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Baroness Byford: My Lords, perhaps the Minister will give way. From my reading of events in the other House, I understood--I may be wrong--that in fact his honourable friend Jeff Rooker indicated that he had no control over food coming in from the third countries and that we have control over defining on labelling within the EU but not in the wider field. I may be wrong, but I thought that I should come back to the Minister.
Lord Carter: My Lords, the point is that under European Union and international law we cannot ban imports because we feel that their standards are lower. We have to rely on the standards laid down in Europe and inspected by the various authorities in the member states. If they say that the food is safe, we have to accept that. But, equally, where we know that there is a problem--as was the case with the dioxins--we can use our own emergency UK legislation to ban their import immediately, which is what we did. The point is complicated and it may help if I write to the noble Baroness.
A question was asked about the proposed EU food standards agency. The President-designate of the EU Commission, speaking to the European Parliament only last week, referred to the idea of establishing a European food and drugs agency. No details of the
A number of questions were asked about the effect of devolution. We would all agree that it is important that we do not have different standards in different parts of the UK. We agree that in the interests of consumers and business we should have common standards across the UK, as I said. Having the agency as a UK body should help to secure that. But devolution is a fact of life, and the devolved bodies will have responsibility in their areas. In some areas it might be appropriate to take a different action in one part of the UK; for example, we know that the levels of E.coli 0157 are higher in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK, but we do not really know why that is. The devolved authorities will be able to take the different action required if it is justified.
We must also bear in mind that, in the food safety field, much of our legislation originates from the European Union and there is limited scope within the framework of the relevant EU provisions to set different standards.
I refer to a question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Rotherwick. There is no time limit on withdrawal by Scotland or Northern Ireland. There is no time limit in the Bill on how long any part of the UK must participate in the agency, because it will operate by agreement between the Government and the devolved administration. There is already a devolved responsibility in Scotland settled by the Scotland Act 1998, which we all remember well. The devolved administrations have already said that they wish to participate in the UK agency. We do not presume that they will want to withdraw, and certainly not for the foreseeable future. Indeed, to coin a phrase, food standards and safety may be the first and best example of "joined-up devolution." So why is England different? There is no requirement to set up an advisory committee for England, because England, unlike Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, does not have devolved institutions to which the agency is responsible. If regional centres in England are established, then the Bill enables the Secretary of State to make provision for an advisory committee for those regions.
As regards prosecutors in Scotland, the procurator- fiscal initiates all prosecutions in Scotland and there is no intention to change that situation. In response to the question about the meaning of scale 5 penalties, the current maximum value of a penalty on scale 5 is £5,000.
I shall make a final point on the appeals process. The agency will be subject to all the normal legal remedies. For example, it can be subject to a judicial review of its decisions. Where it acts as an enforcement authority, for example, in relation to meat hygiene, the appeals provisions in Sections 37 to 39 of the Food Safety Act
In conclusion, my noble friend Lady Hayman suggested that, since there is considerable interest in the Bill, she is prepared to organise a meeting on the first day that the House sits again on 11th October for all interested Peers. We shall use the usual channels to inform interested Peers of the time and place. I believe that the Bill enters Committee in the first week back. If we can arrange a meeting on the first Monday, I believe that your Lordships will find it helpful.
The Bill marks the clearest statement yet of the Government's objectives and principles in promoting safe food. It provides an agency which will be open, balanced, well-informed, consistent, accessible, consultative, responsible and independent. It will also have a high profile. Food safety is rising further up the international agenda. We shall look to the agency to take a lead in Europe and abroad. Experience continues to teach us not to be complacent about the simple mechanics of improvement and change.
Inevitably, the agency's success will depend on more than just the legislation. The proof will be not only in the eating, but in the confidence of all those whose interests are at stake. The chairman and members of the agency will have a critical role to play. They will need to have the determination and imagination to manage effectively the changing food safety agenda. That means responding to the needs of consumers, enforcers and businesses alike, since all stand to suffer if a serious problem arises. It also means developing their own distinct authority and identity, free from the day-to-day interventions of Ministers, and with the ability to take the initiative. The Food Standards Bill provides the strongest basis on which the job can be done. Therefore, I commend it to your Lordships.
Lord Carter: My Lords, in rising to move the adjournment of the House for the Summer Recess, I should like to say a few words in the usual arrangement of a valediction, expressing my gratitude to all those whose hard work, dedication and co-operation have made the year's achievements possible.
It has been a particularly difficult year. The legislative programme has come close to home in the form of 16 days on the House of Lords reform. Relationships within the usual channels have been exceptionally important this year. It is a testament to the constructive spirit and patience of all those involved that we have managed to proceed by way of agreement in arranging the business of your Lordships' House. Despite the normal and expected differences of opinion, the usual channels have proceeded in an honourable and helpful way. The result has been the orderly completion of the House's business.
I am particularly grateful to the Opposition Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, to the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, and to the noble Lord, Lord Weatherill, the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers for the crucial part which each of them has played in achieving that end. It is also the case that owing to a little local difficulty on the Conservative Benches, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, succeeded the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, as Chief Whip. I am glad to have this opportunity to thank the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for his co-operation and his time as Opposition Chief Whip.
On behalf of all your Lordships, I should also like to pay tribute to the dedication and commitment of the staff of your Lordships' House. Our thanks are due to all those who do so much to make our task here as bearable and pleasant as possible. This has been a heavy Session. The staff have worked long hours, as indeed have your Lordships, with great willingness and cheerfulness--that applies to the staff, not to your Lordships--to provide a service which I am sure is second to none. Although it is not usual to name individuals, I propose to break that convention in this instance--I believe that your Lordships will know why--by saying a word of thanks to my own private secretary, and the private secretary of the Leader of the House, Simon Burton, who is moving to another post in the House after the summer. Simon has served as private secretary under this administration and under the previous administration. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, as the former Government Chief Whip, would join me in thanking Simon for his tireless, expert and dexterous work in facilitating the usual channels over the past three years.
Lord Carter: My Lords, it has been a long and difficult Session, and it is not over yet. Royal Assent has so far been given to a grand total of 28 public Bills. I am delighted to remind your Lordships that we have managed to achieve that without any all-night sittings. I wish all your Lordships a very happy holiday. I look forward to seeing you all in the autumn--it says here: refreshed, rested, relaxed, rejuvenated and ready to rejoin the fray!
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