HC Deb 06 March 1986 vol 93 c429
3. Mr. Tony Lloyd

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he has any plans to meet representatives of food manufacturers.

Mr. Jopling

I am regularly in touch with representatives of food manufacturers. Whilst I have no immediate plans to meet them, I am ready to do so on specific problems at any time.

Mr. Lloyd

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that answer. I am glad to learn that he is ready to meet the food manufacturers to discuss specific matters. Is he aware that they now accept the need for, and the desirability of, the removal of the Official Secrets Act as it applies to the food advisory committees? Will the Minister meet representatives of the food industry so that he can discuss this matter with them and tell them when he intends to legislate on the issue, so that the secrecy surrounding the use of additives to food can be broken and the public can have access to and knowledge of what takes place?

Mr. Jopling

I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman is still pursuing a very old story which I thought had been put to rest. He should know, and I am surprised that he has not seen the statements which have been made, that members of the committees do not have to sign the Official Secrets Act. However, some information which comes their way is commercially sensitive and they are asked, in the same way as any Government Department is, to observe the need to keep it confidential.

Mr. Meadowcroft

Is the Minister not aware that his hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary, whose absence we regret and who is our sparring partner on these matters, has said that there are some formal limitations on secrecy in the advisory committees? Can the right hon. Gentleman say what is the formal thing that the members are asked to sign, even within the parameters that he has outlined to us about the confidentiality of business agreements?

Mr. Jopling

As I said earlier, members of the committees are not required to sign the Official Secrets Act. However, certain information is given which is commercially private and the committees are asked to keep it that way. I think that that is the only reasonable way in which to proceed. I hope that at some time the hon. Gentleman will look at the huge mass of technical material which these committees churn out. We are trying to make further information available through the British Library in the immediate future if we can arrange it.