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Lord Desai: Perhaps I may add one point to what my noble friend has said. She has already anticipated the conflict between the two amendments introduced by the noble Lord. The precautionary principle says when in doubt, do not worry about financial cost; just worry about public health. It is very tempting to worry about financial cost. The precautionary principle would say, “To hell with the £50,000, stop, destroy it".

Secondly, I want to make one point about the precautionary principle and its applicability. This is just a little plug for my own institution. The London School of Economics is setting up a centre for risk and risk management where we will come to terms with how we define and manage some of these difficult issues. It is not an easy matter.

Lord Clement-Jones: I thank the Minister for that very useful reply, which unpacked for me quite a lot of the clause. It was a very helpful explanation. In reply to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, it is traditional in this House for people to make conflicting statements, quite often in the same speech, and indeed to table conflicting amendments at the same time, so I am following a perfectly proper tradition in this respect.

I recognise that in certain duties of the agency there will be a need to balance conflicting principles, and this is the essence of what most decision-makers have to do. On the one hand one is trying to achieve things for consumers in terms of openness and making sure that one does not prejudice the future, and on the other hand there are other interests which have to be upheld, whether they are those of large or small producers, scientists or whoever. That is the difficulty about legislating in this area.

13 Oct 1999 : Column CWH132

My thrust was directed not towards the principles adopted but to the behaviour in practice. I do not want to argue the toss on the Ducket's case--the department had the legal decision in its favour--but there was still an argument to be had about the heavy-handed nature of the behaviour involved. Being a lawyer I certainly do not believe that winning a legal case always proves you are right. That is absolutely not the case and it allows us to chew over the facts of the case well after either plaintiff or defendant has won, and we can still have a view about that.

I thank the Minister and I shall consider her response extremely carefully. I suspect that she is entirely correct about the fact that the proportionary principle is already enshrined in Clause 23(2)(a)--the uncertainty point--but we will have a look at that and consider whether we shall come back at Report stage. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Byford had given notice of her intention to move Amendment No. 71:


Page 12, line 19, at end insert (“; and
( ) whether it is possible simultaneously to reduce the burden or cost (or both) of bureaucracy elsewhere")

The noble Baroness said: The Minister did not make any comment in response to my Amendment No. 71 and I should be quite grateful if she would. Obviously it has implications to require the agency to look and see whether some of the practices in which it is currently involved could be redressed, taken back, and that is why I spoke about it particularly. The example I gave was with regard to abattoirs, but it could be other issues as well. Perhaps I could give the Minister a chance to reply. I shall not move Amendment No. 71.

Baroness Hayman: I apologise to the noble Baroness if I did not make it clear, but in my dealing with the issue of better regulation I was applying those to Amendment No. 71, because the purport of that amendment is ensuring the agency takes full account of the possible cost burdens on those potentially affected by its activities, and takes balanced and proportionate action to draw up a full regulatory impact assessment in proposing new legislation, looking at the costs and benefits of the exercise or the non-exercise of any power.

Those governing principles are the same for the workings, for example, of the Meat Hygiene Service. I believe she gave the example where there is specified risk material whether the same level of inspection was necessary given that the level of inspection we have at the moment is proving effective. You can argue that one either way, but if you reduce the level of inspection you might reduce the level of compliance; or if the level of compliance is very high you might reduce the level of inspection. Those decisions can only be taken when you apply the principles of better regulation, so that you are not overweening in the regulatory process but you are sufficiently rigorous to ensure that regulation is taken through. We have a framework within the Bill, and within the principles of better regulation, for ensuring that that takes place.

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8.30 p.m.

Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her response. If I have missed that point, I apologise. I am obviously anxious that we do not keep increasing burdens of responsibility on businesses, in whatever form that might take. Sometimes one needs to stand back and look at this matter. Within this particular clause I have not picked up that point. If the noble Minister is assuring me that it is included and I have missed it, I will listen to what she says, look at Hansard, and re-read the clause. I thank her for her comments.

[Amendment No. 71 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 72 not moved.]

Lord Luke had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 73:


Page 12, line 19, at end insert (“; and
( ) the need for transparency, accountability, targeting, consistency and proportionality in the conduct of its activities")

The noble Lord said: I just wish to thank the noble Baroness--

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: If the noble Lord wishes to speak, I shall have to call the amendment. If he wishes to speak, he is perfectly at liberty to do so.

Lord Luke: All I was going to do was to thank the Minister for her answer and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees: If the noble Baroness or anyone else wishes to contribute, they may. If no one else wishes to contribute, and the noble Lord wishes to withdraw the amendment, the amendment is withdrawn.

Lord Luke: I shall not move Amendment No. 73.

[Amendment No. 73 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 73A not moved.]

Clause 23 agreed to.

Clause 24 [Directions relating to breach of duty or to international obligations]:

Baroness Hayman moved Amendment No. 74:


Page 12, line 36, leave out paragraph (b) and insert--
(“(b) by the Scottish Ministers (in so far as it is exercisable by them within devolved competence or by virtue of an Order in Council made under section 63 of the Scotland Act 1998);")

The noble Baroness said: With the permission of the Committee, in moving Amendment No. 74 I will also refer to Amendments Nos. 87, 88 and 99. I hope I can be brief in so doing. This is another set of rather technical amendments arising from devolution and from the fact--as Members of the Committee will be well aware--that food safety and food standards are devolved matters. We need to ensure that the Bill correctly reflects the position following the devolution legislation and takes account of the appropriate devolved responsibility.

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We have an analogous set of amendments in relation to Northern Ireland. I recognise that we are dealing with these amendments at rather a late stage, but Members of the Committee will be aware that the effects of devolution have been developing over the past few months. Devolved bodies in Scotland and Wales only took up their powers on 1st July and we were therefore unable to make these technical changes earlier.

Given that explanation, and the fact that if Members of the Committee want further clarification on any of these points I will be happy to give it, I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 24, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 75:


After Clause 24, insert the following new clause--

APPEALS

(“ .--(1) The Secretary of State shall set in place an appeals procedure under which individuals or bodies may appeal against decisions of the Agency.
(2) If an appeal is upheld the Secretary of State may give the Agency such directions as he may consider appropriate for remedying the situation.")

The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 75, I refer again to access to premises. This Bill gives the agency wide powers to enter premises to collect information and to demand co-operation and assistance. It also confers powers to enforce standards. Inevitably, there will be those who feel aggrieved, unfairly treated, or even victimised. I have been told that the recourse to law is open to every adult in the UK. The Minister should surely speed up the response and uniformity of treatment. It should also help to ensure that where the agency is found to be at fault the punishment is not limited to fiscal penalties but is made to fit the crime.

With the permission of the Committee, we shall discuss Amendment No. 111 at the same time, which my noble friend Lord Luke will address. I beg to move.


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