Examination of witnesses (Questions 740
THURSDAY 11 MARCH 1999
and RT HON
740. Just before I move on to my next point,
what I am saying is not about the management of a food scare,
for example, it is information about research being done. It is
hard to imagine, because we do not know exactly how the structures
will work, but if there is information about research being done
and that is passed around from one ministry to another or from
one bit to another, or there is a test which has found something
untoward and that information is passed around, the way that is
passed can be quite important. I am sure you understand that all
it needs is for an investigative reporter to phone up and find
out that there is research going on and a memo circulating somewhere
and, hey presto, before you know where you are you have got a
food scare. It is not about once the research is done and the
issue is established, it is just about the procedures, that is
(Mr Rooker) With respect, Sally, every example
you have given is not relevant to these concordats. There are
people with a natural suspicion of Government and I hope I have
still got a healthy scepticism myself, but the fact of the matter
is administratively you have got to make the machine work so that
department talks to department and agencies are involved and we
all know who is the lead or who is answering which PQ and that
kind of thing. It is an administrative matter. All of the examples
that you have given are outwith the role of these concordats.
741. If we can have information about them
that would be helpful.
(Mr Rooker) By all means.
742. If we can go on to the personnel. There
are three or four advisory committees described in Clauses 4 and
5, how will they work in practice? Are there areas that are envisaged
that could, in fact, have been established or appointed by the
Government at this stage? I understand that these ones are going
to be established by the Agency once it is set up, is that right?
(Mr Rooker) In Clauses 4 and 5 you are referring
purely to devolution. That is only devolution.
743. There are some other ones as well,
are there not?
(Mr Rooker) No. Clause 4 relates to Wales, Scotland
and Northern Ireland.
744. I am thinking about Clause 6.
(Mr Rooker) The other advisory committees. All
I can do is point you to the paper that you have had today. Those
that report into the FSA, which are the top four, will be handed
over, as it were. The FSA will make its own decisions as to what
advice it wants to take. If it wants public advisory committees,
if it wants to merge or create new ones, it will have the power
to do that. These are not statutory advisory committees. There
is the list in the White Paper I referred to earlier on. Some
are statutory but most are non-statutory advisory committees.
745. When it comes to the appointment of
the members of the Agency, in particular the chair, have you got
any timetable for that and how are descriptions and so on going
to be drawn up? Obviously, as has already been said, the people
who are appointed to these particular posts are going to be key
to the success or failure of it.
(Mr Rooker) At the risk of correction, we have
no favoured list of named people whatsoever for the chair of the
Commission, or the Board as it might be called, or indeed the
Chief Executive. Once the House has given a proper Bill, if I
can call it that, a second reading the Government has then got
the parliamentary authority to advertise for the chair. I suspect
that will be the first one.
746. It be down to open advert?
(Mr Rooker) I have said that before. I deeply
regret you have to ask that question because it implies
747. I wanted to make sure we had it on
the record, that is all.
(Mr Rooker) Everybody appointed to the Commission,
the 10 to 14 people, and the Chair will all be appointed after
public advertisement, fully consistent with the Nolan and Peach
principles. The same will apply to the Chief Executive. They will
all be appointed openly, sifted with external sifters, outside
ministers. The final appointment will be made by the Health Secretary
in conjunction with other Ministers rather than the MAFF Minister.
It is a Health Department appointment. Anyone who thinks that
they might want to be on the Agency and thinks they have got to
wait for a phone call, then frankly they will not get a phone
call. There will be an advertisement, probably more than one I
suspect, which people will be asked to respond to. It does not
matter who they are, if they want to be considered for this role
they are going to have to apply.
748. You have said something that I was
going to ask and that is that Nolan and Peach will apply to them,
so that is fine. With the criticism from some quarters and possibly
the wider concern felt but not expressed about Lord Sainsbury's
involvement with GMOs just to take an example, do you not think
it would be advisable to include a prohibition on Agency members
with particular beneficial interests, not "I am interested"
or "I am experienced" but beneficial interests, from
participating in discussions about them. I am not saying from
being members of the Agency, you understand, but where a particular
matter is under discussion should somebody who has a beneficial
interest be part of the discussion about them?
(Mr Rooker) You are presupposing this is a member
of the Agency someone who has already been appointed to the Agency?
749. Yes, an actual member.
(Mr Rooker) Like a board or commission or whatever
it is going to be called. Nobody will be excluded from applying
and their interests and their expertise could be relevant anyway.
They will all be individual appointments and expected to work
in a collegiate way. Nobody is ruled out because of a beneficial
interest which may be a pension, shareholdings or someone in a
university department or a hospital with research contracts. That
of course would be open, published and transparent like our own
advisory committees have to publish all that. It may be for the
Chair of the Commission and the Chief Executive that much more
onerous conditions are put on. We have had no discussion about
this but it may be in those circumstances we would not appoint
anybody who had a remotely beneficial interest. I only say that
because of the special nature of the Chair and Chief Executive.
I do not know. We have not decided. When it comes to discussions
after people are appointed, because interests can change for whatever
reason, because these will be part-time people of course on the
Commission, then when issues arise that have to be properly declared
it may be the case that they do not take part in some discussions.
That happens on our existing advisory committees now and on some
issues it goes beyond not taking part in the discussion and the
advisory committee members may absent themselves from the discussion.
That does not devalue their membership of the committee but it
shows how serious we it in this country take, I have to say contrary
to our American cousins where in our discussions over the supplement
B6 we got people we knew would not have been allowed in the room
in discussions in this country whereas in America they have got
interests up to their neck and they are allowed inside the discussions
taking place. We take a very rigid view on this and that view
will be the same in the Agency. I hope I have not sugar-coated
it too much; I did not intend to.
750. What you are saying is that although
it is not mentioned in the Bill it is nevertheless going to be
part of practice.
(Mr Rooker) Absolutely.
751. Because it would be ironical and paradoxical
if there were heavier prohibitions on, say, the participation
of a local councillor in much more minor matters than on a very
important national committee like this.
(Mr Rooker) The rules have changed following Nolan.
They have changed beyond all recognition from what they were ten
years ago. The practices have also changed as well. We know that
because we have a lot of experience of advisory committees and
health does as well and we share some of them. I have visited
all the MAFF statutory committees and sat in at some of the beginnings
of meetings when people are asked to look at the agenda and declare
all their interests and I was amazed at the detail of the Veterinary
Products Committee of the interests that were being declared around
the room. That is not to say there were loads of interests being
declared but the nature of the very remote interests that were
actually being declared, all noted with external assessors there
752. I notice that you mention that the
members of the Agency would be part time. Is that laid down somewhere?
(Mr Rooker) I knew you were going to ask that.
753. It is a pretty big job they are going
(Mr Rooker) It is and I probably should not have
said that because I do not know. The assumption is that the Chief
Executive will be full time. I suspect whoever chairs it will
be appointed part time but be pretty full time in reality and
the rest of them would be part time, but part time meaning they
are not full time. That is a fair way of putting it. Those who
are appointed, for example the two from Scotland, one from Wales
and Northern Ireland, who are appointed for other reasons, but
nevertheless we will have to match that because they will be the
chairs of the advisory committees in those territorial countries
so they will have a quite an onerous task in terms of time. Time
management is important but they will be part time. Do not ask
me how long they are going to be appointed for because I cannot
answer that because we have not decided, maybe three or five years.
We have not got that far down the road yet.
754. It does mean they are going to have
to have another source of income, does it not?
(Mr Rooker) Yes.
755. It is not many people, is it, between
10 and 14, so would it not be much clearer that they are actually
independent if they were fully engaged with the Agency and did
not have to seek some other source of income apart from would
it not enable them to do the job better as well?
(Tessa Jowell) Let me just answer that and say
that I think that if we look across a whole range of public appointments
where we ask people to give very large amounts of their time for
which they receive remuneration which in no way compensates them
or amounts to being a salary for the job that they have done,
it is the case that by and large those appointments are part-time
appointments. If we look at health trusts and health authorities
within my own department that is the case. I think that there
is a benefit in having people who are part- time appointments
to bodies like this rather than people who are doing this to the
exclusion of everything else because they are appointed because
of their wider experience and it is important to maintain their
756. It reminds me, Minister, of some of
the discussions that go on sometimes around Members of Parliament?
(Tessa Jowell) I thought you were going to say
757. Some of us do think that being a Member
of Parliament is a sufficient task and it is not hard to maintain
contact and I would have thought unless these are going to be
appointed for 25 years or something they should be able to maintain
contact. So it is something that I would suggest, partly for the
sake of confidence in the Agency and efficiency, you might like
to continue to think about?
(Mr Rooker) They are not going to be there to
manage the Agency, they are there to govern the agency. The Chief
Executive and his or her team will manage the Agency. You have
to draw a distinction between management and governance.
758. Yes, I understand that, but Members
of Parliament do not run departments either.
(Mr Rooker) Actually neither do ministers. It
is not our job to run the department, it is our job to govern
the department, the management is a separate issue.
759. I understand that. I still think that
being a member of this Agency is going to be a very tough job
to do part-time. It is a very big national body with huge responsibilities.
I have put the question and had the answer and I would suggest
that you think about it a bit more. I will move on to another
slightly related question but more about the staff of the Agency.
To what extent will the staff be composed of civil servants from
the existing set-ups, from the Joint Food Standards and Safety
Group or from related agencies? To what extent will there be new
blood and to what extent will it be transfers? How will you ensure
that you get the new culture that I think you have talked about
before and that many witnesses have talked about?
(Mr Rooker) One cannot say that precisely because
obviously we consider the members of the Joint Food Standards
and Safety Group are the embryo of the Agency. They will not be
forced to transfer to the Agency, there will be a choice there.
The Agency staff will be civil servants, we have made that clear
in the White Paper and that was something we did not consult on,
it was not negotiable in that sense, like the location of the
headquarters. Nevertheless, and the numbers are coming from memory
now, it is approximately 300 or thereabouts. It is estimated the
Agency's central headquarters staff will be in excess of 400-450,
so there will be new blood recruited from within and without the
Civil Service, I am absolutely certain about that. There may be
some members who, having joined the Food Standards and Safety
Group, who having experienced, if you like, the joy of planning
and everything else will want to go off and plan and set up something
else within Government, say, rather than run something. It will
be a free choice. The chances are the majority of them will transfer
to the Agency but the Agency will not be solely composed of the
Joint Food Standards and Safety Group. Your other question relates
to the culture. In some ways the culture of the Agency will be
set by the people appointed to the board and the Chief Executive.
What we have been trying to do in our modest way since the election
and between now and when vesting day comes is to actually deliberately
change the culture of the way that particularly my ministry, which
was much criticised for its culture, operates. I have to say without
exception the staff involved have embraced the culture that we
wanted which was openness and transparency from day one. There
has never been any backsliding on that. They have had to slow
ministers down occasionally when we wanted to move a bit faster
than we should have done but the lawyers are always around, of
course, and I suspect the Agency will have its own lawyers as
well. The culture of openness and transparency and putting consumers
first was our priority and by definition you end up treading on
the toes of producers and that does cause a problem from time
to time. We have made some of that change in the way we publish
information about food, in our surveillance programmes, the hygiene
scores. All of those are changes since 1997. That ethos will transfer
to the Agency but it will then create its own culture as well
by the nature of the people appointed to run it.