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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, first, I shall speak to Amendment No. 24 to which the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, has just referred. We welcome the intention behind that amendment. It will be helpful in making sure that the final approved version of the agency's statement of objectives and any revised statement is laid before Parliament and the devolved authorities.

We touched on this matter in our discussions in Grand Committee and, in reply to the noble Baroness, my noble friend Lord Hunt agreed that the statement

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should be laid before Parliament when first produced and whenever revised. We agreed that it would be useful to make that clear on the face of the Bill. The amendment of the noble Baroness does that and we are happy to support it.

I turn now to the amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, Amendment No. 24. I welcome the opportunity to restate the Government's position on openness, which is at the heart of the food standards agency.

In his introduction to the White Paper--The Food Standards Agency; A Force for Change--my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said that we were determined to do away with the old climate of secrecy and suspicion and replace it with modern, open arrangements which will deliver real improvements in standards. We back that up with a set of guiding principles for the agency which state quite clearly that the agency's decision-making processes will be open, transparent and consultative in order that interested parties, including representatives of the public, have the opportunity to make their views known; can see the basis on which decisions are being taken; and are able to reach an informed judgment about the quality of the agency's processes and decisions.

That is a powerful manifesto for openness, as noble Lords will agree, and I can perhaps say to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, that it is not all jam tomorrow. It is not only in America that on the Internet are published the agendas and minutes of advisory committees. We have been doing that with the advisory committees that MAFF runs. We have also opened up the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods so that people can see applications and make their views known on the applications so that they can participate. We are therefore actively engaged in exactly the sort of opening-up process in order to build consumer confidence to which the noble Baroness is committed.

Clause 22 provides for the agency to draw up and agree with the appropriate authorities a statement of the general objectives it intends to pursue and the general practices it intends to adopt. That statement provides a useful vehicle to give effect to the guiding principles. Amendment No. 22 points us towards a helpful way forward.

Clause 23 then clearly requires the agency to have due regard to its statement in carrying out its functions and Clause 24 provides a basis on which Ministers can direct the agency if it seriously fails so to do. So the statement will directly influence the way in which the agency operates. Moreover, Clause 22 explicitly requires that the statement must include objectives relating to consultation on all the agency's activities and on the way in which it will make public its decisions and the information on which they are based. Here it uses much the same words as we set out in the guiding principles.

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There are also other provisions in the Bill which add to what I have previously described as a general presumption of openness. Clause 7(2) says that the agency shall carry out its function of giving advice and information to the public

    "with a view to ensuring that members of the public are kept adequately informed about and advised in respect of matters which the Agency considers significantly affect their capacity to make informed decisions about food".

Clause 19 empowers the agency to publish advice and information. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, pointed out, that is an unusual power since the agency is expressly able to publish the policy advice it gives to Ministers. As no other public body in my knowledge has been given a power of quite this kind, there is a clear presumption here that Parliament expects the agency to make use of this power. And although, rightly, the agency has to take account of legitimate considerations of confidentiality, Clause 19(3) makes clear that any considerations of confidentiality must be so strong as to outweigh the public interest in the advice or information being published.

All of that adds up to a very strong steer that the agency will operate openly and take a proactive role in getting information into the public domain as well as the freedom of information regime applying to it, as I said earlier. Therefore much of what the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, is seeking to achieve is already addressed in the Bill. The genie of openness is out of the bottle in relation to the food standards agency and it is not possible to put it back. However, the code of practice the noble Viscount suggests is a sensible approach. Once such a code is in place and published, the public will be able to see very clearly the basis on which the agency is operating and how it applies the general presumption of openness in practice. It will not necessarily be possible to set out specific criteria covering each individual circumstance which must be judged on its merits, but it can and will set out the general principles by which the agency will abide.

I do not believe it is necessary to insert the words about such a code of practice into the Bill. As the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, hinted, such a code could naturally flow out of the existing Clause 22(2)(c). But I can give the noble Viscount an assurance tonight that the agency will devise and publish such a code as part of the documentation referred to in its statement of objectives and practices which will be laid before Parliament in the light of Amendment No. 24, if and when that is accepted. I can further give the assurance to the noble Viscount and to the House that Ministers will ensure that before approving any draft statement, that point will have been addressed by the agency. I hope that, on the basis that there is a clear intention and an assurance that that intention of initiating just the sort of code of practice referred to in the amendment will be delivered on, the noble Viscount will feel sufficiently reassured that what he wishes to see will in fact come about and will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

Viscount Thurso: My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in this important and

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interesting debate, and for the general level of support for the concept that I was putting forward. I am also thankful to the Minister for the generous way in which she went virtually the whole way to giving me everything I want short of actually saying that the Government would accept the amendment. I do not believe she could have gone any further if she had tried.

I have nothing further to add. The fact that the noble Baroness gave the House an assurance that a code of practice will be drawn up and that it will be acted upon is more than sufficient. If, for any reason, it does not take place, then my successors if not my heirs can hold her to account. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 23 not moved.]

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 24:

Page 11, line 44, leave out from beginning to ("in") in line 45 and insert ("As soon as practicable after a statement is approved under subsection (5), the Agency shall--
(a) lay a copy of the statement as so approved before Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly; and
(b) publish that statement").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I have already spoken to Amendment No. 24. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 23 [Power to modify enactments about disclosure of information]:

[Amendment No. 25 not moved.]

Clause 33 [Consequences of Agency losing certain functions]:

Lord Rotherwick moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 18, line 39, at end insert ("or
(e) for the termination of office of the two Scottish appointees or the single Northern Irish appointee, as is appropriate.").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 26 I shall speak also to Amendment No. 29. As matters stand, were the Scottish Parliament to decide to take responsibility for food matters back to itself, the current Bill would make that possible. However, there is one glaring omission. The Bill contains nothing that lays down the summary closure of the tenure of the members appointed by the Scottish Minister. In fact, the Bill as it stands specifically states in Schedule 1 that the only grounds on which an agency member can be removed from office is if he has run out of money or momentum.

Doubtless it would be hoped, even expected, that in the circumstances of a reversion of responsibility to a devolved territory--perhaps I should call this a "devolved country", so that I get the support of the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, although I doubt that he will hear me at this point--the members involved would do the decent thing and resign. There are plenty of examples throughout history of people who have failed to do the decent thing. I would not wish to see this legislation allow it to happen again. I believe that

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we need to include a clause covering the termination of office on the face of the Bill and to widen the reasons for the removal of the office in that part of the schedule which deals with such matters. There would then be no doubt of what had to happen and what was intended.

In Committee, Ministers distributed the most helpful digest of definitions at the end of this small section of the Bill on how the courts in future years will interpret the terms used in the Bill:

    "A court will start interpreting an enactment by determining the ordinary meaning of the words used".

I take that to mean that if the words are not there, the enactment may be interpreted rather differently than originally intended. In this case, I suggest that we ensure that the words are there. I beg to move.

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