HC Deb 17 July 1997 vol 298 cc507-8
1. Ms Shipley

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what preparations his Department is making for the establishment of a food standards agency. [7274]

The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Dr. Jack Cunningham)

My Department, with the Department of Health and other interested Departments, is working towards publication of a White Paper in the autumn, which will set out the Government's proposals for the food standards agency. We have already made changes to the organisation of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to prepare for the agency.

Ms Shipley

Many of my constituents in Stourbridge have raised the issue of food standards and safety with me, both before and after the general election. Can my right hon. Friend be more specific about publication of the White Paper and tell me what food standards measures his Department is implementing in the interim?

Dr. Cunningham

We have already conducted preliminary consultations on Professor James's report. My Department is now analysing the responses to that consultation. We shall draft the White Paper and make it available to the House and the public as soon as we possibly can. I am working with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health on appropriate interim arrangements to ensure that, if necessary, we can expeditiously deal with any food health problems that may arise.

Mrs. Spelman

Does the Minister agree that a Cabinet Minister should retain ultimate responsibility for food safety in the United Kingdom?

Dr. Cunningham

The food standards agency will be an independent executive agency. It will report to the Secretary of State for Health.

Dr. Gibson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that development of the food standards agency will require the support of world-class research into the food sciences? If he does, will he consider a visit to the Institute of Food Research, in Norwich, as a part of the essential process of establishing a food standards agency?

Dr. Cunningham

Yes. As a scientist myself, I am absolutely certain that any decisions that we make on the matter should be based on the very best possible scientific analysis and advice. In answer to my hon. Friend's second question, yes, I will try to visit his constituents in Norwich.

Mr. Baldry

Doubtless the Minister will want the maximum openness and transparency on the issue. Will he, therefore, kindly undertake to place in the Library the responses to Professor James's consultation, so that hon. Members may have some good reading over the long recess? Will he also consider following the excellent example of the Secretary of State for International Development, who, before publication of her White Paper, held a debate in the House in Government time? May we have a debate, in Government time, before publication of the White Paper on the food standards agency?

Dr. Cunningham

On the first part of the question, I should tell the Gentleman that there have been more than 600 responses to the consultation. In the interests of openness and transparency, I think that I can say—although that has a certain European parliamentary ring about it—that, yes, I will place copies in the Library. On the second part of the hon. Gentleman's question, debates in Government time are a matter for my right hon. Friend the President of the Council.