HL Deb 22 June 1988 vol 498 cc829-32

7.39 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Baroness Ewart-Biggs.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD HAYTER in the Chair.]

Clause 1 [Maintaining of and access to registers]:

The Earl of Dundee moved Amendment No. 1:

Page line 23, at end insert— ("(4) Any register under this section may be kept by means of a computer.").

The noble Earl said: Before addressing the substance of Amendment No. 1, I should just mention that in speaking to the Second Reading I said that the Government would bring forward some amendments, but of a detailed and legal sort which I believed would prove no impediment to the Bill's progress to the statute. We are now at that stage and I hope the Committee will find none of the amendments at all controversial. They are only intended to tidy up loose legal ends and clarify the text.

The Bill has moved quickly with some substantial amendments being introduced, and it is therefore right that officials and the parliamentary draftsmen should have stood back to check that it all fits together and is right in detail. From the minor nature of the changes we are proposing I think it now does fit together, and when these improvements are taken on board it will be a simple yet sensible Bill.

I now turn to the substance of Amendment No. 1. From its inception, the originator of the Bill has stated his wish not to overburden the Health and Safety Executive and other authorities who will have to maintain these registers. Accordingly, and to make the registers easier to maintain, Clause 1(2) requires only that sufficient particulars need be entered rather than a copy of the entire notice.

In Committee in another place it was said that this change should allow the use of a computer to keep the register and provide printouts. However, lawyers have now advised that it was not entirely clear whether that had been achieved, because in other Acts where computer printouts may be used they are referred to explicitly, and therefore the implication might be that they are not permitted by this Bill. The purpose of this amendment is to make the position absolutely clear—that computer printouts may be used. I beg to move.

7.45 p.m.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

I am very grateful to the Minister for having told me beforehand that he would be making a few changes to this Bill and that it would be mainly a tidying up process. He said, and I am grateful to him for having repeated it, that he did not think the amendments he would be putting down would cause any impediment to the passage of the Bill when it got back to another place.

I very much welcome the positive attitude that the Minister has taken towards this Bill. I am also grateful for his explanation of this amendment. I must say that the sponsors of this Bill and I had assumed that the material in question would be kept in a computer. Therefore, the amendment of the Minister frames into law what is really the practice anyway. We had wished to keep things as simple as possible and not put too much extra work into the hands of the authorities.

However, I understand the intention of the Minister. He wished to make the practice that we had presumed occurred more precise with this amendment. He wished to close any loopholes. I am grateful for the very constructive attitude that the Minister has taken in putting forward this amendment, to which I give my deep support.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 2 [Interpretation]:

The Earl of Dundee moved Amendment No. 2: Page 2, line 1, at end insert ("is employed in his Ministry and").

The noble Earl said: With the leave of the Committee, I shall speak to Amendments Nos. 2, 3 and 6 together. These amendments relate to the responsibilities of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for keeping a register. He may, if he wishes, authorise other authorities such as local authorities to enforce the Food and Environment Protection Act on his behalf. In such cases these amendments provide that it is the delegated authorities rather than the Minister who should maintain a register of the notices which they have served.

It is of course more appropriate that the authority which knows at first hand about the notice should have the responsibility for providing information about it. It is then also more likely to be held at a location which is accessible to those with an interest. The Minister's responsibility is therefore confined through these amendments to maintaining a register of those notices which have been served by MAFF officials. I beg to move.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

I wish to ask for clarification. I wondered at the use of the words: is employed in his Ministry and". I wondered whether those words could relate to people who may be employed on contract work or are specialists. We hear about sections of government being contracted out. We hear about people who are employed on a specialist basis. Do I understand that we are talking here about employees of the Ministry or employees of a council; that is, the responsible bodies? I should he grateful if the Minister could clarify that point. If the Minister is ready to reply, I shall be happy to allow him to do so.

The Earl of Dundee

I think the noble Lord is asking about the position of the employees of the Ministry of Agriculture as distinct from other people and authorities to whom the Ministry of Agriculture, under the Bill, is empowered to delegate. If that is so, I can assure the noble Lord that the provision relates to the employees of the Ministry.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

In effect, then, it covers the employees of the Ministry. People who are not, as it were, employees of the Ministry but are employed by the Ministry will not be covered by this part of the amendment.

The Earl of Dundee

The noble Lord is correct. The latter implies the process of delegation, but the former implies, in contrast, direct employees. That is the case.

Baroness Ewart-Biggs

I wish only to say that I am glad my noble friend has sought clarification on that point and that the Minister has been able to give his assurance. Again from my point of view and that of the sponsors of this Bill, we are grateful for the effort that has gone into clarifying these points. We see this as an improvement, and therefore we are grateful to the Government for having gone through it so carefully and for having made these technical changes which to our minds have improved the Bill. I give my support to the amendment.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Dundee moved Amendment No. 3: Page 2, line 7, leave out from ("by") to ("or") in line 9 and insert ("that Minister or the Secretary of State").

The noble Earl said: This amendment has already been spoken to. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Dundee moved Amendment No. 4: Page 2, line 12, leave out ("that Schedule") and insert ("the Schedule to this Act").

The noble Earl said: The amendment seeks to make a very minor presentational change. At one stage, subsection (3) followed another subsection which referred to the schedule to the Bill. However, amendments in another place have caused the two subsections to be separated. To use the words proposed—"the Schedule to this Act"—is clearer than the words "that Schedule", which are currently in the Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 2, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 agreed to.

Clause 4 [Protection of trade secrets etc.]:

The Earl of Dundee moved Amendment No. 5: Page 3, line 48, after ("notices") insert ("served").

The noble Earl said: The verb "served" was missed out in the printing of the clause and needs to be added. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Dundee moved Amendment No. 6: Page 3, line 49, leave out ("in its application in England") and insert ("by persons employed in his Ministry").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 4, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule agreed to.

House resumed: Bill reported with amendments.

Lord Beaverbrook

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8.10 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.53 to 8.10 p.m.]