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Dr. Cunningham: The right hon. Gentleman says that it will not tackle the problem, but of course it will tackle the problems of food standards and food hygiene, which is what it is being established to do. We have to rest on advances in medical science to deal with some of the other problems. Even so, we know that some organisms are almost impossibly difficult to eliminate or destroy.

The right hon. Gentleman asked how we could guarantee that the agency's agenda would not be hijacked by people on one side of the argument. The important matter is that the Food Standards Agency has to be so robustly independent and so well managed that its agenda cannot be hijacked by anyone, including the food industry or people who take the extreme view against which the right hon. Gentleman rightly cautions. I agree on that: we want the agency to be tough and independent, and it will be on a statutory basis. I cannot believe that the serious and experienced people whom we intend to form

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the commission and the executive of the agency will allow their agenda to be hijacked by anyone. That would totally destroy the agency's independence and credibility, and we shall ensure that that does not happen.

In another question, the right hon. Gentleman spoke about the views of Marks and Spencer. I shall tell him and the House what Marks and Spencer said in its response to the consultation on the report of Professor Philip James. It stated that Marks and Spencer

That is another clear statement of support in principle for the Government's proposal.

The right hon. Gentleman asked an important question about funding. We have deliberately made it clear to everyone involved that funding proposals are to be the subject of further discussion and debate. It will be possible for hon. Members, those in the food industry, and all who are involved in the food chain to comment on funding. The White Paper gives a couple of illustrative examples of what might happen under a licensing system, for example. I say to the right hon. Gentleman that all these establishments are already licensed and on the record, and there is no necessity for any huge new bureaucracy in that regard.

The Food Standards Agency will clearly have a role in the enforcement of EU as well as UK legislation. It is difficult to take seriously the right hon. Gentleman's question on that point because it comes from a member of a Government who signally failed again and again to take effective, proper action fully to implement our obligations under EU and UK law. I have dealt with the main points that were raised by the right hon. Gentleman in his questions.

Mr. Jack: Accountability?

Dr. Cunningham: I have made it clear in the statement and in my response to the right hon. Gentleman that the agency will be accountable to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health, to Parliament and to Select Committees. It will be able to give unbiased advice, free from any vested interests. In turn, it will be able to take its advice from the expert scientific committees that currently advise me and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health.

I am sure that the whole country will welcome my statement, will want to discuss the White Paper and will want the Government to move forward as quickly as possible to bring an independent Food Standards Agency into being.

Mrs. Anne Campbell (Cambridge): I know that my right hon. Friend's statement and the White Paper will be warmly welcomed in my constituency, where people are concerned about standards in food safety. Will there be research funding for the agency to carry out its own research? If so, how will it relate to the research programmes already undertaken by my right hon. Friend's Department and the Department of Health?

Dr. Cunningham: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her comments. Existing scientific and advisory agencies

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and research programmes will be available to guide the thinking of the Food Standards Agency, but it will also have, in its own right, the power to commission an independent research programme outside of existing Government agencies, in the private sector. Of course, if it wishes, it can continue to make use of existing Government agencies. It will be the agency's decision.

Mr. Paul Tyler (North Cornwall): On behalf of my right hon. and hon. Friends, I warmly welcome the Minister's statement and the White Paper. We have long campaigned for an independent Food Standards Agency, and many of the proposals in both the statement and the White Paper meet our requirements.

I have some specific concerns, but, before expressing them, I want also to welcome the Government's decision to make the matter the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny in the House. I am sure that that will be warmly welcomed by all hon. Members from all parties, including Back Benchers. It is important that the emphasis that the Minister has placed on credibility, transparency and accountability receives a positive response from hon. Members--we must all endorse it.

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the core issue is reliability? Over recent years, there has been no lack of reliable, safe, good quality food--but there has been a lack of good, reliable, safe standards of advice on that food. Does the Minister recall that his predecessor, the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), admitted to me from the Dispatch Box that three quarters of the public did not believe what he said about food safety? His advisers were no better received by the general public. Therefore, we must be sure that the new mechanism that the Minister is putting into place will carry credibility with the general public and the consumer in a way that was patently not the case under his predecessor.

That brings me to my core concern. I accept that it is early days, and obviously we will study the White Paper with interest, but there will be some confusion in the House and in the country about precisely what accountability means. The Minister made the statement, but the Secretary of State for Health will be accountable for the agency. The simple way to square the circle would be to establish a separate Select Committee on food standards. That would bring together the interests of health, agriculture and consumer protection throughout the country.

Another issue of concern both inside and outside the House is cost. It is right that the Minister should examine the issue, and I am grateful to him for what he said. I and, I am sure, other hon. Members will not take with more than a pinch of salt the squeals of dismay from a very, very rich industry. The food processing and retailing industry made huge profits during the recession. Indeed, some of the supermarkets have made huge profits out of farmers during the BSE crisis. The industry will be asked to contribute a comparatively small sum towards restoring confidence in its products. If there was already confidence in its products, we would not need the agency. The agency is being established to ensure that there is real confidence in future. If the main cost of the new agency falls entirely on the industry, however, there is a danger that it will be suspected of being in the pocket of its paymasters. Therefore, it is important that the public purse--the taxpayer--also makes a contribution.

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With those concerns, but with a general welcome, I hope that the Minister will have the support of most hon. Members in the consultation process.

Dr. Cunningham: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his generous support for both the statement and the White Paper. As he said, the matters of reliability, sound advice and public confidence are inextricably linked. The food industry, and particularly the beef industry, has suffered so many of its problems precisely because public confidence in government and in advice from government fell to such a low ebb, and the strong case for an independent Food Standards Agency became unassailable for exactly those reasons. We must have clear, coherent and independent advice from an organisation that is staffed by people in whom the general public will have confidence, knowing that they are independent administrators and independent of the industry.

I disagree with the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that there will be some confusion. One of the reasons for mistrust is that, historically, the Ministry of Agriculture has been responsible not only for the promotion and production of food but for the promotion of food standards and of food safety. Those responsibilities have all been held by one Ministry, although they occasionally conflict. That is the overwhelming case for the separation of responsibilities.

After separating responsibilities, it would be rather perverse to say that the Food Standards Agency should report to the Minister of Agriculture. The agency should report to the Secretary of State for Health, and that is what it will do. There is no need for anyone to be confused about the reasons for the separation of powers and responsibilities or about how accountability will work.

I should tell the hon. Gentleman that it is not for me to decide whether the House has a Select Committee on food safety matters. In general and in principle, I am a supporter of Select Committees in the House, but I cannot make such a commitment.

Finally, the hon. Gentleman dealt with the very important matter of costs. The White Paper gives an example of 600,000--in round terms--establishments being affected by the agency. I should apologise to the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) for saying that they are already licensed. They are registered, not licensed. I apologise for that slip of the tongue.

The illustrative example in the White Paper states that if the cost of a licence were £100 per annum, the net income would be £60 million. Therefore, even if we were to use that approach--there is no commitment to do so yet--such relatively small charges will not overburden an industry that, as the hon. Member for North Cornwall (Mr. Tyler) said, is profitable and able to compete vigorously and successfully, not only in domestic but in international markets. That was only one example. The Government have an open mind on the matter, and we will consult widely on it.

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