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Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am grateful to the Minister for that response which does not particularly surprise me, although I thought he may have gone a little further on the second amendment.

I had to look occasionally at the amendment to see if I had worded it differently from the way I anticipated. In the amendment I said “experience" in the fish industry; I did not say “represent". I fully accept that no one in the agency should be there to represent one sector or another. It is the experience that I am interested in, and I am certain that there will be many people in the agency who will have experience in the agricultural products industry in its widest term, whether that be meat, vegetables, or whatever.

When the Government look at the people who apply, I hope they will not turn their backs on experience in the fish industry. There will be people with experience in both, and it would be very good for the fish industry and for the decisions made by the agency if someone with sufficient skills and talents comes forward who has a background in the fish industry either wholly or in addition to a background in agriculture.

I understand what the Minister is saying. I hope that the people who make these appointments will look at food in its widest aspect and not just concentrate on agricultural products.

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On the advisory committee, I take his point that it is unlikely that the Scottish one will not contain someone with an interest in fish, but fish processing is a big industry in England. Humberside, for example, has a large fish processing industry, and it is very important to the economy of Humberside. Therefore, it is not just a Scottish issue, it is a UK issue as well and affects many parts of the country. The south-west of England, for example, has a very important fish and fish-processing industry.

I hear what the Minister says. He is telling me that it is up to the agency to decide in its advisory committees. Towards the end of his reply, he accepted that fish and fish products are completely different in many respects from agriculturally-produced products, and therefore have to be looked at on their own merits, and the hazards involved in their production looked at on their own and not just as add-ons to the meat and agriculture industry. That was the main point I wanted to put on record. If when they read this debate people from the agency take on board some of what I have said, then I will at least feel justified in having put forward the amendments.

I thank the Minister for his understanding of the points I was seeking to make. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 8:

Page 1, line 22, at end insert (“; and
( ) being appointed under paragraph (a), (b), (c) or (d) shall not prevent the person concerned, at a later date, being appointed to the position of either Deputy Chairman or Chairman")

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 8 is a probing amendment. It is tabled simply to make it clear that service in a regional position--namely, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland--or as an appointee of the Secretary of State, does not disqualify that person from holding the position of chairman or deputy chairman.

The question may well never arise, but in the event that it does, if this amendment is carried the position will be quite clear and will not stretch the Secretary of State's powers in any way. That is my reason for moving the amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: It may be appropriate for me to say a few words about Amendment No. 9, which is a probing amendment. The Bill currently provides that the appropriate authorities should act jointly. The appropriate authorities are currently the Scottish Executive, the Welsh Assembly and, if it comes to fruition, the Northern Ireland Assembly. I am not entirely sure that I should call the United Kingdom Government in this regard because there is no longer a United Kingdom Government. They are acting entirely as the English government, so I shall call them “Whitehall", as I do not wish to use this rather difficult terminology.

When the words “act to appoint jointly" have occurred in legislation up to date, that has meant that the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland, Wales,

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and Scotland, in the case of agriculture, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and in the case of health, the Secretary of State for Health, have exchanged the usual paper round and tried to agree who should be appointed to certain jobs. On occasions departments disagree and those disagreements are then resolved. They have never in my experience gone to a Cabinet committee, but if two Secretaries of State dug their heels in over an appointment they would have to go to some form of arbitration inside the same government. That has always been the case, and it has been relatively easy to resolve those issues because it has been inside the same government.

The point I am attempting to probe is that it will not be inside the same government in the future. It will be different governments deciding jointly, and I am wondering to what extent they will consult. How will this consultation be carried out? Will one authority have a veto on the appointment made by another authority? If Whitehall decides that it wants to appoint Joe Bloggs and for some reason the Scottish Executive thinks that Joe Bloggs is a thoroughly bad person, will it be able to exercise a veto simply by continuing to say, “I do not agree to Joe Bloggs being appointed."? What happens in the case of deadlock between those two parties? That is the reason for my probe into the expression “jointly".

I understand exactly how it has worked in the past, but we are in a different ball game and I should like a few words from the Minister to explain how the Government envisage these matters will be resolved in the future.

Baroness Byford: I shall speak to Amendment No. 11 and notify the Committee that I shall not move Amendment No. 12, which was an error on my part. I apologise to the Minister and his team. As regards Amendment No. 11, food production starts with the preparation, both on land and at sea as my noble friend has recalled very clearly, through seed to harvest. It moves then to slaughter and further stages of production. It is right that all the authorities consider a wide range of people when appointing members to the agency, and I am grateful to the Minister for indicating that people will be considered on their wide knowledge rather than their individual input.

It was of concern to me earlier this year, after the notifications were sent out inviting people to apply to become members, that some very senior member of the farming industry, whom I shall not name at the moment, said, “It is no use my putting my name in; they do not wish people to come from the food production side.". That concerns me greatly because I had not read it that way and I should like to raise the matter at this stage. I am not proposing that a person who is directly a farmer or landowner should considered, but I am extremely worried by the fact that somebody of that calibre has read the notification and assumed he is not be eligible. That is the reason for tabling Amendment No. 11. I might reiterate that I shall not move Amendment No. 12.

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5.15 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Perhaps I may deal first with Amendment No. 8. I accept the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, that anyone appointed as a member should not be ineligible for later appointment as chair or deputy. There is nothing in the Bill to suggest that there would be any bar to this; indeed, it already contains provision about reappointment. Schedule 1 to the Bill contains details about the constitution of the agency, including the tenure of office of its members. Paragraph 2(1) of the schedule already provides for the reappointment of members. There is no doubt that this allows for someone who has served as a member to become chairman or deputy chairman, so I believe the amendment is unnecessary and I would ask the noble Baroness to withdraw it.

I turn to Amendment No. 11. In answer to the noble Baroness's point, may I make it clear that those with experience of food production can already be appointed to the agency either because of their experience of food safety, which goes alongside food production, or because production is another interest to consumers in relation to food. I was a little disturbed at the point raised by the noble Baroness about a potential candidate. I felt that this was not apparent in the information as it was certainly our intention that, in the information provided to candidates, there should have been no doubt that food production experience was relevant. Subsection 3(a) of Clause 2 already makes it clear that the sort of experience being considered is that of food safety and of other interests of consumers of food. We thought that sort of formulation provides the right kind of flexibility, so that the agency has the right mix of members. However, we do not believe that specifying food producers adds anything to the Bill and perhaps casts doubts on the breadth of the rest of the clause.

We are trying to provide the basis for a high quality, overall balanced board, not a representative body. Having said that, the majority of members will come from the wider public interest background and that is the basis upon which appointments are being made.

I turn to the interesting points made by the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, about the impact of the agency both in working as a UK body and in relation to devolved areas of responsibility. We are providing that the National Assembly for Wales, Scottish Ministers and the Department of Health and Social Services for Northern Ireland, together with the Secretary of State for Health, each appoint a number of members as specified.

As I said earlier, we have always intended that our goal should be to achieve a balanced membership overall. It follows that it is right for the appropriate authorities, using the terminology of the Bill, to consult each other. Otherwise, we could find ourselves with a membership with too much knowledge or experience of, for example, food production and too little of public health matters, or vice versa, instead of a unified body with collective responsibility for the UK as a whole. To go back to our previous debate

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about issues in relation to the fishing industry, you are much more likely to get a balanced membership if the various appointing authorities are able to discuss with each other the likely candidates and then to ensure that out of that you get broad-based membership, which I believe is so important to the agency.

The noble Lord asked whether the arrangements in relation to the devolved authorities will cause problems in the event of a disagreement. In relation to appointments or indeed to other matters where the authorities are being asked to act jointly, there may of course be divergences of view but, with respect to the noble Lord, that has not been unusual with arrangements prior to devolution. There have been various arrangements where different governments of state have had to act jointly and that has generally worked well. I have no reason to suppose that it will not work well in the future. Indeed, I am not sure whether the word “common sense" is one I would wish to use at the moment. All experience would suggest that it is in the interest of all the appointment authorities to work well together to ensure a balanced membership and I have no reason to suppose that that will not occur in this case.

There will also be concordats between the agency and the devolved administrations in relation to how the agency will work with the devolved administrations. That will help lay the foundation for co-operation in the future. In the event of disagreements and the need to resolve disputes, there is the opportunity of a joint ministerial committee to discuss those issues and to seek to resolve them. I am rather more optimistic than the noble Lord about how these arrangements will work. The benefits of co-operation, particularly in terms of a balanced membership, far outweigh the potential for disagreements. On that basis, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.

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