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Baroness Byford: My Lords, I beg the pardon of the House.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 [Advisory committees]:

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 6:


Page 2, line 41, after ("established") insert ("an advisory committee for England,").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I apologise to the Deputy Speaker. I heard someone say "Order" and I looked to see what I had done wrong. I realise that I spoke too soon. I apologise to the House.

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Amendments Nos. 6 and 7 seek to encourage the Government to establish an advisory committee for England. In her response to the previous amendment the Minister, in her usual charming way, declined to establish such a committee. She said that she saw no reason for it to be established. However, at the moment we have a situation in which restrictions on beef-on-the-bone have been lifted by the Chief Medical Officer for the whole of the UK, whereas the Chief Medical Officers for Wales and Scotland have not lifted the ban. If there were an advisory committee for England, it might well consider the matter and lift the ban, regardless of what was happening in Scotland and Wales.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. It is important to recognise that advice can come from a number of sources. The noble Baroness has given an example of the differing advice of the different CMOs at the moment. But those CMOs do not have the ability to lift the ban. The CMO for England has not lifted the ban. That is for governments to do on the basis of the advice they receive.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. I appreciate her point. I was not suggesting that CMOs can lift the ban. But an advisory committee could lobby on behalf of its sector, which in this case would be for England. That is the point I was trying to make.

I raise the point because I understand that in France--the Minister will correct me if I am wrong--it is the food agency which is recommending to its Minister that the beef ban should remain. I am happy to give way to the Minister if she wishes to come back on this point, but my understanding is that the agency is recommending the ban. I beg to move.

Viscount Thurso: My Lords, perhaps I may clarify what I believe has just happened. We have been speaking to an amendment moved and then withdrawn by the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick. The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, then spoke to two of the amendments in the grouping. On Report, the Question must be put to the House. The Question has now been put and therefore it is now open to any noble Lord who wishes to speak in the debate to do so. I thank the noble Baroness for giving me a second bite of the cherry. I presume that it will then be for the Minister to respond at the end of our contributions, and for the noble Baroness to reply. I hope I understood correctly that what has happened here is that the amendments have been degrouped.

I shall save the time of the House by saying that my first bite of the cherry on this matter was quite sufficient. I shall leave it at that.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, it was my understanding that Amendments Nos. 5, 6 and 7 were

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to be taken together and I tried to address the whole group of amendments in my response to the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick, on his Amendment No. 5.

The noble Baroness was right in saying that the food standards agency in France advises their government. The food standards agency will provide advice to the United Kingdom Government. There will be no difference in that. I tried to make clear in my earlier response that such advisory committees are sub-committees that exist in order to bridge the interface between the legislatures in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The noble Baroness has given examples that underline why it is clear that the advantage lies in taking the United Kingdom approach. It would be easy to have people who would, as it were, lobby for different approaches in different areas. However, I should make it clear that that is not the purpose of the advisory committees. Their purpose will be to give particular advice to the legislatures in their own countries and equally to bring to their attention particular issues that pertain in those areas. I suggest that it would not be helpful to set up an advisory committee for England when we do not have a separate legislature for it to advise. That is the nub of the issue, and it is on that basis that I suggest that the amendment should be withdrawn.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I am very sorry. I believe that I am a little green on our procedures. I understand that I should not have spoken after my noble friend Lord Rotherwick. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 7 not moved.]

Lord Clement-Jones moved Amendment No. 8:


Page 3, line 7, at end insert--
("( ) Before appointing a person as chairman or member of an advisory committee referred to in subsections (1) or (2), the authority making the appointment shall have regard to the desirability of securing that a variety of skills and experience is available among the members of the committee (including experience in matters related to food safety or other interests of consumers in relation to food).").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I tabled this amendment with some trepidation since a similar amendment tabled in Committee elicited a response from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that included a quotation from the Liberal Democrat manifesto. I should not like to provoke a similar reaction today, although I realise that this may be a high risk strategy.

However, we should address the question of the principles that should be applied to the composition and manner of operation of the advisory committees, on the assumption that there shall be such committees for Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the regions of England. It is important that the committees are governed by the same kind of regime as that which applies to the agency. I said in Committee that the regime for the agency has been set down very well in Clause 2 of the Bill. It would be a nonsense to have the agency balanced by representatives from a range of

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different interests, but then to have the committees from the nations and regions which will be advising the agency not to be so balanced.

I entirely accept the point made by the Minister in Committee that there should be flexibility to form other committees; for example, committees composed entirely of consumers, producers or others with particular interests. For that reason, the new amendment does not include the other advisory committees. It addresses only those for Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and the regions. The Minister has sought flexibility across the board, but I suggest that we need a clear understanding of the principles that are to be applied to the composition and operation of the regional advisory committees. I urge the Minister to think again about including a form of words in the Bill to cover the advisory committees in the same way as the agency itself is covered. I beg to move.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I rise to support the noble Lord's amendment, as I did in Committee when he first moved it. It would be desirable to include people experienced in all matters related to food. Noble Lords who heard the debate in Committee will recall that I gave an example of a person who had worked in food production who felt that someone like him would be eligible, and the Minister kindly responded to that point. This is an important issue. I support the amendment.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I understand the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, to have the amendment on the face of the Bill. However, I have one small reservation. My experience of advisory committees in other fields has taught me that those who have special expertise may on occasion promote their own interests. I suggest that we should be extremely cautious with the amendment. It would be very difficult adequately to represent, for example, the major food producers in the form of the big supermarkets, while at the same time ensuring that the same balance was given to small food producers, or to consumers. That is where my difficulty with the amendment lies.

I would prefer to see representation from people who do not have any particular expertise, but who are able to call and evaluate evidence, and to reach a balanced view, rather than to seek the views of those with particular interests.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, has returned to this matter and indeed has referred to the Liberal Democrat manifesto. I appreciate the point he made about the need to be certain that the regional committees will comprise a variety of skills and experience. I need hardly remind noble Lords that the agency's remit is a wide one: from farm to fork. However, if the noble Lord, Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish, were with us, no doubt he would say that it should be from fish farm to fork.

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For that reason, it would be wrong and counterproductive for the committees whose purpose, in the words of the Bill, is to give,


    "advice or information to the Agency about matters connected with its functions",

to be dominated by one particular interest. In principle, therefore, I accept the spirit of the amendment. However, I should say to the noble Countess, Lady Mar, that the selection process for the members of the agency will be vigorous. Furthermore, as regards the skills and experience of those who will be appointed to the agency, I should like to make the point that we are expressly looking for people with consumer experience as well as experience of the food industry itself. However, I accept the principle that the noble Baroness has tried to make clear to the House.

As paragraph 1 of Schedule 2 makes clear, the appointment of the chairman and members of the advisory committees for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is a matter for the relevant devolved administrations. I am pleased to be able to tell noble Lords that the devolved administrations and the department in Northern Ireland have all made it clear that they will act on the basis set out in the noble Lord's amendment, seeking a balance of skills within the membership of the committees. I hope that that provides the understanding which the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, requested.

The point raised by noble Lords is whether it is necessary to spell out this matter on the face of the Bill. I believe that it is probably not necessary to do so. While it is clearly desirable for a variety of skills to be available, I do not see a need to put these words into the Bill. I also feel that it is a useful distinction to draw between these committees and the agency itself. It is the agency in whom the formal functions, powers and duties under the Bill are vested. As my noble friend Lady Hayman has already pointed out, the advisory committees are there to advise in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. There are not many agencies with similar powers. It might be unhelpful to use parallel forms of words which might imply that there are.

I also believe that, in terms of the whole spirit of devolution, these advisory committees are essentially about giving advice to the agency in the context of the devolved administrations. I do believe--here I refer to the Liberal Democrat manifesto--that the principle of devolution should then leave the matter to the good sense of the devolved administrations to make their own decisions but guided by the principles which I set out earlier. I do not think that there is anything between us on principle. On that basis, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

6 p.m.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I thank the Minister--especially in the light of my success in drawing him once again to mention the Liberal Democrat manifesto in the context of this amendment. It is always worth quoting again, as he rightly noticed. I thank the noble Countess, Lady Mar, for her comments. The variety of skills and experience referred to in the amendment is identical to the duty of

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the agency in selecting its own members. That is the reason for my choice of words in applying them directly to the advisory committees. In that context I very much welcome the Minister's confirmation that the procedure is a rigorous one.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, for her support for the amendment. It is an important one. It is a little difficult to understand why it was not originally put in the Bill. I recognise that a Bill, having gone through so many stages, sometimes has inexplicable gaps in it. I take comfort from the fact that the Minister said that the amendment is "probably not necessary". That was one of the most interesting responses I have heard from the Minister for quite a long time. The level of uncertainty was encouraging.


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