seek sound science prior to the event to help inform the negotiation and for that to be transparent, and by "sound science" I mean something that is trackable through a peer review system, through journals, or well-attributed peer review, and possibly oversight by bodies like the Royal Society and Royal Academy, depending on the importance of the issue.

  192. If one takes your example of radioactive substances, in one sense the basic science is not that difficult but the two questions that seem to arise are, first of all, what are the deleterious environmental effects that might be associated with a discharge, and there can be argument on that, and the other side is what might the costs be of restricting these? Now on which side of those, or perhaps both of those, do you feel that inadequate consultation, assessment or attention has been paid?
  (Dr Ion) With respect to the cost issues I do not think we knew what the cost implications would be when the agreements were struck.

  193. Had you been asked?
  (Dr Ion) Not prior to the sign-up to OSPAR, no, so I think it is important that, in the consequential legislation which is embodied in things like the national discharge strategy which then informs the regulation as it is applied to operations in the United Kingdom, cost benefit is taken into account. Now, we were asked in the subsequent consultations and gave our opinion and advice in terms of the costs that were likely to occur which are significant, as indicated in our evidence, so the important thing is to make those issues transparent so that people understand what choices they have before them when arriving at decisions.

  194. Dr Roberts, do you accept that in this particular case there was inadequate consultation sufficiently early to establish the costs associated with the United Kingdom position?
  (Dr Roberts) I am afraid I am not in a position to give a direct answer to that because the negotiation took place before I had this responsibility. The Sintra agreement was made in 1998 and I know the outcome but I am not familiar in detail with the process that led up to it.

  195. Could you perhaps let the Committee have in writing an answer to that?
  (Dr Roberts) Certainly.

  196. Mr Simcock, can you help on this?
  (Mr Simcock) Since I was doing Mr Roberts' job at the time, I could perhaps attempt an answer! There are some points that might help the Committee, my Lord Chairman. The history of radioactivity in the protection of the marine environment in the North East Atlantic is quite a long one. In the early 1970s when the original OSPAR agreement was being put in place, the Paris Convention, as it was then described, divided the world into three and talked about the black list, the substances whose discharge was to be stopped; the grey list, the substances whose discharge was to be regulated, and radioactive substances, in which the advice of the competent international body—in other words the International Atomic Energy Agency—was to be followed. This tripartite approach led to a rather separate treatment of radioactivity. When, twenty years later, the agreement was reached that we would update and merge the Oslo Convention on Dumping and the Paris Convention on Land-based Sources of Marine Pollution, there was a very strong argument that there should not be a separate treatment of hazardous substances on the one hand and radioactive substances on the other and, in the course of the negotiations, the government then agreed that there would be a single list of factors to be taken into account in regulating discharges of all kinds: persistence, toxicity, liability to bio accumulate, radioactivity, nutrients and so on—the list is in the Convention and it runs to about twenty items. This was a very general approach on which I do not think it would have been possible to carry out any cost benefit analysis. It was a basic policy question as to whether you should treat radioactivity as simply one sort of problem along with others. That was agreed in 1992 as part of the new convention. In 1996 we had been preparing for some time for the entry into force of the new convention, which eventually happened in 1998. The new convention had had a very strong emphasis, much stronger than the older conventions, on the need for scientific considerations to be taken into account. This came out in two particular ways. In specifying the approach to be adopted on programmes and measures, the Convention required the use of best available techniques and best environmental practice, and produced definitions of those two terms which had a very strong emphasis on the way in which they would be updated in the light of the best scientific advice. The second element was a significantly different one in that it was agreed that there would be commitments to monitoring and assessing the marine environment, and a specific annexe to the Convention made provision for regular agreed assessments of the state of the marine environment. Arrangements were put in hand to produce by 2000 a quality status report on the marine environment of the whole of the North East Atlantic and in 1996, as I was saying, on the programmes and measures side, we started discussing what should come forward, and there were five themes identified for that discussion: hazardous substances, nutrification, radioactive substances and biological diversity and ecosystem protection, the fourth of those being in connection with a widening of the Convention to take into account non pollution adverse effects from human activities. The fifth area, offshore oil and gas, was intended to be covered and was eventually covered in 1999 but, because of the debates over the Brent Spar issue, was not actually dealt with by the ministers in 1998. From the start, a large number of contracting parties argued strongly that the hazardous substances strategy and the radioactive substances strategy should be parallel, and the discussions on that went very much in hand in hand. There was much more difficulty in reaching agreement on radioactive substances strategy and there were many discussions, as I know personally, between the Department of Trade & Industry and BNFL and with other scientific advisers on what should be done and the implications of this. I do not think a fully costed regulatory impact assessment was done at the time because it was not clear what measures precisely would be needed to give effect to the commitments in the radioactive substances strategy, so I think that it was not a question of radioactive substances being bolted on at the last moment. This was a logical conclusion of the process that started with the revision of the Convention in 1992. The point at which it was possible to produce a costing was relatively late in the stage because the radioactive substances strategy is conspicuous for its lack of clarity—we are still arguing about what it means—and I think therefore it would have been very difficult to follow the pattern of drawing up a regulatory impact assessment before ministers adopted that position. I am conscious, my Lord Chairman, that in giving that answer I have perhaps strayed out of my role as executive secretary and into my former role but I hope it helps the Committee.
  (Professor Clegg) Could I add a footnote to Lord Oxburgh's question which was originally about formal prompts? It is just the point that these formal prompts have to elicit the information that is needed to make decisions covering scientific matters, costs, political and ethical considerations, and our suggestion to the Committee would be that all of those different considerations need to be kept quite separate so that the decision-making trail is clear and visible and it is apparent what weighting has been given to these different considerations in the making of the final decision. That also has the implication that the accountability for the persons making the decision is clear as well.

Lord Wright of Richmond

  197. Mr Simcock, I think this question is for you in your present capacity. Can you tell us what role your secretariat plays in informing itself on the state of scientific understanding or collating scientific evidence?

  (Mr Simcock) Could I begin by explaining that the OSPAR secretariat is not like, for example, the OECD secretariat, a large organisation which does work itself. We are a very small organisation. Apart from myself I have four deputies and seven support staff so that, given the range of issues that we have to cover from offshore wind farms to radioactivity, the amount of work that the secretariat can do is limited—in fact very limited. The OSPAR working practices rely very heavily on the concept of the lead country—in other words, the United Kingdom or the Netherlands will take responsibility for developing an issue and bringing forward a report on it. That enables them to tap into their national resources in research establishments or wherever and bring forward a nationally agreed proposal for discussion, so that we look very much to the lead country to produce a survey of a problem and a set of proposals for consideration. If I could take one example, the hazardous substances strategy has resulted in a list of chemicals for priority action. Where action is required, a lead country on that will produce a draft background document for discussion. This draft background document is required by the procedural agreements we have reached to examine the reasons why the hazardous substance is dangerous, what its chemical components are and so on; to review the available evidence on the way in which it affects the marine environment, which may be limited to theoretical considerations based on its structure but where possible will include practical examination of its impact, either in laboratory conditions on marine organisms or in the sea itself. It is then required to establish what is available in information about the use of the substance—which industries use it, how they use it, how it reaches the marine environment—and then to review existing regulatory arrangements on the way in which it is handled and the way in which discharge of it is controlled; and in the light of all that to come forward in the final chapter with any further proposals for future action. Now, that survey will normally be based on a questionnaire which has been circulated to all the sixteen contracting parties for them to provide information, draw attention to national research, or whatever. This is a formal agreement in the case of hazardous substances but the basic principles of preparing a background document of this kind as a basis for any conclusions on action are very much at the heart of the way in which OSPAR works. This, I think, is a justifiable way of doing it, given the limited resources, and produces usually a well-argued and well-established document. Obviously the documents vary in quality: some countries are prepared to devote very considerable efforts to this—Finland is a notable example of that—but all of them are then exposed to examination by the working groups and committees of the Commission which include representatives of all the contracting parties, and also of all the relevant specialist industrial organisations and the green environment organisations, and local government and regional government, so we try to establish through the lead country a very substantial basis of evidence which can then be examined by all interested parties.

  198. Do your deputies and support staff include nuclear scientists and marine biologists?
  (Mr Simcock) My four deputies at the moment are two with PhDs in marine science, one chemical engineer and one lawyer. The support staff are entirely typists and linguists and so on. My own qualifications I tried to explain.


  199. I detect you may feel that resources are quite an issue?

  (Mr Simcock) Resources are a major issue.

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2004