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Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, the Minister's Answer gives a great deal of satisfaction. However, can she tell us whether any register of those involved in such positions is available to the public so that the public can know how great their financial interest is, bearing in mind some of the excesses that occurred under the last government which went totally unpunished?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the interests of those serving on independent advisory committees are published regularly. As I have explained previously in relation specifically to COT, that information has been placed in the Library of your Lordships' House. This is one of the issues that we are considering as part of our consultation paper on opening up quangos. The consultation exercise is particularly interested in the availability of public minutes of such meetings and in the question of whether or not such meetings should be open to the public.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, although there is much to be said for continuity and experience, does the Minister agree that the adage "Familiarity breeds contempt"--and perhaps even "complacency"--may be relevant here, given that some members of those committees have served for a very long time and there appears to be a hard core of about 25 individuals who circulate between the committees? What are Her Majesty's Government doing to ensure that there is decent rotation so that new opinions come in from time to time?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, those of us who are involved in public life in one way or another are well aware of what is sometimes referred to as the "Establishment stage army." We all need to be well aware of the potential for the sort of difficulties to which the noble Countess refers. Appointment procedures for those expert advisory committees are supervised and maintained under the Nolan procedures. There is also regular reappraisal of members of the committees and regular reviews of appointments.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, what the noble Lord, I think, wishes to know is whether reports of, for example, COT--I know that that has been controversial--are subject to consultation. The answer is that if such a report recommended regulations under the parliamentary procedure, it would be open for consultation. On the point about peer review, one of the operations of such scientific committees is precisely to carry out peer review of the papers and advice put forward by other members of the scientific community.
Earl Howe: My Lords, in our deliberations last December on the committee on toxicity, the noble Baroness was good enough to agree with me that the attendance of outside experts in a particular area of discussion could well assist the committee from time to time. Does she further agree that that principle could usefully be extended to all advisory committees and, if so, will she seek to bring that point to the attention of committee chairmen?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Earl is well aware that many such committees do not fall specifically under the organisation or auspices of the Department of Health. In fact, COT reports to both departments--to MAFF and to the DoH. It is worth remembering that our consultation exercise on opening up quangos is looking at many such issues. As I said in my earlier answers to the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, this is a subject of some concern. We are concerned that, for example, some of these committees have no lay or consumer representation. We are looking closely at that. The noble Earl's point should be drawn to the attention of those conducting the review.
Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, is the Minister aware that it is not only a question of the independent advice that is offered to the Government and the Ministry by these independent committees; it is also important to maintain the independence of the permanent Civil Service, to which they give their advice? Although it is inevitable that a close relationship must exist between officials and the food production companies concerned, is it not necessary that there should be a degree of aloofness by the Ministry, as a ministry, and an ever-increasing awareness of the needs of consumers?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, as so often, my noble friend draws attention to the narrow tightrope of the balance of interests which government departments have to walk in this area. As I said, we are striving to maintain the independence of the science together with a proper representation of consumer interests and an arm's length relationship with government departments.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, the consultation paper on opening up quangos makes a number of proposals in that area which will further strengthen independence by progressively opening up those quangos to scrutiny and making them more accountable to the public. As I said earlier, such proposals may well include publishing annual reports and reports of meetings, and the holding of open meetings which the public may attend.
Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer, although I find it hard to see why the "top secret" label should be attached to those minutes. Can the noble Lord tell us when we can expect from the Government,
I quote precisely the words used by the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor in his interview in the New Statesman on 8th February. Can the noble Lord use his influence to ensure that a general statement is added on how the Government see their pieces of constitutional reform being put together, as otherwise surely we are in danger of examining this very important matter brick by brick without any idea of what the final building will look like?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, there will be full public consultation in the widest sense when the sub-committee has completed its procedures. As and when that will be is a matter for the sub-committee, and it has not yet been determined. As to the issue of whether our constitutional reform proposals will be seen as a whole, they already have been seen as a whole--in our election manifesto.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as a former Minister of the Crown the noble Lord will understand that I cannot anticipate the contents of the next Queen's Speech. As to the matter of full discussion in this House, that is for the usual channels, but I am sure that they will look sympathetically on the idea of a full discussion once the recommendations of the sub-committee have been made public.
Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, we on this side of the House are grateful for the noble Lord's last reply. We very much look forward to a constructive discussion through the usual channels to see whether the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, which I also expressed some weeks ago in your Lordships' House, can be fulfilled. First, will the noble Lord consider yet again whether such a debate, which I believe to be generally desired in all quarters of your Lordships' House at the moment, can be satisfied by the provision of government time? Secondly, will the noble Lord reinforce the sympathy with which he greeted the supplementary question of my noble friend Lord Renton by recognising that since we are dealing with the future of one of the two Houses of Parliament and the relationship of the two Houses is necessarily complementary it will be extremely useful for this House and the general public to have an extended debate on the matter? Will the Government at least publish some options if not clear conclusions of what they have in mind in good time for that debate to take place before everyone goes away on their summer holidays?
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