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Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not believe I should comment on that press report any more than I commented on the report referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell. However, I did see it and was interested to read what it said. We are members of G7 and have certain common interests and obligations.

Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the intervention--

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is it apparent to the Minister--

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Watson of Richmond: My Lords, does the Minister confirm that the intervention was in the national interest, our national interest being that the euro should be strong and stable and the pound less expensive against it? Does the Minister agree also that some of the interventions on the future of the currency by members of the Conservative Party enjoy the same sort of clarity as their views on the future of cannabis?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I hope that they do not change quite as rapidly; no I take that back. Some of the views expressed by members of the Conservative Front Bench I hope they change even more rapidly. Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, is right. It is in our interests to have a strong euro. The Chancellor has made that clear on more than one occasion.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I apologise for not giving way to the noble Lord, Lord Watson; I did not see him. But is this really a question of Liberal or Conservative policy? Is it not a question of why this Government should support the euro when they do not know whether or not the people of this country want to have it?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, is making a proper connection between the view that we take about the exchange rate between the euro and the pound--we believe that the pound is over-valued in

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that regard--and the quite separate question of whether or not we should join the euro, on which our policy has not changed.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, does not the current value of the euro justify the Minister's statement in the debate on 28th March that it is, if I may paraphrase, pretty futile to intervene in foreign exchanges? The intervention does not seem, in the long term, to have done much good to the euro. Also, are the press reports right that the Chancellor sold those holdings quite quickly, perhaps at a modest profit? If so, does that show that he has long-term confidence in the euro?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, as I made clear in my first Answer, it does not make good sense to provide a short-term snapshot of the value of these medium-term portfolio decisions. I do not comment on press reports on the profit. I made that clear in answer to an earlier question. And it does not seem to me that now is the time to draw final conclusions in relation to what are, in the end, medium-term portfolio decisions.

I did not say this in response to an earlier question but perhaps I should have done. I read the reports that some governments are thinking of taking advantage of public holidays in order to make further intervention. But I could not possibly comment on that.

Organic Food

2.48 p.m.

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What assessment they have made of the recent statement by the Food Standards Agency about organically grown food.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the Food Standards Agency, which is a non-ministerial government department, has a duty to promote consumer choice by providing independent, objective and impartial advice and information. The statement which the agency published recently on its website meets that obligation with regard to organic food.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm that it remains the Government's policy to support the production of organic food? Do they agree that the reduced use of pesticides and fertilisers is good for both human health and the environment? Also, do they accept that increased production of organic foods would lead to economies of scale and therefore to lower prices for consumers? When all is said and done, for many of us organic foods taste better.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I agree that by increasing consumer choice and producing environmental benefits, organic farming can make an important contribution. However, no preferential

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treatment is given to organic farming as there is no evidence that organic produce is safer or healthier than produce from non-organic farms. Government support for the organic sector takes account of evidence that the organic system of farming leads to certain environmental benefits.

Lord Elton : My Lords, is the Minister aware that earlier today Radio 4 broadcast a moving dramatisation of the moment when the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, surrendered his seat as a result of a parliamentary defeat? Does he agree that this House was fortunate and that it would be a good thing if many other members of his party were to come to this House by the same route?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I cannot perceive any circumstance in which that will happen but no doubt we are all grateful to my noble friend for giving us his wisdom over a number of years in your Lordships' House.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Rea: My Lords, to return to the Question on the Order Paper, does my noble friend agree that the FSA's position paper on organic food is well balanced and based on scientific evidence? Does he also agree that as such it is unlikely to please people at either end of the spectrum? At one end are the enthusiasts who believe that organic food not only tastes nicer--I agree with my noble friend that it does--but also that it is more nutritious, which some do not believe. At the other end are those who want to blacken the name of organic food--perhaps those in the agrichemical industry--and who say that it is responsible for infections because of its copious use of manure.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my noble friend puts it very well. As a result of examining research data and available information, the FSA believes that there is insufficient information to be able to say that organic foods are significantly different in terms of safety and nutritional content from those produced by conventional farming. An important role of the FSA is producing advice to consumers. Consumers can then take that into account and chose as they will.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, the Government have given the FSA an enormous amount of power. We shall hear a great deal about it and it will affect our lives greatly. I believe that in his Answer the Minister referred to the FSA as a non-government department. I do not know whether that was a slip of the tongue, but if he did say that what is it a department of?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I believe that I was right in referring to the FSA as a non-ministerial government department. It has been agreed that because of the importance of ensuring that advice in

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this crucial area is as independent as possible the agency will be accountable to Parliament through health Ministers. Yes, it occupies an important role and I believe that the calibre of its board members is high. It plays a crucial role in ensuring food safety and that the public have the correct information.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, first, if the Minister is so keen on organically grown food, why are not the Government doing more to ensure that prices for it are lowered in supermarkets? Secondly, does he agree that if I popped an organically grown carrot into the mouth of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, followed by an ordinary carrot he would not be able to tell the difference?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is clear that noble Lords have differing views on how well--or not--organic food tastes. That is why it is a matter for individual consumer choice. The noble Baroness is right in saying that the costs of the production and handling of organic food can be higher and yields generally lower than in conventional agriculture. It is also right to say that the relatively low level of production means that economies of scale are not achieved. Those factors are reflected in the price of organic food. None the less, it is an important market in this country and I am sure that consumers will continue to enjoy it.

The Lord Bishop of Hereford : My Lords, granted that the Government give much support to organic farming--that is widely welcomed because many people are appreciative of organic food--can the Minister say what precise part the Government play in adjudicating on or defining what constitutes organic food? I believe that the Soil Association is the lead body in defining what is and is not allowed and that there is some variation of interpretation. How do the Government decide what qualifies as "organic"?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, organic food production and labelling are regulated by European standards. Foods may be called "organic" only if they come from registered producers, processors or importers. European Community regulations describe the inputs and practices which may be used in organic farming and growing and the inspection system which must be put in place to ensure that. The UK Register of Organic Food Standards administers the regulations in the UK. Its job is to ensure that the regulations are properly applied by the various bodies which register organic farmers and processors, including organisations such as the Soil Association.


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