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Finance For Implementation

Volume 173: debated on Thursday 7 June 1990

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'.—(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:
"We have made the allocation of £30 million. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health made matters clear."
One assumes that he had made matters clear beyond doubt, and that there could be no further argument. The Minister continued:
"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.]
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".
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.

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:
"The Government does not provide a detailed breakdown of the individual components of the grant"—
that is, when the revenue support grant settlement is announced—
"it only provides Control (i.e. spending) Totals for each block of services. Environmental health"—
that is the block under which food safety measures will be held—
"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."
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.

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.