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Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I do understand, although I have to say that during the debates on the Food Safety Bill the issue of compensation was carefully considered. It was felt inappropriate that considerations about compensation should enter into

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Ministers' minds when making decisions about emergency action on grounds of food safety. There was considerable debate on the issue.

I understand what the noble Countess is saying. However, I must point out to the House that the Duckett's cheese case was, albeit under judicial review, considered twice by courts of law which upheld government action. This is a specific and difficult area and one in which a balance of considerations should be taken into account, including those of access to compensation, when invoking emergency powers. There is a heavy onus on Ministers to ensure that the case for emergency action has been clearly made before the relevant powers are invoked and that the powers will be used in a reasonable way that can be upheld in a court of law. That test is a sound and reasonable one and it is appropriate to the special circumstances in which these kinds of measures are taken.

I understand the concerns that were raised over the Duckett's cheese case and everyone involved in it has reflected on those circumstances. But I have to say to the noble Countess that I do not believe that that case is either so clear cut or so generally applicable as to send us down the route, which her amendment would do, of creating a single appeals mechanism for a very complicated case like that and all the other issues with which the food standards agency will have to deal. I hope the House will accept from me the argument that the necessity is to cover appropriately all areas of appeal. I trust I have illustrated that the powers are there so to do if we discover a lacuna in the appeals mechanism such as the need for independence regarding the Meat Hygiene Service. The Government recognise that because the appeals procedures are complex and are different in different circumstances, they should be clearly articulated to those who need to use them. Equally, the Government will take steps to ensure that the agency institutes a one-stop complaints procedure, part of which will deal with run-of-the-mill complaints--if I may put it that way--and part of which will give people access to the appropriate appeals mechanism. We shall be charging the agency on its inception with setting up such an appeals procedure.

We have talked about the use of the annual report. It would be helpful if each year in the annual report to Parliament the agency reported back both on complaints and on the use of the appeals procedures. I should like to take that forward.

I hope the House will agree that, although the amendments are appealing at first glance--they have the appeal of simplicity--sometimes as legislators we cannot respond to that siren call. However, the principles that underlie them are covered both in the Act and in the additional mechanisms that I have outlined.

Lord Rowallan: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, can she say for the avoidance of doubt in which Act or other legislation the one-stop body is set out?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the complaints procedure will be part of the work of the food

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standards agency. It is not explicit in the Bill because it is governed by the guiding principles under which the agency will work--namely, transparency, accessibility and accountability--and because the agency is obliged under the "Service First" principles and the principles of better regulation to have such a complaints procedure. Equally, I have given assurances at every stage of the Bill that such a complaints procedure will be set up. Were the agency to default on that, the courts would be able to look at Hansard and see that those undertakings had been given at the Dispatch Box.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I understand that she believes that my Amendment No. 11, dealing with appeals, is totally unsatisfactory. Having listened to her words carefully, and bearing in mind that today is the last chance we shall have to make clear what we are doing, perhaps I may clarify this point with her. I understand from the Minister's response to my Amendment No. 15 that the only point in the amendment about which she is unhappy is the reference to "a single mechanism" rather than "a single procedure". If that is so, will the Government consider accepting the amendment? I do not quite know what the position is, and I realise that this is my last chance to raise this matter. I give way to the Minister.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am sorry not to be of help to the noble Baroness. If she looks closely at her Amendment No. 15, she will see that it confuses two things. It seeks to set up a complaints procedure, but then states that that procedure shall,

    "provide those aggrieved by any decisions or actions taken by the Agency with a single mechanism for challenging those decisions or actions".

When we come to "challenging", we are talking about appeals procedures, and, as I have stated, the appeals procedures have to be differentiated.

I hope that the noble Baroness and other noble Lords will accept that there is no doubt that the agency will have a complaints procedure. I have explained the various reasons and mechanisms under which it will have such a procedure. It will be a single route in order to put people in touch with the appropriate appeals mechanism.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, will the complaints system, as mooted, allow the agency to consider the question of compensation or will there purely be other forms of redress?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I speak off the cuff. Most government departments are able to make ex gratia payments in response to complaints if they believe that that is appropriate. Without prior notice, I should not like to suggest and pre-judge the exact terminology of the complaints procedure. However, I

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am willing to take up that point, examine it in some detail and write to the noble Lord if that would be helpful.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her full reply. Perhaps I may make two points absolutely clear from the beginning. I intended no inference whatever that the Minister was ever involved in thinking about money in relation to the Section 13 order. However, I do believe that that was in the minds of the officials. That is a different matter. That would have clouded the advice that they gave her. Secondly, the judge in the judicial review found for Mr Duckett. He said that the department had used measures that it should not have used as an expedient.

There also seems to be a slight confusion between complaints and appeals. Many complaints arise in conjunction with appeals, because of the way in which enforcement matters have been handled. Those are the matters about which I am concerned. If the food standards agency fails to publish a leaflet, or uses the wrong words in a leaflet, that is a totally different matter. That would give rise to what I would call a straightforward complaint, almost a moan. But when there are serious complaints that need to be addressed--for example, the manner in which officials operate within the system--serious consideration should be given to a tribunal.

The Minister has talked about the complexity of the food standards agency. I do not know whether she is aware that I sit on the Immigration Appeals Tribunal--and there is nothing more complex than that. However, we do our job successfully. I am a lay member; I have no legal qualifications. Perhaps I may suggest that, when the Government are considering how the body will be set up, they examine the possibility of having one legal chairman and two lay members who are able to receive both written and oral information, interpret it, and arrive at well-balanced decisions. That might well be worth looking at. In the meantime, I thank the Minister and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 11 not moved.]

Clause 22 [Statement of general objectives and practices]:

[Amendment No. 12 not moved.]

Clause 23 [Consideration of objectives, risks, costs and benefits, etc.]:

Baroness Byford moved Amendment No. 13:

Page 12, line 29, at end insert ("; and
(d) the need for transparency, reasonableness and proportionality in the conduct of its activities").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this amendment, I shall speak also to my Amendment No. 14.

The aim of these two amendments is to ensure that the regulatory burden on businesses is not increased unnecessarily. The Government's Better Regulation Task Force stated in its report on the principles of

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good regulation that governments should be satisfied that regulations are necessary, fair, effective and balanced, and must enjoy a broad degree of public confidence. The report prescribes five principles against which regulations and their enforcement should be measured: transparency, accountability, targeting, consistency, and proportionality. The first amendment would require the agency to take account of those principles in deciding whether and how to exercise its powers.

When I spoke to the second of these amendments in Grand Committee, I said:

    "We believe it is both possible and reasonable for the agency to have continuous regard to the control of costs without jeopardising the successful pursuit of food standards".--[Official Report, 13/10/99; col. CWH 28.]

I have received backing from many, including the CLA.

The Bill stipulates that the agency, in deciding whether or not to exercise its powers, must take account of the nature and magnitude of the risk. The agency might well include in its deliberations the risk to business, but an explicit direction in the Bill as provided by these two amendments to be mindful of the regulatory burden and to consider how it might be reduced would go further and would reassure businesses that might be affected. I beg to move.

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