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Lord Clement-Jones: First, I thank the Minister for his reply to my particular amendment. I was fascinated by his reply to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Byford--some expensive legal advice must have been obtained about that particular piece of drafting, which adds to the repertoire of ministerial responses. I thought it was very useful for the databank!

On Amendment No. 27, words such as “high priority" for the agency of that kind of research seem to me to “hit the button" as far as the amendment is concerned. I take the point that it could well be subsumed in that. What the noble Lord has done is respond clearly to that probing amendment and we appreciate that.

The Countess of Mar: Before the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, speaks, perhaps I may ask the Minister a question. The agency is being given a function of advising the members of the public on food safety. Will that include, for example, advising them not to buy a chicken in the supermarket on a hot day and leave it in their car boot while they have coffee with their neighbour, and then complain about the chicken giving them food poisoning?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I cannot anticipate the detail of the advice that the agency will be giving, but I would expect the agency to give practical advice on such matters. Going back to the points I originally made, this body will not be effective unless it is able to

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give advice on the kind of issues that those of us who shop actually wish to know and to learn about and take advantage of.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for his response to my amendment. I was not a university graduate myself and I have great difficulty in appreciating that it referred to the singular as well when it clearly, as far as I was concerned, referred to the plural. Never mind that! It is getting late and my mind is misty and is not working as well as it might.

I have heard what the noble Lord has said, and what he said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, on the fact that a help-line phone and written matters will be very much part of the agency's remit. I am personally delighted to hear that.

With those few comments, I am still amazed that the language is thus. Presumably it always is, and if it always is I have to bow to the greater language. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 23 and 24 not moved.]

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clause 8 [Acquisition and review of information]:

[Amendment No. 25 not moved.]

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 26:

Page 3, line 43, after (“commissioning") insert (“insofar as it is possible within its existing financial resources")

The noble Baroness said: This amendment tries to establish financial resources.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 7.38 to 7.49 p.m.]

Baroness Byford: On each 6th April a new tax year begins. For many companies and organisations, this is also the start of a new financial year. Departments and individuals are told how much money they have to spend and what the expenditure should achieve. Indeed, earlier on we agreed that this will apply to this food standards agency as well. Looking at company ministerial results, it is obvious that the bulk of financial targets are met within fairly narrow limits. One ongoing exception is the National Health Service, where increasing demands often outstrip available resources. Large scale project development and long-run research programmes also frequently fail to stay within their financial boundaries. One can think of certain MoD contracts and many private and public computer developments.

Our concern is that the agency should be expected from the very beginning to match its costs to available finance. It should also be aware that it cannot legally make plans that are likely to result in their being over the budget in that area--admittedly one that is difficult to control with precision. I am trying with this amendment to tell the agency that it should be working within its planned financial resources. Certainly we referred earlier--when I used the word “levy" where I

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should have said “charge"--to expecting more work to be done outside the existing financial resources. I beg to move.

Baroness Hayman: I am grateful for the noble Baroness's explanation of the thinking behind this amendment. As a general issue, I should say that the agency will need to be financially responsible in all elements of its work and will also need to be financially accountable. Research should be no different from other elements of the agency's work although I recognise--having now been responsible for research budgets in different departments--that they are long-term enterprises and there can be a problem in terms of ensuring that one recognises the ongoing financial commitments to which research refers.

It is important to put on the record, however, that the agency will have an important function in commissioning this new research, as well as compiling and reviewing information from other sources. It is essential, if the policy on food matters is to be properly informed, that it is based on the best available scientific knowledge. The precise direction of this research programme is a matter for the agency itself to decide in the light of future developments and of its own priorities. That is not to say that the agency can spend limitless amounts of money on whatever it wishes. It will have a budget and will have formally to account for how it has been spent. Should it want additional funds for further research, it would have to find that money from within its own resources or to negotiate with the Treasury for additional funds. I should make clear to the Committee that the agency will start out with a significant research budget of about £25 million, which it will inherit from MAFF and the Department of Health. While this may seem a substantial sum, Members of the Committee will well understand, given the range of issues that can be covered by research in this field, that the agency will have to establish its priorities carefully as well as look at existing commitments which have been inherited in terms of the research programme.

I hope it will reassure the noble Baroness when I say that the agency will have to deal in a responsible way with the funds it allocates as a priority for research, as it will have to deal in a responsible way with other funds under other budget headings. It will be properly accountable to Parliament for the money that it spends, including its spending on research. That is dealt with in Clause 39, the financial provisions, and in Schedule 4, accounts and audit. I do not believe it is necessary therefore to introduce additional references to controls, or additional references insofar as it is possible within its existing financial resources in this particular area of the agency's budget. I hope the noble Baroness will find those assurances sufficient to withdraw this amendment.

Baroness Byford: I thank the Minister for her response. I am well aware that the agency will be financially responsible and accountable and we have already discussed that. Research is always one area in which the mind runs away with one thinking that there is more work one wants to do, and in putting in

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“existing financial resources" I did not want to find that the agency was able to run away with its budget and have to come back to others to supplement it.

I also take the point the Minister made that it will perhaps be able to seek additional finance to help on the research side, and also that it would use best available scientific knowledge, for which we are grateful. With the whole question of resource, if we look at projects that have occurred elsewhere, the tendency has always been that they outrun the money, and that was my concern in bringing this amendment to the Committee.

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I thank the Minister for her comments and for her compassion this afternoon, because it has been a long afternoon. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 27 not moved.]

Clause 8 agreed to.

Baroness Hayman: This may be a convenient moment to adjourn the Committee.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Chesham): The Committee stands adjourned until tomorrow at 3.30 p.m.

        The Committee adjourned at two minutes before eight o'clock

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