HC Deb 14 February 1945 vol 408 cc349-52

6.38 p.m.

Mr. Ralph Etherton (Stretford)

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that the Order in Council dated 23rd November, 1944, made under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Acts, 1939 and 1940, adding Regulation 60CAA to the Defence (General) Regulations, 1939, a copy of which Order was presented on 5th December, be annulled. This is a plea for the annulment of this Regulation. The Statutory Rules and Orders Committee, in their third Report, stated that they were of opinion that the attention of the House should be drawn to this Regulation on the ground that it appeared to make some unusual or Unexpected use of the powers of the Statute under which it was made and that its form and purpose called for elucidation. It is in that spirit, and without any hostility to the Order, that I put forward this Motion.

The Public Health (Preservation of Food) Regulation, 1925, which has stood the test of some 20 years' experience, provided certain safeguards in regard to the nature and the quantities of preservatives which can be used in food. The proposed Regulation overrides that protection, and I want to know why. I want an explanation of the Regulation under two heads. First, I want to know how it is connected with the war, so as to make it properly the subject of a Defence Regulation—because, prima facie it appears to me to be ultra vires—and, secondly, I want to know why, at this stage of the war, this decision is now suddenly being taken to relax those safeguards and to allow what are admittedly excessive amounts of sulphur dioxide, borax and other preservatives to be used in food for human consumption. I, and my hon. Friends who are associated with me feel that in view of its importance, the Regulation needs elucidation on those two points. We are surprised that elucidation was not given in a note to the Order, and we await with interest what the Parliamentary Secretary may say.

6.40 p.m.

Mr. Craik Henderson (Leeds, North-East)

I beg to second the Motion.

The particular point which my hon. Friends and I would like to elucidate is how an Order like this comes within the powers conferred by this House. I suppose it is for the efficient prosecution of the war, but we should like to know how it comes within the ambit of those powers.

6.41 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food (Mr. Mabane)

I am obliged to my hon. Friends for giving me this opportunity to offer some explanation of this Order and for the friendly way in which the Motion has been moved and seconded. As to the first point made, by the mover, who asked why this Order is construed as being connected with the war and is not ultra vires, powers are given to make Orders necessary for the maintenance of supplies and services. The short answer on that point is that without this Order, the foodstuffs mentioned in the Order would not be available, or would not be available in such quantities. [Interruption.] As my hon. Friend says, they would go bad. Another illustration is that, only a few days before war broke out, when it seemed likely that meat coming from South America would take a considerably longer time to come, we sent a message "Do not send the meat chilled, send it frozen." If we had not sent that message, we might have lost our meat. The provisions in this Order are to enable the supplies to be available in as abundant quantity as we would wish them to be.

Then my hon. Friend asked, Why at this stage of the war is it necessary for a decision of this character to be taken? He has not observed—indeed there is no reason why he should do so—that this Order, for the most part, is not new. The decisions which are indicated in this Order were not taken in 1944, but much earlier. The Order refers to meat, margarine, bacon, condensed milk, eggs, jam and dehydrated vegetables. The provisions in this Order in relation to meat, margarine, bacon and condensed milk, which are the more important commodities mentioned, were taken in 1940 and the Orders were made in 1940, so there is nothing new. What is here provided has been going on pretty well throughout the war. Certain new minor provisions relating to eggs, jam, dehydrated vegetables and oranges are contained in the Order so that supplies may be abundant.

I should like to take some credit to the Ministry for making this Regulation. As I have said, the provisions contained in this Order, in so far as they refer to meat, margarine, bacon and condensed milk, have been in force since 1940. At that time they were made in the form of Statutory Rules and Orders against which the House could not offer a Prayer. The Ministry of Food, observing that the House was taking a greater interest in these matters, thought it wise to embody in a Consolidating Order these provisions, which had, in fact, been in force for four years, in order that by so doing the Ministry of Food should conform to what appeared to be the current wishes of the House. I think we may take credit for giving the opportunity of which the House has shown itself desirous lately, of praying against this Order. I hope this explanation will satisfy my hon. Friend that we have not misused our powers and that, indeed, we have bowed to the present temper of the House in making the Order in this way.

Mr. E. P. Smith (Ashford)

Can the Parliamentary Secretary tell the House why it is necessary to put sulphur-dioxide into jam? Surely if jam is properly made, it should not require any preservative other than the sugar. Would he also say why this Order does not say what is the maximum amount of these preservatives that should be put into any of these foods?

Mr. Mabane

I can only speak again by leave of the House. If it were possible to make all our jam of fresh fruit, all would be well, but a great deal of our jam has to be made of pulp, either imported pulp or plum pulp, which is produced in this country. My hon. Friend who comes from a part of the world where plums are grown in very substantial quantities, will remember that, two years ago, there was an enormous crop of plums. We either had to say "good-bye" to those plums, or preserve them against the time when they could be converted into jam. The only way to preserve them was by putting them into sulphur. There is a very curious reason why the permitted quantity should be increased. It is that recent methods of analysis have become more perfect, and have revealed the fact that, probably, in the past, a great deal of jam that had apparently less than 40 parts per 1,000,000 of sulphur-dioxide in it, really had more. So, probably, in the past, had methods of analysis been as perfect as they now are, much jam would have been outside the Regulation made under the Food and Drugs Act. The quantities are specified in the licences, and a circular has been sent to the local authorities who are responsible for prosecuting under, or taking action under, these Regulations, informing them of the present permitted quantities.

Mr. Ralph Etherton

In view of the explanation which my right hon. Friend has given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.