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Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, I thank the Minister for sending me a copy of the annual review of her department for 1995-96 which I found interesting reading. Will she confirm that her department now spends 25 per cent. of its total budget (£620 million) through the EU? Is she satisfied that she has as good control over that money being spent through the EU as she could get if it were paid directly to the countries involved, particularly those in sub-Saharan Africa?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, we are going wide of the Question, not surprisingly, I think. Because the ODA has a first-class record in monitoring and evaluating our own research, it has been asked by
Lord Dubs: My Lords, did not the Government give an undertaking two or three years ago that any aid for eastern Europe would not be at the expense of aid to the poorer countries? What has happened to that undertaking?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, I think the noble Lord's memory is slightly off course, but I shall not debate that with him. The work we are doing in the countries of central Europe and the former Soviet Union is important world-wide. Those countries were formerly putting money, for all the wrong reasons, into some of the poorest countries. In this global world there is an evening out. We intend to concentrate British aid funds on the most needy and those who can use them most effectively. I shall continue to see that that happens.
Lord Judd: My Lords, does the Minister accept that we are all heartened by her undertaking in answering questions that she is fighting for an increased aid programme? I am certain that she has nothing but good will from the whole House in that effort. Will the Minister forgive me for returning to an old theme of mine? With the pressure on the aid programme, is there not a real difficulty? She keeps telling us that the aid programme is about poverty alleviation and yet it is constantly diverted for other purposes. Is this not the time to bring a strategic statement about the aid programme to the House so that we can all examine it, debate it, and, as far as possible, put ourselves wholeheartedly behind what she is trying to do?
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, the noble Lord is always very tempting on this issue, but I am not one who gives into temptation very easily, as he knows. Four years ago we were concentrating about 62 per cent. of our resources on the poorest. That has now increased to over 70 per cent. of our resources. I believe it is right to concentrate the aid on helping those most in need. That was a recommendation by the fundamental expenditure review, which we accepted as Ministers. That is being implemented.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, is the Minister giving priority to the poorest countries within the former Soviet Union? The image of what is meant is sometimes distorted. I am thinking in particular of Kyrgyzstan and the countries in central Asia.
Baroness Chalker of Wallasey: My Lords, we go back to what I said at the beginning. We must give aid where it can be used effectively. It is not yet particularly easy to target some of those countries. Where we do, it is frequently achieved through the excellent NGOs, thereby alleviating pockets of poverty in those countries.
The Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Fraser of Carmyllie): My Lords, yes, very satisfied. With the benefit of experience, we do not propose to appoint a standing group of independent experts as envisaged in the 1993 White Paper, Realising our potential.
Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but does he agree that, under the long-hallowed Haldane principle, policy decisions of research councils and the definition of priorities within their spending allocations are intended to be free of any political consideration and independent of government? Is it therefore appropriate that the post of director general should be as a civil servant within the Department of Trade and Industry? The former advisory board for the research councils was capable of giving advice upwards to government and downwards to the research councils. In the absence of such an advisory group of experts, is there not a serious risk that, as Sir Mark Richmond recently wrote:
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, I do not accept that. I do not accept in any way that the present director general has done anything other than offer the best of independent advice to my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade and my honourable friend the Minister for Science and Technology. His role is to advise. He is a valued and respected adviser. He has to be an adviser. It is right that the power and responsibility for this matter should rest with the President of the Board of Trade. It is important to note that, where decisions have been taken on the basis of the advice that he has tendered to government, that information has been made known through the annual booklets and allocations of the science budget, the director general's own review of the science budget portfolio and the research councils' responses to the technology foresight initiative. It is clear to those interested in this field what advice is being given and the Government's response to it.
Lord Peyton of Yeovil: My Lords, is my noble and learned friend aware that there is some real anxiety that the research councils might drift into becoming mere satellites of the DTI? Perhaps he could go a little further in explaining why what seemed a good idea in 1993
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, it is not a case of the Government changing their mind now. As the noble Lord, Lord Walton, may recall, when my right honourable friend Mr. William Waldegrave appeared before a Select Committee of this House as far back as July 1993, he indicated that his thinking had moved away from the establishment of such a body. The balance is between whether there should be this small expert group or whether it should be left to the director general himself to determine what advice he should receive and from what sources. It is interesting to note that, when he was preparing that review of research councils' portfolios dealing with just such matters which are of concern to my noble friend, he consulted no fewer than 300 people across the sciences of our country. The advice he received has benefited from his own membership of the Technology Foresight Steering Group.
Lord Dean of Beswick: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I was privileged to be a member of your Lordships' Select Committee on Science and Technology and heard Mr. Waldegrave give evidence? Is he further aware that it became clear that, by comparison with our competitors in the international field, we were doing poorly? Is that still the position and, if so, when will it be reversed?
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, we debated the matter in May when I set out a number of figures and details which seemed to me to indicate that we were doing well in research. However, the noble Lord's question is some way away from the issue of whether the director general should be advised by a small closed group or whether, as this director general has determined, he should take his advice from a broader range of sources. I believe that, if that is what he has chosen to do, he should be encouraged to do what is most appropriate as he sees it. He is certainly acting independently and is publishing the basis of his advice.
The Earl of Halsbury: My Lords, is this not typical of the muddle that arises when moving the directorship away from the Cabinet Office to the Board of Trade? What has the Board of Trade got to do with medical research?
Lord Fraser of Carmyllie: My Lords, as I indicated, the decision was not taken recently. It was taken by Mr. William Waldegrave in 1993 when he had responsibility for the matter. It is not a decision which flows from the move to the Department of Trade and Industry. I have no doubt that the responsibility is appropriately placed within that department. I do not wish to rake over cold ashes, but I am sure that the noble Earl will recall that Bill Stewart, who was then Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government, made it clear in an extended article to the press that he saw nothing disadvantageous about the move.
Lord Peston: My Lords, is the Minister aware that some of us believe that the mere fact that his right honourable friend took a view in 1993 does not make that correct either then or now? However, we may reflect on that.
We are puzzled by one issue and would like the Minister to clarify it. Why are the two possibilities regarded as incompatible? Why cannot the director general ask questions of whomever he wishes while at the same time having an advisory group, independent of government, not paid a salary by government, but simply giving objective advice? I believe that the Government originally thought that proposal to be sensible. Is it not the case that the two are compatible? I understand that the scientific community would very much welcome the existence of a small independent body and I am not at all clear about the reason for setting one's face against it.
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