HC Deb 11 November 1954 vol 532 cc1521-9
Dr. Broughton

I beg to move, in subsection (4, b), after the second "draft," to insert "code of practice or a draft."

The Minister has been good enough to accept an Amendment of mine relating to the code of practice, as a result of which I move this consequential Amendment.

Sir L. Plummer

I beg to second the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill reported, with an Amendment; as amended (on re-committal) considered.

9.20 p.m.

Mr. Amory

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

If the Bill to some extent lacks the attribute of glamour, perhaps it is none the worse for that. It is essentially an example of the practical and painstaking way which Parliament follows in a field which is of the very greatest importance, because it affects the health and welfare of every individual in the country. I believe that it is a progressive and forward-looking Measure. As Minister, I came along rather late in this business, after the beginning of consideration of the Bill. I have realised right through that because of that I have not been as familiar with the more technical aspects of some of its provisions as I should have wished. It has been a matter of "learn as you earn."

The House and the Committee, however, have been tolerant, and fortunately the Parliamentary Secretary has shown complete mastery of the subject, as would have expected him to do. Fortunately, also, I have had the benefit of the sound knowledge of the right hon. Lady the Member for Fulham, West (Dr. Summerskill) and the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), a knowledge which they attained during previous manifestations when they were Ministers in Parliament. As a layman in these matters, I should like to pay humble tribute to the very wide knowledge and experience which so many hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House have shown in discussion, and also to the hard work that they have nut in during our debates on the Bill. The result of all this is that, personally, I am satisfied that a Bill which began as a good one is an even better one now.

There are several reasons why it is important and timely that we should be considering these matters at the present time. First of all, it is important because during recent years there has been a very great increase in the practice of eating out. That has emphasised the need for the utmost cleanliness that we can obtain in the preparation of food. Then there has been the work of the food chemists, which of recent years has brought into use many new food substances and food processes. That is a matter to which the hon. Member for Deptford (Sir L. Plummer) referred earlier. Science has also thrown much new light on the causes of food poisoning. Lastly, there is the growing awareness of people generally of the importance of the cleanliness of food as a safeguard of public health, and the raising of aesthetic standards throughout the community. Therefore, it is a right time for us to be taking a further important step forward in the development of our legal code for the purity and fitness of food for human consumption. That briefly is what the Bill does.

No one will deny that there is plenty of room for improvement, but I am sure that the House would not like anyone to think that improvements must necessarily wait on legal requirements. Things are moving in the right direction. Many enlightened manufacturers and traders are recognising more and more the need for cleanliness and the commercial improvement that it brings to their business. There is plenty of evidence of that, ranging from the new shops which we see with glass-protected counters to the installation of modern sinks and hot and cold water in even small modern premises. I think that any one of us who has been across the Atlantic and visited the United States and Canada must feel that we are lagging sadly behind; the difference is very great indeed. But I believe this Bill will encourage further progress and do a lot to guide it on the right lines.

I suppose we must not overdo things in this direction and become too scientific about our food. I think it is possible to have articles of food which are perfectly sterilised, magnificently wrapped up, but which have no nourishment whatever, no flavour and no pleasure to be obtained from eating them.

Mr. G. Darling

Breakfast cereals.

Mr. Amory

Too scientific descriptions of food are a drawback. I remember once being put off for quite a time from eating as much bread as ordinarily I do, through reading some advice given in a Government circular—not issued by Her Majesty's present Government—urging that I should, "maximise" my "intake of cereal filling," by which I thought was meant that I should eat more bread. I reduced my ration for quite a time.

What we want to do is to create conditions which will encourage manufacturers, traders and all who work in food trades to prepare and handle food in a cleanly manner and we do want food of full nutritive value. I feel sure that the powers conferred by this Bill will go far to enable those objectives to be achieved. The interest the House has taken in this Bill is evidenced by the very large number of Amendments which have been put forward. There have been nearly 200, which is quite exceptional for a Bill of 30 odd Clauses. It should also be noted that well over half of those Amendments have been accepted, either during Committee stage or accepted in principle then and given effect to during Report stage. During our discussions we have talked of many things, among them Bristol-cream and cream-buns. As I have sat here ever since half-past three, either of those would have some attraction for me at present.

I shall not refer to any of the individual provisions of the Bill because we have discussed them so thoroughly, but I wish to say one or two things in general. This Bill has a great deal of legislation by reference in it. That is something we all wish to avoid. Therefore, I think it will require some tidying up and the Government propose a consodidation Bill. Since this Bill repeals Section 13 of the 1938 Act it is necessary that the Food Hygiene Regulations, which have been laid in the Library in draft form, should be introduced at the same time as that Section 13 is repealed. I repeat that we plan a consolidation Bill and we plan that the consolidation Bill and the Regulations, with a few exceptions, shall come into force on the same day. We want to lose no time in that matter and we mean to lose no time. We fully expect that that will happen during the early months of next year.

It has been said that one cannot make people good by Act of Parliament. That may be equally true of cleanliness as of Godliness—I do not know—but I believe that this Bill will go a long way in providing the legislative framework and the regulations we are proposing will fill in many of the details. When the Bill is passed, local authorities and their officers will have great responsibilities. I am sure that they, together with food manufacturers, traders and trade unions representing those who work in those trades, will all play their part to secure the smooth working of this law and the achievement of the standards of purity and cleanliness in the nation's food at which we all aim. But when one has said that it still remains true—and here I agree with the hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton)—that education and the creation of the right outlook are means by which the best progress can be made.

I am, and always have been, a firm believer that what is achieved by education and persuasion is generally more fruitful and lasting than what is achieved by compulsion. Let us do what we can individually and collectively to encourage and promote a healthy and active public opinion in these matters.

There have been some quite lively passages during our discussion and the debate generally has been healthy. But now that those discussions are over and we can see this Bill in perspective. I believe that the whole House will agree that it is a sound Measure of practical reform. I hope that the House will send it on its way with the good wishes of us all and I ask this House to give the Bill a unanimous Third Reading.

9.31 p.m.

Dr. Summerskill

In the course of the last 10 years I have stood, either at this Dispatch Box or the other, and spoken on the Third Reading of many social Measures. I have always experienced a certain pleasure on those occasions. There has been mutual satisfaction, and generally I have observed that the House has recognised that a social Measure is divorced from party implications. When we have reached the Third Reading we have realised that the Bill has almost reached the Statute Book and will in due course be interpreted in such a manner that a large number of people will be all the better for it.

I must say that this is an exception to the general rule, and I am sorry. The Minister is a newcomer and he has been pitch-forked into a rather technical discussion. It was clear to me that he has found himself a little out of his depth. At times I felt almost protective towards him, because he exercises a charm which almost penetrates to this side of the House. Nevertheless the passage of this Bill has been unprecedented. I cannot experience any satisfaction about it, not the satisfaction which I anticipated when in 1948 I was responsible in the Ministry of Food for initiating this Measure.

I say that I cannot anticipate satisfaction, because I cannot foresee what is to happen in the light of the discussions. I regarded this as an important social Measure, but every stage has produced disappointment after disappointment. There has been a grudging acceptance of each Amendment. Quite rightly the Minister says that he has accepted nearly half the Amendments put down. But that is a confession of guilt. He should not be proud of that fact. He should have recognised that those Amendments ought to have been unnecessary. His Parliamentary Secretary should have advised him that the arguments advanced by my hon. Friends were unanswerable. The Minister was forced into the position of accepting Amendment after Amendment.

My vocabulary has been exhausted in trying to find new expressions of thanks to apply to the Minister. I think that I must have called him "sympathetic" on at least 20 occasions, because he had accepted some Amendment which any ordinary person with no technical knowledge could not have resisted. Why is it that on this important social Measure the Minister has not been more generous? Why has he not come to the House and said, "We are in the middle of the 20th century. This provision "—some elementary provision in the field of hygiene" must be accepted"?

I would remind the Minister that in 1954 we have debated in this House for 40 minutes whether spitting should be prohibited in places where food is prepared. I stood at the Dispatch Box and asked the Minister to accept the Amendment. He refused. Later the Parliamentary Secretary said that he would consider the form of words. I refused to accept that. Finally, when I said that we must go into the Division Lobby on the subject of spitting the Minister or the Parliamentary Secretary said that they would accept the Amendment.

On the Third Reading of a Bill I like to be mellow and tolerant and a little forgiving. I am trying to be forgiving now, but I cannot forget the debate on spitting.

Mr. Amory

I am just wondering what the right hon. Lady would have been like if we had not agreed to it.

Dr. Summerskill

Unfortunately, the Minister was not in the Chamber two hours ago or he would have heard what I should have been like in that event.

This is why we are a little sceptical about the future of the Measure. I want to remind the Minister of its deplorable history. A year ago it passed through another House. Does the Minister recall that Thursday after Thursday we pressed the Leader of the House to arrange a day for its Second Reading? In the first place we were given two hours on a Friday. We resisted that. Finally, after a great deal of pressure from the back benches, we were given a whole Friday.

On the Committee stage we had pages and pages of Amendments. They were not framed by ignorant persons from this side of the House, as has been alleged on certain occasions by hon. Members opposite. They were framed as the result of the reports of three authoritative committees which had been set up many years ago, committees representing every aspect of the food and catering trade. Despite those reports, we have had the wearisome business of going through Amendment after Amendment. An Amendment dealing with clean churns has been accepted today. The Parliamentary Secretary will recall that we spent 25 minutes on the subject, and, finally, I had to say that we should divide. We divided on the subject of clean churns and bottles.

Dr. Hill

I willingly agreed to consider the point about churns. Despite that agreement, the right hon. Lady, for some reason best known to herself, decided to divide the House.

Dr. Summerskill


The Parliamentary Secretary ought to have learnt his lesson by now. He must not attempt to mislead the House. I have already shown the House how willing he is to do that. He will recall that the Amendment in which we divided dealt with churns and bottles. He has not included bottles in his new Amendment. Feeling that we had to get on with the Bill, I was prepared to accept the concession that he offered. Therefore, I have to tell him that he is wrong again.

This is why I have to speak very strongly on Third Reading. I feel that the Government have been shamed into accepting a large number of Amendments for political reasons only. I cannot believe that they have had a change of heart; if they have, why were not some of the Amendments accepted at earlier stages? It appears that the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary have felt at the last moment that for political reasons some of the Amendments must be accepted.

The next point on which I wish to comment is the registration of catering premises. On the question of the registration of catering premises, and the Minister's powers in Clause 6, the debate has been deplorable. It has been most unfortunate, and the time will come very soon, perhaps next year, when the public will demand that these premises shall be registered.

It was deplorable for the Parliamentary Secretary to have to confess at the last moment this afternoon that he had had representations from the catering trade through an hon. Friend of his, after he had stated in this House that he had had no representations from the catering trade. This is not what we should expect in a debate on a great social Measure. I believe the Conservative Government have betrayed the best elements on their back benches in this matter.

Finally, I have completely lost faith in the Government's good intentions with regard to this Bill, particularly with regard to Clause 6. The Minister has great powers, but unfortunately they are only permissive. It has been necessary for us day after day to press for certain of these provisions to be accepted and included in the enabling powers. How can we hope for the Minister to exercise those powers? That is why I am a little despondent and am not enjoying, as I had anticipated, the sense of achievement that one should experience in this House when finally a social Measure reaches its Third Reading. It seems now that instead of sitting back and looking for the next task, we on these benches have to remain vigilant in order to ensure that the Government will afford the people protection against adulterated and infected food.

9.42 p.m.

Dr. Stross

The Minister spoke of education and said a few words about our attitude to clean and nutritive food not being excessively scientific. As my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton) is not in his place, perhaps I may be allowed to say that I think he should be given some credit for having initiated a certain debate in February, 1951. As he is not in the Chamber, it is for me to put on record the work that he has done since that time in providing a series of lectures which have been printed and which are used by the St. John Ambulance Association.

I appeal to the Minister, on this question of education, to bear in mind that where food handling is concerned we should focus our efforts upon the mass of the people who are handling food. Simple knowledge very widely diffused is much more important from this point of view than technical knowledge held by only a few.

On the question of being too scientific about food, there is another aspect. We rely upon the highly educated people to advise us. I fear that we are too scientific about our food in another direction; namely, that science is able to offer us almost anything we care for and many things that we know nothing about and do not care for. The Minister has taken powers, I think in Clause 4, to garner every fragment of information available, and he can store it and sift it, through the medium of his servants, or his right hon. Friend the Minister of Health will have to do it. That knowledge will be as comprehensive as any existing in the world.

As a result of that knowledge we expect some protection, but throughout all our deliberations we have noted how permissive are many of the Clauses. We urge the Minister, his right hon. Friend and the Parliamentary Secretary to bear in mind the fact that there is plenty of good will and good sense available to back up the knowledge that he is going to garner, sort out and analyse.

There is good will from every quarter of the food manufacturing and processing trade, and also from the chemical manufacturers, and it is from them that he will obtain a great deal of information. I hope that as well as receiving it he will send out information so that everybody will be well informed; always observing certain safeguards, for we do not want to give away secrets.

As for good sense, I do not think that our people lack it. We know that enthusiasts exist on both sides of the House. There are those who think that whatever is done with food it does not matter, that no harm will come to anybody. There are others who are so obsessed by certain aspects of the problem that one cannot easily argue with them. In 1951 we said that it was a question of education, agitation and legislation. It is fair to say that the Bill is really ours, and its possibilities are immense if it is properly handled. Everything depends upon the attitude of the Government in power and the Department concerned, but using good will and good sense we ought to go very far towards protecting our people, in the way in which my right hon. Friend mentioned, against infectious disease and adulteration.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.