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Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: Just before we leave this particular point, I am in full agreement with most of what the noble Viscount says. However much we want advice to be given and understood, I would not wish to see it in the form of admonition, which is something quite different. I hope he is clear that that was not the intention.
The Earl of Radnor: I really think that it should not be a part of the agency's duties to promote or to protect. There is a tremendous danger here, however, which the noble lord mentioned, of interfering with commerce and trade and people's businesses and suddenly starting a scare so that you stop eating this and eat something else instead. It is no part of their business and I suspect that even with all their advice with committees, they will not be quite the right people to have the knowledge and capability of promoting anything promptly anyway and they will be just as liable to make mistakes as the producers of food themselves.
Lord Northbourne: I should like to support this amendment but not entirely in the sense about which it has been spoken of up to now. It does not seem to me that the process of promoting necessarily relates only to promoting what is good for you: 'I know what is best for you and I am going to promote it for you.' It also means promoting the interests of the consumer; that is, the thing in which the consumer is interested. I declare an interest: I like unpasteurised cheese and I
Lord Desai: The agency as it is has a tremendously difficult task. It is loaded with sensitive matters on which it will be asked all sorts of questions. Therefore, if it can manage to do what it is assigned to do, it will be a great achievement. If you add other things onto its remit, then it will be overloaded.
Let me say one more thing. I am not familiar with all the scientific things that the noble Earl mentioned, but I sense that there is conflicting advice about what is good and what is not good for you--partly because we are all slightly different people. Different things agree with different people. Just as the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, once said about claret and cheese, different people have different likings. I do not want agencies to become involved in matters about which there are differing opinions. I would much rather it did something which is already difficult enough to do. I am not talking about nannying, because people are nannied by private sector agencies. I would much rather it concentrated on matters of importance, about which the public are worried, and not add on other things.
Lord Rea: Does my noble friend think that the health promotional aspects which will come out of the information produced by the food standards agency will be more in the field of the Department of Health rather than the standards agency itself?
Having said that, I disagree firmly with the noble Earl, Lord Radnor, that the members of the advisory committees of the agency--if I understood him right--will have a better idea of the scientific findings with regard to the dangers or benefits of different foods and different combinations of foods and different diets than almost anyone else in the country. They will be chosen specifically because they know about those things and have kept abreast with the latest scientific evidence.
Does my noble friend think that the word protect", as it is in the Bill, encompasses to some degree promotion"? If the agency were to produce some of its research findings, or the reports of COMA, with which it will jointly share sponsorship with the Department of Health, and if some of the findings of that research indicate that health is better served by certain combinations of food or by avoiding certain combinations of food, will the agency say so? Will that be part of its activities? Some people might say that is health promotion and, in a sense, it is. Will the agency in fact be able to produce definite recommendations that such-and-such behaviour or dietary pattern is beneficial while others are not? Does that come under the category of protect", as in the Bill? Or perhaps, in order to accomplish that quite simple advice, should we use the word promotion"?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): This has been an interesting debate. I am grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, for putting forward what he suggests is a probing amendment. This allows us to tease out this important issue.
Therefore the agency may well indeed wish to be involved in health promotion matters, and the way in which the main objective is worded allows for that. But the agency's priority is one of protection, which is why that stands as part of the main objective. We believe that the present wording gets the balance right.
The agency function under Clause 7 in giving advice to the public would include advice on nutrition matters. That could include results of latest research which might well have been funded by the agency into what this means for consumers. That would be available to the public in various ways which the agency will decide upon.
My noble friend Lord Rea put his finger on the matter. The agency itself is not a health promotion body. What I would expect it to do is to work closely with health promotion bodies such as the proposed health development agency, the National Assembly for Wales, the Health Education Board for Scotland and others. That work might well involve running publicity campaigns on food safety and nutrition matters. It might well involve collaboration or partnerships between the agency and the health development agency and other appropriate agencies where the information might well be provided by the food standards agency but the health development agency may well wish to use that to run campaigns and inform the public generally. Our intention is that the health development agency proposed in the White Paper Our Healthier Nation will be set up early next year taking the place of the Health Education Authority.
I hope that I have explained to the Committee that because the protection of the public health remains, and I believe has to remain, the number one focus of the agency, the wording in the Bill as it stands is appropriate. Nevertheless, I believe the agency will have an important role in providing advice to the public and in working with other agencies who themselves may be better able to promote the kind of messages to which noble Lords have spoken.
Viscount Thurso: I am extremely grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. The fact that there have been contributions from all sides of the Committee and from all parties has shown the great importance of this issue. I should like to return to two points.
The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, has been covered by the Minister who has said it is included anyway. The noble Earl, Lord Radnor, was a slightly lonely dissenting voice, if I may say so. The point of his remarks was that there was something subjective involved in this. I wish to make it perfectly clear that I am talking about advice that is wholly objective and based on fact.
If I may, I will detain the Committee for a moment with a personal experience. My youngest son has just been diagnosed as having a problem directly linked to the fact that he has been consuming E" numbers. It is very straightforward: he does not pay attention at school. A change in his diet has seen him shoot up his class at prep school remarkably over the past six weeks.
I would like to have been given some information that allowed me at least to be alerted to that rather than have to send him off to a child psychologist. I am pleased that a happy conclusion is in train for him, but there is an objective role to be played rather than a subjective one.
The Minister said that nutrition had been encompassed within the Bill. I was delighted to have the Government's assurance on that, and also that it allows for promotion. The only distance between us is the difference between the Minister's words may wish" to become involved. We would rather like it to be compelled" to become involved. We totally agree with the Government that the main focus should not be deflected, and feel that this would add to that focus rather than detract from it. On that basis, I look forward to reading in Hansard the contributions of all noble Lords. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.