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Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendments Nos. 277 to 284:

Page 87, leave out lines 15 and 16 and insert--
(“( ) Part I;")
Page 87, line 19, at end insert--
(“( ) sections (Supply of pension information in connection with divorce etc.), (Charges by pension arrangements in relation to earmarking orders) and (Interpretation of Part III);")
Page 87, line 27, after (“61") insert (“, 64(17)")
Page 87, line 27, leave out (“and 74 to 77") and insert (“, 74 to 77A, 77AAA, 77B and 81")
Page 87, leave out line 32
Page 87, line 41, after (“paragraphs") insert (“12A and")

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Page 87, line 41, after (“73") insert (“and 77AA")
Page 88, line 8, at end insert (“; and
( ) section (Corresponding provisions for Northern Ireland).")

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 86 [Short Title and general interpretation]:

Baroness Hollis of Heigham moved Amendment No. 285:

Page 88, line 22, at end insert--
(“( ) For the purposes of the Scotland Act 1998, the following provisions shall be taken to be pre-commencement enactments within the meaning of that Act--

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(a) paragraphs 8(3) and (4) and 10 of Schedule 12; and
(b) so far as relating to those provisions, sections 79, 80(1) and 84(1) and (5).").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, we opened with a bang and we end with a whimper, to coin a cliche. This is a technical amendment which will allow Scottish Ministers to exercise powers in relation to two small elements of Scottish family law which relate to valuing pensions at divorce and for convenience are contained in the Bill. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

        House adjourned at twenty-one minutes before midnight.

Food Standards Bill

Wednesday, 13th October 1999.

The Committee met at half-past three of the clock.

[The Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff) in the Chair.]

The Principal Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Tordoff): I call Amendment No. 28.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 28:

After Clause 8 insert the following new Clause--
(“ . The Agency has the function of--
(a) providing guidance on the content of labels or descriptions (or both) to be supplied with food;
(b) monitoring, at the point of sale, that all classes of food have been produced according to the standards applying to each class;
(c) continuing to fund research into nutrition.")

The noble Baroness said: I apologise to the Committee in advance, and I have warned the Minister, that of all the clauses to which I shall speak, this is one to which I shall speak at slightly greater length. We had a full debate yesterday on labelling and I again want to highlight some of the issues that were covered then.

Labelling is a critical issue. It is crucial to those unfortunate people who suffer acute food allergy. It is an important issue for all those who have to watch what they eat for other reasons. It is an important issue for anyone who has children or other family members that they should eat a balanced diet free of doubt from GMOs and other chemicals. It is a developing issue for farmers and for other food producers who know that their products are grown and processed under more stringent rules and subject to more rigorous inspection.

From among those people, and many others, who are simply fed up with BSE and E.coli, salmonella and the rest, there is strong support for the food standards agency. At the moment few of them realise that the Bill does not specify labelling as an agency function. The word itself does not appear on the face of the Bill. If we in this House do not use our influence to remedy this situation, I believe that millions will be disappointed and disgusted and will lose what little remaining faith they have in our political process.

In common with many others, at tense or potentially embarrassing moments I try to lighten my load by imagining the headlines in the Sun. How about “Lords Eschew Labels" or “Lords like liquids labelled", with a following article explaining that so long as our wines are carefully labelled and identified clearly, we do not

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really care about what anyone else eats. I know that is not true, and I would hate us to be thought of in that way.

Seriously, if we place on the face of the Bill a requirement that the agency should provide guidance on labelled contents, we place on it a duty for which it can be accountable. If we do not, and it does not, we can only grumble that it is not doing the job in the way we would have liked it done.

Similarly, we should place on the face of the Bill a stipulation that the agency should devise a point of sale monitoring scheme which enforces our standards at the moment where the consumer comes face to face with the food product. European law allows us to carry out random sampling of food. It does not allow us to carry out full quality checks at the point of entry into this country. We are aware that many of our production standards are tighter and applied more stringently than their counterparts on the Continent.

If the difference in standards has no impact on the quality of the end product, then perhaps we should consider relaxing our standards and lifting some of the burden from our farmers and food processors. However, if our higher standards do mean better quality and are something in which we believe, we should be given both the evidence and the means for people to choose the best; namely labelling.

If labels and labelling are not mentioned on the face of the Bill, neither is nutrition. Again, we had a good debate about that yesterday. Mr Rooker, speaking in another place, about the £25 million research expenditure which is to be transferred from MAFF to the agency, assured us that about 30 per cent. of that sum is devoted to research into food and nutrition. Our concern is to ensure that the agency cannot drop research into nutrition in favour of that into food.

People today are increasingly both more adventurous in what they eat and more health conscious. They want definite answers to the red meat question, the red wine question, and the “Are multivitamins good/bad for you?" debate. The agency must have a leading part to play in providing those answers and must be held to account both for its programme of research and its results.

Labelling and nutrition are vital aspects of modern food technology. The food standards agency will have an impact not just within the UK but across the Continent and, if it is good enough--I am sure that all of us in this room hope that it will be--world-wide. This week, the world's population reached six billion. It is expected by the middle of the next century to stabilise at 10 billion. Nutrition and high quality food are crucial to that stabilisation. So let us play our part by giving the UK food standards agency a clear brief to which we may hold it accountable.

I turn now to two other matters. The Minister was kind enough to write to me on 8th October following the Second Reading debate and raised the whole issue of Article 30 of the treaty. I refer to the second page of her letter where she said:

    “Where there are concerns that goods produced elsewhere may be made to different standards to those produced locally, the Court has indicated that in general, consumer protection can be

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    assured by adequate labelling requirements, rather than prohibiting the import of the products which do not comply with local standards".

She went on to say:

    “Except in emergencies, it cannot unilaterally impose any limitations or restrictions on imports, nor can it generally inspect production premises in other member states or third countries".

The letter concluded:

    “And of course, the Agency will be able to work with our partners within Europe to ensure that the Commission is carrying out its own responsibilities effectively".

These are very pressing issues. Like other Members of the Committee, I have only recently received a press release from the Food Advisory Committee, which has been asked to look at certain topics with regard to labelling. Of these, the five I wish to mention are: what information should be legally required; how rules on labelling and advertising could help to promote healthy eating; what controls should apply to claims made on labels and in advertising; alternatives to product labelling to get information across; and labelling of GM-derived foods.

In April last year I raised the question, which the noble Countess, Lady Mar, will remember, relating to inspectors from Portugal with regard to the meat hygiene service. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, kindly wrote to me following my inquiry. This was taken up and I wish to put it on the record, because it accentuates the problems we are facing and why I am so heavily pushing and encouraging the Government to put labelling on the face of the Bill. I asked how many inspectors there were within the meat hygiene service in Portugal. My understanding was that there were only five. Following from that, it was reported to the Commission. The end of the letter from the Minister says:

    “As you will see from the Commission's preliminary summary report, the FVO mission found serious deficiencies in the official controls in place and in the hygienic operation of the slaughterhouses and cutting plants visited, and accordingly recommended that immediate remedial action should be taken by the Portuguese veterinary authorities".

Certain questions arise from this. Was meat withdrawn as a result of it? Has any come into our country and, if so, would it have been labelled? And how could it have been labelled?

I apologise for spending so much time on this issue, but it is absolutely crucial. Three pig farmers came to talk to me this afternoon about their plight and it is highlighted by the fact that the beef ban has still not been properly lifted in France and Germany. The least we could do for our producers and our consumers is to adopt some system of labelling so that, if we cannot enforce certain things because of EU restrictions, of which I am acutely aware, we can at least give consumers a chance to look at a label and know clearly what it says.

Yesterday I said very clearly that if a product has a British sign on it--whatever that is--that should mean that it has been grown, produced and finished here, and not produced elsewhere but processed here and

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therefore has qualified for a label. I apologise to the Committee for spending so much time on this issue but it is hugely important. I hope other Members of the Committee will feel able to support my two amendments. I beg to move.

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