Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I have pleasure in introducing this debate on the follow-up report on science and heritage. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, who is chairman of the Science and Technology Committee, apologises for not being able to be present today to introduce this debate. Since I chaired the original report on science and heritage, he asked me whether I would be prepared to lead the debate today, and I am more than delighted to do so.
There is a question that needs to be asked about why this rather obscure area of science merits two reports from the Science and Technology Select Committee of this House. The term used by English Heritage, which talked about this area of science as having the,
“hidden role of science in the protection and conservation of UK’s cultural heritage”,
is a very good description of it because it is very much a hidden role.
The answer to why it merits two reports lies at the beginning of this follow-up report that we have produced. The tourism industry in this country is worth £115 billion a year. That is somewhere in the region of 8% of GDP. It is a fast-growing industry; it is projected to grow by something like 2.6% in the course of the next 10 years or so, faster than the majority of other sectors in the UK. We know from surveys that something like 80% of those coming to this country do so because they want to see and experience our cultural heritage. Yet, as the news of Hadrian’s Wall illustrates, every extra footfall in these areas actually creates immense problems, whether it is dust in museums, turning the pages of books or what have you. We need a continuous programme of conservation and maintenance.
We need also to apply up-to-date techniques. We need to use all the ingenuity of our well regarded science base so that we can actually preserve and conserve our cultural heritage, not only for the millions of tourists who come to this country and bring all this income but for future generations. If we enjoy it and benefit from it, it is absolutely right that future generations should also be able to do so. Unless we conserve and preserve it, those generations are not going to be able to enjoy the heritage and culture that we do.
Our first report in 2006, which I chaired, coined the term “heritage science” as being that area where science and humanities overlap. It is a multidisciplinary area, affecting both what is termed movable and immovable heritage, from things such as Stonehenge, which is perhaps the ultimate in immovable heritage, to digital technologies such as blogs and websites—an example not just of a movable heritage but almost of a virtual heritage.
That report had three main areas where we made recommendations. In the first place, we put recommendations to universities and research councils. Largely by serendipity, Britain in the 1970s had taken the lead in this area of science and the application of new scientific ideas to the preservation of cultural heritage, but those scientists who entered the sector during the 1970s and the early 1980s were now ageing, and we needed badly to renew the seedcorn if we were to maintain our leading global position. So we called on the research councils, particularly the AHRC and the EPSRC, to put together a joint programme of research that would both help to develop new ideas and, most importantly, bring on new talent.
We were also conscious that the EU was developing the area within the framework programmes and that there was a need for Britain to play a strong hand within those programmes if we were to gain a reasonable share of the resources that were available through them.
Our first recommendation was that these two research councils should put together a joint programme of what we called directed research.
Our second area of recommendation was to DCMS, where we found a failure of leadership. Even though it was the department responsible for cultural heritage, we found that its published objectives made no reference whatever to conservation or sustainability. Our recommendations were that the department should write these objectives firmly into its mission statement and make its arm’s-length bodies—the big museums, galleries, English Heritage, the British Library, the National Archives—aware of the importance that is attached to these objectives. It should appoint a chief scientific officer who could provide the leadership that we felt was so lacking in the sector.
Thirdly, we made recommendations to the heritage science community. We found it much too fragmented between the large players—the big museums and galleries and so on—and the small museums and galleries; between the National Trust on the one hand and English Heritage on the other; and between individual conservators and the universities. Each group had its own agenda and was, if you like, singing from its own hymn sheet rather than singing in unison. We argued that they needed to sing in unison and, essentially, our message was for them to get their act together, develop a national strategy—which, in effect, becomes a single hymn sheet—and sing from that single hymn sheet.
The purpose of the follow-up inquiry was to review the implementation of the recommendations in the first report. During February/March last year we had seven sessions of evidence from both those who had given evidence to the first inquiry and the Ministers and research councils to whom the recommendations had been addressed. By and large it is a very good news story: there had been a positive response to those recommendations. The Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council had responded to the challenge of the report, and in 2007 had launched the science and heritage research programme. This was widely recognised as a shot in the arm for the sector: it brought new research and brought on new young researchers. Above all, it put Britain back on the global map as a research leader, which was instanced by the fact that Britain fairly rapidly took the leadership of the European joint programme initiative.
DCMS responded by rewriting its objectives. Its business plan has as its first objective to protect our nation’s cultural heritage and to ensure that the historic environment is properly protected and preserved for future generations. In 2008 it appointed a chief scientific officer. Admittedly, the person concerned was not, as we had hoped originally, a scientist but was an economist from the Treasury. However, she rose rapidly to the challenge, took a substantial interest in the area and, most importantly, established a new committee for DCMS—the Science and Research Advisory Committee—to advise the department and its Ministers and to identify the scientific issues that might impact upon them.
Anita Charlesworth, the person concerned, left the department in 2010 and had not been replaced when we took evidence from the department this time last year. At that point the department was somewhat vague about whether or not it was going to replace her. As we shall see in a moment, it has subsequently replaced her.
In her absence, the Science and Research Advisory Council had, as Rick Rylance, the director of RCUK and the chief executive of the AHRC, observed, somewhat lost its energy. By the time that we took evidence from it DCMS, having responded initially fairly positively, was not, we felt, completely on the ball, although I have to admit that Mr John Penrose, who was the Minister who responded at the time, took a positive line and clearly felt that the committee’s recommendations were good and wanted to co-operate to see what the department could do, although the department was at the time dominated by work on the Olympics.
Our third set of recommendations went to the community itself, the rather narrow community of scientists who work in the conservation and heritage sector. We found it to be a very fragmented community. We recommended that it come together to produce the strategy document. That took some time. English Heritage was extremely co-operative and provided the secretariat for it, but it was not until 2008 that we began to see the strategy taking form. It took its time over it. We put together a survey of different parts of the sector but eventually, by 2009, we had a form of strategy. Edward Impey from English Heritage, who had led its initiative, said that,
“getting people and ideas together and putting them down in coherent form”,
was in itself,
“quite a big achievement”.
The final report from the National Heritage Science Strategy group proposed the setting up of the National Heritage Science Forum. When we took evidence, the forum was being developed.
Although there were many good news stories arising from the implementation of the recommendations of the first report, we were left with a number of concerns. Interestingly enough, they revolve again about the protagonists of the previous report. The main areas of our recommendations fall to the same people. Our first area of concern was whether enough was being done to continue and sustain the real progress from the success of the joint AHRC-EPSRC joint programme.
We were somewhat reassured from the evidence that we received from the AHRC. Its 2011-15 delivery plan earmarked heritage for specific support and included the AHRC’s innovative training programme for postgraduates and early-career researchers. In the EU framework programme, Horizon 2020, we had seen both BIS and the research councils being extremely supportive of cultural heritage, making sure that in both Challenge 5 in that programme—climate change, resource efficiency and raw materials—and Challenge 6—Europe and the changing world, inclusive, innovative and reflective societies—heritage played a part.
The UK continues to take a leading role in the joint programme initiative, which is a joint initiative between countries of the EU. However, those answers have all come from the AHRC, which affirmed its position as the champion for heritage research. Where is the EPSRC? It continues to support the joint programme but has not supported the science and heritage bid put forward by 14 academic and 14 non-academic institutions to develop a multidisciplinary doctoral training centre. Again, where is the Natural Environment Research Council here? It declined to join the original programme on science and heritage back in 2008, in spite of its long-term support for research in archaeology, and it still remains aloof from any involvement.
This is a prime area of multidisciplinary research. The AHRC does not have the clout or the resources to remain the only champion in this area. There is a real risk that the UK could lose its leadership role in Europe unless resources can be found to participate in the Joint Programming Initiative follow-up. That programme comes under the European Research Area’s NET Plus initiative.
I therefore say to the Minister that, while many good things have emerged from the joint science and heritage research programme, research leadership cannot be maintained without investment and, in this multidisciplinary area, this investment has to come from collaboration among the research councils. I hope that he will bring these remarks to the attention of his colleagues in BIS. To date they have been highly supportive of this area and have rewarded its recognised high standing in Europe, but that high standing is at risk if the science-based research councils do not pull their weight in this multidisciplinary area.
Our second area of concern is the continuing failure of DCMS to grasp the nettle and demonstrate adequate leadership. Both in our 2006 report and in its update in 2007, we called on DCMS to include the conservation of cultural heritage in its departmental objectives and to provide “moral leadership” to the community. Since then, as I have already noted, DCMS has amended its objectives to include the protection and preservation of the nation’s cultural heritage. In his evidence to us, Mr John Penrose, the then Minister in DCMS, said that he saw his role as,
“to act as the spokesperson and champion for heritage issues across Whitehall”.
Yet, as our report shows, among those giving evidence to us there was widespread criticism of DCMS itself and, above all, of its failure to provide leadership in the sector. The department for its part has argued that it effectively delegates these responsibilities to its arm’s-length bodies—to the museums and galleries and to English Heritage—and, further, that it is not for government Ministers to determine how specific funds should be allocated to these bodies.
Nevertheless we noted that the funding agreements between DCMS and its major arm’s-length bodies did set out key performance indicators, and that these key performance indicators currently did not mention anything about science or research for heritage conservation but were due for renewal in 2012. We therefore recommended that these funding agreements explicitly reflect the departmental objective of protecting the nation’s cultural heritage.
In its response in July last year, DCMS admitted that it was in the process of discussing with the relevant arm’s-length bodies what performance indicators should be and whether,
“a specific indicator relating to heritage science is appropriate”.
I do not know the outcome of those discussions. What has happened and is there any reference to this in the departmental objectives?
In relation to the leadership issue there is the whole question of the chief scientific adviser. The department has now appointed a chief scientific adviser, who took up his post in September 2012. Again, he is an economist from the Treasury rather than a natural scientist but the hope is that, like his predecessor, he will prove sympathetic to the need to carry forward the research in this area. The Science and Research Advisory Committee will play an important part in this, yet to date it has failed to meet under the new CSA. A meeting was scheduled for September but was cancelled because he had only just arrived. The December meeting, again, was cancelled. Is it proposed to continue with the SRAC and, if so, what will its mandate be and how is it proposed to fit alongside the other scientific advice that the department might receive?
The third area of concern is the development of the national heritage science strategy and its successor, the national heritage science forum. While congratulating the sector on managing to co-ordinate its disparate parts in backing the strategy, the committee noted that, as a strategy, it failed to identify any clear targets or timings for actions to be taken. Rather, having willed the establishment of the forum, it passed the buck back to the forum without clearly identifying how it was to take this forward. The forum is moving forward quite nicely. At the moment it has five definite members, five people lined up to join and four who may be going to join. If the community is going to grasp the nettle and take forward the issues that it potentially can, it has to own this and take it up for itself. Therefore, I appeal to those who at the moment are pondering whether to become members of the forum to do so and to put their weight behind it.
I shall wind up by emphasising that in all three areas this is a multidisciplinary area and it is vital that all the research councils play their part. I say to DCMS, please recognise your leadership role in this sector. It is easy for such a fragmented community to play one sector off against another. Please, now that the Olympics are over, recognise the importance of cultural heritage to the economy and the nation as a whole, reinvigorate your advisory committee and encourage and support the development and integration of a strong research base.
To the science and heritage community, I say: when we gathered you together to discuss the developments in 2006 you willed the emergence of an institution that would unite your efforts. You now have this institution in the form of the national heritage science forum but it will not thrive unless you support it. Times are not easy and budgets are tight, but it is all the more necessary at such times to sing with one voice. Therefore, I urge the institutions that are still wavering in their support to get behind the forum and help to present a united front. I beg to move.
My Lords, I had the privilege of being on the original committee of the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and the follow-up committee. As she has said, there has been a considerable improvement in the coherence of the heritage sector since our first report, particularly in craft training and greater opportunities for careers for young people. However, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport still seems to be unwilling to have a more direct leadership role in the encouragement of heritage science, despite its importance to our flourishing tourist industry and to other sectors such as the arts and crafts industry. Moreover, it still does not seem to envisage a clear role for the chief scientific adviser and, while opting out of direct involvement in the sector, has also imposed a 30% cut on English Heritage.
My particular concern is about its lack of leadership in relation to the Government’s educational policy, where it seems to have exercised little influence in favour of a broader curriculum. The Government’s education policy is prescribing an ever-narrowing curriculum for schools, which is largely exam-based with a heavy emphasis on academic subjects. The proposed EBacc includes no room for creative subjects, which underpin not only the appreciation of music and art but also commercial success stories such as our flourishing fashion industry. Design studies, for example, which are exercises in problem-solving and lateral thinking and will be increasingly important in our rapidly changing technological society, are also excluded from the new curriculum. I wonder how the DCMS has been attempting to influence some of that rather narrow view of education. In its educational policies the Government are rapidly turning back not just to the 20th century but to the 19th century, with its emphasis on rote learning and the regurgitation of undigested lumps of information. I was fortunate enough to go to a school that was founded in the 1890s in direct opposition to the narrow education then available in the boys’ public schools. Bedales valued not only art and music but crafts and outdoor skills, such as farming and gardening, as being of equal validity to academic subjects. I still have a bookcase that I made there.
The other countervailing trend of the 19th century, of course, was the arts and crafts movement, with its emphasis on quality and design. Again, I declare a personal interest as one of my ancestors was a distinguished architect of the Whitechapel Art Gallery, the Horniman Museum and the Bishopsgate Institute. All three buildings were dedicated to increasing access to art and learning and crafts for all. The education policies of the Government appear to be narrowly directed at preparing a minority of pupils for university and not for any of the alternative careers that might be in the heritage sector, such as training in crafts and design, and without any appreciation of the technical skills that underpin engineering, architecture and our flourishing fashion industry.
To revert to the 19th century again, an interesting and well researched theory is that the great engineering and entrepreneurial successes of the Victorian era were specifically created by those excluded from universities, such as non-conformists and Quakers. Many talented people have skills that are not nurtured by a university education. The narrowing of the school curriculum will inhibit the creativity and flexibility that will be increasingly needed by the heritage sector and other sectors in our society if this country is to cope with the increasingly difficult times ahead. I urge the DCMS to take a more active role in influencing government policy, not only because heritage, science and the creative arts enrich individual lives but because they can underpin the future prosperity of this country. We should be fostering enterprise rather than educational stagnation. What influence does the Minister’s department have on government education policy
My Lords, the Committee will be grateful to my noble friend Lady Sharp for introducing this debate, and for the way in which she chaired the original report, which was described at the time as something of a wake-up call. I am not convinced that it was a wake-up call for the DCMS but it was certainly a wake-up call for the heritage science community.
The results of that report have been impressive. If we look at the joint science and heritage programme of the AHRC and the EPSRC, we can see very positive results. There is now a national heritage science strategy, developed by a steering group, and, as we have heard, a National Heritage Science Forum is being set up. These are attributes arising directly from the first report. The follow-up report, as we have heard from my noble friend, was to review implementation, not just by the Government but by the research councils and the heritage science community—museums, galleries, libraries and those who look after historic buildings and archives.
The AHRC deserves many congratulations for the way in which it has carried the baton for research in this area. Like my noble friend, I have to say that I am less convinced that the performance of the EPSRC and the NERC has been quite so impressive. It is a concern that the EPSRC seems unwilling to provide opportunities for heritage science to compete for resources for doctoral training and capital equipment. That makes one wonder if research councils will not be working together in the way in which they did originally when they were facing the danger of fragmentation of this interdisciplinary research area, which after all was the problem identified in the original report of 2005-06. I agree with my noble friend that the AHRC as a small research council—indeed, the smallest—will find it hard to sustain sole responsibility.
The scope of science heritage suggested to us in the original report, and contended to be the case, is that DCMS must clearly be the appropriate department to provide what we described as moral leadership, and that continues to be the case. After all, the department leads on cultural heritage and it interacts with English Heritage and many national museums and galleries. There are of course some parts of our national cultural heritage for which DCMS is not the lead department. In the Chamber on Friday we debated the Antarctic Bill, one provision of which is to allow the Government to help with the conservation of the Antarctic huts—Scott’s, Shackleton’s and others. Admittedly, that is a very small part of our conservation heritage but it is the responsibility of the Foreign Office. Defra has responsibility for Kew, which has an enormous responsibility for cultural heritage. The herbarium, the library and the seed banks are very much part of our culture and that of other countries. You cannot enforce the Convention on Biological Diversity without going back to the specimens collected over many hundreds of years and held in our archives. Defra is, of course, fulfilling the responsibilities there.
When DCMS says that it is not for it to tell arm’s-length bodies how specific funds allocated to them should be spent, I agree. However, I have to say in parenthesis that that is precisely what Defra is doing at Kew now, where it seems to be requiring every item of capital expenditure, even of quite small sums, to be passed across it first. That is very frustrating for the trustees at Kew, of which I am no longer one. Going back to DCMS’s role as the promoter within the Government and champion of heritage science, while I recognise that it is not there to tell arm’s-length organisations what to do, it has a particular responsibility in helping to co-ordinate the approach to attracting EU funding and ensuring that future framework programmes meet our needs appropriately, as well as those of our partners in Europe. I believe objectives could be set for DCMS in this area without in any way getting in the way of the arm’s-length bodies.
The present framework programme, programme 7, has as one of its themes the adaptation of heritage to future challenges such as climate change, digitisation, resource efficiency, the use of raw materials, the development of new technologies and the dissemination of best practice. If we think about it, many of these areas require an input from the engineering discipline, as well as from many others. That brings us back to the requirement to make sure that there is a wide spread of input from the research base, including from the EPSRC. I understand that the existing joint programme initiative under framework programme 7, which is headed,
“Cultural Heritage and Global Change: a new challenge for Europe”,
is likely to have a follow-up strategic programme, Eranet Plus, to build on this joint programming initiative. I have asked the Minister to tell us whether the Arts and Humanities Research Council will be participating in this programme. Indeed, will the EPSRC and NERC also be participating?
In summary, I congratulate those members of the National Heritage Science Forum who have set up a transitional body to draw up a vision defining its strategic aims and potential impact. Looking at the organisations which we know will be joining this forum, such as English Heritage—of which I am sure we will hear more in a moment—the National Trust, the British Museum and the British Library, it gives a lot of encouragement that what the original report started is now being carried forward by the heritage science community with strength, and robustly too.
My Lords, I am delighted to contribute to this debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for the leading role that she has played in the first report and in the committee’s work essentially to make science and heritage more visible. That was the task and I believe that it has been and is being achieved.
This debate bridges two of my personal interests: first, I declare an interest as chair of English Heritage, in the conservation of our extraordinarily diverse heritage in this country; and, secondly, I have an interest in seeing that science serves every conceivable cultural and economic purpose. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and I overlapped for a while as academics in the science policy research unit in Sussex, and she played a key role there in leading the design of research programmes.
However, English Heritage is not only an adviser to government: it is essentially a major contributor to the field of heritage science. We are therefore hugely indebted to the Select Committee for the consistent and relentless attention that it has focused on this relatively neglected critical area of work for the past six years. As we know, the work started in 2006 and the follow-up report today very usefully charts the progress made. The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, set out comprehensively where progress has been made and referred to some of the issues that we still have to address.
I do not believe that it is possible to overemphasise the importance of science in the successful protection and public enjoyment of our heritage, covering everything from the conservation of the boots worn by sailors on the “Mary Rose”, which are on display in the Mary Rose museum, to the conservation of wartime airfields.
The first report of the Select Committee explained that science is an essential instrument and support for those who work with the portable remains of the past—in museums, libraries and galleries and their collections—and for those, such as English Heritage, who work with fixed remains such as historic buildings, archaeology on land and sea and historic townscapes and landscapes. In each respect, science helps us to detect and locate the evidence, and to analyse, conserve, interpret and understand it better. I am reminded that Pasteur once said:
“Science … is the torch which illuminates the world”.
Obviously, it illuminates the world that we have lost as well as the one we inhabit.
I shall give a couple of examples which reflect the way in which science and technology are opening up our knowledge and understanding of, for example, our pre-history. Last year, English Heritage funded a high-tech survey of the standing stones at Stonehenge. It is a monument that has been in the care of the nation since 1918 and one might therefore have thought that there were very few secrets left to reveal. However, the application of a new three-dimensional laser scanning technique revealed a plethora of previously unrecognised carvings on the stones, including 71 images of Bronze Age axe heads. Most importantly, it revealed significant differences in the way that particular stones were shaped and worked, leading archaeologists to suggest a far greater emphasis than had hitherto been placed on views through the monument during the winter solstice as well as the more familiar summer solstice.
Today we had an equally brilliant demonstration of the exceptional power of heritage science to write, or possibly rewrite, history. We have this morning learnt that, beyond all reasonable doubt, the skeletal remains uncovered last year in a modest Leicester car park are indeed those of Richard III, buried in the former Franciscan friary church. The evidential trail announced at a press conference this morning is compelling. Geophysical surveys helped fix the location of the excavation which uncovered the grave; radiocarbon assay provided a date of 1455-1540 for the bones; osteoarchaeological analysis suggested a male in his twenties or thirties, confirmed scoliosis—curvature of the spine—and revealed blade injuries at the base of the skull which were almost certainly fatal; and, finally, DNA analysis confirmed that the skeleton was related genetically to the last two direct descendants of the lost king. That is pretty effective and pretty convincing.
However, if anyone really wants to see science at the frontiers of knowledge, I can recommend no better place to visit than our own scientific laboratories at Fort Cumberland, run by English Heritage. There, you will see science at the geographical and intellectual frontiers, with analysis of DNA from Roman infanticides, the dates of the introduction of historical cereal and game species to England, and the development of X-radiographic dating of historic windows. It is an extraordinary place and I should be very happy to arrange a visit if anyone wanted to go.
Therefore, science and heritage are giving us ever greater insights into our ancestors. They are helping us to conserve monuments with far greater sensitivity than in the days when concrete was slapped on everything, and we are still digging out that concrete. They are also helping us to create greater wealth. All that is taken for granted in the importance that the Select Committee has attached to scientific knowledge and technology in terms of heritage. Its reports in 2006 and 2007 set out that economic and cultural importance.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, said, the committee set out a raft of crucial recommendations for better leadership and better co-ordination of resources, and the need for a national strategy for science and heritage, as well as a forum. As she said, the current report acknowledges that there is a great deal of good news to be celebrated. However, as has also been made clear, there is some way to go. It is true that the AHRC has done some excellent and ground-breaking work with its successful science and heritage programme. It is, for example, looking at major research projects on conservation matters as diverse as flood resilience and renaissance sculpture. Very importantly, it has addressed the challenging issue of future capacity by encouraging post-doctoral studentships and collaborative awards. As the noble Baroness said, it is beginning to put us back on the map as a global leader. The national heritage science strategy is indeed a reality—the final report in 2010 set that out—as is the national heritage science forum, which is intended to implement the strategy by bringing these diverse organisations together.
There has been further action. We have heard about the DCMS and the very welcome appointment of the head of analysis. Incidentally, we hope that the holder of that post is going to act as an advocate and a champion for heritage science. The DCMS is committed to unlocking philanthropic funding. It is also committed to the fact that heritage is embedded in the objectives for Horizon 2020, the European framework funding programme. We also talked about the new programmes from the AHRC, such as Living with Environmental Change and Connected Communities. RCUK has provided welcome support for funded programmes and for the encouragement of bids from the independent research organisations. I am pleased to say that in our sector the heritage science communities are showing welcome signs of increasing partnership and collaboration. We have seen seed-core funding from the AHRC to support the national heritage science forum, and we welcome early sign-up by bodies , including the National Archives, the National Trust, ICON, University College London and English Heritage. All that is good news. In part, it is a response to the reduction in the resources available in many areas. There is a tangible increase in the appetite for working together.
However, the critical questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, deserve answers. I endorse the questions that she raised, as well as those asked by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, in relation to the EPSRC and the role of the science research councils. There is clearly important work to be done in collaboration on the science base. There remain questions about the degree to which the momentum created by the science and heritage programme will be supported further. I think that there are also questions to be answered by the DCMS in its leadership capacity. As yet there is no central means of consistently measuring the health of the heritage science community itself. Again, I think that that comes back to the DCMS and its leadership role.
Crucially, the forum which should now be emerging from its formative stage will need to demonstrate leadership and secure long-term sustainable funding and membership support to ensure that it can deliver on its potential. There is work to be done here by the DCMS, the research councils and the heritage bodies. I believe that there is certainly the will to do that because of the knowledge that there is a great deal at stake here. We at English Heritage are fully committed to the recommendations of the report, and I can explain briefly how we are meeting the challenges that we face in terms of our own contribution.
We have taken significant steps to implement the strategy. It is a fundamental tenet of the national heritage protection plan, which guides the prioritisation of all our resources, and which we are optimistic will increasingly act as a framework for all organisations that protect our heritage. We take the need for collaboration extremely seriously. This lies at the heart of our post-CSR organisational restructuring, despite, as we have heard from my noble friend Lady Hilton, a severe cut in our funding. Crucially, we have retained our science expertise almost untouched because we recognise its strategic value for capacity-building in the sector, as well as the leading research expertise, which represents unique expertise.
The strategy informed our decision to move away from the chief scientist model in favour of a fully integrated and regularly convened science network within English Heritage which is better able to co-ordinate information on foresight, knowledge and gaps in practice, in support of the national heritage protection plan—a much more diffuse model. Collaboration is also written into our own English Heritage strategy, which we have produced this year, and which is in part in response to the committee’s recommendations. It is driving our increasingly close work with the research councils: we have a concordat with the AHRC, joint workshops and a collaborative doctoral partnership. All that will help to build capacity.
We are now in a different and more challenging climate. Almost all the publicly funded bodies responsible for heritage science are working with reduced resources. That will impact on the speed and scope of what we can achieve. However, the committee is right to urge the forum to provide clear leadership to encourage wider membership and the right to exhort greater public engagement. However, I hope that that call will be heard beyond the forum to the funders and supporters who could enable the forum to achieve greater things. Increasing membership of the forum itself will respond to that because there is a will to do that.
I recognise that this is a personal aside but it is central to our understanding of the heritage of science in this country: I personally believe that it is essential that the Royal Institution continues its outstanding work in terms of scientific knowledge and understanding, which has been its unique role for two centuries. In my early days as an academic with Professor Roy MacLeod, I spent a lot of time in the archives of the Royal Institution working on the papers of John Tyndall, a physicist, and Thomas Archer Hirst, the mathematician. I have a deep affection for the place, its collections and its history. The scientific community, as it should, is rallying around with great distinction to help the RI find a solution to its current problems, not least in terms of the work that it does to spread the understanding of science among young and old alike. It is impossible to imagine our scientific heritage without the Royal Institution in place, and I sincerely hope that it will get the support and resources that it needs—not least, naturally, the support of the Government.
I thank the Select Committee again for the work that it is done in these reports. I commit again the goodwill and expertise of English Heritage not only to making our science heritage more visible but to maintaining our place as a global leader in this area.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, for introducing the report and, through her, I thank the committee for both its original report and its supplementary report, which have generated the interesting discussion that we are having today. I also thank my noble friends Lady Hilton and Lady Andrews and the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, for their comments.
It is quite rare for committees to invent things or coin phrases. One thinks about camels and horses, but it seems clear that the committee invented “heritage science” as a brand or an identifier for the sort of work that it wanted to see happen and where it had found gaps in the past, and we must be very grateful to it for doing that. Trying to identify a new area or new discipline is very difficult, but where science and heritage overlap is obviously a bit of a dark space, and it has been brought into the light and some work has been generated around that.
The common theme that has wound through all the contributions so far in this debate has been the way in which the speakers have come across the heritage sector and, more generally, the cultural sector because, although this debate is about heritage, it seems to be picked up in a number of different sectors, including museums and galleries, not necessarily of “heritage” in the physical sense. The common theme appears to be that this is a very fragmented sector and, although funding had been reasonably good until the recent downturn, it is now suffering badly from the fact that it is being underfunded and is seeing a number of its previous groups and supporters pull back because they themselves are also having trouble with their funding. This is obviously a problem. Therefore, it is good not only that we have this supplementary report but that we have an opportunity to discuss it, because there are important issues at stake here.
My noble friend Lady Andrews said, and I should like to repeat, that you cannot overstate the importance of science in relation to the work for which she is responsible and in relation to the sector in general. Her wonderful and very timeless example of Richard III, which brought us up to date on how science can help with the conservation, understanding and illumination of the history we are engaged in, as well as engaging audiences—both tourists and our own citizens, is a brilliant way of getting us into this topic.
I want to talk about four or five recommendations in the supplementary report and, in particular, the Government’s comment on it. I also want to ask the Minister some questions, some of which are quite detailed, and I understand that he may have to write to me if they are beyond the brief that he has today.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, mentioned recommendation 1. This relates to the concern about the link across to the research councils—in particular, the AHRC, which has done a great job in developing a programme here. However, difficulties have been found in the EPSRC and now the NERC as well. The response provided by the department indicates that the Government have,
“demonstrated its strong commitment to science and research by protecting the programme budget with BIS with a flat-cash, ring-fenced settlement”.
Those are weasel words, perhaps, because inflation has eroded that settlement, so they cannot have protected the programme budget. Can the Minister tell us where the cuts have actually occurred in the areas for which he and his department have responsibility and what is going to happen? Can he also share with us the department’s response to try to reignite interest in the EPSRC and the NERC, without which this programme will suffer badly?
On recommendation 4, which concerns the relationship between the department and its arm’s-length bodies, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, and others mentioned the great need in this fragmented sector for leadership from the department. The committee recommended that before the next round of funding negotiations with arm’s-length bodies, the DCMS should set specific departmental objectives for heritage science related to its departmental objectives to protect our nation’s cultural heritage. Similarly, the ALBs should set out how they will help to achieve these objectives in funding agreement negotiations with the department.
In the response, the DCMS appears to have watered down its approach to this by saying that it is setting out principles. Only one of them, as we have been reminded, deals with heritage science. Can the Minister give us more detail on why this has happened and the reasoning that led to the decisions that flowed from that; for example, limiting the cuts to the museums to 15%—they are still cuts—and restricting English Heritage’s activities to a rather narrower group? The response goes on to assert that,
“it is clear to the DCMS ALBs … that heritage science is an integral element of their responsibilities”.
It may be clear but can the Minister explain why the department has not taken up the committee’s suggestion that it requires ALBs to set out how they will help to achieve those objectives and why these aspirations are not included in the funding agreements? After all, if they are not in documentation and therefore not being measured, it is highly unlikely that the DCMS will be able to put any pressure at all on the ALBs, which, of course, are suffering financially.
In recommendation 5, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, made a number of points about the chief scientific adviser role mentioned in the original report. Indeed, the supplementary report says that the failure to find the resources to enable the appointment of a CSA would amount to “negligent short-termism”, which is fairly tough phraseology. The committee is clearly of the view that the department should have a CSA and I think that the DCMS’s response here is very limp. Appointing an undergraded principal adviser and not a chief scientific adviser is not sufficient. To misquote Wilde, one economist might be forgiven but two in a row seems negligent in the extreme. They are supposed to be scientific officers and to lead with expertise and knowledge in this area. I have nothing against economists—many of my friends are economists—but they do not necessarily have this kind of expertise. Certainly they would have been at a bit of a loss in digging up Richard III from the concrete under which he was buried. These are trivial examples; nevertheless, if this is going to be done properly, surely the department must get a grip and find a position, and a budget to go with it, that will support the aspirations involved.
We are not only talking about this report today: the report of the Science and Technology Committee sets out what should be the role and functions of departmental chief scientific advisers. Now that we have a second appointment, can the Minister confirm that the scientific adviser is carrying out all or most of the functions outlined in that report—for example, policy involvement, including sign-off, access to Ministers, membership of key committees, access to a dedicated fund to commission research or to convene a group of experts and a formal role in decision-making about departmental spending on research? Does he or she—it is a he this time, I think—have staff to support his work and, if so, how many? Those are the minimum criteria required for chief scientific advisers and, if we are not going to get the full post—clearly there will be some reduction—I hope that the aspiration will be there to ensure that this post delivers what is required.
On recommendation 7, the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, drew attention to the fact that the committee is keen for the DCMS to facilitate access to European funds, and he particularly mentioned programme 8. The response indicates what has been going on here. Obviously there has been some valuable work but it concludes that the Government believe that cultural heritage research can now expect strong support from EU funding through Horizon 2020. Can the Minister update us on what has happened? Has there been any strong support and, if so, what form does that take?
Recommendation 13 suggests that a forum should be set up to facilitate the development of a digitisation framework to promote and manage the overall digitisation in the sector. This is a complex and important area, as my noble friend Lady Andrews mentioned, and it plays into a number of points made by my noble friend Lady Hilton on education. Nothing will generate more interest and enthusiasm among our younger audiences than making sure that what is done is done at a level at which they will want to engage and understand. The Government’s response is, again, slightly disappointing. They said—this was picked up—that they do not wish to impose a top-down, centralised structure to any digitisation framework. We can sympathise with that, but that is not the recommendation. It was not to have a top-down direction but to have a facilitation role. Can the Minister explain why the department has chosen not to get involved in this or, if it has, to what extent it thinks it can facilitate the development of this very important work?
The noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, drew attention to the need to retain our lead in this area. As a country, we have a long and distinguished history of being the first in the field on this and of providing our heritage and other bodies with terrific support, both centrally and through collaboration with industry and the departments involved. In conclusion, can the Minister give us any hope that this future development has been spotted and will be supported?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Sharp of Guildford for initiating this debate and I pay tribute to members of the committee for their continued focus on this important area, without which advances in science heritage would certainly not have been as extensive as they have been. I say to my noble friend Lady Sharp that this is a far from obscure area. It is in no small part due to the work of the committee and the reports it has produced that the crucial link between heritage and science is now better recognised and better understood. What impeccable timing today for the confirmation that it is Richard III, which was also referred to, and what advances have been made.
It was indeed as a direct response to the committee’s first report in 2006 that the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council established the science and heritage programme at University College London. It is because science requires specialist expertise that DCMS relies on the skills and talents of scientists within arm’s-length bodies. They develop and apply heritage science techniques across a wide range of fields.
The Government support the work of DCMS’s arm’s-length bodies with a remit for heritage and cultural preservation and the wider heritage community, including the national heritage science forum and Research Councils UK, in their work to disseminate good practice, to collaborate across institutions, to increase capacity across the community, to continue efforts to digitise our cultural heritage and to increase public engagement with heritage science. We will offer support where appropriate. The responsibility on the DCMS’s arm’s-length bodies to care for collections and heritage assets is enshrined through robust governance mechanisms. It is set out clearly in the funding agreements as a condition of government funding, and the protection of heritage is included in the governing legislation of the national museums and the wider heritage sector.
DCMS funding supports heritage science across its bodies, be it the digitisation of the British Film Institute’s collection, the high-tech storage facility for the British Library’s newspaper collection in Boston Spa, or the state-of-the-art conservation and science centre in the new British Museum development. I make particular mention of English Heritage as the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, has given such a powerful commentary on its work. However, I am sure she would agree that there are 23 further such bodies under DCMS, all immensely important in the work that they do for cultural heritage.
Turning to the committee’s report, the first recommendation of your Lordships was on research councils. The Government welcome the priority that the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council have given to heritage. I am mindful of what the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, said about difficult times. I replay to him that the Government have demonstrated our strong commitment to science and research by protecting its programme budget within BIS with a flat-cash, ring-fenced settlement of £4.6 billion per annum over this spending review period. Inflation may be a factor, but it is not huge as I remember inflation in other times.
I should like to rerun those figures for the Minister. Inflation has been running at between 2.5% and 3.5% since 2010—and, indeed, from slightly before that—so we are talking about a substantial compound reduction. That is not trivial but quite a big pressure point on all those budgets. I accept the Minister’s general point that it is a cash-limited and therefore substantial figure, but it is still certainly declining.
I am glad that the noble Lord referred to it as being a substantial figure because, in the climate we are in, it was extremely good news that there was that ring-fenced settlement. A specific point for today is that the AHRC is receiving just under £100 million per annum over the spending review period, which is again a considerable sum of taxpayers’ money and is rightly being spent on that research area.
Research councils’ budgets are delegated, so it is for them to decide how best to allocate funding within the context of their overarching objectives. Building on progress made by the science and heritage programme, to which my noble friend Lady Sharp referred, and the increased research capacity it has brought, the AHRC is now also supporting heritage science through programmes developed in the current spending review period. Heritage is one of three key areas in the AHRC delivery plan for 2011-15. The AHRC will continue to work with the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to ensure that the benefits of the science and heritage programme are maximised beyond the completion of the programme this year.
In turn, the AHRC, working with BIS, has been very actively involved with the consultation on European Commission framework programme 8, Horizon 2020, and has consistently made the case for the inclusion of heritage research in the Horizon 2020 societal challenges. I can tell my noble friends Lady Sharp and Lord Selborne, who raised the matter, that the Government consider that inclusion of heritage science is on track to be successfully achieved.
I say to my noble friend Lady Sharp that it is widely acknowledged in the sector that the science and heritage programme, for which she chairs the advisory council, has done excellent work, and that the body of knowledge that has been gained provides a springboard for further study and research. As has been mentioned, its work on conservation matters as diverse as flood resilience and renaissance sculpture is remarkable.
I turn to the national heritage science strategy and the national heritage science forum, which are referred to in the committee’s report. The Government fully support collaboration across the heritage science community, and we encourage all its bodies to increase their participation, as appropriate, in both the national heritage science strategy and the national heritage science forum. As the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, mentioned, English Heritage is playing an important part in continuing to support both the forum and the objectives of the national heritage science strategy, to which English Heritage is contributing directly through its own science strategy.
As has also been remarked, there has been an increase in collaboration between research councils, heritage institutions and individuals, and this is most welcome. The Government acknowledge the importance of public engagement with heritage science in stimulating interest in science, technology and engineering, and we support recommendations for the community to achieve this through the national heritage science forum.
I turn to the recommendations specifically directed at the Government. The committee expressed concern about the way in which DCMS monitors its bodies’ delivery of their heritage science responsibility and recommended that the department set specific departmental objectives for heritage science. DCMS has structures in place that enable it to ensure that its arm’s-length bodies fulfil their high-level strategic objectives and indicators, and achieve value for money. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, raised this issue, but performance against ministerial priorities and performance indicators is reviewed at regular ministerial and officials’ meetings with senior management of the arm’s-length bodies. The department does not wish to micromanage these bodies by imposing a large number of detailed objectives. The department is close to completing management agreements that cover the current spending review period to 2015. I think that it would be preferable if committee members knew once there had been a completion of those management agreements so that the detail is more readily available, with probably more time to consider.
The committee considered further the arrangements for scientific advice within DCMS, an issue raised by my noble friend Lady Sharp. The challenge facing departments—we all understand this; in many cases it is not a party issue—is to deliver effective policy with fewer resources. There are cost implications for DCMS arising from some of the recommendations made in the report.
Picking up on the point about the work of the DCMS’s Science and Research Advisory Committee, I say to my noble friend Lady Sharp that, in considering its future, the Government Office for Science is now conducting a review with a view to improving and enhancing its work and making it more effective. The department now has a new deputy chief scientific, who is working with the Government Chief Scientific Adviser and the Government Office for Science to fully integrate the department with the chief scientific adviser network in such a way that DCMS can draw on the advice of all other departmental chief scientific advisers as well.
The committee recommended that the department work with partners to ensure that there was no decline in senior heritage science posts. The Government support the recommendation to ensure the long-term health of the heritage community through attracting new scientists to heritage science, and we encourage its bodies to contribute to research and collaboration that could do more to achieve this goal.
The committee made recommendations about possible sources of funding for heritage science, which are entirely in tune with the department’s policy to support efforts by the heritage sector to broaden its range of funding sources, in particular through philanthropy. We agree that philanthropy has an important part to play in supporting heritage science. To support the fundraising efforts of the cultural sector, the DCMS, Arts Council England, and the Heritage Lottery Fund have set up the Catalyst programme, with more than £50 million going towards the establishment of endowments to be matched by a further £100 million from private donors. Among those receiving endowment grants is the Mary Rose Trust, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, referred, which was awarded £1 million last June. The Mary Rose was the first modern warship, but as important as the history of the Mary Rose is the science from the Mary Rose. The Mary Rose Trust is the world leader in specialised marine conservation and has Europe’s largest maritime archaeological conservation centre.
The Government recognise that digitisation has huge potential to facilitate wider and higher quality access to and understanding of future cultural collections and artefacts. Indeed, last summer, the Heritage Lottery Fund launched a new digital strategy and announced that funds can now be used for digital-only projects. As has been replayed to me, the Government do not wish to impose a top-down centralised structure to any digitisation framework, and have asked their arm’s-length bodies and the sector to collaborate together with the NHLF on a national or international framework for digitisation. The DCMS’s arm’s-length bodies are already taking the lead in attracting commercial funding for the digitisation of heritage collections, such as the partnership between the British Library and Google to digitise 250,000 out of copyright books from the library’s collection.
The committee’s work stands as an important touchstone against which work and progress in heritage science can be judged. It recognises the intrinsic value of our cultural heritage and the sector’s importance to the social, cultural and economic life of the UK and its role in attracting tourists from home and overseas. There are always areas where more could be done, and I am conscious that the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, has set me some tasks and questions. Given that some of them are quite intricate, I beg leave to write to him, as he generously suggested, so that I can fully consider the implications of what he said. It is important that the department works with its arm’s-length bodies to ensure a wide variety of work where science and heritage meet.
A number of points have been made about leadership, and I can understand what is meant. Clearly, the department has, and should have, an leadership role because it is responsible for the arm’s-length bodies that do the work on the nation’s behalf. The department sees heritage as having a clear role to play in supporting growth and welcomes the emphasis in the follow-up report on the significance of the sector to the UK economy. The Government have recently championed the importance of heritage in their GREAT campaign and the department also recognises the importance of science and of caring for heritage collections now and for future generations. It is clear that preservation cannot be taken for granted.
It has been my privilege over the past few weeks to start meeting some of my ministerial colleagues in the department—I was at a ministerial meeting earlier today, referring to this debate, which is clearly very important. I thank your Lordships. I have learnt a great deal today.
I want reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, that I have taken on board the points she made about education. Announcements are due. I have been asked this question a number of times in debates. I know of the concern. There is a determination to raise standards for the children of this country but I am confident—and I am a passionate supporter of the creative sector—that the education required to make that sector prosper will be in place. As I said, further announcements will be made.
I also want to say, to the committee members in particular, that it really was a very valuable report. Like all these things there are disappointments that the Government could not accept the proposals in full. I suspect no Government at any time are ever in the luxurious position of agreeing with everything because they have other conflicting demands. However, I would like to confirm Her Majesty’s Government’s commitment to heritage science in particular and to say that your Lordships’ work will be of benefit to all as we seek to preserve and understand better our rich and very valuable national heritage through science.
The Minister has reminded me that I should have, at the outset of this debate, declared my interest as chairman of the advisory group to the joint AHRC/EPSRC research programme that is under way. I apologise for that omission.
I thank noble Lords who have participated in the debate—my fellow committee members and particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Andrews, whose explanation of some of the work of English Heritage was extremely illuminating and provided us with a real insight into the work done in its science research area. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, for opening up and raising a number of questions others had not raised. Can I perhaps ask the Minister, who I also thank for his very sympathetic response, if he can make sure that when he replies in writing to the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, that he copies it to other Members here?
It is clear from what the Minister said that it is left to the arm’s-length bodies to implement these policies and these new management agreements will be crucial to this. Once they are published I hope we shall see that the department is encouraging these bodies to give priority to research because that is vital. I thank other Members who have participated in this debate and I beg to move.
Committee adjourned at 6.03 pm.