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The increasing stipends for PhD students are increasing the funding for some specific research priorities; post-genomic research is an example. I think that that fits within what I have indicated. As far as I am concerned, that addresses the issue. However, as I said to the noble Lord, I am very happy to return to the point if it would enable us to bring this to a suitable and satisfactory close.
Lord Walton of Detchant: One concern which may arise relating to Clause 3(3) is not so much that the direction should invite or direct the research council to carry out research in a particular fieldthere have been many examples of that in the Medical Research Council, and in the other research councils, over the years; I could cite the example of HIV/AIDS and very many morebut that the Secretary of State may direct that certain research given priority by the research council should not be carried out. I think that that is the concern we would like to have allayed.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: As I understand it, there is no indication that that has happened. However, noble Lords have pressed the point and I shall take it away and look at it further. It is very clear to me that there are no indications from the work of the research councils or from the quinquennial review that the issue is of concern in the actuality of the circumstances, if I may put it like that. However, I undertake to look at it again on the understanding that the Government are clear about our intentions. However, I have heard the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Walton.
Amendment No. 7 would specify that the research council should have to provide details of its programmes and estimates of its expenses to the Secretary of State. We
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believe that this amendment could make the situation less clear. There is a risk, albeit a small one, that the addition of "details" could be interpreted as narrowing the scope of information provided within "programmes and estimates".
With those provisos, and on the understanding that I shall write to noble Lords on any points not coveredand I pick up the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth and Lord Walton, about ensuring that the wording entirely reflects our desiresI hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I turn to the issue of examples and where it might be appropriate to give an explicit directive. The example that I had in mind, although it relates not to the research councils but to one of the funding councils, occurred about a year ago when the Minister put pressure on the Higher Education Funding Council to withdraw funding from those rated "poor" in the research assessment exercise. There was a dispute, as I understand it, and it became explicit in hearings before the House of Commons Select Committee on Education and Skills that the funding council leadership was not too happy at that time to comply. I believe that an explicit letter was exchanged.
The point I was trying to make is that on these occasions it is better that the situation comes out into the open and there is an explicit letter of direction, as distinct from the Minister simply putting pressure on the research council chief executive and compliance behind the scenes. In the interest of public accountability we want to know about these matters. Implicitly, what I was trying to get at is that where such a direction is issued it should be an explicit direction in the form of a letter that goes to the research council and to which the research council has to respond. I think that most noble Lords understand that my wish in these amendments is to try to reinforce a degree of relative autonomy. The noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, thought that I had done completely the opposite. Perhaps we can get together and think about how to come up with something better.
I was not clear about one aspect of the Minister's reply. I had understood that the wording in Clause 3 was precisely that used in the Science and Technology Act 1965 and that one reason it could not be changed is that this wording applies to all other research councils. As the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, said, we do not wish to have separate rules relating to separate research councils. I would argue that this is an opportunity to update the rules of the research councils to bring them partly up-to-date with current practice. That was another reason why I tabled the amendments. Perhaps the noble Baroness can write to me on whether it is the 1965 Act. She implied that it had already been updated, but I did not think that that was so.
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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: We took the 1965 Act and updated the legal terminology, for example. As noble Lords have indicated, that legislation was passed 38 years ago. However, the thrust of what we were trying to do was to put the research councils on an equal par. Based especially on the quinquennial review, we were content that the research councils were functioning very satisfactorily. That was the underlying principle. Off the top of my head I cannot remember whether the words exactly mirror the earlier ones, but I am happy to write to the noble Baroness. However, I think that the principle to which she alluded is right. We want these research councils to be the same. They work well. We believe it would be wrong for the Bill to change in any way the underlying way in which they work.
Baroness Blackstone: I support the Minister's comments, and I speak now not as a former Minister but as a former deputy chairman of one of the main committees of the social science research council. The issue must surely be whether the arrangements that are in place are working well. I have not heard any serious criticism from the existing research councils that the relationship with the Government, in terms of the kind of powers of direction that exist, is in any sense a problem. Were it one, then I think that we should be pressing the Minister to make changes. However, I honestly do not believe that there is an issue.
My only question is on the drafting of the last provision of Clause 3. I think that it is improved by including "details of". The Bill reads very oddly by dealing only with "programmes and estimates". I ask the Minister to think again about that. I was not totally satisfied with her reply to that minor detail.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I am very happy to look at that. Noble Lords have made very good points. As I said, the underlying principlethat we wish to have parityis clear. I am grateful for my noble friend's comment that issues or complaints have not arisen in this regard. Of course we will look at the wording. The value of Committee stage is to enable us to do precisely that. I am very happy to do that.
Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her suggestion. It reminds me that Amendment No. 7 was a purely drafting amendment. I am glad to have some support for it. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Skelmersdale: One is always told when one starts public speaking never to begin with an apology. But I am afraid that, today, I must begin with an apology to Members of the Committee. There are a couple of points on Clause 5, which is to do with the existing and future employees of the council and their
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pensions. I must admit that these points occurred to me rather late in the day; hence my not giving warning, publicly anyway, in accordance with the Companion. But the Companion is mercifully rather vague on this, so I am not conducting what my children were brought up to call a no-no.
I stress the word "can""apply", or, I suppose one could say, "from now on be applied" to anyone employed by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The first question is why "can"? Surely to goodness that has always been the intention. Any member of any research council has always come under the Superannuation Act 1972 and no one has the slightest intention of changing that. Surely, "will" or "must" would be much more appropriate, especially as the word "must" has come into the modern vocabulary to replace "may" or "shall" in some pieces of legislation. We may come to that matter a little later in the Bill.
"The employees of the AHRB are already covered by the Superannuation Act 1972 . . . This is a belt-and-braces jobmy understanding is that the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 1981 would cover them anyway".[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee H, 10/2/04; col. 51.]
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