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Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, I declare an interest as a former member of the Medical Research Council during the 1970s. Even at that time criticisms

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were often levelled against the MRC by disgruntled scientists who failed to secure funding for their research. Is it not the case that the MRC has a proud record of achievement which has won for it international respect and acclaim? Does the Minister accept that many members of the scientific community regard a number of points made in the report as being seriously misconceived, not least the fact that so much criticism has been levelled against the UK Biobank project? That project was warmly commended and strongly supported by the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology in its inquiry into UK genetic databases.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the noble Lord has made a number of points. I agree completely and say again that the MRC has gained an excellent world-wide reputation for its funding of medical research, and I do not think that anything in the report suggests otherwise. A number of criticisms have been made of certain specific issues and certainly there is a need to improve some of the financial planning and commitment. However, those problems should not detract from the excellent work carried out by the council in the past.

As regards the UK Biobank project, again I believe that some of the press reaction has rather overstated what is set out in the report. The report itself makes the point that:

    "The Biobank is an exciting project and we commend the MRC's efforts to ensure that the UK is taking the lead in harvesting the fruits of the human genome".

Thus even in the report it is understood that this is an extremely important and imaginative project which should be supported.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, the paragraph immediately following the one from which the Minister has just quoted goes on to state that:

    "It is not clear to us that Biobank was peer-reviewed and funded on the same basis as any other grant proposal. Our impression is that a scientific case for Biobank has been put together by the funders to support a politically driven project".

I believe that the Minister was only partially quoting from the report. Over recent years UK Biobank has received 45 million, the lion's share of funding from the MRC. Will the Minister take seriously the criticisms made by the Select Committee to the effect that it was possible that the UK Biobank proposal was not peer-reviewed. The Select Committee is well regarded, as is the MRC both now and historically, so the Minister should not brush aside lightly any criticisms made by the committee.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I hope that I made it clear in my original Answer that we take the report seriously and shall consider it in detail. However, I do not think that the noble Lord is correct to say that the UK Biobank project was not peer-reviewed. In fact, it was peer-reviewed by an international panel. Furthermore, it was not reviewed on the basis of a normal grant project, but rather as a major infrastructure project. Such projects are never

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reviewed on exactly the basis as other projects. UK Biobank is a major infrastructure project and was peer-reviewed by a very distinguished international panel which supported it. On that basis, while there may be criticism, it should be kept in proportion.

Lord Winston: My Lords, I declare an interest as a practising scientist whose laboratory has repeatedly benefited from funding granted by the Medical Research Council, although obviously from time to time we, too, have felt disgruntled when we have not secured a grant.

Is it not fair to say that the Medical Research Council is to be congratulated on the excellence of medical research in Britain, due in large part to its scientific leadership and to the standards and levels of funding which the Government have allowed the Medical Research Council to contribute? May that long continue.

It is essential that large projects such as UK Biobank compete side by side with smaller projects, and that those large projects continue. As a way of improving funding from the Medical Research Council, does the Minister agree that some more attention might be given to extending project grants rather than merely collaborative grants? Collaborative grants are important, but project grants often launch new science in a slightly different way.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I totally agree about the quality of the MRC's science. Project grants versus collaborative grants is another area of debate within the medical research community. We need to look at this very carefully and discuss it more fully with the MRC before we give a reply.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, it is quite difficult to maintain the usual courtesies between the Houses when in a report from another place this immensely imaginative project, the UK Biobank, is described as politically motivated. Is it not a fact that the project is leading the world in bringing together a person's genetic make-up, environment and lifestyle in a unique way—half a million people will be in the survey—which will enable society in future to predict, prevent and cure some of the world's most devastating illnesses?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I do not quite understand what it means to say that this project is politically driven. I fear it is simply a rather low-level form of abuse to describe it as political. I do not think that that is the kind of abuse another place should indulge in.

I agree with the noble Lord that the project is leading the world in this respect. Various other countries see it as a major and important source of valuable information. I regard it as an extremely important project.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, does the Minister recall the recommendation of the House of Lords Select Committee on stem cells that a discrete

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line should be kept between embryos and eggs being used for research purposes and those being gathered from fertility clinics? Will he therefore look again at the way in which the MRC has decided to fund nurses working in fertility clinics, bearing in mind the proscription that is placed on such activity in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990? In upholding the very high standards to which the noble Lord has just alluded, it is important that that separation is maintained.

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, that is an important question. I will take a further look at this to see whether there is any issue on which we should focus.

Mental Health Services

3.3 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are considering any new initiatives to help people with mental illness.

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, we have embarked upon a long-term programme of modernisation to increase the capacity of the mental health service, provide better access to effective treatment and care, reduce unfair variation and raise standards. This includes action to implement the national service framework for mental health. Our strategy, as always, will be informed by research and development.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. Can she confirm or dispute a report that mental illness is the cause of 50 per cent of all measured disability, yet only 12 per cent of NHS funding and 6 per cent of the medical research budget is spent on it? If those figures are broadly correct—and I believe that the research went up to 2001—will my noble friend tell the House what the Government intend to do to change this very sorry picture?

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I suspect that no one knows better than the noble Lord just how long a history of neglect mental health has in this country and the extent of the under-funding that we inherited in 1997. We have made mental health a priority in several ways, primarily through the first national service framework that we established, with seven standards aimed at raising standards across mental health services. Those standards are generating improvement in community development services and in many different ways. We have made 300 million extra available for three years to 2003–04 to develop prevention and care services. We have invested in finding out what is needed, primarily by establishing a new institute, the National Institute of Mental Health, which will play a key role in research and development and good local practice. I think that we can look forward to a better future in mental health.

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Lord Campbell of Croy: My Lords, are the Government satisfied with the availability of the latest forms of medication which can help some of the mentally ill to lead reasonably normal lives safely, outside institutions?

Baroness Andrews: Yes, my Lords, there is a new range of atypical antipsychotic drugs which seem to be helping people significantly. We understand there have been some concerns about delays, but all PCTs are required to follow the NICE guidance after three months and make those drugs available. We believe that they are making a difference.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, the Minister referred to the national service framework. Can she confirm that money will be adequate to implement the national service framework and that it is being received by those trusts to which it has been allocated. Can she also confirm whether the Mind Out mental health campaign, which is an excellent government initiative, will carry on beyond this year, whether it will be funded and whether it will be evaluated by the Government?

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