AN AGENCY FOR MARINE SCIENCE
126. The Challenger Society suggested that "the
merits of having a UK `Wet office' might usefully be considered".
It put forward two potential structures. One was to use the proposed
Marine Management Organisation (MMO) as "the starting point
for such an organisation" , but this found little support
among witnesses and we consider that it would be insufficient
to roll up this additional responsibility into the fledgling MMO
which is already suffering from inter-agency turf issues. It would
also mean delaying action until the implementation of an Act which
currently exists only as a White Paper. The other possibility
proposed was adopting the model of NOAA, the agency which is responsible
for ocean and atmospheric monitoring and research in the US.
127. We have looked closely at the recommendation
that the UK needs an agency to co-ordinate marine research effectively.
In general, witnesses were in favour of the idea. Asked if he
supported a specific marine agency to co-ordinate research and
to drive the science, Professor Sir Howard Dalton told us that
"personally, I think that would make a lot of sense".
He added that "there is a whole series of activities
which, I think, if it were to come under some sort of agency operation,
would make a lot of sense, in trying to bring about the co-ordination".
The three witnesses from industry who gave oral evidence all agreed
that the equivalent of NOAA in the UK would be an advantage.
128. Dr Thompson of EPSRC put two arguments against
an agency: first, that it might be an unnecessary extra layer
of bureaucracy ("people dreadand my own organisation
is as guilty of this as anyonegetting entwined in lots
of discussion meetings without seeing very positive forward action";
and second, that it might weaken the existing links between marine
and terrestrial activities. 
Dr Bell of the Met Office was not keen on the idea of an agency
precisely because it could cut across the Office's work and break
the synergy between weather forecasting and ocean forecasting.
129. Professor Thorpe of NERC suggested that "in
many respects, of course, we have parts of NOAA already, and it
is called the Met Office
One can see the Met Office as
playing a key role in a UK analogue to NOAA".
Dr Bell, however, considered that this would give the Met Office
responsibilities which it did not have the right expertise to
take on in its current form: "The Met Office has a rather
small group of people involved in marine research. That would
not be an appropriate place to bring all the marine research institutes.
Those need to be closer to the universities".
In addition, Dr Williamson from the UEA warned that "NOAA
includes the fishery responsibility and management, so any UK
equivalent of NOAA would then have to take under its umbrella
the fishery laboratories in the UK and Scotland; and that is quite
a major issue, bringing all of that under one area".
Fisheries would not be a natural fit with the Met Office.
130. An alternative to an agency would be to place
greater responsibility for strategic oversight of marine science
within a Government department. Professor Sir David King felt
that it was better for Defra "to take on full responsibility
for the marine environment", including co-ordination with
other government departments.
However, Professor Sir Howard Dalton argued that, in view of the
industries which are generating most of the economic output from
the maritime sector, Defra might not be the natural home for responsibility
for marine science and technology.
As mentioned previously, NOAA sits within the US Department of
Commerce. Defra's lack of connections with other important sectors
such as oil and gas, renewable energy and defence make it an unnatural
home for the whole of marine science and technology, and there
would also be the position of the Department for Transport as
lead department on maritime strategy to consider.
131. We conclude that marine science and technology
is a vitally important area, and one to which policy-makers are
increasingly looking for solutions to crucial questions. It is
not a niche area of interest, which can be shunted off to an obscure
committee, but a central concern across Government which requires
prominence and proper organisation. The current situation in which
lack of effective co-ordination of effort and funding is hampering,
rather than assisting, marine research cannot be allowed to continue.
Strengthening the IACMST to encourage buy-in from Government departments
and provide more resources to expand its activities would still
leave a relatively weak body with little influence and few executive
132. We believe that a stronger body than the IACMST
is needed. The role of this new body would be to co-ordinate the
activities of the funding bodies, to develop strategy (see below)
and to enforce co-operation between the agencies involved. Clarity
of purpose and buy-in from Government departments would be essential
prerequisites of success. We recommend that a new co-ordinating
body for marine science, reporting to Defra, be established. This
body should bring together all public-sector funders of marine
research, together with stakeholders such as the universities
and end-users of marine science, and should be properly resourced
to fulfil its functions. Because of the range of activities for
which greater co-ordination is required at an executive level,
our preference would be for this co-ordinating function to be
placed with a new marine agency, which should be given executive
powers and a budget to oversee operational observations (see further
below). We attach two figures at Annex A, summarising the
functions and key relationships which we propose for the new agency.
133. The question arises of how the new marine agency
would relate to the new institutions to be established under the
Marine Bill. It is essential that there is a defined relationship
with the MMO which could address the challenges presented by devolutionary
issues. The agency would also provide a natural focal point of
international co-operation on marine issues. This proposal would
create an agency with a wider remit than just marine science but
we believe that it merits serious consideration. We believe
that the transfer of functions to the new marine agency should
provide an opportunity to reduce the number of co-ordinating bodies
operating in this area and we recommend that the Government review
the organisations, committees and other bodies co-ordinating marine-related
activities with this aim in mind.