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Lord Luke: With regard to Amendments Nos. 44 and 45, I am most grateful for what I would call the understanding reply by the Minister and in particular for her assurance about guidance to officers to behave reasonably. That seems to be the key to both those amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (The Viscount of Oxfuird): I call Amendment No. 45. I have to advise the Committee that should this be agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 46 due to pre-emption.

[Amendment Nos. 45 to 47 not moved.]

Clause 11, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 12 and 13 agreed to.

Clause 14 [Power of entry for monitoring enforcement action]:

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 48:

Page 7, line 18, after (“any") insert (“competent")

The noble Baroness said: Our main concern here, once again, is with the small company and the family run business. It is quite reasonable, for example, for an observer to turn up at a farm halfway through an afternoon. It is also quite reasonable for him or her to seek assistance in gaining an understanding of, for example, livestock movements over the past two years to market or to slaughter. It is reasonable that he might find the two brothers away at a meeting with the accountants, or the wife shopping or fetching the children from school. It is not reasonable, in my opinion, that he should accost the cowman and demand access to office and papers contained therein.

In another context, it might be reasonable for the agency investigator to turn up on a Friday afternoon at a food processing plant which closes at 1.50 for the weekend. It would not be reasonable, surely, for him to expect the cleaner to produce her keys to unlock the office to show him where the cabinet keys are and to leave him unauthorised access. This amendment seeks only to insert the word “competent" which would

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obviously alleviate these kinds of problems--any unpleasantness, costs and unnecessary delay. I beg to move.

Baroness Thornton: I wish to speak to Amendment No. 48A. This amendment would be an improvement in the detail to Clause 14 in one important respect. Clause 14 as it stands omits any reference to official laboratories. As presently drafted, it does not even recognise their existence, yet official laboratories, which are quite distinct from what one might call “ordinary" or non-official ones, play a crucial role in the operation of food safety enforcement.

In speaking briefly to this amendment, I should like to acknowledge the assistance of the Royal Society of Chemistry, which does an excellent job in putting issues of science and chemistry on the public agenda in their rightful place and helps people like me--who took science only to O-level--to feel that they might be more knowledgeable than they really are. I should like to thank the society. It has taken a close interest in the Bill. I am grateful to it for bringing this matter to my attention and to the attention of other noble Lords.

I wish to explore whether the Minister might agree that the Bill will be strengthened if specific reference to official laboratories were included. What are we talking about when speak of official laboratories? They are the 31 analysts' laboratories; they are the laboratories of the government chemists, the central science laboratory of MAFF, and the 33 public health authority service food examination laboratories. I might add that all these bodies support and endorse this amendment, and I hope that the Minister will also appreciate that it has no financial implications.

So, who are we talking about? One example is the public analysts' service. They have a fundamental role in food safety enforcement. Every public analysts' laboratory is an official laboratory. Public analysts are very highly qualified scientists, the creme de la creme of their profession. The work of these laboratories and of these people is absolutely central to food safety and to enforcement, which this Bill should recognise. Moreover only official laboratories and laboratories empowered by European Union member states may carry out analyses for food control which are recognised by other European Union member states.

Recognition needs to be given on the face of the Bill to the existence of official laboratories because of the high professional and scientific standards that they embody. An official laboratory has to be accredited in accordance with standards that are prescribed by EEC measures directives. Every official laboratory has also to comply with criteria stipulated by MAFF, the Department of Health and the territorial departments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Official laboratories are thus accredited to the very highest professional and scientific standards. These criteria are demanding precisely because they are designed to ensure that food control to protect consumers is effective.

These standards apply to the staff of official laboratories, all of whom have to be properly qualified and trained; for example, all public analysts, a position

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enshrined in UK statues, are very highly qualified scientists. They are intrinsic to the running of official laboratories. Thus the quality control exercise in an official laboratory is of the highest standard, and the criteria of accreditation include scope for analyses to be undertaken. Surely, therefore, a Bill dealing with food standards should at the very least recognise the existence of the very official laboratories which themselves embody the highest standards in food safety.

It might be argued, perhaps, and indeed was in another place, that the current wording of subsection (5) of the Bill is deemed to include official laboratories. However, it seems to me that to suggest that just by putting in the word “laboratories" covers official laboratories misses the point. For example there is the risk that official statistics on analyses of food safety which are required to be given by all member states to the EC might originate from non-official laboratories instead of official laboratories, and if so this could degrade the quality of the information submitted to the EC and put at risk the structure of food safety monitoring. Given the current situation with beef, that is an important and relevant point and we do not wish to do ourselves any more harm in these circumstances.

I venture to suggest that this very small amendment would resolve that situation and I beg support for it.

The Earl of Selborne: I support the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, in her Amendment No. 48A. It appears totally unnecessary to add the words “official laboratory" when we have the words “any laboratory", but it is not quite so simple. We have to recognise the status of an official laboratory both in the European Community and in this country. There is something a little diminishing, almost demeaning, about saying “any laboratory or similar premises" when we do not differentiate specifically the role of an official laboratory. We have heard in the very comprehensive and helpful statement made by the noble Baroness just how important they are and how dependent both the agency and other enforcement agencies will be on the role of official laboratories.

If it is assumed that an official laboratory can be swept in with “any laboratory or similar premises", which is the wording on the face of the Bill at the moment, there is a danger that food enforcement authorities might simply assume they are all one and the same and therefore bypass the official laboratories anyway. That clearly is not the intention of the Bill. It would be a highly unsatisfactory and quite disastrous implication.

This is a case where spelling it out in detail loses absolutely nothing. It reinforces once and for all the commitment to the official laboratories, their structure and their role within the European Union. I heartily commend the amendment to the Government.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Rowallan: I strongly support my noble friend Lady Byford. I was talking about draconian powers on the previous amendment and this is where we really move into the realms of the sublime and the ridiculous.

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As the noble Baroness succinctly pointed out, to require a person present on the premises to provide such facilities and such records and information is ridiculous. I know that if I was absent from running my small business and came back to find that one of my employees, who knew little or nothing about the way the place ran, had allowed someone to go into my office and go through my computer files or any other files, I would take an absolute mad turn and would not be ashamed to do so. That is totally intrusive.

I would go even further than my noble friend. I would say that this inspection should not take place unless the owner of the business is present at the time. We have to be very careful in that regard. I am sure the Minister will say that I am using extremes, but unfortunately extremes can and do occur. Several people have written to me about things that Customs and Excise has done, which has the same sorts of powers to enter and do virtually anything that it wishes. It would be extremely unfortunate to have on the face of the Bill what we now have without this brake on someone misusing the powers which we are quite rightly giving. We must not ever allow those powers to be misused.

The Earl of Radnor: I speak to my amendment, which is slightly different. I agree with much that has been said before, but this is a different point. It is to do with the behaviour of the authorised person and the authorised person's companion or assistant when they enter plants, particularly those that are processing food. That is what I had in mind. I have a plant which does just that. We run under strict rules imposed by the environmental health officer and then the health and safety officer. More important, however, they are imposed by the people to whom we sell our product and they get very upset if the rules that they laid down are broken. It is painful, because that just means one loses the order and one's business does not thrive so well.

The rules relate to simple things like wearing the proper hair protector, a properly laundered coat or properly cleaned boots. Where have they come from? Is their car clean? One would not want them to have come straight from a market and have manure all over the tyres or something of that sort. It is too simple to say that they should not be smoking. In our specific instance, it includes all the entrances into the building; where one washes and changes; where one moves through the link into the actual working area.

I believe that all that should be on the face of the Bill. It is no good the inspector coming in and saying, “I am from the food agency and this is my helper", and wanting to go in the back door to see what is happening. That is not allowable and may be extremely dangerous. It could also be very awkward for the owner of the business. I hope that notice will be taken of this point. It is important.

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