HC Deb 20 May 1999 vol 331 cc1205-6
8. Ms Joan Ryan (Enfield, North)

How many responses he has received on the draft Food Standards Bill. [83854]

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Jeff Rooker)

By the closing date for consultation on the draft Bill, in addition to the Food Standards Committee report, we had received 998 submissions, all of which will be placed in the Library later today.

Ms Ryan

I welcome the way in which the Ministry and the Department of Health have acted on food safety since May 1997 and the fact that the Government allowed pre-legislative scrutiny. That approach is a marked change from the attitude of the previous Government. When will the Bill be introduced?

Mr. Rooker

Hopefully, next month. We are intent on legislating in this Session on the draft Food Standards Bill. We are still dependent—not wholly, but to some extent—on the progress of the House of Lords Bill. If the hereditary peers break their word again, as they did earlier this week, we will be in some difficulty. We hope, however, to introduce the Food Standards Bill in this House next month.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

Is the Minister aware that local authorities believe that between £15 and £23 of the proposed £90 Food Standards Agency tax will be spent on the costs of collection? Given the fear expressed in the recent Agriculture Committee report that the charge could rise to £600 a year—a fear that causes grave anxiety among the corner shop owners in the Aylesbury Vale district council area, which incorporates my Buckingham constituency—what estimate has he made of the number of such corner shops that are likely to have to shed staff and throw people on the dole as a result of that ill-considered imposition?

Mr. Rooker

At approximately the same time as we introduce the Bill, which is—in effect—another part of the consultation process, we will announce the result of our secondary consultation on the levy. That was a separate consultation in a separate document. We have made it clear that we take seriously the submissions made to us, and I can say that there is no shred of a possibility of a single levy charge of anything near £600. The reason for the appearance of that figure in the record of the exchanges of the Select Committee is that I gave an honest answer to an honest question that did not automatically presuppose that the rate would be £600. We will announce our decision on the charge, but we want a fair system.

Unless the levy raises some £40 million, we will not have a Food Standards Agency. Therefore, we have to raise that sum, but we have to do so fairly and in a way that is seen to be fair. We have told local authorities that, within the charge, they will be able to recover their collection charges and retain a surplus to provide more resources for enforcement.

Mrs. Ray Michie (Argyll and Bute)

Does the Minister welcome the achievement of the Scottish Liberal Democrats in winning a commitment in the partnership agreement to find a fairer funding system for the Food Standards Agency? Is he, as he has perhaps indicated, likely to follow suit? It would be unfair if the small village shop had to pay the same levy as the wealthy large supermarkets.

Mr. Rooker

We shall have to be careful choosing our words now that we have devolution, especially as we are working in partnership in different parts of the United Kingdom. [Interruption.] No, I am ever the diplomat at the Dispatch Box. The Food Standards Agency will be a United Kingdom authority, but we will be in the unique position of setting up that UK authority in devolved subject areas. Therefore, it is crucial that the issue is addressed so that differences can be taken into account by the regulatory authorities in those areas. I am certain that we will find a satisfactory solution that is fair to small shopkeepers, is fair between England, Scotland and Wales, and is perceived to be fair by the public, because that is also important.

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