HL Deb 12 October 1999 vol 605 cc1-64GC

.—(1) In this Act "food" includes—

  1. (a) drink;
  2. (b) articles and substances of no nutritional value which are used for human consumption;
  3. (c) chewing gum and other products of a like nature and use; and
  4. (d) articles and substances used as ingredients in the preparation of food or anything falling within this subsection.

(2) In this Act "food" does not include—

  1. (a) live animals or birds, or live fish which are not used for human consumption while they are alive;
  2. (b) fodder or feeding stuffs for animals, birds or fish;
  3. (c) controlled drugs within the meaning of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971; or
  4. (d) subject to such exceptions as may be specified in an order made by the Ministers—
  1. (i) medicinal products within the meaning of the Medicines Act 1968 in respect of which product licences within the meaning of that Act are for the time being in force; or
  2. (ii) other articles or substances in respect of which such licences are for the time being in force in pursuance of orders under section 104 or 105 of that Act (application of Act to other articles and substances).

(3) In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires— business" includes the undertaking of a canteen, club, school, hospital or institution, whether carried on for profit or not, and any undertaking or activity carried on by a public or local authority; commercial operation", in relation to any food or contact material, means any of the following, namely —

  1. (a) selling, possessing for sale and offering, exposing or advertising for sale;
  2. (b) consigning, delivering or serving by way of sale;
  3. (c) preparing for sale or presenting, labelling or wrapping for the purpose of sale;
  4. (d) storing or transporting for the purpose of sale;
  5. (e) importing and exporting;
and, in relation to any food source, means deriving food from it for the purpose of sale or for purposes connected with sale; contact material" means any article or substance which is intended to come into contact with food; food business" means any business in the course of which commercial operations with respect to food or food sources are carried out; food premises" means any premises used for the purposes of a food business; food source" means any growing crop or live animal, bird or fish from which food is intended to be derived (whether by harvesting, slaughtering, milking, collecting eggs; or otherwise); premises" includes any place, any vehicle, stall or moveable structure and, for such purposes as may be specified in an order made by the Ministers, any ship or aircraft of a description so specified.

(4) The reference in subsection (3) above to preparing for sale shall be construed, in relation to any contact material, as; a reference to manufacturing or producing for the purpose of sale.

The noble Baroness said: I am very grateful to everyone concerned for the fact that my first amendment has been accepted for debate, because there was a slight misunderstanding about the tabling of it. While I am saying a few words of thanks I should like to thank the Minister for her meeting with us and her civil servants last night, which we found very helpful. I should also like to record my thanks to those in the Public Bill Office. Other people like myself have experienced great difficulty in bringing forward amendments in time because of the fact that the Second Reading took place at the very end of last Session since when the House has not been sitting. I am most grateful to everyone for being so forbearing.

At Second Reading I brought to your Lordships' attention the fact that this Bill does not include a definition of food. In his reply the noble Lord, the Chief Whip, stated that because the definition of food is set out in the Food Safety Act 1990 there was no need to repeat it. We ask the Government to consider this again. The food standards agency is a completely new body, and while we understand that there is no obligation that a definition should be stated, we feel that it is worthwhile so to do. It is all of a page and a half, and anyone seeking information about food or referring to the agency would have that definition at their fingertips rather than having to go back and find past Acts, in particular the 1990 Act.

This is not an obscure piece of legislation. This will be an Act that many people and organisations have been urging on the Government for some years. The ordinary household shopper is possibly more interested in the food standards agency than even their tax bill. It is surely reasonable to provide them, within the Act, with the definition of food under which the agency will work. I beg to move.

Viscount Thurso

Perhaps I may begin with an apology. I should very much have liked to speak at Second Reading but I was unable to do so and I look forward to taking part in the rest of the proceedings on the Bill. Perhaps I may also, on behalf of my own team, say thank you to the Minister for the extremely helpful meeting which we had yesterday. It helped to promote matters, and one hopes will be useful for the rest of our proceedings.

Broadly speaking, we are supportive of the thrust which the amendment seeks to address. However, I should like to ask one or two specific questions of the Minister. First—this is purely for my own benefit—given that food is defined as including chewing gum and other products of a like nature, surely that would also fit into the definition under paragraph (b), articles and substances of no nutritional value Secondly, what about vitamins and mineral supplements? If one looks at the definitions as they are set out in the amendment, they do not fall under paragraph (b) because they certainly have some nutritional value, they do not appear to be chewing gum and they are not necessarily used in connection with food. So I wonder whether, in addressing that, the Minister might be able to enlighten me on those two points.

The Earl of Selborne

I wonder whether I might also thank the Minister very much for the session we had yesterday afternoon, which helped enormously to set the scene for these proceedings. I was particularly grateful to her for arranging for me to be sent a note on responsibility for water, because this is one of the issues of definition with which I am sure one day courts will have to grapple. As I understand from the most helpful note I was given, water remains the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions until it is put into the food process. In other words, it could be through irrigation, it could be by putting it into a bottle of water. So at some moment, which is quite difficult to follow at times, the water moves from the responsibility of the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions to the agency.

However one sets out the definition, the amendment does not address this issue. Perhaps it is not necessary but I should like an assurance from the Minister that the courts will have no difficulty in determining when water is food and when it is not. I have to admit that, in spite of the very helpful note, I still feel that there is plenty of room for confusion.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Hayman)

I am grateful to noble Lords who have expressed their thanks for yesterday's meeting. I am very conscious that we have been carrying out some of the processes around the Bill in a somewhat telescoped timeframe from what would be normal, and I recognise that this has caused some difficulties. I hope that the process of scrutiny within the Moses Room will make it easier to join up some of the gaps and come against some of those difficulties.

I quite understand why the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, has suggested the amendment. It is important to have a proper understanding of what is meant by food in order to appreciate the area in which the agency will act. Equally, I appreciate the concern to have a proper understanding of what is meant by water and who is responsible for the quality of water. However, I believe that the amendment is unnecessary and might even create confusion. It is unnecessary because, as my noble friend the Government Chief Whip said at Second Reading, the provision is taken directly from the Food Safety Act 1990 and Clause 36 of the Bill makes perfectly clear that the definitions from the 1990 Act apply in this case.

Moreover, unfortunately the text of the amendment does not take into account some subsequent changes to Section 1 made since the 1990 Act and, therefore, will cause some confusion as there will be slightly differing definitions on the statute book.

Overall, however, it is important to bear in mind that the agency will operate within the existing framework of food safety legislation and should, therefore, rely on the existing statutes wherever possible. Generally, the Food Safety Act is regarded to have worked well over the past 10 years. The Bill sets up a new organisational structure for the food standards agency. It is important that the first clause of the Bill should state very clearly what the purpose of that agency is as Clause 1 does at present. It does not change the basis of the legislation of the Food Safety Act and, therefore, it is not necessary to bring forward a definition of "food" within the context of the Bill.

Since yesterday afternoon's meeting, I have put together, as I promised, a short note explaining some of the definitions in the Bill showing where they are made, and in the 1990 Act. Although this clearly does not form part of the Bill or of the explanatory material, we do have copies available. If Members of the Committee would find that helpful, we can let them have copies of those definitions. Of course, once you see a definition, it leads you down certain byways, and I have to say to the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, that my first question was about chewing gum when I saw the definition, just as his was. The answer, as I understand it, is that chewing gum and other products are not ingested and therefore not consumed, as in subsection(b), but it was necessary that they should be governed by the Food Safety Act, and that was the reason for making specific reference to them.

I hope that on that basis noble Lords, having seen the definitions that are available and the references back to the Food Safety Act, will feel reassured that there is clarity as to what is meant by food in this Act and that it is not necessary to repeat the definition—particularly one that is not completely in line with that which is now governed by the Food Safety Act.

I can say to the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, that we do not believe that the courts would have any difficulty on definitions of water. The framework for regulating the water supply will not be changed in any way by this Bill. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Byford

I thank the Minister for her response, which obviously is not the overall response I would hope to have. However, having listened to what she had to say, and hopefully having a chance to look at the copies of the new definition that she has available for us, perhaps we can come back to this issue at a later stage. Under these circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 [The Rod Standards Agency]:

The Earl of Radnor moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 12, after ("consumption") insert (", production and supply")

The noble Earl said: I should like to present my apologies for not being present at the Second Reading and I should probably declare an interest in that I am a breeder and processor of fish.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 go together. They are purely a matter of disposing of a phrase and replacing it with a shorter one which has precisely the same meaning. Since I have been in your Lordships' House parliamentarians, on the whole, have produced far too many laws and those that they produce are far too long. I would rather hope that these two brief amendments might therefore be acceptable. I beg to move.

The Countess of Mar

I apologise to the Minister for being pedantic. She may recall that yesterday there was a discussion about the meaning of the word "risk". I am unhappy about the use of the word "risk" in this context.

Perhaps I may point her to the definition of "hazard" given by the World Health Organisation and the Local Authorities Coordinating Body on Trading Standards. It is: the potential to cause harm to a consumer. It can be physical, chemical or microbiological. A risk is: the likelihood that the hazard will be realised". It is a mathematical probability. The noble Baroness said yesterday that it would be the dictionary definition. I went to the Complete Oxford Dictionary whose definition of risk is: Hazard, danger; exposure to mischance or peril". It is obvious that there hazard and risk are interchangeable whereas, in technical terminology, they mean two completely different things. If this amendment is accepted, where the word "risk" is used in this context in the Bill I should prefer to see the word "hazard". Apart from that, I agree with the amendment.

3.45 p.m.

The Earl of Selborne

I wonder whether I can join the ranks of pedants on this matter. I entirely agree that we have to recognise that you cannot protect from risk as the Bill suggests at the moment, but what you can do is reduce the exposure to risk. We live in a society in which risk is a fact of life and any attempt by legislators to protect from risk causes the confusion that a risk, however small, must be something one has to guard against. Hazard can be reduced to eliminate it, but risks have to be assessed to determine whether the risk is something one is prepared to live with or not. The idea that one can in any way prevent risk is misleading.

Lord Desai

I said at Second Reading that the public are no longer satisfied with a technical definition of risk. Therefore one of the main tasks of this body will be to interpret risk in a much broader sense than the mathematical probability of a hazard happening. One of the critical things we face is that if do not use the word "risk" people will wonder what we are in business for. I do not believe that "hazard" is sufficiently broad to capture that. One of the tasks of this agency will be to take on board the word "risk" but then look at the way people perceive risk. The way people perceive risk is different from the way mathematicians calculate risk. Therefore it is important that we keep the larger consequences of that. Of course, the Bill says "protect" people from risk; it does not say "eliminate" risk. I believe it is important that the word "risk" be there. If it were any milder word we should be suspected of evading our responsibility.

Lord Clement-Jones

I am moved to follow on from the noble Lord, Lord Desai, because it is vital that the agency does have that precise role. If we split too many hairs about whether something is a hazard or a risk, there is a danger that the agency will have an unclear role. The clear role of the agency must be to help us to develop the language of risk. It is one of the key problems we have now, whether it is in health or food or other areas. It might even be transport safety. I very much support what the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said and I support the retention of the existing words.

Lord Northbourne

The logic of the situation seems to be that if we were to take the definition of "risk" of the noble Countess, Lady Mar, as being likely that a hazard will be realised, and we read that into the text of Clause 1(2), we get: The main objective of the Agency in carrying out its functions is to protect public health from the likelihood that a hazard will be realised".

The Countess of Mar

A potential of harm to the consumer.

Lord Northbourne

If one were to substitute that for the word "risk", one would still come up with an extremely sensible interpretation.

The Countess of Mar

What we are talking about is the interpretation that will be put on it in a court of law. Perhaps I should have declared an interest: I am a specialist producer of goat's cheese. As such I am required to make a hazard assessment of the critical control points under the regulations. I understand what a hazard is in the technical sense. My hazard then becomes a risk if I ignore the hazard. If I am to be taken to court for producing food that is microbiologically or chemically or physically unsound, it will be that terminology that will be used in a court of law. I would prefer to see it on the face of the Bill.

Baroness Hayman

We have had a short but interesting debate on the issue of risk, its definitions, possible alternatives and formulations of a concept that we all understand quite clearly in terms of the role of the food standards agency. I do not believe that the debate has been completely on the amendment proposed by the noble Earl, because that amendment does not alter the formulation of "risk" to public health within the definition. It does something different, to which I will return, if I may, in a moment. We looked very carefully at the drafting here and concluded that the use of the word "risks" was the best available alternative in these circumstances. "Hazards" may be thought to be rather too broad and—while the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, makes a valid point in a specialist and a technical sense, in which the theology of risk is developing at the moment—my noble friend Lord Desai explained clearly that the use of the word "risks" has a simple, straightforward and—dare I say?—commonsense understanding, to which most people can relate.

I should say that it is not intended to mean that the Government or the food standards agency can eliminate all risks. We all understand the limitations which exist in that area. Also, there is a growing recognition of the way in which scientists, regulatory bodies and politicians have to develop together with the public a language of risk that is comprehensible and shared. Some of the worst misunderstandings arise from different usages of the same language. I would suggest to the Committee, however, that the Bill as it reads at the moment is actually the best that we have in statutory terms, although I would fully recognise that, in terms of building up a caseload of policy making, we need to refine our understandings of the concepts of hazard, the concepts of risk and the way in which we communicate those.

Returning to the specific amendment, I take the noble Earl's point that he is trying to simplify and make clearer the areas to which this Bill attaches. The agency's role, as reflected in the main objective, will be protecting public health from risks potentially affecting them as consumers of food.

We made clear in the White Paper that protection of public health was the main objective and that the agency would put consumers first. It seems likely—although I am sure that it is not what the noble Earl would have wished—that this amendment might widen its remits to include risks connected with the production and supply of food and actually fundamentally revise its purpose. This would then include, under the drafting that he suggests, matters such as health and safety and environmental risks, which are already dealt with through different legislation and by different government bodies. These amendments are not an appropriate reflection of why the agency is needed, which is to focus on the needs of consumers rather than, for example, those working within the food industry. Obviously, they must also be protected, but through the relevant health and safety legislation rather than through this particular Bill. On that basis, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

The Earl of Radnor

I can only agree with the noble Baroness that we had a very interesting debate, which was nothing whatsoever to do with these two amendments. Be that as it may, no doubt the issue can come up at a later stage in the Bill and be taken even more seriously.

As regards the noble Baroness's remarks about my amendments, she might possibly be splitting hairs over this. As far as I am concerned, semantically, what I have put down is exactly as is in the Bill, except that I have cut out about 10 words. I am not quite clear about who is in charge of what, but as far as I am concerned I tabled these two amendments believing—or, I hope, realising—that they conveyed exactly the same idea as was wished to be put across in Clause 1(2). However, I shall go away and think about this mater again. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Earl of Radnor had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 12, leave out ("(including risks caused by the way in which it is produced or supplied)")

The noble Earl said: I covered Amendment No. 2 while I was speaking to Amendment No. 1. They go completely together.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Baroness Byford movement Amendment No. 3:

Page 1, line 13, leave out ("and otherwise") and insert (", otherwise it is")

The noble Baroness said: This amendment is intended to clarify the wording of the original clause. Perhaps I may, slightly flippantly, revert to my classroom teacher, Betsy Lines, and take the subsidiary phrase as it reads: The main objective of the Agency … is to protect public health … and otherwise to protect the interests of consumers". That connecting "and" suggests that there may be one or more minor objectives to the agency. We do not feel that that is the Government's intention. Hence we propose the removal of the connecting "and" to ensure that everyone understands that the agency has two objectives. The main objective is the protection of the public but it is also charged with protecting the interests of consumers. I beg to move.

Baroness Hayman

I suspect that here again we are not particularly at variance in terms of purpose. It is a matter of the effect of changing the drafting. Having listened to the noble Baroness I understand what she is seeking to achieve, but perhaps I may explain why in our reading we believe it unnecessary to change the drafting of the Bill as suggested.

It should be clear from the provisions in Clause 1(2) as drafted that public health protection encompassing both food safety and nutrition will be at the forefront of the agency's activities. However, wider consumer protection matters, such as food labelling and compositional standards, will also be an important part of the agency's work. That is why they are covered in the second part of the main objectives. Indeed food safety and standards cannot be entirely separated. For example, accurate labelling can have important implications for the safety of some consumers, such as allergy sufferers. Inserting a break in the main clause along the lines of the proposed amendment would create such a separation. It would also seem to imply that matters such as labelling are only incidental to the agency's role, and should only be dealt with as a secondary matter. This would be a misrepresentation of the way in which the agency will work, and the importance of all its functions.

While I would agree that the protection of public health should be given the greatest prominence, we believe that the provision as drafted already achieves that. On that basis I would not see the amendment as necessary. Indeed it might possibly cause some confusion about the agency's role. I hope that on reflection the noble Baroness would feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Byford

I thank the Minister for her response. I had not in any way envisaged that it would affect other work which the agency was is doing. It was intended to make quite clear to anyone reading the Bill exactly where its responsibilities lay. Obviously later in our discussions we will come on to labelling nutrition and many other matters into which we will all have great input I was simply trying to make sure that things do not go by default. That was my reasoning for putting forward the amendment. I have listened to the Minister. I will think about her response and at this stage beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4 p.m.

Viscount Thurso moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 1, line 13, after ("protect") insert ("and promote")

The noble Viscount said: I would venture to suggest that this is a relatively simple but important amendment, the effect of which is to add the word "promote" after the word "protect". I would suggest that it is not so much the form of words that are used in the amendment but the purpose behind them and the debate that I hope we can have which is important. It is by way of a probing amendment to find out the Government's thinking on the important issue of whethe the agency should have a proactive role in promoting rather than simply being reactive in protecting.

We have just had a short debate on the objective of the agency and it could well be argued that the principal objective of the agency—that is to say, to protect—is so important that in any way to dilute that importance would be a mistake. As the Minister has just explained, the use of the words "and otherwise" makes it clear what is the primary responsibility of the agency and gives promotion, important though it is, a secondary role.

Perhaps I should declare an interest. though I am not sure whether or not it is an interest, which is my involvement at Champneys where we have a great interest in how people are fed, their diet and what that does for them. One of the most interesting observations I have made is how extremely well-educated people, whom one would expect to have some knowledge in matters of nutrition, are greatly lacking in knowledge on the subject. I have always taken an interest in nutrition, partly because I studied it as part of my catering training and partly because one of my cousins is Dr Hugh Sinclair who has written a great deal on the effect of "good" fats in fishes. But that is perhaps for another occasion. It is important to know the difference between good fats and bad fats and there are many noble Lords sitting in the Committee today who know a great deal more about it than I do.

I suggest that it is extremely important that the public generally have their consumer interest in health promoted, as opposed simply to being protected from the bad things. I ask the Committee to consider that the dissemination of good information is as important as the countering of misleading information and protection. I hope the Committee will feel that it is worthwhile to emphasise promotion on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

I am another who had to regretfully miss Second Reading through another engagement in July, so I would like to just briefly take this opportunity of saying how much I support what the Government are trying to do with this Bill and congratulate them on eventually having found time to bring it forward in this Session, and also on their excellent process of consultation. This is an important measure.

I just want to amplify a little bit what the noble Viscount said on this amendment which I believe is a very important one. The objective set out in subsection (2) is laudable as far as it goes, because there is little dispute that the interests of consumers do need protecting, especially in the tricky area of risk assessment—I hope I am using the right word there. But the evidence shows that consumers need just as much guidance on the more positive areas of food choices, and to separate this from the narrower function of safety I think would be unfortunate and would miss an opportunity to bring this up the agenda under a body that will be relatively free from any conflicting interests. I think this point is every bit as important in questions of diet and nutrition as it is over safety.

Of course this will involve giving dietary advice. A positive remit for nutrition was part of the original concept of the agency but, in the course of the consultation period, it has been watered down to the extent that the Government, in their reply to the Committee report in another place, speak only of a role in "defining what is meant by a balanced diet". Now a balanced diet, however admirable, is hardly cutting edge nutritional advice when it comes especially to those of particular needs, the very young, the elderly, those with cancer, those who are allergic or food intolerant, those in hospital and so on, and I think in the 21st century we could be doing better and the agency would be well placed to fill this breach.

But one can see the Government's problem, because there is a great fear in this country of being seen to nanny people, especially over food. Tessa Jowell has gone out of her way to disclaim any idea of "telling people what to eat". But advice, my Lords, is not nannying, still less is it compulsory. For my part, I have always been baffled by this sentiment which seems to me rather a bad example of the macho British anti-health culture. As a citizen and taxpayer, I would actually be angry if a government which uses my money to do nutritional research, didn't tell me afterwards, in plain language, what the implications were for my health. The noble Baroness knows that I don't like water fluoridation. That to me is nannying because I can't do anything about it. I have to swallow the stuff. Advice about food choices is something quite different. If I want it, I can disregard it.

There is also, I suspect, the fear of opposition from big commercial interests. The food industry, like the pharmaceutical industry, is a mighty powerful player and governments don't like tangling with it. Some recent research on the causes of cancer must make the Meat and Livestock Commission nervous and the salt and sugar industries have been fighting a rearguard action against research findings for years, in which government has hardly played a courageous role. Am I to get my advice from a free-standing agency? Or from a government department, part of whose brief is to promote British industry?

I think, to divert for a moment, there are some interesting parallels with smoking, where many of the arguments are the same. Possibly because the debate there has moved that much further forward, only a small minority feels that anti-smoking advice should not be given, and the government are very brave now with the tobacco industry. But I believe, that we are moving to a time when certain foods or combinations of foods will be seen in the same light as smoking. Anyone who read the 1991 WHO report on Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases would find it hard to evade this conclusion.

If I have strayed slightly into the territory of amendment No. 10, which seeks to put nutrition on the face of the Bill, it is really because they overlap and I won't need to say much when we come to that in due course. We are still, I think, in the fairly early stages of appreciation of the medical importance of nutrition, since doctors are only just beginning to reclaim this territory after an absence of something like two generations. But if the Food Standards Bill has no brief for positive health promotion in this field, it won't be long, I think, before this omission will be more and more keenly felt and I think we'll all regret that the right path wasn't taken from the beginning. So, two aspects of food advice belong together; and independent agency is the right body to deliver it.

I do hope the Government will think again on this point.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

Just before we leave this particular point, I am in full agreement with most of what the noble Viscount says. However much we want advice to be given and understood, I would not wish to see it in the form of admonition, which is something quite different. I hope he is clear that that was not the intention.

The Earl of Radnor

I really think that it should not be a part of the agency's duties to promote or to protect. There is a tremendous danger here, however, which the noble lord mentioned, of interfering with commerce and trade and people's businesses and suddenly starting a scare so that you stop eating this and eat something else instead. It is no part of their business and I suspect that even with all their advice with committees, they will not be quite the right people to have the knowledge and capability of promoting anything promptly anyway and they will be just as liable to make mistakes as the producers of food themselves.

Lord Northbourne

I should like to support this amendment but not entirely in the sense about which it has been spoken of up to now. It does not seem to me that the process of promoting necessarily relates only to promoting what is good for you: 'I know what is best for you and I am going to promote it for you.' It also means promoting the interests of the consumer; that is, the thing in which the consumer is interested. I declare an interest: I like unpasteurised cheese and I like good claret and neither of those can be obtained under circumstances of total sterilization. I am coming on to raise those issues in subsequent amendments but I would like to say that in that context, I greatly support the amendment to the word "promote" to be included.

Lord Desai

The agency as it is has a tremendously difficult task. It is loaded with sensitive matters on which it will be asked all sorts of questions. Therefore, if it can manage to do what it is assigned to do, it will be a great achievement. If you add other things onto its remit, then it will be overloaded.

Let me say one more thing. I am not familiar with all the scientific things that the noble Earl mentioned, but I sense that there is conflicting advice about what is good and what is not good for you—partly because we are all slightly different people. Different things agree with different people. Just as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, once said about claret and cheese, different people have different likings. I do not want agencies to become involved in matters about which there are differing opinions. I would much rather it did something which is already difficult enough to do. I am not talking about nannying, because people are nannied by private sector agencies. I would much rather it concentrated on matters of importance, about which the public are worried, and not add on other things.

Lord Rea

Does my noble friend think that the health promotional aspects which will come out of the information produced by the food standards agency will he more in the field of the Department of Health rather than the standards agency itself?

Having said that, I disagree firmly with the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, that the members of the advisory committees of the agency—if I understood him right—will have a better idea of the scientific findings with regard to the dangers or benefits of different foods and different combinations of foods and different diets than almost anyone else in the country. They will be chosen specifically because they know about those things and have kept abreast with the latest scientific evidence.

Does my noble friend think that the word "protect", as it is in the Bill, encompasses to some degree "promotion"? If the agency were to produce some of its research findings, or the reports of COMA, with which it will jointly share sponsorship with the Department of Health, and if some of the findings of that research indicate that health is better served by certain combinations of food or by avoiding certain combinations of food, will the agency say so? Will that be part of its activities? Some people might say that is health promotion and, in a sense, it is. Will the agency in fact be able to produce definite recommendations that such-and-such behaviour or dietary pattern is beneficial while others are not? Does that come under the category of "protect", as in the Bill? Or perhaps, in order to accomplish that quite simple advice, should we use the word "promotion"?

Lord Rowallan

I too feel strongly that promotion and protection are akin to one another. We cannot really protect something without, at the same time, promoting what is good. In the Explanatory Notes there are many cases where we are told what the agency will do to "promote" health, in the form of providing information about a healthy diet and so on. I do not believe we can leave this word out. It is important that it is there in black and white for all to see so that the agency knows that this is part of its remit.

4.15 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath)

This has been an interesting debate. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, for putting forward what he suggests is a probing amendment. This allows us to tease out this important issue.

The first part of Clause 1 says, The main objective … is to protect public health from risks which may arise in connection with the consumption of food". That encompasses nutrition as well as food safety. I know that when we come to Amendment No. 10 we shall debate this further, but it is our belief that the way in which the whole clause is drafted provides a sound legal basis for the agency's health promotion role, as was set out in the White Paper. It is worth reflecting that it is the agency's main role to protect public health from risks which may arise in connection with the consumption of food and otherwise to protect the interests of consumers in relation to food. On that reading, this includes food safety, nutrition and other food standards matters.

Therefore the agency may well indeed wish to be involved in health promotion matters, and the way in which the main objective is worded allows for that. But the agency's priority is one of protection, which is why that stands as part of the main objective. We believe that the present wording gets the balance right.

The agency function under Clause 7 in giving advice to the public would include advice on nutrition matters. That could include results of latest research which might well have been funded by the agency into what this means for consumers. That would be available to the public in various ways which the agency will decide upon.

My noble friend Lord Rea put his finger on the matter. The agency itself is not a health promotion body. What I would expect it to do is to work closely with health promotion bodies such as the proposed health development agency, the National Assembly for Wales, the Health Education Board for Scotland and others. That work might well involve running publicity campaigns on food safety and nutrition matters. It might well involve collaboration or partnerships between the agency and the health development agency and other appropriate agencies where the information might well be provided by the food standards agency but the health development agency may well wish to use that to run campaigns and inform the public generally. Our intention is that the health development agency proposed in the White Paper Our Healthier Nation will be set up early next year taking the place of the Health Education Authority.

I hope that I have explained to the Committee that because the protection of the public health remains, and I believe has to remain, the number one focus of the agency, the wording in the Bill as it stands is appropriate. Nevertheless, I believe the agency will have an important role in providing advice to the public and in working with other agencies who themselves may be better able to promote the kind of messages to which noble Lords have spoken.

On that basis I would invite the noble Viscount to withdraw his amendment.

Viscount Thurso

I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. The fact that there have been contributions from all sides of the Committee and from all parties has shown the great importance of this issue. I should like to return to two points.

The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, has been covered by the Minister who has said it is included anyway. The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, was a slightly lonely dissenting voice, if I may say so. The point of his remarks was that there was something subjective involved in this. I wish to make it perfectly clear that I am talking about advice that is wholly objective and based on fact.

If I may, I will detain the Committee for a moment with a personal experience. My youngest son has just been diagnosed as having a problem directly linked to the fact that he has been consuming "E" numbers. It is very straightforward: he does not pay attention at school. A change in his diet has seen him shoot up his class at prep school remarkably over the past six weeks.

I would like to have been given some information that allowed me at least to be alerted to that rather than have to send him off to a child psychologist. I am pleased that a happy conclusion is in train for him, but there is an objective role to be played rather than a subjective one.

The Minister said that nutrition had been encompassed within the Bill. I was delighted to have the Government's assurance on that, and also that it allows for promotion. The only distance between us is the difference between the Minister's words "may wish" to become involved. We would rather like it to be "compelled" to become involved. We totally agree with the Government that the main focus should not be deflected, and feel that this would add to that focus rather than detract from it. On that basis, I look forward to reading in Hansard the contributions of all noble Lords. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Luke moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 1, line 15, at end insert— ("() The Secretary of State for Health shall be accountable for the activities of the Agency to Parliament.")

The noble Lord said: In this group of amendments, I propose to speak to Amendment No. 5, and my noble friend Lady Byford to Amendment Nos. 6 and 91.

The consultation document on the agency published by the Government earlier this year envisages a new United Kingdom body operating at arm's length from Ministers. The Explanatory Notes to the Bill state that there will be a non-ministerial government department. However, no provision in the Bill states which Minister will be accountable to Parliament for the activities of the agency. The object of the amendment is to rectify that omission. I beg to move.

Baroness Byford

At Second Reading, I asked whether the Secretary of State should be defined in this Bill as the Secretary of State for Health. The noble Lord the Chief Whip rejected my suggestion, stating, traditionally, that legislation always refers simply to the Secretary of State. I understand that. He then went on to confirm that it would be the responsibility of the Minister of Health. That does not sit very well with itself.

As this is a completely new agency, bringing together both former parts of MAFF and parts of the health department, it would seem very desirable that tradition might be waived and a relevant lead department named. There may well be times when crises arise when that is particularly relevant, when the public will wish to know clearly where to turn and where the buck stops.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

We return to an issue which, as the noble Baroness said, was debated at Second Reading. This allows me to make clear to the Committee that the Secretary of State for Health will have overall responsibility for the agency since he will be responsible for directing policy in the light of the agency's advice. It is worth making the point that a key element of our proposals and the fundamental reason for creating the agency was to remove the perceived conflict of interest that arises through placing responsibility for food safety and the food industry within the same government department.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, referred to the advice given at Second Reading which I am bound to repeat to the Committee today. It is not the convention in primary legislation to specify which Secretary of State takes responsibility for a given set of powers. It is for that reason that the Bill refers only to the Secretary of State. This is necessarily a matter for the machinery of government rather than needing to be set out in primary legislation.

The noble Baroness thought tradition might be waived. That is a rather dangerous concept to propose in your Lordships' House. It would be unwise for the Committee to entertain a departure from that practice. But I repeat: it clearly will be the Secretary of State for Health who will have overall responsibility for the agency and who will answer to Parliament on its behalf when it is necessary for a Minister to do so. On that basis I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Byford

I thank the Minister for his response. I suspected that I would hear the same response which I heard at Second Reading but that did not deter me from trying to put the measure on the face of the Bill. It is not just a matter for those of us who deal with Bills and legislation; it should be clear to the general public that it was the Secretary of State for Health is responsible. The Minister also said that there might be a conflict of interest. I suspect that when we come to discuss such issues as the Meat Hygiene Service we may well be looking at the same things and I may well be quoting his words back to him.

I believe in tradition, but I had hoped that as we were moving forward the Government might consider my amendment a little more deeply. As we are moving into the next century, perhaps we could consider putting something on the face of the Bill. That makes good sense to me. However I have heard what the noble Lord has to say.

Lord Luke

Having listened to the Minister's reply, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Appointment of members etc.]:

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

4.30 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 1, line 22, at end insert (", and () at least one shall have experience in the fish industry")

The noble Lord said: I rise to move Amendment No. 7 and to speak to Amendment No. 18, both of which stand in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Byford. The amendments are not alternatives; they are both self-standing, although they deal with the same problem. That problem is that the fish industry in this country tends, quite rightly in my view, to feel that it is not given proper consideration when it comes to food hygiene, food regulations and the like. All too often, the industry is just lumped in with the meat industry as an afterthought.

Thai is a problem which can cause real difficulty for the fish industry because it is an entirely different product, and the whole processing system is entirely different. Indeed, if I have my terminology right the hazards are hugely less than the hazards involved in meat and meat products. The safety aspects of fish and the technology of fish science are unique. Fish are cold-blooded animals, unlike the warm-blooded animals about which, by and large, people are concerned when it comes to food safety. Fish have very little in common with farmed animals.

It is quite a separate industry from the catcher to the retailer. It is a specialist industry and there is no change-over between this and agriculture as we know it. The primary product is obtained—caught—by hunting, which is quite different from agriculture. It is not farmed at all, except for a very few farmed salmon and the like, which I fully accept are different. But in the case of the wild fish industry, it is quite different in every possible way.

The major food scares in recent years have all had their roots in primary agricultural production, whether it be salmonella in poultry, E. coil in meat, or BSE. Fish is quite different. Leaving aside a problem which some people have with an allergy to shellfish, fish is pretty safe. If fish is off, your Lordships will know it is off because it will smell off and you will not eat it. It is very straightforward. Shellfish are a little different because there is an allergy problem, but I do not believe that encompasses the food safety agency which will be set up. Frankly, I hope that it will not be telling the world, "You must not eat shellfish because some of you may have an allergy to them". Those of us who eat shellfish and happily have no allergy do not need that kind of advice. It is right that people are told that there is a problem for some people who are allergic but I really do not believe that has anything to do with the safety of food as I believe the food agency will be looking at. Shellfish also have problems with contaminants and naturally occurring toxins. I may come back to this point during the course of the proceedings on the Bill to inquire exactly who will have responsibility for problems about testing for some naturally occurring toxins that affect mussels, oysters and the like.

However, these things do not happen with fish as, let us face it, the general public consider fish; white fish, pelagic fish, herring, mackerel—fatty fish indeed, if I might refer back to something said a little earlier—which are extremely good for you, if I might make a small advertisement for the pelagic fishing industry here.

The point of my two amendments is that all too often in the past under all governments the fish industry has felt that it has not been properly treated, that its product was not looked at separately but was just lumped in with other foods, especially with meats. In comparison with the food coming from warm-blooded animals, fish has a very good record of safety as far as the public are concerned. Whether it be legislation in this country or whether it be legislation in Europe, all too often it is vet-driven and it is very much meat and meat products-driven. No one really looks at fish and the fish industry separately from the meat industry; no one looks at the hazards in fish alone and decides on regulations for fish that deal with those hazards. All too often, there is a read-across to the meat industry.

Therefore, I believe it is very important that the agency should link into those bodies which understand fish and the marine environment, which understand how one has to deal with live animals like mussels, oysters, lobster and so on that have to be taken to the cook in their live form. Indeed, oysters have to go further than that in their live form—they have to come to one's mouth in their live form. They have to be properly looked after and great care and attention are given to looking after them, which is absolutely right and proper. That is quite different from anything in the agricultural industry where similar circumstances do not occur for any product.

My two amendments, therefore, express the concern of the fish industry which I, from my long association with it, certainly share. It is that the food standards agency will deal just with fish as an afterthought to meat and meat products. My first amendment asks that one of the members of the agency should have a fish background. I am pretty certain that I can predict the answer I shall receive from Ministers, because I used to give these kind of answers myself! But it has to be said that they are sometimes—at least they were when I gave them—helpful in that they give assurances which can be prayed in aid later on. So I appreciate that I shall probably not make much progress in trying to ensure that at least one member of the agency will have a fish background. However, when the three authorities are discussing whom they might appoint, I hope they will take into account the fact that fish is quite different.

My second amendment cannot be so easily dismissed. It seeks to ensure that one of the advisory committees should specifically deal with fish. All the arguments that I have put forward pertain to that. It will be a place to which the agency can go to seek expert opinion on fish, quite separate from the committees that the agency may set up to deal with agricultural products, meat products and so on. I hope I can get assurances from the Government at least on the advisory committees, if I cannot get an assurance on the agency itself, because the fish industry is hugely important for this country and, if I may say so, particularly to Scotland, which produces very healthy food; not only safe food but food that is good for you.

That is my second plug of the day—I would hastily say to the Committee that I do not have a retainer from the fish industry! However, I had responsibility at one time for trying to ensure that the public understood these matters and old habits die hard. It is an important industry and ought to be properly treated by this agency. I hope that the Government will consider both my amendments and, even if they cannot give me an assurance on the first one, I hope they will be able to give me some assurances on the second. I beg to move.

Viscount Thurso

I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, for raising the question of the fish industry. It is one of the interests he and I share in common. It is a great industry and he is far more knowledgeable than I on this subject. I should declare an interest, which is that as Chairman of Scrabster Harbour Trust I am responsible for a fish market, and I am in the process of trying to get a fish processing factory built.

I therefore very much support the overall sentiment he has put forward, which is that care must be taken in dealing with fish and the fishing industry, and its general importance. I am glad that he divided his attack in two because, like him, I think it would be difficult to justify having a member of the agency specifically from one industry, as many other industries would then have a right to claim that their industry should be represented.

I am less certain how I feel with regard to the advisory side and I hope we will have an opportunity to debate that at a later stage, or even at this moment. It seems to me that there are genuine interests which certain industries might wish to put forward. The structure of the advisory committees is clearly one way through which this could be done. Wearing another of my hats, having come from the restaurant industry I might wonder how issues particular to restaurants will be taken into account.

In setting up the agency it is important that we do not create a policeman who is fought by all of the industries over whom he holds sway. It is important that the agency does its job of protection and possibly even promotion, but does it in co-operation with industry. Therefore, this amendment is not only important as regards the narrow issue of the fish industry—which is definitely important—but it is also extremely important in raising the wider issue of how the agency will interlink with the various industries with which it has to work.

The Earl of Radnor

I support the noble Lord as regards an advisory committee. Fish have a raw deal indeed while yet they last in the seas around these islands. I am a little worried that the balance of the noble Lord's mind veers so much towards trawlers and so on. It is perhaps worth remembering that most of the fish now eaten in the British Isles comprises farmed salmon. The price of cod has gone through the roof because it is so rare. This matter is extremely important and is a difficult issue to tackle. No one is likely to go out on a trawler to see what happens on board, whereas in a fish farm people watch you the whole time to see how you fillet and gut and so on. As I say, this is an important issue but it is difficult to have a member specifically from one industry. If you have a member from the fish industry I do not see why you should not have one from the meat industry and one with experience of salads and so on, instead of this heavy emphasis not on the product but on the areas of our three countries.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 4.38 to 4.59 p.m.]

Baroness Wilcox

I support both the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish. It is probably known that I am connected with fishing as this House was gracious enough to pass the lobster and ranching legislation that I put through. Therefore I have a vested interest in this matter and support these two amendments, particularly Amendment No. 18 which states that, The Agency shall establish an advisory committee for the purposes of giving advice or information about fish". We tend to talk about the fishing industry as though it were already dead, which is not the case. It is certainly in a state of great change and hunting, as we know it, will probably become a sports issue; people will hunt fish for sport. New methods of growing and ranching fish and scientific advancements mean that we will need to be extremely careful about the sort of labelling that we put on fish. The assumption is that fish is easy: we just put it in a pan and fry it. I remember to my cost, however, what pelagic fish can do if moved around at the wrong temperature—those dreadful words "scombo toxins".—and I know that there will be other questions asked later about nutrition. Nutrition labelling for fish is absolutely essential.

Fish, as has already been said, is generally very good for us, so this is an area where we will be labelling in the affirmative. With the advances that we are going to see in the coming years, however, it will be vital to have a committee not only with consumer representation (as I would wish) but also with scientific representation so that we can pass information to the general public sufficiently early for them to start to understand what is happening within the industry.

I support the two amendments.

The Countess of Mar

I too wish to support the amendments. I take issue in a small way with the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, about the safety of fish. If he went to Japan he would find that the incidence of food poisoning caused by fish is much higher than that caused by meat. That is due of course to the way in which the fish is cooked and the diet. In view of what the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, said, it is quite possible that the hazards associated with fish will be far greater with farming because of its intensity than they are at present when fish are caught from the wild. There is a need for a member with a specialist interest, not only in the nutritional value of fish, but also in the special microflora attached to fish and the toxins that they can produce.

Lord Montague of Oxford

Perhaps I may apologise for not having attended at Second Reading. I am a little hesitant about supporting the idea that someone principally represents fish. We are attempting to set up quite a small board. It would be valuable of course to have experts in everything—for instance, in frozen foods and in wine; there are many areas where expert knowledge would be extremely valuable. However, we have here only eight members, a chairman and a deputy chairman.

It has been decided that there will be representation in the form indicated in the Bill. If we try to place people on the board who have specific areas of knowledge, important though they are, I shall counsel against it. When it comes to fish, I am second to none in my support of sashimi and I quite understand why in Japan there may well be a higher incidence of poisoning from fish in view of the amount that is consumed, but all that does not make the case for these import ant areas being represented on the board.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, is always eloquent and never more so than when protecting, if not promoting, the interests of the fish industry. Indeed, it recalls happy days during the passing of the Scotland Act when we debated the Tweed and Esk fisheries I am only disappointed that he was unable to refer to that today.

The substantive point is to acknowledge that he is right in emphasising the importance of the fish industry and the distinctive features of that industry, and also the benefits which fish bring to our diets. I do not disagree with that at all. However, I question whether the approach that he is suggesting, both in terms of the actual membership of the agency and also whether it would be right to set into primary legislation the nature of the advisory committee to be set up, is really the right way to go about ensuring that issues in relation to fish are considered appropriately by the agency.

It may be helpful to the Committee if I say a little about our general intent with regard to appointment of members of the agency, and then perhaps come back to one or two distinctive points about the issue of fish.

Like many other public bodies, the Government are committed to appointing members to the agency on the basis of individual qualities and not as representatives of particular sectors or other interests. That was proposed in the White Paper and remains our policy. We are looking for an overall balanced membership with a good spread of expertise and experience, but acting collectively in the public interest rather than a board representing particular sectors.

I accept that it is important for the agency to have members with some practical experience of the industry. It needs to be able to take sound and workable decisions which command the confidence of the industry, and the adverts and information we sent out to members of the public who asked for information about the appointments, which was published in June, made that absolutely clear.

I appreciate the intention behind the amendment to ensure that the agency has access to relevant high quality advice, but I believe it is too rigid. The noble Lord is as eloquent in putting forward his arguments as he is in anticipating the response that will be made to them, and I am afraid that I am making the response that he forecast. It is wrong to create the impression that some sectors have a right to representation denied to others. As my noble friend Lord Montague suggested, it would lead to calls from other sectors which would say that they, too, wished to be represented in such a way or they, too, wished to have an advisory committee covering their particular interests. Anyone could see that that would soon lead to a very unwieldy body.

To refer again to the point made by my noble friend Lord Montague, my own experience in the health service when we set up area health authorities in 1974 with an average of 30 members representing a whole host of interests is that not only does it lead to a body which is unwieldy in terms of numbers; it also makes it very difficult to get strong leadership and effective decisions because there are too many interests to balance in that kind of set-up.

Having said that, it does not mean to say that the fishing sector and other sectors will not be consulted and involved. Indeed, Clause 22 of the Bill obliges the agency to consult widely, and that must include establishing a good relationship with the fisheries sector.

There is a similar problem with the proposed requirement to establish an advisory committee dealing with fish. Again, the agency will need to maintain a constructive dialogue with all sectors of the food industry on safety and standard issues and will need to take advice from a number of sources to complement its own expertise. It will also be able to assess the need for setting up further advisory committees, once it is established. It is, however, important that the agency itself should be in a position to make those decisions when it is established and when it has resolved the direction in which it wishes to go and weighed up the relative importance of the different issues to be considered.

The Government will certainly encourage the advisory committees to take a special interest in fishery matters where there is a need to do so. It may be worth me making the point that there will be a committee for Scotland, and given the importance of the fisheries industry to Scotland, I would be very surprised if that committee did not take a close interest in those matters. But again, it must be for that committee to decide.

In conclusion, I agree that fish is an important and healthy food. It will be essential for the agency to have a good understanding of the issues involved. The suggestion in the amendment tabled by the noble Lord is not the right way to take that forward. On that basis, I hope he will consider withdrawing the amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am grateful to the Minister for that response which does not particularly surprise me, although I thought he may have gone a little further on the second amendment.

I had to look occasionally at the amendment to see if I had worded it differently from the way I anticipated. In the amendment I said "experience" in the fish industry; I did not say "represent". I fully accept that no one in the agency should be there to represent one sector or another. It is the experience that I am interested in, and I am certain that there will be many people in the agency who will have experience in the agricultural products industry in its widest term, whether that be meat, vegetables, or whatever.

When the Government look at the people who apply, I hope they will not turn their backs on experience in the fish industry. There will be people with experience in both, and it would be very good for the fish industry and for the decisions made by the agency if someone with sufficient skills and talents comes forward who has a background in the fish industry either wholly or in addition to a background in agriculture.

I understand what the Minister is saying. I hope that the people who make these appointments will look at food in its widest aspect and not just concentrate on agricultural products.

On the advisory committee, I take his point that it is unlikely that the Scottish one will not contain someone with an interest in fish, but fish processing is a big industry in England. Humberside, for example, has a large fish processing industry, and it is very important to the economy of Humberside. Therefore, it is not just a Scottish issue, it is a UK issue as well and affects many parts of the country. The south-west of England, for example, has a very important fish and fish-processing industry.

I hear what the Minister says. He is telling me that it is up to the agency to decide in its advisory committees. Towards the end of his reply, he accepted that fish and fish products are completely different in many respects from agriculturally-produced products, and therefore have to be looked at on their own merits, and the hazards involved in their production looked at on their own and not just as add-ons to the meat and agriculture industry. That was the main point I wanted to put on record. If when they read this debate people from the agency take on board some of what I have said, then I will at least feel justified in having put forward the amendments.

I thank the Minister for his understanding of the points I was seeking to make. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 1, line 22, at end insert ("; and ( ) being appointed under paragraph (a), (b), (c) or (d) shall not prevent the person concerned, at a later date, being appointed to the position of either Deputy Chairman or Chairman")

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 8 is a probing amendment. It is tabled simply to make it clear that service in a regional position—namely, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland—or as an appointee of the Secretary of State, does not disqualify that person from holding the position of chairman or deputy chairman.

The question may well never arise, but in the event that it does, if this amendment is carried the position will be quite clear and will not stretch the Secretary of State's powers in any way. That is my reason for moving the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

It may be appropriate for me to say a few words about Amendment No. 9, which is a probing amendment. The Bill currently provides that the appropriate authorities should act jointly. The appropriate authorities are currently the Scottish Executive, the Welsh Assembly and, if it comes to fruition, the Northern Ireland Assembly. I am not entirely sure that I should call the United Kingdom Government in this regard because there is no longer a United Kingdom Government. They are acting entirely as the English government, so I shall call them "Whitehall", as I do not wish to use this rather difficult terminology.

When the words "act to appoint jointly" have occurred in legislation up to date, that has meant that the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland, in the case of agriculture, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and in the case of health, the Secretary of State for Health, have exchanged the usual paper round and tried to agree who should be appointed to certain jobs. On occasions departments disagree and those disagreements are then resolved. They have never in my experience gone to a Cabinet committee, but if two Secretaries of State dug their heels in over an appointment they would have to go to some form of arbitration inside the same government. That has always been the case, and it has been relatively easy to resolve those issues because it has been inside the same government.

The point I am attempting to probe is that it will not be inside the same government in the future. It will be different governments deciding jointly, and I am wondering to what extent they will consult. How will this consultation be carried out? Will one authority have a veto on the appointment made by another authority? If Whitehall decides that it wants to appoint Joe Bloggs and for some reason the Scottish Executive thinks that Joe Bloggs is a thoroughly bad person, will it be able to exercise a veto simply by continuing to say, "I do not agree to Joe Bloggs being appointed."? What happens in the ca se of deadlock between those two parties? That is the reason for my probe into the expression "jointly".

I understand exactly how it has worked in the past, but we are in a different ball game and I should like a few words from the Minister to explain how the Government envisage these matters will be resolved in the future.

Baroness Byford

I shall speak to Amendment No. 11 and notify the Committee that I shall not move Amendment No. 12, which was an error on my part. I apologise to the Minister and his team. As regards Amendment No. 11, food production starts with the preparation. both on land and at sea as my noble friend has recalled very clearly, through seed to harvest. It moves then to slaughter and further stages of production. It is right that all the authorities consider a wide range of people when appointing members to the agency, and I am grateful to the Minister for indicating that people will be considered on their wide knowledge rather than their individual input.

It was of concern to me earlier this year, after the notifications were sent out inviting people to apply to become members, that some very senior member of the farming industry, whom I shall not name at the moment, said, "It is no use my putting my name in; they do not wish people to come from the food production side.". That concerns me greatly because I had not read it that way and I should like to raise the matter at this stage. I am not proposing that a person who is directly a farmer or landowner should considered, but I am extremely worried by the fact that somebody of that calibre has read the notification and assumed he is not be eligible. That is the reason for tabling Amendment No. 11. I might reiterate that I shall not move Amendment No. 12.

5.15 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

Perhaps I may deal first with Amendment No. 8. I accept the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that anyone appointed as a member should not be ineligible for later appointment as chair or deputy. There is nothing in the Bill to suggest that there would be any bar to this; indeed, it already contains provision about reappointment. Schedule 1 to the Bill contains details about the constitution of the agency, including the tenure of office of its members. Paragraph 2(1) of the schedule already provides for the reappointment of members. There is no doubt that this allows for someone who has served as a member to become chairman or deputy chairman, so I believe the amendment is unnecessary and I would ask the noble Baroness to withdraw it.

I turn to Amendment No. 11. In answer to the noble Baroness's point, may I make it clear that those with experience of food production can already be appointed to the agency either because of their experience of food safety, which goes alongside food production, or because production is another interest to consumers in relation to food. I was a little disturbed at the point raised by the noble Baroness about a potential candidate. I felt that this was not apparent in the information as it was certainly our intention that, in the information provided to candidates, there should have been no doubt that food production experience was relevant. Subsection 3(a) of Clause 2 already makes it clear that the sort of experience being considered is that of food safety and of other interests of consumers of food. We thought that sort of formulation provides the right kind of flexibility, so that the agency has the right mix of members. However, we do not believe that specifying food producers adds anything to the Bill and perhaps casts doubts on the breadth of the rest of the clause.

We are trying to provide the basis for a high quality, overall balanced board, not a representative body. Having said that, the majority of members will come from the wider public interest background and that is the basis upon which appointments are being made.

I turn to the interesting points made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, about the impact of the agency both in working as a UK body and in relation to devolved areas of responsibility. We are providing that the National Assembly for Wales, Scottish Ministers and the Department of Health and Social Services for Northern Ireland, together with the Secretary of State for Health, each appoint a number of members as specified.

As I said earlier, we have always intended that our goal should be to achieve a balanced membership overall. It follows that it is right for the appropriate authorities, using the terminology of the Bill, to consult each other. Otherwise, we could find ourselves with a membership with too much knowledge or experience of, for example, food production and too little of public health matters, or vice versa, instead of a unified body with collective responsibility for the UK as a whole. To go back to our previous debate about issues in relation to the fishing industry, you are much more likely to get a balanced membership if the various appointing authorities are able to discuss with each other the likely candidates and then to ensure that out of that you get broad-based membership, which I believe is so important to the agency.

The noble Lord asked whether the arrangements in relation to the devolved authorities will cause problems in the event of a disagreement. In relation to appointments or indeed to other matters where the authorities are being asked to act jointly, there may of course be divergences of view but, with respect to the noble Lord, that has not been unusual with arrangements prior to devolution. There have been various arrangements where different governments of state have had to act jointly and that has generally worked well. I have no reason to suppose that it will not work well in the future. Indeed, I am not sure whether the word "common sense" is one I would wish to use at the moment. All experience would suggest that it is in the interest of all the appointment authorities to work well together to ensure a balanced membership and I have no reason to suppose that that will not occur in this case.

There will also be concordats between the agency and the devolved administrations in relation to how the agency will work with the devolved administrations. That will help lay the foundation for co-operation in the future. In the event of disagreements and the need to resolve disputes, there is the opportunity of a joint ministerial committee to discuss those issues and to seek to resolve them. I am rather more optimistic than the noble Lord about how these arrangements will work. The benefits of co-operation, particularly in terms of a balanced membership, far outweigh the potential for disagreements. On that basis, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Baroness Byford

I apologise to the Committee for not putting all of my amendments together; I shall try to make sure I follow them on. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, for his response. As he quite rightly said, Amendment No. 8 is a probing amendment. I should like the opportunity to read Hansard more clearly—I was looking at it very quickly—because Schedule 1(2)(1) to which he referred, says, on ceasing to hold that office, is eligible for re-appointment". That is not what I was asking about. It does not cover the situation of a person being appointed to a different position, which is my point, rather than being re-appointed. Perhaps the noble Lord would like a chance to come back on that because that is where a little confusion may have arisen. My point related to a new appointment rather than to a re-appointment, which is the reason for my amendment.

To refer back to Amendment No. 11, I heard what the Minister said about his concern (which was my concern) that people felt that, just because they were in the food production business, they would not be considered. I found that very disturbing because we obviously wish to have a balance of the whole range.

That is why I tabled the amendment; that is, to make quite sure that we are content with the way in which the system will work.

I do not have anything further to say with regard to my noble friend's amendment. I shall let the Minister respond.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

Perhaps I may say briefly to the noble Baroness that re-appointment does not necessarily mean re-appointment to the same position.

Baroness Byford

I did not read it that way, and I am glad of the clarification. If this needs any further defining then, perhaps when we have had a chance to look at Hansard more clearly, we will be able to come back to it at Report stage. It is just slightly confusing. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Lord Clement-Jones moved Amendment No.10:

Page 2, line 9, after ("safety") insert ("and standards including nutrition and labelling")

The noble Lord said: In moving this amendment we welcome the Minister's statement that nutrition is implicitly included in the duties of the agency in the Bill. However, the essence of these amendments is to go further and make explicit the agency's role in relation to nutrition and labelling in Clauses 2, 6, 7, 8 and 9. We believe it is essential that, if the agency is to be effective, then it must have a broad remit which includes both nutrition and labelling. We believe that that should be made explicit.

Food quality and nutrition are just as important as food safety for public health. Indeed, the Acheson Report clearly showed the extent of nutrition inequality in this country that needs to be tackled. We found that a very valuable report. Nutrition messages are often a matter for some debate, which is why we believe it is essential that nutrition is handled as independently as possible and that nutritional considerations are handled within the open and transparent climate that we hope the agency will provide.

There are those who would argue against the agency having a nutritional role at all. There are points that could be made on that, about focus and so on, but it is not our understanding that the Government are making that point in the first place. I believe we need to go back to the original White Paper and I make no apologies for referring to this. There are some eight points on page 33 of the original White Paper, A Force for Change, that relate to nutrition and it goes into some detail on the agency's duties. That is repeated to a degree. The draft Bill commentary states: The agency's function will allow it to exercise the role which the White Paper envisaged for it in nutritional policy".

It is clearly stated that the agency will have that nutrition role. Why, therefore, in view of the fact that there are some eight duties here, is not being made explicit? It seems extraordinary. The White Paper is quite detailed. It states that the agency will, provide practical guidance in relation to nutritional aspects of the food chain, including production and catering". Those are some very broad duties there. It is our case that these duties should be explicitly included in the legislation.

I believe that Amendment No. 24 is now grouped with these amendments, and we very much support that amendment in spirit. There is no reason why we should not learn from US experience as regards labelling. Indeed, in many ways their labelling is better than ours, and I support that in spirit. I beg to move.

5.30 p.m.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

With permission, I wish to speak to an amendment which will be moved formally at a later stage by agreement. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for allowing me to group my amendment with his.

Much as I support his amendment and everything that has been said about nutrition information, as important as the information itself is the presentation of the information. If I may borrow a catch phrase: presentation, presentation, presentation. That is why my amendment is extremely specific, and only in the case of a Grand Committee could such a specific amendment have been considered. It is specific because when the committee has its new powers I want to say, "Look, this is a jolly good way of doing it; this is how you should be looking at it, this is how you should be gauging the whole situation".

In this country at present customers do not have any kind of uniform, consistent labelling such as exists in the United States. I am sure that is not in doubt. It is perhaps kindest to describe what we have in this country as a shambles. Other people might speak less kindly than I have done of it, but I believe that is something of an understatement. Many imported goods do not have—and are not required to have—any nutrition information whatever. In this country the requirements for nutrition labelling were supposed to have been reviewed in 1998; they were not, leaving a complete vacuum in some areas and total confusion in the rest.

It is true and only fair to say that most supermarkets and food manufacturers do their best to provide nutrition information. The provision of it is very often inconsistent; there is no uniformity in the formula for presentation between one supermarket and another, between one manufacturer and another, between one product and another. It is often impossible, therefore, to make any relevant comparisons about the nutritional content of the product.

Furthermore, one needs an honours degree in mental arithmetic to ascertain how the figures might relate to the portions that will constitute a serving. For example, for a bag of potato crisps weighing 140 grams the nutritional values are given per 100 grams, which is not even a portion size. A jar of mayonnaise gives a calories count per 100 grams and the contents of the jar as 200 millilitres. No doubt many of your Lordships are far more numerate than I and could make this calculation in a minute, but I certainly could not.

On this theme, I would respectfully address the Minister's attention to page 10 of the nutrition labelling study report of 1995 which was undertaken on behalf of her department and delivered to them. I will not go into detail and delay the Committee., but page 10 entirely upholds what I have just said about public perception of nutrition labelling in this country.

On top of this British consumers are burdened with EU "E" numbers to warn allergy sufferers. The only problem is that there are many numbers displayed in great profusion, and whereas this is very good in principle it is ridiculous in practice because one would have to walk around with a glossary of "E" numbers in order to break the code!

It is time to clear the jungle as far as British consumers are concerned. The new food standards committee could do this with a wave of a wand and at somebody else's expense! In 1993 the FDA in the United States brought out these new regulations that were the outcome of very widespread and very costly consultation and research, giving us a near perfect blueprint to guide our new agency. I have circulated some of those copies so I know that noble Lords have seen them. The great advantage of the United States' regulations is that they are simple, consistent and uniform in presentation. Serving sizes are realistic and consistent in same and similar food products and in products from differing sources, so that comparisons are easy to make. In addition—and this is an important point made by the noble Lord—to the clear statements of fact about nutrition there is a table showing percentage daily values as well as a clear list of ingredients. So any consumer will see, for example. 3 grams of fat and can immediately look down and see the recommended daily allowance of fat. That is all contained on the same label.

I believe that this information, which is easy to assimilate, does not seek to humour the health food faddists, or the person who is always on a diet. As noble Lords will have observed, it is not provided for people like me either! It is required by consumers of all ages and for many reasons. The most important group has already been mentioned, those who perhaps have health risks in their family and want to be careful, mothers who are preparing menus for their family and want to be careful, as well as those who already have known health problems.

On Second Reading the noble Baroness said, The Government believe that the public have a right to clear and accurate information to help them make informed and sensible choices".—[Official Report, 30/7/99; col. 1786.] A little later in the same speech she said that the agency will take a key role in nutrition policy. Therefore I am confident of her support for this amendment.

Finally I turn briefly to the EU ramifications in this matter. Some EU countries give no nutritional information whatsoever. Others give a little but it is not given in any standard way. It is as confusing as our own; I would not say that ours is much better. Yet all food products sold in the United States have to meet their regulations. A number of these products come from Europe and beyond and they find no difficulty in providing the information in order to sell their produce in the United States. The CEG are at present examining QUID, which refers only to ingredient listing, and even they are quite a long way from reaching agreement on that, and they certainly do not like what the Community is proposing with regard to the rest of food labelling.

It would be a sad situation if British consumers were to be relegated to second grade, to a standard far below that of the United States. I hope that the noble Baroness will not put forward as an argument against this the fact that it would not be acceptable to our partners, because I would say to her from personal experience that where there's a will there's a way. I know from experience that if you want something you can get it as far as our partners are concerned.

Finally, whereas individual European governments may not want such labelling, I can assure the noble Baroness that all the European consumer groups would like to move towards it.

In conclusion, I should like to thank the National Consumer Council for its support and in particular, Mike Rayner of the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group to which I hope before long I shall be able to add the support of the Minister.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

I want to go back and say a few words of support to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, on the amendments to which I put my name. Some of the arguments are the same as in Amendment No. 4 which I spoke to earlier and I do not think I need to repeat those.

I was just thinking the other day that when I was young I was exhorted to "drinka pinta milk a day", and was also urged to "go to work on an egg". In my innocence then, I used to think that this was advice distilled from long and careful medical research. In fact, now that I am older and a bit wiser, and I fear a bit more cynical, I realise that this, then as now, is the special interest group speaking. It occurs to me that if we had had a food standards agency somewhat sooner with a brief for independent nutritional information, thousands of lives might have been saved by, to take one example, well-targeted advice to avoid added salt in our food, and the food industry might well have moved a bit quicker to change their ways in this respect.

On the question of policies, which is Amendment No. 20, I should like to quote four short statements from the 1991 WHO Report on Chronic Diseases to which I referred earlier. The first quote is: few governments realise that policies intended to guarantee an adequate food supply have introduced major threats to health". The second quote is: Policies initiated at a time when an adequate food supply meant an adequate supply of nutrients may be hard-pressed to adapt to the fact that nutrient excesses are now linked to the leading causes of death in virtually every country blessed with an abundant food supply". And, of nutrition programmes directed towards the control of chronic diseases, I quote: By reducing chronic morbidity, such programmes will considerably relieve the financial strain on health care systems". The report goes on to urge governments to, protect their populations through policies that make healthy food choices the easy choices". It is interesting that it should use the word "protect" there because, as the noble Lord, Lord Rea, pointed out earlier, that might not be a word that one would automatically think of when thinking of food promotion as opposed to safety. There are issues here, at the leading edge of nutritional research, which go way beyond the concept of a "balanced diet", and cast grave doubt on that other mantra which is beloved of many people, including the food industry, "There is no such thing as a bad food, only a bad diet". I have never believed in that one.

Nutritional standards, to sum up, deserve the kind of profile and promotion which the new agency should be equipped to provide. We should not draw back from giving it this role because some people feel threatened by dietary advice; they do not have to heed it, as I have said before, and there are ways of getting research findings across which need not offend the most sensitive trencherman. The noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, asked me on the previous amendment whether I was wanting to, was it admonish? I was not quite sure of the flavour of that. Not heavy-handed, no, but there are ways of getting findings across. If the scientific advice is available it can be put forward in a straightforward way which can get to the public without saying, "You are naughty boys and girls". I think that should be simple enough to do.

The final point is that I think in view of one of those quotations, the Government cannot afford to overlook something which could achieve real long-term reductions in health costs. I think these amendments deserve support for those reasons.

5.45 p.m.

The Countess of Mar

I should like to speak to Amendment No. 24 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes. Could I ask her please to exercise a little caution? I have already declared my interest in this; I am a small specialist cheesemaker—a very small specialist cheesemaker. To get the nutritional information that would be required on a label in the way that the noble Baroness mentioned would cost me several hundred pounds. I recently had the information for fat and protein in three cheeses which cost £200. Could I remind the Committee that big trees from little acorns grow, and if small producers are discouraged at an early stage they may not help British industry.

Lord Northbourne

I am concerned that the concept of labelling in this discussion seems to be becoming linked with the promotion of nutrition. Labelling is in fact extraordinarily important in the context of risk limitation, the most obvious case being the date on the label which shows when it is no longer safe to consume the product. I myself was involved for many years in washing, packing and selling salad products which are extremely vulnerable to deterioration. I am therefore very conscious of these problems. It seems that labelling has three functions: it has a function in relation to risk limitation; a function in the context of health promotion; and a function in relation to ensuring that consumers get satisfaction and what they want.

The point made by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, is tremendously important. Why should people not eat little cheeses if they wish to? The label has to show—

The Countess of Mar

It has to show that they are made from unpasteurised milk.

Lord Northbourne

Yes, that they are made from unpasteurised milk, in such and such a place, at such and such a time and you take the risk! We must not be a nanny state.

Baroness Byford

I rise to support these amendments. I have a slight hesitation about the comments of my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes in that it is very specific. I should like to speak in a slightly broader way on the whole issue of labelling and nutrition, particularly the labelling side.

I fear that we may hear—though I hope we do not—from the Minister that we cannot do it because it may conflict with what other countries do. I hope that is a route down which we do not go. At the end of the day, this Bill is about food safety. I believe I am right in saying that the biggest source of food poisoning is actually the home. It is therefore essential that the person who buys the product knows what is on the label and is able to identify clearly with it.

Perhaps I may turn to one or two particular issues. I apologise for doing that at this stage but since we have gone into some detail on this amendment, I should like to do so. The consumer must be sure about the country of origin of the product that she buys. We have touched upon it now because we know in this country that we produce certain meat products—pork is a good example—to higher standards than those set by our colleagues on the Continent and probably further afield.

It is important that the consumer should be able to identify the product very clearly. I have to declare an interest. We have pigs on the farm and although I am not a practising farmer, we do obviously still sell pigs. It has to be transparently clear that people know precisely what they are buying. I therefore support these amendments in broadbrush and again especially on the nutritional side.

Many of us have children or grandchildren and the first point that arises is whether they have a nut allergy. I give an example. My daughter was told that our grandchildren could take a break to school with them. They decided to take one of these muesli bars. Then a message came back saying that they must not do so because it was possible that there might be some nut in that particular bar. These are the kinds of things that are of concern to us.

I realise the problem and the difficulty facing the Government. I come back to three points. First, I hope that the world-wide or European proposed labelling schemes will not stop us from doing something that we feel we should do. Secondly, the consumer needs to know and be very clear. Thirdly—wearing my own hat, so more on the farming side rather than the general food side—if a product has a British stamp on the back, it should have been grown, produced and finished in this country so that the purchaser knows that. It should not have been produced elsewhere and then come in having been raised to a lesser standard but, because it has been processed here, have a British mark on it. I apologise to noble Lords that I shall be returning to those points in greater detail later, but the amendments we are discussing at the moment are important.

Lord Rea

In supporting the noble Lord, Lord Clement- Jones, perhaps I might amplify some of the points he made. The first is the stark contrast between the aims of the agency as set out in the White Paper and the lack of reference to some of those in the Bill. I read the comments of government Ministers in another place and listened to the reasons of the noble Lord, Lord Carter, for not having nutrition on the face of the Bill. I am not convinced by any of the arguments that have been put forward.

Chapter 5 of the food standards agency White Paper, A Force for Change, is headed, The Agency's Role in Food Standards and Nutrition".

It states, Responses from consumer organisations, academics and public health organisations and professionals were overwhelmingly in favour of including nutrition in the remit of the Agency".

It is worth spelling out the eight aspects of nutrition that were allocated to the agency—four more are shared with health and seven more are entirely in the remit of the Department of Health. The paper states that the agency will, be responsible for monitoring and surveillance of the nutrient content of food and the nutrient content of the diet

provide authoritative factual information about the nutrient content of individual foods and advice on the diet as a whole

secure expert scientific advice on the relationship between diet, nutritional status and health to support the definition of a healthy diet and to inform policy from the. Committee on Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition Policy (COMA)

provide the definition of a balanced diet, based on COMA's scientific advice, for subsequent use in health education material produced by other bodies

where appropriate, propose legislation relating to nutritional aspects of food, including labelling and claims. dietary supplements sold as food, fortified foods and functional foods

provide practical guidance in relation to nutritional aspects of the food chain, including production and catering

commission food and diet research appropriate to the functions of the Agency

represent the UK in international negotiations on issues relating to nutritional aspects of food".

There is no mention at all in the Bill of the word "nutrition". On reading the Bill, one might well think that it is almost entirely concerned with microbiological safety.

Another problem is that, though my noble friend assured us at Second Reading and also outside the House that nutrition and food composition issues will be a major task of the agency, there remains the fear that the absence of the word "nutrition" on the face of the Bill will enable those who are opposed to the agency giving nutritional facts or advice, or advising the Government on nutritional policy—we all know who they are—to block those aspects of the food standards agency's work. That might be more of a danger with a government—dare I say?—of a different political persuasion.

Another danger in the present over-emphasis on food safety is that appointments of candidates to the agency and the advisory committees will be and possibly are already being made up of those whose main expertise is in food safety rather than in the overall aspects of diet and public health. I have said enough. I do not know whether other noble Lords wish to contribute and I should like to hear the reply of the noble Baroness.

The Earl of Selborne

I shall just say a few words specifically about labelling of country of origin, which is very relevant to this issue of the powers and responsibility of the agency.

I have no doubt that we will be told that to label the country of origin, which differentiates between member states of the European Community, is not possible. However, we have to recognise that a requirement may be imposed on the agency to identify the country of origin if that country happens to be the United Kingdom, simply because Parliament, in its wisdom, has determined that standards should be different in this country from those in other member states. That is of course the position, be it for animal welfare or for food safety, in a number of cases.

It follows therefore that the agency could well be required, if it is to fulfil its function properly, to protect or guard against risk; that is, if you accept those words. I do not think that we should have done so, but we will not go back on that. If there is a duty to protect against risk, and if Parliament thinks such standards as are enforced in the rest of Europe are not adequate, the only way the consumer can easily identify these higher standards which Parliament deems appropriate and necessary must be through identifying the country of origin. It will not be adequate to be told that, much as we wish to recognise the wisdom of our own legislation, we cannot in fact inform the consumer of the country of origin within the Community. That is simply unacceptable.

So often producers in this country find themselves disadvantaged in terms of competitive cost, and the consumer has the advantage. I should have reminded the Committee, as I did at Second Reading, that I am an apple grower and indeed a farmer, because this matter is certainly relevant to my business. I am told that I cannot stick a Union Jack label on each of my apples—but I do, as it happens! But that is not communautaire and it is certainly something that I find exasperating.

I hope that the Minister will recognise that it is not enough simply to say that this matter goes beyond the remit of food protection. It is all about food protection. It is all about following up the precedents which Parliament has already set in these matters, ahead of other countries.

Lord Montague of Oxford

I want to comment on the excellent spirit of the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, although I am a little cautious about the way in which they were presented. The noble Baroness's speech was eloquent but the terminology of this amendment does not quite capture what she has in mind. I would like to make it absolutely clear, however, that I support that spirit.

Let me make an additional point. The noble Baroness made the point about the chemical formulae, which we are all supposed to understand so that we can be aware of what we should and should not buy. What I find so objectionable—and I know many other consumers do—is that these pieces of information are printed so small. It is all very well for the young, who can read so brilliantly, but with no disrespect to the noble Baroness certainly I find that it is just a little difficult when you have a pair of glasses which are virtually magnifying glasses. There seems to be plenty of space for wonderful stories, which are misleading, and wonderful illustrations, but nothing that we really need. There is insufficient clarity as regards what we really need to know.

Let me make one cautionary noise about country of origin. In terms of food and being alert to the country of origin, for the reasons we have heard that information is very appropriate. But people use country of origin information for all sorts of other purposes. There are political uses—you cannot buy anything from Peru, or this country or that country—and I am very nervous about boycotts and what might happen if we start saying that every specific country has to be identified.

Lord Desai

Like the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, I wish that we had separated the matters of labelling and nutrition. I am sorry to continue to fight this lost battle. The previous time I discussed it, I thought I was speaking on the Government's side, and my noble friend undermined me.

Let me try once again. The tremendous fear that consumers have about eating has arisen more from microbiological problems than from nutritional problems. Nutritional labelling is a good thing and I do not want to deny that; it is the positive side of eating. But people are worried that what they eat might poison or kill them. Accurate labelling of the physical contents is extremely important. It is what one might call the characteristics, like the fat content and so on.

For example, if a product contains pork extract, a Moslem might want to know that. We have not discussed that aspect of eating. However, some people may not eat certain foods not because of health but because of strong religious beliefs, and therefore would much rather know whether the food contains beef extract, pork extract, egg or whatever it may be. Many vegetarians, for example, may be very upset by such things, so it is much more important that the physical details are known.

Other aspects are desirable, but I feel strongly that if the agency does not concentrate on the core task of reassuring consumers about microbiological risks, even though it may do fantastic things in other directions; if it does not prevent the next food panic, it will have failed.

6 p.m.

Lord Rea

Perhaps I might briefly answer my noble friend Lord Desai. Of course, he is right. The public are primarily afraid of getting food poisoning, but the deaths caused by faulty diet far outweigh the deaths caused by food poisoning. Food poisoning is a nuisance. There may be a million cases a year—we do not know as most of them are not reported—but they are mostly self-limiting. People often know not what they eat, and often it will bring them to an early grave if they continue to eat as they do. I agree that we cannot tell people what to eat. But the agency can provide information which might be supplied to it by others to help convince people to eat a diet which will make them feel a lot better; be less of a burden on the health service; and perhaps allow them to live a little longer. However, that is not the important point because they should be healthy while they are alive.

Baroness Hayman

Combining discussion about nutrition and labelling into one portmanteau debate has led us down some fascinating byways, but it presents something of a challenge in summing up and responding to the amendments. I shall try and do so, first, by dealing with the issue of nutrition. I say at the outset that I understand the strength of feeling reflected in this debate that there should not be any retreat—if I can put it that way—from the principles set out in the White Paper that we should encompass nutrition within the objectives of the agency. My noble friend Lord Rea suggested that I said it outside the House, but perhaps I can say within the confines of this Committee that the Government are fully committed to the agency having a major role in nutrition and in diet; in it being a key part of its remit for protecting public health.

The agency will be a key player in helping the Government to deliver on their commitments to public health in the White Paper, Saving Lives: Our Healthier Nation, in partnership with the Department of Health. He is right to point out that the health consequences of poor nutrition in general go far wider and affect far more people than the health consequences of food poisoning, acute and serious though those may be for the small number of individuals affected severely, though we know that quite a large number of individuals are affected overall each year.

The White Paper on public health stated that the agency would, provide independent and authoritative advice to the public on all food safety and standards issues as well as on a balanced diet and on the nutritional value of food to help people make informed decisions about what they eat". We are fully committed to the agency having that role. I have to repeat what we have said many times before. We have no doubt that the agency's main objective in Clause 1 encompasses nutrition. The first part of the clause states: The main objective … is to protect public health from risks which may arise in connection with the consumption of food". There is absolutely no doubt that nutrition policy is a matter of protecting public health.

The second part of the clause states: and otherwise to protect the interests of consumers in relation to food It is mainly concerned with food standards matters such as food labelling, claims, composition, authenticity, which again all include nutritional aspects. Taken as a whole, the objective sets out a general statement of what the agency is there to do, and that includes nutrition.

However, the general approach in the drafting of the Bill is to define the agency's general functions and not to specify every individual subject area in detail. If we took a prescriptive approach in relation to nutrition, we would need to spell out other subject areas in equal detail. Then we would have the danger that we have discussed on other pieces of legislation in other Committees of your Lordships' House that we might end up with an exclusive list and thus remove the agency's ability to be flexible. We would almost certainly leave out something important which might arise in the future.

I am grateful to my noble friend for spelling out what the White Paper said the agency would he responsible for in terms of nutrition. He saved me doing exactly the same thing. I can certainly assure him that there is no stark contrast with the White Paper here. We are not resiling in any way from the areas where we said in the White Paper the food standards agency would be active in nutrition; nor from the areas where it would work in close co-operation with the Department of Health whose overall health promotion responsibilities we have already discussed today. What we are suggesting is simply that in the legislative drafting this is covered quite clearly in Clause 1 and it is not necessary to spell it out.

Another point made in the course of the debate was that there might be within the agency only expertise on issues of microbiological safety rather than expertise on nutrition matters. It may be reassuring for the Committee if I make clear that the nutrition unit of the joint food safety and standards group will form part of the agency and continue to work closely with other departments and bodies such as health promotion bodies with related responsibilities. In fact, no expertise in nutrition matters will remain with MAFF: they will transfer over to the agency and clearly they will there fulfil their responsibilities in this important area.

The agency will be a major player on matters of nutrition. However, I feel from the debate that we had at Second Reading and today that while it is not necessary to include this on the face of the Bill, I recognise that there is concern—which I do not believe is justified but it was expressed very clearly by the mover of the amendment—that in some way the absence of the word suggests that this area was not covered. I hope that what I have said today has been explicit as to how we see this unfolding and that there will be real and important roles for the agency in matters of nutrition.

There may possibly be some opportunities for spelling that out in other documentation that goes with the Bill. Perhaps the Committee would give me a little time to think of ways in which that might be achieved in order to give some reassurance while not running into some of the dangers involved in listing areas unnecessarily on the face of the Bill when they have been included in the language of the Bill and when the Government's intention has been made crystal clear. Perhaps I may go away and think about ways in which we can do that and comment on it at the Report stage. That might be of some assistance to the Committee.

I want to move on to the issue of labelling, which was encompassed in some of the earlier amendments and which we believe is clearly covered in Clause 1. We have a specific amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes. It is undoubtedly true that she had the spirit of the meeting with her when she proposed this measure because all of us as consumers recognised some of the difficulties that she spelt out with current labelling forms. I demurred slightly only on the subject of the size of the print because I had to put on my "old lady" glasses in order to read the leaflet she gave me which explained what the labelling would mean!

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

I apologise. The actual leaflet was much bigger in size; I had to reduce it to get a colour photocopy!

Baroness Hayman

It just shows some of the difficulties of language. Indeed, the noble Countess described herself as a "small cheesemaker". I am not sure that all the cheeses were especially small; the phrase may well refer to the volume of production rather than to a small cheese that was being eaten. We have to be so careful with language.

I take the point made by several Members of the Committee that there are different but equally valid reasons for the need to have clear, comprehensible labelling on food. Some of that labelling will be much aligned to nutritional areas and the ability of people to make sensible choices about a balanced diet, as was discussed earlier. For some, as my noble friend Lord Desai remarked, the labelling may assist religious and cultural preferences or the ethical considerations which people have when choosing food. For some, as was clearly spelt out, labelling can be a matter of life and death when allergies are involved. It is important that labelling is both comprehensible and permits an informed choice.

My problem with this particular amendment is that the scope of this clause already covers matters such as nutritional labelling. Citing specific examples in this way probably casts doubts in judicial minds on the generality of the rest of the clause. I should like to make clear that the agency will be able to consider information from any source in developing its own advice and recommendations and that could include examining the provisions made in other countries. However, it would be unwise to place on the face of the Bill a specific link with the regulations of another country, although the example which the noble Baroness put forward—especially if it were blown up to its proper size!—seems on first reading to be both clear and useful.

Times change, however, and the legislation that is the best and the world leader today may not be the best to follow in the future. It would not be sensible to be tied down in primary legislation to something that may quickly become irrelevant.

It is important to recognise, not in the sense of saying this is a counsel of despair and we can do nothing, but because it is the reality of the situation, that information on the nutrition panel of the label on food products is subject to EU rules. That does not mean that we should not take action and that we should not lead in pressing for those rules and regulations to be better. The Government are pressing for changes which will make the information more widely available and more user friendly, and the changes that we would like to see indeed include some of the features of the system that are used in the United States.

In addition, controls on claims must be sufficient to prevent misleading claims about the health benefits of individual products. These controls will need to apply to both imported and home-produced foods, and the agency will take on responsibility for participating in international discussions with a view to agreeing common rules.

The agency will also wish to consider whether the current regime of legislation and government advice, complemented by self-regulatory initiatives, offers sufficient protection to consumers. As well as tackling the rules and advice to ensure that they need to clear consistent and comprehensive labelling, the agency will want to take steps to ensure that consumers can use them effectively. That will include providing advice for consumers in the form of leaflets as well as contributing to health education initiatives especially in schools.

The leaflet which Members of the Committee will have seen gives useful information on nutritional labelling and health claims for just that kind of purpose. Indeed the current range of MAFF's food sense booklets attempts to achieve the same objective and the agency will wish to consider this and other ways of helping consumers who wish to choose a healthy diet.

It is important to recognise that we are working in an EU context in terms of the regulations but that is not to say that is a reason for suggesting that it is impossible to make progress. I believe we can make progress. We have been leading the way in specific areas and pushing the European Commission in areas like the labelling of GMs, in additives and in animal feeds, and there are ways in which we can make progress within the framework of the EU food labelling directive. I have to say, however, that it is not possible for the food standards agency simply at the wave of a wand, as the noble Baroness suggested, to follow the US regulation rather than work within the framework of EU labelling rules.

Perhaps I may say a word or two on the issue of country of origin labelling because I understand the strength of feeling on that issue, although I believe I am right in saying to the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, that he is perfectly entitled voluntarily to label his apples as "English" if he so wishes. It is about receiving the financial support so to do, but he is not on the wrong side of the law if he is doing this himself and by choice. Voluntary labelling on the place of origin is of course allowed, but it must comply with legislation outlawing misleading information.

Some of the main concerns in the current regime are that the EC food labelling directive provides a place of origin and information need only be given on food labels where failure to give it might mislead the consumer to a material degree as to the true origin of the food.

There have been concerns, particularly in the pig industry, in terms of processing and the labelling that has gone on. We believe that we can take action both in terms of official guidance and by strong enforcement action to discourage misleading practices in this area. We are currently strengthening the MAFF guidance notes. We believe that this is exactly the kind of area on which the agency will be able to lead in the future.

I hope that what I have said in terms both of the importance of nutrition and the role that the agency will have both in that area and in developing policy on labelling with very much the same objectives as those who supported the noble Baroness in her amendment will mean that those who move the amendments will be willing to withdraw them.

6.15 p.m.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

I did not move my amendment because it does not arise until later.

Lord Clement-Jones

This has been a mouth-watering debate with all this talk of cheese and apples and I am sure the supper hour will come along very shortly. Also I thank noble Lords for their support for these amendments, which we very much welcome, and for their cogent comments on them.

I introduced the subject of the amendments in a fairly dry fashion purely in terms of the responsibilities of the agency but, clearly, there are ramifications and the Minister replied to a number of them in terms of the way in which the agency exercises its powers. It is certainly no part of our view that the agency should have a heavy-handed way of acting, whether over nutritional advice, labelling or whatever.

On the other hand, the importance of those areas cannot be denied and one only has to look at an example such as that given by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on nut allergies in terms of labelling to recognise that. I too have a young son and that sort of case sends shivers down the spine if we feel that our system of labelling is not currently adequate.

We thought about dividing the amendment into two but the points go hand in hand. They are seen as being very much together by consumer organisations who put their weight behind these amendments and I welcome their support in so doing. To a large extent, this issue is not about drafting. Much of it is about signposting. It is about signalling to the public—to the consumer in particular—that nutrition and labelling are a vital part of the agency's role.

I take what the Minister had to say about not resiling from the White Paper and I welcome that. One should perhaps put it another way and the Minister could clarify that by saying that the duties set out in the White Paper to be carried out by the agency when it is formed will be those relative to nutrition. That positive statement of clarification would be helpful.

However, I do not wish to enter into a drafting discussion, because to argue with Ministers about drafting is extremely unwise. We are always met with either the argument that this is a list and cannot be included, or that the concept we wish to include in a Bill is already included in the wording. So we can never win either way!

I prefer to take up the Minister's helpful offer to consider other documentation surrounding the Bill and perhaps, whether outside or inside this Committee, we could have a further discussion as to precisely what that documentation is; whether or not consumer organisations can be involved and what kind of signalling and signposting we could give to show that the agency will have strong powers in that regard. We are all trying to achieve a degree of unanimity about how the agency should go forward. We are all trying to achieve an effective agency that will have consumer confidence. That is what we are concerned about and not necessarily the precise drafting of the Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 11 not moved.]

Clause 2 agreed to.

Clause 3 [Appointment of chief executive and directors]:

[Amendment No. 12 not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 3 shall stand part of the Bill?

The Earl of Selborne

Perhaps I may take this opportunity to ask the Minister for an assurance that the specific requirement to appoint directors for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland does not in any way suggest that these directors should have precedence or particular weighting within the agency. Under paragraph 8 of Schedule 1 the agency is allowed to, "appoint such staff as it may determine". If the agency determines to appoint directors for, say, regions of England, which might be sensible, or a finance director, which I should have thought fairly important, these directors should each report to the chief executive. There should be no implication that because these directors are statutory—in other words they are provided for on the face of the Bill—that should in any way give them undue weighting compared with the other directors. I am seeking an assurance from the Minister that just because we deem it appropriate to have under statute directors for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, that would not in any way diminish the role or the importance of the directors were they appointed for regions of England.

Baroness Hayman

I can give the noble Lord that assurance. The directors for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will report to the chief executive. They will not take precedence over others reporting to the chief executive—he gave examples of finance which I am sure would be there—but they will obviously have a particular importance in consideration of issues that are of particular local relevance. However, in terms of precedence over other directors, they will all be answerable to the chief executive.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Annual and other reports]:

Baroness Byford movement Amendment No. 13:

Page 2, line 36, leave out ("as soon as possible after") and insert ("within 3 months or )

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 13 I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 14. I start by once again thanking the Minister for the meeting last night. For the information of those who were not there, the noble Baroness kindly confirmed that the financial year for the agency will run, as indeed normal financial years run, from April to April rather than from any other time. I needed to have that clarified because it has implications with regard to my amendment.

We agree that the food standards agency should report on its work every year. Paragraph 4 of Schedule 4 deals with the production of consolidated accounts. We on this side of the Committee agree that such financial stringency is necessary. However, we do not agree that these two things should be separate. The Government's Better Regulation Taskforce has prescribed both transparency and accountability among its five principles for measuring regulation. A system which separates report and accounts is not in our view even paying lip service to either principle.

The anticipated annual turnover of the agency as currently envisaged is sufficient to put it on par with larger companies in the UK, for which there is the series of Companies Acts starting in 1948. These Acts lay down the requirements which have culminated in the production of weighty worded well-presented documents, to which shareholders are now accustomed. One of the most relevant aspects of these worthy publications is the cheerful assured comments of the chairman, the earnest and more confiding prose of the chief executive, and a cautious commentary from the financial director which can be compared instantly with the turnover, fixed and other tangible assets, profits and provisions.

There are among my correspondents those who are concerned that the food standards agency may end up, particularly through its levying powers, about which I am sure we shall talk at greater length later, as a self-financing regulatory authority. A combined report and accounts will enable both Houses to ensure that transparency and accountability do not allow a creeping nationalisation of inspection and enforcement in the food production industry. Those are my thoughts in moving the amendment.

6.30 p.m.

Baroness Hayman

If I can deal with the two issues raised, I hope that the noble Baroness will have been reassured by my giving the details of the financial year to which the agency will work. It is our intention to create an agency which operates at arm's length from Ministers and yet is properly accountable to Parliament and, where appropriate, to the devolved authority. The formal requirement to report to Parliament is an important part of this and of fostering a culture of openness.

The agency will report in the first instance to Parliament and must do so, according to the Bill, as soon as possible after the end of each financial year. We do not believe that there is any scope for foot dragging and that report must be made as soon as possible. Normal best practice in this area would suggest that that should be done before the Summer Recess. That is the sort of timing that the noble Baroness will have in mind.

Much of the information contained in the report will in fact be linked to the financial year, discussing, as it will, the resources available to meet performance targets. It would make sense to publish the report as soon as possible after the end of the financial year, when the information it contains has been finalised, rather than imposing an artificial deadline and risking publication of a report containing incomplete or provisional information. We believe that it might in certain circumstances be better to wait a little to see the true picture, rather than rush to print to meet an artificial deadline of three months and later have to present additional or revised information. This is not in any sense an excuse, however, for not reporting as soon as possible—that will be a requirement of the Bill, and it is certainly one that we would expect the agency to take seriously.

The report covered in this clause is not intended to deal with the agency's accounts—for reasons I will come to in a moment—in the formal sense that they are covered in Schedule 4 to the Bill. However—I hope this will reassure the noble Baroness—it will of course have to address the resources available to the agency if it is to have any meaningful discussion of its activities in relation to its performance target.

We envisage that the agency's report—as a non-ministerial government department—will contain financial information very much on the model of current departmental reports. I hope the noble Baroness feels that those reports have sufficient detail to check aspirations and claims against resource allocation. However, this information will not necessarily be in the same form as the appropriation accounts which are dealt with later in the Bill.

As a government department the agency will provide annual accounts to Parliament under existing legislation. It will also provide accounts to devolved legislatures, identifying expenditure and receipts in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland separately. These matters are dealt with in Clause 39 (financial provisions) and, more particularly, in Schedule 4 (accounts and audit), which gives details of the accounts required. I appreciate and share the concern that Parliament should be kept properly informed of the financial affairs of government departments. Those are covered by the Bill as it is drafted. There will be a great deal of very detailed financial information laid before Parliament in terms of the separate sets of accounts which relate to the separate devolved legislatures and to the UK Parliament.

That information will be very detailed and presented in a particular form because of the issue of devolution but that is not to say that there will thereby be no financial information in the annual report. We would consider that in order to be meaningful it would need to have a degree of financial information which brought those accounts together in a transparent and comprehensible way.

Baroness Byford

I am very grateful to the Minister. When I put the amendment down we had not had the meeting last night. I am much reassured as regards the timing of the production of these two items.

It I can take the report first, from my understanding of what the Minister has said to us that will come to us before Parliament rises in the summer.

Baroness Hayman

That would be the intention.

Baroness Byford

I gave the Minister a chance because clearly that is very important. What worries me immensely is exactly the problem that we had in starting the Bill; the fact that we rise at the end of July. Normally, we do not come back until the beginning of October and sometimes things get lost. Those of us who take a keen interest in them I am sure would not lose them anyway, but they do tend to get lost. In tabling the amendment, I am trying to encourage the Minister on behalf of the department to make sure that we have the reports before the Summer Recess.

I move on to the second part. The accounts are of extreme interest to all of us who are following the Bill, not only because some of the money will be coming from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as laid down in the Bill—we shall be discussing that later—but, more importantly, because a big portion of the work that is coming into the food standards agency will come from the Meat Hygiene Service. That at the moment is done by means of a levy and can be raised or not raised—usually raised and raised again. Indeed, the Government have responded to the difficulties faced by people who are governed by the Meat Hygiene Service earlier this year and have raised charges. The problem has not gone away; all that the Government have done is to defer those charges.

Therefore, I want the accounts to be available quickly and clearly so that all of us know exactly where this money is coming from and where it is going. I am still not clear from the Minister's response exactly whether they will be included in the accounts, or whether they will be produced at the same time as the report, or whether the two are coming at different stages.

If I give way, perhaps the Minister will clarify that before I go any further.

Baroness Hayman

On the issue of whether we formulate the legislation in terms of a specific time limit or in terms of "as soon as possible", we are dealing with an issue of relative risk here. The noble Baroness rightly highlights the risk. The normal best practice—and it is normally followed—that accounts and an annual report are published before the House rise for the Summer Recess, although not phrased in those terms, could be circumvented because it is not a legislative requirement.

I suggested that we should also be aware of the risk that, if an arbitrary time limit were included, one may end up publishing an annual report which does not contain all the financial information; and just for the sake of two or three days, or a week.

It is therefore an issue of risk. The noble Baroness asks me to give an assurance that this particular annual report is published as soon as possible. I have to give that assurance on behalf of my noble friend because by the time the financial year starts the Secretary of State for Health will have overall accountability for the agency. Perhaps I may reassure her that the accounts will be given equally as soon as possible at the end of the financial year, so these very technical accounts dealing with the different streams of income that come from the devolved legislatures will be working to the same time frame as the annual report with its financial information. I should just make clear that the Meat Hygiene Service is not funded by a levy. It is funded by charges to cover the costs of inspection. That is an important distinction to make in this particular area, especially since the issue of levy and this specific agency has been of some concern and the subject of major change during the discussion on this Bill.

Baroness Byford

I thank the Minister for her response. I apologise for the use of the word "levy". She is quite right that I should have used the expression "charge" because indeed it is a charge. If I were being mischievous, I would be slightly concerned that the agency did not feel that it could produce reports within three months. However, I accept what the Minister said and hope that it will work towards doing so.

It is important that people should be able to see what the agency is doing because their hopes have been built up so much as to what this agency will come up with. Certainly, the financing of the agency is of concern to quite a few producers who will fall within its remit. I thank the noble Baroness for that—though I still have reservations—and would like to be able to say that she accepted my amendment. However, since she has not done so, I shall certainly read the debate tomorrow in Hansard and perhaps come back to it at a later stage. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 14 not moved.]

Clause 4 agreed to.

Clause 5 [Advisory committees]:

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 15:

Page 2, line 43, after ("Ireland") insert ("and an advisory committee for England")

The noble Baroness said: We come now to an important part of our discussions on the Bill. While we understand and agree that the food standards agency should have a role overarching the whole of the United Kingdom, we cannot accept that it can be its own adviser on all matters English. I suspect that my noble friend has already highlighted one or two aspects of devolution that may well be involved.

It will undoubtedly be true that several of the 12 members of the agency will be well versed in issues affecting England and may therefore be expected to carry that understanding into all agency deliberations. However, if the membership of the agency reflects the composition of the Government, it may well be that there are an equal number of members well versed on issues affecting Scotland. There are to be separate advisory committees for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland but, as all your Lordships know, not for England. The Government have stated: It is clear from the job description that the chief public face of the agency is … the chair of the agency".—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee B: 1/7/99; col. 94.] They go on to say, and to have operational directors in the territories with a link to the legislative bodies is crucial because the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament will deal with legislation"—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee B: 1/7/99; col. 95.] Later they state: That is not to say, however, that different policies could not be imposed on specific areas … [The advisory committee] will act as a channel of advice for the agency for the problems of various parts of the UK."—[Official Report, Commons, Standing Committee B: 6/7/99: col. 114.] The sum total of those statements seems to be an acknowledgement that different parts of the country do and will have different problems that will be met differently and that the chairman of the agency—the "chief public face" of the agency—cannot act in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It then seems illogical, especially in the face of the Government's own statements, not to have at least a separate advisory body for England.

The alternative would be to have no advisory bodies and instead to rely upon various statutory bodies, such as SEAC, Novel Foods and Processes, Medical Aspects of Food and Nutrition, to keep the agency abreast of regional variations. However, the Minister rebuffed such an idea so I considered not floating it seriously again. Those are my thoughts in moving the amendment. I ask the Government to consider having an advisory body for England. Amendments Nos. 105 and 108 are consequential to these amendments. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Viscount Thurso

About a year ago, having sat for hours and hours through proceedings on the Scotland Bill, I thought that one of the defects of our approach to devolution was that we happily devolved Scotland, with which I was totally in favour, partly devolved Wales, with which I was partially in favour, and tried to do something for Ireland, but did nothing at all for England. It is absolutely right if you are a Home Ruler as I am that England should be treated equally with Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. In broad terms I have great sympathy with the noble Baroness's amendment and will be interested to hear how the Government respond.

Baroness Wilcox

Perhaps I may add a few words in support of the amendment. I had not intended so to do, but it suddenly dawned on me that as a free-born Englishwoman I do occasionally like to think that things in my area will be taken into consideration. It would be awfully nice if we thought this could come about and that we could have a committee for England. Will it really be possible? Will this be a first?

Baroness Hayman

The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, referred to the hours of debate on issues of devolution. That struck a warning note to me not to go too deeply in this particular area into the broad issues about devolution and the respective needs of the different areas of the United Kingdom. However, I have to say in my simplistic way that it was not an under-representation of English interests on UK bodies that was the motivation for the movement to have legislatures in Scotland and in Wales.

On the issue of food safety the devolved authorities recognise that it is an issue which does not easily respect internal borders. All are agreed that it makes sense for the agency to be a United Kingdom body which can provide a common authoritative source of advice on food safety matters across the United Kingdom, and so it is being established as a single UK body. The agency will, however, have to work not only with the UK Government but with the devolved authorities, including the Scottish Executive and Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, and the Northern Ireland Assembly when it takes its powers. When the new All-Ireland Cross-Border Safety Promotion Board has been set up, it will work with that too.

The Bill therefore makes provisions which take account of the particular needs of the devolved parts of the United Kingdom, such as providing a role in relation to appointments, which we discussed earlier, for directors for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and for advisory committees to advise on matters affecting the devolved areas. We believe that these provisions are necessary and help glue the agency together as an effective UK body, but one which respects the differences.

It is not, I believe, an area in which we have to say that sauce for the goose is necessarily sauce for the UK gander. We are not convinced of the need for a permanent committee to serve the whole of England. England will fall under the authority of UK Ministers and will not need an advisory link to the UK agency in the same way as those provided to the devolved areas. As the noble Baroness has pointed out, we do not have a separate parliament for England which would justify a separate advisory structure for England. The committees in Scotland, in Wales and in Northern Ireland will form links with the legislatures there, and the link with this Parliament will be the agency itself.

This is not a situation that we have envisaged as being incapable of change. Provision is in any case already made for a committee to be established for England or parts of England if the need were to arise. If it does—and it may arise particularly in the context of devolution to the English regions or in the context of a special concern to England—the UK Ministers will be able to use these powers after consulting the agency.

At the moment we do not feel it is necessary to set up an English advisory committee. We believe that the needs will be well covered by the UK structure and by the relationship of the UK government with the agency itself. As I say, we are not being so closed-minded as to suggest that in the development of constitutional areas over time it would be impossible to envisage an advisory committee or committees for specific regions of England. There is sufficient provision in the Bill to make such arrangements were they considered to be necessary. On that basis I hope that the noble Baroness will withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Byford

My goodness, I am encouraged for the first time today! I well appreciate that the agency will be governed by a single UK body, but I do not understand— and I will be happy to sit down and give the Minister another chance to respond—why we cannot have an advisory body for England. It does not seem logical to argue on the three fronts, particularly if the Minister then quite rightly says that the issue may well have regional implications. If regional implications arise we would benefit hugely by having an advisory body to act as a sifting house before it refers back to the main body. Would the noble Baroness like me to give way?

The Countess of Mar

Perhaps I may point out that Oftel is the English national advisory committee on telecommunications.

Baroness Hayman

Oftel is not a non-ministerial government department, as far as I know, so I am not sure that the precedent is completely there. These are issues with which we have to wrestle. I can think of closer parallels in the professional self-regulatory bodies for nursing in terms of issues that are debatable and need to be considered. I have to say, however, that the key difference—this is the point I was trying to make to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford—is the role that these advisory bodies will have in terms of their interaction with the devolved legislatures. There are devolved legislatures in Scotland and Wales and hopefully in Northern Ireland—

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Yes, there are devolved legislatures. However, in Scotland, although not in Wales, there is an executive. There is a health Minister in Scotland whose name escapes me at the moment, which shows the impact—

Noble Lords


Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

There is a health Minister in Scotland who must be answerable to the Scottish Parliament so there is no difference as between Scotland and England with regard to answerability. Wales is different as it does not have an executive and it does not have Ministers, but in Scotland there are Ministers. Primary legislative power rests with the Scottish Parliament. It seems to me that the Scottish Parliament is in exactly the same position vis-à-vis Scotland as this Parliament is vis-à-vis England. If the agency is answerable to this Parliament via Ministers, I cannot for the life of me understand why the agency cannot also be answerable to the Scottish Parliament via Ministers of the Scottish Parliament. It seems to me that we have got ourselves into a dreadful tangle because of the way the Government have dealt with devolution around the country.

Baroness Hayman

The noble Lord should perhaps consider the possibility that the fact that he cannot remember Susan Deacon's name is a reflection not on her impact but his memory! That aside, I have to say that the consultation on the White Paper was on the basis of committees for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but not for England. The suggestions in the White Paper were widely supported. It is very easy to show some of the inconsistencies, if you like to characterise them as such, in the way in which we explore this constitutional settlement and the way in which we make the appropriate links with the devolved legislatures.

I have made it clear that it is our belief at the moment that it is not necessary to set up an advisory committee for England. This will be covered adequately by the UK body relating to the UK Government. However, we have gone further to recognise some of the issues involved, by providing powers to set up such an English committee, or it might well be, as I said earlier, that if we are at the stage of further devolving power to regions of England. then the regions might be much more sensible in terms of population and geography as areas for committees to relate to, than the whole of England, which is a very diverse and populous area for a single committee.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. We can perhaps explore this point. Can the noble Baroness try to give one example where it might be decided that different food standards should apply in one part of England as opposed to another part of England, that might require separate advisory committees? For the life of me, I cannot think of any.

Baroness Hayman

Greentop milk.

Baroness Byford

I do not know whether the noble Baroness has finished. Is greentop milk allowed in Scotland?

The Countess of Mar

No! It is not allowed in Scotland.

Baroness Byford

I beg the noble Countess's pardon, but it is here.

Baroness Hayman

Since the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, did not like that answer, perhaps I could give him the answer about E.coli. E.coli is far more prevalent in Scotland than it is in other parts of the United Kingdom, and it therefore might be absolutely sensible for a Scottish committee to give advice on issues relating to E.coli.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I obviously did not phrase my question properly. I was actually talking in the context of different committees in regions of England. I asked whether the noble Baroness could give me an example of where there might be different food regulations in one region of England from the other regions of England. I am afraid that is the logic in what she is telling us about the justification for having regional advisory committees.

The Earl of Selborne

While the Minister is thinking about that, because she deserves time to reflect on this, there will clearly be some difficulty in determining what are the regional food safety factors within England. To say "greentop milk" is not an answer: greentop milk is available throughout all the regions of England.

The point I was making earlier about the directors applies also to these advisory committees. It is the fact of the impact that will be created on the agency itself by an imbalance in the structure. I was very grateful to the Minister for her assurance that the directors, who might be representing regions or England, will not in any way be downgraded in importance or influence or impact, compared with the directors who will be statutory directors for England, Scotland and Wales.

We come now to the issue of the advisory committees, which is what Clause 5(1) and 5(2) address and what the Minister has been asked to address. I understand that statutory advisory committees are required to advise not just the executive in Scotland and Wales but also the agency. However, if I am wrong about that, please correct me. If there are then three advisory committees for three nations of the United Kingdom but not for the fourth, it seems to suggest that there might be an imbalance of advice. In other words, nothing would be lost by acknowledging at an early stage that, in order to achieve a balance throughout the United Kingdom, it might be sensible to recognise, if only to see that there is an even hand, that advisory committees for England—or an advisory committee if we agree there are unlikely to be regional differences—should be set up sooner rather than later.

Clause 5(2) does not make clear what the procedure would be for the Secretary of State suddenly determining that perhaps a regional advisory committee for England was necessary after all. Is this to come from the English by some constituency representations if they will not have an advisory committee to make these representations? How will it manifest this need? Will it come from the agency itself? I believe that it would be well for the Minister to think carefully about the case for a regional variation within England. If there is not any obvious case for having regional differences within England, at least she should address the issue of why the agency will be influenced by three advisory committees but there will be no need for the fourth.

7 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick

There is an imbalance here. Surely, an English advisory committee is the most important because as I understand it the agency can have a minimum of 10 or 14 people. In either cases, two will be the chairman and deputy chairman and in the lesser case there will be four from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and four from England. So here we have less than a tenth of the population of the UK being represented by half the body. At the best, you will have four from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and six from England. Therefore, we already have a very bad imbalance built into the agency itself.

Baroness Hayman

It is clear from what has been said that there is concern that English interests should not be neglected here. However, I have to say once again, that we must recognise the reality of the situation; that the main headquarters and the vast majority of the staff of the agency will be based in England, as will all its specialist advisory committees. I take the point that has been made. We recognise that the Bill ought to contain provisions for the possibility of creating a committee, or committees, on a regional basis were they to be considered necessary in the future. Perhaps, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, suggested, I could write to him on the mechanism by which the Bill provides for that.

As regards the question on which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, was trying to press—the possibility of the need for regional rather than national advice in England—it would be a matter not necessarily of regulation, which is how he phrased his question, but perhaps a difference in advice. For example, in a major dairying area of England, advice on food safety on the farm might be different from that was given in an arable area. The advice might reflect a pattern of particular prevalence of food-borne disease in one area, as indeed did the Scottish example ofE.coli

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

The argument the Minister used against me earlier today when I suggested that there should be a fish advisory committee was that we did not want such sectionalising of the advice. Now she is saying that one of the advantages of a regional system in England would be that there could be a regional committee from the dairy industry which could more or less give advice on dairy, and there would be a regional committee on beef.

The Countess of Mar


Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

I must be getting hard of hearing because I am pretty certain that is what the noble Baroness was saying.

Baroness Hayman

The noble Lord misunderstood me. Part of the problem is the drafting of this clause which brings together all the advisory committees under one heading. We are dealing here, as the noble Lord well knows, with the advisory committees for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland—those that are geographically based. I was asked why it might be that if we were to look at the English context geographical advice might be more suitable on a regional basis rather than on an English basis overall. My answer, and the example I was seeking to give, was that one region of England might have specific problems with a particular food disease or might have specific issues because of the nature of agriculture in that region that meant that regional advice was useful, not that we would be setting up the equivalent of a fisheries advisory committee. I was trying to give an example of the rationale that might exist for separate regional advice rather than national advice for England, which I thought was the question on which the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, was pressing me.

Baroness Byford

I thank the Minister for her continued explanation. I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this important mini-debate on the question of an advisory committee for England. It is a matter to which we shall wish to return. I hope that between now and Report the Minister will give further thought to it to see whether we can come up with some greater closeness than where we stand at the moment. It seems ridiculous that the Bill recognises and sets up powers to enable an advisory body for England to be set up, but does not do it. It already recognises that there probably is a problem, but it has not done it. That is not very good English. I shall read with interest what the Minister has said and will probably come back to this issue on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 16 to 18 not moved.]

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 [Development of food policy and provision of advice, etc. to public authorities]:

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 19:

Page 3, line 15, after ("(or") insert (", if requested so to do by any public authority,")

The noble Baroness said: This is a probing amendment designed to clarify the ambiguity of the wording in the clause. On my reading the words, it is not clear whether the agency can impose its help in developing policies at local authority level or whether the emphasis is on assisting with the implication that it will have been asked so to do.

It is right that the agency should prepare a national policy, for instance, with regard to the contents of labels, the designation of country of origin on processed foods. However, unless it is asked to do so, it should not have the power to interfere with the formation of policy at local levels. It might be acceptable and feasible to advise national government that all government-run subsidised canteens and restaurants, for example, should offer at lunchtime a choice of three raw fruits. However, it might well be totally unacceptable and impractical to suggest a local authority school meals policy whereby apples are served on Monday, pears on Tuesday, bananas on Wednesday, oranges on Thursday and fruit salad on Friday, which might make much more sense. In such a case it is important that the legislation clearly allows local authorities to make up their minds on this matter. This clause spells out the fact that the Government may ask the food standards agency to develop policy. It is surely reasonable that local authorities may do the same, rather than waiting to be told which matters the food standards agency wishes to address.

Finally I am concerned at the cost of running the food standards agency, and the level of charges it may end up having to levy. For example, many would quite rightly say that council tax bills are high enough without adding charges for unsought advice or central direction. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Perhaps I can speak to Amendment No. 21, which is grouped with Amendment No. 19. This probes not only the wording of Clause 6(3) but also that of Clause 6(2) because the two subsections are linked. Clause 6(2) states, A Minister of the Crown or government department, the National Assembly for Wales, the Scottish Ministers or a Northern Ireland Department may request the Agency to exercise its powers under this section in relation to any matter". Clause 6(3) states, It is the duty of the Agency, so far as is reasonably practicable, to comply with any such request". So that I am absolutely sure I am not talking about legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament or by the Northern Ireland Assembly, if it comes about, or by the National Assembly for Wales—which would have to comprise secondary legislation—I wish to confirm that any legislation they pass which impinges on the food standards agency will have to be implemented by the food standards agency. I presume that the word "request" concerns non-legislative matters. I want to be absolutely sure of that, and I believe I am. We are talking about non-legislative requests and I understand that.

However, my question is: who decides what is reasonably practicable? Is it the agency itself? If there is a disagreement between the agency and, let us say, the United Kingdom Government, if it is a request pertaining to England, or between the agency and the Scottish Government, if it is a request pertaining to Scotland, who resolves any argument? I can see that the Scottish Parliament might say, "We do not believe that it is not practicable to carry out this measure and we do not accept the agency's response that it will not carry out the measure because it does not believe that it is reasonably practicable". These are strange words to put into a Bill as regards an agency and its relation to government. If the agency is to take the decision, that at least is clear. I am not saying I would be happy about that but at least it is clear. I ask again who is to take the decision as regards what is reasonably practicable if it comes to a dispute?

I know the Minister will tell me that everybody will sit down and hammer it out and that it will all be very nice on the night. That may be fine some of the time, but I have to say that it is not fine all of the time. The noble Baroness reminded me that Scotland has a bad record on E. coli. It is conceivable that because of that the Scottish Parliament may decide that it wants to do something which does not comprise legislation but a request to be "tighter" in some way. The agency may say, "It is not practicable for us to do this in Scotland when we are not being asked to do it in the rest of the United Kingdom". Who will decide on that practicability? While people may get on quite well, just occasionally in the past agencies and governments and departments have disagreed, and we must assume that all will not be perfect for the future and there will be disagreements. I would like to know how these words will be brought into play in the circumstances of a disagreement.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

I shall deal first with Amendment No. 19. I understand the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that, as presently drafted, the Bill might lead to the agency imposing a policy on a local authority. I understand her point that she does not want the agency adopting an unduly interfering role in the affairs of local authorities, which are primarily the business of those authorities. I can assure her and other noble Lords that this measure does not allow imposition in the cases that she mentions.

In a sense, it is implicit in the Bill that the agency's function of providing policy support to other public bodies will be carried out on request. That is in the nature of what we mean by assistance. Nor would those authorities be under any obligation to accept the assistance offered by the agency. We would of course want to encourage and would envisage that the agency would normally work in partnership with government departments and other public authorities in the interests of the public.

In saying that, however, it is important that we do not preclude the agency from being able to contribute to policy on its own initiative. We have made clear on a number of occasions that the agency should have the independence to act wherever necessary in the interests of public health. There could well be cases in which its expertise and authority would be beneficial to a public body and in some cases it will be best placed to anticipate the food safety implications of a policy issue. In those circumstances, it has to be able to intervene on its own initiative where necessary. The agency may hear about a food safety problem and it will be helpful for it to pass on that knowledge, information and advice to other public authorities which would then have to decide on any action.

In relation to the suggestion made by the noble Baroness that the agency would flood these authorities with huge amounts of advice, it seems to me that for the agency to do that in an unfocused way would be ineffective and counterproductive. I hope that having heard that explanation, she will agree that it is important for the agency to have this function and that she will agree to withdraw her amendment.

The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, raises the issue of how the agency is to comply with requests for advice and assistance from the Secretary of State, other appropriate authorities and government departments. It would obviously be our expectation that the agency would make every endeavour to comply with those requests. There may however be situations in which considerations of practicality may not be apparent to Ministers under Clause 6(2). For instance, it may be that when technical experts look at an issue, it becomes clear that what is being requested cannot be done without the disproportionate use of resources. In those circumstances, we do not think it sensible for there to be a duty on the agency to comply with the request. We would, however, as the noble Lord anticipated, expect the agency in those circumstances to explain that what has been requested is not reasonable or practical and possibly to offer alternative options. In line with the agency's guiding principles, it would need to be open and transparent about the advice that it had in fact given.

I believe that in the circumstances it will be perfectly possible to resolve those issues through discussion where there may be disagreement. It is important, however that within the legislation, the term "so far as is reasonably practical" is a safeguard in relation to dealing with such requests. If the agency's refusal to provide advice was reasonable, the agency having made that decision, the issue of power of direction comes in. If it was reasonable for the agency to refuse to provide the advice that was requested, it would be right that the power of direction would not apply. If, for instance, the agency had made an unreasonable decision and it was perhaps deliberately putting itself on a collision course with Ministers, Ministers could direct it to comply and it would have to do so or risk being in breach of its statutory duty. I hope that, in those circumstances, the noble Lord will agree that the situation is covered and that he will withdraw his amendment.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish

Before my noble friend responds to what might be called the lead amendment. I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation. It is very difficult to see a way out of a dilemma in which the agency may decide the request is not practicable. I suppose that in parliamentary language this question can only be answered with undue cost, or words to that effect; that is the way out of answering a question which is too difficult or complicated to find the answer. However, I am still a little concerned as to who makes the judgment. If I heard the Minister correctly, the agency will make the judgment. Whatever else this has done, if that is on the record, it makes it perfectly clear who is in the driving seat as far as Clause 6(3)is concerned and it may well prevent any of the problems I was envisaging.

Baroness Byford

I thank the Minister for his response to my amendment. I gather from his response that although the agency may well give advice the local authority does not necessarily have to take it on board. In some ways, that is unsatisfactory because the advice it was giving would be something you would expect the local authority to take on board. I assume that that judgment will be the agency's responsibility and then the local authority will decide whether or not to take it on.

Before I sit down and consider it again, perhaps I may ask the noble Lord whether the local authorities are being charged for this advice or is the funding of the advice being borne by the agency itself? I am not quite sure of the relevant responsibility.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

As far as I am aware, it will not charge for that advice but, if I am wrong, I will write to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Byford

I am grateful to the Minister for that, because it has implications for local authorities. It could be that the agency comes through with a very good scheme and is giving advice which it believes the local authority should adopt. However, for other reasons, that local authority might well be unable to fulfil the advice being given. I look forward to hearing from the Minister on that. I thank him for his response and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 20 and 21 not moved.]

Clause 6 agreed to.

Clause 7 [Provision of advice, information and assistance to other persons]:

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 22:

Page 3, Line 28, after ("section") insert ("or member")

The noble Baroness said: This amendment looks again at semantics and the Government's intentions. Providing advice to the general public has the connotation to many people of advice through the television, newspaper advertisements or hoardings. Providing advice to any section of the public brings to mind special interest groups; for instance, mothers of babes in arms, the over-60s and many other examples I could give. It should be possible for advice to be given to individuals separately as well where it is not available for general consumption. I imagine that an individual inquiring about something which is already in the public domain will simply be told by the agency where to find the information. However, it should be possible for the agency to provide explicit advice or information to an individual with an uncommon or rare problem, to which, from my reading of the Bill as it stands, that person is not. entitled. I beg to move.

Lord Clement-Jones

I wish to speak to Amendment No. 27 to Clause 8. This is a purely probing amendment to discover the Government's intentions as far as concerns the research referred to in the clause. It is our view, and that of many consumer groups, that research should be undertaken to ascertain consumer attitudes to ensure that the agency's policies and advice take those consumer attitudes into account.

Recently we have seen how the public perception of risk can be very different from that of sciences, for example, in the case of genetically modified foods. This is due to a number of issues, but principally it is the different perceptions of risks compared with 'the benefits that are expected to accrue from, for example, a new technology.

Therefore, decisions have to be based on broader issues other than pure science, and this should include both ethical and environmental considerations. One only has to think of labelling to see that is true. It is important to know what the consumers' attitude towards labelling is, what kind of labelling reassures them and what kind does not. It is not a scientific fact; it is a matter of consumer opinion that needs to be ascertained.

Consumers need to be involved early enough in the agency's decision making so that their views and concerns can be taken into account. I look forward to the Minister's reply and hope that he or she will be able to elucidate on the matter.

Lord Desai

I do not know what noble Lords are going to say about these two amendments, but a food standards agency should provide facilities so that members of the public can approach health bodies either individually or together. At the beginning, that would be one of the main tasks the agency would have to perform because people who ask about certain kinds of food and so on, are very few.

Secondly, following on from what the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, when we talk about risk, people are no longer satisfied with what scientists say, partly because scientists defer among each other, and partly because people assess risk very differently from scientific evidence. My noble friend Lord Rea said a while ago that if you look at the harm done by bad diet, many more people are particular about that than about biological matters. Try and tell that to people in the middle of an E.coli crisis.

We have to find out why they think about food differently from the way they think about other risks. It is very important. That is how I read the amendment. It may involve anthropology rather than microbiology, but we have to find out why people's attitudes to risk in food are different from their attitude to any other kind of calculable risk.

The Countess of Mar

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, has made a very important point. The public have a perception—and I note it particularly with cheese because it is my interest—that unpasteurised cheese is extremely dangerous and that unpasteurised milk is extremely dangerous, but if they were told that food poisoning incidents—incidents rather than outbreaks—from cheese and from unpasteurised milk in the past 10 years have been at 0.3 per cent. of food poisoning records, they might have a different perception. This is the difference between their perception of food poisoning which is dramatised by press reports and, dare I say it, ministerial action which frightens everybody to death, and the actuality—this is one of the important aspects—of having a food standards agency. They will have all these figures at their fingertips. It is also important that we have proper records.

7.30 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

I do not disagree with any of the principal points made about the importance of the agency having a good, effective interrelationship with consumers, and with the concerned consumers. Nor do I disagree with the comments about the need for information to be available and the importance of effective research.

Perhaps I may start by referring to the probing amendment put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, who was absolutely right to raise the question as to whether or not the Bill gives the agency a function to provide information or advice to individuals as well as to the general public. It is important that individuals should have access to the information and advice which the agency will be in a position to give. Indeed, it is my expectation, and I believe it is important, that the agency will quickly develop into the sort of body on which individuals can and should rely to provide information on food safety, the definition of a healthy diet, food claims and so on.

I can reassure the noble Baroness that the Bill does this. The Bill uses the legal convention that the plural, in this case the collective noun, can also mean the singular. I hope that allays her concerns on that point.

Let me then turn to the issue of research and the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones. I reiterate that it is important to remember that the agency, if it is to command the confidence of the public that we desire and if it is to help in the process of restoring consumer confidence in the nation's food, will have a major task in relation to the advice, help, information and research that it can undertake in this area.

In response to my noble friend, Lord Desai, I can say that the agency will be running a helpline for consumers and individuals who seek advice. In accordance with service first principles, it will do everything in its power to respond to correspondence from individuals asking for advice on specific points.

In relation to the issue of research, I do not believe the amendment is necessary. The consumer research function is already covered by subsection (1). Adding this phrase to subsection (2) could have the perverse effect of narrowing the agency's scope for action rather than broadening it. In a sense, I am repeating the response which the noble Lord feared that, if you single out one particular aspect or provision, it might cast doubt on the generality of the clause as a whole.

Let me reassure Members of the Committee that we expect the agency to carry out or commission consumer research in order, for example, to test the effectiveness of the agency and its communication policies. We also expect the agency to carry out or commission surveys of consumer attitudes to inform its decision making, which is the very point made by a number of noble Lords in this debate. That needs careful planning to ensure that this is robust research and that the surveys undertaken are effective. We expect this to be a high priority with the agency when it is up and running.

Let me conclude by repeating that there is no question but that subsection (1) of Clause 6 gives the agency the function of obtaining, compiling and keeping under review information about, matters connected with food safety or other interests of consumers in relation to food". It is abundantly clear and, on that basis, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

Lord Clement-Jones

First, I thank the Minister for his reply to my particular amendment. I was fascinated by his reply to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford—some expensive legal advice must have been obtained about that particular piece of drafting, which adds to the repertoire of ministerial responses. I thought it was very useful for the databank!

On Amendment No. 27, words such as "high priority" for the agency of that kind of research seem to me to "hit the button" as far as the amendment is concerned. I take the point that it could well be subsumed in that. What the noble Lord has done is respond clearly to that probing amendment and we appreciate that.

The Countess of Mar

Before the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, speaks, perhaps I may ask the Minister a question. The agency is being given a function of advising the members of the public on food safety. Will that include, for example, advising them not to buy a chicken in the supermarket on a hot day and leave it in their car boot while they have coffee with their neighbour, and then complain about the chicken giving them food poisoning?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath

I cannot anticipate the detail of the advice that the agency will be giving, but I would expect the agency to give practical advice on such matters. Going back to the points I originally made, this body will not be effective unless it is able to give advice on the kind of issues that those of us who shop actually wish to know and to learn about and take advantage of

Baroness Byford

I thank the Minister for his response to my amendment. I was not a university graduate myself and I have great difficulty in appreciating that it referred to the singular as well when it clearly, as far as I was concerned, referred to the plural. Never mind that! It is getting late and my mind is misty and is not working as well as it might.

I have heard what the noble Lord has said, and what he said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, on the fact that a help-line phone and written matters will be very much part of the agency's remit. I am personally delighted to hear that.

With those few comments, I am still amazed that the language is thus. Presumably it always is, and if it always is I have to bow to the greater language. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 not moved.]

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Acquisition and review of information]:

[Amendment No. 25 not moved.]

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 3, line 43, after ("commissioning") insert ("insofar as it is possible within its existing financial resources")

The noble Baroness said: This amendment tries to establish financial resources.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 7.38 to 7.49 p.m.]

Baroness Byford

On each 6th April a new tax year begins. For many companies and organisations, this is also the start of a new financial year. Departments and individuals are told how much money they have to spend and what the expenditure should achieve. Indeed, earlier on we agreed that this will apply to this food standards agency as well. Looking at company ministerial results, it is obvious that the bulk of financial targets are met within fairly narrow limits. One ongoing exception is the National Health Service, where increasing demands often outstrip available resources. Large scale project development and long-run research programmes also frequently fail to stay within their financial boundaries. One can think of certain MoD contracts and many private and public computer developments.

Our concern is that the agency should be expected from the very beginning to match its costs to available finance. It should also be aware that it cannot legally make plans that are likely to result in their being over the budget in that area—admittedly one that is difficult to control with precision. I am trying with this amendment to tell the agency that it should be working within its planned financial resources. Certainly we referred earlier—when I used the word "levy" where I should have said "charge"—to expecting more work to be done outside the existing financial resources. I beg to move.

Baroness Hayman

I am grateful for the noble Baroness's explanation of the thinking behind this amendment. As a general issue, I should say that the agency will need to be financially responsible in all elements of its work and will also need to be financially accountable. Research should be no different from other elements of the agency's work although I recognise—having now been responsible for research budgets in different departments—that they are long-term enterprises and there can be a problem in terms of ensuring that one recognises the ongoing financial commitments to which research refers.

It is important to put on the record, however, that the agency will have art important function in commissioning this new research, as well as compiling and reviewing information from other sources. It is essential, if the policy on food matters is to be properly informed, that it is based on the best available scientific knowledge. The precise direction of this research programme is a matter for the agency itself to decide in the light of future developments and of its own priorities. That is not to say that the agency can spend limitless amounts of money on whatever it wishes. It will have a budget and will have formally to account for how it has been spent. Should it want additional funds for further research, it would have to find that money from within its own resources or to negotiate with the Treasury for additional funds. I should make clear to the Committee that the agency will start out with a significant research budget of about £25 million, which it will inherit from MAFF and the Department of Health. While this may seem a substantial sum, Members of the Committee will well understand, given the range of issues that can be covered by research in this field, that the agency will have to establish its priorities carefully as well as look at existing commitments which have been inherited in terms of the research programme.

I hope it will reassure the noble Baroness when I say that the agency will have to deal in a responsible way with the funds it allocates as a priority for research, as it will have to deal in a responsible way with other funds under other budget headings. It will be properly accountable to Parliament for the money that it spends, including its spending on research. That is dealt with in Clause 39, the financial provisions, and in Schedule 4, accounts and audit. I do not believe it is necessary therefore to introduce additional references to controls, or additional references insofar as it is possible within its existing financial resources in this particular area of the agency's budget. I hope the noble Baroness will find those assurances sufficient to withdraw this amendment.

Baroness Byford

I thank the Minister for her response. I am well aware that the agency will be financially responsible and accountable and we have already discussed that. Research is always one area in which the mind runs away with one thinking that there is more work one wants to do, and in putting in "existing financial resources" I did not want to find that the agency was able to run away with its budget and have to come back to others to supplement it.

I also take the point the Minister made that it will perhaps be able to seek additional finance to help on the research side, and also that it would use best available scientific knowledge, for which we are grateful. With the whole question of resource, if we look at projects that have occurred elsewhere, the tendency has always been that they outrun the money, and that was my concern in bringing this amendment to the Committee.

I thank the Minister for her comments and for her compassion this afternoon, because it has been a long afternoon. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 27 not moved.]

Clause 8 agreed to.

Baroness Hayman

This may be a convenient moment to adjourn the Committee.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Chesham)

The Committee stands adjourned until tomorrow at 3.30 p.m.

The Committee adjourned at two minutes before eight o'clock