Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witness (Questions 800 - 821)

WEDNESDAY 22 NOVEMBER 2000

DR MALCOLM AICKIN

  800. Can I stop you there just for a minute. Did you sit down and draft this?
  (Dr Aickin) Yes, I did.

  801. No-one else in EBCO did it, you did it?
  (Dr Aickin) The way the thing happened was we talked about the possibility of submitting evidence, as a result of which I drew up a series of bullet point headings which people had raised and that was circulated and following that I then put the flesh on the bones of those bullet points.

  802. And you agreed that at the time? Our Chairman asked at the very beginning do you still hold the same views.
  (Dr Aickin) That is a very difficult question to answer because—

  803. You do or you do not.
  (Dr Aickin) It is a difficult question.

  804. I will tell you why I am asking it. We think it is an important piece of evidence and we want to know whether you hold the same views or if you are retracting them and, if you are, why, because we have to conduct an inquiry.
  (Dr Aickin) That is quite a long document, whichever particular draft it is, and it expresses views on a number of things. To ask me whether across the whole eight pages I still would endorse all of them, the answer is very difficult to give.

  805. Do you still believe that EBCO and other environmental bodies are not doing as well as they might do under the present arrangements?
  (Dr Aickin) I think that there is always room for improvement.

  806. There is always room for improvement.
  (Dr Aickin) Of course.

  807. But you are quite critical of the present arrangements and you are suggesting that they ought to perhaps change and you are flagging up some issues. For instance, you are saying that Entrust currently has assets approaching £2 million and elsewhere in the document you are suggesting that perhaps more of that should be invested in the work it does with environmental bodies.
  (Dr Aickin) I am not sure that is what I say actually. If it is what I say then I retract it because it was not what I meant.

  808. What did you mean?
  (Dr Aickin) My belief is that Entrust has assets approaching £2 million and I think that document says, or if it does not a revision of it says, that most of that is prudently held against the future costs of regulation of money that has already gone into the scheme. I believe that is prudent. Whether £2 million is the right sum of money I cannot tell you, but I think it is prudent that it should be there and it should be there against the future regulation of money that has gone into the scheme. The problem that I have, if you like, not that it is something that I would like to see, is supposing Entrust was removed from its regulatory role, where would that money go?

  809. You mean if it no longer existed?
  (Dr Aickin) Yes. Would we be sure that money was—

  810. They changed the Articles in July to take out "charitable".
  (Dr Aickin) I am not sure of the date but they did change it.

  811. To take out the word "charitable".
  (Dr Aickin) Yes.

  812. And that concerns you?
  (Dr Aickin) The concern that I had when I wrote it was that Entrust seemed to be able to change its constitution without too much difficulty, which I suppose is the case for a company limited by guarantee.

  813. Could it mean, for instance, that anyone on the Board of Directors might possibly then benefit or an organisation attached to them might benefit rather than the whole £2 million or thereabouts going to a similar charitable body?
  (Dr Aickin) The concern that I had was was there any guarantee that if Entrust was removed from its regulatory role that that money which had been earmarked or accrued or reserved, whatever accounting term you want to use for it, against the future regulatory business that Entrust had, if that regulatory activity was transferred to someone else, was there any absolute guarantee that the money would go with it? I think the likelihood is that even people short of the saintly status that I talked about before would find it difficult to pass the red face test and put that money in their pockets and walk away, but I was concerned that temptation was there. If it was not there then I think things would be much safer, that is the point.

Mr Olner

  814. It goes further than that, does it not, because you were the Chairman of EBCO?
  (Dr Aickin) Yes.

  815. And really what you were annoyed about was that the directors collectively were getting more money than they provided you with to carry out EBCO's functions, to arrange meetings, produce a newsletter, run a website and reimburse your members for their time and expense. That was really what your gripe was, was it not, that they collectively were taking more money out than they were giving you as EBCO?
  (Dr Aickin) I am not sure that I would describe it as a gripe but, other than that, yes, I think you are broadly right.

Chairman

  816. Can you tell us how you became Chairman of EBCO?
  (Dr Aickin) I was asked to become Chairman of EBCO.

  817. By whom?
  (Dr Aickin) By the other members. The way that it worked, and to some extent I think you went into this before in your previous inquiry, was Entrust identified four people who they thought would be interested in representing environmental bodies' views. Those four people came to me and asked me if I would become their Chairman, and I agreed to do so.

  818. So actually the original members were picked by Entrust, is that right?
  (Dr Aickin) Yes, that is correct.

  819. Was Willie McKelvey one of those original members?
  (Dr Aickin) He was not one of those original members, no.

  820. But he did subsequently become a member?
  (Dr Aickin) Yes, he did. One of the things that we were concerned about was being representative of environmental bodies generally. Having been initially picked by Entrust, and then me being picked as a Chairman by the four who had been picked, we decided that it was important to spread that net wider. We advertised to all the then environmental bodies and that was done in August 1998, when there were fewer than there are now. I cannot now remember how many people we had who said they would be interested. The five of us established criteria and I cannot now remember exactly what those were. Two of the original four sifted all of the applicants against those criteria and we then held a meeting where we had perhaps 18, I cannot remember the details, from whom we selected additional members and Willie McKelvey was one of those.

  821. Can I thank you very much for your evidence. I think we have had some difficulties as a Committee because we have heard various people who have made allegations which they have then not been prepared to substantiate. I think you coming before the Committee today may have caused you some difficulties but, certainly as far as the Committee is concerned, it has helped to clarify a lot of issues. Can I thank you very much for coming.
  (Dr Aickin) Thank you very much.





 
previous page contents

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2000
Prepared 29 December 2000