Memorandum by the Veterinary Products
Committee (PAP 21)
The Chairman of the Veterinary Products Committee
(VPC), Professor Ian Aitken, having received a copy of the above
Select Committee's Paper entitled "Issues and Questions",
raised the matter with the VPC at its April meeting. The members
confirmed that the Committee should respond and I have been asked
by the Chairman to convey its views.
The VPC was concerned that the paper attempted
to cover all public appointments for all types of public body.
The VPC, for example, is an advisory body, established under the
Medicines Act 1968 whose terms of reference are:
To give advice with respect of safety,
quality and efficacy in relation to the veterinary use of any
substance or article (not being an instrument, apparatus or appliance)
to which any provision of the Medicines Act is applicable.
To promote the collection of information
relating to suspected adverse reactions for the purpose of enabling
such advice to be given.
Members are appointed by Ministers under Section
4.(5) of the Act.
Members of the VPC are independent experts in
a wide range of specialist areas, are recognised by their peers
as having reached, or being capable of reaching, the top of their
professions and who contribute by their individual expertise and
judgement to the advice given by the Committee to the Health and
Agriculture Ministers (who act as the Licensing Authority for
veterinary medicines). Nominations to the Committee are made following
public announcement of vacancies and consultation with a wide
range of interested bodies. Nominees proceed through a sift process
and interview in line with the guidance issued by the Office of
the Commissioner for Public Appointments.
The Committee was concerned that any change
from the current process to one of elected members could jeopardise
the balance of skills required on the Committee, resulting in
omission of key areas of technical knowledge. At worst, it would
introduce bias in deliberations that would undermine the independence
and probity vital to Committee deliberations and advice.
Members had no strong views on this section
other than to reiterate that the Medicines Act requires appointments
to the Committee to be made by the Minister.
The Committee was not aware of any evidence
to suggest that the current system was not attracting applicants.
However, it was concerned that the current appointments process
is long and protracted and that the some candidates may be lost
as a result. There was also a general feeling that some candidates,
being acknowledged experts in their respective fields, may find
the prospect of an interview to be slightly demeaning and may,
as a consequence, withdraw their application. The Committee also
agreed that it was important for those not offered appointment
to be given as full an explanation as possible, especially where
there was little to choose between candidates so that, if necessary,
the unsuccessful candidate could be invited to apply for membership
on a future occasion. Such steps would assist in averting criticisms
of the process that might deter future applicants.
The Committee emphasised that the pool of candidates
for each of the specialisms represented was quite small and that,
at least for the present, white males dominated. The imposition
of ethnic/gender ratios on appointments would adversely affect
the effectiveness of the Committee. The introduction of lay members
onto the Committee, however, was recognised as having been an
important and positive step forward.
The Committee voiced strong views on the question
of remuneration. Whilst generally agreeing that appointment to
the VPC was a matter of personal recognition rather than financial
gain, the level of fee did not reflect the commitment that members
had to make in preparing for and attending meetings. Self-employed
members were particularly disadvantaged, although academics were
also under increasing pressure from their employers to account
for their time. Committee service carries little weight as a "measure
of output". There was also some frustration that fee levels
remained static for a number of years without review and are not
considered to be eligible for inflationary rises.
Members had no strong views on this section.
Again member had no strong views, but they were
slightly bemused by the reference in Q.25 to "important people"
and wondered how these would be defined?
Secretary, VPC Appointments.