Responses from the FSA are a little like buses – you don’t see one for a while and then two come along together. This one was very rapid though, in response to an email to them this morning I got this this afternoon. It’s in response to this morning’s blog.
Here it is, in full:
Thanks for your email.
Heather’s biography on the FSA website states quite openly that she and her husband are Directors of Amerdale and that the “company owns some agricultural land and shooting rights.”
Heather was also asked directly at her pre appointment hearing in front of the Health and Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Select Committees about any possible conflicts of interest (http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/health-committee/preappointment-hearing-for-chair-of-the-food-standards-agency/oral/26585.html).
Here’s the relevant extract:
Q 19 David Simpson: Do you have any financial interests relevant to the chair of the FSA?
Heather Hancock: They are quite remote. I and my husband own premises that are run as a pub and we own premises that are run as a restaurant, but we do not run those two businesses, although we have in the past. We own about 1,500 acres in the Yorkshire Dales, where we are in receipt of stewardship payments. We do not farm it ourselves. We have had stock in the past, but not now.
Q20 David Simpson: Again, you touched on my final point in relation to your family company. Can you assure the Committee that your role as director of your family company, AmerdaleLtd, will not give rise to conflict of interest in any shape or form?
Heather Hancock: The only possible area where I can think that it might give rise to a conflict of interest is that some of the land we own is used for shooting—not as a business, but personally—and there is an issue with lead shot used in game. If that came up at the agency I would stand aside from any discussion of it, but I cannot see any other role that Amerdale has that might conflict with the business of the agency. It mainly deals in rural property development.
David Simpson: Thank you very much.
We don’t intend to update the information in Heather’s biography as we think what it says there is clear and unambiguous.
I’m glad to see that David Simpson MP asked those questions. And the response about stepping aside was satisfactory and proper too.
However, whereas you will find more or less verbatim the response to Mr Simpson’s first question on the FSA website you won’t find any of the second question and answer.
And whereas on the FSA website you will find that Mrs Hancock’s sister volunteers for a charity we do not hear whether or not Mrs Hancock or Mr Hancock are members of the Countryside Alliance – I wonder if they are? – for whom they did a favour in making their land available for the making of a film extolling the virtues of grouse shooting and grouse eating. The Countryside Alliance has promoted game, whether or not it is shot with lead, as a healthy food and the Hancock family seems to be quite chummy with them. Mr and Mrs Hancock own a grouse moor, Mr Hancock shoots grouse, and they engage with an organisation that is very clearly on one side of the debate over the future use (or not) of lead ammunition. We could be forgiven, couldn’t we, for thinking that the Hancock family is not exactly sitting on the fence on this issue.
As Mrs Hancock said in Parliament, there is the possibility of a conflict of interest there but that is not revealed on the FSA website – you have to know where to go to the parliamentary record to find it, or search through the backpages of the Daily Telegraph (an unpleasant job, but somebody has to do it). So the information on where there appears to be a conflict of interest is largely missing but the information on where there isn’t one is present. I see.
When the FSA external communications team say that they don’t intend to change what is on their website because ‘what is says is clear and unambiguous’ they omit to say that it only clearly tells part of the story, and misses out the area where the public interest might well have been best served by more information. There is no ambiguity – there is an omission.
I’m glad to see that Heather Hancock recognises that she has a (possible she says) conflict of interest over the issue of lead ammunition – but she would be better served by the FSA website if that were made clear because then nothing would be hidden.[registration_form]