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Progress to the Food Standards Act 1999
Progress to the Food Standards Act 1999
The last two articles in this series have each been focused onto single themes. Article 16 concentrated on Australian sites whilst article 17 provided an update on publications on the Web from the European Commission (to the end of June 1999).
This article also follows a theme - the legislative processes leading to the creation of the Food Standards Agency. If either (or both) Parliamentary or journal publishing proceedings were rapid then it would be possible to be absolutely up-to-date. But this ideal situation is not true for either. This review of Web sites has been prepared whilst the Food Standards Bill is still before Parliament and considers materials available up to early August 1999 (that is up to and including the second reading of the Bill in the House of Lords which took place on 30 July 1999). Information will be given on how to access new material expected to become available shortly after the Lords reconvened on this topic in mid-October 1999.
Web site reviews
Food Standards Bill
By the time this review is published, the Food Standards Bill will have completed its passage through Parliament, gained Royal Assent as the Food Standards Act 1999 and perhaps the Food Standards Agency will be up and running. But at the date of preparing the article (August 1999) Parliament is in recess for the summer and the progress of the Bill through Parliament is temporarily halted for a couple of months.
The Food Standards Bill provides a rare opportunity to use the Internet to follow an item of food-related primary legislation through all its stages. The last previous major food legislation was the Food Safety Act 1990; at that date all documents were paper based (and not easily accessible for most people) but nowadays most Parliamentary proceedings are available via the Internet (and thus almost immediately available world-wide to anyone with a PC and modem).
First reading - House of Commons. The Food Standards Bill was introduced in the House of Commons on 10 June 1999 and given its first reading (which is a mere announcement of its existence). On the following day, the initial version of the Bill was published in both print and Internet editions.
The URL for the Bill as introduced into the House of Commons is: http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm199899/cmbills/117/1999117.htm
Also published at this time were two associated documents:
A set of detailed explanatory notes that discuss the Bill on a clause by clause basis. The URL for the explanatory notes is: http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm199899/cmbills/117/en/99117x-.htm
A regulatory impact assessment prepared by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. This document is primarily concerned with presenting an analysis that assesses the benefits that are expected to accrue as a result of the new legislation in the context of the probable costs of compliance with the new legislation.
The URL for the regulatory impact assessment is http://www.maff.gov.uk/food/fsa/billria.htm
Second reading - House of Commons. The first Parliamentary debate on the Bill took place on 21 June 1999 with the second reading. As is usual at second reading, the debate focused on the principles that underpin the Bill and provided MPs with the chance to air their views (and prejudices) on a wide range of food matters. This debate lasted around five hours and the full text of the debate is available on the UK Parliament Web site.
The general URL for the Parliament site is: http://www.parliament.uk/
The above URL is the general access point for all Parliamentary items in this review. However, the Parliament Web site is very extensive and other than for the verbatim accounts of Parliament and its Committees (for which the URLs are extremely long and complex) the individual full URL will be given for each item referred to in this article.
To access the verbatim text reports of any Parliamentary debates from the opening screen, select:
Commons or Lords as appropriate; then
the "publications on the Internet" option; then
"Daily Debates ..." option; then
the date indicated in the text above.
Committee stage - House of Commons. The Commons Committee stage of consideration of the Bill (in which the Bill was considered in some detail on a clause by clause basis) took place in 11 sessions that took place between 29 June 1999 and 15 July 1999 - full verbatim records of these sessions are available via the Internet.
To access these records from the Parliament opening screen, select:
the "publications on the Internet option"; then
"Standing Committee Debates on Bills"; then
"Session 1998-99"; then
"Food Standards Bill"; then
the session of interest - each of the 11 sessions has a separate link.
Alternatively, the following URL can be used as a shortcut to the fifth of the above steps: http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm/cmfoods.htm
Third reading - House of Commons. Following consideration of detailed amendments by Standing Committee B (above), a second House of Commons debate took place on 22 July 1999 with the third reading. At this stage of Parliamentary consideration of any Bill, the debate is intended to concentrate on the actual substance of the proposed legislation and to consider the possibility of amendments. Although, on this occasion, debate was considerable (despite being restricted to six hours) the actual outcome was minimal change since the principal amendments (proposed in order to stimulate debate) were each withdrawn. With Commons agreement given at the end of the third reading, the Bill passed to the House of Lords.
As with the second reading, the full verbatim account of the third reading debate is published on the Internet (follow the instructions given above).
First reading - House of Lords. First reading in the Lords took place on 23 July 1999 and a revised version of the Bill including amendments agreed by the Commons was published in both print and Internet editions.
The URL for the Bill as introduced into the House of Lords is: http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld/pa/ld199899/lbbills/088/1999088.htm
At this date, a revised set of explanatory notes was also published. The URL for this document is: http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/ld/pd/ld199899/ldbills/088/en/99099x-.htm
Second reading - House of Lords. Second reading of the Bill in the Lords took place in a three-hour debate on 30 July 1999 as the last item of business before the Lords adjourned for the summer. The Lords returned to the Bill on 12 October 1999 with consideration in Grand Committee.
As with House of Commons debates, the full verbatim proceedings are available via the Internet (follow the instructions given above).
Final stages - (Committee stage and third reading) - House of Lords. Since this article is being written part-way through the Bill's Parliamentary progress (which will end ahead of publication of the article) it is useful to remind readers that there will be at least two further Parliamentary considerations of this Bill. These will be - in the House of Lords Grand Committee (scheduled for 12 October 1999) and at the Lords third reading debate. I trust that through exploration of the Parliament Web site using the instructions above readers will be able to follow up the later stages of this matter without further assistance.
I say "at least" in the above paragraph because there is the extremely remote possibility that the Lords will vote to agree a substantive amendment to the Bill - if this happens the Commons will have to be given the opportunity to debate the amendment. I stick my neck out - "it will not happen"; or to use the tense perhaps more appropriate to the date of readership - "it didn't happen".
A note in a future article will provide an update to this article by giving the URLs for the latter stages of this Bill and details of any other relevant documents.
The Food Standards Bill was only laid before Parliament after considerable "pre-Parliamentary" consultation. Most of the documents that contributed to the development of the Food Standards Bill are also available via the Internet.
Official sites of relevance to the development of the Food Standards Bill include (in reverse date order):
Report of House of Commons Select Committee on Food Standards - March 1999. Early in 1999, a special Select Committee on Food Standards was established to review a draft version of the Food Standards Bill ahead of formal Parliamentary consideration of the formally presented Bill. The report from this Committee is also available via the Parliament Web site: http://www.parliament.uk/commons/selcom/fshome.htm
It should be noted that the Government did not accept all of the recommendations made by this Select Committee. In particular, the Committee recommended that the Meat Hygiene Service should be kept as an independent body separate from the Food Standards Agency.
Consultation Paper on Food Standards Bill - January 1999. In January 1999, the Government published a detailed consultation paper on the draft Food Standards Bill. This document included three main elements:
discussion of the issues;
draft explanatory notes; and
draft of proposed Bill.
The full text of this consultation paper is available at the following URL: http://www.official-documents.co.uk/document/cm42/4249/4249.htm
It is also available with associated fact sheets from the general MAFF site at the following URL: http://www.maff.gov.uk/food/foodindx.htm
In addition to the above, this document was published in print form as Command Paper CM4249 from the Stationery Office.
House of Commons Select Committee Report on Food Safety - April 1998. In April 1998, the House of Commons Select Committee on Agriculture published a report on food safety. This report has three major sections on the following:
The food safety problem;
The Food Standards Agency; and
Conclusions and recommendations.
The full report and its annexes run to three substantial volumes and are available from the Stationery Office. The full text of the main body of the report is available on the Internet at the following URL: http://www.parliament.the-stationery-office.co.uk/pa/cm199798/cmselect/cmagric/331iv/ag0402.htm
White paper - Food Standards Agency: A Force for Change - January 1998. In January 1998, the Government published a White Paper (that is the statement of the Government's intention to introduce a course of action which may include a programme of legislation). This document, The Food Standards Agency: A Force for Change, set out:
guiding principles for the operation of the Agency;
what the agency will do and its role(s);
structural and administrative details; and
discussion of possible funding arrangements.
The full text of this paper is available at the following URL: http://www.official-documents.co.uk/document/maffdh/fsa/fsa.htm
The White Paper was introduced to Parliament on 14 January 1998 and the verbatim account of the ensuing short debate on the Ministerial Statement is available via the Internet on the UK Parliament Web site (which can be accessed as described above).
In addition to the above, this document was published in print form as Command Paper CM3830 from the Stationery Office.
A MAFF fact sheet released at this stage can be accessed via the following URL: http://www.maff.gov.uk:80/food/fsa/factnet.htm
Over 1,000 responses were received by MAFF following publication of the White Paper, The Food Standards Agency: A Force for Change. MAFF provided a summary of these responses which is available via the Internet at the following URL: http://www.maff.gov.uk/food/fsa/fsacosum.htm
Report to Parliament - Response to parliamentary question - July 1997. An early progress report following Professor James' proposals (and the responses to these) was presented to Parliament on 30 July 1997 as a Ministerial response to a parliamentary question. This progress report promised a White Paper by Autumn 1997. The verbatim text of this response is available on the Parliament Web site. (Access the document as described above.)
Interim proposals prepared by Professor Philip James - May 1997. The paper from Professor Philip James, Director of the Rowett Research Institute, that initiated the debate on the Food Standards Agency was published by the Cabinet Office on 8 May 1997 as one of the first acts from the incoming Labour Government.
The full text of Professor James' proposals is available at the following URL: http://www.maff.gov.uk/food/james/cont.htm
The press releases that accompanied the launch of the debate are also available via the Internet (Cabinet Office and 10 Downing Street).
In addition to the above listed official documents (most of which are likely to remain available via the Internet for the foreseeable future since they are items of record), a few organisations have posted their views on the Food Standards Agency onto their Web sites:
Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST). The IFST response to the (January 1999) draft Food Standards Bill was published at the following URL: http://www.easynet.co.uk/ifst/hottop26.htm The IFST response to the January 1998 White Paper was published at the following URL: http://www.easynet.co.uk/ifst/hottop21.htm The IFST response to Professor James' initial proposals was published at the following URL: http://www.easynet.co.uk/ifst/hottop16.htm
The Royal Society. The Royal Society published its comments on Professor James' proposal for the establishment of a Food Standards Agency on its Web site at the following URL: http://www.royalsoc.ac.uk/st_pol14.htm
Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), University of Sussex. SPRU has indicated an intention to follow a research programme that is to "describe, analyse and evaluate the creation, structure and operation of the Food Standards Agency". Programme and contact details are available at the following URL: http://www.sussex.ac.uk/spru/environment/projects/current/fsa/index.html
In addition to the above, the progress to the Food Standards Agency has received significant press coverage that can be accessed via the various news media Web sites.
Between early May 1997 and end of July 1999, there has been a major process of consultation and debate on the proposal to establish a Food Standards Agency. At the date of writing this article, early August 1999, the legislative process is stalled as the House of Lords takes its summer break. The process was to resume on 12 October when the Lords was to address the Committee stage of the Food Standards Bill. A third reading in the Lords was to follow soon after and royal assent would be given before the end of the year (1999).
This is the first item of primary food legislation that can be followed from initial concept through to final adoption as an Act of Parliament using the Internet as the principal research tool. Previously, the various documents have only been available to those with the time and expertise to track through the libraries that hold the relevant collections. Now the documents can be obtained from the Internet and downloaded to a home PC.
The article and the Web sites to which it refers illustrate two points very clearly:
The official procedures that take place as legislation evolves from initial concept through to final enactment. The Parliamentary procedures described are those which apply to all Acts of Parliament. Hopefully, this article will have contributed to readers' understanding of the UK Parliament's procedures and practice.
Because of the degree of public concern about food safety, the Food Standards Bill has been subject to a substantial degree of pre-Parliamentary consultation above the level that is usual. These consultations have led to some changes in the evolving Food Standards Bill (such as the removal of a proposed funding levy on all food businesses); however, some recommendations (such as the non-inclusion of the Meat Hygiene Service within the Food Standards Agency, as recommended by the special Food Standards Select Committee) have been rejected by Government.
A final moan
A significant difficulty continues with respect to the UK Government's mode of presentation to the Internet - the official documents are available for direct printing from the Web sites and this is generally only on a section by section basis. The European Union has adopted the generally much more convenient approach of presenting its materials in Adobe Acrobat portable document format (.pdf) in which a single download command will yield a page by page replica of the print version of the original document. The UK approach can be somewhat tedious for long documents divided into tens of sections; it may be that this is a deliberate attempt to encourage people not to download documents from the Web sites - after all, the alternate source is generally the privatised Stationery Office (formerly HMSO). Not only is the UK approach tedious, it requires a continuous link into the Internet throughout printing whereas the alternative approach allows for complete documents to be copied to disk for printing off-line.
If you have identified a Web site likely to be of interest to readers of British Food Journal please contact the author of this series of articles as follows: by email to email@example.com; by fax to 01234 766926 or 01582 743237; by post at the University of Luton.
Stephen FallowsUniversity of Luton