Food Safety Bill Lords
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.
New Clause 1
Prohibition Of Irradiation
'.—(1) Nothing in section 17(1) shall be taken to confer any power on the Ministers to make regulations permitting, whether or not subject to conditions, the irradiation of food intended for sale or for human consumption; or the sale or preparation of such food.'.— [Dr. David Clark.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss also new clause 7—
Food Irradiation Commission
'.—(1) There shall be established a body to be called the Food Irradiation Commission ("the Commission") to perform the functions assigned to the Commission by or under this section.
(2) The members of the Commission, of whom there shall be not less than ten, shall be appointed by the Minister after consultation with such persons and organisations as he considers appropriate, and shall include at least one representative each from a consumers' organisation and from a food enforcement authority.
(3) The Commission shall give advice to the Minister on matters relating to the implementation of this section or the exercise of any power conferred by it, or otherwise relating to food irradiation, where the Commission consider it expedient, or they are requested by the Minister to do so.
(4) The Commission shall have a duty to examine all matters relating to food irradiation and shall draw up a plan to do so.
(5) The plan established under subsection (4) above shall include—
(6) No regulations under this Act authorising the irradiation of food shall be made before the results of the plan established under subsection (4) above have been published and such plan has been subject to scrutiny by both Houses of Parliament.'.
We are discussing the Bill at a most appropriate time, when the entire country's attention is focused on food safety as a result of bovine spongiform encephalopathy—the mad cow scare—and the Minister's efforts in Brussels, to which we shall refer later this evening.If we had not had the BSE scare, probably one of the most contentious issues relating to food safety would have been food irradiation. As Opposition Members have made clear, we welcomed the Government's intention and efforts in bringing forward the Bill. We did not vote against it on Second Reading, although we generally felt that it did not go far or fast enough; we had a useful and constructive Committee stage, in which we made progress. However, the one issue that deeply divided the two sides of the House was food irradiation. Food irradiation is a technology looking for a use. For the past 50 years, it has been hawked around the world as a panacea for food poisoning. The British Government have sacked thousands of scientists in food and agricultural research; have cut the number of vets employed by the state by 27 per cent.; have allowed the shortage of environmental health officers to amount to more than 420; have closed research stations; and have weakened regulations. That has resulted in an inevitable food poisoning epidemic. In their desperation, the Government have jumped on the irradiation bandwagon. They see it as the easiest route out of their self-created problem. It is their magic quick fix. However, their actions are wrong, for a number of reasons. It is ironic that, as the rest of the world begins to turn its back on irradiation, our hard-pressed and desperate Government have seized on the technology as a drowning man clutches at a straw. It is interesting that even in Europe, where tentative steps have been taken towards Europeanwide legislation that is the only sensible approach in the long term—there have been difficulties. The European Commission put forward limited proposals for irradiation—much more limited than those that the Government are proposing. The European Parliament rejected them. The Commission has now put forward even more limited proposals. It is rather strange that our Government, alone in Europe, appear to be rushing headlong into adopting legislation. When the Minister responds to the debate, I hope that he will tell us why the Government have announced their intention to proceed with legislation on food irradiation even before the draft directive has been agreed in Europe. It is nonsensical. Why jump the gun? Why do the Government want private investors to invest in very expensive irradiation plants when the European Community may make the process illegal? I draw the Minister's attention to the House of Lords Select Committee report published on 12 December 1989. There is a weakness in the Government's case that highlights their desperation to find a way out of their problems with food poisoning. The Opposition have fundamental objections to irradiation and we oppose it for a number of reasons, many of which we have outlined previously in the House and in Committee. The first and possibly the greatest weakness in the case for irradiation is the fact that there is no test. It is illogical to allow a scientific process that even the Government and the European Community accept can be dangerous if too high levels of irradiation are used. If it cannot be told whether a product has been irradiated, the extent of the irradiation cannot be measured. That is a basic weakness which makes the whole process potentially dangerous. Re-irradiation is even more dangerous. The kilograys are cumulative. If food is irradiated at 10 kilograys—the maximum permitted by the EEC—and then it is done again, that makes 20 kilograys, which is above the safety level. There is no way to test whether the food has been irradiated. That is the most basic weakness in the case for irradiation. We are constantly told that irradiation is a well-known, well-established science, although I believe that much of the information relating to it is rather sketchy at times and selective. Much of the science of irradiation was carried out many years ago and much of the new information coming on stream casts doubt on the process. For example, we do not know sufficient about the effects of food irradiation on pesticides, food additives or food packaging. There are more and more complicated chemical cocktails in our pesticides. We hope that they are more effective and, indeed, more environmentally friendly. Certainly, we should be trying to achieve that. However, many of the pesticides leave persistent residues on the skin of the food. We do not know the effect of irradiation on the chemical cocktails that make up those pesticides. We may know the effect of irradiation in isolation, but not in a mixture. 4.45 pm That view is held by the Department's scientists. 'We often hear Ministers saying that they always take the advice of their scientists. We know that that is not the case—they are most selective and take advice only when it suits them and saves them money. The Department's research consultative committee's residues sub-group expressed concern about
I hope that the Minister will think again about that aspect of irradiation and, for once, listen to his scientists. If he has better scientific advice than that, perhaps he can tell us what it is. Another basic objection to irradiation involves the argument that it can be used to clean up contaminated food. Conservative Members who are in favour of the technology say that that is impossible. Not only can we challenge that argument but we can give chapter and verse of food that was presented as good food when previously it had been condemned as unfit. I do not want to bore the House, but it is important to put it on the record because we are having some difficulty in persuading Conservative Members that it happened. Bad food can be dressed up as good food. I shall cite an example that has been proven in the courts of law in this country. In 1986 Young's found that prawns that it had imported did not match its public health standards. It sent the prawns to Gammaster's in Holland for a quick fix—they were irradiated—and they were then re-imported. They passed the bacteriological tests and were sold for human consumption. That is a proven case. There are many other examples that have not yet been proved. Indeed, I informed the Minister's predecessor of a number of specific cases. I accept that it is difficult to get the cases to stand up in a court of law. However, it is a widespread technique that is known in the trade as "Dutching". If that sort of abuse happens when irradiation is illegal, I find it hard to believe that it would not continue if irradiation were legal. Irradiation will become the charter for the food cowboys. It is for that reason that most of the reputable food processors and food retailers in Britain will not touch irradiation with a bargepole. They reject it because not only do they believe that their food is safe, but they know that their consumers will reject it. The other argument is that if we accept irradiation there will be no incentive for the food processors to follow the good and proper hygiene practices that are so necessary and that we intend to espouse if the Bill is enacted—for example, training, handling, and ensuring that the whole food chain is subject to good hygiene practices. Irradiation will lull people into a sense of false security. There is no alternative to properly organised and structured hygiene standards. To make matters even worse, none of the recent incidents of food poisoning could have been prevented by irradiation. I use the word "incidents" as opposed to "scares" because "scares" implies that nothing happened. In these incidents people have tragically died. That is not media hype; it is fact. Therefore, let us consider some of the incidents and see whether irradiation could have tackled the problem. The first great incident happened just 18 months ago when the then Under-Secretary of State for Health made her famous—or infamous—statement about eggs. That was the salmonella incident when we had the whole debate about chickens. The truth is that irradiation would not have helped one iota. Eggs cannot be irradiated. The Government took the right approach by tackling the disease at source and in that they had the Opposition's support. We are pleased that they took that approach. Equally, it is difficult to irradiate chickens. The European Commission has dropped the concept of irradiating chickens. Sliced chickens can be irradiated, but not whole chickens without exceeding the safety levels of kilograys. Of late, we have also heard a great deal about cheeses. About 15 months ago the then Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food threatened to ban soft cheeses from France because they carried listeria. The French Minister of Agriculture put pressure on him and our Minister caved in to that French pressure. History has repeated itself today. What did we hear on Friday? Did the Minister intend to retaliate and ban French cheeses? No. He told the Tory Euro Members of Parliament, "We are not quite sure." But the newspapers had the story that we would take action against potentially dangerous French cheeses. The argument was—there is a certain logic in it—that many French cheeses are made from unpasteurised milk and there is some evidence that they could carry listeria. The matter is so serious that the American Government will not allow any soft French cheeses to enter America unless they are certified to be made from pasteurised milk. According to the American Government scientist, there is a safety risk, but irradiation would not help that one iota because cheese cannot be irradiated. My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) was very involved in the environmental health officers' discovery of contaminated pate from Belgium on sale in a supermarket in his constituency. But pate cannot be irradiated, so that would not have helped. I could go on. We know that irradiation can kill bacteria, but it does not remove the toxins that are left behind in the food and in some cases it may not kill the spores that they form. There is an argument that killing the bacteria and leaving a sterile environment creates the conditions for new bacteria to breed in greater confusion. That argument applies if food has too long a shelf life. There was the case of botulism in hazelnut yogurt. But that was due to toxins, not in the yogurt but in the purée, so irradiation could not have been used in that case where, tragically, two people died. In the last 10 days my constituency has been affected by the shellfish issue. As the Minister knows, there has been a little controversy about that. When it was drawn to the Department of Health's attention that mussels off my constituency, which usually have a safety level of 400, were found to have a level of 20,000, it rightly issued warnings about their safety and urged people not to sell them. However, the Ministry did not excel itself, because it took seven days to publish the result of tests on other shellfish, crabs, lobsters and prawns, during which time the livelihood of many fishermen was put at risk. But the point is that if any of those shellfish had been irradiated, even if they had been just above the safety level, they would not have been made safe because the contamination is the result not of bacteria but of toxins, and irradiation cannot kill toxins. The significance of that is that it is often argued that the real benefit of irradiation would be in the shellfish industry. Yes, it would kill the bacteria, but it would not kill the toxins which, by and large, are the fatal element in shellfish poisoning. That is why a major shellfish retailer, Mr. Ken Bell, in Newcastle has launched, at considerable expense, a long campaign against irradiation. When I asked why, he said that his shellfish were clean and good and that he could guarantee them. He did not believe that he needed to irradiate them in order to sell them. He believes that irradiation would diffuse the shellfish market because some cowboys would bring in shellfish which appeared to be clean but which were not, as happened in the 1986 Young's case—a proven case which no one can challenge. Let me make one obvious point which must be made because some people are under an illusion. Irradiation would do nothing to kill the BSE agent causing mad cow disease. As we press ahead with the move towards irradiation, other countries are turning their backs on it. Australia, which used to have irradiation, now has a three-year moratorium on it. Numerous states in the United States of America are now banning irradiation. It is often alleged that irradiation is widespread in the United States of America, but in most states it is illegal and most people do not realise that it is licensed for only two ranges of products—spices and tropical fruit. Irradiation is not used for any other products in the United States. Recently, Sweden has also announced a ban on the process. Tragically, as the rest of the world moves in one direction, the British Government move in the opposite direction—the wrong direction. The Government have taken that action because it is more palatable than the situation in which they now find themselves."the irradiation of commodities which contained pesticide residues and associated inert substances and the possibility of these residues being transformed into more toxic radiolytic products."
I have listened patiently, as have other right hon. and hon. Members, to the hon. Gentleman, who has been quick to make assertions but—surprisingly, in view of the length of notice of this debate—whose speech has been sadly lacking in detail. If he agrees that 50 to 60 per cent. of all food poisoning cases reported involve poultry, can he counter the comment made by no less a distinguished person than Professor Bevan Moseley, head of Reading food research institute, that the number of food poisoning cases in the United Kingdom could fall to 60 per cent. of the present number if irradiation is introduced? On the findings of which scientists do the Opposition base their arguments?
Obviously the hon. Gentleman will try to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have not given precise details because on Second Reading, in previous debates in the House, and in the Standing Committee on the Bill on 27 March, I quoted a number of scientists. I did not wish to labour that particular point again today. I have my doubts about the information that the hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory) gave. It is generally alleged that most food poisoning incidents of late were related to eggs. I also repeat that even the European Commission now says that whole chickens cannot be irradiated because the bone interferes with the process. One can irradiate sliced chicken, but that is only a partial answer. The real answer is a proper hygiene code.The Government are obsessed with irradiation because they cannot face up to the alternative of a complete U-turn. They will have to increase the number of state vets, whose numbers have been cut by 27 per cent. since the Government came to office in 1979. The Government will have to do something about training and finance for the environmental health service, which is currently 420 officers under strength. They will also have to do something about trading standards officers, who are currently 300 under strength. The Government will have to do something about bringing together new groups and teams of research scientists, so that problems can be tackled at the root, and about introducing tough new regulations to protect public health. The Government are not prepared to make a U-turn because that will cost them money—even though they know that they are putting the health of the public at risk by neglecting to make that U-turn. They turn instead to irradiation. Irradiation is the only option that the Government will entertain. They view it as a cheap option, but it is one which nobody wants. Many reputable organisations oppose irradiation. The list goes on and on. They include the Institution of Environmental Health Officers, the British Medical Association, the National Federation of Women's Institutes, the Consumer Association, most food retailers, and even the National Farmers Union. I conclude with the most telling point of all, made by the technical executive of Marks and Spencer, Dr. Tom Clayton, who encapsulated the argument against irradiation best when he said:
And he is absolutely right."If food is already safe, as we believe it is, in our shops, there is no need for this extra process of irradiation."
Throughout the progress of the Food Safety Bill, irradiation is the topic that has most taken up the time of right hon. and hon. Members in expressing their concern, yet the Government have consistently shrugged off those concerns and clung to their own starting point—the argument that irradiation is not only safe but to be welcomed.By doing so, the Government are flying in the face of the British Medical Association, public opinion, and evidence of the practice in other countries. It is hard to understand why they are taking such a hard line when there is no need to hurry. They are pushing through the introduction of a process that has not been fully researched, for which scientific evidence is not complete, and for which no diagnostic test has been developed for ascertaining whether the process is being abused by those with access to it. Throughout our debates, I and other hon. Members have tabled amendments to meet the Government half way. We tried to place restrictions on the use of irradiation and to ensure that it is not introduced short of the introduction of techniques that will reassure the public that it is safe. The Government have resisted them all throughout. I tabled an amendment requiring novel food processes to be subject to affirmative resolution by both Houses. Another sought to list specific areas of concern that needed to be identified before irradiation is allowed and in which there remains some doubt. I refer to the lack of a diagnostic test, the effect of irradiation on pesticide residues and other toxins, food additives and food packaging materials, and vitamins. Another amendment would have delayed the introduction of regulations until the European Community had agreed a common position. I support Labour's new clause I, and I have tabled one of my own that is intended to achieve the same effect, although in a different form. No doubt the Minister will argue that the new clauses would serve no useful purpose and that plenty of evidence is already available. We have already heard from the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) that many questions hang over existing evidence and over other matters that the Government prefer to brush aside. The Minister must accept that other countries and many scientific bodies believe that the available evidence is still open to doubt or is against him, and that there is no pressing, urgent case for the early introduction of irradiation. The Minister may feel that the balance of opinion is the other way and that there are advantages in pressing ahead, but he cannot deny that there is a case to be made against doing so. Why should not the proposed new clauses be acceptable? Throughout the progress of the Bill, the Government have quoted the evidence of the World Health Organisation in supporting their determination to force through legislation on food irradiation, while conveniently ignoring experts who urge caution. I draw the Minister's attention to what the European Parliament had to say on the matter, and to the publisher's note on the book "Food Irradiation Now", which appeared at the request of the WHO. It said:
That is not wholehearted endorsement. The WHO is drawing attention to the fact that it was anything but a wholehearted endorsement—that the committee was satisfied only in respect of certain criteria relating to some aspects of irradiation that it had been asked to examine. That is not sufficiently reassuring to embark on the kind of changes now envisaged. The European Parliament has expressed many concerns regarding irradiation. It said that, despite decades of research, it was not possible to prove that food irradiation caused no harm to health. It pointed out that practically all scientific studies admit a considerable degree of uncertainty as regards effects on human health, and that, it is not possible to prove that food has been irradiated, because there is no technical means of checking. It pointed out that, as a method of conservation, irradiation is no better or cheaper than other methods. Technological improvements to certain foods are of interest to manufacturers but not to consumers. The Parliament also pointed out that the use of the technology involved is potentially more dangerous than other types of conservation, at least to employees exposed to risk in the plants, especially in the Third world. Incidentally, irradiation encourages the spread of nuclear technology outside the states that currently make use of it. It pointed out that irradiation can be used to deceive consumers about the freshness or ripeness of food. The microbicidal effect of irradiation varies considerably, and may lead to an increase in germs. It pointed out that the desired objectives of food irradiation can be achieved by other methods, and that it does not provide greater protection for consumers against spoiled food. If that list of objections is not enough, I shall add another, which should be on the Minister's plate: recently the European Parliament voted by 263 votes to 66 against irradiation. As an EC country, Britain is not allowed to introduce legislation on a subject on which there is a directive pending or when the EC has said that it will legislate, so the Government would be breaking the spirit of that rule by pushing through legislation now. I cannot understand how, in the face of the bulk of that evidence and of evidence from the British Medical Association, from environmental health officers, trading standards officers and the National Farmers Union, the Minister can still say that he believes that irradiation is proven to be absolutely safe. Until it is, the House should not pass legislation to allow irradiation to go ahead. The old adage, "If in doubt, don't", should apply. I am glad that hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed those doubts and I hope that they will do so again tonight, if the Minister pushes the new clauses to a vote and does not accept the case that is being made. I hope that hon. Members will show that what they have said outside this place applies when it comes to a vote inside the House. I hope that the Minister, at the last minute, will recognise that none of that is necessary. He simply has to swallow his pride and do something to respect and respond to the concerns of consumers, most of the scientific bodies and many people in the industry."But WHO expressly stated that the Committee of Experts had not considered the general safety aspects of the food irradiation process nor had it claimed that food irradiation was safe or that it had no harmful effects on human health or could be applied without any health risks. After a general survey, however, the Committee of Experts have come to certain conclusions on the toxicological, microbiological and physiological acceptability of food irradiated with a total dose of up to 10 kGy."
I support new clause 1 and the new clause tabled by the Liberal Democratic party, which goes into somewhat more detail. Both are a step in the right direction.Like the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) and my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), I am amazed at the obsessive determination of the Government, who have an almost evangelical zeal for irradiation. We have heard it from the Secretary of State and from the Parliamentary Secretary. My hon. Friend said that perhaps it is a panacea for the Government; because we do not have enough environmental health officers or Ministry vets, they may see irradiation as the answer. However, it seems to go beyond that because they argue the case for irradiation with passionate concern. In a press release the Parliamentary Secretary, speaking on 1 March at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's food science laboratory in Norwich, used these words:
That is dramatic language when talking about something like food irradiation. Who are the people to whom the Parliamentary Secretary is referring? The Consumers Association—I know that the Government do not particularly like that association but it is vocal on behalf of consumers. Who else? The National Federation of Meat Traders, and who knows more about meat than that federation? It is opposed to irradiation. The British Medical Association is opposed to it, and what organisation knows more about the health of the nation than the BMA? The environmental health officers—as my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields said—are opposed and they are the watchdogs whose duty it is to protect public health and to protect people from bad food. They are violently opposed to irradiation. Who else? The National Federation of Women's Institutes—that revolutionary body of pseudo-scientists—opposes irradiation. It is not only the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats; as the Minister knows, many people are seriously concerned that the Government are trying to foist food irradiation upon an unwilling public. I hope that the Minister will think again about new clause 1 and that some Conservative Members will come into the Lobby and vote for the clause—I am sure that many of them will. This is hardly a party political matter. The Government have made it that, not the Opposition. I am certain that many Conservative Members feel let down by their Front Bench spokesmen because of the Government's evangelical zeal for irradiation. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields listed many of the faults of irradiation. We are worried because it is uncertain and not sufficiently tried, tested and proven. Perhaps at some future date experiments will be done to make it safe, but we do not know whether it is safe at the moment. 5.15 pm My main worry is the lack of detection for irradiation. The Government must admit that food irradiation can mask bad food, although the food may look all right. At present the housewife or purchaser can look at the food and say, "That looks off to me and I am not going to buy it". However, irradiated food looks in pristine health and consumers buy it as a result. If bad money can drive out good, bad food can drive out good food if irradiation is allowed. I know that the Minister will say that irradiated food must be labelled by the shopkeeper. However, I have not had an answer to the point I raised on Second Reading about cafés and restaurants. If irradiated food is cheaper, the proprietors will buy it and they will not have two separate lists saying that this food is irradiated while that food is not. They will not tell their customers. Therefore, the consumer in the café will not know what he is eating and whether it is irradiated. There will be no test whereby public health inspectors can detect whether food is irradiated. Nobody can tell how many times food has been irradiated. No one can tell the dosage of radiation. Before one allows irradiated food, it is essential that we know all those things. There must be a detection test, or we will be wholly dependent on the honesty and good will of the retailer, trader or café The hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory) mentioned food poisoning and quoted an eminent scientist who said that the number of cases would be halved with irradiation. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields answered that point. I did not know, and I do not think many hon. Members knew, that the only foods allowed to be irradiated in the United States of America are spices and tropical fruits. Can the Minister tell us how many cases of food poisoning and how many deaths have arisen because people have eaten spices or tropical fruit? They are not the causes of the trouble—it is such food as chicken, eggs and cheese, which cannot be irradiated. That is where the mischief is—not in spices and tropical fruit. If necessary, spices could have irradiation treatment. I understand that at the end of 1990 the present methods of making spices safe, using ethlyene oxide, will cease. Irradiation may be the answer, but it is not the only answer. I understand that the recent discovery and adoption by market leaders of a new steam pasteurisation process eliminates the use of ethylene oxide. Even at this late stage, I ask the Government to listen to public opinion outside and to responsible organisations. They are not wild men but responsible organisations such as the National Federation of Meat Traders, the British Medical Association, the Consumers Association and the National Federation of Women's Institutes. If the Government will not listen to Opposition Members, they should listen to those organisations, and if they will not listen to them, will they please look behind them and listen to the voices that no doubt will be raised in the debate bitterly opposed to the foisting of irradiation on consumers and food in Britain?"A torrent of pseudo-science … science fiction … myth from publicity conscious activists in the media and elsewhere who are anxious to foist a particular viewpoint on to the public".
This evening we are having an important debate on irradiation, but the speeches from Opposition Members have not been of the substance and quality that one might expect. We have heard a great deal of assertion and have seen a Luddite attitude which will come over clearly to those who follow our debates. However, if we introduce some common sense and scientific thought rather than allegation, we shall put the subject in its rightful context.The first point on which I support my hon. Friend the Minister is that we are discussing an enabling piece of legislation. It is not forcing irradiation on anyone. Quite clearly, my hon. Friend is looking to those in the industry to introduce adequate tests. I share the concern of right hon. and hon. Members throughout the House about the inadequacy of tests at present and would not wish regulations to be put before the House until trading standards officers and environmental health officers, whom we rightly expect to implement the law passed in this country, should have the ability to check whether food has been irradiated. My hon. Friend has said in the House and in Committee that irradiated food will be labelled. The absence of such a label means that food has not been through that process. The right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) referred obliquely to his concern about restaurants. A restaurateur would be required to identify those items on the menu that had been irradiated. Irradiation has been shown to be extremely useful in dealing with bacteria, particularly salmonella and listeria. Bacteria is all around us and irradiation is useful in killing or greatly reducing micro-organisms in poultry meat and some shellfish. I imagine that a number of right hon. and hon. Members are old enough to remember the argument used against the pasteurisation of milk—that it would lead to a relaxation in efforts to reduce cattle disease. But the 3 per cent. of milk that remained unpasteurised was responsible for some 90 per cent. of milk-borne disease. Personally, I would rather herbs and spices were irradiated than put through the present procedures, although industry is looking carefully at that, and I should also feel happier about poultry products that had been irradiated. However, the shopper and the customer in the restaurant will have the choice; we are not forcing irradiation upon them. Toxicological, microbiological and nutritional effects of irradiation have been studied extensively, and references have been made to a number of United Kingdom scientific committees. The World Health Organisation, the Food and Drugs Administration, the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes show that irradiation has been tried and tested for decades. So we are not talking about a development that has occurred in the past few years; one has to go back to the 1920s when the process was invented. I understand that the 1991 mission into space—the Anglo-Soviet Juno flight—will carry irradiated food because the scientists advising those astronauts consider it the safest form of food. I share the concern of those who expressed reservations about vitamin loss through irradiation, but clearly the process is favourable, in that it extends storage time. Many of us may have purchased food which, even within its storage life, has not lasted long. Had it been irradiated, those difficulties would not have occurred. Quite clearly, irradiation cannot improve the appearance of food, disguise taste or mask unpleasant odours. In all those respects, food manufacturers, retailers and restaurateurs will be careful before utilising the process. In conclusion, we are talking about enabling legislation and we should get some common sense into our debate. I am quite sure that my hon. Friend the Minister will not put regulations before the House until adequate tests are in place. It is the right way forward to encourage industry to develop those tests and to ensure that trading standards officers and environmental health officers can enforce them. We should not adopt a Luddite attitude by putting our heads in the sand and saying that we shall throw out irradiation and join the extremely small group of countries that will not permit the procedure.
I apologise to my namesake, my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams), for jumping in ahead of him. I also apologise to hon. Members who have participated in debates in Committee and throughout the proceedings on the Bill for intervening at such a late stage, but as a former consumer protection Minister, I cannot allow the Bill to complete its proceedings without intervening briefly to raise a couple of points.I was most impressed by the speeches by my right hon. Friend the Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) and by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) and the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) who introduced the new clauses. Contrary to what the hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory) said, I thought that all three hon. Gentlemen spoke with great moderation. There is no doubt about the sincerity of the points they raised, and they expressed them with great moderation and no attempt at scaremongering. The hon. Member for York and I have debated consumer affairs for many years, and we are often on the same side. I hope that he will not be offended when I say that the speech that he has just made does him the least justice of any I have heard him make. The hon. Member accused my hon. Friends of being Luddite and then adopted their arguments. He said that it is Luddite not to permit irradiation, but that we should not introduce regulations until we can monitor them properly. I am sure that he was listening to my hon. Friends, but my understanding was that they were making exactly that point time and again. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields said that monitoring was essential. If the hon. Member for York adopts the criterion that we should not introduce irradiation until it can be monitored, he should agree that that cannot be undertaken while there is a shortage of 400 environmental health officers and 300 trading standards officers. When those services have been working to full establishment, they are overstretched in the range of their responsibilities. Even on his own basic criterion, the hon. Member for York has been making the same case that we have been trying to make—it is impossible to monitor irradiation. It is bad enough when something unimportant is impossible to monitor. There are many rules and regulations that we should like to see enforced, but we recognise that they are not of fundamental importance. But in this case we are dealing with health, even with life and death. When public health is genuinely at risk, the benefit of the doubt must always be given to the consumer and to the public. Again, my hon. Friends have been trying to make that point. The Minister has argued at various stages that it is a matter of choice and that people will have a choice because irradiated food will be labelled. 5.30 pm Good firms will label food but, as my hon. Friends have said, such firms will probably not need to use irradiated food. However, there is no choice if people do not know whether food has been irradiated, and there can be no knowledge where there is no monitoring and no way of testing. How can one have monitoring, for which the hon. Member for York called, if one cannot test? If he and I were to go to a restaurant after the debate to discuss our differences amicably, we could eat a meal of irradiated food and yet be utterly unaware of what we were consuming. That in itself should be sufficient to cause any serious Minister to step back and to say, "Have we got it wrong?" Other people are willing to admit that they are wrong, so I hope that even at this stage—the consequences of getting it wrong are so serious—the Minister will be willing to recognise that he, rather than hon. Members who have been criticising him, is the one who is out of step. Other countries are turning back, or saying that they must go no further and should have a moratorium. Other hon. Members have pointed out the severe limitation on the extent of irradiation in the United States, the most open market in the world. That should lead the Minister to realise that there is sufficient doubt about the scientific validity of irradiation for him to say that we should put irradiation aside. We must think of the dangers implicit in going ahead. We are on the verge of 1992, with its acceleration of uniform rules, regulations and standards. Anyone investing in those processes who saw a 4:1 vote against irradiation in the European Parliament, who saw the European Commission watering down its proposals at each successive stage as it got cold feet, and who realised that the proposal for irradiation would not get through would know that he had to make a rate of return quickly. It may happen that, despite the Minister, Europe will declare irradiation illegal after 1992 and, after all, there is already a draft directive. In a few years, decisions will be made by a majority vote, and Ministers will no longer have a veto. That will be an incitement to those who invest in the equipment and processes necessary for irradiation to ensure that they get a return as quickly as they can. In the food industry, as in any other, there are many good people, but there are also some villains. Those villains could poison people and could cause enormous damage to public health. The food industry is competitive and the aim is to operate at minimum cost, especially at the quick food end, which has a consumer body of youngsters and children. The quick food industry caters for the most vulnerable and those who have the least experience on which to judge what is safe, yet it is the area most likely to be persuaded to use cheaper, irradiated products. There is danger to the public here, which the Minister appears to be utterly unwilling to address. New clause 7 proposes a commission. I want to make a rather technical point which is relevant to the proposal. Whether such a commission makes sense depends on the Government machinery within which it operates. As a result of food poisoning and the various scares over the past couple of years, there has been talk of a Ministry of Food as opposed to a Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. That is a misguided approach—and I go further. What is needed is a separate Ministry of Consumer Interests and Affairs. I do not say that because I am a former Minister in the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection. The Ministry in which I served lasted for six years and then ceased to exist for a reason that would apply to a Ministry of Food. [Interruption.] Some hon. Members do not seem to want to listen. I was describing my experience of operating within a Department and trying to achieve some of the benefits that we all want for our constituents. The Department was too narrowly based to be viable in the long term and there was not sufficient work load to sustain it. It did not have responsibility for food, as I should have liked. The same would happen to a Ministry of Food. I gladly support the commission to deal with irradiation, as proposed in new clause 7. New clause 6 also suggests a monitoring organisation. By the time such organisations had been established, there would be limited work for a Ministry to carry out. However, the paradox is that, if those organisations are to be effective, they need a Minister at Cabinet level able to argue the consumers' case on an equal footing with the sponsoring Ministers arguing the industry's case. Although I support as a step the proposal for the commission and for the monitoring organisation, I ask Opposition Members, when considering the framework of Government that they would like to see, and I ask Conservative Members, to consider the possibility that what is needed is not a narrowly based and probably non-viable Ministry of Food, but a more widely based Ministry of Consumer Protection, with far wider interests.
To some extent, I agree with the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) about the idea of a watchdog and protector of consumer affairs who is concerned not only with food, but with consumer affairs in the widest sense. This country lacks a Ralph Nader. He was uncomfortable to many and caused many problems, but he did a good job in America. However, that is an argument for another place, for another time and, perhaps, on another Bill.We have seen many scare tactics and misunderstandings about irradiation and about the purpose of the Bill. To understand irradiation and what it entails, we should consider the title of the Bill. Clause 7 creates an offence of rendering food "injurious to health" and refers to
They arc set out fully, and they include"Any person who renders any food injurious to health by means of any of the following operations".
That is apart from other substances. That matter is at the heart of the Bill. As my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory) rightly said, food irradiation is an old process. It started in the 1920s—it has been around a long time. It is part of many processes to make food good and wholesome, and it must be considered as a process alongside all the other processes. No doubt, if we went back to the early days of food canning—we may have to go back to Mrs. Beeton's days—I am sure that people would say, "We shall get food poisoning. It will not last. People will be very ill." I have not looked at the relevant Hansard, but I am sure that such a thought must have prevailed. We also have vacuum-packaging processes and gas treatments such as flushing. Some fruits are kept in inert gases such as nitrogen to preserve them. There are many processes, and irradiation is just another process. Why are we so worried? We are told that irradiation does not deal with toxins, for example. If we were to can food that contained toxins, it would not make it any better. Even after the treatments that I have discussed, toxins would still remain in bad food. Why single out irradiation because it does not deal with toxins? Irradiation does not make bad food good. It is an expensive way of dealing with bad food. The discerning housewife or restaurateur will not buy bad food because he or she demands food of high quality. However, irradiation may make bad food safe. That is another matter. By destroying biological processes, irradiation may destroy salmonella and various other things and render food safe, but it probably will not render it palatable. It will not make it the sort of food that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, or I would wish to eat, but it will make it safe."abstracting any constituent from the food; and subjecting food to any other process or treatment."
Is the hon. Gentleman advocating that food that is going bad should be irradiated and sold''
Of course I am not. If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my argument he would know that. That remark is typical of the silly remarks that Opposition Members make. It is a red herring—I suppose it is an irradiated red herring.
A pinkish herring.
As the hon. Gentleman says, a pinkish herring. It makes nonsense of the argument that it creates good food—it does not. Bad food does not become good food as a result of irradiation, but it could become safe food. It is perfectly clear to me and to most sensible people that the housewife and the restaurateur will not buy food that is not of a high standard. Why should they pay a high price because food has gone through that process? It just will not stand the market.
Following the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew), I fail to see the subtlety of the argument of the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby). He is saying that irradiation does not make bad food good, but it makes bad food safe. This is one of our concerns. Is not there a danger that poor-quality food will be irradiated and returned to the market?
The hon. Gentleman should listen to me. used the word "may", not "would". I enjoy cooking. I invite the hon. Gentleman to one of my gourmet meals over the weekend, when he may sample something that is cooked with good-quality food. You are invited also, Mr. Deputy Speaker.The good housewife—even the reasonable housewife—and the good Member of Parliament understand good-quality food and know that it will produce certain results. They will not tolerate bad-quality food. That is why the argument that bad-quality food will be irradiated is not sound. The market will not take it.
My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) referred to some prawns that were exported to Holland for irradiation and were re-imported into the United Kingdom. How would a housewife know whether prawns had been irradiated?
The hon. Gentleman has obviously never been shopping for prawns. If he had, he would know jolly well what a good prawn looks like and what a bad prawn looks like. I suspect that a bad prawn is good only for a rather bad curry, rather than for a good prawn cocktail. I go shopping, so I have my feet on the ground in that respect.This is an enabling provision. Irradiation will be subject to careful regulation and monitoring, and it will take place in proper premises that have been built for the purpose. Any food that is to be irradiated will be subject to instant inspection. I return to the tinned food analogy. How can we be certain about the quality of meat or any other item that is going into tinned food? We are satisfied with the quality of that food because food inspectors regularly inspect premises, processes and food. One can imagine the devastation that would be caused by a factory using bad food or a bad process. Several years ago, we had problems with poor meat from a canning factory in Argentina. I well remember the cases of salmonella that occurred as a result of that problem about 10 or 15 years ago. Such poisoning problems are as evident with canning as with any other process. However, irradiation will ensure that there is no salmonella poisoning. That is the one sort of poison that irradiation will eradicate.
The hon. Gentleman is laying a little too much stress on the example of tinning as a new process that has so far been successful. After all, many new things that are introduced are not successful. Over time, lead in petrol and chlorofluorocarbons have turned out to have bad consequences that were not envisaged at the time of their introduction. The fact that something is new does not necessarily make it right.If the hon. Gentleman thinks that he can do so, will he publicly examine two prawns and tell us which has been irradiated and which has not? If he were to do so publicly, does he really think that he would get it right?
I could not tell which prawn was irradiated and which was not—[HON. MEMBERS: "Ah."]—but I can tell which is a good prawn and which is a bad prawn——
The hon. Gentleman is truly a veritable gourmet.
Will the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) do it?
I would choose the prawn of the best quality. I would reject a bad-quality prawn that had been irradiated and thus rendered safe from bacteria because I should be able to tell that it was of bad quality even though it had been irradiated and was safe to eat. That is my point.Not only will irradiation be monitored and subject to careful regulations, but irradiated food will also be subject to labelling. We must also bear in mind that there is consumer choice. The housewife—and, indeed, anyone else—has the right to choose the food she buys. That also means that she is choosing the system of food production. Labelling will give the housewife that choice. Nobody is pushing irradiated food down the throats of the public. People will be able to choose whether they wish to purchase irradiated food. Many retail stores around the country have already decided not to stock irradiated food. That is their choice and it will be a matter for the housewife's choice. In due course, the housewife may well demand that certain foods are irradiated. The decision of those retail stores may then be reversed. This is all part of consumer choice and free trade. I am looking forward to the irradiation of food because it will improve the quality of some foods. Certain foods cannot be irradiated. The Opposition have referred to salmonella in eggs. Eggs cannot be irradiated, but the process can be applied to a whole host of other items. I look forward to the day when I shall be able to choose tropical fruits that have been irradiated. I was born in a tropical country and have always enjoyed tropical fruits. At the moment most of the tropical fruits that I eat over here have been picked green and do not have the taste of the sun that I remember so well from my childhood. I am looking forward to eating fruits that have been picked much closer to the eating date, which have been ripened in the sun and irradiated so that I can eat them in this country with the full taste that I remember from my childhood. I am very much looking forward to that and to exercising my consumer choice.
Yes. I am looking forward to irradiated mangoes, especially the small sweet ones.The food industry in this country is run largely on the basis of trust, although there is regulation and inspection. The Opposition treat the food industry as though it was based on a conspiracy, but everything that we eat is produced largely on the basis of trust. The food industry is, and has shown itself to be, a trustworthy industry. Spot checks by health officials have shown that in the overwhelming majority of cases that trust has been kept by the food industry. I cannot believe that it will break that trust. I cannot believe that the retail chains will put their good names at risk or risk their livelihoods or the loyalty of their shareholders by putting into the food chain bad quality food which has been irradiated. The Opposition are engaged in scare tactics. No scientific body can show that the proper irradiation of food is dangerous to health. Indeed, committees all over the world maintain that irradiation is a good system. It is one of many systems, which means that there will be choice. Consumers will not be forced to eat irradiated food which will be carefully labelled. I have no doubt that in due course irradiation will prove to be a popular system. I, for one, certainly look forward to it.
When I heard the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) describe how he was looking forward to eating irradiated tropical fruits—and irradiated this and irradiated that—it reminded me of the enthusiasm for beefburgers of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and of how the right hon. Gentleman was willing to volunteer his little girl to test the safety of British beef. I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman's enthusiasm for irradiation and his appetite for irradiated tropical fruits do not convince me that the process is safe.Both the hon. Gentleman and the hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory) have tried to label those who oppose radiation as Luddites and have said that they are somehow anti-progress and that they would have been anti-tin can if they had been born in that age. I must advise the hon. Gentlemen that the British Medical Association is among the opponents of irradiation. The BMA can hardly be described as Luddite because all the medical progress of the 20th century and the improvements in medical care have depended on the rapid implementation of all technical advances, including the use of irradiation. As we know, radiotherapy is part of cancer treatment. The BMA can see the benefits of radiotherapy, but it is discriminating enough to be concerned about the widescale application of irradiation to food for human consumption. I am no Luddite. My professional training was as a scientist—as a chemist and a research worker in chemistry. I have examined the idea of food irradiation off and on for the past 15 years.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain why only irradiated food is given to people who have had transplants?
They need sterile food which contains no micro-organisms.
I shall not give way again. Irradiation is one of the chief ways of sterilising medical equipment and, in the case of certain illnesses and transplants, food. That is for medical reasons.
It is safe.
There is no comparison. One cannot conclude that irradiation is safe simply from the fact that someone who has had a heart transplant must eat sterile food. We shall come to some of the dangers of irradiation shortly.As a chemist I have examined the idea of irradiating food from time to time over the past 15 years. From a naive view, it seems impressive that one can stop potatoes sprouting—that one can interfere so dramatically with a natural process. But, in chemical terms, irradiation fragments living molecules. It fragments proteins and nucleic acids in a random way. It takes a sledgehammer into the food. In every cell perhaps 1 million molecules are split apart randomly. When they recombine they produce a pattern like a jigsaw that has been broken up and thrown together again at random. We have no idea what some of the products of that combination might be. When water molecules are split up hydroxyl radicals and hydrogen atoms are produced. When they recombine the chemical composition has been changed. As a one-time research chemist in the biological sciences, I am certain in my mind that the materials that are produced from irradiation will include radiolytic products which will be carcinogenic. Establishing that carcinogenicity is as difficult as establishing whether BSE is a hazard to human health. It is extremely difficult to establish because it is impossible to find a test population that is willing, like the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West, to eat 100 per cent. irradiated food. Perhaps, if he is willing to volunteer to eat such food for the next 20 years, we shall have a better idea at the end of that time. But there is no way of demonstrating the absolute safety of the process. Much of the research work that has been done and used by eminent scientific committees which advise on safety is incredibly suspect and involves cheating. Much of it is dishonest science. We know that irradiation produces off flavours in food. Fats go rancid and vitamins are destroyed. We do not know what will be the effect of irradiation on food additives and pesticides. Pesticides are already incredibly toxic, but they get into our food and our water supplies. We have no idea what will happen when we irradiate pesticides. We are conducting macro experiments on the human population, and we have no right to do that. There are strong grounds to believe that irradiation may damage food, modify the structure of pesticides and produce even more toxic material. The dosages involved in irradiation of food are equivalent to about 10 million chest X-rays. Let us imagine a conveyor belt carrying our poultry through the irradiation machine, which is the Government's vision. If a human being was on that conveyor belt, irradiation at that dosage would not only kill the person instantly but kill every single cell in his body. That is the dosage needed to kill every single micro-organism and every cell of every micro-organism must be killed. We are dealing with prolific doses of irradiation. Let us consider the international use of irradiation. Of the 140 countries in the world, only 39 allow irradiation of food and those only for a narrow range of foods. Less than 0·1 per cent. of food is irradiated internationally. The amount of irradiation is trivial compared with salting, adding sugar, refrigeration, canning, bottling, fermentation, pickling and so on. Yet the Government have it in mind that irradiation of food is one of the key answers to salmonella. The Government have presided over an epidemic of salmonella and now about half the poultry that we buy is infected with it. I am extremely disturbed that the Government regard irradiation as part of the answer. If they have their way, in five or 10 years' time most of the chicken that we buy, whether from a restaurant or supermarket, will be irradiated. Of the 39 countries that allow irradiation, only 11 allow the irradiation of poultry. We are lining ourselves up with a tiny minority of countries, none of which allows irradiation on a significant scale.
The hon. Gentleman makes a strong point about how we may be in a minority. Will he reveal to the House at what stage the Labour party moved away from its wisdom of the 1974–79 era when it did not ban irradiation but was a party to it? Then the Labour party saw irradiation as a sensible means of dealing with food products. At what stage did it move away from that position to the crass stupidity of the Luddite view that the hon. Gentleman now puts forward?
I shall disregard the hon. Gentleman's last remark as not worthy of him. In the past 20 years, the general public, which is much more important than just the Labour party, has woken up to the dangers of science. As the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) said, processes using CFCs and other technologies have gone wrong. The number one technology that has gone wrong is the nuclear industry. The 1974–79 Labour Government supported nuclear energy to some extent, although they did not order any new nuclear power stations. The Labour party is much wiser these days. We determinedly oppose nuclear power, as do the general public. The same goes for all nuclear technologies, including irradiation of food.I wish to throw back the remark of the hon. Member for York about crass stupidity. The people who stand in the way of the opinion of 90 per cent. of the general public on irradiation are guilty of crass stupidity. No test is available to detect irradiated food. Several other speakers have already made that point. There is no way in which one can say whether a prawn is irradiated and, if it is irradiated, whether it was irradiated once, twice of three times or whether it received five or 10 times the legal dose. Irradiation is a cowboy's charter because regulating it and proving whether food has been irradiated will be impossible. It is wide open to abuse. The hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West tacitly implied that there is a danger that bad food will be made, as he put it, safe, but in any case marketable. Internationally, companies will adopt the technology and buy cheap cargoes that could not be sold in France, Germany and the rest of the European Community. They will bring the food here, irradiate it and sell it on our supermarket shelves. There will be no way in which environmental health officers or anyone else could rule out such an abuse. The Government should listen to public opinion. Earlier, my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), who is a former Minister responsible for consumer affairs, talked about the consumers' interests. Before the debate this evening I read the latest brief from the Consumers Association. It is implacably opposed to food irradiation. I have also received a letter from my local authority asking me to vote against it. That opposition is shared by the National Farmers Union, the National Federation of Women's Institutes and the big supermarket chains. We should follow the lead of the European Parliament, which voted 4:1 against irradiation. The Government have demonstrated that their green credentials, such as they are, are in tatters. They support nuclear power and the nuclear industry right through to the irradiation of food. In Brussels today the Secretary of State for the Environment has gone against the rest of Europe, which wants to control CO2 emissions by 2000. We have done nothing about flue gas desulphurisation or acid rain—not one of our power stations has been cleaned up. During the Whitsun recess we heard the scares about the beaches at Blackpool and elsewhere because of sewage pollution. Thanks to the Government, another product of our times is toxic algae. Above all, the Tories have given us the disease bovine spongiform encephalopathy—[Interruption.] It is a Tory disease because it was caused by the changes to the rendering industry introduced by the Government. If the Government proceed with the introduction of irradiated food, frankly it will be just another nail in their coffin.
Nobody disputes that it is the right of the consumer to have access to safe, wholesome food, but the housewife already has a terrible battle finding such food for her family.The problems with beef have already been rehearsed in respect of BSE and potential problems arising from the outfall of radiation from Chernobyl. There are also potential dangers from scrapie in lamb. The shellfish off our north-east coast cannot be consumed now because of toxic algae, and fish from the North sea are increasingly diseased. Eggs are subject to salmonella. Fruit and vegetables are increasingly sprayed with toxins and preservatives. Many of them are applied outside this country, so the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has no control over their use. The housewife is left in absolute ignorance as to their use and their effect. Those problems will be added to by the introduction of the process of irradiation, which has not been proved safe when used on food for human consumption. The public are also entitled to clear labelling, and I welcome the Government's commitment to introduce such labelling for irradiated foodstuffs. In the absence of any tests to establish whether food has been irradiated at all, or more than once, it makes it almost impossible to monitor shops and restaurants to ensure that they honour the Government's labelling code. There is no demand from any significant section of the population for the introduction of irradiated food. Many responsible national bodies have expressed their opposition to it, including the Consumers Association, the British Medical Association, the National Federation of Women's Institutes, the Institution of Environmental Health Officers and the National Federation of Meat Traders. The Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have made it clear that it is their opinion, based on the authority of their experts, that there is no evidence of any harmful effects from irradiated food. I absolutely and unequivocally accept that, but I am sure that they will concede that that is far from stating that irradiated food is safe for human consumption. Might one not have said exactly the same two or three years ago about the possibility of a scrapie-like disease being passed on to beef cattle and other species which had been fed the ground bones of animals, including diseased sheep? Is it not those very same experts, on whom Ministers now rely for their expert advice, who bear responsibility for the present situation? Until about three years ago they believed that it was perfectly safe and acceptable for the ground bones of diseased animals to be fed to herbivores, such as beef cattle. That has led us to the present disaster; a blight has been put on the entire British beef industry. Are not those experts the same ones who are now advising MAFF on irradiated food? That should give us cause not to fall too deeply into the hands of experts, but to approach the matter with a healthy degree of caution. 6.15 pm I am suggesting not that it is unsafe for humans to consume irradiated foodstuffs, but merely that no one knows for sure one way or the other. My right hon. Friend has been unable to advance any proof of safety. The scientific community is sharply divided on this issue and some suspect that it may prove harmful. The fact is that no one knows. Surely the path of caution is the only sensible course for the Government to take. Little is known about the chemical changes and consequent potential effect of irradiating food treated with modern pesticides, hormones, chemicals and other food additives—let alone about the effect on the packaging that surrounds those foods. Little is known about the effect of irradiation on the nutritional value of food and the vitamins that it contains.
My hon. Friend has said that science is divided on this, but as far as I am aware 35 countries have approved the irradiation of food as well as the World Health Organisation, the United States Food and Drugs Administration and our Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes. Can my hon. Friend tell me about those scientists who are against irradiation?
Several countries have refused to endorse the irradiation of food. Australia, after a two-year in-depth study, imposed a three-year moratorium on the importation, sale or production of irradiated foodstuffs. Many other countries and many states in the United States have imposed such bans.The way in which some of the evidence is used by those who want to ram irradiated food down our throats is especially disturbing. Some of the evidence is based on a misrepresentation of the facts. One such example is the data summary produced by the joint expert committee of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the World Health Organisation. That summary appears, either accidentally or deliberately, to misrepresent the conclusion arrived at by the international food irradiation project conducted in Karlsruhe in West Germany. It stated that, apart from the general effect of including spices in the diet of animals,
That piece of evidence which the committee called in aid arrived at a totally different conclusion. The interim report published in the international food irradiation project series by the Karlsruhe group showed that rats fared less well on a diet which included spices than on a diet without spices, but that it was possible to feed a high-spiced diet as the basis of investigating toxicological problems with irradiated spices. The final, unpublished report covers the comparison of animals fed diets including irradiated and non-irradiated spices and says in its conclusion:"no other treatment-related findings were observed and no differences between irradiated spice or non-irradiated spice-fed animals were seen in any of the findings."
In other words, there is an observable effect associated with the irradiation of spices, even at the lowest level at which spices were included in the diet of rats—the 2 per cent. level. In view of the weight attached by the Government to the World Health Organisation report, one is bound to wonder whether the whole question of the database on which it was founded needs re-examining, for there was a specific case of either oversight or misrepresentation. The irradiation of food is clearly no panacea. As has been pointed out, it cannot deal effectively with salmonella in eggs or with the problem of listeria in paté and it cannot destroy toxins such as botulism. What, then, is the purpose of introducing regulations that will allow the irradiation of food? What foods need to be irradiated, anyway? There are two answers: first, food that is of dubious hygiene; and, secondly, to extend the shelf life of food which otherwise within a matter of days would become unfit for human consumption."Irradiation of spices by 1·5 Mrad shows an increased effect in reducing food intake and body weight. This means that irradiation causes a change in chemical composition of spices which has an influence on animals even at the 2 per cent. level."
Will my hon. Friend concede that in the case of spices, where the chemical process will no longer be available—it will be illegal—irradiation is the only alternative?
No, because the principal importers of spices have pioneered and developed an alternative means of providing for the hygiene of spices involving a process of steam pasteurisation. They claim that that is preferable to, and as satisfactory as, irradiation. Indeed, the Government have time and again cited the irradiation of spices as being the prime reason for introducing legislation—to enable spices to be rendered hygienic without going through the present process involving chemicals that are carcinogenic to those who apply them. That is an added reason why there is neither urgency nor need for the proposed regulations.I endorse the view of the Marks and Spencer technical executive who said:
Food irradiation will be seized on by those at the bottom end of the food industry—the cowboys of the market—to make saleable otherwise unsaleable food. I am amazed that the Government should wish to go along with such a process. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby), who is no longer in his place, said he could tell a good prawn from a bad one. He cited the great cost of the process of irradiation. I draw attention to the 1986 case involving Young's prawns, questions about which the Minister did not answer satisfactorily in Committee or at an earlier stage. The Young's prawns were unmarketable in this country and were sent back to Holland to be irradiated. Those involved in that scandal were obviously not bothered about the cost of irradiation because they knew that the consignment they had on their hands was valueless as it stood and that it was well worth paying for irradiation so that the goods could be brought back and marketed in the United Kingdom. I wonder whether my hon. Friend the Member for Leicestershire, North-West would have been able, with his undoubtedly sensitive nose, to detect the quality of those prawns, particularly if they had been frozen or wrapped in other packaging. The case for irradiated foodstuffs has not been made out, at any rate not for food for human consumption, and the Government are taking unnecessary risks with public health. It will give me no pleasure to vote against the Government. I shall have no choice but to do so unless the Minister gives an undertaking to defer introducing the regulations until the European Community has reached a judgment on the matter. If he gives that undertaking, I shall with pleasure join him in the Division Lobby."If food is already safe, as we believe it is, in our shops, there is no need for this extra process."
I give credit to the hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) for urging the Goverment time and again to tread the path of caution on this issue. But I fear that his warning will go unheeded today, as it has until now, because it would be inconvenient for the Government to take his advice. They need to pretend to the public that they are tackling the multiple food problems that have arisen since the Conservatives took power. Irradiation is that step, their excuse, when they should be taking proper action.As my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) said, irradiation will do nothing to counter the problems of botulism, listeria, BSE, salmonella and the toxins that account for much food poisoning. It will not clean up contaminated food. It will simply dangerously disguise that contamination. I fear that Ministers, supporters of irradiation and those who are trying to sell certain produce will fool people into believing that irradiation is a worthwhile process from the health point of view. Nothing of the sort has been proved. In any event, it is being introduced not for health reasons but for profit reasons. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said in a speech on 1 March, repeated in a MAFF press release, that opposition to irradiation was
With that statement he discounted all the opposition that had come from the Consumers Association, the National Federation of Women's Institutes, the BMA, food producers and retailers, the National Federation of Meat Traders and from public health organisations such as the Farm and Food Society, the London Food Commission and the Institution of Environmental Health Officers. He discounted the findings of the Cantox committee of the Canadian Parliament which said that there were some unresolved questions. His own Advisory Committee on Irradiated and Novel Foods said that further research was needed in many areas. But the Minister said that that was all a torrent of pseudo-science. 6.30 pm What science have we had from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? It has presented no proof that irradiation is safe and has carried out no work. What research has been carried out into thermo-luminescence? The Ministry has not even waited for conclusions, but is presenting to Parliament a measure that will allow food to be irradiated without restriction. Allowing such as measure to go ahead is what I would call pseudo-science. The Ministry has not carried out any checks on the effects of packaging. Few packaging materials have been tested and some people have said that some packaging materials might migrate to the food or that the food itself might undergo changes and become carcinogenic. There have been no tests on the effects of irradiation or pesticides on food additives. There is a great deal of confusion about labelling. The EEC proposes two labels. One would say that the food was irradiated and the other would say that it was treated by ionising radiation. That is a recipe for confusion and the public will not know where they are. There is no test to determine whether a product has been irradiated and there is certainly no control on the extent of irradiation that takes place. That will not appear on labels. Unscrupulous people in the food industry will not affix a label even if the food is irradiated. It will not be possible to check such action and therefore it will go unpunished. That is the real response to the argument about choice. What choice is there for the consumer in such cases? My last point is in many ways about class. The worst foods go to the poorest people in Britain who end up paying higher prices than they should. Irradiated food will be cheaper than fresh, untarnished and non-irradiated food, but people can buy only what they can afford and will buy food that is at the end of its shelf life and is bacteriologically unsound. Irradiation kills the nutrients and vitamins that are crucial to people's diet. It will worsen the diet. The Tories are trail-blazers for worst practice in the food industry and irradiation is another example. It will lead to a serious slackening in food hygiene and a poorer diet."a torrent of pseudo-science."
We have heard another powerful speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen). It was one in a series of such speeches from the Opposition which have shown unanimous and forceful opposition to irradiation. The Opposition are under no illusion. If the new clause is accepted, it will mean that the Government will not be able to introduce measures approving of irradiation. If the clause is defeated, it will be tantamount to a vote in favour of irradiation.All the arguments that have been presented about the rights of the consumer, the possible weakening of the confidence of the consumer in the British food industry and the protection of public health will be swept to one side if the new clause is defeated. There is no doubt that the public are greatly concerned, as are manufacturers, food producers and retailers, about the consequences of irradiation. Serious questions are being asked about the scope and validity of the scientific verification of irradiation. That has been recognised by most hon. Members. The hon. Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) made an honest and courageous speech in which he considered all the arguments, just as he did on Second Reading. I applaud his integrity in saying that he intends to join us in the Lobby, but I am disappointed that such integrity is not shared by some of his hon. Friends who have considerable reservations about irradiation. On Second Reading they demonstrated those reservations. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory), who I am sure will shortly be back in his place, intervened on Second Reading. He said:
Those are strong words. The hon. Gentleman did not say that the balance of judgment was one way or the other but spoke about the fundamentals of the argument being invalidated. The hon. Gentleman has undergone something of a conversion because he now says that we must question the reliability of the tests. He knows, and I am sure that the Minister will confirm, that it is not a question of testing the validity of the tests or their reliability; there is no test. The way in which the hon. Member for York destroyed the Minister's argument on 8 March holds true today. The hon. Member for York was not alone on Second Reading, because the hon. Member for Upminster (Sir N. Bonsor) said that people should know what they are eating. The hon. Member for Medway (Dame P. Fenner) was forceful in her condemnation. I remind the House that the hon. Lady is a former Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and has certainly canvassed the arguments. She said:"My right hon. Friend says that there is no distinction between a product that is pasteurised and one that is irradiated. I fully take his point about labelling and the importance of that, but scientists are able to undertake a test to show that a product has been pasteurised. How can he, with hand on heart, promote irradiated foods when, in the event of a court case, there will be no test to show whether the product has been irradiated? That invalidates the fundamentals of his argument"—[Official Report, 8 March 1990; Vol. 168, c. 1029.]
That point was made by the hon. Member for Davyhulme. The hon. Lady went on:"There is still public concern about what we accept as the evidence of the experts and the qualified scientists."
Those are wise words and I should have thought that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, after its bruising experiences in the last couple of weeks when it realised that it had lost public confidence on the matter of scientific judgments, would have learnt that lesson. Unfortunately it has not. It says that the scientists have said that it is all right. As my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) has said, the Ministry is discriminating about how it accepts scientific advice. If it fits the Ministry's preconditions it is infallible, but if it does not fit those preconditions or the political agenda the Ministry chooses to ignore it. I shall develop that point later. The House must address several key arguments. First, the case for irradiation has not been put. I hope that the Minister will put it. It was not put on Second Reading and the need for irradiation has not been established. As many of my hon. Friends have said, if food is wholesome, properly stored and handled and consumed within the appropriate time irradiation is not needed. If there are problems in our food industry they will not be remedied by a quick fix at the end of the process. We must make sure that the food production and handling processes are themselves remedied. I compliment the Government on some parts of the Bill which address that problem. Irradiation will not clean up the food chain, but will allow a quick fix for a contaminated product at the end of a faulty chain. That is the crux of the argument. My hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) is an authority on safety. I know that he has followed the debate closely, and doubtless he will be reading my comments in Hansard tomorrow, as he is not here. There are major questions about the safety of the process and the impact that it has on irradiated food. We know that there are toxic residues. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields said that no research has been done into the impact of the process of irradiation on the pesticides residues that might he in some processed food that are then wrapped in cellophane, or other, new, products."My right hon. Friend will have to take account of the public perception. It may be an erroneous perception, but we still have to deal with it; we cannot bulldoze it."—[Official Report, 8 March 1990; Vol. 168, c.1041.]
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No. The hon. Gentleman made a long speech and I do not have time to give way.We know that irradiation does not provide immunity to listeria and that there are inherent dangers in creating a vacuum. The destruction of the microbiological life creates a vacuum and, if a product is then subjected to secondary contamination, such secondary contamination will grow at a pace that we cannot comprehend, making the product even more dangerous than it would have been had it not been irradiated. The Minister's response to all this is that we must rely on the scientists. They will have it right, they have done their tests and they are always infallible. That amuses me when I consider the Minister in charge of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I presume that his philosophy is that scientists are always infallible except on Sundays, because on Sundays there is a higher authority. It seems that we have to rely on the Bible when making choices about eating habits, and it tells us that vegetarianism is an unnatural practice. I have heard some unscientific statements but that takes the unirradiated biscuit. Let us have a look at the Government's record in accepting scientific advice. They were told that the proposal for a ban on the sale of green top milk—untreated milk—was supported by the enforcement authorities, scientists and a number of other expert organisations, particularly those concerned with public health. What was the Government's response? For political reasons, they decided to ignore the scientists' advice. Among other things, the Tyrrell committee recommended a survey of the brains of cattle sent to slaughter, to monitor the incidence of unrecognised infection by BSE, and the examination of the relative susceptibility of calves to BSE. The Government had gathered together qualified scientifists under the chairmanship of Tyrrell to give them recommendations on research priorities, but, because it was politically inconvenient to accept those recommendations, they were pushed to one side. The same thing happened with the Richmond committee which made a great many recommendations about microbiological contamination which the Government rejected. The Farm Animal Welfare Council is composed of experts. They are qualified people—vets, and people concerned with public health and animal welfare. They are all handpicked by the Government for their expertise, scientific qualifications and experience in their chosen field. Of its 51 scientific recommendations, only 18 are to be implemented, while the rest are sacrificed because they do not fit the Government's political agenda. 6.45 pm This is all a bit rich when consumers are increasingly suspecting the Government's honesty in their handling of these matters. Well-verified surveys show that 65 per cent. of the public believe that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food cannot be relied on to tell them the truth about food safety. It is no wonder that they suspect the Ministry or that, with that track record, they do not want irradiation. There is no consumer pressure for irradiation and retailers such as Asda, Budgen, the Co-op, Gateway, Iceland Frozen Foods, Littlewoods, Londis, Marks and Spencer, Spar, Tesco and Waitrose are all opposed to it. The National Farmers Union is also opposed to it, as is the National Federation of Women's Institutes. Why are the Government hellbent on driving this legislation through, against all informed opinion and against the abundant reservations felt by Tory Back Benchers? It defies logic. There is no pressure from Europe, and the European Parliament has voted to oppose irradiation. Increasingly, all the pressure is to reduce the amount of irradiation allowed. There have been many powerful arguments against the proposal. The Government's defence is that the public will have a choice, but that argument was destroyed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams). There can be no choice, because there is no diagnostic test, and without such a test the Government and the public health authorities cannot monitor or check whether food has been irradiated. Even if they could check, they would not be able to bring any prosecutions because there would be no evidence without a diagnostic test. If one cannot enforce legislation or prosecute, how can the Minister say that there will be a choice for consumers? Fortunately, the new clause offers the House a choice. I hope that those Tory Members who share our view will exercise their choice and vote for the new clause.
It was a shame that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) went a bit over the top and spoiled a rather interesting debate. He continued to say what has been said by Labour Members many times, and gave us the same old myth that the Government regard this as a panacea or as a silly quick fix, or that they are in a terrible hurry to introduce irradiation. This must be one of the slowest quick fixes in history. The food irradiation process was invented in 1902, but only in 1982 did the British Government begin to consider it, setting up an independent expert advisory committee to examine the matter.The committee took five years to study the process, although the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Americans and the EC had been looking into the matter. Hundreds of expert committees had examined it. In 1987, the committee reported. The Government did not automatically accept its view. They had some queries, and sent the report back, and it was not until last year that the committee again reported. That is why we have felt it perfectly reasonable to bring in the necessary changes that will allow us, after consultation and after formal regulations have been made, to go ahead with irradiation in certain cases. We have heard an awful lot of what irradiation cannot do, as if that was something fatal in its character. We heard that it cannot remove toxins in the food. We know that is true. It cannot remove botulism, it cannot make the coffee and it cannot hoover the carpet, but none of us has suggested that it could do all these wonderful things. We have merely said that it has a small useful part to play if consumers and the industry want to use it, along with the deep freezing techniques, the techniques for canning peas and drying mashed potato and other food processing techniques. We think that this process should be made available if people want to use it, because we believe that it is safe, and all the expert evidence from around the world believes that it is safe. The ridiculous statement has been made that, if one irradiates something and kills off bugs, thereby creating a vacuum, the bugs grow more prolifically in the vacuum. That is unscientific gobbledegook. Irradiation is not like pulling a few thistles out of a garden and leaving more room for the weeds to grow; bacteriologically it does not work in that way, and it is nonsense to suggest it. The hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) cast doubts on the World Health Organisation, and quoted others for his purpose. He should quote the World Health Organisation itself, and listen to what its director general has said. He said:
It would be difficult to find a blunter statement than that. Golden rule number one of the World Health Organisation's "Golden Rules for Safe Food Preparation" says:"WHO is satisfied regarding the safety of irradiating any food commodity up to an overall average dose of 10 kilograys."
We have not heard much about that tonight. The hon. Member for Truro quoted the European Parliament as if it were an expert on the matter. However, he did not quote expert advisory committees from around the world, or even the independent committee advising the British Government. It is unworthy of him to come to the House and pretend that the opinions of politicians—in any part of the world—are equal to the opinions of expert scientific committees."if you have the choice, select fresh or frozen poultry treated with ionising radiation."
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
No. I have little time, as the Opposition want me to finish by 7 o'clock.I have great respect for the views of environmental health officers, trading standards officers and the National Farmers Union. However, I do not think that anyone would suggest that they are among the world's experts on the techniques of ionising radiation. Tonight we have heard what Opposition Members consider to be the most damning indictment of irradiation—their erroneous allegation that all around the world other countries are backtracking. Australia was quoted. The Australian Government have announced a moratorium, but it was not based on the views of an expert scientific committee of leading microbiologists, toxicologists and experts on radiation, physics and nutrition who all agreed that irradiation was safe. My hon. Friends may be interested to hear that the moratorium was prompted by the recommendations of the House of Representatives' Standing Committee on the Environment, Recreation and the Arts. That is the Les Patterson approach to Government policy; we shall base our policy on firmer grounds.
Does my hon. Friend accept that that committee, which conducted an in-depth survey over two years, took a good deal of evidence from many highly qualified scientific expert advisers?
I accept that. Any political committee in any House of Commons or House of Representatives throughout the world would do the same. However, it was essentially a political decision, made for political reasons and not based on science or safety.The main point that I wish to make concerns the question whether the Americans are backing down on irradiation. The right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) said that, in the United States, herbs and spices were irradiated, but not chicken. Therefore, he asked, what was the point of it? In his view, that was proof that irradiation was dangerous. He is slightly out of date. On I May this year, the United States Food and Drug Administration—which is highly respected, and whose lead we are urged to follow—in many areas—after careful evaluation of toxicity studies, reports on microbiological considerations and nutritional studies, authorised the irradiation of fresh and frozen poultry meat in addition to the other products for which the process is permitted. The pressure came not from industry or from capitalists who wanted to irradiate chickens, but from the food safety and inspection service of the United States Government. It thought that that would constitute
It is noteworthy that food irradiation in the United States has the support of not only the Food and Drug Administration and the United States Department of Agriculture, but the American Medical Association, the Council of Agricultural Science and Technology, the American Council on Science and Health and others. The right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), like some of my hon. Friends, was concerned about monitoring. The regulatory controls that we plan to introduce will amount to the close and detailed control that the public will expect to be imposed if we go ahead. Our proposals for controls are based on EC discussions, and on a study of the regulations in more than 20 countries that already operate controls. First, no one will be able to undertake irradiation in Britain without a full and detailed prior inspection by highly trained experts, capable of assessing ability to carry out the process correctly. Secondly, those who undertake it will be subject to detailed conditions on all aspects of their business, which will be set out in a formal licence. Thirdly, they will be restricted to treating the foods stipulated in the licence and to the doses specified therein for the irradiation objectives for which they have received official approval. Fourthly, they will be required to keep detailed records of all aspects of their business. Fifthly, they will be subject to inspection at any time. Sixthly, they will be subject to microbiological testing to confirm suitability for treatment. Finally—as we have said many times—there will be comprehensive labelling, which will apply to restaurants as well. The controls that the Government have planned are in line with those recommended by the Codex Alimentarius Commission, and are included in EC proposals in the draft directive. Some hon. Members were concerned about enforcement. Specialist inspectors within central Government are already familiar with the work involved in inspecting irradiation premises, and local authority officers have great experience in the enforcement of food hygiene provisions. We are well placed to police the systems effectively. Mention has been made tonight of the Dutching technique. The impression was given that every day loads of prawns or other illegal consignments were going around the world. There is only one example of that—Young's, in 1985. It was contrary to the rules, and we condemn anyone who breaks the rules, but it is not right for the Opposition to give the impression that there is a Dutching industry. My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme (Mr. Churchill) asked about a test. Of course, no viable test has yet been devised anywhere in the world. However, both the WHO and the Codex Alimentarius Commission are satisfied that adequate controls can be imposed on the basis of documentary checks. An adequate detection test is not regarded as essential to a rigorous and adequate control system. I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme—to whose contribution I listened with great interest and respect—that irradiation is not the only food process for which there is no detection test. Documentation is relied on for verification in the case of food produced by organic methods, meat derived from animal slaughter by ritual procedures and date stamps on products; there are no magic detection tests in those instances. We believe that they are not necessary in the case of irradiated food either, although they will be a worthwhile bonus when they come along. The hon. Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) ruined his case by being ridiculous and trying to scare us. He is a scientist, but he told the House that irradiation was so dangerous that if a human being was put on an irradiation conveyor belt and shoved through the irradiation plant it would destroy all the genes in his body. I bet it would. If we shoved people on the pea-canning conveyor that would destroy all the genes in their body as well; if they were stuck in an Aga for two hours that would also kill them. That is the ridiculous level to which the hon. Member for Carmarthen and others have sunk. My hon. Friend the Member for Davyhulme asked for the database to be checked. I assure him that the database is checked constantly. No subject has been examined more exhaustively than irradiation, and it will continue to be examined. I fear that he misquoted me, so I must put the matter right. I do not think that there is no evidence that irradiation is unsafe: all the evidence is that it is safe. That is positive. I refer my hon. Friend to the House of Lords Select Committee on the European Communities, which said in the first of the conclusions in its summary:"an important public health benefit."
7 pm We have consistently maintained that irradiation is but one of the processes that we think have a beneficial use in food processing techniques. It is certainly not a panacea, and my right hon. and hon. Friends do not suggest that it is. There will be full and comprehensive labelling and monitoring to ensure compliance with the rules. Irradiation is backed as a safe process by all the expert committees in the world that have considered the matter. The scientific community is not divided. We have the backing of the World Health Organisation, the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Food and Drug Administration, the EC expert committee and the British Government's independent committee. I give the House the assurance that it is not the end of the matter—irradiation will not be introduced when we vote against the Opposition's new clause. Irradiation can be brought in only when the Government come before the House with detailed regulations, having had a period of consultation. Then, and only then, will the House make a final decision. If all the irradiation plants in the world were uprooted tomorrow and brought to England, they would only irradiate a maximum capacity of less than 2 per cent. of our food. It is nonsense for the Opposition to suggest that we will be swamped with irradiated food. We are entitled to give the same choice to the 5, 10, 15 or 20 per cent. of our population as the French housewife has at this very moment. She can buy irradiated food in supermarkets in France. If it is good enough for the French housewife, British housewives should have the same right in the choice of food. I urge the House to reject the new clause."The overwhelming weight of evidence is that irradiation of food, on the limited basis proposed by the Commission, is safe."
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—
The House divided: Ayes 177, Noes 223.
Division No. 227]
|Abbott, Ms Diane||Coleman, Donald|
|Adams, Allen (Paisley N)||Cook, Frank (Stockton N)|
|Allen, Graham||Corbett, Robin|
|Anderson, Donald||Corbyn, Jeremy|
|Archer, Rt Hon Peter||Cousins, Jim|
|Armstrong, Hilary||Crowther, Stan|
|Ashley, Rt Hon Jack||Cryer, Bob|
|Ashton, Joe||Cummings, John|
|Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)||Cunliffe, Lawrence|
|Barron, Kevin||Cunningham, Dr John|
|Beckett, Margaret||Darling, Alistair|
|Beith, A. J.||Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)|
|Bell, Stuart||Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)|
|Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)||Dewar, Donald|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Dixon, Don|
|Bidwell, Sydney||Dobson, Frank|
|Blair, Tony||Doran, Frank|
|Blunkett, David||Duffy, A. E. P.|
|Boateng, Paul||Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth|
|Boyes, Roland||Eadie, Alexander|
|Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith)||Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)|
|Buckley, George J.||Faulds, Andrew|
|Callaghan, Jim||Field, Frank (Birkenhead)|
|Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)||Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Fisher, Mark|
|Canavan, Dennis||Flannery, Martin|
|Carlile, Alex (Mont'g)||Flynn, Paul|
|Foot, Rt Hon Michael|
|Churchill, Mr||Foster, Derek|
|Clark, Dr David (S Shields)||Fraser, John|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||Galloway, George|
|Clay, Bob||Garrett, John (Norwich South)|
|Clelland, David||George, Bruce|
|Cohen, Harry||Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John|
|Godman, Dr Norman A.||Mowlam, Marjorie|
|Gordon, Mildred||Mullin, Chris|
|Gould, Bryan||Murphy, Paul|
|Graham, Thomas||Nellist, Dave|
|Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)||Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon|
|Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)||O'Brien, William|
|Grocott, Bruce||Patchett, Terry|
|Harman, Ms Harriet||Pendry, Tom|
|Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy||Pike, Peter L.|
|Heal, Mrs Sylvia||Powell, Ray (Ogmore)|
|Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Prescott, John|
|Henderson, Doug||Primarolo, Dawn|
|Hinchliffe, David||Quin, Ms Joyce|
|Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)||Radice, Giles|
|Howarth, George (Knowsley N)||Randall, Stuart|
|Howells, Geraint||Redmond, Martin|
|Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)||Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn|
|Hoyle, Doug||Richardson, Jo|
|Hughes, John (Coventry NE)||Robertson, George|
|Hughes, Simon (Southwark)||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Illsley, Eric||Rowlands, Ted|
|Ingram, Adam||Ruddock, Joan|
|Janner, Greville||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)||Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Kennedy, Charles||Skinner, Dennis|
|Leadbitter, Ted||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Lestor, Joan (Eccles)||Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)|
|Lewis, Terry||Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)|
|Litherland, Robert||Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)|
|Livingstone, Ken||Snape, Peter|
|Livsey, Richard||Soley, Clive|
|Lofthouse, Geoffrey||Spearing, Nigel|
|Loyden, Eddie||Steinberg, Gerry|
|McAllion, John||Straw, Jack|
|McAvoy, Thomas||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|McCartney, Ian||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Macdonald, Calum A.||Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis|
|McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)||Turner, Dennis|
|McLeish, Henry||Vaz, Keith|
|Maclennan, Robert||Wallace, James|
|McWilliam, John||Walley, Joan|
|Madden, Max||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Mahon, Mrs Alice||Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)|
|Marek, Dr John||Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)|
|Marshall, David (Shettleston)||Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)|
|Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)||Williams, Rt Hon Alan|
|Martlew, Eric||Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)|
|Maxton, John||Wilson, Brian|
|Meacher, Michael||Winnick, David|
|Meale, Alan||Worthington, Tony|
|Michael, Alun||Wray, Jimmy|
|Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)|
Tellers for the Ayes:
Mr. Robert N. Wareing and Mrs. Llin Golding.
|Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Adley, Robert||Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Bowis, John|
|Alexander, Richard||Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes|
|Amess, David||Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard|
|Amos, Alan||Brandon-Bravo, Martin|
|Arbuthnot, James||Brazier, Julian|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Bright, Graham|
|Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)||Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)|
|Ashby, David||Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)|
|Baldry, Tony||Buck, Sir Antony|
|Batiste, Spencer||Budgen, Nicholas|
|Beggs, Roy||Burns, Simon|
|Bellingham, Henry||Burt, Alistair|
|Bendall, Vivian||Butterfill, John|
|Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)||Carlisle, John, (Luton N)|
|Benyon, W.||Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)|
|Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter||Carrington, Matthew|
|Body, Sir Richard||Carttiss, Michael|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Channon, Rt Hon Paul|
|Boscawen, Hon Robert||Chope, Christopher|
|Boswell, Tim||Clark, Hon Alan (Plym'th S'n)|
|Bottomley, Mrs Virginia||Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford)|
|Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S)||Lawrence, Ivan|
|Colvin, Michael||Lightbown, David|
|Conway, Derek||Lilley, Peter|
|Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest)||Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)|
|Cope, Rt Hon John||Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas|
|Cormack, Patrick||Maclean, David|
|Couchman, James||Mans, Keith|
|Cran, James||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Critchley, Julian||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g)||Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick|
|Davis, David (Boothferry)||Miller, Sir Hal|
|Day, Stephen||Miscampbell, Norman|
|Devlin, Tim||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|Dickens, Geoffrey||Mitchell, Sir David|
|Dicks, Terry||Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Dorrell, Stephen||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Dover, Den||Morrison, Sir Charles|
|Dunn, Bob||Moss, Malcolm|
|Durant, Tony||Moynihan, Hon Colin|
|Dykes, Hugh||Needham, Richard|
|Eggar, Tim||Nelson, Anthony|
|Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)||Neubert, Michael|
|Evennett, David||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Fallon, Michael||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Fishburn, John Dudley||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Fookes, Dame Janet||Norris, Steve|
|Forth, Eric||Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Fox, Sir Marcus||Page, Richard|
|Franks, Cecil||Paice, James|
|Freeman, Roger||Patnick, Irvine|
|Gale, Roger||Patten, Rt Hon John|
|Garel-Jones, Tristan||Pattie, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey|
|Gill, Christopher||Pawsey, James|
|Glyn, Dr Sir Alan||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Goodlad, Alastair||Porter, Barry (Wirral S)|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Portillo, Michael|
|Gorst, John||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Gow, Ian||Price, Sir David|
|Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)||Raffan, Keith|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Raison, Rt Hon Timothy|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Renton, Rt Hon Tim|
|Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)||Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)|
|Ground, Patrick||Rost, Peter|
|Hague, William||Rowe, Andrew|
|Hampson, Dr Keith||Ryder, Richard|
|Hanley, Jeremy||Sackville, Hon Tom|
|Hannam,John||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)||Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')|
|Harris, David||Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Hawkins, Christopher||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Hayes, Jerry||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Hayward, Robert||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)||Soames, Hon Nicholas|
|Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)||Speller, Tony|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Squire, Robin|
|Hind, Kenneth||Stanbrook, Ivor|
|Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)||Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)||Steen, Anthony|
|Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)||Stern, Michael|
|Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)||Stevens, Lewis|
|Hunt, David (Wirral W)||Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)|
|Hunter, Andrew||Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)|
|Irvine, Michael||Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)|
|Irving, Sir Charles||Stradling Thomas, Sir John|
|Jack, Michael||Summerson, Hugo|
|Jackson, Robert||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Janman, Tim||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)||Taylor, John M (Solihull)|
|Jones, Robert B (Herts W)||Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman|
|Key, Robert||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Kilfedder, James||Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Knapman, Roger||Thornton, Malcolm|
|Lamont, Rt Hon Norman||Thurnham, Peter|
|Townend, John (Bridlington)||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Tracey, Richard||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Tredinnick, David||Wilshire, David|
|Trotter, Neville||Wolfson, Mark|
|Twinn, Dr Ian||Wood, Timothy|
|Vaughan, Sir Gerard||Woodcock, Dr. Mike|
|Viggers, Peter||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Waldegrave, Rt Hon William|
|Wardle, Charles (Bexhlll)|
Tellers for the Noes:
Mr. Nicholas Baker and Mr. Sydney Chapman.
|Wheeler, Sir John|
Question accordingly negatived.
New Clause 2
Finance For Implementation
'.—(1) This section shall have effect for securing the effective implementation of the duties conferred under this Act.
(2) The Ministers shall, within one month of the passing of this Act, lay before Parliament a report setting out their estimates of the resources likely to be required by food authorities in the financial year 1991–92 for the purposes of the carrying out of their functions under this Act.
(3) The Ministers shall before the commencement of any financial year consult organisations representative of food authorities before the announcement of any plans for public expenditure in respect of that year as to the estimated cost in that year of the maintenance and improvement of food standards in their areas, including the cost of staffing, training, and the provision and maintenance of adequate laboratory facilities or access thereto.
(4) The Ministers shall satisfy themselves generally that the resources available to food authorities are adequate to secure the proper carrying out by them of their functions under this section.'.— [Mr. Ron Davies.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.New clause 2 seeks to ensure the effective implementation of the Bill. It is worth putting it on record that the Opposition did not oppose the Bill on Second Reading and that in Committee we were at pains to press the Government on a series of points which we thought were necessary to ensure the effective implementation of the measures that we support. New clause 2 explores the financial arrangements and, in particular, seeks to ensure that Parliament is aware of the full cost to local authorities of the Bill's implementation, to ensure that local authorities are consulted and to provide specifically that Ministers are satisfied that the resources that they make available are adequate to meet the demands of implementation. It emerged strongly in Committee that the Bill does not place duties on local authorities to enforce the measures in the Bill; rather it gives powers to local authorities to exercise their discretion. That is not a principle with which we would necessarily disagree, but we recognise that if powers rather than duties are given to local authorities serious questions are raised about how one ensures that those powers are adequately enforced. 7.15 pm It is worth drawing to the attention of the House that there is no mechanism within the Bill, within the financial arrangements, or within the Department of the Environment, which presumably will be the Department which ensures a flow of money from the Government to local authorities, to require action to be taken by local authorities in the event of deficiencies being identified in the food industry within their area of responsibility. Nor is there any mechanism to ensure that the resources that are made available are used for the purpose for which they have been earmarked—food safety. There is no mechanism in the Bill to ensure the monitoring of the way in which local authorities discharge the duties contained in the Bill. That is a serious omission. The Government may be able to convince me of the error of my ways, but the Minister did not strike me as being particularly on form when he assured us tonight that what was good for French consumers was good for British consumers. However, we may want to explore that later. If the Minister can convince me that adequate systems are in place to ensure the proper implementation of the measure, I will be happy. I was a member of a local authority for about 15 years before I was elected to Parliament, and as a result of that and my relationship with local authority officers since I know that no finger of criticism can be pointed at those who are responsible for inspecting food. On the contrary, it is obvious that they have been anxious to expand the monitoring of food and the scope and nature of their work. But they continually tell me that, no matter how diligent or keen they are to discharge those responsibilities, they are always hamstrung by the lack of finance from Government. Local authorities frequently have to decide whether to employ people in their environmental health departments to monitor food establishments and carry out other duties. They have to judge whether to allocate resources to public health, housing, social services, welfare, leisure or a range of other responsibilities that local authorities have. I hope that the new clause will allow us to explore some of those questions. On Second Reading, the Government made great play of the fact that about £30 million was being made available. On Second Reading and in Committee the Minister was quizzed about the financial arrangements. We wanted to know whether the notional £30 million would be hard cash. He said that the £30 million would be taken into account in the revenue support grant settlement. We asked whether it would be new money—whether the existing money would be put to one side and a new calculation made based on the additional responsibilities that local authorities will have costing £30 million, and then £30 million added to the local authorities' existing resources. If so, that would mean a real increase in local authority resources. Local authorities across the land would be able to say when fixing their budgets, "We have an additional £50,000"—or £100,000 or £150,000, or £200,000—"from central Government in cash terms. We have more money this year than last year, so we can now implement the measures contained in the Food Safety Bill." We raised that matter several times in Committee. The Minister may recall his remarks on 22 March. I know that relations between the Department of Health and MAFF are a little strained just now, because they have a different understanding of their respective responsibilities in food safety measures. I do not blame the Department of Health in its current subterranean attempts to impinge on the responsibilities of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.
We are the best of friends.
I was not referring to individual Ministers because you and I both know, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the real battle was going on between the Secretary of State for Health and the Ministry of Agriculture. That was clearly instanced when the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food came to the House to fight for his political life over the BSE issue, and the Secretary of State for Health was not to be seen. The right hon. and learned Gentleman was not going to come here to lend his support to the Minister but wanted to dissociate himself entirely.In the light of the interesting development in the relationship between the Department of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food—I am not sure that I would call it constructive tension—the Parliamentary Secretary said in Committee:
One assumes that he had made matters clear beyond doubt, and that there could be no further argument. The Minister continued:"We have made the allocation of £30 million. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health made matters clear."
But matters had not been made very clear if the Minister had to add:"I understand the Opposition's scepticism about whether it is new or old money or funny money, as the hon. Member for Carlisle suggested."—[Official Report, Standing Committee B, 22 March 1990; c. 49.]
That is at the heart of the amendment. For the purposes of tonight's debate, let us give the Minister the benefit of the doubt and assume that £30 million of additional money will be available. That is a dubious prospect because of the way in which central Government calculate how they make money available to local authorities, through the standard spending assessment. That is done every year according to the importance that the Government attach to the different responsibilities of local authorities—so £1 given for environmental protection this year could be £1·20 next year, or perhaps only 80p. I do not necessarily disagree with that practice because it is a perfectly proper way for Government to influence local authorities, by giving an indication of priorities on a year-to-year basis. If we received a firm undertaking from the Ministry that there would be no accounting sleight of hand, I would be happy. In fact, the Ministry will provide £30 million notionally to implement the Bill—but when the Government conduct their weighting exercise and decide their priorities in other areas of local authority responsibility, at the end of the day the amount of cash that local authorities are given will not be equal to the sum they received last year, plus an amount to take account of inflation, plus a percentage of the £30 million. On the contrary, even with the measures that the Government will take to extricate themselves from the poll tax fiasco, the amount of cash that local authorities receive will be substantially less."I understand the Opposition's scepticism about whether it is new or old money or funny money".
My hon. Friend is far too kind to the Minister. In calculating the standard spending assessment, the Department of the Environment, in conjunction with the Minister, takes no real account of any additional obligations placed on local authorities. My local authority has been poll tax-capped for additional expenditure relating to the implementation of the National Health Service and Community Care Bill from 1 April 1991. What position will the Minister adopt if my local authority takes steps to make allowance in its budget for next year resources for the implementation of the Food Safety Bill and again finds itself falling foul of the Department of the Environment? Will he ring-fence and protect my local authority?
I offer my sincere apologies to my hon. Friend if he thinks that I am being unduly kind to the Minister. It is not for want of trying, but the Minister keeps dodging about. He presents different arguments at different times. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend makes a valid point that is at the heart of the funding relationship between central and local government. My later comments will support my hon. Friend's argument, but if he wants to intervene later or even to make a brief contribution, I am sure that the House would welcome it, particularly since my hon. Friend represents a local authority that is an exemplary illustration of the deficiencies of the poll tax. His local authority is traditionally very responsible and moderate. It has discharged all the duties required of it by central Government and the public. It has never embarked on spending sprees or overshot its targets. It has always tried to comply with Government spending guidelines—but because of the ludicrous inconsistencies of the poll tax, that local authority, with neighbouring local authorities, has been dragged before the Department of the Environment and told that it will be poll tax-capped.Because of the continual underfunding of local authorities and the impact of the SSA system, there can be no guarantee that money provided for in the Bill will be used for ensuring food safety. In the current year, about 70 per cent. of local authorities in England and Wales are spending above their SSA. I refer not to Labour authorities or to the so-called loony authorities that the Government like to attack. Some are Labour, but some are Conservative. Incidentally, I am glad that we have the continuing presence of the massed ranks of the Liberal and Social Democrats in the form of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor), having seen off the SDP. I invite the SLD to join us in the next general election in seeing off the Government.
Is that the new alternative strategy?
I am delighted that we have something rarely seen in this House—a Whip who can actually speak. That is a rare privilege. Having recognised him, no doubt the hon. Gentleman will be appearing in Hansard tomorrow. I have no doubt that at half-past 10 or 11 o'clock a message will come through from the Patronage Secretary, and the hon. Gentleman will be called up to the office and invited to explain why Government Whips are now taking part in debates.Local authorities are spending above their standard spending assessments. They have more commitments than they have resources from central Government and from the local population via the poll tax. That means that local authorities must make judgments and prioritise. Perhaps at the moment they are using money out of the standard spending assessment for the purposes that I mentioned earlier: care for the elderly, sheltered accommodation, meals on wheels, concessionary fares for pensioners, providing leisure facilities or social facilities for the handicapped and day care facilities for the mentally handicapped. Those are the sorts of thing that progressive authorities, whatever their political hue, will do. Now local authorities are under increasing pressure from central Government. The choice that they will have to make next year, as they did this year and last, is whether to continue to fund such services or whether to use the new powers that they have been given and divert resources from existing services to food safety. 7.30 pm I am all in favour of allowing local authorities discretion, but that can be meaningful only if they are allowed resources and if they are allowed to provide services over and above the minimum acceptable standards. The impact of successive Government revenue support settlements is that local authorities are having to, and will have to, make hard judgments whether they implement the Bill or continue to provide services for the elderly, the young, the handicapped or people in need. That is a matter of great concern to Opposition Members. We are worried that there is no guarantee that the money will go to individual local authorities. We do not know, and the Government certainly have not told us. They might tell us tonight and I hope that the Minister can offer us an explanation. The Government have not told us what the mechanism will be, and how they will apportion the funds among local authorities. Will they say that inner city authorities, which might have enormous problems during the day because of the wealth of catering establishments, will be given resources to reflect their duties? Rural authorities, which cover many acres and have a low population density and therefore high costs, may have a lot of industry associated with food. Will their problems be accommodated? There is a mass exodus of population from the inner cities at night, so there is no point in saying that the amount of money will be calculated on the basis of the residential population. An inner city area might have a large number of catering establishments but very few people living there. How will it have the resources to tackle the problems? Those are the questions that we are pressing the Government to answer, and I hope that the Minister will give some sign, when he responds to the debate, of how he proposes to tackle them.
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend in mid-flow. Does he agree that the other worry is that authorities which provide a good service, like my local authority, which has high numbers of environmental health officers, might be penalised and instead money may go to authorities which had neglected food safety in the past? Does he agree that it would be almost criminal if that happened?
Absolutely. That gives the lie to two things: first, the Government's commitment to ensuring the implementation of these measures: and, secondly, to their commitment to good democratic local government, because they are penalising local authorities which have done the job that they are there to do.As my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield said, the Bill transfers the burden of implementing measures—if they are to be implemented—on to the poll tax. If additional services are to be provided, and if local authorities are spending above their standard spending assessment—we know that 70 per cent. of them are—any additional expenditure will fall directly on the poll tax. We know that, due to the multiplier effect, a heavy burden will fall on local authorities. I have no doubt that next year we will have the iniquitous situation of the Government wanting to take local authorities to court, twisting arms and imposing all sorts of poll tax—capping measures. How will local authorities be able to implement the measures contained in the Bill? The Government say that they will give local authorities the money. But local authorities are spending above their standard spending assessments, so any additional money that they get will be taken up by existing commitments. If they incur new commitments, they will have to add them on to the poll tax and they will immediately be caught by the panoply of measures that the Government will introduce to prevent rises in the poll tax. That that is absolutely unacceptable has been recognised by the local authority associations. A useful indication of the concern expressed by some local authorities is a note which I received from the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. It says:
that is, when the revenue support grant settlement is announced—"The Government does not provide a detailed breakdown of the individual components of the grant"—
that is the block under which food safety measures will be held—"it only provides Control (i.e. spending) Totals for each block of services. Environmental health"—
All is not well. The Government have to answer some serious questions. We want to know what they are going to do to prevent the burden of implementing the Food Safety Bill from falling on poll tax payers. We want to know whether, when the revenue support grant settlement is announced, the Minister will give a breakdown of how the additional resources, if they exist, will be distributed to local authorities, and how the "Other Services" heading in the AMA briefing will be calculated. Unless we get satifactory answers to those serious questions, Opposition Members will have no alternative but to conclude that the Government are happy to pass legislation as long as that legislation only gives powers to local authorities rather than places duties upon them. in the absence of money to enforce those powers, the Government cannot be serious about their commitment to food safety."comes into the Other Services block in the category of `Services provided predominantly by district councils'. This covers a rag-bag of services—from Allotments to Registration of Electors—and has a Control total for 1990–91 of £3,891. So, an increase of £30m in the environmental health section would be insignificant and could well be hidden by reductions in other areas. Weasel words such as 'this sum takes account of the increase in spending needed to meet the requirements of the Bill' are used to give the impression that all is well."
The debate is a replay of debates in Committee, and the Labour Front Bench spokesmen have talked at length about exchanges that took place there. The key point is not whether money should be specifically allocated. If we believe in the discretion of local authorities, we should not be arguing that point. The key is the basis on which the calculation is being made and on which the money will get to local authorities so that they can implement the new procedures that the Government are requiring of them.By saying that £30 million has been allocated, the Government acknowledge that extra expenses will be involved and that they should at least take a share of the burden—I would hope that they will take the bulk of it—through the grants system. That is what the Minister claims that the Government have done. The reason why new clause 2 is important, and should be pursued—I hope that the Minister will respond positively, if not to the new clause, at least to the spirit in which it was tabled—is that there must be room for debate about whether the money allocated is sufficient. The House has every reason to expect Ministers to come forward with a much fuller explanation of how they have made that calculation, and how they intend funds to be distributed. The House has every justification in asking for and expecting that, because when Ministers were asked in Committee for the basis of their calculation, they were unable to provide any real explanation. I challenged the Ministers, saying that their calculations amounted to a guesstimate. There is nothing wrong with that, so long as Ministers are prepared to admit it, but they refused to do so. However, they were not able to offer any explanation or any detail about how they had reached that precise figure and were able to say with apparent authority that they had got it absolutely right and that there could be no question about it. I cannot see any evidence of that and the House should not accept it. It seems to me entirely appropriate that hon. Members should ask the Government—and the new clause is one way of doing that—to explain themselves before local authorities are required to bear the cost of implementing the legislation. If the Government have got it wrong and are not prepared to justify themselves, other services will suffer. I do not believe that local authorities will wish not to implement the legislation, but that could be at a cost to other services or at great cost to the community charge or poll tax payer. Either of those consequences would prove disreputable, given that the Minister is claiming that he has carried out all the calculations to ensure that that will not be the case. There is no reason for the House to believe him, and if he cannot come up with a better answer than he gave in Committee, he should accept the new clause.
I support the new clause which goes to the heart of whether the Government are serious about the implementation of food safety measures. There is general agreement in the House about the concept and the principles of the Bill. Although Opposition Members consider that it has not gone far enough, at least it makes an effort to set out a way forward from the serious food safety problems that have arisen over the past few years. I am referring not simply to the various outbreaks of salmonella and listeria, but to the large increase in the number of restaurants and take-away establishments in Britain. The growth in food production and related service sector industries has been to the detriment of engineering and other traditional industries.The largest food processing plant in the world, H. J. Heinz of Kitt Green, is in my constituency. Every time hon. Members eat a tin of beans they should think of me and the town of Wigan. A number of other large companies involved in the production and retail sale of food are based in my constituency. Whenever such an establishment has been set up my local authority has used its resources to ensure that those companies have a clear understanding about the arrangements by which we in Wigan try to maintain high standards of food safety at the point of production and at the point of sale. However, in the past few years there has been increasing strain on the local authority's ability to maintain those high standards, because central Government have withdrawn resources through grant-related expenditure assessments, the reduction in rate support grant and the introduction of the poll tax. This year alone there has been a reduction of more than £20 million in the Government funding that enables the local authority to run its services. That reduction has occurred precisely when, through this and other Government measures, local authorities are being asked to implement consumer safety legislation. That legislation has been demanded by the way in which consumers have reacted to food scares and because of their genuine right to ensure that the food that they purchase is as safe as possible. Therefore, if the Government are not prepared to give an absolute commitment to providing local authorities with the necessary resources to implement that legislation, it is essential that we support the new clause. Staffing and training are essential in the development of codes of practice at local level, working with industry and those involved in the retail sale of food to maintain and improve existing standards. Unfortunately, the high standards in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) do not represent the pattern throughout the rest of the country. In many areas there is a lack of resources because of the deliberate policy of local authorities, cuts in expenditure or unwillingness or lack of interest in food safety and consumer safety. 7.45 pm Local authorities start from a low level of resources to implement the Bill. It is, therefore, vital—if the Government are serious—that they should give a categorical assurance about the level of funding and how that funding will be ring fenced to ensure that the money is used for the purposes set out in the Bill. It would be tragic indeed if local authorities were allocated resources to implement the requirements of the Bill, but, because of pressures on local government resources, the money was used for another purpose and the Bill was not implemented. We cannot allow that to happen, given public attitudes towards food safety. The public will not expect the dragging of feet in the House or at local government level in protection of the production and sale of food. The Select Committees on Agriculture and on Social Services have considered the implementation of a large number of recommendations to prevent listeria in large supermarkets and small corner shops. The implementation of those recommendations, if approved by the Department of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, will mean that local authorities need substantial additional resources. They will need officers and training to implement those changes. Therefore, the Minister must give a clear undertaking that, in discussions about allocating resources for next year, some money will be set aside specifically for the implementation of the legislation. The Government must take adequate measures to ensure that new money is provided and that that money is clearly identified or ring fenced to ensure that it is spent on food safety. I have served on a local authority finance committee and I understand only too well the ability of local authorities—under pressure or otherwise—to change heads of expenditure and to spend resources on other services than those to which they were allocated. We have to ensure that lack of resources due to poll tax capping or the level of poll tax do not force local authorities to spend the money on other services to the detriment of food safety. The Minister owes it to the House to ensure that new money is provided by the Department of the Environment and that local authorities do not use it to reduce their overall expenditure. The Government must ensure that the legislation is seen as a new and welcome approach to food safety and that local authorities have the resources to get on with the job in the way in which consumers would wish.
I take up a point made by the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney). I come from a catering background and I suspect that, despite his connection with Heinz, he does not. Our greatest problem is not to provide lots of money; that is not the answer. Lots of training is the answer. Much holiday catering is done by casual labour and much of the damage is caused through infection by casual labour.It is fine to talk about laboratories, as new clause 2 does. There are normally adequate laboratory facilities, but we do not have trained and qualified staff. If we are to look for money from the Government, we should first seek a way in which we can train the staff, especially the casual staff, and we should provide a form of certificate of hygiene in food. That would be a step forward. A greater step forward would be to train the housewife because most damage to health occurs in the home.
For the record, I inform the hon. Gentleman that I have a catering background. At 15, I was trained at the merchant navy national sea training college as a chef. I went to sea and then worked in the hotel trade for several years. I was so poorly paid and exploited by Tory employers that I got out and became a Member of Parliament.
That is a fascinating coincidence. I started my training as a commis chef. The pay of a commis chef and then a commis waiter was probably rather lower than the pay of those in the merchant navy, who are not badly paid on the whole.We need assistance to ensure that the people who do the casual work are properly trained. In London and in the provinces there are many who take up a job for a few days. Within a couple of years, they should not be able to take up those jobs without the certificate of basic food hygiene. The events of the past few weeks show that we can do things without cash. I have been chairing a working committee of the Mobile and Outside Caterers Association and the environmental health officers. They have been trying to draw up a checklist. Catering for a function is a bit like an airline's job. On an aeroplane, it is the engineer's job to check out the aeroplane and the pilot's job to fly it. They are not contrary to each other. Too often, people assume that the environmental officer is in some way the enemy of the caterer—or vice versa. I wholly support the Bill, which seeks to bring together all the strands so that we have cleaner and better-presented food. There are a million and one points that I could mention. One can observe outside a supermarket the family collecting the frozen food. It goes into the back of the hot estate wagon and is at a nice boiling temperature by the time it is put back into a freezer cabinet. Training and education will help us far more than vast quantities of money. Money does not solve anything; the application of training might.
New clause 2 would place several requirements on Ministers which are unnecessary and would add nothing worth while to our present system. We have already consulted local authority organisations at some length on resources. Following those consultations, we derived the figure of £30 million as being the annual sum that food authorities would need to carry out the extra tasks that would follow from the Bill. That took account of staffing needs, training, the impact of the Bill and the EC official control of foodstuffs directive.It was noticeable that from the day that we unveiled the Bill and the notice in the Bill that we would provide an extra £30 million, which rather shot the Opposition's fox because they believed that we would not make available that large extra sum, they have been trying to undermine the favourable reception for the additional funding by suggesting that local authorities will receive far less than that. That is not so. Central Government will provide an extra £30 million for food law enforcement. As has already been pointed out many times, local authority financing is complicated. However, it will be understood from the start of negotiations on the 1991–92 revenue support grant settlements in the autumn that the whole £30 million will be paid by central Government. We shall also be able to take account of changing circumstances. In the Bill, we have provided for consultation on all the regulation-making powers likely to have a financial impact on local authorities. Local authority associations will thus have a formal opportunity to comment on our detailed proposals. We shall listen carefully to what they have to say on all aspects of the regulations. What is more, the local authority associations can make representations in the normal way in the extensive discussions on spending that we hold each year, culminating in the annual meeting between the associations and the Secretary of State for the Environment. The hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) said that local authorities were under no obligation to enforce food law and he asked what would happen if they did not. Local authorities have the duty to enforce food law under clause 6(2). There will be codes of practice to assist them in prioritising their work. There are also default powers which will enable the Government to step in and send the bill to the local authority concerned. Our aim, of course, will be not to have to use those powers, but they are contained in clause 43 to be used if necessary. Ultimately, we need a system that leaves it to local authorities to allocate resources, both from central Government and raised locally, in the right way for then. area. If it is now Labour party policy, as espoused by the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney), that we should ring-fence the money and dictate to local authorities how they should spend it, we shall take that as an interesting change in policy. The local authorities will be interested if it is the new Labour party strategy to dictate to them how they shall spend the money in their local areas.
I am surprised that the Minister is not up to date on the issue of ring fencing. It is a method of ensuring that local authorities implement new measures. That idea won the approval of the Select Committees on Agriculture and on Social Services earlier this year, and it was supported by my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench and by the local authority associations. The Government give on the one hand in speeches here and take away with the other hand at meetings at the Department of the Environment. The Minister will have to come up with some better arguments to ensure that my local authority will receive some new money from the Government to enforce food safety legislation.
We have made the point time and again that the £30 million is new money and that it will be paid by central Government. I am merely making the observation—which is interesting to my hon. Friends—that Labour party policy seems to have moved considerably if it is now the view of Labour Members that central Government must dictate to local authorities the areas in which they must spend their money.We do not intend to dictate to local authorities exactly what they should spend on enforcing food legislation. Local authorities will be duty bound to enforce the law and we shall give them some guidance through codes of practice. I am sure that the House will agree—I invite Opposition Front-Bench spokesmen to agree—that each authority must spend what it believes is right in its own area.
I agree with the Minister's view on not dictating what local authorities must spend. The Liberal Democrats have always taken that view on local discretion and accountability to the local community. But is the Minister prepared to publish, for the aid of those local communities and of the House, the detailed assumptions on which the figure of £30 million is based in terms of staffing needs and other costs associated with these measures?
No. I have said repeatedly that, having had discussions with some local authorities and their associations, we made a calculation. We stand by the £30 million as being adequate for the new and extra tasks that the Food Safety Bill will impose. I cannot say at this stage—it is not up to me—how the money will be distributed. The allocations to individual authorities will be made some months from now after the usual consultations with local authority associations. Let me repeat—I hope for the final time—that the whole of the £30 million will be paid by central Government.Having made that point clear, I hope that I have also made it clear that we are in the business of listening to what the local authorities have to say. I emphasise that £30 million is a significant sum both in absolute terms and in relation to the present sum spent on food safety and food enforcement. It is generally recognised by many outside the House—certainly outside the Labour party—that that sum represents a good response by the Government. Moreover, the Audit Commission is undertaking a study on food law enforcement and especially on how the law is enforced by environmental health officers and it may make recommendations on the more effective use of resources. My hon. Friend the Member for Devon, North (Mr. Speller) cannot fail to have noticed the consultation document issued by my right hon. and hon. Friends in the Department of Health which deals with all aspects of training. I hope that, before the closing date at the end of this month, either as an individual or on behalf of many of the organisations to which he may talk, he will make representations to the Department of Health on what training is necessary. I also hope that, in the circumstances and in view of the explanation that I have given, the hon. Member for Caerphilly will feel that he can withdraw his new clause.
I am not sure whether I am overwhelmed by the Minister's argument, but I am grateful that, at last, we have flushed out from him a firm promise on the £30 million in this brief debate. I am grateful, too, that he has at last given an undertaking to enter into meaningful consultation with local authorities. He will understand that we shall be in contact with them. In the light of those two little bits of good news, if not concessions, we shall not press the new clause. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 5
Licensing Of Certain Premises
'.—(1) This section shall have effect for securing the licensing of certain premises used for the purposes of a food business by means of regulations under section 20(1)(b).
(2) The Ministers shall make regulations under section 20(I)(b) in respect of premises in which food is prepared by the processes of pre-cooked chilled products, low-acid canning, aseptic packaging and vacuum packaging.'.— [Dr. David Clark.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the clause be read a Second time.— [Dr. David Clark.]
New clause 5 would strengthen the Bill by providing a licensing system that will ensure that certain food premises where various food processes are conducted are licensed and not registered. The Government propose to introduce a register, which would be excessively bureaucratic and take considerable time to compile and would require considerable finance to maintain. Such a register would do little to stem the tide—the epidemic—of food poisoning that is sweeping the country. The word "epidemic" is not mine; it was used by the chief medical officer of health—Ministers are always quoting the chief medical officer of health—who told the Select Committee's salmonella inquiry that an epidemic of food poisoning was sweeping the country.The Government's answer to that problem is a registration scheme that will do nothing to improve minimum standards or ensure that the owners of premises are trained or experienced. Environmental health officers will not prosecute people who are not registered. They will find someone who is not registered and say, "You are not registered, so go along and register." If environmental health departments decide to prosecute, they will be accused of being petty. They will go to a magistrate, and he will ask, "What laws have been broken?" They will say, "He refuses to register." He will ask, "Has he corrected that?" They will say, "Yes." The magistrate will then give an absolute discharge and tell the environmental health people not to come back with such trivial matters. Registration reminds me of the ribbon around an expensive Easter egg—it is there for effect. When one eats the egg, one finds that the ribbon adds nothing to the taste. At the end of the day, the ribbon ends up in the bin. All that adds to the cost of the egg. It is very much like the Government's Green Paper on protecting the consumer—many words but not much action. That criticism could be made of the Food Safety Bill. I should like to quote—or misquote—George Bush, the American President. During the presidential elections, referring to the policies of Michael Dukakis, he asked, "Where's the beef?"—I suspect that, if he were in Britain in 1990, he would have found another phrase. What he meant was, "Where's the substance in the policies?" There is no substance in the registration of food premises, but there would be great substance in a licensing scheme. That is the view not only of the Labour party but of the Consumers Association, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities and the Institute of Environmental Health Officers. It is also the view of a scientist—Sir Mark Richmond, the Government's appointed chairman of the committee on microbiological safety of food. In a letter dated 24 August 1989 to the present Minister—he is always saying that he has just come to the Department, so bovine spongiform encephalopathy has nothing to do with him—he said that at least all catering establishments, processing of pre-cooked chilled products, low acid canning, butchery and meat processing and vacuum packing should be licensed. What did the Government do? They completely ignored that advice. Less than a fortnight ago, the Minister gave evidence to the Select Committee and said, "I should like to cull calves, but my advisers say that we should not do that. I should like to carry out research, but my scientists advise me that it is not necessary." His chief scientist, Sir Mark Richmond, advised him to introduce licensing. For one reason or another, the Minister decided to kick out that advice. We suspect that the food processing industry has put pressure on the Government. That reason alone has prevented the introduction of licensing. We do not have licensing because the Minister has said that it is bureaucratic and not practical. However, we have licensing systems. For example, betting shops, cinemas and theatres are licensed.
And public houses.
When we talk about licensed premises, we normally talk about public houses. Since the Ale House Act 1928, we have had licensed public houses. It is not a simple matter of going to a local council and getting a licence. The process is complicated, but it works successfully. I have not heard any Minister say that public houses should not be licensed. A person who wishes to obtain a licence applies to magistrates and submits a plan of the public house. The magistrates then decide to have a site visit to examine the premises and determine whether it is fit for the consumption of alcohol.The licensee is brought to court and questioned. He is asked, among other things, "What training, qualifications and experience do you have to he granted a licence to run a public house or a restaurant?" It is ironic that the Government are concerned about public houses. When it comes to selling alcoholic beverages to get people drunk, premises must be licensed, but when it comes to selling people food that can poison or kill them, all that is needed is a register. There is no common sense in that policy. We have the remnants of Thatcherism. Common sense says that we should have a licensing system, but all we have is the old policy of "Get the bureaucrats off the back of business and let the free market go forth and prosper". Ironically, all the markets in this country are also licensed. However, the free market, when it comes to food processing and the sale of food, kills people. That is why I hope that we can have a positive response from the Minister. I suspect that there is a leeway in the Bill for the introduction of licensing. If this Government do not introduce licensing, the next Labour Government will look seriously at it so that people can be protected against those who are concerned only with making profits. That does not apply to the majority of people who sell food, but it certainly applies to the minority who cause the problems. When the Minister replies, I hope that he will say that the Government have been convinced and that they will change their policies. If they do not, a Labour Government will give the matter serious consideration. We should be grateful to this Government for giving us the means of implementing a licensing system.
I believe that this is the first occasion on which the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) has spoken from the Opposition Front Bench for his party. I welcome him to his new responsibilities. Although I did not find his argument persuasive, I hope that this will be the first of many occasions on which he speaks from that Dispatch Box.The hon. Gentleman began by suggesting that registration is too bureaucratic. He supported that assertion by suggesting that environmental health officers would not be able to initiate prosecutions for non-registration. That power exists, but I hope that there will be relatively few prosecutions for non-registration. The hon. Gentleman's argument missed the point about the purpose of registration. Registration itself is not part of an enforcement mechanism. It is the machinery for giving sufficient information to the environmental health department of the enforcement agency to allow it to use the other powers of the Bill effectively and to reinforce its provisions. Registration is explicitly part of the light regulatory regime that we are seeking to introduce, which would be effective but no more heavy-handed in arty individual case than is specifically necessary to achieve the objective. I am pleased that today I have been able further to elaborate the registration scheme that we propose because today I have published the draft registration form, copies of which are available in the Vote Office. It is a straightforward form that contains only eight questions. It should therefore be quick to complete. A key section of the form asks businesses to state the type of business that is carried out on the premises. Businesses are divided into three main groups—catering premises, retail premises and food manufacturing premises. The heading "food manufacturing premises" is subdivided to highlight certain processes, including the four processes that are identified in the new clause. Any food business will have the right to register, and the process of registration will not be subject to a charge. Registration will enable local authorities more easily to identify the types of food premises within their boundaries and will consequently enable them to target their enforcement action more effectively. Enforcement officers will have a range of powers—inspection; seizure; the issue of improvement notices, prohibition orders and emergency prohibition notices; and prosecution. Ministers will have the power to make emergency control orders. We believe that registration backed by that panoply of powers, which are the effective machinery of enforcement, will be a simple but effective way of ensuring good standards of hygiene throughout the food industry. The new clause suggests that we should license the premises used for the four processes that are quoted in the new clause. The hon. Member for Carlisle prayed in aid the report of the Richmond committee and suggested that it endorsed his argument. That is not strictly true. The Richmond committee suggested that the process—not the premises—should be licensed. However, as the hon. Gentleman rightly said, the Government are taking the power that is contained within the Bill to do what he proposes, should the need arise. I do not believe that the need will arise, but I prefer the way that we are advocating because it is much more flexible than his suggestions. There is already the longstop that the hon. Gentleman wants, because we can invoke that power. However, I do not believe that it will be necessary. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw his new clause.
Question put and negatived.
New Clause 6
Food Labelling Advisory Committee
'.—(1) There shall be established a body to be called the Food Labelling Advisory Committee ("the Committee") to perform the functions assigned to the Committee by or under this section.
(2) The members of the Committee, of whom there shall be not less than eight, shall be appointed by the Minister after consultation with such persons and organisations as he considers appropriate.
(3) The Committee shall give to the Minister advice on matters relating to the implementation of this section or the exercise of any power conferred by it, or otherwise relating to food labelling, where the Committee consider it expedient, or they are requested by the Minister to do so.
(4) The Committee shall have a duty to identify labelling descriptions which are misleading and shall have a duty to propose to the Minister alternative descriptions.
(5) The functions of the Food Advisory Committee in respect of food labelling and compositional standards shall be transferred to the Committee from the first day this Act comes into force.'.— [Mr. Matthew Taylor.]
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this, it will be convenient to consider the following amendments: No. 32, in clause 8, page 6, line 19 at end insert—
No. 33, in clause 17, page 14, line 28 at end insert—'(d) it is not reasonably safe, having regard to all the circumstances, including the manner in which, and the purposes for which, the food is being marketed, the composition of the food, the use of any mark in relation to food and any instructions or warnings which are given with respect to the keeping, use of or consumption of the food.'.
'In making regulations under subsection (1) above, the Ministers shall take all necessary steps to ensure that milk collected from cows which have been subject to injection with bovine somatotrophin shall be labelled as such.'.
New clause 6 proposes a food labelling advisory committee as opposed to what happens at present, when labelling matters come within the remit of the much more general Food Advisory Committee. Hon. Members who served on the Committee will be aware that Liberal Democrats have taken a particular interest throughout in the issue of food labelling. The new clause is an attempt to put that issue back on the agenda today and to move forward from what we believe to be a weak position for a Government who, in other respects, have accepted the argument that the consumer should have elements of choice. That choice could come with accurate and proper labelling. Labelling should not only be accurate in scientific terms, but should be capable of being readily understood by consumers when they are making their purchases. The anomalies and the misleading labelling that exists at the moment—and which is allowed—demonstrates that the Government and the Food Advisory Committee have failed in the job of providing the consumer with that service.We need a separate body specifically dedicated to labelling. As one example of the areas in which improved labelling would be appropriate, the amendments would allow the labelling of mechanically recovered meat. That would enable consumers to make a distinction between artificial and natural ingredients. Throughout the Bill's passage, I have repeatedly used the example of yoghurts that are labelled "strawberry flavour" as opposed to those that are labelled "strawberry-flavoured". To most people in the shops, that does not seem a distinction of great relevance, but it distinguishes between artificial ingredients and natural ingredients, such as real strawberries in the product. I refer also to the distinction between "battery eggs" and "farm fresh eggs". In fact, there is no distinction, but a consumer who does not want to buy eggs produced from battery hens will not be aware of that fact. Frankly, the egg producers would use the description "battery eggs" rather than "farm fresh eggs" if they thought that the consumer would not react badly to the term "battery eggs". Producers use the term "farm fresh eggs" precisely because of the images that that conjures up in consumers' minds. That image is wholly wrong but the description helps to sell the eggs. We want to ensure that "Cape" produce bears the words "South Africa". To many consumers, "Cape" produce and South African produce are different kettles of fish. Hon. Members may or may not feel that people should buy goods from South Africa, but some consumers may not want to buy South African goods and it may not occur to them that South African produce is labelled "Cape". We also want to replace the word "tenderised" when that refers to the fact that the animal has been injected with a vegetable enzyme. That is not what one thinks of when one sees a product labelled "tenderised". When a cookery book states, "Tenderise your meat", it is not envisaged that the housewife will get out a hypodermic needle and inject the meat. The cookery book means that the meat should be bashed with a hammer. Those are all examples of the way in which the present labelling system fails to give consumers what they think they are getting. In this respect, information is power and ignorance is impotence. It is high time that the Government did something about it. Amendment No. 32 has received the strong backing of the Consumers Association. It is designed to ensure that the Bill includes a general safety clause and to make it an offence to sell food that fails to comply with the food safety requirements. We believe that being legally accountable for the safety of the food that they sell will make suppliers more careful about what they buy and how they store and display it. Although the proposed safety requirements are a considerable improvement on the present legislation—I do not take that away from the Government—they still do not meet the standards of other consumer protection legislation. The draft EC product safety directive, for example, which covers food, contains a much more wide-ranging safety duty that takes account of the
That is precisely the intention of the amendments. The Consumer Protection Act 1987 imposes a similar general duty of safety, and trading standards officers have used it successfully. It is difficult to see why Ministers argue that such a measure is unusable or inappropriate. Clearly, they believe that it is appropriate in other areas and, indeed, the EEC believes that it is appropriate in food safety. Such a measure is used successfully in other areas. The catch-all that the amendment would provide will extend all the way along the food chain and cover any loopholes that may emerge in the future. That is particularly important in food safety where technology, as we have already said, is changing rapidly. The provision would ensure that any potential risk presented by the product is appropriately indicated to make the consumer aware of it and allow an individual assessment of its seriousness. The Government have maintained that such a provision is not necessary. They argue that all eventualities are covered by other, more targeted provisions in the Bill. However, the Consumers Association has identified two examples of loopholes in the Bill as currently drafted. Those loopholes were highlighted during the debate on this issue in the House of Lords. One loophole involves microwave ovens. There has been recent speculation about how effectively microwave cooking kills listeria. Some manufacturers of the ovens have reacted by removing instructions on how to microwave a particular product to heat it up because of worries that listeria might not be entirely eliminated by following the instructions. However, manufacturers provided no warning about goods that people may have cooked by microwave for some years following the users' instructions. To consumers it was the same old product that they had bought many times and heated in the same way. No warning was provided that the product was unsuitable for microwaving. Consumers could be forgiven for expecting to be able to continue to reheat the product in the microwave. The inclusion of a general safety requirement, such as that in the amendments, would require manufacturers to label such products as unsuitable for microwaving. There is a similar loophole with red kidney beans. We know that there is a problem if the product is not properly cooked and that it can cause quite severe stomach upsets. Indeed, the Government issued prompt advice to the food industry urging it to label products accordingly. However, there is no legal requirement on suppliers to co-operate. When those examples of loopholes were debated in the House of Lords, the Minister maintained that the addition of a general safety duty was unnecessary. In my view, he failed to give adequate explanation of how the existing provisions would cover the specific problems that had been pointed out. For example, the Minister claimed that the food labelling regulations covered kidney beans. However, beans sold loose are not covered by the regulations and whether pre-packed beans are covered is arguable. The Minister referred to the provisions of clause 8, which deem food unfit if it has been rendered injurious to health or contaminated. But neither of the examples that I have given would be covered by that. The Minister also referred to the labelling and presentation requirements in clause 15. It covers false or misleading descriptions of food, but neither problem would he covered by it. The Bill represents the Government's acceptance of the need to take measures to provide the public with general safety. The Ministers argue that the Bill does that. It is clear that the Bill does not do so in all eventualities. A general safety clause would cover all eventualities. Other legislation includes such clauses and I see no realistic or good reason why Ministers should oppose it. I hope that they will take this opportunity to react accordingly. Amendment No. 33 requires the labelling of milk from cows which have been treated with BST. It does not address the question whether that product should he sold at all. In many respects, the simplest solution would be not to sell it to the public but simply to destroy it. Presently only three sites are testing BST and only 71 cows are involved. If the Government do not wish to pursue that course, at least they should let the consumer know what they are buying, according to exactly the same principle on which the Minister argued in the case of irradiation. He maintained that there was no risk from irradiation but that consumers should be allowed to be aware of what they were buying in order to exercise an informed choice. It is well known that, from the National Farmers Union to the women's institutes, consumers demand that knowledge and the ability to exercise that choice. However, it seems that Ministers are not prepared to give them that choice. Why not? When testing is being carried out at only three sites using only 71 cows, why not collect the milk separately, bottle it separately and label it to see whether people want it or not? [Laughter.]"intended use, consumption, packaging, transport and storage of a product, according to normal circumstances".
They will not.
I notice Labour Members laughing. I bet my bottom dollar that there would be no buyers for such milk if it were so labelled. That may be why the Government do not want to do so. The thought crossed the mind of the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies). Perhaps it has crossed the Minister's mind too. We should at least test it. If the Minister thinks that people will want to buy such milk, if is easy enough to test.The only argument against labelling milk from BST-treated cows is that BST is the same as the natural hormone in cows. People say that one simply adds to the level of hormone in the cow but that in other respects one cannot tell the injected hormone and the natural hormone apart. The problem with that is, first, that the Government argue that irradiation is safe but that customers must be informed that food is irradiated. That is a right principle and it should apply to BST, too. Secondly, the case that BST is identical to the natural hormone is not proven. On the contrary, the molecular structure is different. On that basis alone, there is reason for caution, quite apart from evidence from Monsanto trials that, for example, cows injected with BST show significant and unnatural increases in the size of the internal organs, especially the heart and the kidneys, that pregnancy rates in BST-treated cows are almost half that in control cows and that the hormone content of BST milk is 26 times higher than that of normal milk. Monsanto's own trials revealed those details. They do not mean that there is necessarily a danger or a risk, but, on the basis of everything that Ministers have said about other matters from BSE to irradiation, surely the consumer should be protected against that risk, particularly while trials are taking place. The trials happen to be taking place in the west country so I have a particularly strong interest in the matter. I hope that the Minister will take the opportunity to act to protect and inform the consumer by making labelling a requirement.
I say to the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor) and to the House that instinctively the Labour party is opposed to BST. We have made that clear. Whether this is the right vehicle to express our opposition to it is another matter. The hon. Gentleman would not expect us to go that far.As this is the only occasion tonight on which I shall seek to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I take this opportunity—[Interruption.] I am glad that that has given pleasure to the hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory). I am sorry to say that it seems to have given him mere pleasure than his speech gave me. I say that in a spirit of generosity because recently I visited his constituency. I take this opportunity to apologise for not having told him. I was a member of what was a pleasant Standing Committee because I am a member of the health team. I found myself from time to time opposite the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman). I am sure that we all wish him well with his new portfolio. I enjoyed working with him on the Committee dealing with this Bill as well as on the Committee dealing with the National Health Service and Community Care Bill. In that spirit we extend a welcome to the hon. Member for Loughborough (Mr. Dorrell). I hope that the hon. Member for Truro will not be too disappointed when I say that, having listened to his speech for the second time, and although I appreciate that there is much to be said for the principles that he expounded, we cannot agree with the details. The principles are well intentioned, but although we support the main objectives of the new clause we have reservations about the details. Food labelling is an essential part of the safety process and consumers have a right to expect labelling to be clear, accurate and informative. To be fair to food suppliers, such labelling is already provided; there are technical difficulties that the Committee recognised, but I shall not detain the House with them tonight as they are already on record. 8.30 pm An area of particular concern involves new products and ingredients whose names are less familiar to consumers. The E numbers are used as part of a common EC nomenclature, but they are strange to many consumers. More information on that specific matter would be helpful to shoppers. The new clause lacks reality because it proposes a specialist food labelling advisory committee. To achieve that would diminish the functions of the Food Advisory Committee, which already does useful work on labelling and compositional standards. We respect the work of the FAC and we do not want its role diminished, but that would follow the acceptance of the new clause.
I am glad to note that the Minister agrees. I detect that my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) is a bit worried, but his earlier intervention gave me far more pleasure than any of the speeches I heard from Tory Members in Committee. I hope that we hear a great deal more from my hon. Friend.It is true that consumers should be more strongly represented on the FAC, but things are changing and I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield about that. Doubtless when responding the Minister will say that the Government consider that the labelling of food is an EC affair and, as such, much of the decision-making about labelling occurs in Brussels. We are not unaware of the requirement for and benefits of common standards for labels, especially with 1992 in mind. Nevertheless, there must be a large consumer input into the regulations and directives from the EC. The Government must test any proposals for labelling before those who speak for consumers test them, although I accept that the FAC has the expertise. The new consumer working party established belatedly by MAFF means that the shoppers' view will be known before the Council of Ministers decides on such matters. For the present we prefer to use that which exists rather than to create another body with a limited function.
I shall deal first with amendment No. 32, which I believe is unnecessary and unworkable.The House accepts that it is vital to ensure that we will always be able to prohibit the sale of unsafe food. I believe that that is already achieved by the three-part food safety requirement set out in clause 8(2). That requirement takes into account all the factors that have a direct effect on the safety of the final food. It makes little sense to say that food fails to comply with food safety requirements if it is not "reasonably safe". That term is extremely subjective and, even without it, it would be difficult to evaluate whether food was safe. Food that is safe to eat now may be harmful if eaten later. People are also different and food that does no harm to one can be extremely dangerous to another. I believe that we have got the balance right on our food safety requirements. However, should there be some unforeseen turn of events that means that we need additional measures, we have the powers under clause 17 to make specific regulations to deal with the matters precisely mentioned by the amendment. We can regulate on the composition of food and on labelling and require warnings to be given to consumers. We have the legislative protection to hand if it is needed. The Bill contains broad and flexible powers based on what is good in existing legislation. I would not want the House to accept the amendment. It is a pleasure for me to meet the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) at the Dispatch Box. He showed his customary kindness and good humour. On this occasion he displayed his excellent wisdom by pointing out that, even if there is merit in amendment No. 33, the Bill is not the vehicle for it. The same goes for some of the other rag-bag matters that the hon. Member for Truro would like to be subject to labels. We dealt with those issues exhaustively in Committee. If it is meritorious to start labelling South African produce, no doubt we shall get a demand from some Opposition Members to start labelling Nicaraguan produce now that that country is no longer controlled by a nasty left-wing regime. That country is now probably persona non grata. Were we to seek to take such action, we should do so after first taking the advice of the Food Advisory Committee. We could make such changes under the labelling regulations and the powers set out in clause 16. I repeat, however, that the Bill is not the vehicle for the personal issues raised by the hon. Member for Truro that he wants to be subject to labelling. The hon. Member for Monklands, West was right to cast doubt on the new clause and right to support the FAC. It already advises Ministers on matters relating to the composition, labelling and advertising of food and on additives, contaminants and other substances that might be present. It is unnecessary and undesirable to set up a similar but separate body. The FAC has a chairman and 14 members appointed for their personal expertise—they do not represent particular interests. Five of them are from the food manufacturing or retail industry, five have consumer or enforcement expertise and five are from the academic world. The committee reviews and prepares reports on all matters within its terms of reference and it makes recommendations for legislation where necessary. I set great store by the FAC and I hope that it will continue in its work. I have told the House on many occasions that we have given the FAC a major task to perform in the next few months as it will advise on all aspects of labelling, identify misleading labelling descriptions and propose alternatives. Many of the issues mentioned by the hon. Member for Truro are currently under review by the FAC. The comprehensive review of food labelling undertaken by that committee will be first class. It will also take into account changing EC obligations. The hon. Member for Monklands, West was right to point out that we are no longer totally our own master in that respect. We must bear in mind EC decisions. The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Truro are unnecessary and unworkable and his new clause undermines the excellent work undertaken by the FAC. We see no need to set up a separate body to deal particularly with food labelling. In common with the hon. Member for Monklands, West, I hope that the House will not want the new clause to be added to the Bill.
Question put and negatived.
New Clause 9
Declaration Of Feedingstuffs Ingredients
'For the purpose of protecting and promoting the interests of consumers by means of informing persons in charge of live animals which are food sources from which food in intended to be derived, the Ministers shall by regulations coming into force no later than six months from the day on which this Act is passed provide that compound feedingstuffs may not be marketed unless such particulars as may be prescribed are clearly marked on the packaging or container or on a label attached thereto, including—
Brought up, and read the First Time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments: No. 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 13, at end insert—
No. 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 17, at end insert`(e) fodder or feedingstuffs for animals, birds or fish intended for human consumption'.
No. 3, in clause 17, page 14, line 10, at end insert`not intended for human consumption'.
No. 4, in clause 17, page 14, line 10, at end insert—'provided that regulations controlling the presence of substances in food sources shall not permit the presence in fodder or feedingstuffs for animals intended for human consumption of substances not permitted for use in food intended for human consumption'.
'(1A) In making regulations under subsection (1) above, the Ministers shall take all necessary actions to ensure that fodder or feedingstuffs for animals intended for human consumption be so labelled as to provide full details of the ingredients and origin of the fodder or feedingstuffs.'.
The purpose of the new clause is to make provision in the Bill to require those who are responsible for manufacturing animal feedstuffs to label the contents in a manner that is clearly understood by the purchasers of those foodstuffs.The House will appreciate the need for the new clause. It is common knowledge that the food industry has been shattered in the last couple of years by two instances of epidemic caused by the consumption by farm animals of contaminated feedstuffs. I refer to salmonella infection in the poultry industry and the current epidemic of BSE An our cattle herd, both arising directly—I believe this is beyond disagreement now—from the consumption of contaminated feedstuffs. There is no doubt in my mind that beef producers, given the opportunity, would now be feeding their animals nothing but feedstuffs containing vegetable protein. I am equally sure that consumers would be happier if they could purchase beef that had been produced from cattle fed with nothing but vegetable protein. Unfortunately, that cannot be the case because under the present law in Britain cattle can still be fed the rendered remains of pigs and chickens and chicken litter, and various items such as plywood can still be mixed in with cattle feed. I am not sure how a diet of rendered pigs, chicken litter and plywood quite fits in with the theological menu which the current Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would have us believe is suitable for vegetarian cows.
It is the second time that the hon. Gentleman has made that point.
That may be so. The hon. Lady has just drifted into the Chamber, no doubt having been entertaining herself in the west end. I agree that it is the second time, and if the opportunity arises, I will make the point a third time—
and if the hon. Lady continues to interrupt me, I will say it a fourth and a fifth time. It is a valuable point. The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is unfortunately obsessed with theology and pays too little attention to the proper running of his Ministry—[Interruption.] The natives on the Conservative Benches must learn when they get restless that if they want to dish it out, they must be prepared to take it. I learnt that early in life. I shall be happy to stay for the rest of the night taking what they have to dish out, but I warn them that I shall give it back with interest.The Minister preaches the virtues of feeding vegetarian cows a diet of vegetable matter. But he presides over a Department which has regulations allowing the rendered remains of pigs, chicken litter and plywood to be fed to cattle. That is a fact—[ Interruption.] If Conservative Members do not like it, I am sorry; I do not like it either. That is why we need the new clause. I hope that they will rise in abundance to support it because, according to a poll in today's issue of Farming News, 82 per cent. of farmers believe there should be a total ban on the inclusion of meat and bone meal in animal rations. Opposition Members have been calling for that for well over a year. If the Government are not prepared to take that fundamental precautionary step, they should at least ensure that livestock producers have the opportunity to follow their own, more sensible, approach and choose not to feed livestock on rations containing meat and bone meal. It is a fundamental question of choice. At present, the Government, for all their protestations about consumer sovereignty and the disclosure of information, refuse to take the basic step of requiring the feed compounders to list the ingredients of their rations. The new clause would not require the disclosure of any trade secrets or commercially sensitive information. The exact proportions and nutritional balance of compound feeds, which are the commercially sensitive bits of information, would remain confidential. But the compounders would have to disclose what is in the feed. To take a topical example, they would have to disclose whether a high protein cake contained entirely vegetable protein or animal protein, too. Why should not the farmer have that information so that he can make a choice, particularly if the Government refuse to do the sensible thing and ban ruminant-derived protein from all animal feed?
Almost all the farmers in my constituency have been crying out for some knowledge of what is in their feedstuff and say that they would not feed their cattle animal products if they knew that feedstuff contained such products. I would support the new clause but for the fact that I am aware of an EEC directive and believe that it is probably better that the matter is tackled through the European Community. If that were not the case, I would support wholeheartedly what the hon. Gentleman is saying.
That is not much consolation to the beef producers of Scotland, Wales and England, who are seeing the bottom fall out of their market. If the only answer the hon. Gentleman can offer them is, "Hang around for a couple of years and in 1992 we might get some European legislation, and then all will be okay," I suggest he tells that to the farmers in his constituency. They are crying out for action, not in two years' time but in two days' time. That would enable them immediately to take the necessary action themselves. They would be empowered to take action to help resolve the crisis that is afflicting their industry. I appreciate the point that the hon. Gentleman makes, but we must act with urgency. There is no time to waste.The Daily Telegraph said in an interesting article this morning:
conducted for Farming News"Eighty two per cent. of the sample—"
It is abundantly clear that farmers have a greater understanding of public susceptibility in these matters than has the Ministry."said they wanted a compulsory ban on the use of meat and bone meal in all farm livestock rations. These ingredients can still be used in food for pigs and poultry."
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that at a meeting in York last week of 300 beef farmers from all over the country, not one was convinced, having listened to the evidence, that there was any scientific backing for what the hon. Gentleman is saying? The animal feed people at the meeting made it clear that, if individual farmers wished to have certain rations taken out of the feed supplied to them, they had only to ask.
I was at the meeting.
I am enjoying the sight of Conservative Members being almost at each other's throats. I followed with interest what happened at that conference in York. I read the background to it and I appreciate the enthusiasm that existed there. I also know of the enthusiasm on the part of consumers, who are anxious to buy a product in which they have total confidence. Frankly, if we continue feeding chicken litter to cattle and expect to have public confidence in our beef-producing industry, the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) will have to think again.
The hon. Gentleman might think it rubbish. He should rise and defend his position on this. I quoted from a sample of farmers and the view of 82 per cent. of them. A poll in today's issue of Farming News shows that farmers believe that there should be a total ban on the feeding of meat and bone meal. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman was present about a week ago for the debate on BSE. There may be scientific evidence to suggest that there is nothing demonstrably wrong with the practice. But that is not the heart of the argument. There may be dangers about which we do not yet know and, anyway, consumers do not like the practice.If that is not enough, and if the 35 per cent. drop in the British beef market is not enough to convince the hon. Member for Ryedale of the true position, I can only say that I care more for the £250 million interest that the farmers of Wales have in the beef industry. The hon. Gentleman might think it satisfactory to feed chicken litter to cattle, but there are dangers in doing that. For example, an article in the June 1990 issue of Agscene says:
The hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West (Mr. Ashby) may say that they do not enjoy the protection of the European Community and that that could not happen in the Community or in Britain. I refer the hon. Gentleman to an article in the Veterinary Record of 27 May 1989. It states:"Australian beef producers were shaken in the new year by a mass botulism outbreak among cattle from two feedlots in the Queensland area. 5,000 animals destined for the lucrative Japanese grain-fed beef market have reportedly died after consuming chicken manure mixed in feed causing the fatal attack of food poisoning."
There is no doubt that there is a major problem with our food producing industries. One way to start to restore confidence is to ensure that farmers can buy with certainty products whose labels have a legal basis so that if the farmers wish to produce organically or to give a guarantee that their animals have consumed nothing other than vegetable protein they should he able to do so. If consumers want to go to the butcher with some certainty that the animals with which he has been supplied have been fed only vegetable protein, they should be entitled to do that. It is wrong for anyone to suggest that those fundamental freedoms in the production and consumption of animal products should not be afforded by legislation. The National Farmers Union endorses that view. Notwithstanding the comments of its president at the conference in York last week, that is now the official view of the union. In correspondence to me on 5 June the union said:"A major outbreak of type C botulism in cattle has recently been reported from Northern Ireland … Eighty animals from a herd of 150 housed beef cattle were affected and 68 of them died. It was the largest outbreak of bovine botulism recorded in Europe and the first to be caused by feeding ensiled poultry litter to cattle, a practice which is common in Northern Ireland and in many other European countries. In view of the risk of botulism from this feed source, and because of the severity of the outbreak, some additional laboratory findings relating to the incident are presented in this paper and their implications are discussed."
The Country Landowners Association also contacted me and asked to go on record. It wishes to have its support recorded for the campaign for compulsory labelling of feedstuff ingredients. The association says that fanners and landowners will not be impressed by the argument of the hon. Member for Leicestershire, North-West that the United Kingdom can simply wait for the EEC directive on feedingstuffs and should not act before the due date. The Government have an excellent opportunity to show that they can respond positively to the consumer's need to know what is in feedstuffs. By accepting the amendment the Government would bring United Kingdom law into line with the objective of the EEC directive. What could be a better position to defend in Europe in view of the situation in the past couple of years when the practices in this country unfortunately brought our agriculture into disrepute?"For over a decade the NFU have been calling for an obligation on suppliers of compound feedingstuffs for farm livestock to declare the specific ingredients of those feedingstuffs so that farmers can know more precisely what they are feeding to their animals. We believe that such a requirement is important for the confidence of both farmers as producers of animals for the food chain and for consumers as the farmers' customers".
The four amendments in my name and the names of my hon. Friends are quite far reaching in their implications because, as well as having labelling requirements a nd requirements that labels should show ingredients and the country of origin, they bring feedingstuffs for animals designed for human consumption into the definition of food within the Bill. That is a radical concept which is worth looking at when one thinks of the objectives that the Government themselves have set and the need to establish the kind of confidence that the industry deserves.I represent a prime beef-producing area. It is in the interests of farmers in my constituency that standards should be brought up to those that they keep rather than pulled down by the bad practice that occasionally arises. I do not find support for the idea of feeding animal protein to herbivore ruminant animals, nor do I find confidence in the idea that what is unfit for human consumption is somehow fit for consumption by animals which we will eat. Those issues arouse increasing feeling among consumers and increasing recognition by farmers of the need to maintain the high standards to which many work and to which more are beginning to work. I hope that the Minister will look sympathetically at the approach that we have suggested. I hope that he shares our objective.
It is a major item of Government policy that the consumer should exercise informed choice. In this case the consumer is the farmer who wants to be able to exercise choice that is informed by accurate labelling of what he is buying. This is in line with mainstream Government policy and I trust that the Government will accept the new clause for which I shall certainly vote.
If the Government refuse to accept the new clause, it will be symptomatic of their whole approach to these matters. They are in the 11th hour, under siege in Europe, with a 35 per cent. reduction in beef sales and are seeing the world caving in around them. If they resist the new clause they will be exhibiting a head-in-the-sand attitude.My hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) has already mentioned representations from the National Farmers Union south of the border and from the Country Landowners Association. I wish to put on record the support of the National Farmers Union of Scotland. In order to answer the points raised against the new clause by Conservative Members, I reiterate that, although the EEC directive has been approved, it does not take effect until January 1991. The Scottish NFU quite specifically addresses that point by saying that under the new clause the opportunity arises to bring forward by 18 months what has already been acknowledged should happen at that time. The union states:
In Scotland the impact is being felt although the herds are almost exclusively free from this affliction. Scottish farmers want the protection of being able to say to the world, "We are doing the most rather than the least"." However, the Government refuse to address that. The point made by the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) is dismissed in the union's letter. The Scottish NFU would not write to every Scottish Member asking us to argue in favour of the new clause if its membership was opposed to it or complacent about it. The Scottish NFU treats it as a matter of urgency because it at least knows what is happening in Europe and in the shops and is aware of the views of its members. The Scottish NFU wants the Government to act. It wants the Government to be seen to be doing the most rather than the least to meet the urgent threat that exists."In view of the widespread public concern on this particular issue, the Union would ask you to support this initiative on an issue which is of such importance to producers and consumers alike".
I am sorry about the way that this debate has been conducted because I do not think that there is any difference of opinion in the House about the long-term goal or the need for improved labelling of the ingredients of food rations. Far from helping farmers and beef producers, the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) indulged in the continuing scaremongering that is emanating as much from the Opposition as from the British press. That undermines what our beef producers are trying to achieve.I went to the meeting in York, which is close to my constituency, and listened for three hours to what farmers had to say. The hon. Member for Caerphilly is right. There is widespread concern about the future of agriculture as a consequence of what has been said in the media about BSE. There is no scientific advice to back up much of what the hon. Gentleman said. Last week, I went to a major feed manufacturer—one of the biggest in the north of England—in my constituency. I discovered that, whereas the Government banned the use of ruminant protein in cattle feeds in 1988, this feed manufacturer voluntarily stopped using it in 1986 in response to requests from farmers. I have spoken to several feed manufacturers today and they have asked me to make it clear that if a farmer is not happy with the food ration, there is an opportunity for him to say that he does not wish certain ingredients in the feed for cattle, pigs or poultry. This is happening more and more often. We all want to see labelling of foodstuffs, but there is a problem, apart from the need to ensure that any action is on a European Communitywide basis. If there is one lesson that we should learn from what has happened in the past two or three days and our efforts to get the French and German ban on English beef lifted, it is that there are higher standards on husbandry, animal welfare and food hygiene and animal feed hygiene in Britain than on the continent. There is no point in our legislating without bringing the rest of the European Community with us. That is why it is important that we have a European Communitywide arrangement. My second point has not yet been made. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues at the Ministry will consult widely over the arrangements. There are major difficulties in dealing with some of the matters that have been raised. There is no disagreement on what we wish to see achieved, but when the hon. Member for Caerphilly starts scaremongering, he destroys the British beef farmer.
I sympathise with the mood of the House and its wish to ensure that food producers are provided with the detailed information that they need on important inputs such as animal feedingstuffs. My hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Maxwell-Hyslop) used a good phrase, "informed consumer choice". That appeals to me and to the Government. However, I have made it clear in earlier debates, first, that such matters are properly dealt with in regulations made under the Agriculture Act 1970 rather than in a food Bill dealing with human food, and, secondly, that in this sector, conditions are being introduced for the European Community as a whole. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) was right to stress that point.The new clause specifies six categories of information that should be required of feedingstuff manufacturers. For the benefit of the House, I shall set out both existing arrangements and the provision of the recently-approved EC directive. I think that it will be seen that we have either already introduced or are well on the way to introducing practically all the requirements of the new clause. The first two requirements set out that the species or category of animal for which the feedingstuff is intended should be stated and that directions for the proper use of the feed should be given. Both these matters are existing requirements of the Feedingstuffs Regulations 1988. Further categories of information covered by the new clause are the date of manufacture, the minimum storage life and the details of the person responsible for the accuracy of the information. The present regulations already require the latter to be set down and, while declaration of the date of manufacture and storage life are optional, the recent directive will make it obligatory to supply this information also. In the case of four of the six categories, therefore—categories (a), (b), (e), and (f)—the information sought is either already obligatory or well on the way to being made obligatory. We are left with ingredient listing and a declaration of energy value, and the latter is difficult and complicated. My hon. Friend the Member for Ryedale alluded to that. There is no agreement in the Community on the best approach to the necessary calculations, but I assure the House that the UK is in the forefront of the work that is proceeding and we shall be pressing urgently to continue the work at all speed. However, it would be unrealistic, and I do not want to give the House the impression that it would be possible, to expect that early agreement that would allow for the declaration of energy values on a uniform basis will be achieved. The essential element, in any case, is ingredient listing. Here a considerable step forward was taken when the new directive was agreed in January. It provides for obligatory listing, either of specific ingredients or of categories of similar ingredients.
We all know about the directive and know that it is taking effect from 1991, but the precise point of organisations such as the National Farmers Union for Scotland, and its English counterpart, getting in touch with Opposition Members is to say that that is not good enough, as there is an 18-month gap. The NFU at least recognises the urgency of the position, having said:
Is the Minister saying that 18 months is "as soon as possible"?"The declaration of ingredients of manufactured livestock feeds has to be made compulsory as soon as possible."
If the hon. Gentleman knows all about it, why table an amendment to the Bill? This is largely a matter of EC competence, and a matter for the Feedingstuffs Regulations 1988.As I have said, a considerable step forward was taken when the new directive was agreed in January. It remains for the experts to work out the categories that may be used to draw up the necessary reference list of ingredients that will permit manufacturers to make their declarations on a common basis across the European Community. The Opposition should appreciate that there is a great deal of complex technical work involved. It is not a matter of sticking the names of half a dozen ingredients on a bag; hundreds of ingredients could be used and named. We must get the definitions correct if the legislation is to mean anything, is to be enforceable, and does not disadvantage Great Britain in relation to other countries. I can assure the House that, like my colleagues in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I want to be sure that the work is given the impetus that it deserves. We shall be actively pressing for rapid progress, so that ingredient listing can be introduced as early as possible. I urge the House not to accept the new clause. Regulations on animal feed are a matter for the Agriculture Act 1986, and we shall use the powers in that Act to implement the labelling requirements in due course. In view of the assurances that I have given tonight, we shall press ahead with the details as soon as possible. This Bill is not an appropriate place for animal-feed labelling regulations—much as we want them—and I hope that the hon. Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Davies) will not press the new clause to a vote.
I shall make two brief points. I am sorry if the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) thinks that our comments about public confidence in the food industry are equivalent to scaremongering. Opposition Members argued that the Government should ban bovine offals for human consumption nine months before such a ban was introduced. We argued 12 months in advance that 100 per cent. compensation should be given for infected animals. However, despite pressure from Opposition Members, the National Farmers Union and others, the Government took 12 months to be persuaded of the rightness of such a move. I resent the attitude that implies that drawing attention to matters of public concern and pressing the Government to adopt policies to safeguard the public interest is equivalent to scaremongering, and I hope the hon. Member for Ryedale will reconsider his views.I understand the wisdom of seeking Europewide measures, if only to prevent a recurrence of the practice that, until last month, we were carrying on in our trade with France. I am sure that the Minister is aware that every month we were sending boat loads of meat and bonemeal from this country. That very meat and bonemeal was banned from ruminant feed in this country, but it was being incorporated in the rations being fed to French cattle. Under our trading arrangements with France, there was nothing to prevent the products of those cattle being shipped back to this country. That was happening until last month. That, if anything, demonstrates the need for Europewide action. Having said that, let me add that the Minister gave a generous—and, I believe, genuine—assurance that he recognises and shares our concern, and intends to treat the matter with urgency. As I take his assurances at their face value, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
Inspection And Seizure Of Suspected Food
I beg to move amendment No. 22, in page 7, line 44, after 'value', insert
`and other costs, claims, damages and expenses incurred or suffered by the owner directly'.
With this we shall discuss Government amendment No. 10.
The House will recall that new clause 7 was withdrawn after a debate in Committee on 3 April. Its purpose was to extend the compensation to businesses whose goods had been wrongly seized. It was rejected by my hon. Friend the Minister on the grounds that companies could complain to the Local Commissioner for Administration, that they could insure themselves against any loss, that any increase in compensation would deter action by local government enforcement officers arid that it would weaken consumer protection. I have carefully considered the arguments, but I do not think they are valid, which is why I have tabled the amendment.Complaints to the local commissioner can be made only where there is maladministration or where a local authority has acted ultra vires. The amendment addresses costs arising out of genuine mistakes by authorities that are outwith the local commissioner's competence. Insurance for the sort of trade risk dealt with in the amendment is not obtainable, nor is it likely to be. I have carried out a review, in conjunction with the Food and Drink Federation, of the important matter of insurance. It is a new area of risk, falling between liability and business interruption. Insurance cover is not currently available. Although such cover would be available in principle, in practice it is not attractive. Accordingly, it is the general view of those consulted that it would be difficult to secure that sort of cover, except at a very high and therefore unattractive premium. It may be possible for very large companies to press their insurers to devise a special policy, but that is unlikely to be the case for smaller companies. That view was clearly expressed in letters from the Association of British Insurers and from the Lloyds broker Willis Wrightson. On the important matter of insurance liability, Willis Wrightson said:
"We would anticipate that the cost and extent of additional insurance cover is likely to be analogous to the present market for Malicious Product Tamper Cover …since the effect of the two incidents would be similar—adverse publicity, loss of consumer confidence and loss of sales.
I am sure that many hon. Members have such businesses in their constituencies. The letter continued:In the Malicious Product Tamper market premiums are very high in relation to the limited cover available and therefore many companies do not insure this risk. The effect of a Notice being issued, although later withdrawn, could be particularly damaging to the smaller business who may suffer an irrevocable loss of sales and for whom the cost of insuring such as incident is prohibitive."
The highly respected Association of British Insurers was consulted after the Committee stage of the Bill. Its assistant liability and accident manager wrote to the leading trade association, the Food and Drink Federation, saying:"In conclusion, if the Bill passes through Parliament in its present form, if a Notice is issued and withdrawn, many businesses may find themselves with inadequate compensation and unable to purchase adequate insurance cover for this risk."
"I am not surprised that your members have experienced a lack of enthusiasm from insurers …
Whilst we cannot rule out any of our members providing part or all of the cover in question, or that Lloyds or 'fringe' companies may be a little more positive, it is clear from my enquiries that, in general, company insurers would not wish to offer terms.
Those quotations from a leading Lloyds broker and from the Association of British Insurers show that, having checked the points made in Committee, it is frankly not realistic to insure against that important risk.Exceptions could be made, however, to substantial and well regarded policyholders but this would be very much for the individual insurer to decide on a case by case basis and would not be generally applied."
To reinforce what my hon. Friend says, even if the damage was directly due to maladministration by a local authority, the local government commissioner's findings are not binding. That is not merely a theoretical consideration; they are often ignored by the local authority against whom a finding of maladministration lies.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend who, in his wisdom, makes that additional point.I do not believe that the additional compensation being sought would act as a deterrent to enforcement officers. I would be concerned if that were to be the case. If the Government believe that it would, they should be prepared to underwrite the cost of any such additional compensation. My hon. Friend the Minister has argued, and I accept, that there is a price to be paid for ensuring public safety. However, under the Bill as presently drafted that cost will fall randomly and disproportionately on innocent manufacturers who are unfortunate enough to be the victims of mistakes by enforcement authorities. Amendment No. 22 would not result in a single penny being paid in compensation to the guilty; it would result only in extra compensation going to innocent companies which have suffered loss directly as a result of wrongful seizure of goods.
Amendment No. 22 and Government amendment No. 10 raise some of the ideological and philosophical aspects of the Bill. The hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory) has clearly thought about the matter. I listened to him speak in Committee, and I listened to him carefully again today as he made a reasoned case.The Opposition considered amendment No. 22 carefully. It caused much anguish. I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman's words, spoken in a gentle tone, about deterrents to local authorities. The advice that we are getting from local authorities is that the additional compensation would act as a deterrent. Environmental health officers have written to me asking me to support amendment No. 10, not amendment No. 22. The point was made pertinently this weekend in my constituency in connection with the shellfish scare off the north-east coast of England, with which the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) was involved. The local authority, South Tyneside metropolitan council, received notices from the Department of Health that some molluscs were incredibly dangerous and should not be eaten, and the appropriate notices were served. Similarly, the Department of Health was concerned—rightly—about the possible health risks from some crustaceans—lobsters, crabs and prawns—and warned the local authority. Under the current law, the local authority could not take any action, although it may be able to under the new law. For one week, crabs, lobsters and prawns throughout the north-east were withheld voluntarily by the fishermen at some considerable cost to themselves. I say voluntarily because the environmental health officer in my authority said that he could not officially impose any restriction on the sale of those products for the simple reason that he would then be liable to be sued because there was no evidence that there was any contamination in those particular kinds of shellfish—prawns, lobsters and crabs. There is routine testing of the molluscs, but there is no routine testing of crabs and lobsters. That is an example of where the present law is not right and I hope that the future law will be better.
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will note for the sake of clarification that the lobsters never did pose any danger and that the Ministry has now made clear that lobsters hygienically stored after being caught during that period are now regarded by the Ministry as safe to eat.
The hon. Gentleman and I have worked on that topic together, and I know that he takes a slightly different view. I think that the Department of Health was right. My feeling is that, if any doubt exists, public health must be the first priority. I personally support the Department of Health in its original decision. The hon. Gentleman is right in his comment about the lobsters, but it is made with the benefit of hindsight. However, I make the point that we have not yet received clarification in respect of crabs. My latest information is that crabs are still banned because there was at least one fairly high reading.At the same time, I have great sympathy with the fishermen concerned. The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed will agree that the lesson to be drawn is that the Department of Health was not at fault but the Ministry of Agriculture. Although the Department of Health was responsible for issuing notices and giving advice, the Ministry of Agriculture had the responsibility for making the tests on the shellfish. The confusion that arose between the two Departments was outrageous. I shall indicate the extent of the confusion by quoting verbatim a Department of Health spokesman:
That is a fairly explicit and graphic warning. On the same day, the Ministry of Agriculture said that it was not treating the outbreak as a serious scare. I merely put those two statements to the House. Need I say more? The Department of Health warned my local authority on Saturday 26 May that lobsters, crabs and prawns could present a potential health hazard. The Ministry of Agriculture was telling fishermen in my constituency that there was nothing wrong with lobsters, crabs and prawns."The poison levels are very high. If people eat infected shellfish, they could end up in a large box being carried by six people."
That is what was said. The Ministers may deny that, and they may deny the official statements from the two Departments concerned as well. However, if they check, they will be able to confirm my claim. The statement from the Department of Health is even pinned up on the wall of the press office there because they are so proud of it, it was so clear—and I think that it was a particularly good statement.Although my local authority, through the generosity of the fishermen, had samples of lobsters, crabs and prawns available, it was told by the Ministry of Agriculture that those samples could not be sent to Weymouth to be analysed because it was a bank holiday. They could not be despatched until the 6 o'clock train from Newcastle station by Red Star the following Tuesday. Here we are, talking about a matter of life and death, as the Department of Health acknowledged, yet there was no means of transporting samples from Newcastle to Weymouth because it was a bank holiday. It was farcical. It is about time that the Government got their act together. Worse still, the Ministry of Agriculture told my local authority that, if the samples were received by Tuesday, as they were, it could have the results the following day and then clarify the position with the local fishermen. However, although the results of the test were given to the press on Thursday night, they were not received by my local authority until 14.18 hours on the Friday. For seven working days, although samples were available, there were no results of tests to be had. The fishermen, who voluntarily withheld their stocks, lost a considerable sum of money. I accept that the Department of Health's action was right, but when there are mix-ups of the kind I have described, and when two Departments work at odds with each other, there is an incredibly strong argument for ex gratia payments. I hope that the Government will examine that aspect. I laboured that point, and went through it in some detail because it highlights the sort of difficulty that the hon. Member for York put forward, but there are better ways of tackling the problem than the way that he is suggesting. I am sometimes accused by the Government and Conservative Members of not always seeing eye to eye with the Government. That is no surprise. We considered how the new arrangements would operate if there was a serious food scare, such as Chernobyl. It is clear that if clause 14 had been operative in 1986, we would not have had any restricted areas after the Chernobyl incident and that would have been a mistake. My judgment and that of the Labour party is that, after reflection, the insertion of clause 14 in the other place was a mistake. I say unequivocally that we feel that the Government are right to seek to withdraw the clause. We shall support the Government on amendment 10. It is sensible and it puts the balance where it belongs—on the side of public health—and we support that.
In supporting amendment No. 22, 1 must declare an interest in the food industry. My hon. Friend will be aware of the serious concern in the food and farming industries that clause 14 should remain part of the Bill. It was inserted with all-party support in the other place, and has one straightforward principle—when the Government impose emergency restrictions to protect the public from a food or health hazard, any person who can subsequently show that their products were not affected by pollution or contamination should be compensated in respect of losses caused by emergency restrictions.A recent example is the case of contaminated cattle feed. A number of farmers are likely to have suffered losses as a result of restrictions placed on them by Government emergency orders, yet can show that they were not in receipt of any of the contaminated feed. I am not saying that the Government should be inhibited in any way from making full use of emergency powers to protect public interest. My concern is to protect the interests of those persons who inevitably get hurt in emergencies, but who subsequently are unable to establish a legal claim to recover their losses. Clause 14 is all about compensation for producers and processors who may suffer losses as a result of Government emergency action to protect food safety. It would require the Government to pay compensation to a producer who could demonstrate to a justice of the peace that he had been incorrectly included in Government emergency action to protect food safety, and had suffered losses as a result. Clause 14 is intended to ensure that Government powers are accompanied by Government responsibility in cases in which it is established after the event that action has extended to persons unconnected with any public health risk. For example, the Government may throw down a blanket of emergency action, much wider than sources of health risk, and in the process smother businesses totally unrelated to the risk. Such businesses should be entitled to compensation. As it stands, the Bill makes provision for compensation for any depreciation in the value of food wrongly seized, but makes no allowance for any additional cost that a company might incur to replace the consignment seized. If food with a long shelf life is wrongly seized, the company may receive no compensation because no depreciation is allowed, but could incur substantial extra costs fulfilling an important order. It could have a major impact on businesses which, due to the seizure of the goods, would be unable to fulfill an export contract which might have been put against specific letters of credit. The company would not only lose the value of that order, but could sustain significant damage to longer term sales development in the fiercely competitive international food market. A similar situation applies in the domestic market, where retail and domestic customers require continuity. In many instances stocks could be replaced in the short term, due to the required incubation period of some products. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister will argue that the industry could take out insurance cover. My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory) has instanced the evidence of the Association of British Insurers which has pointed out that such insurance would be difficult to arrange and extremely expensive. He compared it, appropriately, with trying to purchase malicious product tamper cover. In summary, I urge my hon. Friend to state clearly that he accepts that it is inherent in the use of emergency powers that innocent parties may suffer irrecoverable losses, that he is prepared to consider the matter further and does not rule out the possibility of future legislation on the matter and that in the meantime he will look sympathetically at any cases which may arise in the use of emergency powers with a view to making ex gratia payments.
concerned to learn that the Government get rid of clause 14, which was added to the her place. Obviously, there is a case for looking some aspects of clause 14—the specific way in of damage is shown and the scope of the clause would extend the scope to cover the circumstances referred to by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) which arose in the fishing industry during the recent scare, which still continues, although I hope that the stormy nights will clear the algae completely and will end the red tide and the mussel poisoning for quite some time. On that basis, I am prepared to put up with a couple more stormy nights.The fishermen did not simply withhold stocks from the market; they saw the market drop severely for some time. It is inevitable that such incidents have a considerable effect on the market. The greatest problem was that the traditional ban on mussels, which occurs when the Government become aware of high toxins in mussels and quite rightly give quick notification, was extended much more widely than usual. It was extended by the Department of Health in quite strict and formal terms to crustaceans such as lobsters, crabs and prawns, although the Ministry had no evidence that there were high levels of toxins in any of those crustaceans. It is still not clear that there were high or dangerous toxins in lobsters, crabs or prawns, but fishermen were unable to market those products although there was no danger to human consumption and the levels of toxins which were found were still within the accepted safety levels. Therefore, there is at least a case to be considered that the advice went far wider than was necessary. Perhaps the terms of the clause would not cover that, as advice was given on some products that were not covered by formal notices. But the effect is the same and the damage to fishermen's interests was considerable. When the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who was unfortunately described as one of the Minister's aides when he appeared in a photograph captioned:
went to York on Saturday, no doubt he had to answer the question that has been put to me: why is it that, when a Minister makes a statement arid gives a misleading impression of the extent of salmonella in eggs with a disastrous effect market, the Minister resigns and compensation producers, but when advice is given which than appears to have been necessary and suffer damage to their livelihood no whatsover is paid and the Government find inconceivable? I was glad that the clause was raised for discussion tonight because it gives Ministers an opportunity to offer some explanation, as fishermen will look at the Bill and say that we need such provisions and that they should apply in such cases."The Agriculture Minister surrounded by his aides",
That must manifestly be the case because many producers are one-person businesses or very small groups of fishermen with no capital resources to carry them over a week or two to complete loss of income and having to throw away their catches.Nobody is saying that the Government should be immune from making mistakes. Of course, they could not be. Nor is anybody saying that the Government should not take action to preserve and safeguard public health for fear of making mistakes. The proposition is different. It is that, because there is bound to be a certain amount of error in safeguarding the public health, the cost of that should fall on the public purse and not on the private resources of the individuals or small groups of producers who are the victims of error. In putting clause 14 into the Bill, the House of Lords recognised that such a situation exists and that it cries out for remedy. If there were a Government amendment to prescribe a different form of valuation for loss, we should be prepared to consider it on its merits. However, I cannot find on the amendment paper any substitute, but merely a bald removal of clause 14, and that is not acceptable.
For the past two and a half years, the hon. Member for York (Mr. Gregory) and I have been involved regularly in cross-party matters in relation to consumer safety and to general consumer issues. We have been working with the manufacturers of products in attempting to improve the presentation and quality of materials in products. Where that has not been satisfactory, we have worked with Government Departments to improve the regulation of certain activities to ensure that the consumer is purchasing material that is safe to use.Amendment No. 22 has been accompanied by a considerable amount of correspondence from those of us who have food producers in our constituencies. One of the biggest food producers in Europe, if not the world—Heinz—has a food processing factory in my constituency. Less than two years ago, the company went through the trauma of malicious tampering with its products. I tend to use the phrase "food terrorism". There was a criminal attempt to extort from that company and others several million pounds. I cannot go into detail about the action taken in case a court case is pending. The company lost several million pounds of sales. It had to introduce new production techniques and equipment costing millions of pounds. The factory had to provide failsafe measures; it had to introduce new caps for baby food, and new training and security measures for staff in the factory. Even now, all that has not led to a complete restoration of the company's market share for the products involved. Those events led to copycat actions against Heinz and other companies. I have a great deal of sympathy for those in the industry who argue that when malicious action is taken, whether it is committed for personal gain or through a failure to follow procedures in legislation, there should be some recompense. Such malicious action is light years away from criminal activity and from the activities of professionally trained, well-organised members of staff who are promoting food safety work, such as environmental health officers and members of professional associations. I have sympathy with what the hon. Member for York said about what can happen as a result of criminal activity and about what can happen when a Government have to take emergency action and, in doing so, catch in the net people who were not involved. However, that is dealt with under clause 14. Amendment No. 22 deals with attempts by local authority officers to maintain the highest possible standards of inspection and, when necessary, to seize food that is suspected of being unfit for human consumption. Local health authority officers will be involved in two types of activities, one of which relates to tinned and non-perishable goods. An officer must prove that there is good cause for the action that he is taking and give positive proof that there is a danger to the public. When there is positive proof, it is important that he tries to obtain the voluntary withholding of goods until further action is taken to prove whether the goods pose a danger to public health. However, matters are more difficult when it comes to fresh and perishable goods. As the hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) said, when action is taken in relation to tinned foods there is not the same loss if a product is found to be safe at a later date, because tinned food is not perishable. With fresh and perishable foods, as the hon. Member for York said, if an officer's decision is proved to be wrong, manufacturers may attempt to seek compensation. I have worries about the way in which that case has been put forward. I have always been interested in consumer and food safety, from the point of view not only of consuming food but of the good name of the companies concerned and the dramatic effect on companies if they fail to follow proper failsafe procedures. If a local authority must take action, there will be a consequent effect on the company's good name. If there is any doubt, an officer can take some goods for proper checking, with the consent of the company. Only if a company does not voluntarily take its product off the market should an officer use seizure powers. Seizure powers are not new to this legislation—they have been available since 1956 under the Food and Drugs Act. I have heard no evidence this evening—perhaps hon. Members who support the amendment can provide it—that, since 1955, local authority officers have misused their powers in such a way that seizures have had adverse effects on companies. I know of no major case in which a local authority had acted irresponsibly or unreasonably in relation to its seizure powers under the 1955 Act to protect the public from exposure to food that was unfit for human consumption. It is up to the hon. Member for York and his colleagues to provide evidence of abuse if I am to have sympathy for their case. It is important also that good professional officers should endeavour to encourage companies voluntarily to impound products pending further investigation. On the very few occasions that such action must be taken, it is important that officials work with companies on a confidential and voluntary basis to ensure that the local authority's action is prudent and in the interests of consumers and is not detrimental to a company's good name or activities. In my view, only if a company is unreasonable and refuses to co-operate with the local authority officers should those local authority officers take the powers available to them under the current Act to protect the public. It is vital that local authority officers are not encumbered and that public safety measures should put the public and the consumer first. Therefore, although I am sympathetic to the views expressed by Conservative Members—and some Opposition Members—I believe that the amendment would be detrimental to the work of those professional public safety officers who do not work in the same way as criminals who attempt to attack companies for their own financial gain. Those public safety officers work with companies every day to try to protect the public from any contaminated food reaching the shelves of our shops. That should be a major priority for those who support the consumers and the companies that sustain employment in our constituencies. The best thing for their future development is public confidence in the products that they produce. That is best achieved by a regular, professional working relationship between the companies and the local authority departments. The amendment does nothing to enhance that relationship. It builds a barrier between us and them on the pretext that local authority health workers are in opposition to the food production companies. That is not my experience, and I do not believe that it is the experience of any hon. Member.
My only connection with the food industry is as a hotelier, but that gives me a vested interest in safe food.If this debate had taken place three weeks ago, I should not have had the slightest hesitation supporting the Government's proposals to remove clause 14, which was inserted in the other place. However, unlike the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) and in support of the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) our experience of the way in which the Department of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have over-reacted with regard to toxins caused by algae in mussels has made me come to the conclusion that provisions such as clause 14 are needed to protect farmers, fishermen, traders and even restaurateurs from the overcautiousness and in some cases the misjudgments not only of the Department of Health, but of any other Ministry or public body. In such circumstances, traders, farmers and fishermen have the right to protection. In my view, the two Ministries went over the top in this case by giving public health warnings not only for mussels, for which I readily accept that there was ample justification and evidence, but for all shellfish, including prawns, lobsters and crabs. They included other shellfish before they had the slightest shred of evidence that those species were affected by toxic levels that would cause poisoning to the public and before tests had been carried out. That is a dangerous precedent. If we ban food before we have evidence of any danger, the French could—and have—done the same thing. They could ban our food saying, "We think that there is something wrong with it. We do not have any evidence, but we shall ban it until we have proof." We have had a problem with algae in the north-east for many years, although until recently it has not come as far down as the Humber. I understand from Professor Edwards, who was, I believe, a scientist with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food before moving to the. Shellfish Association of Great Britain, that there have. never been any cases of such toxic poisoning from lobsters, prawns or crabs. The problem has been the enormous amount of publicity on food safety. We have had salmonella and mad cow disease. I think that the Ministry panicked and issued warnings about lobsters and prawns which have subsequently been proved to be completely unnecessary. In such cases, Her Majesty's Government have a moral responsibility to compensate fishermen, traders and restaurateurs who have suffered financially from that overreaction. We are told that traces of the toxins have been found in a few crabs. Last week, because of the problems of fishermen at Bridlington, I rang the Ministry of Health every day for a daily report. I can confirm one thing that the hon. Member for South Shields said: one does not get far on a bank holiday weekend. It perturbed me that after the bank holiday weekend I tried to get through to the Ministry on Tuesday. There was no reply from the private office. Everyone was on holiday, so I rang the duty officer. I could not get through to the duty officer. I got through to the telephonist who said that there were five calls holding. I said that I would leave my number for him to ring back when he was free. She said that she had instructions not to do that and that the officer could not ring people back. I said, "But I am a Member of Parliament." She said that it made no difference. If the Government had thought that there was a possibility that for the first time ever the toxin would affect lobsters, crabs and prawns in addition to mussels, they should not have made an announcement but should immediately have taken samples and had them analysed within 24 hours. If they had obtained evidence of a public danger, it would have been right and proper to issue a public warning. We must be careful that we do not become obsessed with food safety. People have stopped eating beef because of mad cow disease, chickens and eggs because of salmonella, soft cheese because of listeria and now we have a public warning about shellfish. On Saturday night I had a dinner party at which I served scallops and good English roast beef and no one was any the worse for it. [HON. MEMBERS: "So far."] Every day that I rang the Ministry of Health, it was still testing crabs and still had not found toxin levels above the danger limit. It seems that having made a mistake, the Ministry desperately continued testing more crabs to prove that it was right. I was told by Professor Edwards that 400 crabs were tested and only four or five were found to have a level of toxin. If those figures are wrong, I shall be grateful if the Minister will give the right figures to the House. The two Ministries have not acted satisfactorily on this matter. It will never come out, but I have the feeling that if it had been left to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food there would have been a warning on mussels and nothing else. I believe that the Department of Health went over the top. I do not see why the mistakes and overreactions of the Government should be at the expense of my constituents, particularly fishermen. Opposition Members who have fishing constituencies know that fishermen on the north-east coast have had a bad year because the quotas have been reduced. This is the last straw. I believe that there should be some compensation in this case. I hope that the Government will consider it. The legislation does not exist to deal with that. I agree with the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed that the matter would not be covered by the new clause. I shall not support the Government in removing the new clause that was inserted in another place unless they give an undertaking to provide an alternative to it.
I shall be brief. I am always worried when spokesmen on the two Front Benches agree and the Back Benches on the Government side begin to fill up. I can usually smell vested interests and that is the case now. We are having a strange debate. The Government took a decision. I wonder what would have happened if they had decided to say nothing and people had died. I wonder what hon. Members would have said. If one of his constituents had died, I am sure that the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) would have said exactly the opposite of what he said tonight. That is typical of a Liberal. He wants it both ways.
Can the hon. Gentleman give a single case of anyone who died as a result of eating lobsters or crabs which had ingested toxins as a result of algal blooms at any time in history?
It obviously makes the hon. Gentleman very bad-tempered. I can give an example of an alternative scenario involving corned beef. It was in Aberdeen. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman is being crabby but we shall have to put up with it. Someone said that there was an outbreak of salmonella, but in fact it was typhoid. About 20 people died and the corned beef industry was destroyed for a generation. If action had not been taken on shellfish and people had died, the crab and lobster fishing industry would not have suffered a hiccup; it would have been destroyed. That would have been a crime.If there was any neglect on the Government's part in not having the tests carried out, the fishermen affected should be compensated, but we must always err on the side of caution to protect the industry in the long term as well to protect the consumer. People argue that if a mistake is made in the advice given, the private sector should not be expected to pay; rather the public should. I accept that, but the public already pay for the inspection of factories and the tests that are carried out when things go wrong. I believe that the food industry should pay for the inspections carried out on their factories and any illness suffered by the public from their products. Often those companies do not volunteer to pay money to people who have suffered from food poisoning. The argument always seems to be that if it has anything to do with business the public should pay, but when it comes to social security people are expected to manage on what they receive. I believe that the Government acted in the best interests of the industry in the long term by being cautious. The day that environmental health departments hold back or Ministries delay in case their decision might cost money will be the day we have a tragedy.
I have some difficulty coming down on one side or the other having read all the briefings. I have reached a conclusion, but it has been difficult having heard the arguments on both sides. It is not an easy or simple matter, as one must have already concluded from the speeches of the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) and my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend), whose views were diametrically opposed.On balance, if I were the Minister, I would be seeking to have clause 14 removed from the Bill. In food emergencies the Government are in a no-win situation. The shellfish example demonstrates that. I have a great deal of respect and affection for my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington, but I profoundly disagree with him in this instance. The Government are often criticised on food matters for not taking a robust enough line. But some hon. Members, regardless of party, may say that they have taken an unnecessarily robust one. On balance, the Government must be able to introduce emergency food measures uninfluenced by whether compensation may have to be paid if they make a mistake. They must act on the advice of their food scientists uninfluenced by how much it will cost the taxpayer to provide compensation. The Government would be thought to be acting in bad faith if they took no action bearing in mind the fact that compensation might follow. Their critics would argue that they had taken no action, not because of bad advice, but because of the possible financial consequences. Often the necessary action that is taken immediately might, with hindsight, be proved to be more than absolutely necessary. Recently we have been in dispute with our European partners about beef. Our food exporting industry requires and demands that we take action on food safety grounds alone. If clause 14 was in place, that confidence would be undermined. Sometimes action must be taken which, with hindsight, would be excessive, but we must not leave a Minister feeling that he cannot responsibly take a certain course because of the consequences. If the Government are found to be acting capriciously, that is a matter of maladministration, a matter for the ombudsman and a matter for ex gratia payment. I hope that when he replies, the Minister will say that, should that be the case, ex gratia payment would follow. Where I part company with what I believe to be the views of the Minister is in his hope that the matter can be covered by insurance. The NFU rightly says——
It being Ten o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
That, at this day's sitting the Food Safety [Lords] Bill may be proceeded with, though opposed, until any hour.— [Mr. Fallon.]
As amended ( in the Standing Committee), again considered.
Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.
We understand from the NFU that there is no appropriate compensation against losses of the sort contemplated. The insurance industry says that compensation is possible, but that there would be a very heavy premium. If the NFU recognises the Minister's dilemma, will he, in turn, recognise the NFU's and possibly introduce a fund or scheme which may compensate producers who are in the position that would otherwise be dealt with by clause 14? The producers' campaign must be seriously addressed. Discussions must take place with the Country Landowners' Association and the NFU to resolve the problem. In that light, I shall be supporting the removal of clause 14.
I have seldom agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) so much as I did when he said that the issues raised by this debate were difficult for the House to decide. The matters which we have been discussing for the past 45 minutes or so raise some difficult and fundamental issues with which I will deal in as orderly a way as possible.I must at the outset separate the three issues that the House has been addressing in this debate. The first is that raised by the amendment in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory)—whether the compensation payable under the terms of clause 9 should be restricted in the way proposed by the draft or whether they should be extended in the way proposed by my hon. Friend. The second issue is whether the Government should be liable for compensation for emergency orders issued under clause 13. The third is the handling of the shellfish issues in the past fortnight. First, on the two compensation issues, the Government have considered carefully the matters that were raised in Committee. Despite the important arguments that were advanced, we have decided to seek the consent of the House to the Bill as originally drafted and that compensation should, therefore, be limited to the amount by which the food depreciates during the time that it is subject to the order issued by the environmental health officer. The amendment seeks to extend the scale of compensation payable by allowing the owner of food to claim other costs, damages and expenses incurred directly. The first question raised by that concept is what is covered by the definition of "direct cost." Before coming into the House I was employed in business and was present at many theological debates about the nature of direct cost. To include in a statute the provision that the owner of food should be entitled to compensation based on direct cost raises problems and poses more questions than it answers. The Bill contains important safeguards about the way in which an environmental health officer should use the powers granted to him by the Bill. The most important of those safeguards is that no action that he can take under clause 9 can be made to stick unless he can convince a justice of the peace to support him within 21 days. If he cannot so convince a JP, compensation under the limited terms provided by the Bill becomes payable. That is an important safeguard. My hon. Friend the Member for York said that he does not think that the risk of the wider definition of cost would be insurable. The Government have taken advice from the insurance industry and our advice is to the contrary. The insurance industry assures us that in principle these risks are insurable and that the industry is willing to listen to any serious and properly backed proposition which the food industry will make for insuring the wider risk that my hon. Friend seeks to cover.
As a letter read out by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory) made clear, what may be available to a very large firm which is already insured, as an extension of that insurance, is wholly different from what may be available to a fisherman or a small group of fishermen who have not been insured for risks of this kind before and are trying to do so per de novo. What is the Government's advice about that? I am not talking about finance.
I accept the force of my hon. Friend's argument. It is, of course, true that an insurance broker will assess the risk of each proposition that is put to him. No broker can accept on the same terms all risks that are put to him. The advice stands that in principle the risk is insurable. That is the key point that the House should bear in mind.
I have an indirect interest in this matter because I am a partner in a firm which has an insurance interest. My hon. Friend says that an insurance broker will quote for a risk. Most insurance brokers can quote for any risk, but they can make sure that no insurance is offered by quoting a premium which makes the risk totally uninsurable. Will my hon. Friend the Minister write to my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory) giving the range of insurance premiums that have been quoted to him?
I hesitate to set myself up as a sort of poor man's insurance broker, because I am not sure that that is a proper course of employment for a Minister of the Crown. This is not the only basis on which we are seeking to persuade the House to reject my hon. Friend's amendment. The key point is that this is an insurable risk, but that it would be on different terms for different customers.
My hon. Friend lays great stress on the point that this is an insurable risk. Before coming to the House I was careful to check my sources, the Association of British Insurers and a Lloyd's broker. Will my hon. Friend reveal to the House his sources in the insurance market because they are plainly at variance with the leading insurance association and the Lloyd's broker? This is an uninsurable risk. My hon. Friend the Minister spoke about direct costs. Surely that is a matter not for the House but for the interpretation of the courts.
The source of our advice on the insurability of risk is members of the council of Lloyd's. I take my hon. Friend's point about the definition of direct cost, which has some force, but before putting it on the statute book the House should consider how easy it would be to apply such a proposition.It is also right to draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Government are committed to setting up an implementation advisory committee which will be asked to advise on the code of practice for enforcement authorities covering the detention of food. Interested parties will be able to comment on the draft code before it is finalised and the code will cover use of the powers contained in clause 9. The other issue covered in the debate was whether the Government should be liable to compensate for losses arising as a result of the exercise of their powers under clause 13. I am grateful to the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) for the support that he offered for the Government's central case on this subject, but he also charged that there was confusion between my Department and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as a result of the shellfish incident which started over the bank holiday weekend. I was involved in the consultations over that weekend and the following week. There was no confusion between Departments. Those who attack the way the Departments acted on the grounds of confusion often cannot define whether they want to attack us for sloth or for being over-zealous. That charge cannot be levelled against my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington (Mr. Townend). He is clear as to why he is unhappy about the way in which the powers were used, as was the hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith). It may assist our deliberations on these issues if I announce that we are withdrawing our warning against the eating of crabs caught between the Humber and Montrose. This decision has been taken in the light of further extensive tests by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on crabs caught off the coastline from the Humber to Montrose, which have shown in the majority of cases that there is no measurable toxin present. In about 10 per cent. of samples where toxin was found in crab meat, it was at levels that posed no risk to human health. The Department of Health's advice on not eating crab is therefore withdrawn. Further tests on molluscan shellfish have shown that current levels of toxin are such that the public must, until further notice, continue to refrain from eating them. Consequently, the warning about molluscan shellfish such as mussels, winkles, whelks, oysters and scallops caught between the Humber and Montrose remains.
What about cockles?
I think that cockles are covered by the warning. The Department of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Scottish Office are continuing to monitor the situation closely and will lift the warning on molluscan shellfish as soon as it is safe to do so.
I am grateful for that welcome announcement. Although the Ministry may have acted in good faith in believing that it was prudent to warn against eating all these species, as it is now clear that it was not at any time dangerous to do so, will the Under-Secretary ask the Ministry to consider again the point that the fishermen are making?
The hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed misses the point. When the warning was issued we could not reasonably have reached that conclusion. The hon. Gentleman has asked—as did my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington—why those species were included in the warning. That was because they eat shellfish such as mussels, and could therefore ingest the toxin. We felt that that was the prudent course of action, and was in the interests of the health of the public. Besides, as the hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) pointed out, credibility is in the long-term interest of the industry.10.15 pm In the interests of the public, we concluded that it was right to issue warnings covering crustacea, as well as mussels and other shellfish. I ask the House to consider what the attitude of hon. Members and the public would have been if we had later found out that those species contained high toxin levels, and our explanation was that we had not found an example on that bank holiday Saturday. It is well known that crabs and lobsters feed on the species that were the subject of the warning and it would have been irresponsible of the Government not to include those species in the original warning.
Our point is not that the Government acted irresponsibly in being cautious about crabs and lobsters. Opposition Members have made it clear that we accept that the precautionary principle should apply when there is an element of doubt. However, nearly two weeks have passed. Can the Minister confirm that at no time have levels of toxin in crabs been over the danger level in that period? Will he futher confirm that there was a delay of seven days in testing samples of crab meat? On that basis, the fishermen deserve an ex gratia payment.
The hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Bridlington have asked about toxin levels in crabs. As the House knows, the safe level—established over many years—is 400 units. Toxin levels of up to 317 units were found in crabs during the testing period in 10 per cent. of the samples taken. In the case of lobsters, toxin levels of up to 227 units were found in 10 per cent. of the samples taken. Both those figures are under 400, but are levels of toxin that could give some cause for concern. After all, no level of toxin is a particularly nutritious food.Given the background of risk—that those species feed on other species in which very high levels of toxin were found—I feel that the Government have taken the correct decision.
Can the Minister assure the House that the Government will learn from the experience this year, and that, if next year high levels of toxin in mussels again require a public warning, such a warning will not be given for lobsters, prawns and crabs unless tests have been made that show levels of toxin that are dangerous to the public?
I am happy to give an assurance that Ministers will always try to learn from their experiences. I cannot give a blanket assurance that we will never again issue a warning in similar circumstances against lobsters and crabs, but we shall seek to learn from the experiences of the past fortnight.Government amendment No. 10 would remove clause 14 from the Bill. There are several reasons for that. First, I ask the House to consider the position in which the Government would be if the Bill were passed unamended. They would be in an extraordinary position: if they issued an order that was ultra vires, no compensation would be payable. It is well known—and has been for many years—that compensation is not payable in those circumstances. If we issued an order beyond our powers, no compensation would be payable. However, if we issued an order within our powers which was later found to be unjustified, compensation would be payable. It is rather odd to pass legislation that puts the Government in a better position if they act beyond their powers than if they act within their powers. I take seriously the argument that the Bill, if unamended, would be a serious disincentive to action by Ministers. We must preserve the position of Ministers acting when necessary to protect the consumer. One Opposition Member made the rather telling point that we must deal not only with the substance, but with the appearance. If the Government, in a marginal case, did not issue an order, the suspicion could always be roused—even if it were unfounded—that that decision was reached because of the fear of the cost consequences. We must be clear that no Government would fail to issue an order, which otherwise they should issue, simply because they were concerned about the compensation consequences. There is a distinction between the obligations of central Government and those of local government in the context of paying compensation. It is already an established precedent under the Consumer Protection Act 1987, where a clear distinction is made. Local authorities are liable to compensation in certain circumstances, but central Government most certainly are not. Furthermore, it is not true to say that there are no existing remedies for innocent parties who suffer loss. It will often be possible to require the person responsible for the threat which was the cause of the action to pay damages. It is for the courts to decide the extent of liability. Of course, where the Government have made an error, ex gratia payments to cover losses those subject to restrictions can be made. My hon. Friend the Member asked whether we would be prepared to under which ex gratia payments could be ironic that, at that very moment, my right, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury came the door behind Mr. Speaker's Chair. I wonder were he to agree to such a scheme, he might impose a cash limit upon it. I do not think that my hon. Friend's proposal is the right way to deal with ex gratia payments. They need to be dealt with on the merits of each case, without being bound by the rules of a scheme. Government action is also subject both to judicial review and to examination by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration when maladministration is . I hope that I have advanced arguments that will persuade the House, that it would be wrong to accept amendment No. 22. I hope that the House will feel it appropriate to support Government amendment No. 10, which would eliminate clause 14.
Emergency Prohibition Notices And Orders
I beg to move amendment No. 15, in pagt 10. leave out lines 21 to 25.
With, this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 16, in page 10, line 27, leave out 'such an officer' and insert
No. 17, in page 10, line 34, at end insert`an authorised officer of an enforcement authority'.
`and any person to whom such notice is given shall, if he attends before the court or sheriff upon the application, be entitled to be heard and to call witnesses'.
No. 18, in page 10, leave out lines 39 to 43.
No. 19, in page 11, leave out lines 6 to 11.
No. 20, in page 11, line 12, leave out 'emergency prohibition notice or'
No. 21, in page 11 leave out lines 25 to 38.
The atilendment stands in the name of 25 right hon. and hon. Members and -Myself. I declare an interest, in that for the past 15 have acted as the parliamentary adviser to the Restaurants and Caterers Association. I also a constituency in which the tourist a significant contribution to the local .The amendments relate to the proposed procedures outlined in clause 12 for dealing with food business premises if it is suggested that they present an imminent risk of danger to health. We are all conscious of the need for a high level of food safety and high standards of hygiene. The public demand that and Parliament is right to respond. The small minority of dirty caterers must be eliminated. They endanger the health of the nation and they do their industry no good whatever. However, I, along with a number of my hon. Friends, question the envisaged change in the procedures which is designed to secure the objectives that we all seek. Under existing legislation, local authority enforcement officers have to obtain a court order before a food business may be closed. That is completely consistent with long-established legal procedures. However, clause 12 seeks to reverse those procedures. Under the proposals, an enforcement officer may serve an emergency prohibition notice on the proprietor of a food business if he is satisfied that it represents an imminent risk or a danger to health. Subsequently, that officer must apply to the magistrates court within three days for an emergency prohibition order and he must give the proprietor at least one day's notice of his intention to do so. The proprietor will then have the right to appear in court and to call witnesses to contest the application. I accept that if the enforcement officer does not make the application to the court following the issuing of the initial notice, or if the court refuses to make an order confirming the prohibition notice, the local authority has to compensate the proprietor for any loss that he has sustained as a consequence of complying with the closure notice. But how is the level of that compensation to be determined? It would clearly be inadequate if the figure were simply to be on the basis of loss of earnings during the three days in question. In practice, there could be longer-term losses. If premises have to be closed, there will be adverse local publicity. For example, the enforced closure of, let us say, Stephen's bistro could have long-term effects on that business. In a parliamentary answer dated 5 April 1990 the Department of Health provided figures which show that over the past decade the percentage of successful prosecutions for breaches of the food hygiene regulations in the hotel and catering industry varied from 94 per cent. in 1980 and 1987–88 to 75 per cent. in 1986–87. Put another way, the average annual rate of unsuccessful prosecutions over the past 10 years had been one in 10 and in 1986–87 it was one in four. I think that my hon. Friend the Minister will agree that that gives rise to genuine anxieties and emphasises the need for a second opinion from the magistrates before an establishment may be closed down. 10.30 pm My hon. Friend the Minister stated that it is his intention to establish an implementation advisory committee on codes of practice designed to produce even standards of enforcement of the Bill's provisions. If he is not prepared this evening to reverse the proposed procedures—and in his letter to me of 3 May my hon. Friend's predecessor as Minister acknowledged that environmental health officers will be given strong powers, which he described as a very powerful weapon—the role of the advisory committee will become even more critical. It is essential that there is consistency of application and important that the circumstances in which the powers might be used are clearly and tightly drawn. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will be able to give me such a reassurance this evening. My hon. Friend's predecessor also indicated that he would be happy to include the British Hotels, Restaurants and Caterers Association in the consultation process for determining the codes of conduct. The association welcomes that, but would feel far more confident if it was represented on the advisory committee itself—as the Institution of Environmental Health Officers will be. I trust that my hon. Friend the Minister will give that request sympathetic consideration. All that the amendments would achieve is that the proprietor of a food business will be given an opportunity to present his case to a magistrates court before his business can be closed.
My hon. Friend is understandably concerned about the draconian power included in clause 12 to close a business without reference to the courts. I acknowledge that it is an extremely severe power, and we must ensure, as my hon. Friend said, that it is used only in tightly controlled circumstances.Under clause 12, an environmental health officer may serve an emergency prohibition notice on the owner of an insanitary food business if it presents an imminent—and that is the key word—risk to health. The prohibition notice takes effect immediately, but the EHO must apply to a magistrates court, or to a sheriff court in Scotland, within three days for an emergency prohibition order, and must give the proprietor one day's notice of his intention to do so. My hon. Friend's amendment would insist that the environmental health officer applies to the court before the notice comes into effect. I shall seek to explain to the House why that is not the correct way, and why it is important that the power contained in clause 12 proceeds on to the statute book. If any EHO does not apply to the court within three days the notice lapses, and then the right to compensation arises. If the EHO applies, the proprietor will have the right to appear in court and to call witnesses to contest the application. If the court refuses to make an order confirming the prohibition, the authority is required to pay compensation. If the notice does not for any reason convert itself into an order, the owner of the food business will be entitled to compensation. My hon. Friend asked how the compensation will be calculated. Clause 12 provides for compensation for "any loss suffered." Any dispute will go to arbitration, and if the parties cannot agree on an arbitrator, it will fall to a High Court judge to appoint one under the conditions of the Arbitration Act 1894. The key point is that compensation will be payable if it later transpires that the power was used in circumstances that a court would not support. The second point to emphasise is that the power is necessary because we are talking only about circumstances where there is an imminent risk to health. Also, in most circumstances, where an environmental health officer believes that there is an imminent risk to health, he will not need to use these powers because experience suggests that he will be able to get voluntary agreement from the operator of the business. However, occasionally, when the operator of the business will not agree, the EHO must have the power to take the necessary action to close an insanitary business if there is an imminent risk to health. My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, South-East (Mr. Hicks) also asked about the details of the implementation advisory committee, which I referred to in the previous debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman) announced on 23 November last year that we would be setting up that committee to advise on statutory codes of practice for enforcement officers, designed to ensure even standards of enforcement throughout the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, South-East has recognised that that committee and the codes of practice that it will issue are very relevant to the proper concerns that owners of food businesses have about the implications of the clause. The membership of the implementation advisory committee has now been decided, and consists of seven members nominated by local authority associations, two members nominated by the professional organisations most involved, and five representatives from the Government Departments most involved: the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland, and my Department. My hon. Friend asked about the possibility of representation for people representing the hotel and catering industry, but I think that he will realise from the membership that I have announced that this is an internal committee, within the Government, which will clearly consult widely when exercising its powers. Indeed, it will produce draft codes which will be subject to consultation. The committee will also consider some issues where input is needed from others who are not full members. In such instances the committee will be able to establish sub-groups to deal with particular issues, and they will be able to co-opt representatives of other organisations where that is appropriate. My hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, South-East also asked about the Committee's terms of reference. They will be to advise the Departments on draft codes of practice to be issued for consultation under section 41 of the Food Safety Bill—covering the execution and enforcement of the Act and regulations and orders made under it. I hope that on the basis of the wide terms of reference given to the committee, the fact that it will issue codes of practice governing the exercise of powers under clause 12, and the other points that I have made, my hon. Friend will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary for his response and especially for his helpful remarks about the terms of reference and workings of the implementation advisory committee. In view of that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Complaints About Emergency Control Order
Amendment made: No. 10, in page 12, line 25, leave out clause 14.— [Mr. Dorrell.]
Special Provisions For Particular Foods Etc
I beg to move amendment No. 5, in page 15, line 5, leave out
and insert`or novel food sources'
',or food sources from which such foods are intended to be derived,'.
With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 6 to 8.
This series of amendments clarifies the scope of clause 19. I explained in Committee that we proposed that foods produced by genetic modification should be subject to a positive approval system, based on advice from the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes, before marketing. I agreed to look at the provisions again.The amendments will ensure that all foods produced by genetic modification are brought within the scope of clause 19. The amendments specifically provide for regulating the carrying out of commercial operations with such food and I hope that the specific reference to genetic modification on the face of the Bill will be helpful to clarify our intentions. The House will recall that our announcement in Committee was warmly welcomed by the National Consumer Council, in a press statement from its chairman, Lady Wilcox. It is a sensible series of amendments.
I regret that we are discussing such an important issue late at night with little chance to examine the enormous implications of developments on the frontiers of science that affect food and society.I served on the Committee considering the Environmental Protection Bill and the matter was discussed in great detail, although it was allocated insufficient time because of scheduling. The discussion on genetically modified organisms occurred late at night arid there was insufficient time to consider the matter in great depth. Genetically modified organisms have major implications as well as considerable advantages. Clause 19 provides powers to control the use of food which contains genetically modified organisms or which had been modified. Will the Minister explain how his advisory committee will link in with the proposals in the Environmental Protection Bill? Will he be guided by the release committee? Are the powers in clause 19 fall-back powers to be used as a last-ditch defence, or does he expect the research work and clearance to be covered under the regulations set out in the Environmental Protection Bill? That raises another question: genetically modified foods may be safe, but are they desirable? Is the Minister confident that such issues are covered by clause 19? Another matter that has been discussed, especially in Europe, involves the so-called fourth hurdle—assessing whether a genetically modified food is safe, meets a particular need and is desirable. We have discussed the way in which BST can increase milk yields, but does society need BST? One genetically modified food organism has been allowed to go on sale for public use in Britain—genetically modified yeast. I do not doubt that that yeast has undergone the proper vetting procedures and has been considered very carefully, but although it is safe, was that form of genetically modified yeast needed or desired? I understand that it was designed for the baking industry. I am informed that the industry never made any request that that form of yeast should be accepted. Genetically modified organisms raise wider issues for the Food Safety Bill and food regulations. For example, work is already being carried out to modify the naturally produced sugar in plants to produce sugar such as high fructose corn syrup which can replace cane sugar in many food processes. That raises the question whether implications on Third world countries and the sugar cane industry should be taken into consideration. I accept that some issues are outside the scope of the Bill, but we have not given them the detailed consideration that they deserve and we should carefully examine all the implications and consequences. The amendment deals with IVF. The Government included that issue to make it clear that IVF is an accepted practice within the food industry and should not be caught by the new regulations. However, I am sure that the Minister will accept that much of the research into genetically modified organisms is aimed at animal husbandry and the development of particular animals. Animals may be developed that contain genetic modification and there may be artificial insemination with animals that have not. Is the Minister confident that the amendments will cover the use of sperm that has been genetically modified or is from a genetically modified source in IVF? Under the Bill, that may be acceptable. It is important that that is covered in regulations.
I can give the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley) the assurances he seeks. He asked whether everything was covered by the amendments. It is because we wanted to ensure that everything was covered that we have brought forward these revisions and improved wording.There are two parts to the role of the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes. It is concerned with novel foods—that is, foods not previously consumed here—and with novel food processes and food produced by such processes. Novel foods are covered by clause 19 and we are now making specific provision to ensure that all foods produced by genetic modification are covered by that clause. Processes involving novel processes and the food produced by such processes could be regulated if necessary using the separate powers in clause 17(1) (c) and (f). The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe asked about our interface with the other committees on genetic modification. I assure him that there is interface and that our provisions slot in nicely with their role. If he wants more detail, I shall be happy to write to him with specific details on how we envisage the way in which the other committees will operate and how they link with the ACNFP. The hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe also asked me whether sperm would be covered by the group of amendments. Yes, they are. That is a good example of something further back in the chain that is covered. The one point on which I will not give the hon. Gentleman assurances is on the so-called "fourth hurdle", and the vague and subjective definition of socio-economic need. The amendments are not concerned with that. The role of ACNFP and the role of the amendments is to ensure that genetically modified organisms that may be a food source are safe. I do not want the role of the ACNFP to change radically to include making distinctions on whether it is socially good or nice for consumers to want to have certain products. It should be left to consumers to decide whether they need or want to use a genetically modified yeast. It is the job of the Government to ensure that it is safe; it is the job of consumers to decide whether they want it. I hope that those reassurances are satisfactory to the hon. Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 6, in page 15, line 6, after `regulations', insert—
'(aa) for prohibiting the carrying out of such operations with respect to genetically modified food sources, or foods derived from such food sources, of any class so specified;'.
No. 7, in page 15, line 9, leave out 'either' and insert 'each'.'
No. 8, in page 15, leave out lines 33 and 34 and insert—
'(4) For the purposes of this section a food source is genetically modified if any of the genes or other genetic material in the food source—
(a) has been modified by means of an artificial technique; or (b) is inherited or otherwise derived, through any number of replications, from genetic material which was so modified;and in this subsection "artificial technique" does not include any technique which involves no more than, or no more than the assistance of, naturally occurring processes of reproduction (including selective breeding techniques or in vitro fertilisation).'—[Mr. Maclean.]
Provision Of Facilities For Examinations
Amendment made: No. 11, in page 20, line 26, leave out
'in England and Wales, or a regional or islands'
and insert or a regional'.— [Mr. Maclean.]
Analysis Etc Of Samples
Amendments made: No. 12, in page 21, line 17, leave out subsections (3) and (4) and insert—
'(3) If, in any case where a sample is proposed to be submitted for analysis under this section, the office of public analyst for the area in question is vacant, the sample shall be submitted to the public analyst for some other area.
(4) If, in any case where a sample is proposed to be or is submitted for analysis or examination under this section, the food analyst or examiner determines that he is for any reason unable to perform the analysis or examination, the sample shall be submitted or, as the case may be, sent by him to such other food analyst or examiner as he may determine.
(4A) A food analyst or examiner shall analyse or examine as soon as practicable any sample submitted or sent to him under this section, but may, except where—
No. 13, in page 22, line 9, at end insert—
'and where two or more public analysts are appointed for any area, any reference in this section to the public analyst for that area shall be construed as a reference to either or any of them.'—[Mr. Maclean.]
Regulation Of Sampling And Analysis Etc
Amendments made: No. 29, in page 22, line 12, leave out
`Regulations made under this section'
'Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) above, regulations under that subsection'.
No. 14, in page 22, line 28, after 'examinations',
No. 30, in page 22, line 30, after 'examination', insert '(i)'.
No. 31, in page 22, line 32, at end insert
(ii) to a person determined by or under the regulations."—[Mr. Dorrell.]
Short Title, Commencement And Extent
Amendment made: No. 24, in page 37, leave out line 26 and insert
`paragraphs 12 to 15 of Schedule 2 and, so far as relating to those paragraphs,'—[Mr. Maclean.]
Transitional Provisions And Savings
Amendment made: No. 9, in page 51, line 38, leave out `coming into force' and insert 'commencement'.— [Mr. Maclean.]
Order for Third Reading read [Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, and Prince of Wale's Consent on behalf of the Duchy of Cornwall signified.]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.I am confident, and I am sure that all hon. Members will be confident, that we now have before us a Bill that will see us well into the next century. It provides us with a strong and flexible framework that will allow us to tackle specific new problems as they arise. Our main objective has been to ensure the safety of food. We have also taken care not to stifle innovation in food or impose needless burdens on the many small businesses in the food chain. The Bill will, however, require industry to look more critically at its operations, with the safety of the consumer in mind. That is in everyone's interests. The Bill is of great benefit to consumers. We have introduced tougher penalties. We have taken stronger powers. We have powers to detain batches of suspect food for further investigation and to close premises where there is an imminent risk to health. It is a worthy Bill and I commend it to the House.
I had hoped that I would be able fully to endorse everything that the Minister said. However, there was one, I hope, slip of the tongue. In his hyperbole he said that we shall be lifting the burden from small businesses. I make it quite clear that, no matter the size of a business, if public health is at risk——
The Minister is indicating that he is with us.The Opposition did not vote against the Bill. We had a constructive Committee stage. However, the Bill does not go far enough. As the Minister said, it is an enabling Bill and much progress can be made under it. When we have a labour Government, we shall go even further.
I am sorry to spoil Conservative Members' attempts to get this debate over quickly, but I shall make a couple of important points. The Bill misses many opportunities to protect the consumer—for example, an independent food safety agency and a licensing scheme. My two brief points are about the resources to implement the Bill and the distribution of those resources.First, the Government claim that they will provide about £30 million of what they call real money to implement the Bill. All the local authority associations have said that they need a minimum of £40 million. I still do not think that the Government have cleared up that point. The money that they will provide could easily be swallowed up in the poll tax mess next year—we have a poll tax mess this year—and not go to environmental health officers to enable them to implement the Bill. Secondly, local authorities with many food production premises such as restaurants and takeaway establishments should have a higher proportion of the money, but that should not be the only basis on which the money is distributed. It certainly should not be distributed purely on a population basis, which would not take into account the special needs of certain areas. Distribution should be based on deprivation and poverty indicators such as housing, unemployment and other social issues. Those indicators reflect the standard of food premises in an area. I ask the Government to take that matter fully into account. I refer in particular to ethnic minorities and food handlers whose first language is not English. More money must be spent on training and on leaflets in other languages. I hope that the Minister will bear that point in mind.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with amendments.
The House will be aware of the illegal ban on British beef exports imposed by France, Germany and Italy, and of the very vigorous response by the Government and the Commission to this unilateral action.I attended a special meeting of the Council, called at the request of the Commission, to address this intolerable situation which had grave consequences for the Community institutions and their reputation. The Council met on 6 June to consider advice from the Commission's independent scientific veterinary committee. Mr. MacSharry—the Agriculture Commissioner—stated clearly that this advice, reached unanimously, repeated the committee's earlier judgment that existing Community rules on bovine spongiform encephalopathy fully protected public and animal health. There is therefore no reason to prevent the free circulation of British beef on the basis of the measures already taken by the United Kingdom and the Community. It was clear from the meeting that some member states were not prepared to stand by the best scientific advice—even when proffered by experts from across the Community. We therefore were faced with a range of trade-distorting and protectionist demands which we discussed throughout Wednesday night and this morning. I am pleased to tell the House that we achieved a successful settlement much to Britain's advantage. The main features of the settlement are, first, the commitment by all member states to lift at once their import restrictions; secondly, British beef is to be accepted in all markets of the Community and that agreement is to cover calves, carcases, and boneless meat; thirdly, the Commission will take up immediately with third countries the need immediately to remove any trade restrictions that are still in place; and, fourthly, the Commission will take up the case for extending our ban on feeding ruminant protein to ruminants. The Netherlands has already followed suit. Denmark implements tomorrow and the French have said that they are likely to take a similar step. That is a major change which will defend and protect people's health throughout the Community. Fifthly, there will be a research programme, which is designed to explore the likelihood of BSE occurring in Community countries other than the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. The Commission has undertaken to extend the coverage of beef intervention in this country. In large measure the export arrangements for British beef remain in place. We shall reinforce our control systems—particularly in the marking of calves. Importers of carcases from the United Kingdom have pointed to the fact that our cutting arrangements are not always duplicated in their plants. They are not therefore able to give the consumer the assurances that we give at home regarding the removal of all specified material. To provide some measure of similar assurance for consumers in other member states, we have agreed not to send bone-in carcases from holdings which have recently had BSE cases.
Why does not that apply to Britain?
There is no limitation of the export of bone-out British beef—[Interruption.]—precisely because Britain is covered by tougher regulations and the British housewife is better protected. The hon. Gentleman's constituents in Bolsover are better protected than people in any other Community country. He should know that and not undermine British beef.All Community countries now express themselves fully satisfied on the export of British beef. The scientific veterinary commitee has reiterated its clear statement on the safety of British beef. The Commission has wholly vindicated the British position and we have averted an extremely damaging trade dispute—in a matter of a single week. Unilateral action should not have been taken. Tonight that action has been rescinded.
I thank the Minister most sincerely for coming to the House at such a late hour after spending so many hours locked in deadlock in negotiations.We very much welcome the lifting of the ban on the trade in British cattle, but having listened to the Minister with great care, I thought that he delivered a deliberately carefully constructed statement that concealed more than it revealed—[ Interruption.] When hon. Members have had time to study and assimilate it, they may come to the same conclusion. Therefore, may I ask the Minister several specific questions arising from it and perhaps relating to it? If it was such a successful outcome, why did he spend 26 hours fighting most of the proposals and why did he flatly reject the certification proposals when they were put forward by the Germans six months ago? Why did he say then that they were inoperative and, indeed, unnecessary? We demand, and have a right to, an answer to that point. Secondly, will he confirm that there remains a total ban on all British cattle over the age of six months to every one of the European member states? Will he also confirm that there is a ban on all calves born of BSE cows to every one of the EEC states? We need to know the answer to that one. Will he also confirm to the House that the result of the triumphal statement that he made is that in effect we have extended the German ban on bone-in beef to every other Community country? I believe that that is the case. Has he assessed the capacity of meat cutting and packaging firms in Britain? Can they cope with all the deboning that will be necessary as a result of the agreement? Will the Minister clarify another point that worries many people? Both the British and the French housewife will buy beef from British cows, but is there not a distinct difference between what they will buy? Are there not now two markets for British beef in Europe? Will the Minister confirm that following his cave-in today—[HON. MEMBERS: "Shame."]—beef will be allowed to be sold to the British consumer which cannot be sold to the French consumer? [Interruption.] This is a very serious point and people have the right to know about it. [Interruption.] Conservative Members may not be interested in what is on offer to their electorates but I certainly am and most Opposition Members are. I repeat the question. Is it true that beef will be sold to the British consumer which it would be illegal to sell to the French consumer? In short, is not the British consumer being treated as a second-rate citizen in that respect? Finally, we welcome the fact that we have had the ban lifted. Will the Minister accept that he has merely bought breathing space? Will he take a major initiative to reassure the British consumer?
Cheat, cheat, cheat—[Interruption.]
Order. Dr. David Clark.
It is interesting that when I ask purely factual questions—[ Interruption.] When hon. Gentlemen read Hansard tomorrow they will find that I have not proffered any opinions but merely asked questions. If the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson) wants to shout from a sedentary position "Cheat", that is up to him. I know that he is in the butchering industry and that he has a vested interest in that respect. Conservative Members may not be interested in the long-term interests of the beef industry and the consumer, but we are—[ Interruption.] It is important that we save our beef and farming industries.Will the Minister take some initiatives to get reassurances not only at home but abroad? Will he urge the EC to establish a committee of medical experts to complement that of the veterinarians to examine the human aspects related to beef? [ Laughter.] I wonder why Conservative Members laugh. Are they afraid of the scientific evidence? [HON. MEMBERS: "You are."] Will the Minister now introduce the random sampling of routinely slaughtered cows to judge the extent of the disease? As part and parcel of that and his certification policy, will he introduce the tagging of cows and herd movement books to assist the tracing of individual animals? If the Minister feels that it is necessary to introduce legislation along the lines of that operating in Northern Ireland—introduced correctly by the Government——
Does the hon. Gentleman have a doctorate in defamation? Why does he not stick to subjects of which he has some knowledge?
If the hon. Gentleman would care to get up I shall happily give way, but I wish that he would shut up or get out.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I realise, Mr. Speaker, that I cannot give way.
Order. This is not a debate. The hon. Gentleman must ask his questions to which he will get the answers.
It is always a sure sign that the Opposition are rattled—[Laughter.]
Order. This takes up a lot of time.
With the opinion polls showing Labour 23 per cent. ahead, we all know who will be the Opposition. I should point out that one can have a lower case as well as an upper case "o" with the word opposition.Sensible arrangements have been introduced in Northern Ireland for the tagging of animals and movement books. Such arrangements are a prerequisite to any system of certification. If the Government feel that it is necessary to introduce such legislation we shall facilitate its movement on to the statute book. The Minister mentioned scientific knowledge. Is he prepared to make facilities available to all bona fide scientists, at home and overseas, so that they can try to tackle and overcome the serious and dangerous problem of BSE? The first thing that we must aim to do is to eradicate BSE from the British herd. Only then can we restore the full confidence in our beef and cattle industry that we all want.
The hon. Gentleman began by asking why we had taken 26 hours to achieve this decision. It is because we started with demands which were extremely unacceptable to Britain. The extent of the discussions—I put this in the mildest way I can—was much greater because I constantly had to counter the repeating to me by those with whom I was negotiating the wild statements supported by the hon. Gentleman.
I do not need to repeat them, because the hon. Gentleman repeated a whole range of them during his questions. I will not lower the debate to the kind of party-political debate I have seen on television tonight. Let me make a direct comment to the hon. Gentleman. When we have a solution that is backed by all 12 nations, for the hon. Gentleman to talk about temporary arrangements and about our returning again—in the way he talked on television tonight—can do nothing but undermine the agreement that has been reached by those nations in Brussels after 26 hours of negotiation.The arrangements are those of the whole of the Community. It is not a special deal with Germany, which is what the Germans were seeking, and that is why it is entirely different. It means that we are selling into Germany beef that we were not able to sell in before. It is wholly wrong to say that this agreement applies only to bone-out beef. That is precisely what was being tried on us, with people pushing for that. In fact, this allows for bone-in beef carcases to spread throughout the Community, including into Germany, where they had been stopped by unilateral action for some months. The British housewife is protected, and her confidence is supported, much better than is the case in any other country in the European Community, because our cutting arrangements for beef with bones, as well as bone-out beef, make sure that all the specified material is removed. With exported carcases, that cannot be assured in the importing country, so we are giving a secondary assurance that is not as extensive as that which we provide now for the British consumer. Opposition Members who suggest otherwise cannot have the interests of the consumer or of the farming community at heart. I put the consumer first. I wish that Opposition Members would do the same. If the hon. Gentleman wishes me to talk about European Community committees, I gladly do so. I have upheld the European specialist committees and fought for them to be upheld, and I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman should still be proposing that I do things that scientific committees in this country and abroad have said we should not do, or have recommended that we should no longer do, because we should use the resources elsewhere. I have told the hon. Gentleman those facts time and again. He still repeats, on television and elsewhere, the statement that he made, and he must be careful lest someone accuses him—though I would never do so—of misleading the British people. I must tell Labour Members that it is becoming increasingly clear that the interests at their heart are not the interests that we would seek to propose but the interests of party politics.