Examination of Witnesses (Questions 400
TUESDAY 9 MARCH 1999
and MS JANET
400. Can we ask a few questions about how
effective this Agency is going to be? Ms Nunn said that there
was a need to review enforcement and regulatory procedures. Most
of us that came to this fresh are absolutely amazed by the complexity
of what currently exists and we are not much clearer about what
is being proposed. Do you think that the proposals will make what
we want to achieve more effective?
(Mr Longworth) For my part, the situation of the
establishment of the Agency is really only the beginning. It has
to be only the beginning; otherwise, the Agency will be in danger
of not being proactive. There has been an attempt at least twice
in the past, to my knowledge, to reform the structure of regulation
enforcement in this area. It is long overdue. One of the things
the Agency ought to do, in my view, is to provide expert advice
and support to local enforcement agencies because the agencies
at the moment suffer, through no fault of their own, from lack
of resource, lack of expertise and that competence level needs
to be looked at.
401. As a lawyer, are you happy that what
is being drafted will allow the Agency to evolve into the sort
of structure you are looking for?
(Mr Longworth) The draft arrangements have the
capacity to do that. The Bill is enabling in that sense. What
is not clear is the direction it is going. It is very much a question
of public policy and there will have to be goodwill from interested
parties active in this to ensure that it moves in the right direction.
Certainly a coordination of local enforcement is very important.
There is no reason why somebody who lives in Dundee should have
different standards of enforcement and regulation to someone in
Taunton. We all live on one island; we all deserve the same standards.
402. Yet the proposals suggest we continue
with the independence of Environmental Health Officers, Trading
Standards Officers and LACOTS being quite outside the Agency but
having concordats with them or agreements with them.
(Mr Longworth) It is a complex arrangement. It
is not the best arrangement, in my view. The Agency should take
upon itself the authority to both monitor the performance, (an
inspector of inspectorates), of local enforcement agencies. It
should also review the way in which LACOTS and itself operate
the coordination of enforcement in the United Kingdom and I think
it should have the powerand probably does within the context
of the Billto intervene where it feels that the local authority
is not doing its job. It may even at some stage take the view
that it has to deal with the largest businesses itself, rather
in the way the Health and Safety Executive does vis a vis the
local authorities who are agents for the Executive.
(Ms Nunn) It is reform that is needed and, while
we can presume and hope that that will happen, it is not the same
as having a copper bottomed promise. We will be looking to work
very closely on behalf of our customers with the government, moving
forward, because it is some proper improvement to the way food
safety is enforced in this country that we want. I can go into
some detail but I am aware that we are running out of time.
403. It might be helpful, if you have detailed
comments on the actual clauses in the Bill, if you could drop
us a line on them.
(Ms Nunn) Gladly.
(Ms Stack) We asked for the same things as Tesco.
The Agency clearly has a role in auditing and monitoring. That
is in the Bill and that is to be welcomed. We urged the government
at the White Paper stage to look at things like the provision
of advice on what the law means. That is currently carried out
by LACOTS but it is not incumbent upon enforcement authorities
to abide by it. There are problems with enforcement officers trying
to understand all parts of the law and impose them in a consistent
fashion. That clearly is a problem. It will always be a problem.
It would be a problem if it was a national enforcement authority
but I think the Agency does have a role in providing advice on
what the law means.
(Mr Longworth) And scientific and technical advice
also, which is something that local authorities do not have readily
available to them.
404. Do you think that the Agency should
set standards in terms of enforcement and proper targeting?
(Mr Longworth) Yes, I think it should set standards.
My vision ideally would be that it has a role similar to the Health
and Safety Executive where it issues codes of practice and guidelines
to the enforcement authorities, not to the industry, guiding and
directing the enforcement authorities on how to go about doing
particular tasks so that you get both consistency and confidence
being built up. It should also monitor the delivery of that and
intervene if necessary. The authorities should be able to call
upon the Agency for help and advice. When E coli 0157 first appeared,
it may well have been something that was problematic for a local
authority to deal with. They would not have known what they were
dealing with very well and the Agency would be there to help them.
405. Do you not think its position is compromised
by the fact that it will be the enforcement and the adjudication
agency as far as the Meat Hygiene Service is concerned?
(Mr Longworth) I take your point. I think there
is a difficulty in that respect. I have already said that the
Agency itself may decide to take on the commanding heights of
the food industry or whatever in the same way as the Health and
Safety Executive acts as both a policy formulator and adjudicator,
but also deals with the largest chemical industries and manufacturers.
It may be that the Agency itself eventually decided it is going
to deal with multisite businesses, for example, because that is
the easiest way to deal with them. It is not necessarily my preference.
I think it is quite possible that a home authority system could
be made to work properly but it does not work properly at the
406. Who do you think the Meat Hygiene Service
should report to?
(Mr Longworth) I do not see any problem with the
Meat Hygiene Service reporting to the Food Agency in principle.
I think there is another issue which was raised earlier on, which
is whether the Agency should also have access to primary production.
It would have been a neater solution if the Agency had been able
to control the entire food chain from primary production to final
(Ms Nunn) National food safety ought to be improved
if we can all work to auditable standards. That would apply internationally.
Retailers have worked out a technical standard for smaller manufacturers
to work to so the inspectors can then be assessed to EN45004 standards.
We are finding a great deal of interest throughout Europe in having
the standard now translated into French, German and Spanish. The
European Association of Retailers is having a presentation from
DG24 on the idea of an international inspection regime on 31 March
and we are all looking forward to seeing what ideas are coming
out of Brussels on that.
407. Are you happy that the Food Standards
Agency will be the judge and jury on the enforcement side?
(Ms Nunn) Ideally they should not but if you are
working to auditable standardsand the better regulations
task force unit have asked for comments on best performance indicators
and we have had input to thatit is a big challenge. If
you are doing it on a risk based approach, which is the best for
public safety, how do you get that? It is perhaps facile to say
that food poisoning is one. It is not just a question of the outputs;
it is a question of the inputs and we are all exercised on that
and will continue to see what we come up with.
(Mr Longworth) It is not inconceivable that meat
hygiene could be transferred back to local authorities. It is
not an impossible regime to envisage.
408. No, but it is not what we are being
(Mr Longworth) Of course not. If government thought
there was an advantage in separating executive from policy making,
that would be a solution.
(Ms Stack) Our view is that the Food Agency should
be the monitors, not the enforcers. I had not thought about the
Meat Hygiene Service until you put the question to Professor James
(Mr Longworth) It is a valid point.
(Ms Stack) We do not go down the Tesco route of
saying that the Agency should have any enforcement role in terms
of retailing. You are right to ask me a question on the Meat Hygiene
Service and I do not have a steer on it but it is a good question.
409. Do you think there is a danger that,
if there should be another meat scare, the blame for it will whizz
straight past the Meat Hygiene Service and be landed firmly at
the door of the new Agency?
(Mr Longworth) The point you make about the separation
between monitoring policy versus the legal enforcement regime
is a valid one. My view on the Agency possibly taking the commanding
heights, large businesses or whatever, or complex businesses,
is simply a fallback position. It really depends on the performance
of the regime going forward. It is very important that the home
authority system is made to work. If it does not work, if it is
not adequately funded and ring fenced and there is no mechanism
for the systems health check on businesses to allow resources
to be directed where there are problems, thenand only thenthe
Agency may well have to consider taking those roles upon itself,
because otherwise the system will fail and that will serve nobody.
Chairman: Can I thank
you all very much indeed for the evidence that you have given
us this morning. Hopefully before the end of the month you will
be seeing our report in relation to this proposed legislation.