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Lord Luke moved Amendment No. 5:

Page 1, line 15, at end insert--
(“( ) The Secretary of State for Health shall be accountable for the activities of the Agency to Parliament.")

The noble Lord said: In this group of amendments, I propose to speak to Amendment No. 5, and my noble friend Lady Byford to Amendment Nos. 6 and 91.

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The consultation document on the agency published by the Government earlier this year envisages a new United Kingdom body operating at arm's length from Ministers. The Explanatory Notes to the Bill state that there will be a non-ministerial government department. However, no provision in the Bill states which Minister will be accountable to Parliament for the activities of the agency. The object of the amendment is to rectify that omission. I beg to move.

Baroness Byford: At Second Reading, I asked whether the Secretary of State should be defined in this Bill as the Secretary of State for Health. The noble Lord the Chief Whip rejected my suggestion, stating, traditionally, that legislation always refers simply to the Secretary of State. I understand that. He then went on to confirm that it would be the responsibility of the Minister of Health. That does not sit very well with itself.

As this is a completely new agency, bringing together both former parts of MAFF and parts of the health department, it would seem very desirable that tradition might be waived and a relevant lead department named. There may well be times when crises arise when that is particularly relevant, when the public will wish to know clearly where to turn and where the buck stops.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: We return to an issue which, as the noble Baroness said, was debated at Second Reading. This allows me to make clear to the Committee that the Secretary of State for Health will have overall responsibility for the agency since he will be responsible for directing policy in the light of the agency's advice. It is worth making the point that a key element of our proposals and the fundamental reason for creating the agency was to remove the perceived conflict of interest that arises through placing responsibility for food safety and the food industry within the same government department.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, referred to the advice given at Second Reading which I am bound to repeat to the Committee today. It is not the convention in primary legislation to specify which Secretary of State takes responsibility for a given set of powers. It is for that reason that the Bill refers only to the Secretary of State. This is necessarily a matter for the machinery of government rather than needing to be set out in primary legislation.

The noble Baroness thought tradition might be waived. That is a rather dangerous concept to propose in your Lordships' House. It would be unwise for the Committee to entertain a departure from that practice. But I repeat: it clearly will be the Secretary of State for Health who will have overall responsibility for the agency and who will answer to Parliament on its behalf when it is necessary for a Minister to do so. On that basis I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for his response. I suspected that I would hear the same response which I heard at Second Reading but that did not deter me from trying to put the measure on the face

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of the Bill. It is not just a matter for those of us who deal with Bills and legislation; it should be clear to the general public that it was the Secretary of State for Health is responsible. The Minister also said that there might be a conflict of interest. I suspect that when we come to discuss such issues as the Meat Hygiene Service we may well be looking at the same things and I may well be quoting his words back to him.

I believe in tradition, but I had hoped that as we were moving forward the Government might consider my amendment a little more deeply. As we are moving into the next century, perhaps we could consider putting something on the face of the Bill. That makes good sense to me. However I have heard what the noble Lord has to say.

Lord Luke: Having listened to the Minister's reply, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 [Appointment of members etc.]:

[Amendment No. 6 not moved.]

4.30 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 7:

Page 1, line 22, at end insert (“; and
( ) at least one shall have experience in the fish industry")

The noble Lord said: I rise to move Amendment No. 7 and to speak to Amendment No. 18, both of which stand in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Byford. The amendments are not alternatives; they are both self-standing, although they deal with the same problem. That problem is that the fish industry in this country tends, quite rightly in my view, to feel that it is not given proper consideration when it comes to food hygiene, food regulations and the like. All too often, the industry is just lumped in with the meat industry as an afterthought.

That is a problem which can cause real difficulty for the fish industry because it is an entirely different product, and the whole processing system is entirely different. Indeed, if I have my terminology right the hazards are hugely less than the hazards involved in meat and meat products. The safety aspects of fish and the technology of fish science are unique. Fish are cold-blooded animals, unlike the warm-blooded animals about which, by and large, people are concerned when it comes to food safety. Fish have very little in common with farmed animals.

It is quite a separate industry from the catcher to the retailer. It is a specialist industry and there is no change-over between this and agriculture as we know it. The primary product is obtained--caught--by hunting, which is quite different from agriculture. It is not farmed at all, except for a very few farmed salmon and the like, which I fully accept are different. But in the case of the wild fish industry, it is quite different in every possible way.

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The major food scares in recent years have all had their roots in primary agricultural production, whether it be salmonella in poultry, E. coli in meat, or BSE. Fish is quite different. Leaving aside a problem which some people have with an allergy to shellfish, fish is pretty safe. If fish is off, your Lordships will know it is off because it will smell off and you will not eat it. It is very straightforward. Shellfish are a little different because there is an allergy problem, but I do not believe that encompasses the food safety agency which will be set up. Frankly, I hope that it will not be telling the world, “You must not eat shellfish because some of you may have an allergy to them". Those of us who eat shellfish and happily have no allergy do not need that kind of advice. It is right that people are told that there is a problem for some people who are allergic but I really do not believe that has anything to do with the safety of food as I believe the food agency will be looking at. Shellfish also have problems with contaminants and naturally occurring toxins. I may come back to this point during the course of the proceedings on the Bill to inquire exactly who will have responsibility for problems about testing for some naturally occurring toxins that affect mussels, oysters and the like.

However, these things do not happen with fish as, let us face it, the general public consider fish; white fish, pelagic fish, herring, mackerel--fatty fish indeed, if I might refer back to something said a little earlier--which are extremely good for you, if I might make a small advertisement for the pelagic fishing industry here.

The point of my two amendments is that all too often in the past under all governments the fish industry has felt that it has not been properly treated, that its product was not looked at separately but was just lumped in with other foods, especially with meats. In comparison with the food coming from warm-blooded animals, fish has a very good record of safety as far as the public are concerned. Whether it be legislation in this country or whether it be legislation in Europe, all too often it is vet-driven and it is very much meat and meat products-driven. No one really looks at fish and the fish industry separately from the meat industry; no one looks at the hazards in fish alone and decides on regulations for fish that deal with those hazards. All too often, there is a read-across to the meat industry.

Therefore, I believe it is very important that the agency should link into those bodies which understand fish and the marine environment, which understand how one has to deal with live animals like mussels, oysters, lobster and so on that have to be taken to the cook in their live form. Indeed, oysters have to go further than that in their live form--they have to come to one's mouth in their live form. They have to be properly looked after and great care and attention are given to looking after them, which is absolutely right and proper. That is quite different from anything in the agricultural industry where similar circumstances do not occur for any product.

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My two amendments, therefore, express the concern of the fish industry which I, from my long association with it, certainly share. It is that the food standards agency will deal just with fish as an afterthought to meat and meat products. My first amendment asks that one of the members of the agency should have a fish background. I am pretty certain that I can predict the answer I shall receive from Ministers, because I used to give these kind of answers myself! But it has to be said that they are sometimes--at least they were when I gave them--helpful in that they give assurances which can be prayed in aid later on. So I appreciate that I shall probably not make much progress in trying to ensure that at least one member of the agency will have a fish background. However, when the three authorities are discussing whom they might appoint, I hope they will take into account the fact that fish is quite different.

My second amendment cannot be so easily dismissed. It seeks to ensure that one of the advisory committees should specifically deal with fish. All the arguments that I have put forward pertain to that. It will be a place to which the agency can go to seek expert opinion on fish, quite separate from the committees that the agency may set up to deal with agricultural products, meat products and so on. I hope I can get assurances from the Government at least on the advisory committees, if I cannot get an assurance on the agency itself, because the fish industry is hugely important for this country and, if I may say so, particularly to Scotland, which produces very healthy food; not only safe food but food that is good for you.

That is my second plug of the day--I would hastily say to the Committee that I do not have a retainer from the fish industry! However, I had responsibility at one time for trying to ensure that the public understood these matters and old habits die hard. It is an important industry and ought to be properly treated by this agency. I hope that the Government will consider both my amendments and, even if they cannot give me an assurance on the first one, I hope they will be able to give me some assurances on the second. I beg to move.

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