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Lord Monson: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, in the light of the assurances he gave, could he guarantee that a producer who under Clause 11(8)(a) intentionally obstructs an official trying to exercise his powers under subsection (4) on the grounds that that official was unhygienically clad would not, in fact, be guilty of an offence?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I should rather reflect on the exact terms that the noble Lord used and write to him. From what I have said, it is clear that the officers concerned have a responsibility to act reasonably where the practice of that business is concerned. If the officer were not to act reasonably, that would be a serious factor which would need to be taken into account.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, before I come specifically to my particular amendment, I hope that I am in order--I believe I shall be yelled at if I am not--

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Baroness is perfectly in order if she wishes to reply on her own amendment. However, I believe that she would not be in order if she wanted to speak a second time on someone else's amendment.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Radnor had not been spoken to before I spoke. I beg your Lordships' pardon and I shall begin again.

I thank the Minister for his full response to Amendments Nos. 14 and 17. We looked at the matter carefully in Grand Committee and we considered the purpose of these two amendments. I am glad that the Minister at least understood why I thought they were perhaps in the wrong place. I have listened to his long and full response. I should like to have an opportunity to read it in Hansard and, in particular, to speak to him about it further before Third Reading. It was rather a long and full explanation and at this stage it might be best if I did not press my amendments. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 15 not moved.]

Baroness Hayman moved Amendment No. 16:

Page 5, line 46, after ("(b)") insert (", (c)").

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On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 12 [Monitoring of enforcement action]:

The Countess of Mar moved Amendment No. 16A:

Page 6, line 17, leave out subsection (3) and insert--

("(3) Each annual report of the Agency shall contain a report on its activities during the year in enforcing any relevant legislation for which it is the enforcement authority and its performance in respect of--
(a) any standards under subsection (2) that apply to those activities; and
(b) any objectives relating to those activities that are specified in the statement of objectives and practices under section 22.").

The noble Countess said: My Lords, in rising to move the amendment I should like first to express my extraordinary gratitude to the Minister and to her officials, who have been incredibly patient and who have taken on board my concerns about what is happening with the Meat Hygiene Service.

The noble Baroness will know from previous debates and questions in this House and in another place that there are serious concerns that the Food Safety Act 1990 Section 40 codes that apply to food authorities do not apply to the Meat Hygiene Service. That has caused a number of serious difficulties for abattoir owners and operators with MHS officials carrying out their enforcement duties. I am informed that there is a section in the Meat Hygiene Service manual that is the equivalent of the Section 40 codes, but the vital point is that the manual provides guidelines only, which are neither statutory, nor enforceable.

Meat Hygiene Service officials are not obliged to follow the guidelines and all too often, as I have found, they do not. The guidelines have no standing in law and are given no weight when an abattoir or cutting plant owner or operator seeks redress. Any failures by Meat Hygiene Service officials to follow guidelines are meant to be highlighted by the audit system. The problem here is that the auditors themselves fail because they look only at the outcome and not at the methods by which it is achieved, nor at the standard of enforcement.

It is illogical, inconsistent and inequitable that Section 40 codes should apply only to the local food authorities and not to other important authorities which derive their authority from the same primary legislation, in other words, the Food Safety Act 1990. I understand that for technical reasons it is not possible to include the Meat Hygiene Service in paragraph 4 of Schedule 3, and paragraph 17 of Section 5 of the Bill. I ask the Minister for a categorical assurance that, when the Bill reaches the statute book and the food standards agency is established, the anomaly between the legal requirement for food authorities to comply with Section 40 codes and the non-statutory guidelines for the Meat Hygiene Service will no longer exist.

This amendment looks fairly obscure, but I am assured by the Minister that it will meet my concerns. I beg to move.

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7 p.m.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Countess for her kind remarks. I believe it is only right to pay tribute to the tenacity with which she has pursued her concerns about the Meat Hygiene Service. The Government do not always agree with her in every detail and it is certainly not always a comfortable position to be in as the Minister responding to her. However, I believe that the commitment she has shown has seen results. It has spurred us into exploring ways of ensuring that the Meat Hygiene Service can provide the best protection for public health and also operate in a way which is equitable and sensitive to the needs of businesses.

The noble Countess knows that we are constrained by EU legislation and that not all the problems are yet solved. However, I believe that a dialogue has been established and that that will be helpful in finding ways forward for the future.

This amendment is particularly useful. It enables us to put clearly on the face of the Bill two points about the way in which the Meat Hygiene Service will be required to operate. I appreciate that that is not perhaps as transparent and easily seen as all of us would wish because of some of the technical difficulties to which the noble Countess referred. However, first, I can assure the House that the MHS will be set standards of enforcement performance against which it will be monitored in the same way as the food authorities will be set standards and have to comply with Section 40 codes.

Secondly, the agency will have objectives in respect of the better-regulation principles which will be set out in the statement of objectives and practices. Those will apply to the Meat Hygiene Service. This amendment usefully requires that the agency will then have to report on its achievements in relation to these standards and objectives in its annual report where it acts as an enforcement authority, which of course includes the Meat Hygiene Service. Therefore, we are setting up a transparent mechanism for monitoring how well the Meat Hygiene Service is doing in those areas and a mechanism on which Parliament itself will also be able to comment.

I turn to the issue of auditing and the way in which the noble Countess believes that that has been unsatisfactory in the past. We expect the audits of the Meat Hygiene Service's performance, which will be carried out by an entirely separate part of the food standards agency, to be rigorous and thorough and not to present a whitewash if there is something wrong.

I also assure the noble Countess that the Meat Hygiene Service will be following the better-regulations enforcement concordat, which it is in the process of signing up to. Therefore, the Meat Hygiene Service will follow the agreed standards of openness, helpfulness, proportionate action and consistency and will have a clear complaints procedure.

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In summing up, I reiterate that we believe that the amendment provides a genuinely helpful opportunity to strengthen the ways in which we monitor the Meat Hygiene Service's performance. I fully support it.

Lord Rowallan: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I am somewhat confused. The amendment tabled by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, refers to "the agency" which is presumably the food standards agency. The Minister has spoken mostly about the Meat Hygiene Service. Will she confirm that it is not necessary to mention the name "Meat Hygiene Service" somewhere in the amendment?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I can confirm that. The Meat Hygiene Service is an enforcement authority. The phrase "enforcement authority" is included in the Bill several times, and so that is in fact covered.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, again I am extraordinarily grateful to the noble Baroness, especially for her kind words. I shall not delay the House any longer. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 14 [Power of entry for monitoring enforcement action]:

[Amendment No. 17 not moved.]

The Earl of Radnor moved Amendment No. 18:

Page 7, line 34, at end insert--
("( ) On entering relevant premises an authorised person and any person accompanying that authorised person must observe the rules of hygiene enforced on those premises.").

The noble Earl said: My Lords, in spite of what the Minister said, I believe that the amendment is phrased in an appropriate and clear way. I listened with the greatest care to what the Minister said. I suppose that what I said in Grand Committee and what he says now are much the same thing.

In carrying out an inspection, the authorised person and companion, or whatever one wishes to call him or her, would of course stay within the law. That is what I expected. They would perhaps be reasonable by their lights, but not necessarily by the lights of the owner of the plant which they were entering to take samples, bacterial swabs or whatever. Neither of those matters is quite enough to cover the burden of my argument, nor indeed is any code of practice. I refer to code of practice 9. I believe that all of us have had long experience of codes of practice, both in your Lordships' House and outside it. Such codes can be abused; they do not carry the force of law. People can get round them and ignore them.

I shall repeat for the last time that the point of my argument does not concern a matter of law nor one of reasonableness. In fact, it does not concern a government agency of any sort. It relates to a visitor coming to a plant and offending the rules obtaining in that plant. In all probability, those rules were set by a buyer, possibly a supermarket. Such rules would be far

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more severe than any that might be set by an authorised person. On examination, it may be that something wrong is found, and the visitor may be in trouble with the people to whom he is selling. One knows how the marketplace works today in that regard. One believes that tomorrow one is going to sell 100 tonnes of a certain product. Then it is discovered that a visitor has not complied with the rules, and that is used as an excuse--or reason, whichever it is--to drop the order like a stone and go elsewhere. I beg to move.

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