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Confectionery Industry

Volume 79: debated on Friday 24 May 1985

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Motion made and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn. — [Mr. Archie Hamilton.]

9.35 am

My first Adjournment debate since the general election is the subject of some elation because I have been applying to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, more on than off, for eight months. At long last my persistence has had success. On a sunny day such as this, what better subject to choose for debate than the United Kingdom confectionery industry—the subject of all my applications.

In view of the importance of our confectionery industry, it is amazing that this is the first debate, so far as I can find, on the subject since at least the second world war. Yet after Scotch whisky, confectionery is the second most important export in value to the food and drink sector.

I shall spell out what I mean by confectionery so that my hon. Friends do not misunderstand me. I interpret it as the collective name for sweetmeats and confections. It has enjoyed a long and distinguished part in our history. In 1545 Raynold referred to
"ambre, muske, frankincense, Gallia muscata and confectionnere."
In 1769, Mrs. Raffald, the apogee of Georgian England. remarked in her "English Housekeeper":
"The receipts for the confectionery are such as I daily sell in my own shop."
We have moved to an era in which the art of the confectioner is no longer confined to a course of sweetmeats at dinner, delicious as After Eights are, not just then, but at any time of day.

It may be appropriate for me to place my constituents in the context of this great industry. The city of York saw the innovative rise of several industries during the last 20 to 30 years of the 18th century, including comb making, toy manufacturing, horn making, a glass works and a wholesale drug trade, all of which have now unfortunately disappeared. However, the town is now a world leader in confectionery.

Two family concerns are now giants in the confectionery industry. In 1725 Mary Tuke opened a grocer's shop which in 1752 passed to her nephew William, the Quaker philanthropist. In 1785 he was joined in the business by his son Henry, and from then on they manufactured cocoa and chocolate behind their Castlegate shop. Those were the modest beginnings of a business which in 1862 transferred to Henry Rowntree.

The confectionery trade of Terry and Sons started in St. Helen's square in 1767 in the firm of Bayldon and Berry. By 1851 Terry employed 127 staff. Rowntree employed 100 workers in 1879 and saw rapid expansion. By 1894 it employed 893 workers, and 15 years later 4,066. On a smaller scale M. A. Craven and Son and the York Confectionery Company Ltd. were also prospering.

Today, York is a thriving and elegant city. Confectionery is the major industry with the world headquarters of Rowntree Mackintosh, whose sales last year passed the £1,000 million mark for the first time. It is the home base of both Terry and Craven.

Since this is the first debate on this important subject since the second world war—several years before I wasborn—perhaps it would be appropriate to mention the state of the industry. Last year, the consumer value of home trade chocolate and sugar confectionery was about £2·4 billion, or 8 per cent. of consumer expenditure on food. Sales of chocolate confectionery continue to improve, with the achievement last year of another production record of almost 428,000 tonnes, beating the previous records established in 1982 and 1983. Home trade despatches of sugar confectionery in 1984 were 251,465 tonnes. That is an improvement on previous years, but is still 20 per cent. below the 1978 level—an important date, as I shall explain in a few moments—and 25 per cent. below the 1973 level.

In 1984, Britain exported more than 60,000 tonnes of chocolate confectionery, which is about the same as in 1978–79. Exports have been fairly static for the past seven years, and I shall examine why that is in a moment. Last year, almost 70,000 tonnes of sugar confectionery were exported, which is the highest for five years, but still well below the exports achieved in 1973 and 1979. I shall invite the House to consider which world leader enjoys sugar confectionery in moments of crisis. The principal export markets for British confectionery are Ireland, the United States of America, Saudi Arabia, West Germany and Canada.

After those few words of good cheer, I must mention some important political matters that are the reason for today's debate. Perhaps the most important matter is the tariff barriers which are a burden on the export achievements of British confectionery. There are three dimensions to that: duty, quotas and artificial labelling regulations.

The United States, like EC countries and many others, operates a protected sugar market. In January, in response to anxiety about the quantities of sugar being imported in mixes with other ingredients, President Reagan took action under section 22 of the Agricultural Adjustment Act 1933 and signed a proclamation imposing quotas on goods under three tariff headings. They included sweetened cocoa powder and some edible preparations such as pancake mixes. In March this year, the President, acting under the same legislation, signed a letter ordering the United States International Trade Commission to investigate other tariff headings with a view to recommending whether quotas or extra duties should be imposed on them to protect the sugar regime. They include chocolate and sugar confectionery products and confectionery coatings, although my latest information is that retail packages will be excluded from the investigation.

The Americans have been complaining for some time that EC policy on citrus fruits discriminates against their exports. The dispute has been referred to GATT, but since the alleged discrimination has not been removed the Americans are considering retaliatory action on several tariff items, including sweetened chocolate and confectionery. This is extremely important to the House, because recommendations on the matter will be made to President Reagan by 30 May, and a decision will be taken within 28 days.

The confectionery industry rightly takes a grave view of those developments. Although exports, helped by the strong dollar, have increased in recent years, they cannot pose a serious threat to the vast American sugar market. Although the President may be under pressure from the strong sugar and citrus fruit lobbies, it is difficult to escape the impression that he is also responding to those who

advocate more protectionism to help the American trade deficit. The British Government and the EC Commission have been made aware of the position and have undertaken to do all that they can to prevent action by the American authorities. I ask my hon. Friend for an assurance that everything possible is being done to ensure that no retaliatory action affects the $41 million export market to the United States—our No. 1 market.

Japan places extremely high duties on confectionery—35 per cent. on sugar confectionery and 20 per cent. on chocolate—but it pays only between 5 per cent. and 10 per cent. on its exports to the United Kingdom. It also has complex and protective packaging legislation. For example, if After Eights are exported to Japan, they must be in white envelopes, because the Japanese say that
"optical brightening agents cannot be in contact with food."
If that sounds like double Dutch to my hon. Friend the Minister, I am afraid that she is in for even more. Nothing is formally published, and often the only way is to send goods and see whether they are accepted or rejected. Imported products have limited access to distribution outlets in Japan. It would be helpful if the Japanese Government would issue administrative guidance to their retail trade in general, encouraging them to buy and sell imported products.

If Britain is to receive as many Japanese cars as appear to be flooding the country, there must be some reciprocal treatment. The time for pleasant words over a glass of sake, or whatever my hon. Friend enjoys with the Japanese ambassador, are over. She should wield a fairly big stick and say that we are tired of Japan's false barriers. For example, Japan does not allow the emulsifier YN to be used in confectionery. Almost alone in the world, Japan uses a special glucose, and will not allow glucose in more than 28 parts per million of sulphur dioxide. That increases the costs of United Kingdom exporters by about 20 per cent. The Japanese are extremely fussy about emulsifiers, colours and wrapping materials. I am sure that the Department of Trade and Industry could occasionally discover that the rear axle of a Japanese car is not exactly the right size, and might consider taking action if the Japanese pursue their policy.

But the far east is not only Japan. Korea has 3,000 pages of complex ingredient and package rules of which there is no English translation. Therefore, British companies are often exporting in the dark. Fox recently had its products rejected. Taiwan claims that it has reduced its import duty, but it is still 70 per cent. It is a high trade surplus country.

South Africa will not accept standard United Kingdom weights, such as 8 oz, which is popular here with families. It will accept only 100 g, 200 g, and 300 g packages.

Unfortunately, problems also exist in the EC, and I draw my hon. Friend's attention to its newest member—Greece. Since 1981, the commercial margin allowed to importers and wholesalers combined has been limited to 10 per cent. Much hard work had gone into trying to persuade Greece to expand the margin, but so far to little avail. Although Greece has been a member of the EC for some time, it has still not abolished a regulatory tax, which is as high as 65 per cent. on some products. Importers of confectionery are not allowed to make more than 10 per cent. profit on chocolate confectionery and therefore cannot trade profitably. Greece does not allow food colouring, so all the chocolate exported there is white, and different coloured wrappers must be used to show different flavours.

The usual chocolate sold by Cadbury in the United Kingdom would be considered imitation chocolate in Belgium and the Netherlands, because it does not contain the required amount of cocoa solids. The West Germans say that a minimum of 25 per cent. cocoa solids should be used before a product can be called chocolate.

Therefore, perhaps with some of the delicious products from the British market, my hon. Friend the Minister will sit down with her EC opposite numbers and iron out those bureaucratic problems. There is a large bureaucracy to be overcome, which confectionery traders concerned with claiming refunds and monetary compensation amounts from the intervention board find especially burdensome. The simplest requirements are found in non-European sophisticated countries such as the United States and Australia.

The documents for the Common Market are not common to all member states. The proposal for a Council directive on chocolate and confectionery manufacture consists of no fewer than 32 pages. Let us remember that Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg speech consisted of only 232 words, and the Ten Commandments of 309. This mass of EC rules and regulations is turning our confectioney executives into fruit and nut cases. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to simplify procedures and work towards a really common market.

My second major theme concerns the dumping of non-EC confectionery. This is difficult to quantify, but it is definitely on the increase. Half the problem is in terminology. I am not referring to high price products—quite the contrary. Three to four years ago, non-EC confectionery accounted for a mere 2 per cent. of the market. Now it accounts for 10 per cent. of the market. Such confectionery originates in states where there is cheap labour, in South America—Argentina and Brazil—in South Africa and Eastern Europe—Czechoslovakia—although less so since there have been notably higher costs. My hon. Friend might like to have some dumped confectionery—

Order. The hon. Gentleman must not perambulate while he is making a speech.

I apologise, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I simply wanted my hon. Friend to see some dumped chocolate in due course, and I hope that she will take great care in future and draw the attention of her civil servants to he difficulties concerning the ingredients. These countries are dumping because they are after hard currency. There will come a time when my hon. Friend the Minister will be seduced into buying these materials for her family simply because of the low unit costs. At that stage, we shall be pricing confectionery workers out of employment.

What values and quantities of imported gums, jellies and pastilles, particularly orange and lemon slices, are coming in from these non-EC countries? I know the popularity of the jelly bean in President Reagan's household, but we have an even better quality product on this side of the Atlantic. If he visits York, I shall be delighted to show him a sample.

My third theme is VAT. Confectionery should be treated as a food and zero rated. This would bring VAT rules on confectionery into line with those in other EC states. In 1973, confectionery was zero rated and the volume of trade rose by 10 per cent. In 1979, the tax was reimposed and doubled. However, in Belgium there is a tax of only 6 per cent., and in West Germany one of only 7 per cent., although all foods incur it.

My hon. Friend may, in the considered way in which I know that she looks at these matters, say that we cannot differentiate between one category of food and another. If she does, I shall refer her to Indian confectionery sold here, which has been both manufactured here and imported here. This is zero rated and is made by companies such as the Royal Sweets and Bombay Halva Company in west London. Where is the logic behind the Indian community saying that its confectionery is food and has to be zero rated while ours is not? The confectionery made in my constituency and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) is also food, and we should like it to be zero rated. We have the precedent and the experience, and sales and employment would increase with zero rating.

The confectionery industry is in favour of nutritional labelling, but does not want a complicated system. It wants one that gives energy, fat, carbohydrate, protein and fibre contents.

It does not want a row with the EC over this. The ingredients labelling is on most products now, but in the EC labelling regulations differ between countries. In Canada there is labelling in French and in English. The COMA report on diet and cardiovascular disease suggests that high fat consumption is an important contributing factor to heart disease and proposes that food containing more than 10 per cent. fat, or which makes a significant contribution to fat in the diet, should be labelled with its fat content.

The confectionery industry is disappointed by my hon. Friend's stated intention that the Government will introduce legislation to require all such products to he labelled with their fat content. Insufficient account has been taken of possible retaliatory measures that legislation might provoke among the United Kingdom's trading partners in the EC. I have no objection to the introduction of a voluntary nutritional statement on food labels. and I am sure that the confectionery industry is actively working to promote this.

My next theme is unit pricing. The EC Commission has issued a draft directive that will require food to be labelled with the price per pound or kilo at point of sale. The confectionery industry is strongly opposed to this measure, which it believes will be costly to implement and meaningless to the consumer and may reduce the choice of available products. I should not like to add to the mass of material with which already civil servants, Customs and Excise and the confectioners themselves have to deal. Therefore, I welcome the report of the Select Committee of the other place which explicitly concurred with the following statement made by the Consumers in the European Community Group:
"We have reservations about universal unit pricing. The cost of unit pricing has to be studied in terms of the benefits …Therefore, we would prefer unit pricing to proceed selectively by product and not as the Commission proposes by the establishment of the principle with a negative list of exemptions."
Although I see only one Labour Member present, I was horrified to learn of the Labour party's plan to tax sugar, as stated by the hon. Member for Oldham, West (Mr. Meacher), its Front Bench spokesman on social services. I am delighted that yesterday my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Treasury, advised in a parliamentary reply that the Conservative party had no such plans. In 1608 and 1635, a book of rates referred to duties on sugar. It seems that James I may have the dubious honour of being the first to tax the product. I would not suggest that, as he was also James VI of Scotland, he should have returned there. We should remember that the duty on British sugar was first repealed on 1 May 1874, reintroduced by the Finance Act 1901, and survived until 1962.

The hon. Member has mentioned both my party and Scotland. I am deeply concerned about the possibility of a tax on sugar, as one of the most important industries in my constituency is that of cane sugar refining.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will speak to his hon. Friend the Member for Oldham, West. Our sugar beet and refining industries are an ancillary aspect of the United Kingdom confectionery trade. The hon. Gentleman has better sense on this occasion than his Front Bench. I need hardly remind the House that a tax on sugar, one of the main ingredients of confectionery, would have serious consequences, and I invite my hon. Friend to confirm the Government's position.

Companies in England and Wales have no protection from hoaxes, as money is not involved. We all recall with horror the case last year involving animal rights liberation groups. Even if such people are found, they cannot be prosecuted. The Government should take early action in this matter. Co-ordination between the police, the Home Office, the industry and the consumer protection officers is needed. I realise that this is not the departmental responsibility of my hon. Friend, but as the threat occurred in this industry I hope that she will have consultations with her colleagues and ensure that this is regarded as a matter of priority. There is protection in Scotland and we need it to be extended south of the border.

A tax is also threatened on oil and fats. No British Minister can give an assurance on this unless the veto is used in the national interest, and then we would be unable to negotiate. Two regulations are involved. The first is regulation 262/79, which makes butter available at reduced prices from intervention stores for use, for example, in pastry products, sugar confectionery and the like. The second is regulation 1932/81, which makes butter available at reduced prices from the open market. This is not just a matter of EC bureaucracy. The main benefit to consumers is to pensioners. It is they who most enjoy fudge and other forms of oil and fat confectionery and we should be careful not to impose unnecessary tax burdens on that section of the population.

Her Majesty's Customs and Excise and the intervention board for agricultural produce administer the schemes. Among the things that they must ensure is that butter is not used in real chocolate as defined by the EC chocolate directive or in sugar confectionery. It may be used in real chocolate or in cakes, biscuits and ice cream. It may also be used in imitation chocolate and in sugar confectionery. The broad brush approach of the administration in Brussels would be to aid the dairy fat content of all composite foods covered by regulation 3033/80. The cost of the extension would be small but the benefits to companies and administrators would be large, but let us ensure that there is no tax on oils and fats.

The fifth report of the Select Committee on Agriculture on 25 April recommended that the Ministry should press for the confectionery industry to have direct access to Brussels. Commission decisions are made on the basis of advice from relatively junior civil servants of each country. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will regard that recommendation as a helpful way to support her staff and diplomats.

I hope that my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary, who was here earlier, has passed on to the Whips Office—if not, I shall do so later—information about some of the problems with non-EC confectionery and the good British products with which my pockets are bulging, and I end with Arthur Marshall's splendid parody of John Betjeman:
"There's nougat at the Hendersons, the Hopes have got some fudge,
And Pam has popped the pralines in the tool-bag of her Rudge.
Voluptuous and tarmac-borne, she free-wheels through East Cheam,
My caramelly angel girl, My luscious sweet-meat dream."
I invite my hon. Friend the Minister to reply.

10.2 am

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory) for allowing me to take part in this debate—the first for many years on an industry that is vitally important to this country. My hon. Friend will be aware, from his past connections with the city of Norwich, that the Rowntree Mackintosh factory is a major employer and a backbone of industry in the area, employing about 1,350 people. Everyone has seen the advertisements for Yorkie bars. The factory in my constituency produces about 22,000 tonnes of Yorkie bars per annum to keep lorry drivers going, so it is clearly vital to our communications system. I had the pleasure of visiting that factory recently and I know that what I saw there is common to confectionery factories in other parts of the country. It is a highly efficient industry, which has moved with the times and takes advantage of all the new technology to keep itself extremely competitive.

I wish to make two brief but vital points. First, as my hon. Friend the Member for York has rightly said, the industry needs a free and competitive market. My hon. Friend rightly described the barriers erected against our exports. We always tend to play the game with regard to tariffs and barriers but it seems that our competitors do not do so. I urge my hon. Friend the Minister to take seriously the need for competition to be fair and open for all countries so that our manufacturers can compete properly and fairly.

Secondly, the confectionery industry relies heavily on imports of raw materials. We need political and price stability in the exporting countries so that our manufacturers can plan their strategy, production and pricing with some certainty and without having their plans upset by political turmoil or price instability in the countries producing raw materials such as cocoa, mint and sugar which are essential to our industry but which cannot be grown in this country.

I have already mentioned the 1,350 employees in the industry in my constituency. I also make a plea for all the small shopkeepers selling confectionery throughout the land. They need a thriving confectionery industry for the stability of their small businesses. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will take on board the need for fair and open competition for all aspects of the confectionery industry.

10.6 am

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
(Mrs. Peggy Fenner)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory) for raising this important subject. It is certainly time that the confectionery industry was debated in the House.

Confectionery sales in the United Kingdom amount to about £2·5 billion and about 8 per cent. of consumer expenditure. The United Kingdom has one of the highest levels of confectionery consumption in the world, which is doubtless a tribute to the production and marketing skills of our confectionery industry. There can be no doubt, therefore, that the industry makes an important contribution to our economy, to employment and, I suggest, to our quality of life. For my grandchildren, this will be the most important contribution that I shall make to any debate in my entire career.

Any major industry operating in difficult and highly competitive conditions in the world economy faces a number of problems. In the short time available, I shall do my best to deal with those mentioned by my hon. Friends the Members for York and for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) as well as with a couple of other important issues.

First, as my hon. Friend the Member for York has said, our confectionery industry, especially the chocolate sector, has cause for a good deal of satisfaction. Recent company reports show increased sales and profits by leading manufacturers. In 1984, the United Kingdom confectionery market as a whole continued to grow for the fourth successive year. A further increase of 4 per cent. by volume took the market to new record levels in both tonnage and value. It was especially gratifying to note that sugar confectionery showed a modest increase after several years of decline.

In referring to the industry's strong and profitable performance, I should perhaps take the opportunity to comment on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for York about value added tax. I appreciate the industry's concern that its products, together with ice cream, crisps and various other items, have historically attracted VAT while food generally has been exempt. I also appreciate the desire for parity of treatment for similar products.

I understand, however, that Customs and Excise has studied the example of Indian sweetmeats to which my hon. Friend referred and is satisfied that the products in question are essentially different from traditional confectionery. They are brought out at births, deaths and funerals and, when I visit the Sikh temple in my constituency, they are offered as hospitality and a welcome to worship. As VAT is the responsibility of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, however, further representations should be made to him.

As one would expect with a sophisticated market such as confectionery, there is a two-way trade with other countries. I am glad to say, however, that our exports of confectionery substantially exceed imports and in 1984 increased by over 7 per cent. over the previous year. Indeed, the volume of confectionery exports as a proportion of total production is now double that for the food manufacturing industry generally. I hope that the industry will continue still further to increase its export performance, in co-operation with Food From Britain and its export arm, the British Food Export Council. The enlargement of the European Community to include Spain and Portugal should provide another promising area as tariff barriers begin to be abolished.

On the question of tariff and other trade barriers, I should like first to refer to the current developments in the United States to which my hon. Friend the Member for York referred. I was glad to note that the ban imposed in January on the import of a range of products which included sweetened cocoa powder has now been modified to permit imports in retail packages. Nevertheless, the United States international trade commission is currently investigating the possibility of introducing restraints on a broader range of sugar-containing products. That could certainly have an adverse effect on the United Kingdom's confectionery exports. The Government naturally view those developments with concern and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, during his recent visit to Washington, made clear to the United States authorities the strength of our objections to such restrictions. The European Commission has also raised the issue in the GATT. I certainly hope that the United States authorities will be dissuaded from introducing further restrictions on trade in this sector.

In Japan, to which my hon. Friend also referred, there remain serious tariff barriers. There has been some improvement in the case of chocolate confectionery. In 1983, following persistent pressure by the Government and a commendable initiative taken by the Chocolate, Cocoa and Confectionery Alliance, the tariff rate was reduced from 32 per cent. to 20 per cent. Unfortunately, a corresponding reduction was not made for sugar confectionery, the sector which offers the greatest export potential. The Japanese tariff on sugar confectionery remains at the unacceptably high level of 35 per cent. We will continue to make representations to the Japanese Government about the matter whenever opportunities arise.

The Department of Trade and Industry is aware of many of these problems and is seeking to have them removed. We will certainly discuss with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether there is anything more that we can do in this respect. The situation highlights the dangers of protectionism. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Powley) that the EC should be a true common market. On EC procedures, I assure my hon. Friend that we support moves to create a more genuinely common market in that respect.

I suppose that the problem raised by my hon. Friend the Member for York in relation to third country imports of low-priced chocolate into the Community presents the inverse of tariff barriers. The European Commission has responsibility, on behalf of member states, for action on anti-dumping issues, although the Department of Trade and Industry maintains an anti-dumping unit which is always willing to advise and help in the preparation of anti-dumping cases.

While dealing with questions of international trade, I should like to refer briefly to the negotiations that have been held under the auspices of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development for a fourth international cocoa agreement. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South stressed the importance of stability in the markets for raw materials. The present agreement — the third — has not proved successful, because it sought to defend price levels that proved totally unrealistic, partly as a result of the rise in the value of the dollar, on which the agreement price is based.

Our objective, and that of our Community partners, is to ensure that any successor agreement aims to secure price stabilisation based on market realities and through the mechanism of sensible and adjustable defence prices. On that basis we shall continue to participate constructively. Perhaps I could take this opportunity to place on record the Government's appreciation of the support that they have received in negotiations from the confectionery industry and the cocoa trade.

I am very conscious of the concern in the confectionery industry about the recommendations of the report of the Committee on Medical Aspects of Food Policy and the action that the Government will take to implement those recommendations. The report did not single out particular foods and the Government have no intention of doing so either. What COMA recommended was a reduction in the consumption of fat and particularly saturated fatty acids. Our aim in implementing the recommendations is to ensure that consumers have the necessary information to enable them to follow the COMA advice. The wide-ranging labelling provisions that we envisage will enable consumers to identify the important sources of fat in the diet and thus to select an eating pattern that is both healthy and palatable.

My hon. Friend was worried about the effect of the COMA proposals on our partners in Europe. They might be regarded as a potential barrier to intra-Community trade. That is not what they are intended to be. They represent our response to a serious public health problem in the United Kingdom.

Although this was not among the COMA recommendations, the Government have also proposed guidelines for those who wish voluntarily to adopt full nutritional labelling, including energy, proteins and carbohydrates as well as fats.

My hon. Friend was concerned about proposals for taxes on fats and on sugar. I confirm that we remain opposed to any tax on oils and fats, as that would have a damaging effect on the food industry, consumers and third country suppliers. We are equally opposed to the recent misguided suggestion of a tax on sugar.

I am glad to note that at least one Opposition Member agrees with us about that.

My hon. Friend referred to the regrettable activities of the so-called Animal Liberation Front. I can appreciate the concern of the confectionery industry and indeed of food manufacturers and distributors generally over the problem. I cannot deplore too strongly the irresponsible and malicious acts carried out in the name of that body. Nevertheless, I am advised that the Food Act 1984 should provide adequate protection for companies whose products have been subject to malicious tampering. If, however, my hon. Friend is aware of any specific respect in which he feels the Act does not adequately meet the problem, I hope that he will send me details and I will consider the matter.

My hon. Friend referred to unit pricing. The Government are opposed to the Commission's proposal to extend unit pricing to foodstuffs. We believe that it would give little useful information to consumers and would place unnecessary burdens on food manufacturers and distributors. We consider that a sensible system of standardisation of package sizes would be a far more satisfactory, and far cheaper, means of helping consumers to make value-for-money comparisons.

My hon. Friend was concerned about direct access. If he has any special problems, I hope that he will write to me. The normal access of the industry to the Commission is through CAOBISCO, the European trade body that has close and frequent contact with the Commission.

At racing pace and given a little injury time, I hope that I have answered most if not all the points raised in an interesting and useful debate.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for York on his persistence on this matter, which concerns the great city that he represents in the House and which has a particular interest in the industry. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South shares that interest.

I conclude by congratulating the confectionery industry on its achievements in the past few years in an environment that has not always been wholly favourable, and I assure it and the House of our concern to ensure a propitious climate for its continued success.