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Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, because the Minister has made a concession, for which we are grateful, I would like to help her with a problem that she is likely to face. It would be quite inappropriate for me to say that I do not want to teach my grandmother to suck eggs--it would be more appropriate to say that I do not want to teach my granddaughter to suck eggs--but I have sucked those eggs myself.
In about 1982, we were determined to introduce country-of-origin marking across a whole range of goods. We had tremendous opposition from our partners in the then Community, who said that they would be non-tariff barriers. I consulted very widely with the National Association of Townswomen's Guilds, which also consulted their members widely, and it appeared that they definitely wanted to know the country of origin, not as a non-trade barrier but so that they could recognise certain countries that had a very good reputation for certain goods and not for others. It was very difficult, but we finally did it under the Trades Descriptions Act. It was not quite ultra vires but it was a little shaky in that department.
I subsequently retired from the department happy with the thought that we had got it through. Sadly, at a later date after my departure, our own and other MEPs within the Community decided that they could not continue with it because of the objections.
Having issued those warnings, my final point on this subject relates to the question asked by my noble friend Baroness Byford, "Why only beef?" I can tell her why. It is because other countries are using it as a non-tariff barrier. They believe that if they label it "British beef", nobody will want to buy it. That is the sad truth. We should be able to put it on any of our food goods, not just to blow our own trumpet but because consumers will obviously want to know, for many reasons, the point of origin.
Lord Monson: My Lords, Amendment No. 5 is probably unacceptable for the reasons advanced at Report stage by my noble friend Lady Mar. If I remember correctly, she pointed out that it would mean that every single apple, pear, cauliflower or potato would have to be separately labelled with its ingredients, which is a rather curious way of doing things, and its country or origin, and that would clearly be impossible.
I am not quite so sure about Amendment No. 2. What exactly is a food product? Is an untreated potato or apple a food product? I would have thought not. I would have thought that it was a food pure and simple and that only if it had been converted or treated in some way, such as having been turned into tinned, stewed apple or frozen chips, would it become a food product. Perhaps the noble Baroness would be kind enough to let us have her views about this when she winds up.
Viscount Thurso: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, has pursued the question of labelling with passion and commitment from Second Reading, when she raised it at col. 1790, as indeed did my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones in his intervention; and we both used roughly the same line of attack at Committee stage. However, I felt that we began to part company at Report stage, and my noble friend explained why we felt that the amendments being put forward by the noble Baroness were over-prescriptive. However, that does not detract from the importance of labelling and the requirement that labelling should be on the face of the Bill. It is for that reason that I have put my name to Amendment No. 16. I feel that it has gone a very long way, if not the whole way, towards achieving our aim of having labelling on the face of the Bill.
As the noble Baroness said, labelling is an extremely confusing matter, even before we start to legislate on it. It is my experience that once one starts to legislate, matters often become more confusing rather than less confusing; one legislates in haste and repents at leisure. I therefore prefer the approach of not attempting to be too prescriptive at this final stage of the Bill, but, rather wish to ensure that the agency will be fully aware of its duties in regard to labelling and will take them seriously. I therefore suggest that we should wait for the agency to devise, through proper consultation, a proper regime.
I am grateful to the Minister for having listened to the concerns from both our Benches and for having responded so graciously. I express the hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, will accept that this is as far as we can go at this stage.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, on her tenacity, if nothing else. Noble Lords will know that I do not entirely agree. I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, for his exposition of his and the noble Baroness's amendment, to the extent that consultation will be involved. This is absolutely essential. I have pointed out some of the problems which might arise. If consultation can bring about a certain flexibility in the labelling requirements, that is what we need.
Lord Rowallan: My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lady Byford on her tenacity in this particular department during the course of the Bill. I believe that we have achieved a very good compromise in Amendment No. 16. I am delighted that the "noble" democrat party has, at long last, found itself again in bed with the Government on this particular amendment. At the end of the day, it produces a very sensible compromise. I strongly commend the amendment to the House.
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I am grateful for the debate that we have had. In the previous debate on nutrition and in our discussion about labelling, once again two of the major areas of concern that have been emphasised throughout the passage of the Bill through your Lordships' House have been raised.
I have considered very carefully how we can meet some of the very justified concerns on both issues. We have just spoken about the way in which we can make clear the agency's role on nutrition. I said in earlier debates that labelling was a rather different matter. It is already explicitly covered by the legislative framework in the Food Safety Act 1990, as well as being subject to existing EU rules, which gives rise to some of the complications to which the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, referred.
My earlier argument was that because explicit mention is made of this point in the Food Safety Act and because the agency would be responsible for its administration, it is not necessary in this legislation to make explicit the responsibilities in regard to labelling.
The word "tenacious" has been applied to the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, by several other Members of your Lordships' House, and I reiterate that. The noble Baroness said with some passion at Report stage that she could not find the word "labelling" on the face of this Bill and that reference back to another piece of legislation was not sufficiently explicit to reassure people, given the concerns and the need to improve labelling in a variety of areas. We have talked today about country of origin labelling, but there are concerns about claims made on labels--the issues of low fat and fat-free have been raised--and the need to be explicit and not to use defensive labelling, for example, when we look at matters involving allergies.
I undertook at Report stage to examine whether there was a way in which we could make clear that the agency's remit covered labelling. My amendment will meet that point. It would add to the interpretation clause--Clause 36--a gloss on the phrase,
I explained at Report stage that there are always risks in singling out one specific item from a general definition. It might have the effect of giving pre-eminent importance to one issue while excluding other issues. That is one of the problems with the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford. They leave some doubt as to how widely the agency's functions in Clauses 6 and 7 should be interpreted in relation to matters other than labelling. Our amendment is drafted in such a way that it does not have to have a restrictive or exclusive effect.
There are other important reasons why we cannot support Amendment No. 5. The amendment suggests that the legislative competence is more simple than it is. We have EU competencies in this area, and the reason the noble Baroness's wine is labelled so explicitly in relation to country of origin is because wine is subject to separate labelling rules under the EU common organisation of the market for wine. We therefore encounter those sorts of difficulties.
As the noble Lord, Lord Monson, pointed out, there are also difficulties with the phraseology in respect of food products. The amendment was presumably intended to cover manufactured or processed food, but the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, talked of a topical concern in relation to the labelling of meat, which is not a processed product. We have to work within the labelling regime laid down in EC legislation; we cannot act unilaterally; nor would it necessarily be in the interests of United Kingdom consumers or of our food industry if we had different labelling rules from those that apply in the EU.
As I have made clear, this is wider than a European issue; we must look at the international dimension. That is not to say that we are in any way complacent that the present situation, particularly in relation to country of origin labelling, is satisfactory. That is why we have taken action--the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, was kind enough to outline that action--to ensure, for example, that there is no misleading country of origin information given, particularly on pig products, but also other products sold in this country.
I must take issue with the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, as by implication did the noble Countess, Lady Mar, as to why we have to consult. In your Lordships' House we would be in a great deal of trouble if we did not consult on these issues. For example, producers might well wish to put forward the impracticality of listing every ingredient and the country of origin on a label.
We are trying to tackle, through my amendment, the legislative position so that it is explicit on the face of the Bill that labelling comes within the remit of the agency. But noble Lords will agree that the proof of the pudding will be in the eating; that is, what the agency actually does in this sphere. The Bill provides the framework of powers and duties within which it will act. It will be for the agency to set out a strategy as to how it will take that forward; it will neglect labelling at its peril. As noble Lords have pointed out, consumers want better labelling. They may well also need the methods to deconstruct labelling--an issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, when referring to the American document that helps consumers to understand labelling.
I believe that we have shown the way forward by the steps we are currently taking on country of origin labelling and the steps we are taking in the EU in relation to GM labelling and GM in animal foods.
In the light of everything that is in the Bill and the amendment brought forward today, together with the commitments we have given, I have no doubt that the agency will work to deliver a real increase in consumer information and choice through improvements in labelling and advice. I pay tribute to the strong case put by the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, to see labelling mentioned on the face of the Bill. We responded to that. We are also taking action within a European and international context to take forward, in particular, improvements in labelling on country of origin. On that basis I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment and support our amendment, also supported by the noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, for which I am grateful.
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