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Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I hope I have made clear that the main consideration is to select people solely on the basis of merit and to include on these committees all the scientific disciplines needed to take decisions. We certainly try to achieve a balance of both people with commercial interests and those who have no interests to declare. The main principle is selection on merit. I was glad to see that the recent report of the House of Commons Select Committee on the scientific advisory system took the view that the integrity of scientists is not automatically compromised by an association with industry and that the barring of such scientists would deprive the Government of some of the best scientific advice available.
Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, the Minister referred to the House of Commons Select Committee report. Does he agree with another of its conclusions, namely, that serious thought needs to be given by the Government to establishing clear guidelines on disclosure of interests for members of advisory committees, backed by active policies of annual disclosure, clear and transparent policies for review of disclosures and clear criteria for decisions on whether interests are material? Will the Minister commit to that?
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is the noble aware that the veterinary products committee recently set up a working party to look into recombinant bovine somatotrophin? Two members of the committee have interests in Monsanto which manufactures that product. Bearing in mind the recent fiasco with the first Pinochet judgment in your Lordships' House, does the Minister regard those two particular members of the panel as independent?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the general principles are very clear. In circumstances where a matter is being considered which has a direct financial implication for a company, then, in accordance with the Nolan principles, such persons are required to stand aside on that particular issue. I am sure that that will happen in this case.
Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that some of the best scientific brains are employed by industry and that enormous investment is made by industry in scientific research? Does he therefore agree that the fact that people are involved with industry should not automatically debar them? I have first-hand experience of taking market research right through what are termed near markets and applied research. That can only be of benefit as regards membership of these panels.
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I reiterate the point that the main consideration is to select people for these committees on the basis that they have the best scientific expertise to consider the questions that arise. We certainly do not exclude people on the basis that they have contacts in industry. The noble Baroness is right to point out that some of the best brains in these areas inevitably have contact with industry, whether through consulting, making speeches or other concerns. In the extremely wise words of my noble friend Lord Peston in a previous debate, if every time any leading scientist or engineer is appointed to an advisory committee scurrilous remarks about his or her integrity are made, in the end only second-rate people will be willing to work, and that would not serve this country well.
Lord McNair: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the difficulty of getting research done, particularly in alternative health fields, has an effect on the standing of the people who might subsequently be appropriate for appointment to such panels? There is, as it were, a bottleneck. Does the Minister further agree that, as soon as research is done into some of the alternative health issues, people who have the necessary status will emerge?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, these are advisory committees; they are asked to advise on specific technical questions. In many cases, Ministers will accept the findings because they relate to a technical question. However, the ultimate decision is always the ministerial one.
Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, does the Minister accept the need for wide public support and understanding of the work of these committees? With that in mind, are scientists with impeccable credentials who are trustees and advisers to charities considered for appointment to them?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I repeat that appointment is on the basis of merit. Some of our most distinguished scientists work for charitable organisations and would be considered alongside other people.
Lord Carter: My Lords, the Government are satisfied that the European Commission has set up workable arrangements to ensure that EU food aid is implemented effectively and reaches those for whom it is intended.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. However, does he recognise the widespread fear that much of the food aid that goes to Russia can be found on the way to the black market, in the hands of the Mafia, who then invest the money in western countries, and in some cases the EU itself? Will my noble friend outline the systems that are in operation to ensure that that does not happen? Is food aid really the best way to bring Russian agriculture into a recovery phase, or does it help to undermine the efforts of farmers in Russia, particularly small peasant farmers?
On the question of oversight, the Commission has appointed an agency comprising two commercial companies to control the movement of goods from the European Union to the Russian border. The agency will work with the member states' intervention agencies. The Russian authorities will take charge of the goods once they reach the Russian border. In addition, the EU has appointed an independent monitor, comprising three companies, to report on distribution.
Regarding food production, UK development assistance to Russia is operated through the Know-how Fund. That tackles the constraints on food production rather than the production itself. Areas where the UK provides assistance include: land ownership; development of marketing strategies; third party arbitration mechanisms to resolve disputes relating to land ownership; and technical advice on processing.
Lord Swinfen: My Lords, is the noble Lord satisfied that there is a proper transport system for distributing the food aid, bearing in mind that many of Russia's problems are caused by its lack of a proper transport system?
Lord Carter: My Lords, I repeat that the European Commission has set up an independent monitor. About 50 per cent of the food aid has started to flow; the rest should be delivered by September. It is up to the independent agency to report to the Commission if there are problems.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, has the EU been in touch with the prison service in Russia over the question of food for prisoners, since poor quality prison diets have in recent years been a significant contributory cause of tuberculosis?
Lord Carter: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving advance notice of this important question. The Memorandum of Understanding between the European Union and the Russian Government specifies that in exceptional cases, by decision of the Russian Government, the products may be distributed free of charge to the most vulnerable sectors of the population. It is not absolutely clear whether that extends to prisons. As a result of the noble Lord's question, urgent inquiries are being made by officials. I shall write to the noble Lord and place a copy of the letter in the Library.
Lord Islwyn: My Lords, how much bilateral aid is Britain sending to Russia this year? Secondly, what proportion of European aid is supplied by Britain?
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