Select Committee on Public Administration Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


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.

GENERAL

  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.

POLITICAL INFLUENCE ON APPOINTMENTS

  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.

DIVERSITY IN PUBLIC APPOINTMENTS

  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.

PUBLIC UNDERSTANDING

  Members had no strong views on this section.

OTHER ISSUES

  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?

Colin Bennett

Secretary, VPC Appointments.


 
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