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Baroness Byford: My goodness, I am encouraged for the first time today! I well appreciate that the agency will be governed by a single UK body, but I do not understand--and I will be happy to sit down and give the Minister another chance to respond--why we cannot have an advisory body for England. It does not seem logical to argue on the three fronts, particularly if the Minister then quite rightly says that the issue may well have regional implications. If regional implications arise we would benefit hugely by having an advisory body to act as a sifting house before it refers back to the main body. Would the noble Baroness like me to give way?

The Countess of Mar: Perhaps I may point out that Oftel is the English national advisory committee on telecommunications.

Baroness Hayman: Oftel is not a non-ministerial government department, as far as I know, so I am not

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sure that the precedent is completely there. These are issues with which we have to wrestle. I can think of closer parallels in the professional self-regulatory bodies for nursing in terms of issues that are debatable and need to be considered. I have to say, however, that the key difference--this is the point I was trying to make to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford--is the role that these advisory bodies will have in terms of their interaction with the devolved legislatures. There are devolved legislatures in Scotland and Wales and hopefully in Northern Ireland--

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: Yes, there are devolved legislatures. However, in Scotland, although not in Wales, there is an executive. There is a health Minister in Scotland whose name escapes me at the moment, which shows the impact--

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: There is a health Minister in Scotland who must be answerable to the Scottish Parliament so there is no difference as between Scotland and England with regard to answerability. Wales is different as it does not have an executive and it does not have Ministers, but in Scotland there are Ministers. Primary legislative power rests with the Scottish Parliament. It seems to me that the Scottish Parliament is in exactly the same position vis-a-vis Scotland as this Parliament is vis-a-vis England. If the agency is answerable to this Parliament via Ministers, I cannot for the life of me understand why the agency cannot also be answerable to the Scottish Parliament via Ministers of the Scottish Parliament. It seems to me that we have got ourselves into a dreadful tangle because of the way the Government have dealt with devolution around the country.

Baroness Hayman: The noble Lord should perhaps consider the possibility that the fact that he cannot remember Susan Deacon's name is a reflection not on her impact but his memory! That aside, I have to say that the consultation on the White Paper was on the basis of committees for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but not for England. The suggestions in the White Paper were widely supported. It is very easy to show some of the inconsistencies, if you like to characterise them as such, in the way in which we explore this constitutional settlement and the way in which we make the appropriate links with the devolved legislatures.

I have made it clear that it is our belief at the moment that it is not necessary to set up an advisory committee for England. This will be covered adequately by the UK body relating to the UK Government. However, we have gone further to recognise some of the issues involved, by providing powers to set up such an English committee, or it might well be, as I said earlier, that if we are at the stage of further devolving power to regions of England, then the regions might be much more sensible in terms of

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population and geography as areas for committees to relate to, than the whole of England, which is a very diverse and populous area for a single committee.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. We can perhaps explore this point. Can the noble Baroness try to give one example where it might be decided that different food standards should apply in one part of England as opposed to another part of England, that might require separate advisory committees? For the life of me, I cannot think of any.

Baroness Hayman: Greentop milk.

Baroness Byford: I do not know whether the noble Baroness has finished. Is greentop milk allowed in Scotland?

The Countess of Mar: No! It is not allowed in Scotland.

Baroness Byford: I beg the noble Countess's pardon, but it is here.

Baroness Hayman: Since the noble Lord, Lord Mackay, did not like that answer, perhaps I could give him the answer about E.coli. E.coli is far more prevalent in Scotland than it is in other parts of the United Kingdom, and it therefore might be absolutely sensible for a Scottish committee to give advice on issues relating to E.coli.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I obviously did not phrase my question properly. I was actually talking in the context of different committees in regions of England. I asked whether the noble Baroness could give me an example of where there might be different food regulations in one region of England from the other regions of England. I am afraid that is the logic in what she is telling us about the justification for having regional advisory committees.

The Earl of Selborne: While the Minister is thinking about that, because she deserves time to reflect on this, there will clearly be some difficulty in determining what are the regional food safety factors within England. To say “greentop milk" is not an answer: greentop milk is available throughout all the regions of England.

The point I was making earlier about the directors applies also to these advisory committees. It is the fact of the impact that will be created on the agency itself by an imbalance in the structure. I was very grateful to the Minister for her assurance that the directors, who might be representing regions or England, will not in any way be downgraded in importance or influence or impact, compared with the directors who will be statutory directors for England, Scotland and Wales.

We come now to the issue of the advisory committees, which is what Clause 5(1) and 5(2) address and what the Minister has been asked to address. I understand that statutory advisory committees are required to advise not just the executive in Scotland

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and Wales but also the agency. However, if I am wrong about that, please correct me. If there are then three advisory committees for three nations of the United Kingdom but not for the fourth, it seems to suggest that there might be an imbalance of advice. In other words, nothing would be lost by acknowledging at an early stage that, in order to achieve a balance throughout the United Kingdom, it might be sensible to recognise, if only to see that there is an even hand, that advisory committees for England--or an advisory committee if we agree there are unlikely to be regional differences--should be set up sooner rather than later.

Clause 5(2) does not make clear what the procedure would be for the Secretary of State suddenly determining that perhaps a regional advisory committee for England was necessary after all. Is this to come from the English by some constituency representations if they will not have an advisory committee to make these representations? How will it manifest this need? Will it come from the agency itself? I believe that it would be well for the Minister to think carefully about the case for a regional variation within England. If there is not any obvious case for having regional differences within England, at least she should address the issue of why the agency will be influenced by three advisory committees but there will be no need for the fourth.

7 p.m.

Lord Rotherwick: There is an imbalance here. Surely, an English advisory committee is the most important because as I understand it the agency can have a minimum of 10 or 14 people. In either cases, two will be the chairman and deputy chairman and in the lesser case there will be four from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and four from England. So here we have less than a tenth of the population of the UK being represented by half the body. At the best, you will have four from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and six from England. Therefore, we already have a very bad imbalance built into the agency itself.

Baroness Hayman: It is clear from what has been said that there is concern that English interests should not be neglected here. However, I have to say once again, that we must recognise the reality of the situation; that the main headquarters and the vast majority of the staff of the agency will be based in England, as will all its specialist advisory committees. I take the point that has been made. We recognise that the Bill ought to contain provisions for the possibility of creating a committee, or committees, on a regional basis were they to be considered necessary in the future. Perhaps, as the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, suggested, I could write to him on the mechanism by which the Bill provides for that.

As regards the question on which the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, was trying to press--the possibility of the need for regional rather than national advice in England--it would be a matter not necessarily of regulation, which is how he phrased his question, but perhaps a difference in advice. For example, in a major dairying area of England, advice

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on food safety on the farm might be different from that was given in an arable area. The advice might reflect a pattern of particular prevalence of food-borne disease in one area, as indeed did the Scottish example of E.coli.

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