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Baroness Byford: My Lords, it gives me huge pleasure to thank the noble Baroness for her comments and for accepting these amendments. I am grateful to her and to her colleagues for looking at this issue.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 20:


Page 10, line 18, leave out ("in subsections (2) and (3)") and insert ("above").

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 22 [Statement of general objectives and practices]:

[Amendment No. 21 not moved.]

Viscount Thurso moved Amendment No. 22:


Page 11, line 33, at end insert--
("( ) securing that a code of practice be drawn up in relation to--
(i) access by the public to advice and information held by the Agency;
(ii) publication or disclosure by the Agency of reports or advice,
with a view to allowing as wide access as is practicable, and to encourage publications of reports and advice,").

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The noble Viscount said: My Lords, Amendment No. 22 returns us to a debate which we had in Grand Committee on the question of openness and accountability. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, that it is precisely to cover some of the gaps in freedom of information that I have tabled the amendment, so I would welcome a contribution from him at this point also.

We all agreed in Grand Committee that to enable the agency to discharge its functions properly and achieve its objective--that is, regaining public trust in food safety and food matters generally--it is vital that the way in which such duties are discharged be open. We also agreed that the way in which advice is gathered should be open and that such advice should be available and disseminated.

The problem we encountered at that point was where and how we could put this into the Bill. Clearly, it was wrong to put it where I had suggested at that point, earlier on in the Bill. In addressing the matter in Clause 22, I tried, therefore, to put it in a more reasonable place.

Clause 22 sets out the statement of general objectives and practices for the agency. It requires the agency to make a statement of general objectives. Subsection (2) goes on to iterate certain objectives which should be contained within that statement. Paragraph (a) covers consultation, particularly with members of the public. Paragraph (b) covers co-operation with other bodies. Paragraph (c) requires records of its decisions and that they should be made available.

Amendment No. 22 seeks to add what would effectively be paragraph (d) which secures that a code of practice be drawn up in relation to two areas which are slightly different. The first is access by the public to advice and information. I am seeking to ensure generally that the agency allows access to members of the public or interested bodies so that information it holds can become available to people who wish to seek it. It is, therefore, a reactive power asking the agency to react to requests.

The second provision seeks to secure that the agency makes a code of practice in relation to the publication or disclosure of information which it holds.

My last amendment, which I withdrew in Grand Committee, sought to impose a duty upon the agency to disclose information. I was informed at that stage that that meant that every last piece of paper which the agency had would have to be disclosed and there would be a flood of paper everywhere. I did not necessarily accept that defence. However, I accepted it as a possibility. I therefore sought to put it into the code of practice rather than to make it an imposition upon the agency, so that by and large the agency will disclose information which it has.

Without obliging the agency to do these things, I am seeking to bring about the greatest possible likelihood that it will. I hope, therefore, that the amendment might be acceptable to the Government. I beg to move.

Baroness Wilcox : My Lords, I rise to support the noble Viscount in Amendment No. 22. Throughout

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the passage of the Bill we have argued that the agency should operate a presumption of openness. That means that information should be available unless there is a good reason for it not to be. The wording of Clause 19(1) which states that the agency may publish the advice it gives does not give a presumption of openness.

In Committee the Minister stated that Clause 19(1) gives the agency discretion to decide what information and advice it should publish and that that provision should be read in conjunction with Clause 22(2)(c) which requires the agency to keep records of its decisions and the information on which those decisions are based.

This provision is most welcome but not as broad as a presumption of openness. I believe that a firmer and more explicit general statement is needed that the agency should operate openly. I feel particularly keen to support the amendment at this time. I have just returned from the United States of America where I have been looking at science in society with the Select Committee on Science to find out why the American public seem to have more confidence, faith and trust in their scientists and in the advice they are given. I returned astonished at the amount of openness they enjoy. I refer not only to a freedom of information Act but to a right to know Act. Many of their committees are obliged not only to be open but to print all their agendas on the web. Everybody knows what is going on; they can turn up and see what is happening.

Here is a wonderful opportunity for this Government, who I know are wedded to a Freedom of Information Act and as much openness as possible. Using the word "may" does not quite make it. I hope that the Minister, at this late stage, may listen to the amendment tabled by the noble Viscount and give him his way.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, perhaps I may start by again congratulating the Government, this time on Clause 22(2)(c). Would that anything like that were to be in the Freedom of Information Act and apply to the Home Office. It would give poor Mr Straw a heart attack. I am delighted that some other part of the Government has seen how important it is that that sort of openness is available to citizens where they are required to trust the Government.

I find the amendments tabled by the noble Viscount entirely helpful. I do not know whether they are necessary but they certainly say something important. When members of the public want to know what sort of information they can expect to be published and what will not be published, to have in front of them a previously printed statement of practice will give them much more confidence that what they receive is right than wondering whether the rules are or might be seen to be altered to suit every occasion. I support the comments of the noble Viscount, but I do not pretend to know whether the amendments are necessary.

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The Countess of Mar: My Lords, the noble Viscount will be absolutely delighted to hear me quote once again from the EU document, Code of Good Administrative Behaviour. The first sentence states:


    "Having regard to the provisions on openness in the Amsterdam Treaty and in particular Article 1 of the Treaty on European Union and Article 21 of the EC Treaty".

The document contains a great deal about requests for information, requests for public access to documents and the keeping of adequate records and public access to the code. I cannot do anything but commend the amendment tabled by the noble Viscount.

Lord Rowallan: My Lord, I too, support the noble Viscount. We have just heard the noble Countess speak, and, as we all know, she is seldom wrong. It is nice to know that we are on the right side.

The Bill is so full of worries for so many people in all parts of the food industry that to have openness would be extremely useful. As was pointed out, it means that information will be available unless there is a very good reason for it not to be. That is a strong commitment and would go a long way towards making the Bill much more palatable to many more people. It also distinguishes between the publication and disclosure of information, both of which are important. I have pleasure in supporting the noble Viscount in his amendment.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment No. 24. In Committee we debated my Amendment No. 69 which required the agency to submit annually to Parliament on the anniversary of the approval of its first statement a revised version laying down its current objectives and how it intends to attain them. In his response the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, stated,


    "First, the agency cannot simply produce its statement and never review or revise it. As I said earlier, I see this as a dynamic process where the statement is subject to revision. I also agree that the statement should be laid before Parliament".--[Official Report, 13/10/99; col. CWH 123.]

I return to that important issue again today. I am convinced that the Bill should carry a requirement to publish such revision as soon as possible. It should be included on the face of the Bill. Amendment No. 24 asks for exactly that. In the same Committee stage I also tried to persuade the Government to accept that an annual report and accounts should be a joint publication, but was told that that was not possible. Today's amendment is an attempt to improve the visibility of the agency's work.


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