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European Community (Food Labelling And Jam)

Volume 930: debated on Thursday 21 April 1977

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10.18 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mr. Gavin Strang)

I beg to move,

That this House takes note of Commission Documents, Nos. R/898/76 and R/2384/76 on Food Labelling and R/2126/75 and R/3186/76 on Jams and Marmalades.
For a number of reasons, it is most opportune that we should this evening be having a debate on these two draft EEC directives, and the issues they raise. We are indeed grateful that the reports of the Scrutiny Committee have given us this opportunity. I say this because we have for some time been concerned at the way the Community's activities in the field of food harmonisation have been developing. As I hope to explain to the House, this concern has now found expression in action we are taking in Brussels during our presidency. This is relevant to both directives which are before us this evening. The House might therefore find it useful to hear a little of what we are doing.

Hon. Members will, I am sure, be aware that all developed countries, including all the EEC member countries, and an increasing number of developing countries have systems of food law of varying scope and complexity. Food law may be broadly described as legislation governing the safety, composition, labelling and advertising of foodstuffs. Its purpose is to protect not only the consumer but also the reputable manufacturer and distributor. These laws are framed to ensure that food offered for sale is wholesome, that it is not injurious to health, that it is of an appropriate composition and that it is labelled and advertised in such a way that the purchaser is not misled and is able to make an informed choice about the food he or she buys.

As these food laws have developed on a national basis and reflect different consumer tastes and dietary patterns, it is hardly surprising that they differ to a greater or lesser degree. These differences can and often do constitute non-tariff barriers to intra-Community trade. For this reason, the Community is working on a food law harmonisation programme which was last revised in I973 with the object of removing these barriers. This programme embraces both horizontal directives dealing with a particular aspect of foodstuffs in general, such as the labelling directives or those dealing with additives, and vertical directives, covering the composition and labelling of a particular foodstuff, of which the directive on jam is an example.

We are in agreement with the need to eliminate barriers to trade and to protect the consumer. The traditional United Kingdom approach has, in general, been to concentrate on the horizontal aspect of control so as to ensure that all food is safe, wholesome, and accurately labelled, and only to impose vertical regulations where the independent expert committees that advise us on these matters have recommended such action. This offers the maximum advantage to both manufacturers and consumers.

The approach of the Commission and of the original six members of the community has, by contrast, hitherto been to attempt to adopt a large number of directives of both types, both horizontal and vertical. Had they succeeded in this aim the result would have been that we in this country would have had to enact a very much more complex system of food law than we have at the moment. This would have had financial and economic repercussions, would have imposed additional burdens on enforcement authorities, and would have imposed severe restraints on manufacturing processes and techniques and inhibited technological innovation in the industry.

It seems only sensible not to proceed in this way unless the advantages of doing so to the consumer at home and the trade benefits within the Community can be conclusively demonstrated to be of such an order as to outweigh these disadvantages. In the event, as progress on these matters on a Community basis is inevitably slow, only limited results have so far been achieved. Indeed, of the 4I proposals scheduled for adoption by the end of this year, only six have so far been adopted.

Opinion in the Community has, however, slowley been changing. There is now a general realisation of the need to look again at the consequences of going on as we have been doing in the past. The Commission itself has spoken out in favour of giving priority to horizontal directives rather than the vertical variety, and against harmonisation for harmonisation's sake. The President of the Commission recently told the European Assembly that the Commission would not indulge in a bureaucratic game of harmonisation for harmonisation's sake.

It should be clear that the Commission's proposals would lead to more trade and better conditions for producers or consumers. Other member States are coming to appreciate that attempting to tackle too much at once on an unselective basis can only diffuse the available resources, so that concrete results are meagre. There is, therefore, a growing feeling in the Community that it would be both sensible and desirable to concentrate on horizontal directives, affecting all foodstuffs, and to assess much more vigorously than hitherto the need for action on any particular commodity and the scope of any vertical directive before putting any work in hand.

In these circumstances, it seemed to us that our presidency of the Council offered a unique opportunity to institute a thorough discussion of the future orientation of the programme with a view to achieving agreement on how, taking account of all these considerations, we might best settle a sensible method of working in the Community. Hon. Members may have noted that my right hon. Friend mentioned this to Community colleagues in Berlin in January. Following these remarks, discussions have been held at official level in Brussels. These discussions are still continuing, but the first reaction of other member States has been almost unanimous support for our ideas. We have kept interested organisations fully informed of what we propose to do. The Food and Drink Industries Council has said that our initiative is very welcome. The Food Manufacturers' Federation, consumers and enforcement authorities have also given us their support.

I turn now to the two directives that we are discussing this evening. The first is the draft directive on fruit jams, jellies and marmalades and chestnut purée, which for convenience I shall call the jam directive. The main concern of the Scrutiny Committee was that the provisions of this and other draft directives appeared to go beyond what was required for the elimination of barriers to trade and for the protection of the consumer. To introduce United Kingdom regulations implementing their provisions would, in the Committe's view, impose additional burdens on enforcement authorities to no useful purpose. In so far as this is a general concern, applicable to the Community's food law harmonisation programme as a whole, I can accept it as a valid criticism in some cases, and, as I have explained, we are directing our efforts in Brussels to improving the situation. But in so far as the criticism is directed at this directive, its validity is questionable. We already have domestic laws, dating in part from 1953, controlling the composition and labelling of jams, jellies and marmalade.

The Food Standards Committee issued a report in 1968, recommending certain changes in those laws. Those recommendations have not been implemented, partly because of the on-going discussions in Brussels. The Food Standards Committee has recently examined the Community proposals, and has concluded that they are broadly acceptable.

United Kingdom acceptance of the proposals would involve some changes to our present law, but would not greatly extend its scope or impose additional burdens on enforcement authorities. Consumers would benefit. So would our jam manufacturers, since one result of the adoption of the directive would be that marmalade—a traditional and excellent United Kingdom product little known on the Continent—would be guaranteed free access to any Community country. Potentially valuable export opportunities would therefore be opened up. For all these reasons I hope the House can agree that this is a directive the adoption of which we should favour.

Secondly, we come to the draft directive on the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs for sale to the ultimate consumer, which for convenience I shall refer to as the labelling directive. As I have explained, it is a horizontal directive which fits in well with our philosophy on food harmonisation. We are therefore giving it a considerable degree of priority during the United Kingdom presidency.

The Community proposals are based on the same principles as apply to our existing labelling law; that is, the prevention of fraud and provision of sufficient information for consumers to make an informed choice between the many foods available and, indeed, to be able to decide whether they wish to purchase a particular food at all.

The draft directive and our existing legislation, which is in general highly regarded by both consumers and the food industry, both require the provision of broadly similar information on the label. I think it is most important to understand this and to recognise that, although there are some new requirements to which I shall refer later, no new basic principles are involved. For this reason the proposals put forward by the Community are in general acceptable to us, although we have some reservations and doubts about particular details which we are trying to resolve as discussions proceed within the Community.

The Scrutiny Committee—I am glad to see so many members of it present—also found the draft broadly acceptable. It was, however, concerned that too much was being attempted at once without perhaps a proper regard to practicality and costs. I understand this point of view and agree that we must keep it closely in mind.

We must also consider the proposals in the light of existing legislation, present enforcement effort and the cost to the industry and the consumer of implementing new proposals. We see merit in maintaining similar labelling laws throughout the Community, but we are naturally concerned to avoid an excess of legislation. Consumers must be protected, but they wish to see increases in costs kept to the minimum. We attach the greatest importance to getting the balance right. Enforcement will continue to be the responsibility of the food and drug authorities. I am confident that they will be able to enforce any amended labelling law as effectively as they do our present regulations without the need for additional staff.

Given adequate time for compliance, most of the Community proposals should not involve food manufacturers in a great deal of extra cost. We have this very much in mind in the discussions in Brussels. Most of the label changes will be absorbed as new stocks are ordered and ample time will be allowed to clear stocks of food through the distributive chain. I accept that extra costs would arise from the introduction of statutory open-date marking, for which our consumers have been asking for some time.

The principle has now been accepted by both the present and previous Governments, following the publication of reports by two independent alvisory committees. Date-marking would therefore have been introduced here some time ago but for the existence of the draft directive, so most of the extra costs would have been incurred even if this draft directive did not exist.

The food industry has increasingly introduced date-marking on a voluntary basis. I recognise that most of the voluntary systems are based on a "sell by" system as recommended by the advisory committees and that our food industry would like to be able to continue to use the same system. It must, however, be recognised that consumer interests, not only nationally but on a Community-wide basis, have said that they do not favour such a system. Instead they prefer the system proposed by the commission in the draft directive, which is based on a "minimum durability" date; that is, a date by which the consumer is advised to eat the food if it is to be in its best condition. This system also commends itself to most member States but the issues are still under active discussion in Brussels.

Advertising is controlled by our existing food law, so it seems to us appropriate that the directive should also cover the same field. I recognise that another EEC directive is being prepared which will control misleading and unfair advertising in general but I believe that the United Kingdom approach, which the draft labelling directive embodies, is the right one. I can see no reason why people should be allowed to make statements or claims in advertisements which it would be illegal for them to make on the label.

I have already said that the Community proposals involve some changes to our law and I have dealt with date-marking. I should now like to refer briefly to the more significant of the remaining points. The rules governing the listing of ingredients of food are likely to be more closely defined and the number of foods at present exempted from listing their ingredients will be much reduced. The draft directive also requires that, in certain circumstances, water used as an ingredient in food preparation must be listed. [Interruption.] I am surprised at the hon. Member for Devon West (Mr. Mills). He is a farmer. Therefore, I wonder why he should find it so amusing that a lot of people believe that there is sense in knowing exactly what is in a food preparation.

I was laughing only because the whole thing is a bit of a nonsense. Does the Minister believe that everything that is eaten should have all the ingredients listed on the label? What about black pudding? Is it wise to list all the ingredients of black pudding?

The hon. Member is making the point that he made in the Scrutiny Committee. I did not dissent from the general tenor of his observations then. The only reason why I commented on his laughing was that I thought that he was implying that in no circumstances did it make sense to declare the water content. As a farmer, he will be very conscious of the fact that the moisture content of a substance can be increased massively by the addition of water.

The so-called "30-year rule", which allows brand names established for over 30 years to be used without any further description of the nature of the food, will be abolished—though the brand name will still be permitted. These are all changes for which consumers have been asking. The Government agree with the view of the Scrutiny Committee that national derogations from certain requirements will be necessary.

In deciding the attitude of the Government towards the detailed provisions of these proposals we shall take into account our existing food law and developments in food production and technology since our labelling regulations were made in 1970, together with the increasing pressure from consumers to be properly and adequately informed about the foods on which they spend their money. This has resulted in increasing demand for more informative labelling not only in this country but throughout the world. We shall also take into account the benefits to be derived by our food manufacturers who wish to export to Europe from a rationalisation of the labelling laws of member States.

My officials have consulted, and are continuing to consult, over 300 interested parties, including food and drink manufacturers, distributors, retailers, consumers and enforcement officers. We also have the benefit of the views of the Food Standards Committee. With this continued co-operation and the frank exchange of information between these interests and officials, and the helpful views which have been put forward by the Scrutiny Committee, for which we are extremely grateful, our aim will be to achieve a satisfactory and balanced directive which will be fair to all parties.

10.35 p.m.

Perhaps I should start with an explanation of why I am standing at the Dispatch Box instead of one of my hon. and agricultural Friends. I am involved in this series of directives from two points of view. First; they are, in essence, designed for consumer protection, which is an area in which I have been involved for some time and, secondly, I have had an interest in food manufacturing for a considerable period and have therefore been given the opportunity to comment on the directives with particular reference to the food manufacturing industries. I am grateful to my hon. Friends for this opportunity, and I hope that it will not diminish their contributions.

The Parliamentary Secretary gave us a fair description of the directives and tried to avoid presenting them as a bureaucratic nonsense from Brussels. He was entitled to take the view that they are more important than that, but some of the minutiae of the directives must make a number of hon Members realise that we are entering a difficult phase of harmonisation.

We recognise that there are problems for the food industry, but it is happy to continue an orderly process of harmonisation that will benefit consumers in this country. There are certain matters that I regard as fairly important and that I should like to mention at the outset be-because they were not covered by the Minister.

The United Kingdom food industry is a major producer of foodstuffs for our consumers and accounts for about 75 per cent. of all foodstuffs consumed in this country. It is a very large sector and probably forms a larger proportion, in terms of food passing through the manufacturing chains, than in other countries of the EEC. Its views must be taken seriously.

The industry is aware that it faces major changes in a number of directions at the same time. It is involved in problems over unit pricing, prescribed quantities and general directives concerning advertising. Now it is deeply involved in the labelling directives.

While we accept the principle of harmonisation and while food exporters will obviously wish to see this carried through, the industry as a whole is under severe pressure from a number of directives in broadly the same time span. It must be the Government's duty to administer them and watch over the industry to ensure that it is not drowned under the weight of directives from Brussels. This is crucially important. There must be a clear programme that the industry finds acceptable and that does not result in congestion within the industry and confusion to the consumer.

The second matter of principle to which I wish to refer concerns the consumers' awareness and understanding of what is purported to be done by this directive and possibly others in their name.

There are a number of elements that are not very important. The 30-year rule has been a matter of considerable pride within the food industry and it is being undermined in the directive, but when consumers buy a product such as Bristol Cream I do not believe that they expect it to be a dairy product containing milk or cream. I do not believe that when a person buys a box of Black Magic, he expects it to be a do-it-yourself voodoo kit. Although it may be argued that if exemption is given to established, highly successful products, it could be given to some others, I believe that we are nit-picking on this issue.

Date-marking is much more significant. It is a major matter of principle. But the question of what the consumer really understands is one that has been fairly lightly tackled in the preparation of the documents. I read, as the Minister undoubtedly did, the reports of the Committee in their Lordships' House which examined the problem and took a great deal of evidence. A Dr. Roberts, of the Consumers' Association, was asked by Lord Mottistone to describe whether there was a basis of consumer research behind the Association's proposals in the matter of date-marking and the question of the different systems. Lord Mottistone asked:
"Do you have a methodical way of doing that or is it done rather generally by the officials and people like yourself talking to their wives or meeting a consumer from time to time?"
Dr. Roberts replied:
"I certainly do talk to my wife about this problem, but we have just spent £6,000 on a very large survey finding out not what Consumers' Association members think, but what the general public think. We have carried out very large surveys of about 800 people."
I am sure that that is reasonable research, but the Minister talked about the importance of arriving at a harmonisation structure understood not only in the United Kingdom but throughout the Community, and we should have evidence based upon substantial research, based upon large numbers of consumers here and elsewhere within the Community, before we opt for a single system of date-marking.

I have had made available to me a report on research recently conducted by a major meat producer on the question of the understanding of the various date-marking systems. As the hon. Gentleman said, the general consensus is that the "sell by" provisions which have been used by a number of food sectors are well understood, but the recommendation of the directives is that we move to a different system. The research report made clear that the preferred term of housewives
"for use on an open date mark appeared to be 'sell by' This term suggested concern on the part of the manufacturer, and gave the consumer a time margin of two or three days after the date mark to eat the product. 'Eat by' was an acceptably precise term, particularly for very short-lived products, but was less appealing because it did not allow any time margin. 'Open by' and best before'"—
it is the latter that we are considering in this directive—
"were considered too vague for use on perishable foods without further qualification."
That is merely one research project against another, but I make the point of principle that it is very important that we do not move to a system which is not really understood by consumers and which they do not prefer to the one they have now.

If the change in the system is to be made, who is to be responsible for interpreting it to the consumer? Who will pay for explaining to the United Kingdom consumer what "best before" means?

I turn to a third principle. I thing that the Minister paid some attention to the need for flexibility in the operation of the directives. He laid great stress on the importance of horizontal harmonisation, whereas up to now we have had a number of very important vertical moves. He must agree that if horizontal directives are to be the principle behind harmonisation we shall have to have some derogations and exceptions for the wide range of foodstuffs we offer here. This has been made clear to him and the Ministry in the evidence laid before them.

Different problems must be involved in very short-life fresh foods, such as dairy products and some meat products, and there are different requirements for very long-life foods, such as canned products and wines. There must obviously be special arrangements for processed foods, particularly frozen foods, where the existing proposal for a horizontal arrangement does not really work. Each sector requires careful consideration before one would be happy to apply the horizontal directive that we are discussing.

I turn to some specific points. The directive concerned with jams and jellies is clearly acceptable in broad terms to the industry which produces these products provided it is not altered. Some doubt is being expressed by the industry itself that there may be pressure among colleagues in the Community to alter it. I would welcome the Minister's comments about whether he thinks there is a risk that this directive may be altered. In its present form it is certainly acceptable.

I understand that document R/898/76 is the main document under discussion tonight. But I am aware that there is a further directive 3073, not tabled tonight, which alters some of the provisions of that document. I should be happy to know whether the Minister is satisfied that in debating this directive we are indeed debating the whole story. As I understand it, there is now a proposal in the form of a draft directive that other aspects of the labelling proposals should apply to foods not to the ultimate consumer but to the catering industry. Perhaps the Minister can comment on whether that is so. My information is that the food industries would be very concerned if catering products came within the terms of directive R/898.

I turn to the question of date-marking. I agree, and so does the industry, that open date-marking is desirable from the consumers' point of view and that there is no major difference in principle with the directive. The industry is prepared to move to the "best before" description provided this is understood by consumers and in their best interests.

I think that involves a considerable difficulty for the industry. The Food and Drink Industries Council, in its brief, which I am sure the Minister has seen, laid great stress on the consequences of implementing a change in the date-marking system. I quote from its submission. It says:
"In general, foods with a whole life of less than six months should be date marked on individual containers.
There should be no requirement to date mark individual containers of foods with a whole life greater than six months, but the marking of outers could well serve as an aid to the distributive chain.
There is a need for special consideration to be given to foodstuffs having very short shelf-lives—"
it recommends up to seven days—
"since different measures may be required where durability is strictly determined by storage conditions.
Flexibility is required in the indication of the open date, for example, edge marking and embossed systems should be acceptable. Moreover, it will not always be necessary to indicate the day, the month and the year: for long life foods only the month and the year may be necessary and for short life foods only the day and the month."
The industry is concerned that there should be some flexibility in the use of the open date-marking system. As the Consumers Association points out, we must have a system which by definition covers all products in terms of type, whether "sell by" or "best before". But some careful consideration has to be given to the submission of the industry about the need for definition mark to the type of food which is well within the consumers' competence to understand.

The next point I wish to raise is the question of advertising coming within this directive. I do not accept that it is reasonable for food advertising to be handled separately from general advertising as a whole. The industry is surely right to claim that, with an advertising directive already well advanced and under discussion, it would be wrong to deal with food advertising separately and, that it would be wise to take the matter out of this directive and deal with it in the context of the advertising directive already under discussion.

We come to the question of liquids and water. My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) was quite right to have a modest chuckle about water and liquids in products. This needs some clarification. I certainly believe that the consumer needs protection from the deliberate use of water or other liquids, not indigenous in the product, in order to distort or disguise its weight. I fully accept that. But, when it comes to having to declare on the ingredient label, in order of magnitude, the content which should include water, both at the start and at the end of the manufacturing process, I believe that we are entering cloud cuckoo-land. It is all right for canned peaches with syrup, where the liquid is consumed and is part of the excitement of eating the product, but for processed hams which may be soaked in brine that may be immensely variable between one can and another, how does the manufacturer deal with declaring the liquid?

I also raise the question of confectionery and bread. Where water is used in the process and where it evaporates, how can the manufacturer be expected to produce a declaration of the liquid content which we know to be present in finished loaves but which will be immensely variable not only by time, because it is continually being lost, but from batch to batch in the bakery? If that is required by the directive and labelling must take that into account, I believe that we are right to say that it is a nonsense and that we should try to put it right. We have to remember that we are trying to provide information which is important and useful to the consumer. I do not believe that the water content of loaves of bread is a significant factor in consumer resistance to bread.

We must acknowledge that these are very complex regulations. In many instances, there are already committees looking at certain aspects. There is the Food Standards Committee, which is to report to the Minister on water in foodstuffs. It would be most unwise to reach a fixed point in the acceptance of this directive before that committee reported. There is the whole problem of the labelling of very small packs. There is the problem of conditions in retail outlets. All these are matters which come within the general ambit of this directive.

Where possible, we need to bring these proposals into line with the vertical harmonisation that we have already. It would be very difficult to see the harmonisation programme proceeding on lines of a horizontal nature in conflict with the vertical arrangements which are already in train. Obviously, harmonisation is a difficult, awkward and lengthy process, and I hope that the Minister will accept the view of the industry that more time should be involved in seeing it through. I referred at the outset of my remarks to the number of other elements which are pressing on the industry at present. This is a strong argument for saying that it deserves longer in which to try to proceed with this harmonisation. The four years plus one which it has argued is what it would require seems to be the minimum for which the Minister should stand.

The Minister laid stress on the fact that as this year the United Kingdom had the chairmanship of the Agriculture Ministers, it was a year in which to make progress. I hope sincerely that this is a year in which British interests and the British food manufacturing industry can expect from the Minister and his Department the maximum support to maintain the standards in this industry which are the envy of the world.

If the Minister continues to give the industry the due share of his attention that it warrants and continues to fight hard for the legitimate causes which it has laid down in its evidence before him, that is fair enough, and the industry will willingly harmonise according to these directives. But at the back of my mind there lurks the thought that if we decide merely to go through this bureaucratic process without sufficient care, in the end not only shall we have an industry which is grossly less efficient than it might be but we shall have confusion amongst consumers and the very negation of what the Minister is about.

10.54 p.m.

I am sorry if I upset the Minister by laughing, but I feel very strongly that this is one of the pieces of harmonisation legislation which are not really necessary at present. There is so much else which needs to be done in the Community, especially in changing the common agricultural policy, that it seems to me that this is a bit of nonsense.

Having read these regulations, I have a feeling that the bureaucrats in Brussels are overdoing it. Consumers have a right to certain standards and to be protected so that they are not misled, but generally throughout the country they get a fair crack of the whip in these matters. I believe that first and foremost we ought to consider these issues on a national basis, but when we export it is a different matter. There should be some abolition of technical barriers to trade in foodstuffs, but I believe that we are overdoing it slightly.

I am not as happy as the Minister is that there will not be an enormous army of inspectors. These things tend to grow. If all this information is put out on labels, the present inspectors will have to do a lot of reading in various languages. I do not share the Minister's optimism that there will not be an army of inspectors.

I am a little worried that certain members of the Community might take advantage of these regulations and take a tough line to seek to ban imports. Perhaps I have a rather nasty suspicious mind but it could be that they could say that there were fraudulent claims. Let me consider the simple example of Daddie's Sauce. Is it Daddy's sauce? Does it do him any good, and so on? I know that I am exaggerating slightly, but this complicated business of labelling and so on could mean that certain countries would use these provisions to stop the export of our goods to them.

The provisions about the listing of ingredients horrify me. It is obviously not a good thing to reveal to the consumer the ingredients of black pudding, but if someone comes to the south-west of England he will find a delightful product called hog's pudding. It is excellent to eat, but no one wants to know what is in it, yet under these regulations the ingredients would have to be listed. I shall not explain what would be in the pudding, but it would be wrong to list what it contains.

One of the highlights of eating French cheese is that there is far more bacteria in it than in other cheeses. It is not all that healthy, but that is what gives it its flavour. We do not want a list of the things that are in cheese, or even in pasties—another West Country product. No one wants a list of the things that go into a pasty. Half the fun of eating a pasty is wondering what mother has put in it. It can consist of a variety of things, and the requirement to list the ingredients is carrying things too far.

Even in the business of producing and selling cider, the consumer should not be told the ingredients. I must be careful here, because my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell) knows far more than I do about these things. I have made cider. It would be unfortunate if one listed bullock's blood as an ingredient, but it is used to give cider a colour and a base. All sorts of things go into the making of cider when it is done by farmers, which again I shall not detail to the House. They use swedes, mangolds and various other colouring substances. It is not always wise to list the ingredients in a product.

I saw a BBC programme the other night in which Esther Rantzen listed all the ingredients in fish food. That took about five minutes, or so it seemed. If the intention is to have a long list of the things in various foods, I think that that is overdoing it, and half the time the consumer is not a bit interested.

The regulation then refers to instructions for use. Is it really necessary to put all that on the label, box or carton? For example, hog's pudding can be boiled, roasted, grilled, fried or eaten raw. It can be smoked or hung until it is very high, and some people like it that way. Are all these instructions to be put on the label? I suggest that is carrying things too far.

I understand that particulars may be given in more than one language. My mind absolutely boggles at the thought of food manufacturers and producers in Cornwall of saffron buns and cakes and pasties and goodness knows what, which are exported, putting various particulars on labels in different languages—German, French, Dutch and Belgian. That kind of thing brings the Community into disrepute. It puts an added burden on the food manufacturers and processors, who already have enough on their plates with the many changes which are taking place.

I hope that the Minister will take a tough line on this matter. I hope that the consumer in this country will continue to be protected and not misled. But, oh dear, this is going much too far.

11.2 p.m.

I wish to refer to document R/898/76, which is concerned with the general requirements applied to the labelling and presentation of food and drink. My concern is drink, in which I have an interest to declare. Because I have detailed knowledge of the industry, there is no reason why I should not mention it. I am concerned about a particular point which I shall put to the Minister later. Before doing so, I should like to ask him three brief questions.

First, why has it taken so long for this matter to come before the House for discussion? I understand that the document was produced originally nearly a year ago. It went to the Scrutiny Committee last summer, was looked at last December, and now, just under a year later, we have it on the Floor of the House with the opportunity of commenting upon it.

Secondly, the regulation applies to food and drink. But would I be right in thinking that the drink part is included in Regulation 1608/76, which was amended last week in Brussels? Therefore, is it not, in effect, a fait accompli regarding the opportunity of affecting what is to be in the regulation by discussion tonight?

Does it not suggest that there is room for adjustment in the machinery of this House to ensure that it has the opportunity of influencing these matters before they become a fait accompli?

Is the Minister aware that the implementation of these programmes regarding drink resulting in a bureaucratic nightmare for those who have to try to cope with them? It is almost impossible to understand many parts of the regulations. Even the officials, who are there to assist and to implement them, have great difficulty in understanding them. The desire of the United Kingdom to conform has in many ways all the zealous fervour of the convert.

The Minister shakes his head. There is a great deal in the drink part of this regulation which is unnecessary, expensive, unfair and unjust.

I justify those comments by drawing attention to the position affecting the simple wine bottle label. The first problem is the transfer of matters which are wholly appropriate in another country to this country. For example, there is a requirement that the address of the merchant whose name appears on the label shall be half the size of the printer's type used for the words "table wine".

That is fine, because there is a reason for it. If a trading address is, for instance, 217 Route Nationale, Nuits St. George, and it appears on the label in large letters the public might believe that the wine is a Nuits St. George. But one cannot imagine that a trading address in Tiverton or Fleet Street which appears on a label would convince people that the wine was produced there. The problems created by adhering to these inappropriate regulations in the United Kingdom are considerable.

There is a series of other requirements, including that involving the words "bottled for" and "bottled by". That would create serious difficulties. It is normal practice to put labels on bottles at the time of bottling but a firm may not know at the time of importation whether it can bottle the wine in its own cellars. That means that the firm will not know whether to put "bottled by" or "bottled for" on the labels.

The regulations require that there shall not be a vintage for "table wine" although wine is produced in individual years. There is a season in the autumn when the grapes are picked and the wine is made and it has a vintage. In that respect the law is an ass because it states that a table wine does not have a vintage. That is bureaucratic nonsense.

A chemical analysis must be conducted if a wine is to be described at "dry". One is not allowed to use one's judgment or taste. A wine may be described as "dry"
"provided the residual sugar content is no more than 4 grams/litre, or 9 grams/litre where the level of total acidity expressed as tartaric acid does not fall more than 2 grams/litre below the residual sugar content."
I and members of the wine trade would be grateful if the Minister could explain what that means.

Again, for 'table wine' the word "superior" is to be banned. I understand and accept that one cannot allow an ordinary yin rouge to carry on the label the words "Grand cru classe" but to say that one cannot have the word "Superior" on a yin rouge for which one is charged twice as much as another is extraordinary.

The ultimate nonsense in this enthusiasm of the convert has been reached, for the wine trade in this country is now being told that it cannot use the word "reserve" on a "table wine". There are many labels which carry such phrases as "Reserve du Patron", "Reserve du Chef" or "Reserve du Maison"—most bistros in France have these names—but in the United Kingdom that is not to be allowed.

The wine regulations have produced a bureaucratic nightmare. This is not what joining the Common Market was about. It is having an adverse effect on the system and purpose of the Common Market. If a poll were conducted among members of the wine trade on whether we should join the EEC a different result would now be obtained from that which was obtained at the time the Prime Minister was urging us to join.

The Minister should return to Brussels and say "enough is enough, indeed you have gone too far." The complexities of the system must be reduced.

11.10 p.m.

We have had a useful debate. I shall reply very briefly to a number of the points that have been raised. I shall reply in correspondence to those that I am unable to cover tonight.

I think that it is fair to say that the general tenor of the remarks of the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Shaw) was in broad accord with the Government's overall approach. By that I do not mean that he did not have some very important criticism or points to make in relation to the directive, but I think that our approach is broadly supported by the Food and Drink Industries Council and the food manufacturers. The hon. Gentleman was right to remind us of the enormous importance of that industry. It is always quite surprising to people when they see how many of our top 100 companies are in the food and drink industry.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned the question of other texts being available. That was touched on also by the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Mitchell). What has been happening is that during the deliberations in Brussels on this directive—and it has some considerable way to go yet—the officials naturally produce working documents. In order to have fully effective discussions with our own industry at home, we naturally give our industry copies of those documents, in confidence. However, I assure hon. Members—this is a very important point, and one that caused the Government some embarrassment in an earlier debate on a transport matter—that in every sense the explanatory memorandum in relation to these directives covers the full substance and that none of these working documents alters the general substance of the directives as described in the explantory memorandum that we have provided for the Scrutiny Committee.

I turn to the point raised by the hon. Member for Pudsey about the application of the directives to foods for catering. It now seems likely that the final directive will not apply to food destined for catering uses, although I think that there is a possibility that what will be agreed will be that individual member States will be free voluntarily to apply it to catering foods—in which case the United Kingdom Government will have to take its own domestic decision.

Would the hon. Gentleman care to tell the House what is the status of directive R/3073, which I believe seeks to amend some of the elements in directive R/898?

As I understand it, the status is that is it still before the working party in the Community, and these issues are still being discussed.

It is also important to bear in mind that this directive contains many items on which the British Government placed reservations when they had completed discussion about them. In other words, a number of the items in the directive are by no means resolved, as it were, although we have completed our discussions on some of the points with our own people at home. However, if in any way I am not providing hon. Members with a full picture—although I believe that I am—I shall certainly write to them.

On the time point, we broadly support the hon. Member for Pudsey. That is why we pressed for and secured an extension to four years, rather than three years.

The point about jam is still being discussed in Brussels. We are in continuous touch with jam manufacturers and are taking their views fully into account. However, we cannot give an assurance at this stage that the jam directive will not be altered. Frankly, we cannot give any assurances at all about the ultimate composition of this directive.

I make this point in passing, as I think the hon. Member for Basingstoke did. It would have been nice to discuss this matter on the Floor of the House a little earlier, but it is difficult bearing in mind the number of EEC draft directives—on the whole common agricultural policy and the prices package—that must be discussed on the Floor of the House. There are so many Community matters to be discussed. The important thing, however, is to ensure that they are discussed before the decisions are taken. There is no question here that we are discussing these matters before the decisions are taken. There will be a good deal of ongoing discussion before the directive comes before the official committees, where the major issues will be resolved. Eventually it may have to go right to the Council to be resolved by the Prime Ministers themselves.

None of us disagrees about the need to avoid new legislation which puts an unrealistic and ridiculous burden on our industry and which is not in the practical interests of our consumers. The hon. Member for Devon, West (Mr. Mills) took an idiosyncratic view about whether we should know the composition of foodstuffs when there was ground for believing that the ingredients were dubious. I do not know where he has been buying his hog's pudding and Cornish pasties, or whether he makes them himself, but the best information available to me is that both have been required to bear a list of ingredients for some years. There is a lesson here. I am sure that he will check his sources as well.

The points raised by the hon. Member for Basingstoke related largely to wine labelling. That is covered in the regime about the specific labelling of wines rather than in this directive. I know that the hon. Member has been in contact with my officials about one matter which is of particular concern to him. His letter arrived in the post just today. I shall certainly give him a full reply.

Some people seem to think that in this matter we are bringing in something completely foreign to this country—a vast new array of regulations. That is not S.). We already have labelling regulations, with which our food manufacturers are familiar and of which this is a further development.

Does the Minister think that advertising might be taken out of this directive and dealt with in the general advertising directive which is also under consideration?

I am sorry that I missed that point. I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman. It cannot be correct to ban something from the label while including it in the advertisement. So far, we have been unconvinced of the opposite view. I know that the hon. Gentleman's opinion is shared by the food manufacturers. If a rule is right for the label, it should be applied to related advertising.

Whatever the disagreements on some minor items, I think that there is agreement in the House and throughout the country that we want to have sensible and practical regulations and to avoid the bureaucratic nightmare to which the hon. Member for Basingstoke referred.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House takes note of Commission Documents Nos. R/898/76 and R/2384/76 on Food Labelling and R/2126/75 and R/3186/76 on Jams and Marmalades.