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Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for her response, which obviously is not the overall response I would hope to have. However, having listened to what she had to say, and hopefully having a chance to look at the copies of the new definition that she has available for us, perhaps we can come back to this issue at a later stage. Under these circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 [The Food Standards Agency]:

The Earl of Radnor moved Amendment No. 1:


Page 1, line 12, after (“consumption") insert (“, production and supply")

The noble Earl said: I should like to present my apologies for not being present at the Second Reading and I should probably declare an interest in that I am a breeder and processor of fish.

Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 go together. They are purely a matter of disposing of a phrase and replacing it with a shorter one which has precisely the same meaning. Since I have been in your Lordships' House parliamentarians, on the whole, have produced far too many laws and those that they produce are far too long. I would rather hope that these two brief amendments might therefore be acceptable. I beg to move.

The Countess of Mar: I apologise to the Minister for being pedantic. She may recall that yesterday there was a discussion about the meaning of the word “risk". I am unhappy about the use of the word “risk" in this context.

Perhaps I may point her to the definition of “hazard" given by the World Health Organisation and the Local Authorities Co-ordinating Body on Trading Standards. It is:


It can be physical, chemical or microbiological. A risk is:


    “the likelihood that the hazard will be realised".

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It is a mathematical probability. The noble Baroness said yesterday that it would be the dictionary definition. I went to the Complete Oxford Dictionary whose definition of risk is:


    “Hazard, danger; exposure to mischance or peril".

It is obvious that there hazard and risk are interchangeable whereas, in technical terminology, they mean two completely different things. If this amendment is accepted, where the word “risk" is used in this context in the Bill I should prefer to see the word “hazard". Apart from that, I agree with the amendment.

3.45 p.m.

The Earl of Selborne: I wonder whether I can join the ranks of pedants on this matter. I entirely agree that we have to recognise that you cannot protect from risk as the Bill suggests at the moment, but what you can do is reduce the exposure to risk. We live in a society in which risk is a fact of life and any attempt by legislators to protect from risk causes the confusion that a risk, however small, must be something one has to guard against. Hazard can be reduced to eliminate it, but risks have to be assessed to determine whether the risk is something one is prepared to live with or not. The idea that one can in any way prevent risk is misleading.

Lord Desai: I said at Second Reading that the public are no longer satisfied with a technical definition of risk. Therefore one of the main tasks of this body will be to interpret risk in a much broader sense than the mathematical probability of a hazard happening. One of the critical things we face is that if do not use the word “risk" people will wonder what we are in business for. I do not believe that “hazard" is sufficiently broad to capture that. One of the tasks of this agency will be to take on board the word “risk" but then look at the way people perceive risk. The way people perceive risk is different from the way mathematicians calculate risk. Therefore it is important that we keep the larger consequences of that. Of course, the Bill says “protect" people from risk; it does not say “eliminate" risk. I believe it is important that the word “risk" be there. If it were any milder word we should be suspected of evading our responsibility.

Lord Clement-Jones: I am moved to follow on from the noble Lord, Lord Desai, because it is vital that the agency does have that precise role. If we split too many hairs about whether something is a hazard or a risk, there is a danger that the agency will have an unclear role. The clear role of the agency must be to help us to develop the language of risk. It is one of the key problems we have now, whether it is in health or food or other areas. It might even be transport safety. I very much support what the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said and I support the retention of the existing words.

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Lord Northbourne: The logic of the situation seems to be that if we were to take the definition of “risk" of the noble Countess, Lady Mar, as being likely that a hazard will be realised, and we read that into the text of Clause 1(2), we get:


    “The main objective of the Agency in carrying out its functions is to protect public health from the likelihood that a hazard will be realised".

The Countess of Mar: A potential of harm to the consumer.

Lord Northbourne: If one were to substitute that for the word “risk", one would still come up with an extremely sensible interpretation.

The Countess of Mar: What we are talking about is the interpretation that will be put on it in a court of law. Perhaps I should have declared an interest: I am a specialist producer of goat's cheese. As such I am required to make a hazard assessment of the critical control points under the regulations. I understand what a hazard is in the technical sense. My hazard then becomes a risk if I ignore the hazard. If I am to be taken to court for producing food that is microbiologically or chemically or physically unsound, it will be that terminology that will be used in a court of law. I would prefer to see it on the face of the Bill.

Baroness Hayman: We have had a short but interesting debate on the issue of risk, its definitions, possible alternatives and formulations of a concept that we all understand quite clearly in terms of the role of the food standards agency. I do not believe that the debate has been completely on the amendment proposed by the noble Earl, because that amendment does not alter the formulation of “risk" to public health within the definition. It does something different, to which I will return, if I may, in a moment. We looked very carefully at the drafting here and concluded that the use of the word “risks" was the best available alternative in these circumstances. “Hazards" may be thought to be rather too broad and--while the noble Earl, Lord Selborne, makes a valid point in a specialist and a technical sense, in which the theology of risk is developing at the moment--my noble friend Lord Desai explained clearly that the use of the word “risks" has a simple, straightforward and--dare I say?--commonsense understanding, to which most people can relate.

I should say that it is not intended to mean that the Government or the food standards agency can eliminate all risks. We all understand the limitations which exist in that area. Also, there is a growing recognition of the way in which scientists, regulatory bodies and politicians have to develop together with the public a language of risk that is comprehensible and shared. Some of the worst misunderstandings arise from different usages of the same language. I would suggest to the Committee, however, that the Bill as it reads at the moment is actually the best that we have in statutory terms, although I would fully recognise that, in terms of building up a caseload of

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policy making, we need to refine our understandings of the concepts of hazard, the concepts of risk and the way in which we communicate those.

Returning to the specific amendment, I take the noble Earl's point that he is trying to simplify and make clearer the areas to which this Bill attaches. The agency's role, as reflected in the main objective, will be protecting public health from risks potentially affecting them as consumers of food.

We made clear in the White Paper that protection of public health was the main objective and that the agency would put consumers first. It seems likely--although I am sure that it is not what the noble Earl would have wished--that this amendment might widen its remits to include risks connected with the production and supply of food and actually fundamentally revise its purpose. This would then include, under the drafting that he suggests, matters such as health and safety and environmental risks, which are already dealt with through different legislation and by different government bodies. These amendments are not an appropriate reflection of why the agency is needed, which is to focus on the needs of consumers rather than, for example, those working within the food industry. Obviously, they must also be protected, but through the relevant health and safety legislation rather than through this particular Bill. On that basis, I hope that the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

The Earl of Radnor: I can only agree with the noble Baroness that we had a very interesting debate, which was nothing whatsoever to do with these two amendments. Be that as it may, no doubt the issue can come up at a later stage in the Bill and be taken even more seriously.

As regards the noble Baroness's remarks about my amendments, she might possibly be splitting hairs over this. As far as I am concerned, semantically, what I have put down is exactly as is in the Bill, except that I have cut out about 10 words. I am not quite clear about who is in charge of what, but as far as I am concerned I tabled these two amendments believing--or, I hope, realising--that they conveyed exactly the same idea as was wished to be put across in Clause 1(2). However, I shall go away and think about this mater again. Meanwhile, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


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