Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments Thirty-Third Report


Memorandum by the Department of Health


1. At its meeting on 14 November, the Joint Committee requested a memorandum on the following point:

    The Department's memorandum of 29 September states that a first draft of the Regulations was prepared on 26 July and the Food Standards Agency began a consultation process on the draft Regulations on 17 August. Explain why the consultation process could not have begun earlier so that the Regulations could have been made and laid without infringing the 21 day rule.

2. By way of background information—

    (a)  following discussions with Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, an implementation plan was prepared by administrators in the Food Standards Agency on 21.7.2000;

    (b)  work on the first draft of the instrument was completed on 26.7.2000 and the text was largely settled on 4.8.2000;

    (c)  consultation on the draft instrument was undertaken by the Food Standards Agency under section 48(4) of the Food Safety Act 1990 as modified by paragraph 7 of Schedule 3 to the Food Standards Act 1999.

3. Before the consultation exercise could start, officials at the Food Standards Agency had to prepare a number of documents:

    (a)  a submission to the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department of Health) explaining the background to the legislation;

    (b)  a consultation letter;

    (c)  a draft regulatory impact assessment.

4. A first draft of the Ministerial submission was circulated for comment late on 28.7.2000 and on 15.8.2000, 12 working days later, the Chief Executive of the Food Standards Agency was asked for his agreement to the Ministerial submission and supporting documentation being forwarded to the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department of Health) for her consideration.

5. The Chief Executive did so agree and the submission and related documents were forwarded to the Department of Health on 16.8.2000. The consultation process started on 17.8.2000 and ended on 15.9.2000. The statutory consultation period is normally 8 weeks.

6. It should be noted that the Food Standards Agency ensured that the consultation exercise began only 16 working days after the first draft of the instrument was prepared and 14 working days after the first draft of the Ministerial submission was circulated for comment. The Joint Committee will be aware that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had to make a parallel Order under the Animal Health Act 1981. It was agreed that the Food Standards Agency and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would conduct a joint consultation exercise in relation to that Order and the instrument now under discussion. A number of issues, for example the length of the consultation period, had to be discussed and agreed between the Agency and the Ministry and this led to a short delay in finalising the consultation package. This delay was, however, kept to a minimum. In addition on 3.8.2000, the Food Standards Agency consulted the Cabinet Office about whether or not, in order to ensure a full 8-week consultation period, it was legitimate to implement Decision 2000/418/EC a month late. On 11.8.2000, the Cabinet Office said that they would not countenance implementing the Decision late. Clearly, awaiting the Cabinet Office's decision contributed to the delay to the start of the consultation exercise.

20 November 2000

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