HC Deb 16 July 1941 vol 373 cc672-6

A food and drugs authority within the meaning of the Food and Drugs Act, 19.58, shall have power to enforce the provisions of sections three, four and six of this Act and, subject to the provisions of subsection (4) of section five of this Act, to institute proceedings for a contravention of any of the provisions of those sections.—[Mr. E. Brown.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. E. Brown

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

The Committee will see that there are two new Clauses dealing with enforcement, the first standing in my name, and the second in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle). Perhaps the Committee will allow me to say a little more than is suggested by my own new Clause. There are two aspects of this matter. Part of the Bill would naturally fall to be enforced by the food and drug authorities, and the other part relates more to the professional and technical enforcement of the Bill. My hon. Friend's new Clause deals with the second aspect, while my new Clause deals with the former.

The Chairman (Sir Dennis Herbert)

I think the right hon. Gentleman will be able to confine himself to his own Clause and refer to the other. The probability is that I shall not call the other Clause.

Mr. Brown

I want to be perfectly fair to my hon. Friend, and I shall do my beat to keep in Order. I paid particular attention to what was said by the hon. and gallant Member for Blackburn (Captain Elliston) during the Second Reading Debate. It is quite clear that when you come to the agreement which is the substance of Clause 7, between all the parties concerned, the enforcement must rest upon their shoulders. When it comes to a question of enforcing the rest of the Bill, there are two issues. First, there is the simpler one—that which would naturally fall to be enforced by those who have to deal with food and drugs. I think we ought to give power to these authorities to deal with issues of this nature, and therefore I move this new Clause. The Pharmaceutical Society, who have given some help in this matter, is a Statutory authority for certain purposes under the Act of 1852. They suggested they would be willing, in certain circumstances, to undertake the enforcement of their side of the Bill. I am discussing the question with those concerned, and I hope to be able to make a statement on the matter during the Report stage. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will not seek to move his new Clause.

Sir F. Fremantle

I am very grateful to the Minister of Health for meeting us to the extent he has. I understand that if the conference with the Pharmaceutical Society is effective, then, by his new Clause, within the meaning of the Food and Drugs Act their inspectors, of whom there is a good supply, will be able to carry on duties which would otherwise fall upon a common informer. Inspectors under the Food and Drugs Acts do not act under the ordinary health authority, but, under the authority of the Standing Joint Committee of the Magistracy and the county councils, through the police. The health officers take note of their work and have it reported to them as it affects their work very considerably as regards adulteration of food, drugs, milk and so on. Consequently the inspectors in the different divisions of the country are doing work which will naturally enable them to carry on the work of this Measure. At the same time there is a great deal to be said for the work of inspection being carried on by the voluntary work of the Pharmaceutical Society, but I hope there will be some effective division, so that we shall not have each side leaving it to the other. I would therefore ask the Minister to keep a very careful eye himself upon the administration of the Act, because it is no use passing Acts which sound good on paper if they are not to be effectively enforced. It is no good supplying the machinery of enforcement if there is to be duplicate machinery and you fall between two stools. I was rather surprised that the Minister has not included in his Clause the supervision of Section 7. He mentioned it, but I did not understand his allusion to it. The inspectors are the kind of people who are most likely to realise that unauthorised persons are selling these medicines and contravening the Act. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will give an explanation why he leaves out Section 7 from the provisions of his Clause. Otherwise the explanation that he has given enables us warmly to support it.

Captain Elliston

The Minister moderated his tone to such an extent that I am not quite sure whether I fully understood the explanation he gave. I hope I was right in believing that he intends between now and the Report stage to see whether he can so arrange that the enforcement of the Act shall be delegated to the Pharmaceutical Society. That seems to be very desirable. You have there an expert body with inspectors and all the machinery for proper and efficient enforcement of the Act. Should that scheme prove difficult or impossible, I appeal to him to amend his Clause by making it a duty to enforce the Act, and not merely giving the power. We know that some enterprising authorities in the great cities and counties will enforce it, but there is a large number of local authorities with neither the staff nor the inclination to enforce the provisions of the Bill.

Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam (Newcastle-on-Tyne North)

Am I not right in supposing that this is the usual form and that, when you say an authority has power to enforce the provisions of the Section, it means that a duty is imposed upon the authority?

Mr. Woods

I hope the Minister will adhere to his Clause, and if he contemplates any modification, I hope he will consult all the bodies that are involved. The other Clause would introduce an anomaly. You would be asking a voluntary organisation which is doing very good work and looking after the interests of a vast body of people—

The Chairman

I do not think we can discuss that.

Mr. Woods

I suggest that we have had a sort of promise by the Minister that we might be able to discuss what the arrangements should be.

The Chairman

The hon. Member can discuss anything that the Minister has said, but he was definitely discussing another new Clause.

Mr. Woods

My point is that, if it is retained as in the Clause that is before the Committee, there is the whole machinery. The inspectors are doing their work very efficiently indeed under the Food and Drugs Acts. There is very little suspicion attaching to them; they are ex parte, and they are not associated with any interest. They are doing their job, I believe, to the satisfaction of the consuming public, and, on the whole, there is a satisfactory machinery functioning. I hope we shall adhere to the proposal to put any additional work on to the machine that is already there.

Mr. J. Griffiths

I gather that what the Minister said was that he hoped that hon. Members who have further new Clauses would not move them, as there would be consultations, and that if necessary he would bring something forward on Report. If there are to be consultations, I hope they will be with bodies which have been consulted hitherto on the Measure. The other point that I would urge is that in his own new Clause he should confer these new powers upon local authorities. A suggestion has been put forward that they may in certain circumstances be dispensed with and some other authority may be brought into being to replace them. I only want to urge upon the Minister that we on this side shall watch very carefully to see that the powers of local authorities in matters of public health are not taken from them and given to anybody else, however good and beneficent they may be. I hope that the Minister of Health, who is responsible to the country and the local authorities, will bear that in mind.

Mr. E. Brown

I will certainly bear that in mind. My new Clause shows that that was the line of my approach. If we are to have legal enforcement it cannot be left to voluntary bodies. It must involve the kind of machinery envisaged in my new Clause. There are several kinds of enforcement wanted here. The first is of a scientific nature akin to that in the present Poisons Act which has been entrusted by law to the Pharmaceutical Society. That will not conflict with the protection of the public under the Food and Drugs Act. The other kind of enforcement is not quite so simple. I left out Section 7 deliberately. That Section, as I explained on Second Reading, embodies the terms of an agreement. There has been a change of front recently on the part of one party, and it would not be right to leave to the Pharmaceutical Society the supervision of co-operative societies, trade organisations and chemists. We shall therefore rely for the protection of the public on the machinery of the Food arid Drugs Act and, for the enforcement of the rest of the Bill on the machinery of the other Acts.

Question put, and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

The Chairman

I cannot call the next two new Clauses (Enforcement), in the name of the hon. Member for St. Albans (Sir F. Fremantle), and (General Control Scheme), in the name of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. A. Duckworth)— because they would involve a charge on public funds.