HL Deb 07 April 1986 vol 473 cc9-49

3.1 p.m.

Lord Gregson rose to move, That this House takes note of the Report of the Science and Technology Committee on Marine Science and Technology (2nd Report, 1985–86, H.L. 47).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, for nearly 200 years this country was the foremost maritime nation in the world; there is considerable public and institutional concern regarding all matters relating to maritime affairs and there is a great deal of public debate in many forums. It was to be expected therefore that, when your Lordships' Select Committee decided to inquire into this important subject concerning maritime science and technology, there would be a considerable interest from many quarters, and there was. Evidence was received from over 100 organisations and individuals On behalf of the Select Committee I must express our gratitude to those very many people and organisations who helped us with our inquiries either by submitting written evidence or by coming and giving oral evidence. I should also like to place on record the committee's gratitude to those many people in Canada, the USA, Japan and France who took so much trouble to help us with our inquiries; and the committee is grateful indeed to its special advisers.

In opening this debate I said that the United Kingdom was pre-eminent in maritime affairs for nearly 200 years. Sadly, this is no longer the case and the recent rapid decline of shipbuilding and marine manufacture and of the fisheries industries has tended to screen this country's traditional dependence for over thousands of years on the sea and the seabed. Nonetheless, we are an island nation, and despite this decline the sea and the seabed are still of crucial importance to us. Many of our citizens live on the coast and around the estuaries, which are also areas of great recreational importance. The majority of our overseas trade is transported on the sea. The sea is an important depository for our waste products and it is a very important source of raw materials. Our naval capability is one of the United Kingdom's prime responsibilities under NATO; and now of course we have the offshore industries in the North Sea on a massive scale.

As pressure increases on the use of the existing threshold resources, there is no question in my mind but that the sea will become more and more important as a source of energy, food, raw materials and space. We alone of the Common Market have this abundance of opportunity and yet, despite our heritage in the marine environment, we seem to devote far more effort to the new technologies of space than we do to the bounty that lies all around us in the sea. Our knowledge of the shore, the sea and the seabed is incomplete. In some areas it is almost nonexistent. To me it is unbelievable that our marine environment is probably less understood and less well researched than the new frontiers of space. Within our existing territorial waters even mapping is incomplete. The role of the sea in dispersing and absorbing pollutants is only partially understood. Our understanding of the effects of climate are incomplete and speculative. We are neglecting our resources. There is a great deal of work to be done and the potential is very considerable indeed.

The Select Committee has inquired into a whole range of questions relating to this complex subject and I make no excuse, considering the importance to the nation of the potential opportunities offered by the sea and the seabed, that your Lordships' committee has submitted 64 conclusions and recommendations. The House will no doubt be pleased to hear that I do not intend to explain them all this afternoon. However, I should like to present some of the more important issues for consideration and I have no doubt that the speakers who follow me in this debate will raise many of the other questions which arose during our inquiry.

These days it is almost axiomatic when discussing science and technology for the question of funding to be a primary issue, and I feel it is sad—indeed tragic—that I know I am talking to the deaf when I advance the arguments of the committee on this issue in the field of marine science and technology. Nonetheless, I believe that the subject is too important and too crucial to the nation to accept the Treasury's pre-emptive "No", even though I stand in your Lordships' House feeling like Oliver Twist.

Marine research is of critical importance to this country, but it is also expensive and other than in North Sea oil it is not an area where there are sufficient short-term gains for industry to provide alternative funding. Throughout the world it is recognised and accepted that funding of marine research and technology is a matter for government and it would be a clear abdication of responsibility for this Government not to recognise this fact. The reduction in the real value of Science Vote funding for marine research has now reached serious proportions and I have the greatest sympathy for the Natural Environment Research Council in its attempt to continue a meaningful research programme under a regime of such vicious budget cuts. It is really irresponsible of government to expect research councils to hire and fire devoted scientific staff in the way of the worst Victorian employers that this House did so much to reform. I ask that the Government carefully consider the first 13 paragraphs of chapter 5 of the report and only after careful consideration tell this House that they intend to reform their ways.

I said earlier that over many years the United Kingdom was foremost in marine research and that sadly this is no longer so. Yet, though it is important to recognise the limits of our resources, there is a balance to be struck. The budget of one of the many scientific marine institutions in the USA is 52 million dollars—and that is for one institution alone. That is approximately equivalent to two-thirds of total government spending on civil marine science and technology in the United Kingdom. In Japan, which is an island nation with some similarities to the United Kingdom in this field, investment of £1.25 billion is being made into institutional fishery developments for aquaculture over the next six years. While such comparisons need to be looked at in detail, the committee considers that there is no doubt that other countries are investing more in intensive marine research than is the United Kingdom.

The equipment and resources available in British marine laboratories are quickly becoming obsolete in comparison with their well-found foreign equivalents. In particular, the scale of engineering and computer support for researchers is significantly behind that available in France or Canada, let alone in the United States and Japan. In spite of the commissioning of the new and impressive research vessel, the "Charles Darwin", there is a chronic shortage of ship time available for scientists both in universities and government research institutes. Not enough money is available even to keep the research vessels that we have at sea. One consequence of this lack of money is that the morale of researchers is suffering. The feeling in the United States was that a new exodus of United Kingdom scientists to United States laboratories was beginning.

The second question of immediate concern is the extraordinary fragmentation and lack of co-ordination of the United Kingdom effort on marine science and technology. In government, nine separate departments have some responsibilities for marine research. Two main marine research councils are involved, and there is a host of organisations and bodies involved at a local level. While the committee wishes to encourage a diversity of research approaches, these must be based on the support of excellence and must, in all conscience, stop short of anarchy.

The committee's conclusion, firmly based on the evidence submitted, was that in marine science and technology the piecemeal organisational framework detracted from the pursuit of excellence and led to inefficiencies in the conduct of research and in the dissemination of research results. This has reflected the general failure of the marine section to project a dynamic image and to publicise the economic and recreational potential of the oceans, a failing that appeared especially anomalous to the committee in comparison with the aerospace industries. Much of the committee's report is therefore concerned with identifying means of bringing together the various factors in marine research and encouraging the creation of a forward-looking approach to capitalise on the United Kingdom's position as an island nation with a long tradition of maritime activity.

Your committee was struck by the example of foreign countries where recognition of the importance of the seas has led to a more cohesive organisation to oversee marine research. In Japan, the national budget for marine R & D is set by the Ministry of Science and Technology which is directly under the control of the Prime Minister. The ministry has an overview of the marine science and technology programmes of government departments with whom it discusses their programmes of research, and it controls some activities directly in its own institutes. France has a similar system through the Ministry of Research and Technology under which there is a co-ordinating committee for marine science and technology. In the United States, which, like the United Kingdom, has no Minister for Science, there is a federal co-ordinating committee for science and technology that has a marine advisory committee. In addition, in France, there is a Ministry for the Sea, and in the United States, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which provide a vital focus for at least some users of the seas.

The commitee believes that it is equally desirable to establish a co-ordinating mechanism in the United Kingdom. A piecemeal approach may be sustainable when funds are abundant. Anarchy is expensive. When funds are short, projects requiring support from a range of agencies are less likely to be successful. The committee agrees with Sir Hermann Bondi that the diffusion of effort in the United Kingdom leads to a danger that among the parochial concerns of each body the sponsorship of marine science and technology will suffer because it is generally not of paramount importance to any individual department. The ability to take an overview is needed to enable the collective impact of the separate policies of each department on the total effort in marine science to be recognised. Improved co-ordination will also avoid duplication of current research programmes. It will mean improved communication of, and accessibility to, scientific information, and provide a more economic use of resources, especially those requiring heavy capital investment.

The committee concluded that a central body was needed to promote and direct United Kingdom research. The committee spent some time debating what form such a body would take. In the end, it seemed most logical and suitable for it to be placed within the research council system, though strongly connected to customers for research in government departments and in industry. Because of its misgivings with regard to the management style of the NERC, the committee's own preference was that SERC should establish a new marine board to take on its own and NERC's marine research and to provide integrated management of research in universities and polytechnics.

In addition to the necessity to co-ordinate, there is need for a long-term strategy. There is no way, with a subject as fundamental as our marine environment, that we can chop and change on a short-term basis in an area of activity with time-cycles as long as 10 and sometimes 20 years. One of the first tasks of such a marine board, as we propose, is to establish a long-term strategy.

It must be apparent that marine environment is not simply parochial to the United Kingdom or even to Europe. In parallel with space and the earth sciences, it is above all a global science. An essential part therefore of our science and technology activity must be undertaken on a regional and more and more on a totally international basis. This has been recognised in the past. Your committee was pleased to hear from many international witnesses how highly they regard the United Kingdom effort and contribution to international progress. But they also expressed their utter dismay at the chopping and changing, stop and start attitude of the United Kingdom Government to the long-term international programmes.

For the United Kingdom to take part in an international programme of considerable technological meaning to the United Kingdom, to establish an enthusiastic staff contribution and then to withdraw support so that our United Kingdom representatives are rejected from the committee's structure and the programme, but afterwards to come back and say, "I am terribly sorry; it was all a mistake; we would really like to rejoin", is ludicrous. These sorts of antics on the deep-hole drilling programme, I would suggest, should never be allowed to happen again.

International programmes are cost-effective but they should only be supported on the basis of a long-term strategy. To play cat and mouse with our international collaborators on the basis of internal United Kingdom departmental politics is unforgivable. The committee considers that marine science and technology has an important contribution to make to the future economic wellbeing of this country. We have the most excellent scientists devoted to this field of study. They are presently demoralised and unsure of their future. We are warned in the United States that the brain drain from this area is rapidly developing. It must not be allowed to happen. The Government must think again. It is important that they respond positively to the recommendations that your committee has made.

Moved, That this House takes note of the Report of the Science and Technology Committee on Marine Science and Technology (2nd Report, 1985–86, H.L. 47).—(Lord Gregson).

3.18 p.m.

Lord Nugent of Guildford

My Lords, it is a pleasure for me to follow the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, and to congratulate him on his fluent and cogent speech commending his report to your Lordships. We arc all proud of our great maritime tradition in this country. It is sad news to read this report and to see how far we are slipping. Undoubtedly, the noble Lord, together with his assiduous noble colleagues, has called the attention of this House to the seriousness of the situation, to how much is at stake and to possible lines on which we might proceed in the future. I should like to congratulate him most warmly on an excellent report and to thank him for putting it before us.

The major point which the noble Lord revealed was the inadequacy of Government funding, which is low now and is set on a decreasing scale—it is already far short of an adequate level and much less than that of the other maritime nations which he mentioned, such as the United States, Japan and even France—and that we are missing opportunities and shall miss more around the world both on our own shores and throughout the oceans of the world. Unless we can mount a greater research effort and provide bigger funds, we shall simply fall out of the big league.

My noble friend Lord Swinton, who will answer us and who speaks for the Government, must take on board this sombre message and consider it in the context of the national budgeting to see whether more can be spared for this very important part of our national life. I should say that I address these words to my noble friend with the deference due to a Minister of a Government which, by firmly controlling national spending within our national income, has reduced inflation in this country to approximately 3 per cent. for the first time for a quarter of a century. I am not asking my noble friend for a change in this policy, which has brought such tremendous benefits to our people. I am asking him to take on board the very cogent message which the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, has put over to us in his report as to what is at stake unless we can provide more.

The report's second major point, which the noble Lord elucidated for our benefit, was the need for better co-ordination of the research effort. Of course, he made his point extremely well. The report also sets it out in very great detail and the analysis is most persuasive. Quite obviously, the less there is available the more carefully one must co-ordinate the various activities to make sure that one gets the best possible result.

The noble Lord dealt with the complexity, if not apparently the confusion, at Government department level and then explained to us his thought on the marine board. At present we have the Natural Environment Research Council, which is the leading partner in this scene, taking the greater part in marine research; and the Scientific Engineering Research Council, which takes the lesser part. The report is entirely convincing in demonstratng that there is fragmentation in the present structure and lack of an adequate long-term strategy.

I am bound to say that I found the arguments in favour of a marine board very persuasive. The prospect of making better use of our limited resources in this way is clearly attractive. However, setting the marine board within the Scientific Engineering Research Council—the junior partner in the enterprise—would involve certain penalties which I felt were not fully dealt with in this report. A major virtue of the structure of the Natural Environment Research Council is that it covers the entire field of the environment, land as well as sea. This is a great strength because of the perspective that it can bring to bear in its considerations and the contributions that it can make.

This report of the noble Lord makes a recommendation which I think adds a certain additional weight to the point I am making. The recommendation is that Britain should without delay declare a full Exclusive Economic Zone around our 200-mile band of coastal waters and develop a policy for its comprehensive management and exploitation. That seems very good sense to me. But obviously in that context NERC is far the better qualified to handle such a development because full development of the coastal shelf of 200 miles as an Exclusive Economic Zone involves land-based as well as marine considerations. I think that this makes the point I had in mind when I read his recommendation that the location where this marine board is to be based should be given a great deal of consideration. I have no doubt that my noble friend Lord Swinton and his ministerial colleagues will give great weight to the detailed analysis and arguments about this innovation which the report puts before them. But I should have thought, and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, may agree with me on this, that, before reaching a final conclusion, they would wish to see the next report which this indefatigable Select Committee is about to produce on the structure of research councils.

The noble Lord knows far more about the subject than I do but it is a very complex structure and so many of these matters are a balance of judgment between the different arguments. I daresay that Ministers would like the benefit of that report before they finally reach their conclusion. I dare say too that they would also like to see how the new corporate plan of NERC is working out under the leadership of its new chairman and whether its management style is making the desired improvement.

In the meantime I should like to add one more personal point of interest. I should like especially to thank the Select Committee for the light which their report has thrown on the subject now under study by Sub-Committee G of the EC Select Committee. That is the EC's directive to reduce the pollution in the North Sea by reducing by 50 per cent. the dumping of sewage sludge in the North Sea. This sounds a dull subject. However, if noble Lords understood how much we depend on dumping large quantities of sewage sludge in the North Sea, they would realise that this is a pretty serious matter. We dump—not only in the North Sea but all round our coasts—on selected spots large quantities of sewage sludge. It is very carefully monitored. It has been for years. We are satisfied from the monitoring that is carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and to some extent by the DoE, that the result is not polluting. But this report calls attention to the need for the water authorities, which are primarily concerned—it is their sewage sludge—the DoE, which is next concerned, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (together they form the Marine Pollution Monitoring Management Group) to review existing monitoring activity with a view to developing an agreed definition of factors to be measured and, equally important, the archiving and the public presentation of data collected.

The evidence which our Sub-Committee G has heard from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Scottish Ministry of Biological Association indicates that monitoring of dumping sites has been methodically done for years with satisfactory results which conform with the Oslo and London conventions. But this good news does not seem to have reached the august ears of the European Commissioners in Brussels, because this directive is directly aimed at the British practice; nobody else does it. Our sub-committee have yet to receive any scientific evidence of the polluting effect of this controlled sludge dumping. However, we have already received evidence that the discharge of heavy metals in the estuaries of Continental rivers such as the River Rhine is on a very large scale and is making a major contribution to North Sea pollution.

It is early days to predict the shape of the sub-committee's report, but even at this stage I feel sure that we shall agree with Recommendations 9.33, 9.34 and 9.35 in the noble Lord's report about strengthening the monitoring system. Clearly, it is up to those of us in Britain who wish to continue this practice to publish the evidence showing that our sludge dumping at sea is carefully monitored, is acceptable and does not pollute. That is in our interests and clearly up to now we have not done that effectively. Therefore, we are very grateful to the noble Lord and his report for calling attention to this point, and I am sure we shall do so too.

I should like to conclude by once again thanking the noble Lord for a most valuable report to which I am sure the Government will give the closest attention. On behalf of us all I should like to congratulate him on his achievement.

3.31 p.m.

Lord Kennet

My Lords, I join with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, and his sub-committee on the excellent work contained in their report. I should also like to congrat ulate the noble Lord on the eloquence with which he presented it. Many of us have known for a long time that what he describes is indeed the situation, but surely the full range of evidence that he has laid before the House will now persuade even the most reluctant of the need for really urgent action to get things back on the rails.

I should like to take up a few crucial points which are all contained in Chapter 1 of the report. The report says that: knowledge of the seas remains extremely uneven". That is indeed so. In our coastal shipping lanes there are still patches which have not been surveyed since I do not know when; perhaps the early 19th century. At any rate, the dates of the latest survey of the sea bed round our coastal shipping lanes vary from last year, which is desirable, to 100 years ago, and in some places more. It also says: marine science… depends largely on governments for support". Marine science is international. Support for marine science is not international, except in very small measure through UNESCO, which we have just left. Public support for marine science is national and it comes from governments. How could this not be so? The very purpose of government is to do for its people, its entrepreneurs and its industries what they cannot—whether as individuals or in large and even economically powerful groups—conveniently and safely do for themselves. A sufficient infrastructure of maritime policy and administration is a requirement of a healthy industry, in any country, from the government of that country. Marine industries in this country are now not receiving it.

The report says that it is: difficult to identify particular customer departments for research"— that means government departments— … in the absence in the UK of any specific body with oversight of the whole marine environment". The report then says that this situation leads to: lack of focus, duplication or dissipation of effort and a failure to detect and exploit new opportunities". Indeed, that is exactly so, and some of us, both in the Labour Party and on these Benches, have been saying it for 10 to 12 years past. The present Government turned back the clock, and it is now time to turn it forward again.

The report further says that there is insufficient funding and that the: commissioning activities of departments, under the Rothschild system, … have declined". I think it is fair to use the famous remark: "They would, wouldn't they?" One of their first acts when the present Government came to office in 1979 was the abolition of the Lord Privy Seal's co-ordinating role in maritime policy formulation. Although it is not very well known, if is one of the most damaging and ill-considered acts ever taken by this Government. When Mr. Callaghan was Prime Minister he first created the post of Co-ordinator of Maritime Policy and appointed to it Lord Peart, then Leader of this House. That was in response to a debate in this House on the country's "need for sea-use management and planning". That need has steadily increased over the years, while the level of the Government's ability to meet it has steadily decreased, and at no moment more sharply and tragically than in 1979 when they first came into office.

The report states: The level of capability … is being run down almost across the board. This is in direct contrast to many of our international competitors". That is quite true. For a government well known for their attachment to and belief in the bracing effects of competition, it is amazing that they should be unwilling to play even a normal role in competing with other governments in this field. Competition is very virtuous among British firms, according to the Government. It is very virtuous between British firms and firms of other countries. But if it can be shown—and how splendidly it has been shown in this report—that firms of other countries with which our firms are expected to compete very largely rely on government funding and enterprise for research in these matters, why is it not equally virtuous for the British Government to compete with foreign governments? What is the difference between that sort of competition and competition of other sorts, and why does the Government's nerve fail them at the point when the Government, as an economic actor, are required to compete?

The report says that: the oceans must be managed on an international basis by those who use them"; of course. Britain must very soon sign the Law of the Sea Convention, which is now the basic text for all who use the oceans. Only the United States, Britain and one or two other countries stand aside from that achievement.

The report also says: The Committee have chosen to view marine science and technology as a whole … A multidisciplinary approach is essential". The committee is very right to say so. Is it possible to hope that this multidisciplinary approach is what the Government have in mind for the hived-off Marine Technology Directorate, about which the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, was kind enough to give a full and helpful Written Answer to me quite recently? Perhaps it is; or perhaps it is not. The absence of the word "science" from the directorate's title and its removal from the orbit of the Science and Engineering Research Council could augur yet more kinds of fragmentation at yet greater arm's length from the unavoidable centre of maritime policy formation which is, or ought to be, the Government themselves.

The House has now received this report. There is also the report of the sub-committee of Lord Rochdale on European shipping policy. Last summer, in answer to a Question from the noble Lord, Lord Hatch, the Leader of the House did not close the door on the noble Lord's proposal that there should be a Select Committee of this House on British shipping. He implied that that could well be possible when there was staff capacity available. I should like to ask the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, whether at the end of the debate he can give us some news about that possibility now.

It seems that sub-committees of Select Committees start their work and conclude it, and then another sub-committee starts, and that staff are not being devoted to this new and larger possibility which was—I shall not say dangled before the House—permitted to be mentioned in the House last June or July. I quite understand that the Select Committees of this House are probably not the most popular institutions in Parliament in the view of the Government, and I am very glad to welcome the fact that this is now the second sub-committee report in succession which the Government have not rubbished before it is published. So we are coming on, and maybe the time will come when we shall be able to go yet further.

That leads me to my final point. Let me take this opportunity of urging once again, as I have before, the setting up of a Select Committee of this House, not on shipping, not on marine research, not on marine pollution, not on the law of the sea, not on dumping, whether radioactive or sewage, not on hydro-carbon extraction, or sand and gravel extraction, or the navy, or shipbuilding, or ship chartering, or marine insurance, or marine education, or marine development aid, or port administration, or coastal zones, or fisheries; not on any of these things, but on British maritime policy as a whole. It is in the marine sector as a whole that our country, and our country alone, has suffered a catastrophic economic decline over the past 10 or 15 years.

3.42 p.m.

Lord Carver

My Lords, as a member of your Lordships' committee on this subject I should like to pay my tribute to our chairman, Lord Gregson. His experience and the penetrating vigour with which he led our inquiry made an invaluable contribution to it. He left no pebble on the beach unturned in his quest for something of interest to marine science and technology underneath, however prickly or slimy it might turn out to be. I should also like to follow him in saying how much we owe to our specialist advisers, the oceanographer Professor Charnock, and the marine biologist Professor Naylor.

Our study covered a wide field and I propose to concentrate my comments on two aspects only: first, the relation of the Ministry of Defence and defence interests to the field we studied; and, secondly, the wider issue which goes beyond the strict remit of the study, and which is very much to the point which the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, has just been making, of how we as a nation and our governmental machine address our interests in the whole maritime field. I would not pretend to be as great an expert on these subjects as my dark blue noble and gallant colleagues, neither of whom is here, I am sorry to say. All I can say, as a former admiral of the Army Sailing Association, is that I frequently came into contact with the elements, particularly when my dinghy capsised.

First of all I shall deal with the defence field. The paragraphs in the report which are relevant to this are paragraphs 28 to 34 of Chapter 2, paragraph 21 of Chapter 3, paragraphs 11 to 17 of Chapter 4, paragraphs 30 to 33 of Chapter 7, and recommendations 41 to 48 in Chapter 9. It is an indication of the fragmentation of responsibility for marine affairs among different government departments, to which the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, referred, that it is impossible to discover from the annual review of government expenditure how much of Government funds is devoted to marine science. Indeed, had it not been for your Lordships' committee, that document would not even exist, and we must thank our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, for that.

But your sub-committee, my Lords, delved into the murky waters and extracted the information that about £70 million a year is at present spent on civil research and that the Ministry of Defence spends about £100 million; three-quarters is spent by the Admiralty Research Establishment, the Hydrographer of the Navy and the Met. Office accounting for most of the rest. Of the £77 million spent by ARE on research, £50 million is spent in house, £23 million in industry and only £3 million in the universities. Only 7 per cent. of the total is devoted to long-term research. Almost all the rest is directly related to the development of ships, their weapon systems and, to a certain extent, their communications.

This situation has been criticised on many grounds. It was criticised by members of the committee, by those who gave evidence to us, and often by others. There are those who suggest that if some of the money devoted to defence research and development were diverted to the civil field, not only would the nation gain generally but so also would defence. The simple answer to that, which I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Mulley, an ex-Secretary of State for Defence, would give if he were here, is—as he often said in the committee—that the money is voted by Parliament for defence purposes and must be spent to provide equipment for the armed forces, and that if it were not so voted, there is little chance that it would be added to the R & D votes of other departments.

A second criticism is that there is not enough spin-off into the civil field from the research and development financed by the Ministry of Defence, and that this is due to the obsessive concern of the defence establishment with security. That this is a much more complex matter than appears at first sight was made clear by the very significant report made by Sir Ieuan Maddock in February 1983 to the Electronics Development Council of Neddy, entitled Civil Exploitation of Defence Technology. I commend it to those of your Lordships who are interested in the subject. His report refuted both those who claimed that it was only the obtuseness and lack of imagination of the defence establishment which stood in the way of a fruitful spin-off, and also those who claimed that there was already a significant spin-off: that money spent on defence is indirectly of considerable benefit to the civil economy. Sir Ieuan made clear that both the ministry and the major industrial defence contractors saw the spin-off primarily in terms of defence sales overseas or as a contribution to the civil aviation industry, which in many ways is rather like defence.

However, I am glad to say that the Ministry of Defence took note of his report and of the seminar which they themselves organised on this subject in 1982; and I am also glad to say that they have taken some steps to try to improve matters. One of them is the establishment of Development Technology Enterprises Limited, which was announced in last year's Defence White Paper. However, I must say that I doubt if that will make more than a very marginal impact in the field of marine science and technology.

The ministry's policy of running down their research and development establishments in favour of farming out R & D to industry, which is the opposite of what Sir Ieuan recommended, will not help. The giant defence contractors will get it all and they will plough it back into defence. What is needed, as his report suggested, is an extension of contacts between the Ministry of Defence research and development establishments and firms which are not primarily working in the defence field. That would very much apply to marine science.

The final main criticism is that the Ministry of Defence devotes little effort or finance to fostering fundamental research. The United States Navy's Office of Naval Research is quoted as an example. It funds projects in universities and independent research institutes on a wide scale, with a liberal attitude towards security and a strong emphasis on fundamental scientific research. The marine sciences—oceanography, biology, meteorology and all the disciplines connected with the sea—benefit greatly from that. So why, the critics say, should the Ministry of Defence not do likewise?

The answers usually given are the expected ones: the one that I suggest the noble Lord, Lord Mulley, would give—that Parliament does not grant money to the Ministry of Defence to spend for that purpose—and that the United States defence budget is so huge that they can afford that sort of extravagance. There are also historical factors involved.

Nevertheless, of all the criticisms made of the apparent imbalance between civil and defence R & D spending in the marine field, I believe this one to be the most valid. We need to remember that the present Institute of Oceanographic Science, which is doing excellent work within the limits of its finance, started life as part of the Admiralty research establishment. It was set up in the last war when the navy, who were under the impression that Britannia ruled the waves, discovered that in fact they knew nothing about them; and that was especially so when they neared the land. That was important when they had to try to put people like myself ashore, as they did at Salerno and on the beaches of Normandy.

Although I do not for a moment suggest that we should reverse the process by which the Admiralty was absorbed into the Ministry of Defence, nevertheless one of the disadvantages of it has been that there is no department of state which feels itself responsible for everything to do with the sea. I shall shortly revert to that as my second point, but before I do so I would urge the Ministry of Defence to take a broader view of how it spends its money on research and to increase its extra-mural funding of basic research in universities which might conceivably have some future relevance to defence.

Its present policy would not have encouraged research into steam propulsion for ships, into submarines, into heavier-than-air flying machines, into radar, into jet engines for aircraft, or indeed into atomic fission. The relationship which the old Air Ministry established with the Met. Office, and which is still continued by the Ministry of Defence with the Met. Office, and the latter's enlightened and successful exploitation of science and technology, seem to me to be an example which might well be followed by the naval side of the Ministry of Defence in respect of marine science and technology.

I have already led into my second subject: how the Government deal, or do not deal, with the whole field of maritime affairs. That goes well beyond the remit of your Lordships' committee, but many of the unsatisfactory aspects that our report uncovers stemmed from it. If anything is to result from two of the most important recommendations of the report, something will have to be done about it.

I refer to recommendations 9, 13 and 14. The first is that a long-term view needs to be taken of national research priorities, for which we suggest that one step is the setting up of the marine board; and the second is that a major consideration of research strategy should be the investigation, exploration and exploitation of the exclusive economic zone.

I was much impressed by a phrase used by one of the witnesses who gave evidence to us. It was that the seas around us were just as much a part of the national estate as the land, and their management should receive the same degree of attention. The trouble is that there is no Cabinet Minister who feels it is his responsibility for dealing with the broad field of maritime matters; nobody who, when the annual review of research and development is considered, should draw attention to the needs of marine science and technology. As I have already mentioned, its he did exist he would be hard put to it to find out what is going on.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Scottish Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Ministry of Defence, the Departments of Energy, Environment, Transport, and Trade and Industry are all involved. Of them, the records of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and its Scottish sister are much the best. I shall not tell your Lordships who is the worst, but I could.

The Rothschild principle, which is supposed to see that they provide sufficient funds for science in support of their responsibilities, is certainly not working so far as marine science is concerned. I can imagine what happens when all those Ministers assemble to consider the annual review of research and development. As they pick up their papers to hurry to the Cabinet meeting, they glance at a brief from their private secretary which says something like this: "Minister, there is no need for you to read the report. I have flagged the pages which refer to our department's expenditure. If you are criticised for spending too much, a suggested answer is at flag X; if for too little, at flag Y."

It would have been outside our terms of reference to address ourselves to what the solution to that should be. Some countries have a Ministry of Marine, some a Ministry of Science and Technology. As the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, mentioned, France has both, as well as a Ministry of Defence. In previous centuries, the Admiralty exercised the function to a certain degree, but I would not recommend that the Secretary of State for Defence should be further burdened with that responsibility now. He has inherited quite enough on his plate already.

But it seems to me to be a serious matter, highlighted by this report, that this country, which is so dependent on the sea in many different ways and has such a great maritime experience, has no department of government or individual in Cabinet who feels responsible for watching over our varied maritime interests to which science and, technology can contribute so much; and, what is more, for doing something about it. In this field, if we do not swim fast enough or strongly enough, we shall sink.

3.54 p.m.

Baroness White

My Lords, I intervene in this debate in support of the recommendations made by the committee which was so ably and energetically chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Gregson. After his quite brilliant speech, if I may say so, I am particularly proud to have had the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, as a colleague. I have served on a number of committees and commissions in scientific fields, but, I can say today, on none which seemed to me at once more important and more baffling than the one with which we are now concerned.

Underlying all our detailed work and investigation at home and in the United States, Canada, France and Japan there was one major theme, one great unanswered question, which has been touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, in opening this debate. The question is: if Britain, in its impoverished state, has to make a choice for the next two or possibly three decades of major scientific effort on the international stage, ought we to concentrate on space research and its application in its various guises, or should we take much more seriously than we are now doing the potential of the oceans? From that follows the further question: how can we make an intelligent choice when our current organisation for dealing with marine science and technology is so hopelessly fragmented and lacking in firm leadership? Those considerations were in our minds throughout our investigation.

In our studies, as I think your Lordships know, we became so much frustrated by the gaps in our national scientific organisation that we have now embarked on a wider study under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield. But today we must resist the temptation to stray into that wider field and concentrate our minds on the more specific area of marine science and technology with which the report we are debating was concerned.

The introductory chapter of the report sets the scene very simply. As we say, the marine environment is both less understood and more hostile than space. Yet it has a potential which our rapidly developing technology could unlock. It is also an essential element in the necessary research into climatic and other changes, which can have the most serious effects in the future on the wellbeing of not only our national but our global existence.

Although as an island Britain has a strong domestic interest and historical and expertise in marine affairs, today the stage is, and must be, international. To have any major effect we must collaborate and co-ordinate with appropriate partners. I was able to take part in our visits to Canada, the United States and France. I did not go to Japan. It was both gratifying and galling in Halifax and at Woods Hole in Massachusetts to find that the directors of two of the major research establishments on the other side of the Atlantic hailed from the United Kingdom, one from Plymouth and the other from Aberdeen. I should say that the Canadians had some problems not entirely dissimilar from our own, but at Woods Hole and later at Brest one had a sense of well-found, well-supported, confident institutions, one basically privately financed and the other mainly publicly funded.

I wish we could say the same of our own. As we point out on page 53 of the report, the budget for the government marine research agency at Brest, Ifremer, is equivalent to that of all marine public sector civil research in the United Kingdom. Yet Ifremer, although it covers important biological and other work, is primarily the technological arm of French public marine research, with a number of other institutions responsible for basic science and for specialised investigations. The noble Lord, Lord Gregson, has given other examples of the way in which we are simply not keeping up with our immediate neighbours, let alone with the United States or Japan.

We have of course some first-class work in Britain, but as we say again on page 13: The level of capability in marine science and technology in the UK is being run down almost across the board". Morale is low, and the gestures made since our committee started its questioning are certainly not sufficient to inspire any significant return of confidence. I shall come back to that in a moment.

There are two other international aspects on which I wish to touch. I hestitate to mention one of them because it has been so admirably, thoroughly and authoritatively dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Carver. But I must tell the House that nothing was more striking in our talks in Washington with the major scientific and governmental establishments than the relatively open attitude of the American defence research officials compared with our own. Their philosphy is, it appeared to me, to classify only if you must. Ours seems to be keep everything under wraps unless forced to disclose it. I appreciate what the noble Lord, Lord Carver, has said about Sir Ieuan Maddock's report, but he also explained to the House what has been the result, or lack of it, of the recommendations made by Sir Ieuan. But it seemed to a person like myself in our discussions in Washington and from our witnesses here in the Palace of Westminster that at least in the United States industry is encouraged to benefit from relevant defence research whereas we on the contrary seem to be organised to minimise the spin-off.

The other international factor which is of supreme importance in this field is how are we to maintain the standing of the United Kingdom as an actual or potential partner at a European or on a wider basis. Here our behaviour over the ocean drilling programme, touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, is supremely relevant. Although we have now ultimately rejoined the club, our vacillation and delay brought us into complete and ludicrous disrepute among our international partners. It has already been mentioned that our scientists were actually banned from attending the planning committees and, as deepsea work has to be planned a couple of years ahead, it means that we have now lost out on the earlier stages of work on the new programme, even though we are now members of the organisation itself.

Fortunately our status has to some extent been rescued by the success of Gloria—the sonar heroine of the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences at Wormley. This is largely due not only to the admirable work done at IOS itself, but its further advances have been very much encouraged by the important partnership which the institute has established with Marconi. The ship, which has been for some time on lease to the United States Geological Survey, is back in home waters, and the newly-built Gloria mark III will take its place any time now on the other side of the Atlantic. There is a further vessel due to be commissioned here early next year. These developments ought to open the way for the Natural Environment Research Council research vessel "Charles Darwin" and Gloria to collaborate in the proposed ocean drilling work in the Indian Ocean and possibly the Western Pacific in 1987 and 1988.

This is very gratifying, but the French and Germans are already working in the areas in the Pacific where we should be. There are so many islands in that part of the world that almost every space is someone's Exclusive Economic Zone. There is hardly any international water left. There is not only our own domestic Exclusive Economic Zone which we ought to work in with much more enthusiasm than we have done hitherto, but there is this experimental work in other areas of the world on the EEZs which plainly offers opportunities for rewarding scientific and commercial endeavour. It does not help for us to be seen to be lagging behind.

To return to the United Kingdom itself: recent developments there may be but they are hardly spectacular. I shall not go into the details of the rather sombre game of musical chairs being played at NERC in Scotland and elsewhere. Some of the problems have been touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent. They are indeed difficult, but the current solutions so far available seem to be, it would be fair to say, parochial and internal to NERC rather than being elements in solving the major problem with which we are concerned in our report.

On 20th March we had a reply from the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, to the Question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, on the handing over by SERC of its Marine Technology Directorate to the care of the Fellowship of Engineering. I found his Answer slightly obscure, but subsequent inquiries have shown that this particular rearrangement may be advantageous. I am told that the new body will be a company limited by guarantee and therefore not a profit distributing commercial venture. Other government departments and firms will take part and I am also assured that university interests will be safeguarded. As far as it goes this re-organisation no doubt has some promise if one regards it in isolation. But again it does not solve the central problem.

The other recent move has come from Mr. Geoffrey Pattie, the Minister of State at the Department of Trade and Industry. On 24th January he issued a press notice rather ambitiously titled Resources from the Sea. It was followed by an inter-departmental seminar on 14th March. At least it sounded encouraging, until one realised that the resources were peanuts (or whatever the marine equivalent should be: I suppose winkles). The sum involved is £3 million over three years with industry expected to make up 75 per cent. or, in certain circumstances, 50 per cent. of the balance according to various rules. Frankly, that is not much "cop", to put it vulgarly. That will not put us back into the place which we ought to occupy in the marine endeavours of the globe. Nowhere have we seen any sign of the major shift to co-ordinated policy for which we asked in our report. It is not too late. We can only hope, though I very much doubt whether our aspirations will be met by the speech we are looking forward to from the noble Earl, Lord Swinton.

As to the resources which we ought to be putting into this field of endeavour, all I can say is that when one thinks of what we ought to be doing for the poorest sector of our society and what we ought to be investing for our scientific future, I for one (and I am sure many people feel the same as I do) think of that penny off the income tax, and I should like metaphorically to throw it back in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's face.

4.9 p.m.

The Earl of Cranbrook

My Lords, ignoring income tax and sticking to the subject in question, I should like to add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, as chairman of the sub-committee and the two members of that committee, the noble and gallant Lord and the noble Baroness who have spoken just before me, on what I consider to be an extremely important, timely and comprehensive report. Taken with the two volumes of evidence which are of equal importance, I think that this set of volumes provides a unique and valuable review of marine science and technology at this present time.

I am a member of the Natural Environment Research Council, but I do not think that it is appropriate for me to take any particular steps to elaborate on the present rearrangements that are being undertaken by that council, except to say that there has now been appointed a Director of Marine Sciences, and one of his responsibilities will be to co-ordinate the activities of NERC in this field.

In a personal capacity I should like to highlight the importance of marine science from two aspects: first, the science that is needed to back national policy decisions; and, secondly, just a few examples among the many of science which has significant potential for profitable commercial development.

In the first, I strongly support the views of the Select Committee on the urgent need to focus research attention on the resources of the national Exclusive Economic Zone. The EEZ opens a new frontier for national enterprise. It increases at least twofold the territorial area over which the international community recognises our national rights and over which we thereby also exert national responsibilities for proper care of the environment.

The technology already exists to conduct a comprehensive resource survey and, as the report shows, this has yet to be done. We urgently need to understand more fully the physical and biological processes—and I repeat "urgently"—in order to plan the wise use and the management of the United Kingdom EEZ. By "management" in these terms I mean the science-based programme for rational exploitation on a sustainable basis; that is to say, taking the benefits without causing incidental damage to the unharvested resources, especially to the living resources. I agree with the Select Committee very strongly that our Government should give increased priority to investigations of all aspects of the EEZ. This is a clear example of research of a strategic nature that is appropriate to be commissioned under the contractor-customer principle (which is sometimes called "the Rothschild principle").

Secondly, and closer to the horizon, there are urgent, immediate priorities for research needed to back up the United Kingdom's position on the international scene. Towards the end of 1987 we shall be hosts to the revolving North Sea conference, the international conference on the protection of the North Sea, and already within the relevant departments planning for our national position must be in hand. The papers that emanated from the previous conference held in Bremen in October 1984—and Annex A, in particular—called for particular actions to protect the marine environment of the North Sea. On several of these the United Kingdom is at issue with other coastal states over practices which have major economic implications for us.

The attitude of those states which border the southern North Sea, especially The Netherlands, the Federal Republic of Germany and Denmark, is naturally coloured by their appreciation of the vulnerability of the shallow inshore waters of the Wadden Sea and of the German Bight. Another coastal nation, Sweden, is all too familiar with the critical pollution that has overtaken the Baltic Sea. With regard to pollution of the marine environment, the United Kingdom persistently asserts that "environmental quality objectives is a basic principle of United Kingdom policy towards the aquatic environment". This quotation can be found, for instance, in Annex 5 of the Seventh Annual Report of the Paris Commission on the Convention for the Prevention of Marine Pollution from Land-based Sources; but it is a familiar quotation to those of us who are concerned with the control and prevention of aquatic pollution.

Unfortunately, the application of the system of environmental quality objectives is widely misunderstood—and, I think, sometimes deliberately misunderstood—among our Continental neighbours and is often described in the most disparaging terms. United Kingdom practices differ from those of our Continental neighbours, first, in the marine disposal of sewage sludge, a point which has already been stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Nugent of Guildford. The amount of sewage that is disposed at sea by United Kingdom waste-disposal authorities is a large fraction of the total.

We are aware, as the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, stressed, that sites are monitored. This has shown that there is some local degradation of the sea bottom but, if we are to avoid international anathema, we must intensify our scientific effort not to demonstrate merely that there is no serious degradation of the sea bed beyond a limited zone but also to quieten the serious concerns of our maritime neighbours around the North Sea that we are repeatedly, persistently and deliberately adding to the load of potential poisons. Secondly, I believe that in any overall waste-disposal strategy—which has been a topic that has attracted your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology, again under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Gregson—there must remain an option for the marine incineration of hazardous wastes, especially for chlorinate compounds.

I had an interesting conversation towards the end of last year with a large German chemical company that has been operating a marine incineration ship off the shore in the southern North Sea. It admits that there are clouds of gaseous acid hydrogen chloride which extend up to a mile and a half around the ship. But it is also fully aware that the buffering capacity of the sea is absolutely superb and that this acid gas does not extend significantly to the land. It has identified attributable acid inputs arriving at the Dutch frontier as 12 grammes per annum. This is an utterly trivial figure in relation to the enormous quantities of naturally-occurring hydrogen chloride acid gas which arise by the equilibrium of salt in the sea and moisture and which naturally occur in the atmosphere.

Nonetheless, this company is abandoning the practice under political pressure. The alternatives of land-based disposal facilities are more expensive and in many ways more difficult to operate.

The third point which must still remain an important element in our strategy, at least to be discussed, is the marine disposal of low-level radioactive wastes. Professor Holliday's report is referred to—and Professor Holliday himself came before the committee—in Volume II in pages 227 and following. There has also recently been issued a study by a Department of Environment professional group on best practical environmental options for the disposal of such wastes. It is clear from discussion, as I say, that marine disposal must remain an option, provided that it can be guaranteed safe and sound.

In all these areas the thinking between the United Kingdom and our maritime partners around the shores of the North Sea, and indeed of the Commission of the European Communities, as has been mentioned, is heavily influenced by what is nowadays called the "Precautionary Principle". This principle, as I understand it, was first clearly enunciated by the Committee of Environmental Experts of the Federal Republic of Germany in its report on the North Sea. This principle is strongly opposed to the release of any potentially harmful substance to the marine environment.

I would support the traditional definition of "pollution"; that is, one which potentially causes actual harm to the environment. But I consider it absolutely imperative that the United Kingdom should deploy to the full, irrefutable scientific evidence that the sea is capable of absorbing, buffering and neutralising the substances that we wish to introduce to it. I believe that Her Majesty's Government need to increase commissioned research in this field. I believe that more than mere monitoring is necessary and that predictive analysis will be necessary in order to restore the confidence of our partners in the Community and our fellow maritime states round the North Sea.

I said I would also mention areas of research where I believe there are distinct commercial opportunities. One of those is, as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, mentioned in a jocular fashion, wave research. As an example, for each metre of wave height that an oil rig has to withstand, the consequent costs on design are £3 million; that is, £3 million per metre. So there is a very clear economic value in reliable predictions of wave height in varying conditions in the marine environment. Secondly, sparing the blushes of my noble friend Lady Hooper, GLORIA has resulted, as the noble Baroness, Lady White, has said, in an important contract worth £15 million over three years in the survey of the Exclusive Economic Zone of the United States. GLORIA provides a facility that is undoubtedly a valuable tool which could be more widely marketed.

Among the many staff of the Natural Environment Research Council who amaze me with their expositions of their research in the marine environment, I was lately particularly intrigued by that undertaken by Professor Sargeant, who heads the research unit at the University of Stirling, and who has been doing work into the fat-rich marine micro-organisms. These organisms consist, in their bodies, of an enormous proportion of polyunsaturated oils, which are of course thought to be particularly beneficial in the human diet. There is great potential for the commercial culture of such marine organisms. I have given just three examples where we are on the threshold of important scientific developments that clearly have great commercial potential.

The theme that was stressed in the report, and which has been echoed in the debate this afternoon, is the over-riding problem of co-ordinating the national research effort in marine science and technology. I strongly support the remarks of the Select Committee in paragraphs 5.14 to 5.19; but if the solution is a marine board I echo the anxieties of the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, in so far as I am concerned that such a board should not jeopardise the vital unity of environ-mental research which is at present co-ordinated under the Natural Environment Research Council. The structure of NERC reflects the essential integrity of the natural environment itself.

I will give two examples. For instance, in estuarine studies it is quite impossible to separate the land, freshwater and marine components of the system. On the subject of acid deposition or acid rain, which is extremely topical at the minute, although man-made inputs may tip the critical balance, there are already huge natural inputs of acid sulphate, acid chloride, nitrate and other chemicals from the sea into the air. Unless the mechanisms by which they are transferred from one medium to another are clearly understood and their reactions in these two media are fully researched, any effort to control the man-made inputs may in fact be an expensive waste of time.

In the course of their inquiry, the committee members were no doubt impressed by the effectiveness of the marine technology directorate which was in SERC from 1977 but which has now been transferred to the fellowship of engineering. There were also comments by SERC witnesses that the component elements within or under the control of a board of that nature need not lose their autonomy. Obviously marine technology is not an aspect of NERC administrative control but many of the NERC research institutes are highly skilled in technological aspects of their science. Marine science is not exclusive to NERC, but NERC and its institutes must play a very strong part in any co-ordinating body and must not be impeded in interpreting the essential links with other media of the environment.

What are we to make of the national governmental role in co-ordination? The committee did not believe that a Ministry would be appropriate but there are so many areas, as has been brought out this afternoon, where co-ordination is essential and a response is required at the level of national policy. I personally cannot see that any government will be satisfied to leave the solution to a board and to purely institutional processes. Whether or not departmental responsibilities are rearranged, I believe that one senior person should be given a duty to produce a co-ordinated national policy on maritime issues (including in this case especially science and technology) and should have the power to superintend the allocation of resources within a defined national strategy. I am very strongly inclined to believe that that person ought to be a Minister.

4.26 p.m.

Lord Sherfield

My Lords, the inquiry, the outcome of which we are debating today, was one cat some complexity owing to the wide-ranging, multidisciplinary nature of the subject and the piecemeal and fragmented way in which it is dealt with in this country. As a participant, I too admired the thorough and tenacious way in which our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, approached the task with the assistance of the specialist advisers and the clerk. The report was described by a foreign authority to whom I showed it as "very lucid and succinct and, I am sure, sound".

I shall try to add something to what previous speakers have said about the international aspects of the subject, with reference to the opportunities for international collaboration and for British overseas business, with some allusion to the example and experience of other countries, particularly the United States, France and Japan. In the international field, the United Kingdom starts with the advantage that the quality of British work has hitherto been very highly regarded overseas. It is indeed significant, and perhaps symptomatic, that, as the noble Baroness, Lady White, mentioned, the principal marine laboratories in Canada and in the United States are each led by a British scientist.

The committee recognised that, owing to the high cost of research, especially in deep and distant ocean programmes, the United Kingdom cannot proceed independently and that greater emphasis should be placed on international collaboration. It received evidence to the effect that the United Kingdom had been slow to participate in joint international research projects and concluded that this criticism was justified. However, the United Kingdom is already committed to two important projects, the Tropical Oceans and Global Atmosphere Programme and the World Ocean Circulation Experiment, in the second of which the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences has a leading role. The United Kingdom has finally joined the ocean drilling programme, though—and I make no apology for alluding to this subject again—the manner in which this was handled was a prime example of how not to go about things. It caused astonishment and indeed mystification among our former partners, (which happily are still our partners) in the extended project.

Important work is done in the International Oceanographic Commission under the auspices of UNESCO—the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, referred to this—and the committee welcomes the Government's commitment to continue to support this programme. Prospective programmes include one proposal by the National Science Foundation of the United States, the global ocean flux study, for which international support is being sought. The committee recommends United Kingdom participation in this and other related projects.

The activities of the European Commission in the marine field offer further opportunity for collaboration by the United Kingdom. It is an opportunity of which so far we have taken too little advantage, in contrast to other EC countries, particularly France. The EC effort, rather like our own, has so far been somewhat fragmented, but there are moves to remedy this and we should be ready to take advantage of them. The decision by the Natural Environment Research Council to have a representative in Brussels is a laudable first step.

There are also bilateral prospects. The members of the committee who visited France were impressed by French readiness to collaborate with us, and our report observes that France is a natural partner for us in marine research. The committee recommends the forging of further links with the French programme and closer contact at a higher level.

In Japan, the members of the committee who went there were impressed both by the scale of the Japanese effort and by the total lack of any bilateral Anglo-Japanese collaboration. Although the committee was officially informed in evidence that Anglo-Japanese science and technology arrangments were more effectively arrived at through individual agreements between interested parties, it believes that very little progress will be made in the absence of an inter-governmental science and technology agreement between the two countries. I was struck by the orchestrated hints to this effect which were dropped on all sides during our visit to Tokyo, and we recommend that negotiations for such an agreement should be resumed forthwith. I hope that the Minister will be able to take a positive attitude to these various prospects for international collaboration when he comes to reply.

I turn now to the prospects for overseas business. The committee identified several directions in which these could be promoted. One of its main recommendations, as has been highlighted by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, is that priority should be given to the management and exploitation of the United Kingdom's Exclusive Economic Zone.

In evidence, the departmental witnesses were somewhat reticent on the subject of the EEZ. Not so other witnesses, many of whom were critical of the Government's failure to develop an EEZ policy, particularly as other countries are turning to the exploitation of their own zones. This, our evidence suggested, was an export market which the United Kingdom should be making efforts to tap. It may be that the Government's negative stance is due to their probably well-founded opposition to certain aspects of the Law of the Sea Convention.

But this has not deterred other governments who are opponents of these provisions, notably the United States, from declaring their economic zone and taking vigorous steps to exploit it with the aid, as has been mentioned, and as it happens, of a side-scanning device developed in the United Kingdom. The committee in general accepted the views of the non-departmental witnesses on this subject. I, too, should welcome an indication from the Minister as to whether the Government have formulated a policy for the exploitation of our EEZ.

One consequence of the development of the techniques and technologies needed for EEZ development could be that business should follow in the form of assistance in the exploration of the EEZs of many countries which have not the experience and the resources to operate on their own. The commercial openings overseas for mapping and survey work have already been recognised by, for example, the Institute of Oceanographic Sciences, the British Geological Survey and the Hydrographer of the Navy. The committee recommends that the potential of this work should be demonstrated by undertaking a full resource evaluation survey of the United Kingdom's Exclusive Economic Zone. It also recommends that the success of the underwater scanning device, GLORIA, should be further developed and exploited.

Secondly, in the field of underwater engineering the committee saw opportunities for British industry, as the need arises, to work at deeper levels and in more hostile environments. The committee did not recommend that the United Kingdom should go in for manned submersibles, but felt that it should rather concentrate on underwater communications and on remotely controlled and automated systems for both continental shelf and deep ocean work. In all this offshore work the ability or the willingness of British industry to expand its effort is a crucial factor.

I shall not attempt to summarise the rather full and careful examination of the possibilities in paragraphs 7.23 to 7.29 of the report, but merely state the opinion of the committee that the departments have hitherto taken too reactive an attitude to their relations with the industry. The committee has therefore welcomed the reconstitution of the Offshore Energy Technology Board, with the objective of:

moving from a primarily responsive organisation to one that will take the initiative in formulating a strategy in offshore technology". A further step announced by the Department of Trade and Industry while our report was in the press is also to be welcomed; namely, that a co-ordinated national programme of assistance and encouragement would be instituted, following discussion with the relevant sectors of industry, for the development and supply of equipment and services for exploring and exploiting the ocean. The noble Baroness, Lady White, referred to this proposal in rather pessimistic terms. I feel sure that the Minister will want to take the opportunity of informing the House of the progress of both these initiatives.

I sometimes have the feeling that the Government regard the reports of your Lordships' Select Committees as amounting in the end to little more than requests for more funding in all directions. On this I should like to make two or three observations. First, the overwhelming evidence is that more resources are needed and that the Government have recognised this by topping up the science budget at the eleventh hour in each of the last two years. But the system of throwing the lifebelt when an organisation is coming up for the third time is bad for planning, bad for morale and bad for the nerves, and leads to such damaging affairs as the long agony over British participation in the ocean drilling programme. Moreover, rather nice timing is required in this exercise, as the lifebelt sometimes arrives too late.

Secondly, your Lordships' committee has always recognised that the United Kingdom cannot do everything and that new resources have to be selectively applied, both on the research and development side and in the encouragement and stimulation of the relevant sectors of industry. Nor have our proposals ever, I think, involved the commitment of large sums of money. Thirdly, such forward moves as the Government make—and I have just referred to two recent ones in the marine field—give the impression, perhaps unfairly so, of the piecemeal, fragmented approach to which I referred earlier, underlining the need for better co-ordination of policy. This was the theme of almost every single one of the witnesses at our inquiry.

Lastly, there is little doubt that the planned reductions in the research and development effort, not only in the marine field but across the board, forecast for the next two or three years, come at a time when all our industrial competitors are increasing their support for and enlargement of their research and development effort. These reductions, as I have said before and now repeat, seem to me to run completely counter to the main and wholly admirable policy of the Government, which is to revive and increase the industrial competitiveness and performance of the United Kingdom.

4.41 p.m.

Baroness Vickers

My Lords, having heard all these very eloquent speeches of people who were on the committee, I too should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, for so kindly pointing out the various best points, shall we say, and bringing other points to my notice, and also for the fact that he has taken so much trouble to come himself and give us a detailed explanation. I should like also to say that I am naturally rather nervous as I am the only one so far to speak who has had no real contact with this type of work. However, I should like to think about the general theme of the committee's report—the need to improve co-ordination of research in the marine sciences.

One important aspect of this is to concentrate research effort in a few centres of excellence where, by pooling expertise and resources, more effective development of the science is possible. Increased effectiveness can be measured both in financial terms and as scientific excellence. Marine science is an interdisciplinary subject. It depends on the joint, collaborative efforts of specialists in many areas of science—physics, chemistry and biology. A regional centre of excellence makes interdisciplinary developments more likely.

Marine science also depends on close collaboration between research and technology. For example, research at sea increasingly demands high technology instrumentation to measure and to sample remotely to great depths. A viable centre of excellence will pool technologists with research scientists. In this, I am perhaps being parochial, but Plymouth can provide a rich mixture of both, with the polytechnic being strong in marine technology and the research institutes being strong in fundamental science.

The report indicates that research and teaching at the highest level should proceed together. The integrated activities of the Plymouth research institutes and the polytechnic can provide for both these functions, teaching and research. A centre of excellence based on close collaboration between equal partners should ensure economies of scale which, in turn, would render the research effort less vulnerable to short-term fluctuations in funding. This should appeal to most noble Lords. The report is correct, therefore, in recommending centres of excellence which would receive preferential treatment for development of the research.

Allied to this, but not brought out so strongly in the report, is the likelihood that with a regional strength in research and in technology, small high-technology industries with a maritime emphasis can be encouraged. This is particularly important to help with unemployment. There are already some small industries down in the West Country, one of which came originally from Chelsea, that are doing extremely well. Of course, in that part of the world the apprentices in the dockyards have been extremely well trained and are very helpful.

In discussing a national research strategy, the report emphasises the importance of research in the Exclusive Economic Zone. Strictly speaking (and this has been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Kennet), the United Kingdom does not have an EEZ, since we have not signed the Law of the Sea. However, the report is correct in recommending a national programme of research on the equivalent to an EEZ for the United Kingdom: for example, waters within 200 miles of the coast. In effect, the EEZ will more than double the present area of the United Kingdom land mass; yet we know very little of the fundamental processes occurring in this region: for example, the currents and the tides, the fate of wastes, which have been mentioned already, which are discharged to the coastal seas, the biological processes which support the fisheries, and so on.

As more countries recognise their own EEZ there will be a considerable export potential in expert knowledge and in the technology required to support research in this area. In fact, I understand that United Kingdom marine scientists are second to none in research relevant to this problem, and Plymouth in particular has built up a considerable reputation worldwide for its contribution to this research.

Increasingly, it becomes necessary to use the coastal seas for discharging chemical wastes from man's industrial activities. This has already been mentioned by some noble Lords. We need to know the capacity of these seas to receive and to purify these wastes by a combination of chemical and biological processes. We also need to measure the risk that wastes discharged to sea will return to challenge human health: for example, by becoming concentrated in fish which are then eaten. There are considerable natural resources available within the EEZ: for example, North Sea oil. As the report recommends, resource evaluations are essential, but these should take into account biological resources, fish and shellfish, as well as mineral resources, and there is an urgent need for research into the effects of industrial exploitation on the biological resources and on the environment.

Concern for environmental conservation continues to increase in the public mind. Our coastal seas and estuaries are particularly vulnerable and we should enhance the research into environmental processes that must be maintained if a natural marine environment is to be preserved. The United Kingdom is uniquely placed to make advances in appropriate research and technological development. The Plymouth research institutes are more than playing their part.

There is also the question of research vessels. The report correctly urges on page 90 that the research fleet is maintained, as near institutes as possible"; in other words, institutes that are fairly near to the sea. Plymouth is an obvious candidate here, with the facilities of Devonport dockyard available and with a skilled local workforce with, unfortunately, surplus capacity imminent. It would be sensible for arrangements to be made to relocate the NERC research vessel base to Plymouth.

Perhaps I may conclude with another blurb on behalf of Plymouth. Plymouth's long naval and maritime tradition is well known. It is their intention to introduce to the three institutions in the city a range of activities which are concerned with the sciences of the sea and to express the merits of the city of Plymouth as an international centre of excellence. The emphasis is on the Plymouth Polytechnic, the Marine Biological Association and the Institute for Marine Environmental Research. We draw attention also to the presence of Fort Bovis and the Royal Naval Engineering College as evidence of the overall commitment within Plymouth to advancing the sciences of the sea.

The Plymouth laboratory of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom was opened as far back as 1888. The association employs 94 scientific and support staff and hosts about 170 visiting workers each year. The MBA engages in a wide variety of research in the marine sciences and is managed by a council of distinguished scientists. The laboratory is supported mainly by a grant-in-aid from the Natural Environment Research Council. That is why I support what was said by my noble friend Lord Cranbrook in that respect.

Plymouth Polytechnic was designated in 1970 and now enrols approximately 4,800 full-time and sandwich students, with a further 3,500 students on part-time and short courses. The 30 degree and higher national diploma programmes and the 10 postgraduate courses are primarily in science, maritime studies, technology and business. There is a completely separate business course that I believe is very helpful in this case. The academic staff of 420 is supported by approximately 120 research staff and 350 technical and administrative staff. Of those, approximately 150 are directly involved in marine science and technology.

Furthermore, the polytechnic underwater training centre at Fort Bovis and in Plymouth Sound works closely with Plymouth Ocean Projects Limited, which is a commercial organisation that runs one of the three professional driving schools in the United Kingdom. The Institute for Marine Environmental Research was established by the Natural Environment Research Council in 1970 and is charged with carrying out fundamental research in estuaries and in coastal waters, to establish relationships between the physics, chemistry and biology of those systems and to increase knowledge of the effects of man's activities on marine ecosystems.

The institute currently employs 92 full-time staff and provides facilities for upwards of 30 students and visiting scientists. I mention that because it is in my opinion a very good centre. If we are to be short of funding, then I make the point that those institutes are all in the same area. One can walk from one to the other without having to travel, as one does, from Wormley down to Southampton. It is a real centre of excellence and one that might be considered by the Select Committee in the future.

4.53 p.m.

Lord Greenway

My Lords, like other noble Lords, I also welcome this report and should like to extend my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, and to his committee on a very timely, thorough, but also—as the noble Lord said—very complex matter. It ranges from oceanography, as your Lordships have heard, to exclusive economic zones; and from coastal erosion to aquaculture and sewage disposal.

I hasten to assure the noble Baroness who has just sat down that she is not the only lay person in this exalted company. I, too, am not versed in the sciences that we are discussing today. However, I was privileged to go to the British Marine Technology undertaking at Feltham recently—a visit arranged by the Parliamentary Maritime Group. I found it a little disappointing that, although I know we are busy people in Parliament, I was the only representative from either House of Parliament on that visit. I find that a little disappointing when we are discussing the serious problems that we are debating this afternoon.

I shall give your Lordships a little background about British Marine Technology. It is a commercial undertaking which was formed almost exactly one year ago by the marriage of two equal bodies: the Civil Service-run National Maritime Institute and the British Ship Research Association run by the shipbuilding industry.

As one might imagine, the merger was not an easy one, but it is now unified and the different sectors of interest have been re-educated as separate profit centres. There has been some rationalisation of the technical resources. For example, the St. Albans ship testing tank has been closed down. The other incidence of such tanks in the country includes one at Cowes, which is part of the British Hovercraft Corporation. That facility is dying on its feet at the moment, leaving only the Admiralty Research Establishment tanks at Haslar to rival those obtaining at Feltham, at British Marine Technology.

The tanks are fairly massive objects. There is a tank that would quite happily contain your Lordships' House, in which can be recreated almost any known and unknown wave conditions existing throughout the world. Mention has been made by the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, of research into wave heights. That research is being done at Feltham.

Those tanks are extremely expensive to provide. Are they a dying asset? That is one of the main worries at British Marine Technology. At present, there is no way that they can think of replacing the tanks by income from commercial sources alone. Thus they will need Government support in due course, if it comes to a question of replacing those enormous facilities.

The Government could probably argue that much of the work of ship testing can now be done by computers. Indeed, British Marine Technology has been closely involved in the computerisation of such facilities, to the extent that much of the knowledge available has now been tabulated and is available in the form of software to those interested throughout the world. It is not only the design of ships that we are talking about here, because BMT also look into the design of oil structures. I have already mentioned wave heights, coastal erosion, and such associated matters.

All noble Lords who have spoken this afternoon have mentioned the lack of funding with regard to marine science and technology. From BMT's point of view, in the old days, when we had a healthy shipbuilding and shipping industry, much of the funding for research came from those industries. The rest came from the Government. Today, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, the marine industries are sadly in decline, and so that side of the funding is fading away. However, I must say that to a certain extent that is counterbalanced by the fact that although we build fewer ships today, modern ships are much more complex animals, due to stricter safety measures and such like. Therefore, each problem needs more technology.

The market is declining, but then BMT have been forced to look elsewhere to sell their expertise. They have had some success in that—notably in the sale of software to the US Navy. Also, there are recent encouraging signs that those modern bastions of shipbuilding—Japan and Korea—are also seeking help here.

The proportion that was government funding has traditionally been used for basic research. At present, the DTI are helping BMT, albeit on a decreasing scale, over a five-year period. That help is not over-generous but it could, I believe, be described as fair. What will happen after five years? BMT urgently needs an underlying 20 to 25 per cent. of its turnover for basic research—not long-term, fundamental work, which is better handled by the universities, but what might be described as pre-emptive research with commercial applications. That is certainly a question that the Government will have to consider, albeit that they have been asked to consider finance on a much wider scale and this is only one small aspect of the matter.

Before I leave finance it is perhaps worth mentioning that some of the projects that are undertaken at BMT—for example, designing new oil rig structures—are potentially tying up millions of pounds of capital and therefore the professional indemnity is very expensive. At the moment it is costing in the region of £150,000 a year. That figure is rising rapidly and it is possible that the Government could help in that respect in future years.

Another problem facing BMT and other bodies is subsidised competition. We have already heard quite a lot about this. Norway, Sweden, Germany, France, Holland, the United States and Canada have all been mentioned. Surprisingly, no one has mentioned the USSR, which has by far the largest research fleet in the world. It is bigger than the fleets of the rest of the world put together. In my opinion the information that these ships are gathering must stand the Soviet Union in good stead in the years to come. The shortage of ship time—I refer to our own ships—which was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, and the lack of money and facilities aboard our latest research ship are nothing short of a scandal.

I shall now say a few brief words about morale, which has also been mentioned, and the possibility of a brain drain. At present many of the staff in these research establishments are what I would describe as being of mature years. The others are youngsters coming in, well trained, from universities. At the moment the major lack is in what I would term the middle experienced staff. That is a problem that must soon be addressed.

The fourth problem—and one which again has been mentioned widely—is the lack of a national strategy. BMT and other such establishments have the capability and the excellence to match that available in other countries. It is experience that has been gained over many years when we had a flourishing marine industry. This information is stored and is available for use by others. As we have heard, the problem is that it is in bits and pieces all over the country. The French are much better than us in this respect. They have a much more co-ordinated policy, as again we have heard, and recent indications are that the Dutch are beginning to co-ordinate in a like way.

There is a definite need for national guidance, be it in the form of a marine board, as has been proposed, or otherwise. BMT feels that it cannot really get on with any research that is going to lead us anywhere in the long term unless it is given some guidance from above. Its desire to research is there, and it is willing to co-operate. It does so already with the universities, though, sadly, a proposed joint venture with Hydraulics Research Limited, which was privatised before BMT, came to nought. The reason was that Hydraulics Research Limited, having tasted commercial life, found it slightly to its liking and was not too keen to share in that with another organisation. This highlights one of the problems that may well exist if more of our research organisations are privatised. There will be more people competing for fewer jobs.

Before leaving this subject I should like to ask the Government what has happened to Mr. Heseltine's partnership with industry whereby the management of certain government establishments was to be put out to competitive tender involving private organisations? I refer in particular to the tanks at Haslar which I should have thought BMT would be admirably placed to manage were the conditions to arise again in the future. Are the Government still thinking of this matter or have they shelved it indefinitely? In my opinion that would produce a real centre of excellence.

I am sure that several of your Lordships watched a television programme last night on the history of our nuclear bomb wherein it was made abundantly clear that government decisions, or at times lack of them, cost us dear and we were forever spending large sums of money in order to catch up. To me that comes as a timely warning. Are we similarly to fritter away the maritime expertise that we still have in this country? Despite the decline which has been mentioned we are still very active in offshore oil and gas, short sea transport and coastal engineering, which includes environmental protection. It is not yet too late, but time is fast running out and government action is needed now.

Finally, I should like to join the noble Lord, Lord Kennet—who, I am sorry to see, is not in his place—in his plea to the Leader of the House to set up a special sub-committee of your Lordships' House to deal with not only shipping but the whole maritime-related sphere. We have heard mention this afternoon of centres of excellence. I think that in all modesty your Lordships' House could be regarded as a certain centre of excellence. By setting up such a committee the Government would at least be seen to be making a commitment that would give encouragement to all those engaged in maritime technology and research.

5.6 p.m.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, tribute has rightly been paid by all speakers in the debate to my noble friend Lord Gregson and his colleagues for a most remarkable report. Speaking as one who comes to this subject totally afresh—indeed, one who would not come too close anyway because I am the kind of sailor who gets seasick even in his own bath—I find the analysis of the report and the description of the issues which face government and our society exhaustive and the conclusions which the report reaches devastating. I am bound to say that I have never before seen a set of recommendations which are more comprehensive in the way that they cover the field, more closely linked to each other in argument and more challenging to those responsible for our science policy than the recommendations which are in the report before us today.

The first issue is that of funding. I am sure that the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, will have a honeyed reply to the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, who indicated a suspicion that the Government's response to all such reports may be that they are looking for more funding for all purposes. That is undoubtedly the case here.

It is undoubtedly true that the sheer level of funding for marine science and technology in this country, when measured against any of the international comparisons that have been made by the committee, is totally inadequate. When we consider, as my noble friend Lord Gregson said, that Japan spends £1.25 billion a year on research on the issue of coastal fisheries only; when we look at the fact that a single institute at Brest, in France, has a budget which is more than twice that of the total civil budget for marine science and technology in this country—and there are many more examples which have been referred to this afternoon—and when we make any of those international comparisons, the amount of money available in this country for these technologies (one must put it in those terms) is totally inadequate for the purpose.

We must therefore ask ourselves this question: if the total amount of money is inadequate, is this a cause or a result of the inadequacies of organisation which have been described this afternoon? My noble friend Lord Gregson said that anarchy is expensive. I think that that is a very apt summary of the situation in which we find ourselves. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, referred to the difficulty, if one looks at the annual review of research and development expenditure, of finding how much and where the expenditure on research and development in the marine area actually lies.

The sums are simply not done that way. The sums are done on a departmental basis and, to some extent, on a disciplinary basis, whereas, as has been made clear in the report and in the debate on the report, this is above all not only a multidisciplinary field of research but also a field of research which affects almost all aspects of government and almost all government departments. That is why my noble friend Lady White described the report as not only powerful but baffling, because in order to understand it completely—and I certainly do not claim that in my brief period of study I have done so—it is necessary to go into the fields of activity of a very wide range of government departments as well as into a number of scientific and technological disciplines.

I shall return in a minute to the recommendations of the committee on the organisation of funding of marine science and technology, but there are two points I wish to raise before I do so: first, on the issue of defence; and secondly, on the issue of international collaboration.

The first point to be made about defence expenditure is that to my mind the share of the total budget, as it can be analysed, which is the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence and its agencies is grossly excessive. It cannot be right that £122 million out of the total of £193 million spent on marine science and technology should be the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence. This would be true even if the policies in relation to collaboration with civil research projects were the same in this country as they are in the United States, and even if the degree of co-operation between civil and defence projects, and above all the degree of release of what are here called classified research results, were as great as in other countries. In fact, the reverse is the case. We find that the defence expenditure on marine science and technology concentrates particularly on weaponry—sonar weaponry, mine warfare, undersea communications (which is of course only one step removed from weaponry itself), and such areas as signal reduction.

As has been said, that is a possible interpretation of the remit of the Ministry of Defence. It is possible to say that budgets would not be allocated to the defence function unless defence expenditure were strictly restricted to the kind of research which I have been describing, principally weaponry research. Of course, that is not the interpretation which is taken by the Office of Naval Research in the United States, which the questioning of the witness from the Admiralty Research Establishment made very clear indeed. Yet if that is the case, and if it is the case that we would not get a defence budget of the kind that we now have unless there were such restrictions on defence research expenditure in this area, then surely the argument that the proportion of our total expenditure which is the responsibility of the defence function is too great is even stronger than it would otherwise be.

I am afraid that this is an argument which applies not only to marine science and technology but to far too many areas of our scientific and technological research, and it is a matter to which we shall certainly wish to return in the coming months.

The second topic to which I want to refer before coming back to the organisation side is the whole issue of international collaboration. The situation becomes clearer than perhaps it has been in the past when we make the distinction that is now possible and necessary between the Exclusive Economic Zones and the deepsea areas where international collaboration seems to be absolutely essential if anything at all effective is to be done.

The noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, asked the Government—and I repeat his question: if we are to move to a claim for EEZs, what is to be the Government's policy for the exploitation of those zones and what is to be the research back-up to such a policy? Unless a policy is laid down clearly right from the beginning, there will be no coherent research programme to follow. The Government will not be able to get away from these issues because, as the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, has said, the next North Sea Conference is to take place in London and the United Kingdom will be in the chair of that conference. Therefore, it is the United Kingdom which must presumably be playing a major role in the preparation of the programme and the papers for the conference. The Government have a direct responsibility for ensuring that we make a coherent response to the issues to be faced in the North Sea, not only in environmental matters but also in regard to the exploitation and depletion rates of the resources of the North Sea.

Again, the Government cannot avoid the issue of what will be the effect of our much regretted withdrawal from UNESCO. We have been told by the Government in answer to a Question in this House last December that our participation in the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission is assured for the future. That is good news and we welcome it because, as has been said, the IOC is the main forum for the international exchange of scientific data. But will it not be extremely difficult for us to maintain our membership and participation in some of these UNESCO activities without being active in UNESCO itself? The full effects of our withdrawal in terms of our participation in the staffing of UNESCO and the work of its committees have yet to be seen. We shall find ourselves out on a limb if we opt for a policy of individual participation without accepting the share of responsibilities and rights which accompany full membership of an international organisation such as UNESCO. My noble friends Lord Gregson and Lady White made very effective reference to this point when talking about our participation in the ocean drilling programme.

What are the lessons to be drawn from the report which is before your Lordships' House today? I believe that there are lessons to be drawn for marine science and technology from other areas of research. Indeed, the report specifically refers to the example of the British national space centre as a way in which it is possible to have a body which takes responsibility across a range of different scientific disciplines and a number of different government departments. I want to place on record my agreement with the conclusion of the committee that there should be a marine board which takes responsibility for all these matters and which is responsible for producing a research strategy for marine science and technology. The suggestion that it should take account of the work of the Royal Society and its British National Committee on Oceanic Research is, I think, a wise one which increases the possibility that there will be independent guidance for the marine board in the way in which it operates. But surely the fundamental principle that there should be a single source of funding in that way is one which your Lordships' House ought to welcome and urge on the Government.

I believe that equally important is the issue, which has been raised by a number of speakers this afternoon, of the application of the Rothschild principle to this area of research. It has been said with a degree of conviction that I find cannot be gainsaid that marine science and technology is an area where, inevitably, government funding will play a greater role and commercial funding a smaller role than in many other areas of science and technology. In other words, the role of basic or strategic research, according to which ever report one uses, is more important than the development side.

I find a good deal of sympathy for the proposal of the committee that there should be a customer surcharge on the departments that are supposed to have been funding commissioned research in this area but that have not been doing so. It is shattering to discover that despite the decrease—a decrease that is to be continued—in funding for marine science and technology from the research councils, the share of the diminishing total that comes from commissioned research is still decreasing. It has gone down from 35 per cent. to 25 per cent.

There are so many government departments that must have responsibilities relating to marine science and technology. Nearly all of them—environment, energy, trade, transport and fisheries—have been mentioned this afternoon. But we should include in the same breath, I suggest, defence, because defence has responsibilities as well as its own rights. It seems to me a sound suggestion that a notional customer surcharge should be made on those departments that fail to carry out adequate research in discharge of their responsibilities. This is rather analogous to the industrial training boards where there is a levy, in effect, on those who do not carry out adequate training. The suggestion that such a surcharge should be devoted to the science budget and controlled by the marine board also makes good sense.

It makes good sense for another reason. It is important that the research strategy that is adopted and that is the responsibility of the marine board should be independent of individual government departments with these responsibilities. All too often, such government departments tend to find themselves in accord with their own client organisations. There are the examples of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food with the fishing industry and the Department of the Environment—if I dare mention this, with the noble Lord, Lord Nugent, present—with its own associates in the water industry, so concerned for the continuation of sludge dumping on which, I hasten to add, I express no technical view whatever. It is important that they should be contributing to research but that they should not have control of the direction in which the research goes. That, to me, is the value of the suggestion of the customer surcharge with the funds under the control of the marine board.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who unfortunately is not here, and the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, referred to the ultimate political responsibility for such a marine board. At the moment, it is with the Department of Education and Science. We are delighted that the noble Earl, Lord Swinton, will be replying for the Government on this matter. Dare I suggest, however, that the Department of Education has not only enough on its plate, but far too much in terms of political responsibilities and its ability to deal with the political responsibilities of education policy? I am not suggesting that we have another Cabinet Minister or another government department. We do not want to get into the situation, despite the good example of Japan or France, where, as in the Soviet Union, there is a Ministry of Non-Ferrous Metals. I suspect, too, that there may be Ministries for those above and below a certain place in the atomic table of non-ferrous metals.

Too many Cabinet Ministers with specialist responsibilities of this kind are not a recommendation that we wish to make. However, to have a senior political person—there has been reference to my noble friend Lord Peart having that responsibility in the final months of the last Labour Government—with an overall responsibility for marine science and technology seems to us a rational method of dealing with the complexities, the difficulties and the inadequacies of the present organisation, funding and administration of marine science and technology.

5.25 p.m.

The Earl of Swinton

My Lords, I too should like to echo the unanimous thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, for initiating what has been a most useful debate on a subject of great importance to the United Kingdom. The Select Committee on Science and Technology is to be congratulated on the amount of work that it has undertaken during its study. The report and, indeed, this debate have demonstrated once again that noble Lords have a wealth of expertise and experience when it comes to matters of science and technology.

The introductory chapter of the report states that, marine research impinges on a large range of issues". This is perhaps the one place where the report is in danger of some understatement. Anyone listening to the debate cannot have failed to appreciate that message. Marine science and technology might sound like a well-defined and relatively narrow area of activity, but the reality is quite different. I find it difficult to think of another topic in the field of science and technology that covers such a wide range of activities, with such radically different objectives, and involves the interests of so many different parts of government.

The Government are at present actively working on producing their response to the report. But, with such a wide area covered and with over 60 conclusions and recommendations, involving a large number of different departments, I hope that noble Lords will understand that we have not yet been able to present a response such as this report deserves. It is, however, the Government's intention to respond to the report as soon as possible and certainly before the Summer Recess. Therefore, I hope that noble Lords will also understand if I do not anticipate our response to specific recommendations in the report but concentrate on the general issues that the report raises and those that have been raised this afternoon.

It was in response to an earlier report of the Select Committee—that on science and government in 1982—that the Government accepted the need for more effective review of the broad deployment of effort in science and technology and announced a system of annual reviews of research. The annual review of government-funded R & D is now a well-established part of the scientific scene. It is my belief that it enables debates such as this to take place in a much more informed climate than would otherwise be the case. One of the objectives of the annual review is to identify gaps and overlaps in research expenditure. Marine science and technology was early identified as a field with an unusually wide range of departmental and research council interests. Accordingly, it was chosen for the first study of a specific area. This was included as an annex to the 1984 annual review.

I make this point to show that some of the problems of the organisation of marine science and technology in the United Kingdom have already been brought to the Government's attention. Thus, many of the points in the Select Committee's report fall, if I may resort to a terrestrial metaphor, on fertile ground. The Select Committee was impressed by the quality of work that it saw. According to the report—this was pointed out more than once by the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, in his excellent speech—the United Kingdom has been at the forefront of marine research ever since the start of modern oceanography. Today, it has a valuable pool of talent and expertise in this field. The Government, and, I am sure, all noble Lords, applaud this and hope that it will continue.

The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, has raised the issue of exploitation. The Government agree with the Select Committee that there is considerable potential for further exploitation of marine resources. There have been a number of recent government initiatives in this area, some of them noted by the Select Committee. More recently, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady White, and by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, my honourable friend the Minister of State for Industry, Mr. Geoffrey Pattie, has announced the launching of the Department of Trade and Industry's Resources from the Sea initiative. Under this scheme, government funding would be available to support projects by companies that lead to commercial exploitation of marine resources as diverse as plankton and seaweed, cobalt crusts on the ocean floor, and wave and tidal energy. It is the Government's intention in particular to encourage those schemes which are undertaken on a collaborative basis between a number of parties and which also involve longer term and more speculative R & D.

The noble Baroness, Lady White, was a little less than forthcoming in her praise for this scheme and for the finance involved. The noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, invited me to enlarge upon this, and I gladly take that opportunity. At the present time the resources available for the programme amount to some £3 million over the next three years, as the noble Baroness quite rightly pointed out. However, it is up to the marine industries to put forward the proposals which will meet the DTI's criteria for support. If innovative, viable, commercially exploitable proposals which need support in order to go ahead are not forthcoming then the funds will be directed towards other sectors and other industries which can produce such proposals. Conversely, the DTI accepts responsibility to respond to well-conceived proposals and if the available funds are over-subscribed then I can assure the noble Baroness that the DTI will consider making more funds available.

Since my right honourable friend's announcement the DTI has been very active in seeking the support of industry for the programme, culminating in a seminar attended by over 100 representatives of industry a fortnight ago. The enthusiastic welcome of the industry was heartening. Of course, like the noble Baroness, they would like to see more money available, but we shall surely have to see what currently on offer is taken up before seeking more. The DTI is now analysing the results of the seminar in order to define the next stages.

As part of the same department's recent initiative on advanced robotics, a collaborative group has been formed to investigate the feasibility of developments in this area for sub-sea applications. I think that these new initiatives illustrate clearly the importance which we attach to marine R & D and to the exploitation of marine resources.

I should like also to take the opportunity of this debate to clarify the Government's position on Exclusive Economic Zones, a point which a number of noble Lords—in particular the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield—have referred to and a concept which was developed in the course of the Third United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. As the Select Committee report points out, the United Kingdom has not declared such a zone. Perhaps I may embroider on this and explain why. We see no point at present in creating one in order to secure resources. The United Kingdom already has a fishery zone extending to a maximum of 200 nautical miles and, since rights over our continental shelf (which extends well beyond 200 miles) are inherent and do not have to be proclaimed, there would be no advantage to the United Kingdom in declaring such a zone. However, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, in particular that the Government will continue to ensure that resources within United Kingdom limits are explored and exploited in accordance with both national and international law.

The main thrust of this report is that United Kingdom marine research suffers from fragmentation and a lack of funds. This latter point has obviously been seized on by a number of speakers in the debate this afternoon. As I mentioned earlier, the Government are already aware that this is a field in which a large number of Government bodies have interests and responsibilities. We accept that more needs to be done to co-ordinate the roles of these bodies and careful consideration is currently being given as to how this might best be done in the light of the Select Committee's recommendations. However, I have to tell noble Lords that, while it may be easy to point to deficiencies in the present system, it is less easy to be confident that radical changes to the organisation of marine R & D in this country will best solve the underlying problems. But we are urgently studying the Select Committee's constructive recommendations.

The Government accept that a long-term view should be taken of research priorities. Devising a national strategy for marine research may not be a straightforward matter in view of the wide span of objectives of this research and the diverse nature of its applications. But again we are examining the report's proposals for achieving such a strategy.

Turning now to the matter of funding, the Government, and those departments which have a responsibility for the allocation of the science budget and departments' research funds, are giving attention to the report's findings on the level of resources. There are encouraging signs that the private sector is increasing its involvement in this field. In addition to the government initiatives involving the private sector which I have already mentioned noble Lords will be aware of the substantial contribution which industry is making to the cost of the United Kingdom participation in the Ocean Drilling Programme, and of the increased industrial backing for the Marine Technology Directorate, responsibility for which is transferring from the Science and Engineering Research Council to the Fellowship of Engineering.

I think that at this point I shall briefly respond to the critical comments made by several noble Lords, and by the noble Baroness, Lady White, about the delay in reaching a decision to join the Ocean Drilling Programme. I think it is worth recalling that the United Kingdom contribution to the Ocean Drilling Programme is made up of subventions from both the public and private sectors, and that assembling the necessary money took time. I see nothing reprehensible in this, given the financial constraints bearing on both industry and public organisations. Surely the important thing is that a satisfactory outcome has been achieved.

The report lays stress on the need for a greater emphasis on international collaboration in deep ocean research. The Government accept the importance of international collaboration in this field and I feel that the Select Committee may not have appreciated the full extent of the involvement of United Kingdom marine scientists in such programmes. However, I am delighted to know that at least the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield, certainly has, whereas I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Kennet, who was not a member of the committee, has not. The United Kingdom already plays leading roles in both the Tropical Oceans/Global Atmosphere and World Ocean Circulation Experiment programmes; and, as the report acknowledges, the United Kingdom has now announced its participation in the Ocean Drilling Programme. I think that all three of these were mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sherfield. It is integral to the Government's thinking on the Resources from the Sea initiative that opportunities for international collaboration should be actively explored on a bilateral, European Community or EUREKA basis, and it is hoped as soon as possible to call an international EUREKA Marine Resources Forum in the United Kingdom.

There are many more instances where the United Kingdom is taking a leading role in international programmes of marine research—for example, in the fields of geology and geophysics. Perhaps one reason why this involvement is sometimes underestimated is that we place greater value on firm co-operation in specific projects rather than on general agreements. All too often it is the general agreements which receive the greater public attention.

The issue of what is now generally known as "strategic research" is an important one and we welcome the decision of the Select Committee to include in one of its current studies the working of the Rothschild principle and strategic research across the whole of civil R & D.

The report quite properly draws attention to the need for close collaboration between research establishments and higher education institutions. This was mentioned by my noble friend Lady Vickers. I doubt whether there is any argument at all over this. What is more problematic, however, is how best to achieve this within the constraints of history, geography and limited resources.

At this point I feel I must express my disappointment at the criticism in the report of the Natural Environment Research Council. I have to say that it seems that the Select Committee has chosen the easy target of the management style of NERC rather than addressing underlying difficulties. I also feel that the censuring of the reorganisation of NERC is premature. I agree with my noble friends Lord Nugent and Lord Cranbrook that NERC is uniquely well constituted to consider across-the-board environmental problems, many of which do not respect boundaries between environmental sectors.

The Government welcome the developments withn NERC leading to "communities of science" and is confident that the recent appointment of a Director of Marine Sciences will make a major contribution to closer collaboration between the NERC research establishments and the higher education institutions.

The report rightly stresses the importance of research vessels, other facilities and equipment for marine R & D. The position of remote sensing has moved forward considerably during the last year. The Government have established the British National Space Centre—a partnership between the Department of Trade and Industry, the Ministry of Defence, NERC and SERC. Co-operation in remote sensing, including that of the oceans, will be greatly enhanced by the formation of the centre.

My noble friend Lord Nugent has drawn attention to the proposal by the Commission of the European Communities aimed at regulating and reducing the disposal to sea of non-radioactive waste. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Cranbrook also mentioned this. We look forward to the forthcoming report on this proposal by the Select Committee on the European Communities. However, the Government's policy on this issue has already been stated quite clearly in a debate earlier this year in another place. The Government attach great importance to the protection not only of the seas but of the whole environment. Our approach to the disposal of waste at sea is based on careful scientific evaluation and on the principle of the best practicable environmental option. We are confident that sea disposal can be the best option for certain wastes and that, as practised by the United Kingdom, it has no unacceptable consequences for the marine environment.

I am conscious that this afternoon I have not been able to address all the diverse but important areas which the report covered. There is much more which could be said, for example, on environmental protection or the links between civil and military research. Of course, I listened with great interest to the speech of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Carver, on this subject, and I can assure him that we shall deal fully with those matters in our response to the report. However, I hope that I have covered most of the points which noble Lords have raised. The noble Lord, Lord Greenway, asked me whether we had abandoned Mr. Heseltine's partnership with industry. No, my Lords, we are still working on this idea. However, we have to proceed with great care because it would result in irreversible change to the status of parts of the Admiralty research establishments, of which Haslar is a part.

Once again, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Gregson, for initiating what has been a most helpful debate. My noble friend Lord Nugent asked me to take on board—which I thought was a singularly appropriate phrase for this debate—the financial implications of this report, and I can assure him that the Government will do so. The Select Committee's report has already given us many ideas to consider. We welcome the further constructive points which noble Lords have made this afternoon, and we shall be taking them all on board for consideration.

5.42 p.m.

Lord Gregson

My Lords, at the end of this debate, I should simply like to thank all noble Lords who have taken part and to comment that this type of debate shows this House at its most effective. It makes a major contribution to the government of the nation. I should also like to thank the noble Earl the Minister for his holding reply and I look forward to the full reply from the Government before the Summer Recess. However, although I travel hopefully towards the Summer Recess, I fear the arrival.

On Question, Motion agreed to.