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The Lord Bishop of Hereford: My Lords, although there are convincing arguments in the report about the devolution of the delivery of many rural services to a more local level, can the Minister assure us that there will be proper parliamentary debate before any firm changes are established? Is he aware of the strong need to maintain the autonomy and the expertise of English Nature, and to give a great deal of training to RDAs if they are to take over, with their present strong urban bias, the delivery of rural services?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, devolution of responsibility will need to be accompanied by an assurance that we have the correct staff in place with the correct orientation, towards rural business in particular. On English Nature, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made clear that we will continue to rely heavily on independent advice from the new agency proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Haskins. General parliamentary debate is not a matter for me.

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However, if we are to change the status of English Nature and other agencies, there will be legislative implications, which, I am sure, will receive thorough consideration by this House.

Lord Carter: My Lords, there is an overdue need for the rationalisation of the plethora of local schemes and initiatives in the countryside. However, if responsibility for delivery is transferred from the centre to local authorities and the RDAs, will they have the necessary expertise? The existing agencies have that expertise at ground level. Can we ensure that it will survive after the changes are implemented?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, there is substantial expertise at the centre, both in the department and the agencies. The noble Lord, Lord Haskins, proposed that we bring those together and move them closer to where rural businesses operate and farming is carried out, so many of the same people will be involved and undoubtedly that expertise will be retained.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, there is no doubt that local authorities, as democratically elected bodies, are in a very good position to receive information from communities and to deliver services. However, can the Minister assure me that in this case the Government will not do their usual trick of asking local authorities to deliver an awful lot more with no extra money?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, that is not a correct description of providing greater powers to local authorities to deliver closer to where enterprises operate. If significant responsibilities for delivering schemes are devolved to local authorities, or indeed to RDAs, we will ensure that the resources go with them.

Lord Tanlaw: My Lords, what role will broadband play in delivering his department's services to small businesses, post offices, farmers and schools? I have read the report— cursorily, only twice—and can see no reference to easy broadband access for any of the units that would require its services.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, it is to be hoped that discussions on the changes to the CAP, for example, can be delivered via broadband to the central systems. We therefore need to provide farmers with the means to deal with detailed information, such as mapping, that can be delivered only through broadband. My colleagues in the DTI have committed themselves to ensuring that we get broadband to rural areas so that farmers and other rural businesses can take advantage of it.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, to what knowledge was the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, privy that was not available to Ministers when they created that dog's dinner, Defra?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, in the creation of government departments, we

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are often required to accept an inheritance that has had its own ethos and status for many years. Under all governments MAFF had operated in a certain way. There may have been an era when that was the appropriate way, but it was more akin to a Stalinist production ministry than to a department trying to engage the enterprise and creativity of our agricultural sector to meet the economic and environmental needs of the modern age. We had to live with that and to change it; we need to change it further. The insights of the noble Lord, Lord Haskins, have been very helpful in pointing the way.


3.16 p.m.

Lord Monro of Langholm asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether there are any plans by the European Union to ban the use of the descriptive term "yoghurt" as used in the United Kingdom.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, the European Commission issued a consultation document in October covering the composition and labelling of yoghurt and yoghurt-like products. The Food Standards Agency is consulting interested parties on the document and will seek to ensure that the interests of UK consumers are fully taken into account.

Lord Monro of Langholm: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his Answer. However, how come all the information in press reports suggests that yoghurt must now be labelled as "fermented milk pudding", which would be a disaster for the British dairy industry? I hope that the Government can squash that rumour forthwith.

Does the Minister agree that the farming industry is going through very difficult times? It still awaits good leadership on the common agricultural policy and how the grants system will work. The National Farmers' Union has not been consulted in enough detail on the host of orders coming out of Brussels. Farmers are finding the provisions difficult, expensive and time-consuming to implement. It is time that the Government began to help agriculture instead of sitting on top of it.

Lord Warner: My Lords, as I recall, the question was about yoghurt, which is what I proposed to respond to. The noble Lord may be aware that most of the yoghurt that we eat in this country is mild, using lactobacilli species other than the real McCoy, which is lactobacillus delbrueckii sub-species bulgaricus. Other countries who eat the real McCoy are very concerned

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that there should be no misleading labelling. Those countries are as entitled as this one to have their views considered by the Commission.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, can the Minister assure us that those plans will be reconsidered when, and if, Turkey joins the European Union?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I have no idea how long the consultation process on the Commission's document will take.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, if the word "yoghurt" is a misleading description, does the noble Lord not agree that "fermented milk pudding" is even worse and more misleading?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I have no idea whether we are going along the path of "fermented milk pudding", but I see nothing in this document to suggest that we are.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is an important scientific point that live yoghurt has been demonstrated to have pro-biotic qualities and is important in the treatment of conditions such as candidiasis? It is therefore important that consumers have full knowledge and choice. Does he agree that if we do not go down that route it will not be long before we have on our supermarket shelves small pots labelled "I can't believe it's not milk"?

Lord Warner: My Lords, the noble Baroness is exactly right. This issue is about the public not being misled by the labels on particular products. It is important that the public understand what they are eating.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, will not the Minister fight the corner of British producers to keep the name "yoghurt", which we all understand? Why have milk and milk chocolate been allowed to keep their names when people on the Continent view those products in a different light? Surely, what is good for the goose is good for the gander.

Lord Warner: My Lords, noble Lords on the Benches opposite seem to get rather excited when any document emanates from the Commission. There is no plan to drop the word "yoghurt". We are considering only whether there are problems with products being properly labelled. I am confident that the term "yoghurt" will survive whatever the outcome of the consultation. The question is whether any qualifying words should be added to make it clear to the public what is in the container.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the general public think that yoghurt is a healthy product? In view of the fact that one in three adults and one in four children are either overweight or obese, it is probably regarded as a good thing to eat yoghurt. However, there is a problem if it is labelled as

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fermented milk pudding because, by its nature, "pudding" means something that is fattening and not very good. The Government should resist any attempt, even if it does not come about, to ensure that we can still have our yoghurt.

Lord Warner: My Lords, the Government's policy is that people should pursue a healthy balanced diet—children included. I do not know where this argument about fermented milk pudding comes from. It is not part of the consultation in which the Food Standards Agency is involved.

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