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Baroness Byford: Before the noble Lord sits down I would like to come back to him on his response to my Amendment No. 69. While I accept that he is pleading for flexibility on this review, schools--which I mentioned in my comments to him--have no such flexibility. The food standards agency which we are setting up is a very important body, and I felt quite strongly that there should be a review on an annual basis. My amendment sought to provide nothing other than that. While I hear what the Minister has to say, I am not inclined to change my enthusiasm for it.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: It may be helpful if I say that the business plan of the agency will be published annually, and therefore that might be more akin to the kind of report about which the noble Baroness is talking. The agency may decide that the statement of general principles needs to be revised at very frequent intervals, or it may decide that those principles hold good for a period of time. It is there that we need the flexibility.

Baroness Wilcox: I take a moment to read exactly what my amendment had said, and the kind response of the Minister. I admit that I thought I would be very lucky if I had agency representatives on other committees. I can quite see why other committees might wish to do other things their way, but I suspect I do not have committees of the agency either. At this stage I should have liked an assurance which is better than that which I have been given. A little more clarity would be helpful.

8 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I hope I said what the noble Baroness required. I said that there is no reason why the same principles that apply to the agency's decision-making process themselves should not apply to the advisory committees. Probably I was speaking when the Division bell went!

Baroness Wilcox: I apologise if I appear to be wasting time. Do I take it, therefore, that when we come back to the next stage it will read “the decision of the agency and its committees"?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: No, it is not necessary for that to happen. Clause 23 of the Bill already provides that the agency has to take into account the advisory committees' advice in making decisions and that the

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information they provide will be the type of information that the agency will make publicly available under Clause 22.

Baroness Wilcox: I shall of course withdraw the amendment, although I must say that anything that closes down rather than opens up anything at all to do with this new food agency will be a retrograde step.

Lord Clement-Jones: This has been a very interesting debate and I should like to thank all who have contributed to it. I thank the Minister for his “curate's egg" reply, and I shall explain that in a minute.

First, I welcomed his statement that he believes the spirit of the amendments will be reflected in the practice of the agency. That is a good statement to make. Then in reverse order of welcoming, I welcomed some of the definite statements that he made. He said that the agency concordats will be published, although at the same time he said that these were rather “below stairs" arrangements and not something one would wish to include in primary legislation. I am not quite sure whether one could see those as purely administrative. As to the way in which the responsibilities are shared out, it is rather important that members of the general public know how this is done--it should be made public. However, I welcome the fact that he said they will be published.

Secondly, I welcome the definite statement from the Minister with regard to the committees. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, tried to tease out the precise nature of the Minister's undertaking, but I heard the Minister say that, in practice, the agency will make available the information of the committees. I welcome that unequivocal statement.

It is when I come to other areas that I become rather less satisfied with the Minister's reply. When he was talking about the way in which the public are to be consulted, he was confident that the agency will do something--he expected that they would. The clause allowed the agency to do something and he had no doubt that the agency would do something. Those are all flags to me, indicating that we can say what we like during the passage of this Bill. I have no doubt at all that Minister's intentions are absolutely genuine, as were the statements in the White Paper, but it is not enshrined in legislation. The Minister was quite frank and said they must have discretion, and that there are some occasions when that kind of consultation will not be possible. In a sense, he has not minced his words. However, all those areas of uncertainty give rise to doubt about whether the primary legislation is sufficiently specific. While we will withdraw this amendment at this stage, we shall read Hansard very carefully and it may well be that we will want to come back at Report stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 65 to 69 not moved.]

Clause 22 agreed to.

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Clause 23 [Consideration of objectives, risks, costs and benefits, etc.]:

Lord Clement-Jones moved Amendment No. 70:

Page 12, line 15, after (“costs") insert (“, including any potential long-term costs to public health,")

The noble Lord said: This is where we come to the important meat of this Bill. That is not intended to be a pun, but there are so many English metaphors relating to food and--I dare say?--the last thing we want to mention at this time of night is food!

Clause 23 is important and I welcome the existing contents, but it needs further amplification. Amendment No. 70 adds on to the likely costs and benefits of the exercise or non-exercise of the power, in any manner which the agency is considering, as one of those matters to be taken into account in the exercise of the agency's power, the words:

    “including any potential long-term costs to public health".

In view of the history of food safety in this country, this is of enormous importance. It is important that the agency considers the potential long-term costs to public health in the exercise of all of its powers. It needs to take a long-term view and it cannot afford, in public health terms, to take the short-term view. Indeed, one could say that Amendment No. 72 says the same thing in a different way--the precautionary principle is trying to take the long-term view. It is taking the cautious view, not a balance of probabilities view. In a sense, particularly in the realm of novel foods or GM foods, it is placing the burden of proof on those who wish to introduce novel foods or genetically modified foods, for instance. I put it no higher than that.

Those fall into the same category and I believe they put an essential additional duty on the agency. I believe that that is necessary not only on their own merits but also to give public confidence in the agency itself. It is the case that on a number of occasions, certainly in reply to questions from myself, Ministers have stated that a precautionary principle is applied by both the Department of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture. I do not believe that that is something novel; I do not believe it is something that is not already applied; but I believe that it should be made explicit on the face of the Bill.

The second major area for us is the whole question of impact on the small producer. I must apologise to the Committee that Amendment No. 73A is so late. It is late by oversight, not because it is an afterthought. It is central to our thinking on the exercise of the powers of the agency.

On Second Reading I took the liberty of discussing the issue of the Ducket's Cheese case at some length. It seems to me that although at the end of the day the department did not overreach itself, the issues raised by that case are of sufficient importance to give rise to an amendment to the Bill. The facts behind that case were that a stock of cheese valued at £50,000 was destroyed when no sample of that cheese showed the presence of E-coli. That demonstrates to me the need for a safeguard of the type that is introduced. The small food processor, craft producers and small food

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retailers must have the confidence that those powers will be exercised proportionately. That is a European legislative word, but it is exactly the phrase that best describes the way that these powers should be used. I look forward to the Minister's reply. This is a vital part of the way in which the agency should exercise its powers, we believe. I beg to move.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: I hope the Committee will forgive me. I have a longstanding engagement at a dinner that has already begun as a farewell to the hereditaries among the Cross Bench Peers. It is a pity I mentioned that in the context! I have had a word with the noble Baroness and she does not mind if I pick up her reply in Hansard afterwards.

I shall be as brief as I can. I am looking particularly at Amendments Nos. 70 and 72 to which I have put my name and at the short-term timeframe that is usually considered with food safety, when I think we need to be certain that we look at the longer-term things with public health: the chronic, long-term problems which are much harder to track down and a good deal more difficult to treat. I am thinking of things like the cocktail of low-level additives and colourings and pesticides in our diet where even the best efforts of toxicologists cannot give us all the information we want. I am thinking of GM foods and all that they entail. There was room for a precautionary principle with BSE. All these things are very important.

If we look beyond the toxicology to the broader field of nutrition, we come up against the evidence of the harmful effects of the standard western diet. Yesterday I quoted from a recent WHO report on that. It is worth noting that primitive people never got the cancers, the diabetes, the tooth decay that modern industrial man and woman are prey to. Heart diseases can take half a lifetime to manifest themselves. As with cancer, the seeds are sown long before in the kind of diet that young people choose.

There was a particularly interesting thing during the summer. I wrote a letter to The Times about it which it did not publish. It has just occurred to me that I can get it published in Hansard at no cost:

    “Sir, You report that researchers have shown that a low-calorie diet may slow down the ageing process. This may 'lead to the development of drugs' to make us live longer.

    Why not just eat a low calorie diet?"

My point obviously was in my concern that we are a very drug-orientated society in terms of medicine, but the point for this Committee is that there is some interesting research--admittedly, it has not got very far-- suggesting that if we consumed far less calories we would be healthier and live longer. That could be something that the agency could possibly look at. It would be most unfortunate if the food standards agency did not take that on board. The message is not getting across.

It is not popular of course. We dealt with the business of advice to the public yesterday, but it is a nettle that needs to be grasped and the sooner the

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better before we go too far down the wrong track. Of all the long-term risks to public health, the refined, packaged, animal-based, salt-laden, nutrient-rich western diet is possibly the greatest and, on past evidence, this is not an easy message for governments to trumpet. So the incorporation of these amendments would make it more likely that we get the information we need to live to a healthy old age.

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