Examination of Witnesses (Questions 560
WEDNESDAY 10 MARCH 1999
and MRS VALERIE
560. That is very important. You are now
saying quite categorically that you do not support the levy at
(Mr Wood) Yes, and we said that in response to
the White Paper.
561. So just to clarify that, who do you
think should be paying for the Food Standards Agency?
(Mr Wood) The Treasury through general taxation.
562. Could I ask a rider to that. We were
told in evidence given by Freda Stack of the Co-operative Union
that the effect of clause 23 of the Bill presented the FSA with
a blank cheque signed by the United Kingdom food retailers. Do
you share these concerns?
(Mr Wood) Yes, we do. In fact, the way that the
Bill is draftedand I appreciate it just enabling primary
legislationthere would be the power in the Act to impose
a tax on any part of the food chain at any point in the future.
At the moment we have the assurances of the Food Safety Ministers
that it will be to fund the start-up costs, roughly £50 million
for each of the first three years, and that is the content of
the separate consultation document on funding, but given the way
the Bill is drafted I do not think anyone can take comfort from
563. I wonder if you could fill out a bit
more the very interesting comments you made about concordats in
your written evidence. You said that they should be appropriate
and publicly available. To what extent do you think the information
in them should be made public and do you think there are any other
factors which should really come into the way it should operate?
(Mr Wood) I think the way in which the Bill is
drafted, as I have implied, Chairman, this is primary legislation,
there will then have to be secondary legislation and now there
are to be concordats. Having looked at the scope of these concordats,
they do seem to be reasonably comprehensive but we do feel that
there should be an opportunity for interested parties to feed
views in in the preparation of these concordats, and we certainly
think they should be published documents at the end of that period.
There are other aspects which the concordats might usefully cover.
One, of course, is how the Agency will handle confidential information
and my colleagues would be happy to address that issue if you
would be interested in our views.
Ms Keeble: That would
be helpful. I would be extremely interested to know what the civil
servants think and if there are differences between what is being
564. As I understand it, and perhaps Jill
could tell us, the concordats will be published but the debate
is whether or not there will be any public consultation on them.
Is that correct?
(Ms Wordley) Yes, that is correct.
565. I understood from what you said previously
that they would be published but that it would be decided by somebody,
and I was not quite clear who, as to how much of them should be
published and it might be that there is some information withheld?
(Ms Wordley) I am sorry, perhaps I was not clear.
What I meant to say was that the intention was not that they would
be published in draft for consultation but that when the concordats
are finalisedand, of course, it is worth making the point
that concordats like this can be subject to regular review, so
the first version that is published does not necessarily have
to hold for all timeit is the final version of the agreed
concordat that will be published, but I suggested yesterday that
there might need to be some discussion about the sort of principles
of what needed to go in the concordats as the drafting was going
566. It would be helpful to have amplification
in particular about what information is deemed to be commercially
confidential or something because obviously that might be right
in the public interest and it might be information we would like
to know about our food and where it came from.
(Mr Craddock) I think there are perhaps two issues
of some concern to the Federation in terms of confidentiality.
There is the confidentiality relating to some data which the industry
may have generated, and we have heard about surveillance programmes;
there are concerns about whether veterinary medicines, pesticides,
should be inside or outside the Agency. It is sometimes forgotten
that the industry itself does a tremendous amount of its own internal
screening of its raw materials, its own research programmes and
looking at matters of the broadest concern, and it is not at all
uncommon for the industry itself to be in a position to flag up
potential areas of interest well ahead of those being picked up
by the more normal, shall we say, official, in the sense of government,
channels. But clearly in the spirit of openness, there is plenty
of evidence to show that the industry in the past has gone forward
and highlighted to the relevant authorities where they believe
there may be a developing problem. Clearly one of the issues touched
on earlier, is the way in which the Agency will convey information
to the public, I think one of the guiding principles possibly
even in the Bill is that it must not cause undue scares, to paraphrase
it; it must be responsible in what it publishes. Certainly when
it comes to an exchange of sensitive data of a toxicological,
or whatever it may be, nature then some degree of safeguard would
be sought. There are other areas, of course, where you may be
talking of investment plans and you have the normal financial
elements to consider. But the other issue which we would like
considered in further detailI think it is somewhere around
Clause 13 or 14is where individuals acting on behalf of
the Agency are entitled to go into premises, not only food factories
and food premises but also local authority premises, to undertake
what I think are called "observations". It does seem
that there is a weakness there whereby they may well be able to
pick up other information which is not in any shape or form relevant
to the activity which they are investigating or even concerned
with, but there do not appear to be the safeguards in the Bill
which pertain already for existing controls on the disclosure
of information by current enforcement officers. It is probably
easier to give an example to demonstrate the sort of thing I am
thinking of, you walk around the factory, it is very easy to see
that a business is perhaps doing business for another party which
has absolutely nothing to do with food safety. Some of the retail
customers of ours like to keep their sources of certain products
confidential, because there is a commercial incentive to do so,
and it has nothing to do with safety, and I do not think it is
really in the public interest to know that a particular product
comes from Factory A or Factory B.
567. I would like to come back to this but
in view of the time it may be something we could discuss with
the civil servants later.
(Mr Craddock) I think it is Clause 13, for clarification.
568. Thank you very much. Could I thank
you for coming along this afternoon to give evidence. We still
have another session of witnesses but thank you very much indeed.
(Mr Wood) Thank you very much.