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Baroness Hayman moved Amendment No. 76:


Page 14, line 31, leave out subsection (2) and insert--
(“(2) The functions of the Department of Agriculture for Northern Ireland under--
(a) Part I of the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985; and
(b) Part II of the 1991 Order (except Articles 8(7), 10(5) to (7), 11(5) to (10), 18(1), 22 and 25(2)(e) and Schedule 1),
shall cease to be exercisable by that Department.
(3) Subsections (1) and (2) do not affect enforcement functions under directions or subordinate legislation under the enactments mentioned in those subsections (or any power under those enactments to confer such functions in directions or subordinate legislation).")

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 26, as amended, agreed to.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 77:


After Clause 26, insert the following new clause--

MEAT AND HYGIENE SERVICE

(“. Responsibility for the Meat and Hygiene Service shall be assumed directly by the Secretary of State.")

The noble Baroness said: This amendment would request a new clause being added which should read:


    “Responsibility for the Meat Hygiene Service",

the word “and" should not appear,


    “shall be assumed directly by the Secretary of State".

In the amendments I have listed for this Bill I have tried not simply to revisit issues that were aired in another place. Rather we consider that most of these items have been rejected by the Government and have already received sufficient attention to make sure that the Government know their own mind and are happy to accept the consequences of their actions.

However, the Meat Hygiene Service is both essential to the production of safe meat and highly contentious in its method of operation and charging rates. It is moreover the subject of much argument in the methods and operations of the varying charging rates. We welcome the Government's decision to postpone the extra charges which were due to have been imposed in April this year which Nick Brown announced recently, but of that £150 million, £149 million would have been charged directly to producers to pay for inspections. In the short term this is welcomed, but in the long term it does not solve the overall problem on charges.

The Meat Hygiene Service is the subject of much argument over the implementation of the European directives. In the circumstances it is not right that such a service should answer directly to the agency responsible for both setting standards and enforcement of their implementation. This clause, if accepted, would mean that the food standards agency does the research and sets the standards, the Meat Hygiene Service implements the standards in the workplace, and the local authorities inspect the quality

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of the work done in the workplace. The food standards agency monitors the work which the local authorities do, and where necessary takes action to enforce the original standards.

Such a system would operate through a series of checks and balances which would help to ensure that our meat is safe to eat, but the safety has not been bought at unreasonable cost as the result of unnecessarily long-winded procedures. I hope that is clear.

Baroness Hayman: I fully accept what I believe the noble Baroness was suggesting; that her Amendment No. 111A could sensibly be discussed in the context of this amendment if Members of the Committee were comfortable with that. Then it would need to be moved at a later stage, but the two do hang together.

Baroness Byford: I am grateful to the Minister and I apologise to Members of the Committee, because it was an oversight that they were not together. I had not picked up the fact that it was due to come later.

In Section 40, the term “food authorities" should be amended to read “enforcement authorities", which should be defined as including food authorities, the Meat Hygiene Service, the Dairy Inspectorate, and any other enforcement agencies which the Minister, or the Secretary of State, may designate.

On appeals, the essential requirement for the appeals system is that it should make enforcement of Section 40 codes more accessible and transparent. At the moment, the only enforcement is by the direction of a Minister, but any person aggrieved by the failure of an enforcement authority to obey the provision of a code has no redress of right. He or she must rely on the grace and favour of the Minister, short of a judicial review, which as we know has its own limitations.

The idea, therefore, is that a person subject to the activities of an enforcement authority, which are in terms subject to a Section 40, code should be able to appeal to an independent tribunal in the event he or she believes that the code has not been obeyed or properly applied. The issue can then be heard by that tribunal and its findings conveyed to the Minister following which a direction could be made. There should be provision for an award of compensation to anyone who has been materially affected by a failure to obey the code. Arguably, the enforcement action, which is subject to abuse, should be stayed pending the outcome of an appeal with the proviso that the Minister may direct the implementation of any measures which he believes necessary to safeguard public health.

Additionally, it is essential that the decisions of the food standards agency, including the provision of advice, should be open to appeal by an independent tribunal. Also a refusal to withdraw advice should be capable of appeal.

To avoid complication, it would be useful to have a unified appeal system but with the discretion afforded to the tribunal chairman as to the panel members on any specific issue to permit specialists to hear a specific

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case. Given the butchers' licensing provisions which are to come into force, it would be useful if licence refusal or revocation appeals were also heard by this tribunal rather than by magistrates' courts as proposed. Equally, the Meat Hygiene Tribunal of England and Wales could be brought into this system and I thank the Minister for allowing me to bring this up at this stage. I beg to move.

Viscount Thurso: My Amendment No. 77A is grouped with these amendments but, given the lateness of the hour and the debate we have already had, I do not intend to move it and I will come back to it at a later stage.

9 p.m.

Baroness Hayman: Meat hygiene enforcement is a key element of food safety and a major factor in public confidence about food. The agency's main objective will be the protection of public health and excluding meat hygiene enforcement from its control would leave a major gap in its remit. The noble Baroness is right to say that this issue has been debated at some length and there is strong feeling on both sides.

We have come to the conclusion that it is right that the agency should retain oversight of both policy and enforcement in relation to meat hygiene. Separating them would be both artificial and unnecessary. There is an essential synergy between policy development on meat hygiene and its delivery through the enforcement process and we believe that it is important to retain close links between the two. Experience of recent years, I suggest, has surely taught us that if nothing else.

Because it is an executive agency without any separate identity, the Meat Hygiene Service does not need to be mentioned in primary legislation. Powers are provided, however, in Schedules 3 and 5 of the Bill, to enable the Secretary of State to name the agency as an enforcement authority. This, together with parallel amendments to the relevant meat hygiene regulations, will enable the agency to assume formal ownership of the MHS and carry out meat hygiene enforcement on behalf of the Secretary of State.

It might help Members of the Committee if I explain now how we propose to provide for control over the MHS, because the first amendment begs the question of what we mean by responsibility. In practice, day-to-day running of the Meath Hygiene Service will be the responsibility of its chief executive. He will be answerable for its executive decisions to the agency's chairman and members who, having overall responsibility for the agency's activities, will be publicly accountable for all aspects of the Meat Hygiene Service's work. The agency's chief executive is also liable to be summoned to appear before the Public Accounts Committee to give evidence on the discharge of its responsibility as accounting officer for the MHS. These activities will come under the general control of the Secretary of State who will be responsible for the key policy and legislative decisions governing the way in which the MHS operates.

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While he will be publicly accountable for those decisions, he will not automatically be answerable for the executive operations of the MHS. We consider an important feature of the agency's arm's length relationship with Ministers, which the noble Baroness was supporting, is that it will take direct responsibility for those matters. On the basis of those considerations, I suggest that it would be misleading to provide in the Bill for the Secretary of State to take direct responsibility for the MHS. In particular, it would confuse the lines of accountability that I have already described and could raise unwarranted expectation about the level of involvement that the Secretary of State should have in operational matters. I believe also that it would be an inappropriate and serious erosion of the agency's ability to act in the interests of public health to keep the MHS outside the agency.

I hope, however, that what I described earlier in terms of the agency's own work--for example to set up a complaints' procedure with an element of independence in it--will reassure some of those who have had concerns about the workings of the agency. On that basis, I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, will feel able to withdraw that particular amendment.

In relation to manuscript Amendment No. 111A, there is some misunderstanding as to the drafting. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, referred to appeals mechanisms in relation to Section 40 codes. We have already debated the question of appeals fairly fully, and, as was suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, and the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, I undertake to write to them setting out precisely how those appeal mechanisms would work. I will pick up the points made about Section 40 codes in that reply, but I simply add now that a court would normally take into consideration the contents of a code of practice in considering any particular case.

I believe that the amendment is designed to ensure that the enforcement work of the Meat Hygiene Service is susceptible to the same powers of direction currently applicable to local authorities. However, there are a number of serious difficulties with the amendment as it is currently drafted both in terms of what it seeks to achieve and in the drafting.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, may be aware that a technical government amendment in another place to the Bill was made that corrected the provision originally empowering the agency only to direct enforcement authorities on the implementation of Section 40 codes of practice. The problem with that was that Section 40 codes apply only to the work of food authorities--that is local authorities--and not to central enforcement authorities such as the Meat Hygiene Service.

Amendment No. 111A would have the effect of reversing that correction, and leave a factual error in the Bill because there would be a faulty reference to the Food Safety Act. It is not only on the matter of the technical deficiencies. On my earlier point about appeals in relation to Section 40 cases, in view of the lateness of the hour, my feeling is that neither my explanation nor people's understanding of it is

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perhaps of the quality that it would be were it earlier in the day. It would perhaps be helpful to the Committee if I wrote to noble Lords on these specific points.


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