Select Committee on Food Standards Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses(Questions 80 - 88)



Mr Paterson

  80.  Dream on.
  (Mr Rooker)  In respect of the set-up costs element it would be reasonable to expect that but I cannot possibly judge what the running cost changes will be and any other decisions in three years' time. My role, in so far as it is, is to put myself out of work as Food Safety Minister to do all I can to get this Agency set up and get it running in the way we have planned subject to arrangements. I cannot possibly forecast what the position will be like in three years and, with respect, I do not think anyone else can.

  81.  You are expecting local authorities to be responsible for the collection?
  (Mr Rooker)  That is right.

  82.  This is another duty on local authorities, officers will have to spend time, even though you are saying it is easy to collect, easy to administer, they have got all the information, they have still got to go through the process of collecting this levy. What adjustments have we given to local authority budgets for the extra officers for doing this?
  (Mr Rooker)  None whatsoever because we do not need to. They are legally required to keep their registers up to date every year. They will collect the money as a charge for registration and if the money is not paid the premises will be de-registered which puts them under all kinds of pressures for food safety legislation. The local authorities will have the cost of collection met from the money they collect themselves, so there will be no add on for local authorities. They do not need any extra money, the cost of collection will be met from what they get from the levy, from the £90 if that is the figure, in addition to which over and above that there will be a sum of money, which we have not yet decided or consulted about, which they can retain as an additional resource for the kind of enforcement activities they are carrying out now.

  83.  Can I just lastly ask you about some of the exemptions. What about school canteens or the Friends of Lydney Hospital sandwich trolley that goes round to visitors and things like that? Also, if we look at the incidents of where there have been problems in the food chain it is often when voluntary bodies put on some kind of event, a buffet evening, because they are not necessarily qualified people in handling food and they are not going to be paying anything, are they?
  (Mr Rooker)  I know this is difficult when it looks as though we are over-regulating and we are actually saying in some areas we are not. If your organisation is registered under the enforcement regulations for food safety you are covered. The trolley may not be covered but the canteen and the kitchen in the hospital probably would be, I would certainly hope so. WI catering, child minders, places where the main activity is not food—not food—but where biscuits and cakes are served, such as a hairdressers, for example, they would not be covered. They are not covered now, they are not required to be registered, so we do not have to make an exemption, they are not even included in the first place. I have heard all kinds of people being interviewed saying "this is terrible on my business", with respect, people like that are not covered. Religious ceremonies, places supplying food or drink in the course of religious ceremonies, they are currently exempted from the requirement to register, they are not included. Of those who are required to register, the exemptions will be those supplying wrapped confectionary and crisps, maybe garage forecourts, but if they go in for selling sandwiches they are going to be caught because that is food.


  84.  Minister, could I ask you have you consulted with the Treasury on this matter?
  (Mr Rooker)  Constantly.

  85.  Will this levy be allowable against tax? Will it be tax allowable?
  (Mr Rooker)  It is a business cost. It is like any other business cost.

  86.  It would?
  (Mr Rooker)  I am not an accountant. It is a business cost, therefore it is part of your outgoings. It does not come off your top line. With respect, it is £90 a year. It is a business cost, therefore it is part of the business costs.

Dr Brand

  87.  Would not the Minister of Public Health say this is an Agency being set up to protect the public and therefore there is a public responsibility to pay for it? Why should it be industry who pays for it? Why should the industry have to pay for it? They should only have to pay for the function.
  (Tessa Jowell)  Because the industry has a very clear investment in the safety of food. We are quite clear that this is a contribution that the industry should make.


  88.  Ministers, could I thank you both very much indeed for coming along to this morning's first meeting of this Committee. Could I just add a little rider. There may be one or two things that the Committee would want to take up with you both in writing and quite possibly, given that we have turned Select Committees around and brought the Ministers first, we are not saying that we will not bring you back again to this Committee to give further evidence if necessary.
  (Mr Rooker)  Absolutely. We are at the Committee's disposal at any time during its sittings. We understand the pressure you are under and if you want us back in the middle or at the end, no problem whatsoever.

Chairman:  Thank you.

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