Select Committee on Food Standards First Report


19. Clause 2 of the draft Bill deals with what has become known as the Agency's "commission", the appointed members of the Agency who will govern its activities. Schedule 1 to the Bill sets out the constitution which will govern these appointed members. The draft Bill allows for a membership of between ten and fourteen (the explanatory notes state that the Agency is envisaged as normally having twelve members[18]), with that membership to be appointed by the appropriate authorities (the Secretary of State for Health, and the relevant devolved authorities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). One of these members shall be appointed as chairman and another as deputy chairman. The members are intended to act collegiately and reach collectively agreed decisions.[19] We believe that where it proves impossible to come to a collective view the two sides of a contending argument should be fully expressed. Subsection (2) requires that a reasonable balance of relevant skills and experience be reflected in the Agency's membership; and in addition subsection (3) requires two members to have particular knowledge of issues of relevance in Scotland, and one member each to have knowledge of such issues in Wales and Northern Ireland. In certain cases the appropriate authorities acting jointly can also remove a member from the Agency.

20. It is on subsection (4) that a great deal of public attention has been focused. This subsection places a duty on the appropriate authorities to consider whether any potential member of the Agency "has any financial or other interest which in their opinion is likely to prejudice the exercise of his duties". This has been seen by the food industry in particular as an unwelcome signal that anyone with an industry background, and anyone still involved with the industry, would be barred from membership.[20] This prime concern of the industry is of course at the same time a matter that consumer groups, for example, welcome.[21] The Irish food agency, for example, has made much public credit out of preventing any of its membership from having food industry connections.[22] The explanatory notes to this subsection however say that while the appropriate authorities have a duty to consider interests, no interest will of itself disbar anyone from membership of the Agency.[23] While this note does not explicitly contradict itself, it leaves the situation far from lucid.

21. We therefore decided to raise this matter with ministers in evidence. The Minister for Food Safety was forthright in his interpretation of the subsection. "Nobody will be excluded from applying and their interest and their expertise could be relevant anyway....Nobody is ruled out because of a beneficial interests which may be a pension, shareholdings...".[24] Clearly, in view of this, individuals with an industry background could be members of the Agency; indeed, in view of the Minister's expectation that most members will be employed only on a part-time basis by the Agency[25] (with the probable exception of the chairman and the chairs of the advisory committees for Scotland, Wales and Northen Ireland), a member of the Agency could still be employed by the industry during his membership. The Minister confirmed that all members would be expected to have another, separate, source of income from whatever remuneration they receive from the Agency.[26] However, the Minister was just as clear in stressing how individuals will be appointed as individuals and not as representatives of any group, whether from local government, the industry or the consumer side.[27] We recommend that at second reading the Minister should make explicit the criteria by which members of the Commission are selected and interests are declared. The Minister further clarified that members' appointments are at the moment expected to be for from three to five years.[28] The Minister also made it abundantly clear that membership of the Agency will be advertised publicly following second reading of the Bill, at which point the Government will have received authority from the House to proceed in such advertisements. Appointments will be fully consistent with the Nolan and Peach principles.[29]

22. Given the fact that members of the Agency will in all likelihood be in receipt of remuneration from a source other than the Agency, and given the variety of interests, financial and otherwise which members might have, it will clearly be important for members to make open and public declaration of any relevant interests. These will of course not be solely related to members from industry backgrounds: members from various backgrounds could for example hold shares in food companies, and many scientists and academics in the food arena are at some time or another in receipt of sponsorship monies from the food or related industries, or employed on research contracts with them. Provision is made for a register of interests to be established under paragraph 9 of schedule 1 to the draft Bill. It is absolutely vital that such a register be as open as possible, so that the independence of the Agency is not compromised by the interests of its members. Explanatory notes make clear that "although the Bill does not specifically require it, the Agency's procedural rules would be expected to prevent a member with an interest in a particular matter from taking part in discussions on it".[30] With the openness and transparency of the Agency being so fundamental to its aim of creating public confidence in itself and thus in its work to ensure standards and safety in the food chain, it is clearly essential that the Government consider whether the transparency set down in the Bill is sufficient; and that the Agency's members recognise the position of public trust that they hold and act accordingly.

23. The "Commission" will have a fundamental role to play in generating the new culture that the Government—and most outside bodies—hope will inform its policy and activities. This new culture, expected to provide a new and fruitful approach to food policy, will first of all have to permeate the Executive which will manage and carry out the activities of the Agency. The Chief Executive's post will be a full-time position,[31] and will in the first instance be appointed by the appropriate authorities, thereafter being appointed by the Agency members, with the approval of those authorities. Separate directors for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will each head an executive body with responsibility for the operation of the Agency in the relevant part of the UK.[32] By analogy with the Chief Executive these directors will in the first instance be appointed by the appropriate authority in the part of the UK concerned and will thereafter be appointed by the Agency with the approval of that appropriate authority.[33] The staff of the central headquarters of the Agency are expected to number in excess of 400-450: of these approximately 300 are expected to come from the Joint Food Safety and Standards Group. The remaining 100-150 will come from the Civil Service and from outside that Service.[34] It is to be hoped that in its recruiting the Agency considers the extent to which staff might be able to assist in the formation of the new culture required from the Agency.

24. Membership of the Agency will reflect different geographical remits and different expertise and backgrounds. It is to be hoped that despite this disparateness, a cohesive culture emerges that will serve to provide the country with the confidence in the food chain that it deserves.

18  The Food Standards Agency: consultation on draft legislation, Cm 4249, January 1999-notes on Clause 2. Back
19  ibidBack
20  See, for example, the written memoranda submitted to the Committee by Tesco and by the Food and Drink Federation. Back
21  See, for example, the written memorandum submitted by the National Consumer Council. Back
22  QQ. 242-3. Back
23  The Food Standards Agency: consultation on draft legislation, Cm 4249, January 1999-notes on Clause 2. Back
24  Q.749. Back
25  ibidBack
26  Q.754. Back
27  Q.763. Back
28  Q.753. Back
29  Q.747. Back
30  The Food Standards Agency: consultation on draft legislation, Cm 4249, January 1999-note on Clause 2. Back
31  Q.753. Back
32  ibid. Back
33  The Food Standards Agency: consultation on draft legislation, Cm 4249, January 1999-note on Clause 3. Back
34  Q.759. Back

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