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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I get the awful feeling that I am caught between a rock and a hard place here. I have not been briefed on the research to which the noble Countess refers, so I do not have a government evaluation of it. However, I have read information about the research. It would be a very unwise person who, without the benefit of hard scientific data, argued in this field with the noble Countess.
Lord Carter: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the proposition advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, was put much more succinctly in the old farming saying that organic food is produced by the combination of muck, mystery and magic? What proportion of UK food consumption is provided by UK organic food production?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, my recollection is that it is about 1 per cent, but I shall write to my noble friend if I am wrong. Feelings run high on the subject, and the noble Countess is not alone in being worried about whether pesticide residues get into people through the food chain. That is a concern. My noble friend knows more about farming production than I do, but there is certainly growing consumer demand for food that has been produced with minimal or zero levels of chemical addition during its growth.
Earl Peel: My Lords, most of us applaud the sentiments expressed by my noble friend
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Lord MacLaurin, but does the noble Baroness agree that such objectives should apply to all food, not just to organic food? To that effect, what are the Government doing to reduce the impact on our producers of cheap imported food that does not comply with the same statutory environmental and animal health standards as are imposed on our producers?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, we work closely with other governments in the European Union to ensure that European Union standards apply. In the context of my earlier reply on developing countries and their produce, we will seek to ensure that our retailers are not disadvantaged because of differential standards.
I understand that bringing indigenous organic food production up to 70 per cent will match the figure for non-organic indigenous food production. We at all times seek to workfor example, through government procurementto ensure that the time taken to get food from the supplier to the plate is as short as possible. We work very closely with suppliers through a variety of means, including supporting farmers' markets, to ensure that where possiblefor example, in school mealsfood is procured locally.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Government announced a radical programme of regulatory reform in the March 2005 Budget. They have listened to business and to public sector and voluntary organisations and are currently undertaking a radical reform agenda to strip away unnecessary and burdensome regulation at home and in Europe.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister's short reply. I wonder when he last went into our wonderful Library and gazed at the current edition of Halsbury's Statutes, which shows that we have nearly 400,000 pages of primary legislation and nearly 400,000 pages of secondary
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legislation. Does he agree that that corpus of law has increased at the rate of 13,000 pages a year and is indigestible, bureacratising and deeply demoralising for the whole of society? Will the Government contemplate suspending all legislative activity save emergency legislation and concentrating all their efforts on implementing the law that we already have and assessing its impact?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I was almost inclined to agree with the noble Lord at one point. Then I reminded myself that he and I spent many happy hours contemplating something called the Charities Bill. He knows that legislation better than I did, but I would wager that he was not a million miles away from contributing to the Bill's growth over the year of its consideration. If he wishes to issue a disclaimer, however, I shall happily hear it.
Lord Soley: My Lords, bearing in mind that no future government are likely to reduce legislation significantly, would it not be more productive to consider ways in which we could improve the quality of legislation for all governments at all times? One of the ways in which we could do that is to introduce post-legislative scrutiny. If we did that without some of the party-political aspects that occasionally take over our proceedings in the Chamber, we could enhance the reputation and activities of the House.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Soley is absolutely right. He makes an important point about post-legislative scrutiny. I also endorse and approve of pre-legislative scrutiny but, as I think I have just pointed out, that has a habit of generating longer rather than shorter legislation.
Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, through the Minister, I congratulate the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor and the noble Baroness the Leader of the House on keeping their head when so many about them were losing theirs in the most recent Cabinet reshuffle. Did the Minister notice in the weekend's press that it was said that responsibility for future legislation on this House was being transferred to Mr Jack Straw, the Leader of another place? Is that not the first time in the history of this Labour Government that a House of Lords Minister does not have responsibility for that legislation? Can he confirm that?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am intrigued by the noble Lord's analysis. I always am, but I am not sure whether that has a great deal to do with the quality of the legislation that your Lordships' House more properly considers.
Lord Tebbit: Sorry, my Lords, if Mr Straw is involvedalthough it would not matter if it was
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Mr Hainthe quality will inevitably go down, which it would not do if it was dependent on Ministers in this House. Surely the Minister knows that.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as the noble Lord knows well, there is a fantastic array of talent in your Lordships' House. Indeed, the noble Lord is very talented himself and has been known to add to the weight and length of legislation. There is an enormous amount of talent at the other end.
Lord Dearing: My Lords, I have no intention of commenting on the current Bill before Parliament, but some years ago I was appointed top man in a large organisation where much needed to be done. A stream of initiatives flowed from me. It took me about a year to realise that that was totally counter-productive; large organisations can cope with only a few things at once. Is there anyone in the machinery of governmentsay, in the future legislation committeewho can act as the devil's advocate and say, "No, we have done too much already. Leave it alone"?
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, is the Minister aware of one of the main reasons why the costs of services, particularly for criminal legal aid, are going up enormously? The Government give us a new criminal justice Act every year, which simply piles more offences on the existing number and creates more legislation to be considered by the courts.
Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, has my noble friend noticed that under all governments, Ministers and officials appointed to new jobsofficials seem to be reshuffled almost as often as Ministers, unbelievablywant to make their mark? They commonly seek to do so by legislating and regulating. What is the average shelf life of Ministers and officials in particular posts? Does the Minister agree that, if it were longer, our society might have less legislation to absorb, albeit that so much legislation in recent years proposed by this Government and refined by your Lordships' House has been excellent?
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