HL Deb 03 February 2005 vol 669 cc450-76

5 p.m.

Lord Mitchell

rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the Science and Technology Committee on Science and Treaties (3rd Report, Session 2003–04, HL Paper 110).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, just over a year ago, I witnessed for myself one of the great sights of nature. I saw a magnificent waterfall cascading from a mountain on to the rocks below. The water formed a river, which disappeared under a glacier into a valley. It was a stunning sight, the sort of natural wonder that one can see in the springtime in the Alps or any other mountain range. But I was not in the Alps and it was not springtime. I was standing at 72 degrees south at the base of the Antarctic peninsula. Ten years earlier, there would have been no waterfall and no river, just the cold, icy stillness of the Antarctic summer. What I was witnessing at first hand was mankind's greatest peril—the early stages of the big melt, the global thaw that could well lead to the total elimination of the earth's icecaps and irreparable harm to our civilisation. It was a beautiful and, at the same time, a sombre moment. I must thank many people for helping to complete what I believe to be an outstanding report. First, I thank those noble Lords who were members of the committee itself. Secondly, I thank our special adviser, Professor Philippe Sands; his imprint can be seen throughout the report. I thank our original Clerk, Rebecca Neal, who set the tone and helped us to structure the report, and Michael Colton, who took her place and wrote most of the report itself. I also thank the staff of the Science and Technology Committee in Millbank House.

I must add one extra word of thanks, which is directed to the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh. With barely three 0-levels in science at GCE and absolutely zero qualifications as a lawyer, I was not exactly the ideal candidate to be appointed as chair of an investigation into science and treaties, yet he still asked me to do the job. At a time when he had one or two other slightly pressing issues on his plate, he was always there for me. I thank him from the bottom of my heart.

We all worked together, and we produced what I believe to be a well reasoned and powerful report. We were entitled to a reply from the Government that mirrored our efforts. Sadly, their reply was somewhat lacking.

The report, Science and Treaties, comes at a time when the international community faces huge challenges—poverty, war and terrorism, all of which pose immediate risks. But it is the environment, particularly global warming, that has a dagger pointed at our planet's jugular. I will return to that later.

International agreements exist to better the condition of mankind. Those with a scientific component affect our health, the air we breathe, the food we eat and the water we drink. They affect energy, transport and communications. They benefit us all. Our sub-committee looked at how science informs the negotiation, adoption and implementation of certain international agreements and how government ensure that it is suitably informed. Specifically, we looked at: how we identify, understand and disseminate the use of scientific knowledge on which an agreement is based; how that knowledge is applied in anticipation of negotiations in the process itself, and after its conclusion; how the agreement is monitored; what happens when there is a scientific consensus but a minority of states choose to remain outside the agreement; and what the approach should be when there is incomplete agreement between scientists.

Although I have been critical of the Government's response, I must be fair and address the areas where they have taken up our recommendations. The undertaking to amend the Chief Scientific Adviser's guidelines of 2000 to incorporate a number of the changes that we suggested is very welcome, as is the undertaking to encourage EU institutions to follow suit.

We recommended that DfID appoint its own chief scientific adviser. That department has now appointed Professor Gordon Conway as its adviser. We were delighted at that outcome, although we would like to see it as a full-time appointment. The undertaking to continue to support the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the environmental work of the British Antarctic Survey is also excellent news.

On our recommendation that the Government put pressure on Russia to ratify the Kyoto agreement. would your Lordships believe that within a few months the Russians had indeed done just that? Whoever would have thought that our report would be so widely read in the Kremlin? That said, there is also much in the Government's response that we feel is inadequate, specifically on the subject of FCO science attachés, interdepartmental co-ordination, the involvement of Parliament in the treaty-making process and Kyoto.

First, I turn to the subject of science attachés at our missions overseas. No one could seriously deny the importance of this country being adequately represented for scientific purposes in countries around the world. The committee's specific concern was whether the network was adequate in China and India. In China there are at present scientific attachés in three posts: Beijing, Shanghai and Chongqing. In April a fourth post, Guangzhou, will join them. In India there are precisely two such posts, in New Delhi and Bangalore.

My instinct is that we are lagging behind other major industrial nations in our dealings with both China and India. Those two countries contain one-third of mankind. Their economies are forging ahead: their science is world-class and dynamic. In particular, China is enjoying GDP growth of over 9 per cent per annum in her quest to become the world's second super power. China may be a low-cost producer today, but her objective is to become America's equal in every respect.

The committee's view was, and is, that four posts in China and two in India are simply not enough. That was not just our view. Sir David King agreed with us and urged us to pressure the Government to increase our scientific capability in both countries. I should also make it clear that we are not asking the Government to divert resources to China and India from other countries. We are saying that, despite the cuts in resources that the FCO has recently suffered, this is something for which fresh resources must be found. I ask my noble friend the Minister to reply to that.

Next I turn to interdepartmental co-ordination. In our report we recommend the designation of a lead department. The Government's response was, the FCO always ensures there is a clear lead and clear roles and responsibilities for the negotiating team". We stick to our point. There should always be a single department in charge and for this a mechanism is needed to designate it.

We also highlighted silo mentalities in departments. Sir David King was critical of that and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, admitted as much in relation to Defra. I ask my noble friend what specific organisational steps will be taken to remedy that.

The next issue concerns the role of Parliament in the treaty-making process. At present, Parliament is presented with a fait accompli. However important the obligations that a treaty imposes on this country, Parliament has no say in the negotiating process or in the final wording. The European constitutional treaty, which Parliament has been able to consider in draft, is an almost unique exception to that.

Our recommendation was that your Lordships' House set up a Select Committee to review all treaties. Clearly, that is a matter for the House itself to decide, but we cannot do that without the full co-operation of the Executive, which must give Parliament all the relevant information to allow it to be involved before and during treaty negotiations and so enable it to influence the content of the treaty.

I ask my noble friend again: will the Government cooperate in informing Parliament when a treaty is being contemplated and keeping Parliament informed during the negotiation process? After all, who knows, your Lordships' House may even have some words of wisdom to guide the Executive.

I now turn to what has to be the most important subject of the report and one on which I want to press my noble friend, that of Kyoto and global warming. Two months ago very few of us knew the meaning of the word "tsunami". Today everyone knows. We have watched in horror as a massive tidal wave has wreaked devastation, killing hundreds of thousands and making millions homeless.

We know that nature's power can be devastating. But nature is also a great healer. Go back to the devastated areas in a few years' time and the flowers and trees will be in full bloom, the hotels and the tourist industry will be back to normal. True, nothing can bring back the many who were killed and the misery that will continue for their friends and family, but such is the human spirit that life goes on.

However, there is another tsunami in process. This tsunami is not caused by nature but caused by us. This tsunami is not the result of an eruption but a gradual process and this tsunami does not travel at 500 mph, it moves imperceptibly. The melting ice-caps are causing the seas to rise. Even this week the British Antarctic Survey are predicting that the speed of the Antarctic melt is very much faster than it had previously predicted.

According to its estimates, if the most vulnerable ice-caps melt, then the oceans will rise by 15 metres—much higher than the Indian Ocean tsunami. If all of it melts then the oceans will rise by 65 metres—200 feet. Even the initial melt will devastate our planet. Lower-lying land will be flooded. Food production will be devastated, our climate will become severe. A 15-metre rise will cause great coastal cities to disappear including, in the United States, New York, Los Angeles and most poignantly, Houston in Texas. This tsunami will never recede—it is for ever.

With this cataclysm already on the radar screen, I find it incomprehensible how slow the world has been in responding. The issue is urgent yet we faff around feeling pleased when we achieve minuscule results. It is not just the United States which is at fault. The Australians have refused to ratify Kyoto; China and India have been given opt-outs.

I know my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has global warming right at the top of his agenda as we chair the G8 this year and the EU from July onwards. But in the committee's view only ratification of the protocol by the US will send the necessary signal to the rest of the world that that country takes the matter seriously. Once everyone is on board then we can all go further. I am sure the Minister will say that the US Senate is dead against Kyoto and I know the Bush administration will not accept the logic of it. However, we simply cannot give up. I ask my noble friend why this Government, who are in a unique position to do so, do not use all their capital to persuade the US Administration to ratify this protocol.

I should like to end by making a few upbeat points. Our nation's reputation in the world of international treaties is second to none. We are regarded as prime participants in the treaty-making process. We are seen to play by the rules. We believe that this gives our country a unique and very strong hand in playing a constructive role on the international stage.

For me the trip to Antarctica was a momentous occasion. That continent, so remote, quiet and pristine really does deserve the description of that much over-hyped word, awesome. The staff of the British Antarctic Survey who were our hosts looked after us beyond the call of duty. I can imagine that the prospect of some ageing Parliamentarians visiting their base might not have filled them with joy but that was never evident. Their hospitality was superb.

The quality of their work is outstanding and I can say without reservation that our nation should be proud of them. To their director, Professor Chris Rapley, and to the base commander, Steve Marshall, and to all the scientists and support staff, I say on behalf of the committee a very special thank you.

When I was a boy, fog, smog and filth were the usual residue of the British winter. Today, thanks to the Clean Air Act, all that is a thing of the past. Thirty years ago air pollution and acid rain were threatening our forests, lakes and wildlife. We and other states took action to limit emissions of sulphur compounds, including those found in petrol and discharged from power plants. Today that blight has been much removed.

Twenty-five years ago, scientists at the British Antarctic Survey first alerted the world to the depletion in the ozone layer. In a short time, the Montreal Protocol was adopted and today its depletion has been arrested.

Global warming is now the number one threat to planet earth. If we want to, we can sit comfortably in our overheated homes and drive our gas-guzzling 4x4s and shrug our global shoulders in a mood of indifferent resignation. But there is an alternative. We have it within us to turn around this pending catastrophe. All we need is the universal will and the political leadership. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the Science and Technology Committee on Science and Treaties (3rd Report, Session 2003–04, HL Paper 110).—(Lord Mitchell.)

5.15 p.m.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior

My Lords, it most certainly has been a great pleasure for me to serve on the Science and Technology Committee on Science and Treaties. It was skilfully chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, and assisted as usual by the highly competent and versatile secretariat. My only regret about service on the sub-committee is that I was not able to go with the team to Antarctica and see the glories of that part of the world which were so ably described by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell.

The report is opened by a quotation from the late President John F Kennedy: Our problems are man made—therefore they can be solved by man". That sets the stage for the report and what I hope will follow because so many of our man-made problems are global in nature and we must look on them as such. Hence, it is logical that international agreements must play an important role in solving these problems.

The United Kingdom, because of its strength and leadership in science and scientific research, is highly regarded throughout the world as a participant—indeed a leader—in international agreements. It must continue to be so. There are a number of excellent examples of just how international action has dealt with serious threats.

Mention has been made of acid rain and the threat to forests, lakes and wildlife and the limitation of sulphur emissions. That has been a success story. There has also been the recognition by the British Antarctic Survey of the depletion of the ozone layer and the development of the Montreal Protocol, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, and the arrest of that depletion. Those are two important areas of which we should be very proud.

However, a particular disappointment must be the failure to convince the United States of the need to do something about the Kyoto Protocol. I make no excuse for raising the issue again—the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, dealt with it at length, and I apologise if I repeat some of what he said—but it is so important that it must be repeated whenever possible.

There is a need to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. It requires ratification by at least 55 parties, including those developed nations responsible for at least 55 per cent of the total carbon dioxide emissions by the developed nations as measured in 1990. At the time of our report, the Russian Federation and the United States had not ratified the protocol. The Russian Federation has now done so, leaving the United States somewhat isolated in that respect, though it is not the only nation, as has been mentioned. The USA is the biggest emitter per person of carbon dioxide: 21 tonnes per person per year and growing. The United States' arguments against ratification are based on the economic costs to industry, but they also cast doubt on the scientific basis for the Kyoto Protocol.

An article published last week in Nature, the science journal, by Dr Stainforth of Oxford University reported new findings that the greenhouse effect could be far more severe than experts had predicted. That conclusion was based on more than 2,000 simulations, compared with the few dozen simulations that had been conducted hitherto. The article concludes that it will be necessary to keep cutting greenhouse gases for many years to come. The conclusion states: The danger zone is not something in the future—we are in it now". The task of convincing the US to take action is not going to be easy, but there are increasing signs that opinion in the US is changing at both the individual level and the state level, although not, unfortunately, at the federal level. Two days ago there was an interesting comment in the Herald Tribune on the subject. It said: Without global participation in emission curbs, the shared atmosphere will essentially remain a dump with no gate or tipping fees for customers rejecting the protocol". So the United States feels that it is free to dump into the atmosphere all that it wishes.

Our report acknowledges the important role played by the network of scientific attachés in diplomatic posts overseas—the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, also mentioned them—who promote British science and science policy. I hope that it is accepted that British science is of a very high order and that it can and does contribute much at the international level. It is also true that growing strength in nations such as China and India has led to their scientific capabilities leapfrogging those of other countries in the past decade.

I know both from personal experience and from evidence given to the inquiry that the adequacy of scientific attaché posts is a matter of concern. Some 10 years ago when I led an Overseas Trade and Expert Mission (OSTEMS) to China, there were two science attachés in Beijing. They were run off their feet attempting to deal with the promotion of British science in a country that contains one-fifth of the world's population. China's scientific capability has advanced enormously, but has the need for a substantial increase in scientific attaché staff been attended to?

There is some confusion between our report and the evidence we received and the Government's response to it with respect to the number of attaché posts assigned to China. I was in Beijing in March 2004, and my understanding from the embassy there was that the two posts that had existed 10 years ago had been increased to four, some of which are deployed in China's provincial cities, which is a good idea. However, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office maintains that the number is much larger and that, with a further two posts to support the "Year of Science" in China, there will be a group of 14.

The response does not make it clear who are the senior scientific attachés and who the support staff. I hope that the Minister can provide a breakdown of that. However, whatever the breakdown, it is essential that our science attachés are adequately resourced for the work they need to do. The need for adequate science attachés and support was clearly made by the sub-committee and also by the Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King. Related to the need for an adequacy of science attachés is that of a chief science adviser to the Department for International Development. I am disappointed, as I think the committee is disappointed, that although DfID has approved and acted on the recommendation to appoint a chief scientific adviser, the job is only on a part-time basis. That signals an overall lack of concern about the need for a scientific adviser. 1 hope that Ministers will reconsider that. We have suggested that this important Ministry requires a full-time adviser.

Queries can be raised about whether a part-time person can provide adequate support. There are so many part-time positions although we know full well that more support could be provided if the positions were full time. If we are to play a lead role in international agreements, a full-time scientific adviser, adequately resourced, will be necessary.

5.26 p.m.

Lord Oxburgh

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, first, for agreeing to take on the chairmanship of this committee. His quite excessive modesty prevented his accepting straight away, but I am delighted that in the end he succumbed. He did an excellent job and it was a pleasure to serve on the committee chaired by him. I also congratulate him on his splendid speech.

I was another of those who enjoyed the hospitality of the British Antarctic Survey in the Antarctic. I had the benefit not only of a quite extraordinary, eye-opening experience, but also saw at first-hand first-class scientific work being carried out by dedicated enthusiasts under extremely hazardous and difficult conditions, and doing so enormously safely. It is a great credit to that organisation.

Early on in our investigation—I think almost the first briefing— we had a report on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC. As noble Lords will be aware, it was the work of this panel that ultimately led to the Kyoto agreement in 1997. I will spend some time talking about the work of the IPCC from two points of view. The first point of view is interesting. The IPCC's pattern of work and way of working is—or was when it was set up —unique and extremely important. The second aspect has been touched on by other noble Lords; namely, Kyoto, and almost more important, what follows Kyoto.

The IPCC was established in 1988 by a joint initiative between the World Metrological Organization and the United Nations Environment Programme. I take this opportunity to pay tribute to Sir John Horton, a former director of the UK Met Office, who played an important role in the early talks and during the development of the IPCC.

The IPCC receives support from various sources: some governmental, some non-governmental. Anyone can join it. It developed a new model for providing scientific advice. The interface between science, scientific advice, policy and decision-making is never easy. Politicians, who are elected to make important decisions, frequently do not have the expertise to evaluate the scientific considerations put before them. So independence, objectivity and clarity are important in any scientific advice that goes to any government for decision-making.

There are two extremes. One is the pattern that we sometimes see in the law courts with each side producing its so-called experts, and the experts making ex cathedra statements about complex technical matters. There is, effectively, a confrontational exchange between two warring sides. Even if the experts in that environment are indeed experts, that is no way to establish the scientific truth. In all fairness, I have to say that many judges recognise that and have taken steps, within their courts, to do something about it. But we are all too well aware of the disasters that have come about through that approach.

The IPCC approach is the other extreme. It tries to make its pronouncements policy-relevant, and not prescriptive. It prides itself on its independence, openness and objectivity. It tackles the problems of climate change through three separate working groups. The first is on the science of climate change; the second is on the potential impact of climate change on ecosystems, the environment, the weather and us; and the third is on the possible remediation measures available to us.

It is almost incredible, but these working groups do not do any research, nor do they collect primary data. They draw on the knowledge and expertise of thousands of scientists around the globe, nearly all of whom give their time voluntarily. The individual working group reports are put together by teams of around 10 or 12 people, but sometimes teams have more people and sometimes fewer. They draw upon international expertise, as appropriate, and they receive spontaneous contributions, if that is what individuals wish. It is not fast, but it is effective.

Ultimately, teams under leaders put together reports and they are first reviewed by independent scientific experts who have not been involved in their production. Then, at a second level, they are reviewed by governments and another group of experts. Finally, the reports emerge.

The consequence of this approach is the production of reports which carry enormous authority. They represent the best consensus about what is known, what is probable and what is uncertain and about which nothing can be said. On occasions there is evidence of attempts by at least one government to interfere with the actions and the operations of the IPPC, but certainly as regards the occasions I am aware of, those attempts were firmly rebuffed and resisted. I believe that political leaders around the world are now in a much better position to judge what action is appropriate for their governments to take, given that they have consensus reports such as these on which to base their actions.

It would be worth while for all governments to consider whether such a model should be more widely used—it may be on a different scale for different activities or within a particular country, or the European Union, for particular problems. It may be that, if so desired, something like this could be organised through national academies or informal international grouping of national academies.

I turn to Kyoto. The noble Lords, Lord Mitchell and Lord Soulsby, have drawn attention to the importance which the committee attach to it. I commend the Government for the efforts that they have already made in the directions proposed by the committee, and which they were already making, but urge them again to redouble their efforts.

One significant development has come about since the committee submitted its report: the National Commission on Energy Policy in the United States published a bipartisan strategy entitled Ending the Energy Stalemate to meet what it describes as "America's energy challenges". The report which, I understand, has gone to all members of Congress, recommends, among other things, implementing in 2010 a mandatory economy-wide tradable permit system designed to curb growth in the nation's emissions of greenhouse gases; increased funding for renewable technology research; tax credit for all non-carbon energy sources; and establishing a 1.5 billion dollar fund over 10 years to increase domestic production of advanced, non-petroleum transportation fuels from biomass including waste. This is a significant advance. If the Government can build on that and their G8 position, it would be extremely advantageous.

In conclusion, I wish to look a little further ahead to the next international agreement, which is going to be highly dependent on scientific advice. Important though Kyoto is, even more important is what comes after Kyoto. It is essential that whatever agreement follows should take account of the developing countries. China, India, Brazil, Mexico and other countries whose economies are in the process of taking off, will be central to the success or lack of success of the world's attempts to control the emission of greenhouse gases.

Those countries together represent roughly half the world's population. It is easy to show that if they develop their economies in the same carbon-intensive way as the western world has done since the industrial revolution, any attempts made by the West to reduce its emissions today would be completely swamped. We have to find a way of assisting those countries to achieve the levels of per capita energy use that they need as they develop, but to do so in a way that is much less carbon intensive than our own economies are, and have been.

Regardless of the post-Kyoto agreement, both the need and the opportunity are there now. Today, it is possible to build power stations that are much more efficient than those of even a decade ago. Furthermore, if the technologies to capture CO2 are built in at this stage, the additional cost is roughly half that of adding them later after the power station has been built. All the emerging countries are building power stations today, and it is imperative that western governments find ways of offering collaborative technical and, if necessary, financial assistance to meet the additional costs that are involved in developing clean energy sources.

The Prime Minister set some admirable aims for the UK presidency of the G8. Ensuring that fast-developing countries can meet their legitimate energy needs in ways that are less profligate and less destructive of the environment than ours must be high on the agenda.

5.41 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Chesterton

My Lords, I welcome the debate and the government response. The report underlines the importance of treaties and international collaboration, but it concludes that more could be done by the Government, by the scientific community, by non-governmental organisations and by the public to work together in this field.

My remarks are based not only upon my experience on the committee but also as a former chief executive of the Met Office, chairman of a non-governmental organisation and president of a scientific society.

Science, technology and engineering are essential for the well-being, health and security of the whole world, but, as Section 2 of the report emphasises, without agreements science, technology and engineering cannot provide such benefits. A topical example is the case of natural disaster reduction, which was the subject of a United Nations conference in Kobe in January.

In some cases agreements between countries and between organisations are very well established and work extremely well, as I saw when involved in meteorology. The national exchange of data and information and procedures between countries underlies warnings about tropical cyclones and hurricanes. These are now much as accurate as weather forecasts—for example. they are now 60 per cent more accurate than they were 10 years ago.

Warnings based upon these forecasts, which are technical matters, are very well disseminated internationally and are used by communities who know what to do when the warnings are received. This has taken years of close international action. A development in the late 1990s was that warnings about volcanoes, which can have devastating effects on airline operations, lead to collaboration between vulcanologists, civil aviation and meteorological services.

In the field of health the World Health Organisation operates extremely effective warning systems. But when these warning systems break down, as happened with SARS, and the information is not correct, there is great trouble.

The conclusion I draw, and, indeed, it is drawn in the report, is that these treaties and protocols have to be very detailed and specific to each situation. You cannot have a kind of generic resolution to say, "Let's have one great treaty that deals with all such events". Failure results when agreements are not in place. We saw that with SARS, and some flood warnings are poorly disseminated between countries.

Turning to another point in the report, Mr John Roberts, one of our witnesses from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, emphasised in his evidence that to maintain these conventions requires constant scientific endeavour and activity, particularly in monitoring. He also commented that sometimes his monitoring is not regarded as a glamorous activity in the scientific community—it does not lead to research points in the research assessment exercise—and this is something that the Government need to consider. He felt that sometimes these treaties are not being monitored and maintained as well as they should be.

Before leaving natural disasters and international protocols I should like to bring to the attention of the House the considerable progress made at the recent United Nations conference at Kobe. I was told by other international colleagues that thanks to the excellent negotiating skills by the UK team, led by DfID, it was agreed in principle that agreements to establish what are called "extra-territorial warning systems" are needed. This concept was rejected 10 years ago at the Yokohama meeting but this time it was implemented.

There is plenty of UK expertise that could help — and this is a point made in the report on page 20—not only in the area of natural sciences and technology, but also in social science and more practical aspects. There are still major deficiencies in the world system where international protocols do not exist—for example in communicating about floods, as I have already mentioned.

Another issue in this report was the question of whether new treaties are needed. The Foreign Office evidence maintained strongly that we need to look carefully at existing treaties and arrangements before new ones are introduced. Notwithstanding the enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, and many people for IPCC, I think we should be cautious about wheeling on, as it were, this great IPCC apparatus each time a new problem arises. In the case of natural disaster reduction for example, it is noteworthy that the Chief Scientific Adviser, and indeed the Prime Minister as I understand it, has set up a working group to consider early-warning systems. That is very welcome. There is also a suggestion, as I have read in Nature, that a new IPCC is possibly being formed for this purpose.

It has been said that the IPCC model is effective and I believe it to be so. But there are two reasons why the IPCC was needed. The first is that it needed to resolve a very controversial issue, namely whether climate change was happening. In the case of natural disasters, we know that it is happening and there are many technical issues about specific ones. However there is one aspect of the IPCC where I am entirely in accordance with the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh. The IPCC has introduced innovative collaboration between natural and social science and science and technology. It may be that the lessons learned there could be useful in this particular field of natural disaster reduction and perhaps other areas where international treaties are needed.

Perhaps the study being introduced by the Chief Scientific Adviser will stimulate the existing bodies to improve warning systems to be extended to new areas where the systems are currently inadequate and make them more effective.

The next question is how this kind of work will both involve and be effective for the scientific community, in the UK and worldwide. As our report says, all government departments and agencies need to recognise this serious need to work with the scientific community. That collaboration is essential. This should be much stronger policy in government departments than it is at present. In my experience the UK is better than many other countries, particularly many other European countries, in this degree of openness, but we are still not as good as the United States.

There are also great differences between different government agencies in how they deal with the scientific community within the UK. In some areas—in the biodiversity convention for example—the biologists are very conscious of the fact that they are widely consulted. There are some government departments—I will not name names—who have been resistant to working with the scientific community.

Civil servants ought to see themselves as responding to civil society as well as to Ministers. Indeed the British Government lecture other countries about civil society, but sometimes I wonder whether we lecture to our own civil servants about civil society. That requires deeper involvement at working level and better training by government of staff who deal with technical matters in the wider national and international political context. Currently, civil servants in agencies have very little training in, and exposure to, these wider issues. Collaboration could happen if there were a more structured attempt to look at the issue.

The end of the report emphasised strongly the importance of dealing with global climate change through international action, which led from Rio to Kyoto, based upon treaties and protocols. We should remember that the United States signed the underlying United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—Bush I, as some call it—and continues to fund the lion's share of the science and administration of the IPCC and other activities. They have not signed the Kyoto protocol, but, as the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, and others said, some parts of the United States are fully committed to it and wish to participate.

The UK's science and technology staff in our embassies around the world arc working hard and effectively to publicise the need for action on climate change and how science and technology in the UK can contribute. Next week the consul-general of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Houston is organising a party of UK scientists—of which I shall be one—and experts to focus on climate change and coastal cities. It is particularly topical, following the tsunami disaster and the United Nations conference at Kobe.

The fine print of the conclusions of the Kobe conference included the finding that climate change is exacerbating the vulnerability of communities to natural hazards. There was a fear at one point that a certain country might wish to dilute or exclude that but I understand that the strong negotiating stance of the UK Government ensured that it remained in the final communiqué.

Several House of Lords committees have endorsed the importance of climate change. I gather that there is a worry at the moment that the Economic Affairs Committee of the House of Lords is wobbling on the matter. I hope that this debate will be transmitted to that committee. The unanimous view expressed in debates in this House and during previous committees is that national and international action must be strengthened. Although the Government have publicised the science, as we have seen this weekend in the international conference, which has been very effective, there now needs to be much more emphasis on the technological solutions to reducing carbon emissions. It was very welcome that today in the newspapers the Chief Scientific Adviser focused on the technological aspect.

Here, too, international action lies as much in the field of engineering and economics as in science. We are very pleased that the president of the Royal Academy of Engineering, the noble Lord, Lord Broers, is in his place today. The United Kingdom engineering community has hardly been involved as much as it should have been in the climate-change policy. Just as we cannot accept faulty drugs, or dangerous cars, ships and aeroplanes, surely international action through engineering development and trade should aim to penalise the manufacture and trade of inefficient products and to incentivise the creation of more effective products with low energy use.

5.53 p.m.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, I pay tribute to our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, for his leadership; our special adviser, Phillipe Sands; our two Clerks, Rebecca Neal and Michael Collon; our scientific assistant and all our staff for their hard work to help us produce this report. I also thank the British Antarctic Survey for giving my colleagues and me the opportunity to gain an insight into the working of a treaty in practice and the importance of the Antarctic Treaty in particular.

I have already mentioned during several debates in your Lordships' House our experiences in the Antarctic. Only last week, during a discussion on the power of positive language in the debate on the Education Bill, I talked about our experience of abseiling into a crevasse and, more importantly, climbing out again. Those who saw me try to climb out again will understand why it imprinted itself so firmly on my mind.

Our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, made an excellent and passionate speech. My only disagreement with him was his calling me an ageing parliamentarian—I will see him outside. As a member of the committee I believe that it is vital that we do everything well in relation to our involvement in international scientific treaties. Some might say: "Well, it is only a boring treaty; it is not a matter of life or death". That is exactly what it is, as this week's revelations have shown. Global warming is a topical issue at the moment because of the meeting of the world's greatest experts on climate change taking place in Exeter this week. Many noble Lords will have been as horrified as I was to hear some of their most recent findings. One said that we may soon reach the point of no return with global warming, and it will soon be too late to reverse the changes; and there could be a 70 per cent chance that the Gulf Stream could be switched off. Others announced that the Earth may be heating up twice as fast as we thought. The British Antarctic Survey found that the melting of ice shelves, such as the Larsen and Wilkins shelves—not in itself a major contribution to raised sea levels—was removing a barrier to large glaciers. Those are now shown to be slipping six times faster than we thought into the sea, which certainly has the potential to raise sea levels considerably, as the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, said. This sort of work alone justifies our continued enthusiastic support of the work of our scientists in the Antarctic. Their work on atmosphere and weather is also vital to just about everything on the planet, not just the cricket.

In the light of these pessimistic predictions, our Recommendation 22 is that the Government should make even more important persuading other countries who have not done so, such as the USA, to sign the Kyoto treaty. I recognise what the Government have done in this direction so far, but I hope that we can be assured that it will remain a priority and appear on the Mr Blair's "to do" list every time he speaks to Mr Bush. We cannot do very much alone, but we could have a big influence on others.

At the Exeter meeting, Mrs Margaret Beckett pointed out that because human activities produce results in the atmosphere up to 20 years later, strict adherence to the Kyoto agreement will only knock 2 or 3 per cent off the 30 per cent increase in CO2 expected between 1990 and 2010. She said that some global warming is inevitable. In the light of that, it is important that people do not say: "Then there is nothing that we can do about it". Look what happened over the hole in the ozone layer, also discovered by BAS scientists. The international community got together and agreed the 1987 Montreal Protocol, which has led to a measurable improvement and saved human lives as well as plant and animal species. This protocol, like all treaties, was not set in tablets of stone. In the light of new scientific understanding, additions were made to the list of chemicals that are dangerous to release in the atmosphere, and a faster timetable was adopted. The results speak for themselves. Ozone depletion was halted and even reversed.

That was an excellent example of the effectiveness of ongoing global scientific collaboration and the need for constant monitoring of the terms of treaties based on good scientific evidence. Persuading other nations to sign treaties is important, but ensuring that the ongoing monitoring and maintenance of treaties is done properly is just as vital, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned.

Unfortunately, when we visited the Antarctic we discovered some concern about the resources needed for the international advisory panel of scientists who advise the conference of the parties. Our UK contribution is made by experienced scientists over and above their regular jobs. Younger scientists may not be prepared to do that after the existing advisers retire. They have more pressures: to publish; to teach; to sit on other committees and to go home to the children occasionally. We in the UK need to do our bit to resource our contribution properly and to encourage other countries to do the same. If we show an example, others will follow. It does not take a lot of money.

Other treaties need constant monitoring. For example. CITES gets regularly amended as the species that need to go on to, or come off, the endangered list change. We need good quality, independent scientific evidence for this. Scientists need time to do the international committee work. It is as important as their research and teaching commitments, but they will not do it, or their institutions may not let them, unless resources are made available.

We made recommendations about the involvement of Parliament in the treaty process. The first was that where an international agreement is in prospect, the lead department should lay before Parliament at an early stage and on a continuing basis all documents that will enable it to decide whether to recommend an action.

We also suggested that a Select Committee should be set up, to which such agreements should be referred. The Government's response was to say that they already keep Select Committees informed about policy developments and they think that we already have enough committees—but that is a matter for us. They suggested that they should send Command Papers referring to scientific treaties to us, the members of the Science and Technology Select Committee.

That will not do. We have enough to do with our usual reports. If we also had the responsibility to scrutinise all the treaties it would fetter our ability to report on other matters and sometimes be a thorn in the Government's side. I do not know whether the Government think that they would keep us quiet by showering us with extra work, but I assure them that it will not work. We will remain independent of mind and continue to criticise the Government where necessary.

The Government cited the draft European constitutional treaty as one on which they had kept Parliament informed, but the key part of our recommendation relates to the fact that it is most unusual for prospective international agreements to be communicated to Parliament at draft stage; crucially, at a stage where influence can be exerted on our negotiating position. While we appreciate the proposed mountain of paper, that is not what we asked for. I endorse the words and questions of the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, on the matter.

I turn to public involvement in science. There is a great deal of public interest in the UK's involvement in scientific treaties. We think it is important in a democratic society and to ensure public understanding and approval to make it as easy as possible for people to know what we have signed up to. That is why we state in Recommendation 13 that the Government should make available on a single website information relating to all international agreements to which the UK is either a party or for which negotiations are in progress.

The Government's response pointed out that those agreements to which we are a signatory are already on the FCO website in the treaties section. I had a look and I have to say that it needs some improvement to make it more user friendly. It contains a mass of information but treaties are not grouped into broad subject areas, which would help a user with a particular interest, such as someone who just wanted to look at the scientific treaties.

Additional information, we are told, is in various Command Papers that are also available on the Internet, but only if one knows where to look. There was not any help leading users to additional relevant information. While I congratulate those involved in making available the amazing amount of information, it needs a little lateral thinking to make it useful. We need to put ourselves in the mouse of the user and we will obtain a much better website. If the FCO wants to see a really good website it should look at the BAS website.

However, we also recommended that when presenting international agreements to the public the Government should present the assessment of risk and the degree of uncertainty openly and in terms that can be understood by non-scientists. I am pleased to say that we have had confirmation that that will be incorporated into Guidelines 2000 during the forthcoming review. I also applaud the work of the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir David King, in bringing the seriousness of climate change home to a wider audience.

Finally, I endorse the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Mitchell and Lord Soulsby, about scientific attachés in China. My son is a scientist working in China, so I know from first hand how vibrant scientific development is there. We in the UK must exploit our opportunities and not let them slip through our fingers. I look forward to the Minister's response to the issues that we have raised.

6.4 p.m.

Lord Dixon-Smith

My Lords, I share with the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, a rather negative qualification for taking part in this debate; namely, that neither of us is a member of the committee.

Having said that, I know exactly how the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, feels as, like him, I had the privilege of chairing a sub-committee of the Science and Technology Committee some years ago. It is a very enervating and thrilling experience when you bring your work on the committee to a conclusion. I congratulate the noble Lord on this report which is very pertinent to so many of the major problems that face not just British but also global society today.

This is a significant report, albeit directed at a specific aspect of the subject. It is perhaps unremarkable that there has been debate about global warming in the discussion on this report, but the report itself examines how we deal with the mechanisms of government to make progress in these matters. I shall try to address most of my remarks to that aspect although I am afraid that I shall inevitably fall into the trap of discussing global warming.

The question that we are really examining is the appropriateness of the government structure, and all the scientific structures related to that, to deal with the problems that we face today. That matter is well illustrated in the report but curiously enough not in relation to global warming. Paragraph 3.9 deals with the issue of technetium-99 and the OSPAR Convention. I refer to the small tightly defined subject of radioactive material being dealt with in a particular way. As the report says, the costs of dealing with it bore no relationship to the benefit gained by society, essentially because the scientific and engineering advice were not in place in time. At one extreme that small and insignificant issue illustrates what this report is all about.

At the other extreme, the issue of global warming has to be considered on a completely different scale. The science is imprecise and is evolving. We do not know all the answers. The consequences for society are unpredictable. Although many predictions are made, there is no absolute certainty yet. In my view it is certainly not a science. However, one is equally certain that we cannot afford to ignore what has been said.

Not least of the problems that we face which are mentioned in the report—this is the core of the report—is the relatively small part that we as a country play in global science. The report makes the point that some 5 per cent of global scientific research is conducted in the United Kingdom. You need no brains to work out that 95 per cent of it is being conducted elsewhere in the world. The report informs us that we have 39 scientific attachés and 76 full-time equivalent employees dealing with scientific matters in embassies around the world. There has to be a very large question mark regarding whether that is sufficient for us to glean the information that we need which is in the best interests of this country. Do we know enough of what is going on elsewhere, and can we pick up on new developments which may be relevant to work being done in this country? Is that level enough even to save us from reinventing the wheel? I am sure that a lot of that sort of thing goes on.

The most important lesson I learnt during my time serving on the Science and Technology Committee is that scientists talk to scientists with great facility. I cannot help but think that some strengthening of the diplomatic effort in science by enhancing the scientific presence in our embassies would be a great help. I listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, had to say about the Government's response to the report, but I look forward to hearing, despite that response, whether the Government themselves are likely to do anything to strengthen the scientific elements of our diplomatic representation.

I turn to the protection of British scientific interests, which is quite a difficult subject. If you are not careful, these people could be turned into spies. That is not the intention at all. The international scientific network is a remarkably freewheeling organisation, and that is highly admirable. However, having enough bodies on the ground to detect what is going on and able to understand it is very important.

I return to the huge, unknown and vexed question of global warming. A matter that gives me concern is how the whole question is reported. There is an unfortunate tendency in the media to hype reports. When the conclusions reached by computer modelling exercises are published, all too often the media report them as facts without making clear the parameters used to create the computer model. It must be said that a certain level of hype in media reporting does make the community at large more aware of the issues and is actually helpful. But the media are not helping the argument because they create problems in terms of credibility in the public mind. That, too, is an important aspect. In all matters scientific, including scientific agreements, it is absolutely essential that the public and Parliament, which has its part to play, understand what is going on.

After reading the report, I tried to envisage a flow chart showing all the scientific information which needs to come into government and, more important, the information that needs to make its way out again. If it is not a contradiction in terms, I envisaged what I call a spherical spider's web. Diplomatic scientific attachés and scientists attending international conferences are on the outer periphery, working inwards and in many instances in parallel through diplomatic, scientific and commercial channels. Within this country we reach academia and commerce, the Royal Society and the professional institutions. All these groups inter-communicate. By the time we reach this level, we see larger amounts of government funding and government-sponsored research. In the middle I found myself looking at the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology and the Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government. I do not envy him his position. Trying to make sense of, interpret and make relevant scientific information to government and Ministers so that they can formulate policy is an immensely complicated matter. Having arrived at that, I found myself wondering whether the way in which the Government handle scientific knowledge and information is best and appropriate for the task that we face today, bearing in mind the international complexities.

Leading on from that, yet another point is whether the Government's structure itself is appropriate, particularly to deal with the consequences of global warming. The Government's Chief Scientific Adviser spoke about the "siloisation"—that is a new one for the Oxford English Dictionary so far as I am concerned—of government departments. Siloisation is certainly not appropriate when dealing with global warming. The departmental closed shops, if I can put it that way, do not help to take relevant policy decisions in a number of departments. One does not have to think very hard for Defra, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister and the DTI all instantly to come to mind as having conflicts of interest in matters environmental.

I would like to touch on one final issue, as it is important. I attended a conference on global warming of those American interests who oppose the concept and say that it is not a problem. I want to raise the issue—they raised it—of the absolute importance of maintaining the integrity and independence of scientific advice to government. The argument used at that conference was that most of the research was funded by government. Researchers have an interest in giving government the answers that they think it wants so that they can continue the research, and so it goes round in circles.

Those people could not see the mote in their own eye, which I thought slightly odd. There was no question that it was there. However, the conference made the essential point that scientific advice must be scientific advice. It must not be fed by prejudice, political correctness or any thought that, by providing a particular answer, you will satisfy those who provide your funding. The advice must be straight. If it is not, the whole system will fail.

I have raised the issues that I wish to raise, and I look forward to the Minister's response.

6.18 p.m.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Mitchell for opening the debate. Through him, I thank all members of his committee for their very valuable report. In the course of the debate, your Lordships have drawn attention to a variety of concerns about issues covered in the report. I shall pick out what seemed to be the four central matters of concern. They were: the science attachés or offices in our missions abroad; the environment, particularly the Kyoto Protocol; interdepartmental co-ordination; and the involvement of Parliament in scrutinising draft treaties.

In the first instance, I turn to the question of science offices in the Foreign Office. We were happy to see the committee's acknowledgement of the efforts that the Foreign Office has made to expand and embed science work in international relations—although I am bound to say that my noble friend Lord Mitchell still has some pretty astringent criticism of our work in that area. In fact, the Foreign Office has made a substantial increase in the number of science officers in recent years and has given priority to science resources in important emerging economies, which include China and India.

The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior, was right to mention the United Kingdom's leading position in terms of treaty formulation on scientific issues. But we have also striven to deal with those issues in the way in which we have spelt out the Foreign Office's strategy. To that end, on 22 July 2004 the Foreign Office published a strategy for science work, together with the third science and technology annual report, profiling the achievements of the network of our science attachés and officers. In launching those documents, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said that making science central to diplomacy is vital if we are to address the challenges of the future.

My noble friend Lord Mitchell was very concerned about the number of attachés we have throughout the FCO. When the Foreign Office reviewed its science and technology activity in 2000, we had 34 people in I1 missions in 10 countries and territories undertaking science and innovation work. I am very pleased to say that we now have 97 people in 45 missions in 26 countries and territories actively taking forward the science agenda. So the network has not just doubled. but it has almost tripled since 2000.

Of course, in 2002 the FCO received funding through spending rounds to create a global network of science officers. The geographical deployment of the resource was agreed in consultation with stakeholders, including the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser and the Minister responsible for science and innovation. The criteria for the priority countries included the quality of the science base, the scope for wealth creation and the degree of influence on global issues that those countries might have. The criteria also took into account the opportunity to liaise on science policy developments and to build those all-important bilateral relations.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, spoke very persuasively about the importance of those international relationships. However, I was a little perplexed by what he said about 5 per cent of all science in the world being carried out here. He obviously thought that that was a very small proportion. I am not sure how he measured that, but given that we have only 1 per cent of the population of the globe, we have 13 per cent of all research citations awarded in respect of work undertaken in this country. Our scientific base is one about which we should not be complacent, but in which we can take some satisfaction. It is important that our centres of excellence are those in which we take some pride and that we use them in our international relationships to further the matters that we believe are important.

China and India have exercised some of your Lordships greatly, including my noble friend Lord Mitchell. Our work in science and innovation in China has been very significantly enhanced in terms of numbers and seniority. As well as mainland China, science and innovation work has also been taken forward in Hong Kong and in the territory of Taiwan. Currently we have nine people in mainland China dedicated to this work, and a further two will start in April. So we have 11 officers engaged in this work and not four. We have also appointed two people to support a year of science campaign taking place in China this year.

Altogether that means that we have 13 people, led by a new councillor, which represents a substantial increase over the original allocation of two people undertaking science work in China in 2000. The FCO has a dedicated science officer in each post in China, with the exception of Macau. Therefore, we are not quite sure why the committee took the view that we should increase the number of posts with dedicated scientific officers. We believe that we have already addressed the issue.

I turn to India. In 2000 we had no dedicated science and innovation resource in India and now we have a team of four people focused on the high-tech centres in India, in New Delhi and in Bangalore. We shall take further steps forward in science and innovation work as an important aspect of the Prime Minister's initiative on India. That paints a rather different picture from that of almost unremitting gloom given by some members of the committee.

It is very important that the Foreign Office has made it a priority to ensure that science officers are fully integrated into the work of their missions. Their work is reviewed on a regular basis and the evidence of an integrated approach with colleagues at the mission is one of the key criteria for assessment. We are pleased to note that the Select Committee welcomes the approach taken to develop the network of science officers and to integrate them into their mission but we believe it is important that they get the picture right as to what is currently happening. I should also say we will be reviewing the science and innovation network later this year.

The noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, was right to put this argument into the broader context of how science can be used to underpin government policy in general. I listened very carefully to the concerns of committee members about the way in which science is able to inform government policy.

To be honest, I felt that some of those criticisms were a little dated. Let me try to explain why I think those criticisms—although possibly valid some three or four years ago—are not quite as valid today. In particular, our science work does inform policy on climate change. It is designed to do exactly that and we believe it is making real progress. I was very grateful to my noble friend Lord Hunt of Chesterton for acknowledging this effort.

In February 2004 the Foreign Office launched a yearlong campaign in North America to highlight the United Kingdom's science and innovation achievements. Working closely with the British Council the campaign focused on two core areas: energy and the environment and biotechnology. Sir David King gave a plenary speech at the official campaign launch at the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Seattle emphasising climate change and its effects and he also led a workshop on Capitol Hill.

My noble friend Lord Mitchell was graphic in his opening remarks about climate change and rightly so. It is a subject of the greatest possible importance in any year but naturally very particularly we focus on it this year given our impending G8 presidency and the importance the Prime Minister has attached to climate change.

The climate change conference in Berlin last November involved joint working between environment and science teams to ensure a strong scientific component to this significant event, a part of the Queen's state visit. The conference brought together some 170 top scientists, policy-makers, industry leaders, financial institutions and other stakeholders from the United Kingdom and Germany.

The follow-up effort includes a memorandum of understanding that will provide a framework for collaboration on climate change science. There will also be a bilateral action plan to outline future activity and FCO-funded seminars on specific aspects of climate change. Just two days ago a leading Australian expert on climate change emphasised the role of science in the debate on global warming and held up the United Kingdom's approach as being a model in this respect.

The committee particularly wanted diplomatic effort to focus on persuading countries not yet signed up to the Kyoto Agreement to do so. We have been putting a huge amount of effort into this. Let me be clear with my noble friend Lord Mitchell and the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. The United Kingdom is firmly committed to Kyoto. It is an extremely important first step in global efforts to tackle climate change and we will continue to lead by example in meeting our commitments under it.

Like my noble friend Lord Mitchell the Government are delighted with Russian ratification of the Kyoto Protocol which will come into force on 16 February 2005. The UK looks forward to continuing to work closely with Russia bilaterally as well as with our EU partners in sharing experience to implement the protocol.

The Kyoto debate is the crucial underpinning on this issue. However Kyoto is a means to an end. The end is dealing with climate change itself. I am delighted that the Prime Minister is committed to using the 2005 EU and G8 presidencies to reinvigorate the debate and to build consensus on the scale and urgency of the challenge that the international community faces in addressing climate change.

I am bound to say to my noble friend Lord Mitchell and to the noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, that I find it hard to know how the Prime Minister could be giving this issue much greater emphasis and profile. Our presidencies of the G8 and the EU give us an excellent opportunity to try to reinvigorate international momentum. As the Prime Minister set out, we want to use the UK's presidency of the G8 to build a solid foundation on science and to promote greater understanding of the size and scope of the problem of climate change. We want to develop a package of practical measures on science and technology to help cut emissions. And we want to engage with countries outside the G8 which have growing energy needs both on how these needs can be met sustainably and how they can adapt to the impacts of climate change which are, as my noble friend Lord Mitchell said, already inevitable.

The United Kingdom has organised a major scientific conference at the Hadley Centre for Prediction and Research over the past three days. The aims included advancing scientific understanding of the impacts of climate change, the different levels of greenhouse gas stabilisation and encouraging research on these issues. The United States has sent strong representation at senior levels from within the government and also from its academic communities. I was grateful for what my noble friend Lord Hunt said in acknowledging the work undertaken by United Kingdom participants at the conferences that have taken place on climate change. The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, raised questions about the IPCC—the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—as did my noble friend Lord Hunt of Chesterton. The Government fully support the IPCC and consider that it plays an important role. The UK provides the co-chair, Professor Martin Parry, of two working groups of the IPCC and holds a technical support unit at the Met Office. It is providing financial support for some 30 to 40 lead authors engaged in heading up chapters in various assessment reports of the IPCC, including the forthcoming fourth assessment report due in 2007.

All noble Lords focused not only on Kyoto but particularly on the US policy decision not to ratify it. The US Government's position against Kyoto is well known. My noble friend says he knew that as well as anyone else. He also said that we ought to be expending "all" our political capital with the US on this cause. I am bound to say that if the Government spent all our political capital on every cause, as we are urged, with the US, we would have depleted resources very quickly.

Nevertheless, we are working with the US on a range of initiatives to tackle climate change and to promote sustainable energy. Our objective remains for the US to adopt a more ambitious domestic policy aimed at stabilising and ultimately cutting emissions in real terms. We also want the US to take an active part in the international dialogue on climate change and a post-Kyoto framework. We are therefore working very hard indeed to persuade the US that it is possible to reduce emissions while maintaining strong economic growth. It is possible in just the way the noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, described. The UK experience has shown that very well. Between 1990 and 2002 we cut emissions by 15 per cent and our economy grew by more than 30 per cent.

We will continue to raise this at all levels with the US Government. The Prime Minister last raised it with President Bush when he was in Washington in November 2004. We believe that there is a growing momentum for action in the US at state, city and business levels. Actors at these levels value the leadership the UK has shown and 2005 will offer us another opportunity to take that argument further forward.

The noble Lord, Lord Mitchell, asked specifically about how inter-departmental co-ordination on science is implemented. The Office of Science and Technology is working with other government departments to improve the quality of its science and innovation strategies. That is important work. This includes working with the Prime Minister's strategy unit and the ministerial group on innovation in the knowledge economy to assess those strategies according to a range of criteria. For example, it is looking at the degree to which the strategies take account of work in other government departments and are co-ordinated with work under way in the wider science base. The departmental chief scientific advisers also meet on a regular basis. The ministerial group on innovation in the knowledge economy is chaired by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and has cross departmental oversight of the 10-year science and innovation investment framework.

The noble Lord, Lord Soulsby, asked about the DfID Chief Scientific Adviser. We are delighted by DfID's decision to appoint Gordon Conway of the Rockefeller Foundation as the scientific adviser. To secure such an eminent, universally respected individual, whether on a part-time or full-time basis, is a very powerful signal of the Government's commitment in this area. His appointment was, for example, warmly welcomed by all parties at this week's major UK/Canada/Africa seminar on science and capacity building. I assure the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, that we are well seized of the importance of scientific advice being independent.

Another point that exercised my noble friend Lord Mitchell and others was that of parliamentary scrutiny. We are committed to keeping Select Committees informed of progress on international agreements where that is possible and practical. The various specialised Select Committees of both Houses are experienced in holding the Government to account on important policy developments and we welcome such dialogue. Committees need information to be able to perform such a duty properly, which is why we say in response to this report that as a general principle we will provide Parliament with documentation relevant to significant international agreements, where that is feasible in practice.

I heard the comments of the noble Baroness. Lady Walmsley, and all that I can say to her is that if we said anything else, she would be jolly cross about that, too. The noble Baroness also pursued the idea of a new committee for new treaties. Whether a new committee should be set up to examine potential international scientific agreements, rather than leaving the task to existing specialised committees, is a matter for your Lordships to decide. I think that the Science and Technology Committee would be well qualified to perform that task, but we are concerned that a system of compulsory preliminary scrutiny may tend to reduce the flexibility of the Government in their negotiations with other countries. The Royal Commission specifically addressed that issue in its report. It said that there might be dangers in any arrangements for enhanced parliamentary scrutiny which could strain the ability of Ministers to make judgments in the course of fast-moving negotiations. That point is well worth addressing.

The present arrangements already provide considerable scope for parliamentary involvement in treaty scrutiny. For example, many treaties require legislation before they can take effect in UK law. The Government do not bind themselves to such treaties before the required legislative changes are in place. Treaties not requiring legislation are subject to ministerial accountability to Parliament in exactly the same way as other areas of policy.

Those treaties, subject to ratification or its equivalent, are required under the Ponsonby rule to be laid before Parliament for 21 sitting days before any further action takes place. We have ensured that Select Committees in another place have the opportunity to consider each treaty laid before Parliament under that procedure. Since 1997, following the excellent suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Lester of Herne Hill, all such treaties have routinely been accompanied by an explanatory memorandum. I will look at the suggestion made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, regarding the website. Those points were good and deserved further attention.

Noble Lords were concerned about the British Antarctic science effort. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about the importance of the issue. We are committed to maintaining the UK's high profile within the Antarctic treaty system and we recognise that securing strong scientific support for policy input into the Antarctic treaty and supporting the British Antarctic Survey to undertake world-class science reinforces the UK's influence and status at Antarctic treaty negotiations.

I thank all noble Lords for such an interesting and well-informed debate. I hope I have been able to assure your Lordships about how seriously the Government take these issues and about the amounts by which the resources we have dedicated to the subject have increased. I hope that I have also reassured noble Lords about the considerable effort that has gone into co-ordinating the government response. I assure your Lordships that the effort will be sustained not only in this year of our G8 presidency, when we have such an important issue on which to focus, but beyond. I am sure that the vigilance of your Lordships will similarly be sustained. I thank the committee for all the wisdom and commitment that it has devoted to drawing up the report.

Lord Mitchell

My Lords, I knew, beforehand, that this was going to be a good debate, and so it has turned out. I thank all noble Lords for their input, their expertise and their wisdom. I think every speech has centred on the subject of global warming. Look at every newspaper—it is a key headline issue, and that will continue. It is the absolute topic of our time.

I thank my noble friend the Minister for her usual robust speech. It was an excellent wind-up speech and, yes, I do feel very much more encouraged and reassured.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at twenty minutes before seven o'clock.