HL Deb 12 February 1990 vol 515 cc1098-114

3.4 p.m.

Report received.

Clause 1 [Meaning of "food" and other basic expressions]:

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Baroness Trumpington) moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 1, line 8, at end insert —

("(aa) articles and substances of no nutritional value which are used for human consumption;").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in introducing Amendment No. 1 I should also like to speak to Amendments Nos. 2 and 3. Your Lordships will remember that we had a useful discussion at Committee stage about the definition of food. I undertook to consider a government amendment to bring within the definition items such as certain slimming aids which we would not normally regard as food but which were marketed for human consumption. Amendment No. 1 has this effect.

My noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham pointed out that the existing wording of the Bill seemed only to cover oysters, which are fish for the purposes of this Bill, because fish are defined in Clause 53(1) to include molluscs. Amendment No. 3 enables the Bill to apply to live creatures whenever they are used for human consumption. This brings in other creatures eaten live such as elvers. Amendment No. 2 ensures that the definition of ingredients covers all ingredients of things classed as food.

I should point out that these amendments are only the first three of a quartet. There is one further amendment which I regret has caused some difficulty and which we have not been able to finalise in time to table for Report stage. This amendment will make the reference to "drugs" in line 16 more precise, thus avoiding any undue degree of overlap between food and medicines legislation. However, it must also be drafted to ensure that there is no gap; in other words, so that medicines such as cough sweets are properly controlled and labelled. This will be the subject of an amendment in due course. I hope your Lordships will be able to accept these amendments. I beg to move.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, we did not originally raise the query from these Benches but we were happy to see that it was raised and equally happy with the explanation the noble Baroness has given of the amendments now before us. We note that we are to await a further amendment regarding drugs.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Trumpington moved Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 11, leave out ("drink or such products") and insert ("anything falling within this subsection").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Trumpington moved Amendment No. 3:

Page 1, line 13, leave out ("commonly").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Trumpington moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 2, line 29, leave out subsection (5).

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 4 I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 64, 107 and 110. This group of amendments follows up the commitments given at Committee stage to extend, or to consider extending, statutory consultation to various regulation- and order-making powers where the Bill did not already require it. I made clear at Committee stage that I am very much in favour of consulting, whenever possible, on proposals for secondary legislation. I hinted at some of the areas in which I saw statutory consultations as appropriate. The main effect of Amendment No. 107 is that Ministers will be required to consult with interested organisations on all regulations and orders made under the Bill, other than the handful of powers where statutory consultation would not be appropriate for very good reasons.

The exceptions fall into three categories. First, there are two powers which might have to be used in an emergency with no time for statutory consultation: the emergency control order powers and powers to prohibit imports of specified foods. Secondly, there are two powers where statutory consultation would be pointless; powers to make orders to obtain information or food samples, which we would use only if voluntary approaches had failed, and regulations implementing directly applicable European Community provisions in the UK.

Thirdly, towards the end of the Bill there are various technical order-making powers for the making of commencement orders. Clause 59 is one example for which consultation would not normally be provided. The requirement to consult on orders under Clause 5(4) to allocate functions between food authorities causes one technical problem to which I alluded at Committee stage. An order under Clause 5(4) will be needed as soon as the first provision of the Bill comes into force so that food authorities are clear about their responsibilities.

To overcome this problem Amendment No. 107 contains a provision that will allow the necessary consultations to be carried out before the Bill starts to come into force. The other aspects of this group of amendments are all technical. As well as adding the requirements on consultations, Amendment No. 107 sweeps up all the provisions of Clause 48 regarding statutory instruments into Clause 47. I beg to move.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for this amendment which incorporates one I moved at Committee stage, which was Amendment No. 19 at that time. I believe that she has covered the situation quite satisfactorily.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, this combination of procedures that my noble friend is proposing is the right one. It is absolutely excellent that the relevant groups representing various interests, which means representing consumer interests as well as those of the producers, should be consulted, and then should follow the parliamentary procedure, so that Parliament has a look at whatever the Government propose. In these circumstances that seems the right way to do things except, as my noble friend said, when there is an extreme emergency, when the procedure would take too long. I personally am extremely appreciative of what she has done.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Carter raised a question at Committee stage concerning the breadth of consultation which the Government envisage. I wish to reinforce the plea he made then: namely, that, when consulting, the Government will give a commitment that they will consult as broadly and as widely as possible with organisations likely to have an interest in the matter.

I ask the Minister whether the effect of the amendment on ministerial directions, which we understand may be issued without consultations —for example, directions under Clause 6(3) which remove functions from food authorities to the relevant Government department —may be carried out without discussion with the food authorities or other bodies concerned. We are wondering whether the Government at this late stage will consider extending their consultation commitment to include ministerial direction.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I can answer the first part of the noble Lord's question in the affirmative. I believe that we have gone about as far as we can, but I shall take note of what the noble Lord has said because, as he will be well aware, there will always be chances in another place to add or take away from whatever is written.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Chairman of Committees

My Lords, if Amendment No. 5 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 6.

3.15 p.m.

Clause 2 [Extended meaning of "sale" etc.]:

Lord Mottistone moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 2, line 35, leave out ("any").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall speak to Amendment No. 7, and also to the Government Amendment No. 6. At Committee stage I drew attention to the fact that Clause 2(1)(b) in the Bill was too all-encompassing and gave Ministers more or less unlimited power to make orders concerning practically anything to do with food. In my two amendments, Nos. 5 and 7, I seek in a modest way to reduce the total comprehensiveness of this subsection.

My noble friend the Minister kindly discussed this matter with me earlier. She has come forward with another way of doing much the same thing. Both suggestions are not entirely satisfactory in the sense of restraining Ministers from making orders because they have pretty good powers even with my amendments, let alone those of my noble friends. I am most grateful to my noble friend for trying to make it appear at any rate as though these powers are limited.

The main consideration is the amendment which we have just agreed to. The new subsection (4) of Clause 47 will make it compulsory to consult about an order of this nature. So one hopes that the people who appear to be interested will be able to restrain Ministers if great powers go to their heads. I do not propose to quarrel with my noble friend on the Front Bench. I beg to move.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I understand my noble friend's wish to narrow slightly the scope of the order-making power to extend the definition of "sale" in respect of food and to curb unruly Ministers, though I believe he need have no fear of that. My noble friend and others expressed concern at Committee stage about the breadth of this power. We have reflected further on this matter, as he is well aware, and our Amendment No. 6 is tabled to meet my noble friend's concern.

Moreover, as my noble friend has just reminded us, we promised to provide for statutory consultation on orders made under Clause 2. That has now been achieved by the Government amendment to Clause 47 which we have just discussed. I ask my noble friend to withdraw his Amendments Nos. 5 and 7 and to leave standing Government Amendment No. 6.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that explanation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Trumpington moved Amendment No. 6:

Page 2, line 35, leave out ("such other thing done with respect to food as may be") and insert ("other thing which is done with respect to food and is").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]

Clause 4 [Ministers having functions under Act]:

Baroness Blatch moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 3, line 27, after ("means") insert (", subject to subsection (2) below").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 9, 41, 112, 113 and 114. The purpose of these amendments is to alter the powers to make emergency control orders under Clause 13 of the Bill. As presently drafted, an order made by the Minister of Agriculture can extend only to England and Wales. In normal circumstances this would be adequate and orders relating to Scotland would be made by the Secretary of State for Scotland.

However, circumstances could well arise involving both England and Scotland. For instance, if meat pies accidentally contaminated with glass were made in the North of England and distributed in Scotland, an order covering both England and Scotland would then be necessary. It would of course be possible to do this by having an order signed by both the Minister of Agriculture and the Secretary of State. But noble Lords will appreciate that speed is of the essence in making orders.

Extending the powers of the Minister to Scotland reduces the possibility of a delay which could have potentially disastrous consequences. The problem does not arise in the case of a Scottish order because the Secretary of State for Scotland already has powers to make orders including England, should they be necessary. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 9 not moved.]

Lord Gallacher moved Amendment No. 10:

After Clause 4, insert the following new clause:

("Food Safety Agency

.—(1) The Minister shall as soon as practicable establish an independent Food Safety Agency comprising representatives of—

  1. (a) consumers;
  2. (b) food producers;
  3. (c) food authorities; and
  4. (d) the Minister and the Secretary of State.

(2) The Agency shall —

  1. (a) review the operation of this Act and make any recommendation as to future legislation;
  2. (b) submit an annual report to Parliament on food safety; and
  3. (c) produce national guidelines for the inspection and sampling of food and the enforcement of standards determined under this Act.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this amendment stems in part from the experience which we had at the Committee stage of the Bill when we tried to persuade the Government to accept a somewhat lesser proposal. Not merely did we fail in that task but we were rather rebuffed for our unwanted initiative. That has forced us to the situation where those of us who believed in the policy of the half loaf now have had to acknowledge the fact that the people who told us that we were wrong by proceeding in that fashion were, after all, correct. What we are seeking to do today is to write into the Bill an obligation on the Minister to establish as soon as practicable an independent food safety agency. That is what the amendment proposes.

Some background is, however, necessary in order that the House may be aware of the circumstances surrounding the amendment. The Minister of Agriculture announced on 2nd November last year the setting up of an internal food safety directorate within his ministry. The announcement took place ahead of the Bill. At the same time he also announced the creation of a consumer panel. At the Committee stage the Opposition tried modestly to change the food safety directorate as announced in November from a wholly internal ministerial body to one including an independent chairman together with representatives of professional bodies representing environmental health officers, trading standards officers and public analysts, with some access to the agency by and from the newly created consumer panel. That was unacceptable to the Government.

As a consequence we are now proposing the kind of body which is generally favoured by informed public opinion at the present time. We propose an independent food safety agency comprising representatives of consumers, food producers, food authorities, as defined in the Bill, as well as the Minister and the Secretary of State. The function of this independent food safety agency would be to review the operation of the Act itself and to make recommendations in the light of that review as to future legislation. We believe that food safety will not be wholly catered for as soon as the Bill passes into law but will be an ongoing subject. In order to cater for that we believe that the task of the food safety agency should be one of continuous review. We believe also that the agency should report annually to both Houses of Parliament on food safety.

At the present time when food emergencies arise, Statements are made in both Houses of Parliament as to the nature of the emergency and the action being taken to deal with it. As far as it goes one must say that those Statements are satisfactory. However, at present there is no annual review of experience during the year with food safety in general. The amendment seeks to put that right by placing on the independent food safety agency the obligation to report annually to Parliament on the overall question of food safety.

Lastly, we envisage the agency having the task of producing national guidelines for inspection and sampling of food and the enforcement of standards under the Act. Why do we feel that there is scope for such a body and a need to spell out in legislation the task which we feel it ought to discharge? It is increasingly obvious that an informed and representative body of public opinion in this country believes there must be an external input in an area of growing concern to consumers. I need not spell it out in any detail because I am sure noble Lords are well aware of the concern not merely about particular incidents but about the overall question of food safety, with particular regard to food poisoning, salmonella and listeria which have occupied us so seriously in the past couple of years. These are subjects which require independent examination so that the public at large can be assured that not merely is the Ministry concerned but that some degree of public oversight is being exercised in this vitally important area.

The Bill itself is the result of the concern of consumers and laudably seeks to improve safety measures by keener inspection and tougher penalties. We applaud those objectives but we still recognise that the Bill lacks the independence and openness which those who speak for consumers desire. The Act will need to be reviewed in any case, and certain questions will be asked. For example, are food authorities under the Act discharging their duties? Are they adequately funded in order to discharge those duties? Are food producers, both primary producers and processors, doing what the Act requires of them? These tasks can be discharged by an independent agency in full co-operation with Ministers. The agency can recommend to Ministers what changes it feels are required. The obligation to report annually to Parliament is vitally important. It is significant that no body exists at present. In consequence there is no such annual reporting at the present time.

Another important aspect of its work will be to comment on the use of delegated powers under the Bill. Good as the Bill is, undoubtedly most of the real mechanics which the Bill seeks to create will be in the form of delegated powers. It is important that an independent body should have a look, on an ongoing basis, at the use being made of such delegated powers. We would also empower the agency to produce national guidelines for the inspection and sampling of food and the enforcement of standards under the Act. I ask myself—and those who advise me ask themselves—whether the Minister of Agriculture can have any real objection to constructive proposals of this kind.

These proposals are implicit in the Bill itself. The sharing of responsibility for them can only be objected to by those who believe that paternalism must dominate the relationship between the Ministry of Agriculture and consumers in Britain. Sharing responsibility is a logical concept in a Bill of this kind which is basically the product of public concern. If the Government choose to reject what we propose, not merely will they be sending the wrong signals to all with an involvement in food —that is to say, all of us —but they will bring about an irresistible clamour for the establishment of a wholly independent body to act for and on behalf of consumers. For those and many other reasons with which I shall not trouble the House, I beg to move.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, despite the eloquent way in which the amendment was moved, I very much hope that my noble friend will resist the temptation to accept it. What is the point of giving duties to a government department and then saying that, whatever the temptation may be, we do not trust that government department and we shall set up another organisation to double bank it? That seems to be a policy of despair. How many people are likely to serve on this food safety agency? Every section of the food producing industry would have to be represented. Every section of the country would have to be represented. By the end of the process it would be a very large body.

If the body were to be of any use it would, in pursuance of two of its duties under subsection (2)(a), be in great haste to make recommendations for future legislation. One of the ambitions that I cherish in a modest way is to reduce this overwhelming Niagara of legislation to something of a trickle. We should discourage it from becoming a tidal wave which would inundate us all. I very much wonder whether we need to have more annual reports. Before we set up bodies which are encouraged to deliver more annual reports we should think very carefully. Much the same considerations apply to bodies which will threaten us with national guidelines. One wonders who will read such documents with avidity. Who will read annual reports with avidity and interest? Who will follow the national guidelines and who will see that the national guidelines are duly observed? I hope that my noble friend will resist the amendment.

3.30 p.m.

The Viscount of Falkland

My Lords, I rise to express my support for the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher. It is a fact, sad though it may be, that public confidence has suffered enormously, especially since December 1988. However, that was not, as was implied by the noble Lord, Lord Peyton, due to unease as regards the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food; it is because there is a general lack of confidence in new technologies used in many practices in food processing, and so on.

The amendment seeks to create a consensus, which seems to be sadly missing in this country, on the way in which food safety should be approached. Such a body, constituted in the way proposed, would give the public the feeling —and, I suggest, the evidence —that all those concerned right the way through the food chain were doing their utmost to deal with the problems which have given rise to some of these fears, especially as regards eggs, chickens, cook-chill foods and in particular microwave cooking.

There is a strong feeling abroad that there is too little consumer input into decisions which are made which lead to government legislation. It is in the spirit of consensus that I suggest that this amendment should be accepted and I urge your Lordships to support it.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, on the face of it, when it is suggested to your Lordships in the course of debating legislation that such and such a body should be set up, it always seems an attractive proposition. The noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, made it sound as though the proposed body would increase public confidence and reduce the concern about salmonella and chickens.

Those of us who have served on such quangos where you have one, two or three representatives of disparate groups of people —including those who eat the food, those who shop for food, those who supply the food, those who sell the food and, of course, representatives of Government —know that such people sit around at meeting after meeting deciding what to say to the Government. Thereafter, the government of the day, after consultation with Parliament, has to decide what to do. Anyone who has been concerned in such a quango knows that it is a very slow moving process and that it is not really representative of public opinion.

It seems to me that it would be far better to try to move towards a situation where the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food —and the Department of Agriculture in Scotland —really gets into the process of meeting the interests of the consumer as well as those of the producer. In my view this is already being done. We have the directorate which is to be set up within the Ministry, and a consumer panel. The people concerned will discuss how shoppers feel and will be answerable to Parliament. It is the voters who have an interest in this matter and not the people who happen to be put on a quango. In my view this is a very outmoded suggestion and one which is most unlikely to work. Moreover, I am somewhat surprised that two parties who aspire to being modern-minded should have suggested the introduction of such a body.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I rise to support the amendment moved by my noble friend. In reply to the noble Lord who suggested that such a body would have to have a representative of every company, I must say that he obviously has no knowledge of the food federations, which are highly organised and not very extensive in character. Indeed, it would be very simple to have such representation.

Why is this legislation needed? It is needed because the consumer is becoming increasingly worried about these matters. Indeed, almost daily we hear about some kind of scare in relation to food. Frankly, when I read about the amimal feed that was imported from Taiwan via Holland, I wondered, "What have we come to now?" During the war when we could not import feed we fed our cattle perfectly adequately on silage derived from produce which was actually grown in this country.

Today our food is increasingly undergoing so many processes and so much handling that it is almost impossible for us to know just how safe it is. Indeed, this morning we heard reports that Perrier water is to be tested. You would not have thought that there could be any danger in such water—or would you?

Lord Hailsham of Saint Marylebone

Yes you would!

Baroness Phillips

I should say to the noble and learned Lord that if it was left simply to the Almighty, then let us have it; there would not be any danger. It is the intervention of man which makes it unsuitable.

It is all very well to say that quangos consist of people who just sit around discussing matters. I have sat on quangos. I refer to the NCC. Indeed, it was a Labour Government who created the National Consumer Council. It has carried out excellent work. Of course, there were disagreements, but we always came to a useful conclusion which we passed on to the Government. We watched over matters, as indeed does the present council. Moreover, it constantly produces reports. However, I was somewhat disturbed to see that the qualification of the new chairman of the council —of whom, I must say, I have never heard as regards voluntary movements —for holding the position was that she had actually owned fisheries. That is a rather unusual qualification when I think of the distinguished ladies—and, it is mainly ladies —who have held the position of chairman of this particular body.

We need to provide for such a body under this Bill. Everyone eats food. We must watch over many matters in the field of safety, but this applies especially to food: that is, the food we eat and that we give to our children. I am quite sure that there would not be too many meetings of this particular quango. Moreover, there would be guidance, together with the back-up of the law which we seek to consolidate in the Bill.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley

My Lords, the amendment proposed would ensure that food safety was looked at from a broader perspective and that it was not just the big battalions that were listened to when things went wrong. In my view, the position of the consumer has always been important. It is not at all clear that the consumer panel as envisaged at present would have any real power. Consumers need to be represented on the main body where the major recommendations are made so that their views can carry at least as much weight as those of everyone else. If that does not happen, then I fear that the credibility gap which already exists will only grow wider. For that reason above all else, I support the amendment.

Viscount Montgomery of Alamein

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, mentioned the National Consumer Council. However, I find myself very much in agreement with the remarks made by my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour. She referred to the need to protect the interests of consumers. But I wonder —and I hope that my noble friend the Minister can enlighten us upon this in greater detail —why it is that the National Consumer Council cannot do exactly what is proposed in the amendment. Surely the interests of consumers are important. Moreover, there is an existing quango which does precisely what is set out under the terms of the amendment. Therefore, we do not need any duplication in the matter because that would only add immeasurably to the cost of such exercises.

Lord Auckland

My Lords, in my view this amendment is rather like the curate's egg. I think it is true to say that it is to some extent well meaning; but it is much too widely drawn. For example, what are "food authorities"? Do they represent the catering industry or the manufacturing industry? Moreover, the cost of what is proposed would be phenomenal.

As regards consumers, there is that admirable magazine entitled Which?—at least, sometimes it is admirable. It closely studies the food industry, among others. I agree with my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour that what is proposed would duplicate matters too greatly. We already have many food authorities set up within the Government and the real problem here is that we have a very vague definition for these matters. I do not believe that this exercise, albeit well meaning, will work.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, when I rejected his "half loaf- at Committee stage, the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, promised to return with a full loaf of bread. I cannot say that I like his full loaf any better; perhaps he should stay out of the baking business! I am however grateful to the noble Lords at least for putting into their proposal how they think this agency should be structured and what it should do. Many who have made similar suggestions have not taken their thinking that far. At least the noble Lords have done us the courtesy of filling out their proposal and it therefore makes it much easier for me to comment on it.

Perhaps I may first deal with the composition of the food safety agency. Despite the presence of a representative of the Minister and the Secretary of State, I see that the intention is that the members of the agency should be independent of government. I should point out that Ministers already draw heavily upon independent advice in exercising their powers under the existing Act and they will do so under the Bill. I remind my noble friend Viscount Montgomery that the National Consumer Council is one of those bodies whose advice we carefully listen to.

Persons with backgrounds in academic life, in the food industry, in food authorities and in the consumer movement are on the Food Advisory Committee; there is a whole raft of committees of independent medical experts available to the Government through the Chief Medical Officer to advise on many facets of food safety and public health; and there are other independent committees of a scientific nature dealing with pesticides, novel foods and other similar matters. Advice from these committees is usually published and the evidence is there for all to see that Ministers almost invariably act on that advice. A great advantage of the system is its flexibility: so that the Government can go quickly and urgently as necessary to the right experts to get advice and moreover call together specific experts into an ad hoc committee when circumstances demand it.

Equally important from the point of view of today's debate, is that my right honourable friend has also set up a consumer panel. This is intended to be complementary to all the other independent committees to which I have alluded. The panel will consist of nine ordinary consumers drawn from all parts of the United Kingdom. They will not represent the views of any particular consumer organisations but will represent their own views which we hope will reflect on what ordinary consumers are thinking on various food issues. The panel will be chaired by my right honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary who has policy responsibilities for food. It will thus create a dialogue between ordinary consumers and Ministers which should be for the benefit of both.

I am most grateful for the remarks of my noble friend Lord Peyton. The points which he raised were reasonable and right. The same applies to the remarks of my noble friend Lady Carnegy. I am not sure how the proposed agency would help the noble Baroness Lady Phillips with her fears.

I now come to what the noble Lords propose that this agency should do. I note first that, apart from producing guidelines on inspections, sampling and enforcement, the agency would have no executive functions under the Bill. It would have the task of reviewing, commenting and reporting. This is perhaps the function of a permanent advisory committee rather than that of an agency. Indeed it is a job which has already in part been remitted to the Food Advisory Committee. I take it that we can therefore regard the proposal as quite distinct from some of the ideas we have heard for taking functions out of the Ministry and placing them in an agency. Such an agency would be much less directly responsible to Parliament and much worse equipped for maintaining surveillance over the whole of the food chain.

It is of course right that we should keep the operation of the Act under review. I do, however, have great doubts about setting up a statutory agency for the purpose. There are many other matters about which people feel passionately, but surely the House does not wish to set a new fashion and set up an agency to monitor the operation of every important Act we pass. This can be done by non-statutory means which is simpler and provides greater flexibility in the way the task is carried out.

I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, that my right honourable friend the Minister is determined to put food safety and the consumer first. The noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, who is unfortunately away, paid tribute to him on Second Reading. She said that he had: demonstrated his commitment and that of the Government with this Bill."—[Official Report, 5/12/89; col. 779.] When the Bill becomes an Act, we shall of course keep its operation under review and we shall call upon independent experts, through our advisory committees, and in other ways.

The noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, asked me about annual reports, to which he attached great importance, dealing with food poisoning statistics and guidelines. Food poisoning statistics are dealt with in the report by the Chief Medical Officer or the Public Health Laboratory Service. Other matters are not really cyclical and thus are not appropriate for an annual report. However, the Food Safety Directorate will publish a bulletin to keep the public informed on food issues.

Further, the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, raised the question of guidelines for inspection, sampling and enforcement of standards. These are already provided for in Clause 39. We have agreed that the codes of practice concerned shall be subject to consultation in draft with interested parties.

I hope that with those assurances the noble Lords will withdraw their amendment. I agree with the various remarks, particularly those of my noble friend Lady Carnegy. There is good reason for keeping the whole food chain from producer through to consumer together. Perhaps we may look once more at the lead in milk case. I make no apology for citing this example yet again because it is a good one. With the whole range of responsibilities that my right honourable friend has, he was able to take thorough and comprehensive action to handle the crisis and to draw on a multiplicity of disciplines to do so. Had his responsibilities been more confined, he would not have been able to react in the same speedy and comprehensive way. This could surely have been to the detriment of the consumer. I think that I have made my case.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness and others who have spoken in this brief debate on the amendment for their contributions. I shall do my best, without taking up too much time, to reply to some of the points which have been raised in the debate.

The noble Lord, Lord Peyton, felt that there was no justification for the proposal in the amendment. Of course, if that is a considered view then the other questions which he raised are secondary to it and relatively unimportant. The number of people to serve on the food safety agency would be for the Minister to determine. He saw no need for such bodies, yet paradoxically such bodies exist. I recall, for example, that under the agricultural marketing Acts there is provision for a consumer body which reports from time to time. The sad feature about that body is that it is underfunded and lacking the necessary power to do the job which was envisaged for it when the agricultural marketing Acts were passed in Parliament.

The noble Baroness Lady Carnegy favours the status quo. Our feeling is that the status quo, quite frankly, does not have the clout and it is in an attempt to give a new body that additional power that we have tabled the amendment.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for allowing me to intervene. It is not the status quo that I favour; it is the proposals in the Bill which seem to me to be attractive.

Lord Gallacher

My Lords, I construed that that was the line the noble Baroness was taking. If I have done her an injustice I shall read Hansard and reflect upon my unkindness to her.

The noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, asked why the National Consumer Council could not do this job. First, it is not empowered to do so; secondly, it is not equipped to do it; thirdly, its responsibilities are not even to the Minister of Agriculture or to the Secretary of State for Health but to the Department of Trade and Industry. All those are inhibiting factors, although I wish to acknowledge what my noble friend Lady Phillips said about the useful work which the National Consumer Council does and will continue to do.

I was grateful for the point of the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, that the amendment was good in parts. I hope that the good parts will be sufficiently appealing to him to cause him to support it, if we decide that the amendment should be tested in the Lobbies.

I turn to what the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, had to say. With great deference to the Ministry of Agriculture, it quite hopelessly misjudges the public mood as regards food safety at the present time. In that misjudgment the Ministry is not merely doing itself considerable immediate damage but it also may unwittingly be doing itself major damage, in that the public will begin to ask themselves whether the Ministry is the correct and proper body to discharge all the functions which it has under its wing and has had under its wing for so many years.

I have dealt on and off in a professional way with the Ministry of Agriculture for about 25 years. I have always admired and respected it as a Ministry. I admire the dexterity with which civil servants have been able to ride several horses at one time. However, I feel that in the past two years the public as a whole, no doubt encouraged by the media, have increasingly asked themselves whether this Ministry, which is now so heavily weighted in the direction of producers, is the proper body to speak entirely for consumers. In the face of the many cases we now have of food problems, the public ask themselves whether the Ministry is acting sufficiently promptly, bearing in mind the sharing of responsibility with the Department of Health, to allay the fears which, in my opinion, consumers legitimately have that, although the Ministry may be well intentioned, it does not apply itself with sufficient vigour to the defence of the consumer interest above everything else in this country.

I am told, for example, that in 1988 a Minister admitted in another place that in that year he had met the National Farmers Union 37 times, while he had met consumers only twice in that same year. I accept that the establishment of the consumer panel and the hopes that have been expressed for it in this debate is in itself a response to what has undoubtedly been a legitimate criticism of the Ministry. However, on the basis of the role which was defined for the consumer panel in the ministerial statement of 2nd November, we ask ourselves whether it will have sufficient power and authority, even though it may be chaired by an under-secretary, to do the job which we believe needs urgently to be done and on an ongoing basis as regards food safety.

It was suggested by the noble Baroness that the agency had no executive function and that that was to be welcomed. If the question of its function needs redefinition we would be happy to agree a redefinition of function with the Minister. However, from her general approach to this matter, I gathered that there was no possible hope of the Government discussing at this stage any alternative to that which is in the Bill.

Reference was made to the many advisory committees. There are indeed a large number of advisory committees. Most of them are highly technical in character and are well manned by distinguished scientists from all fields. They give the Minister the technical advice which no doubt he feels is necessary to enable him to discharge his responsibilities under various Acts of Parliament. However, it seems to us that this proposal brings together the main categories who have a vital, distinctive interest in food safety; namely, consumers, broadly defined food producers, food authorities and the Minister, as well as the Secretary of State. We cannot for any reason at all understand why the prospect of a bulletin from the internal committee, which was also established by the Minister on 2nd November, can be expected to allay ongoing public concern. Quite frankly, it would be a miracle if all the problems associated with food safety were to disappear simply by the enactment of this Bill on the one hand and the creation of the internal and highly technical body of civil servants on the other. We do not see that as being a likely result.

We view what we are proposing not as being the establishment of an independent body such as the Food and Drugs Administration in the United States. However, we feel that if we are constantly to meet with a negative response in the light of the undoubted and legitimate concerns of consumers, eventually that may become the solution for which Britain opts. I did not feel that the Minister comprehends the public concern which surrounds this matter. Because of that, and in view of its overriding importance, I feel we must test the opinion of the House on it.

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down I feel that I must return to this point.

Noble Lords

By leave of the House!

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I believe I asked for the leave of the House. In any case I meant to say that. I cannot agree that the Ministry, in co-operation with the Department of Health, has come forward with this major piece of reforming consumer protection legislation which, as the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, admitted on Second Reading has been most welcomed —

Lord Tordoff

My Lords, if the House will excuse me interrupting, I must say that the noble Baroness is entirely out of order.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, my noble friend prefaced her remarks by saying, "Before the noble Lord sits down". Surely that is good enough. I have often prefaced my remarks with those words.

3.56 p.m.

On Question, Whether the said amendment (No. 10) shall be agreed to?

Their Lordships divided: Contents, 65; Not-Contents, 114.

Addington, L. John-Mackie, L.
Amherst, E. Kearton, L.
Ampthill, L. Kennet, L.
Ardwick, L. Kilbracken, L.
Baldwin of Bewdley, E. Leatherland, L.
Birk, B. Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, B.
Blackstone, B.
Bonham-Carter, L. Longford, E.
Bottomley, L. Lovell-Davis, L.
Bruce of Donington, L. McGregor of Durris, L.
Carmichael of Kelvingrove, L Mackie of Benshie, L.
Mayhew, L.
Carter, L. Molloy, L.
Cledwyn of Penrhos. L. Nicol, B.
Cocks of Hartcliffe, L. Ogmore, L.
Dean of Beswick, L. Oram, L.
Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L. Peston, L.
Dormand of Easington, L. Phillips, B.
Ennals, L. Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L. [Teller.]
Ewart-Biggs, B.
Falkland, V. [Teller.] Ritchie of Dundee, L.
Gallacher, L. Seear, B.
Galpern, L. Serota, B.
Gladwyn, L. Shackleton, L.
Graham of Edmonton, L. Stallard, L.
Hampton, L. Stewart of Fulham, L.
Harris of Greenwich, L. Stoddart of Swindon, L.
Hatch of Lusby, L. Strabolgi, L.
Hooson, L. Tordoff, L.
Hughes, L. Turner of Camden, B.
Hutchinson of Lullington, L. Underhill, L.
Jay, L. Wallace of Coslany, L.
Jeger, B. White, B.
Jenkins of Putney, L. Williams of Elvel, L.
Aldington, L. Boyd-Carpenter, L.
Alexander of Tunis, E. Broadbridge, L.
Annaly, L. Brougham and Vaux, L.
Arran, E. Butterworth, L.
Auckland, L. Carnegy of Lour, B.
Bancroft, L. Carnock, L.
Beloff, L. Carr of Hadley, L.
Belstead, L. Clanwilliam, E.
Bessborough, E. Cockfield, L.
Blatch, B. Congleton, L.
Blyth, L. Constantine of Stanmore, L.
Boardman, L. Cottesloe, L.
Dacre of Glanton, L. Monk Bretton, L.
Davidson, V. [Teller.] Monson, L.
Denham, L. [Teller.] Montgomery of Alamein, V.
Dilhorne, V. Mottistone, L.
Eden of Winton, L. Mowbray and Stourton, L.
Elibank, L. Murton of Lindisfarne, L.
Ellenborough, L. Nelson, E.
Elles, B. Newall, L.
Elliot of Harwood, B. Norfolk, D.
Erroll of Hale, L. Norrie, L.
Ferrers, E. Nugent of Guildford, L.
Forbes, L. O'Brien of Lothbury, L.
Fraser of Kilmorack, L. Onslow, E.
Gainford, L. Orkney, E.
Gardner of Parkes, B. Peyton of Yeovil, L.
Geddes, L. Plummer of St. Marylebone, L.
Grimthorpe, L.
Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. Rankeillour, L.
Reay, L.
Havers, L. Renton, L.
Henderson of Brompton, L. Rippon of Hexham, L.
Henley, L. Rodney, L.
Hertford, M. St. Davids, V.
Hives, L. Saint Oswald, L.
Hood, V. Saltoun of Abernethy, Ly.
Hooper, B. Savile, L.
Hylton-Foster, B. Seebohm, L.
Johnston of Rockport, L. Shannon, E.
Joseph, L. Skelmersdale, L.
Kaberry of Adel, L. Slim, V.
Killearn, L. Somers, L.
Kinloss, Ly. Stanley of Alderley, L.
Kinnaird, L. Strange, B.
Lauderdale, E. Strathclyde, L.
Layton, L. Strathspey, L
Lloyd-George of Dwyfor, E. Swinton, E.
Long, V. Terrington, L.
Lucas of Chilworth, L. Teviot, L.
Lyell, L. Tranmire, L.
McColl of Dulwich, L. Trumpington, B.
Mackay of Clashfern, L. Ullswater, V.
Macleod of Borve, B. Waldegrave, E.
Malmesbury, E. Wilberforce, L.
Margadale, L. Wise, L.
Merrivale, L. Wynford, L.
Mersey, V. Young, B.

Resolved in the negative, and amendment disagreed to accordingly.