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The Earl of Radnor had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 2:

Page 1, line 12, leave out (“(including risks caused by the way in which it is produced or supplied)")

The noble Earl said: I covered Amendment No. 2 while I was speaking to Amendment No. 1. They go completely together.

[Amendment No. 2 not moved.]

Baroness Byford movement Amendment No. 3:

Page 1, line 13, leave out (“and otherwise") and insert (“; otherwise it is")

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The noble Baroness said: This amendment is intended to clarify the wording of the original clause. Perhaps I may, slightly flippantly, revert to my classroom teacher, Betsy Lines, and take the subsidiary phrase as it reads:

    “The main objective of the Agency ... is to protect public health ... and otherwise to protect the interests of consumers".

That connecting “and" suggests that there may be one or more minor objectives to the agency. We do not feel that that is the Government's intention. Hence we propose the removal of the connecting “and" to ensure that everyone understands that the agency has two objectives. The main objective is the protection of the public but it is also charged with protecting the interests of consumers. I beg to move.

Baroness Hayman: I suspect that here again we are not particularly at variance in terms of purpose. It is a matter of the effect of changing the drafting. Having listened to the noble Baroness I understand what she is seeking to achieve, but perhaps I may explain why in our reading we believe it unnecessary to change the drafting of the Bill as suggested.

It should be clear from the provisions in Clause 1(2) as drafted that public health protection encompassing both food safety and nutrition will be at the forefront of the agency's activities. However, wider consumer protection matters, such as food labelling and compositional standards, will also be an important part of the agency's work. That is why they are covered in the second part of the main objectives. Indeed food safety and standards cannot be entirely separated. For example, accurate labelling can have important implications for the safety of some consumers, such as allergy sufferers. Inserting a break in the main clause along the lines of the proposed amendment would create such a separation. It would also seem to imply that matters such as labelling are only incidental to the agency's role, and should only be dealt with as a secondary matter. This would be a misrepresentation of the way in which the agency will work, and the importance of all its functions.

While I would agree that the protection of public health should be given the greatest prominence, we believe that the provision as drafted already achieves that. On that basis I would not see the amendment as necessary. Indeed it might possibly cause some confusion about the agency's role. I hope that on reflection the noble Baroness would feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for her response. I had not in any way envisaged that it would affect other work which the agency was is doing. It was intended to make quite clear to anyone reading the Bill exactly where its responsibilities lay. Obviously later in our discussions we will come on to labelling nutrition and many other matters into which we will all have great input I was simply trying to make sure that things do not go by default. That was my reasoning for

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putting forward the amendment. I have listened to the Minister. I will think about her response and at this stage beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

4 p.m.

Viscount Thurso moved Amendment No. 4:

Page 1, line 13, after (“protect") insert (“and promote")

The noble Viscount said: I would venture to suggest that this is a relatively simple but important amendment, the effect of which is to add the word “promote" after the word “protect". I would suggest that it is not so much the form of words that are used in the amendment but the purpose behind them and the debate that I hope we can have which is important. It is by way of a probing amendment to find out the Government's thinking on the important issue of whethe the agency should have a proactive role in promoting rather than simply being reactive in protecting.

We have just had a short debate on the objective of the agency and it could well be argued that the principal objective of the agency--that is to say, to protect--is so important that in any way to dilute that importance would be a mistake. As the Minister has just explained, the use of the words “and otherwise" makes it clear what is the primary responsibility of the agency and gives promotion, important though it is, a secondary role.

Perhaps I should declare an interest, though I am not sure whether or not it is an interest, which is my involvement at Champneys where we have a great interest in how people are fed, their diet and what that does for them. One of the most interesting observations I have made is how extremely well-educated people, whom one would expect to have some knowledge in matters of nutrition, are greatly lacking in knowledge on the subject. I have always taken an interest in nutrition, partly because I studied it as part of my catering training and partly because one of my cousins is Dr Hugh Sinclair who has written a great deal on the effect of “good" fats in fishes. But that is perhaps for another occasion. It is important to know the difference between good fats and bad fats and there are many noble Lords sitting in the Committee today who know a great deal more about it than I do.

I suggest that it is extremely important that the public generally have their consumer interest in health promoted, as opposed simply to being protected from the bad things. I ask the Committee to consider that the dissemination of good information is as important as the countering of misleading information and protection. I hope the Committee will feel that it is worthwhile to emphasise promotion on the face of the Bill. I beg to move.

Earl Baldwin of Bewdley: I am another who had to regretfully miss Second Reading through another engagement in July, so I would like to just briefly take this opportunity of saying how much I support what the Government are trying to do with this Bill and

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congratulate them on eventually having found time to bring it forward in this Session, and also on their excellent process of consultation. This is an important measure.

I just want to amplify a little bit what the noble Viscount said on this amendment which I believe is a very important one. The objective set out in subsection (2) is laudable as far as it goes, because there is little dispute that the interests of consumers do need protecting, especially in the tricky area of risk assessment--I hope I am using the right word there. But the evidence shows that consumers need just as much guidance on the more positive areas of food choices, and to separate this from the narrower function of safety I think would be unfortunate and would miss an opportunity to bring this up the agenda under a body that will be relatively free from any conflicting interests. I think this point is every bit as important in questions of diet and nutrition as it is over safety.

Of course this will involve giving dietary advice. A positive remit for nutrition was part of the original concept of the agency but, in the course of the consultation period, it has been watered down to the extent that the Government, in their reply to the Committee report in another place, speak only of a role in “defining what is meant by a balanced diet". Now a balanced diet, however admirable, is hardly cutting edge nutritional advice when it comes especially to those of particular needs, the very young, the elderly, those with cancer, those who are allergic or food intolerant, those in hospital and so on, and I think in the 21st century we could be doing better and the agency would be well placed to fill this breach.

But one can see the Government's problem, because there is a great fear in this country of being seen to nanny people, especially over food. Tessa Jowell has gone out of her way to disclaim any idea of “telling people what to eat". But advice, my Lords, is not nannying, still less is it compulsory. For my part, I have always been baffled by this sentiment which seems to me rather a bad example of the macho British anti-health culture. As a citizen and taxpayer, I would actually be angry if a government which uses my money to do nutritional research, didn't tell me afterwards, in plain language, what the implications were for my health. The noble Baroness knows that I don't like water fluoridation. That to me is nannying because I can't do anything about it. I have to swallow the stuff. Advice about food choices is something quite different. If I want it, I can disregard it.

There is also, I suspect, the fear of opposition from big commercial interests. The food industry, like the pharmaceutical industry, is a mighty powerful player and governments don't like tangling with it. Some recent research on the causes of cancer must make the Meat and Livestock Commission nervous and the salt and sugar industries have been fighting a rearguard action against research findings for years, in which government has hardly played a courageous role. Am

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I to get my advice from a free-standing agency? Or from a government department, part of whose brief is to promote British industry?

I think, to divert for a moment, there are some interesting parallels with smoking, where many of the arguments are the same. Possibly because the debate there has moved that much further forward, only a small minority feels that anti-smoking advice should not be given, and the government are very brave now with the tobacco industry. But I believe, that we are moving to a time when certain foods or combinations of foods will be seen in the same light as smoking. Anyone who read the 1991 WHO report on Diet, Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases would find it hard to evade this conclusion.

If I have strayed slightly into the territory of amendment No. 10, which seeks to put nutrition on the face of the Bill, it is really because they overlap and I won't need to say much when we come to that in due course. We are still, I think, in the fairly early stages of appreciation of the medical importance of nutrition, since doctors are only just beginning to reclaim this territory after an absence of something like two generations. But if the Food Standards Bill has no brief for positive health promotion in this field, it won't be long, I think, before this omission will be more and more keenly felt and I think we'll all regret that the right path wasn't taken from the beginning. So, two aspects of food advice belong together; and independent agency is the right body to deliver it.

I do hope the Government will think again on this point.

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