HC Deb 26 October 1954 vol 531 cc1841-53
Mr. Dodds

I beg to move, in page 3, line 5, to leave out "requiring."

I can deal with this Amendment in a few seconds because it merely asks for information. Hon. Members on this side of the Committee are wondering why the word "requiring" is in the Bill at all, and would like an explanation. It seems to us that the Minister, as well as being concerned with prohibiting or regulating the addition of any specified substance, can also require it to be added. We believe that some members of the public might not like the fact that the Ministry is requiring or instructing that some substance should be introduced. If the Parliamentary Secretary will give us an explanation of this curious wording, I am sure it would remove our doubts. We can understand the prohibition or the regulation.

Dr. Hill

It is to give the power that is necessary to make such additions as vitamins to margarine, hitherto dealt with under the Defence Regulation. That kind of power is now sought in permanent legislative form.

Mr. Dodds

In view of the very clear explanation, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Willey

I beg to move, in page 3, line 11, to leave out "such," and to insert "any."

The Deputy-Chairman

With this Amendment we will also take the next two, and also that to Clause 4, page 4, line 13.

Mr. Willey

I am sure that will meet with the Committee's approval.

I want to follow the precedent set by my hon. Friend the Member for Dartford (Mr. Dodds) in being as brief as possible, and I hope this example will be followed by those on the Government benches, because we are anxious to get on with the Bill. The purpose of this Amendment is to assist in the enforcement of these provisions. It is conceivable that it might widen the scope of the regulation-making power under paragraph (a) if the reference in the last line or two to regulating the composition of "such food" were changed to "any food."

I say at once that we are aware of the definition given in Clause 29, but if we have got a point about that we will have to raise it later when we come to that Clause. But it is conceivable that it might be better to have wider powers under certain circumstances. I am think- ing of this from the enforcement point of view. It could be that a defence would be put up that the food was not being prepared for human consumption and the circumstances were such that the Ministry might feel that they should regulate the process or treatment. It is for those reasons that I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us that it is desirable to extend the provisions to a greater extent than at present.

Dr. Hill

I appreciate the hon. Member's point that some material that would be a subject of a prosecution would not be for human consumption, and that there might be an escape for a defendant who pleaded that the material was for animal consumption. But there are in Section 81 (4) of the parent Act powers dealing with the presumptions to be made where such material is found, and I would particularly direct the hon. Member's attention to subsection 4 (b). I think he will find that the necessary presumptions are there, but I will look into the point again in order to make quite sure that we are doing all that we reasonably can to prevent what the hon. Member has in mind.

Mr. Mitchison

Will the Parliamentary Secretary remember the case of the dead horse? The dead horse is, I believe, in some instances, only destined for human consumption at a comparatively late stage and it would be as well to bear that matter in mind. I doubt whether Section 81 meets that case.

Dr. Hill

I will give an undertaking to give consideration to the dead horse.

Mr. Willey

Without insisting upon the Parliamentary Secretary looking into the dead horse, I am obliged to him for making the position plain and I accept the offer he has made. In regard to Section 81 (4), I had in mind going rather further than that. It is not just a question of a presumption being made, but I think there may be circumstances in which it is undesirable to allow the preparation even though it is for animal consumption. However, in view of what the Parliamentary Secretary has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Dr. Stross

I beg to move, in page 3, line 30, at the end, to insert: Provided that no such regulation shall authorise the sale of any article which is without food value or the description of any article of food in terms which are likely to conceal its true nature and composition. This Amendment falls into two parts. I think it must commend itself to the Committee. The first part is virtually covered word for word by subsection (2) of the Clause. The only difference is that the subsection uses the words "so far as practicable." I would not quarrel either about having the words in or having the words out, for the intention, I am sure, is there. Society cannot afford and does not want to have food that is worthless. The provision as already contained in the Clause came as a result of discussion in another place, where an Amendment was made to provide for the words to which I am now referring.

There are not many worthless foods. Therefore, I do not want to make heavy weather about this matter. By "worthless" foods I mean completely worthless. One about which we have had discussion here by Question and answer is meringues of methyl cellulose. Even that could be useful to people who wanted to eat something to make them grow thin. Perhaps it would commend itself to the Parliamentary Secretary as well as to anybody else who may want it. Obviously, however, a description that tends to deceive people is not a good thing, and, obviously, it is a waste of money to buy completely worthless food. Obviously, too, attempts are being made to prevent that sort of thing happening "so far as practicable"

We are on stronger ground, however, in the second part of the Amendment, because it refers to the description of articles of food in terms that conceal their true nature and composition. That is something any Government must be sensitive about. It is so easy to use descriptions that mislead people, and some are so used. I brought an example to the notice of the former Minister of Food, that of "selected cheese." There was some cheese that was called "selected cheese" and that was sold as such.

Dr. H. Morgan (Warrington)

It smelled.

Dr. Stross

The information came from Birmingham. The Medical Officer of Health at Birmingham noted it, and pointed out that it was cheese made from curd of which all the fatty substance had been taken away. The description "selected" cheese was likely to deceive people as to the quality, because "selected" means that cheese so described is better than ordinary cheese, better even than Stilton. I can imagine the words "perfection cream" used to describe a cream that is far from perfect. Perhaps this is not the time to discuss the suitable use of words, but we may reach a stage later at which we can discuss how words can be used to deceive the public.

Dr. Hill

The hon. Gentleman himself pointed out that the words in subsection (2) of the Clause go a long way to meet his point, and I think that they probably go as far as it would be reasonable to go. He will appreciate that regulations do not authorise the sale of ingredients, although by implication they may appear to do so. One thing we must carefully avoid asserting is that a food that is nutritionally worthless or an ingredient that is nutritionally worthless is necessarily without some value.

There are some very delightful foods that scientists will tell us are of no nutritional value, but, bless my soul, there are some of them that can give us considerable even if only temporary delight. There are some ingredients in food that are of no nutritional value. I doubt whether colouring matters are really of nutritional value, or whether baking powder is. I could give many examples of these things that are nutritionally worthless but not necessarily without some use in making the food more attractive to the palate and nostrils and so the better digested.

Mr. G. Darling

But surely they should not be advertised as having nutritional value. That is the point.

7.45 p.m.

Dr. Hill

I am coming to the second part about advertisement now. As the hon. Gentleman the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) pointed out, there are two parts to this Amendment. I would draw his attention to Section 6 of the 1938 Act. It is pretty formidable in its standard, condemning anything which … falsely describes that food or drug, or is otherwise calculated to mislead as to its nature, substance or quality. I would draw his attention also to the provisions about the labelling of food and drugs which we shall come to in Clause 5 So, while I agree with him that his first point is substantially met by the Amendment that was made in another place, I would point out to him that his second point may arise when we are dealing with the refinements of Section 6 of the original Act, as we shall be when we come to Clause 5 of the Bill. I have no doubt we shall have an opportunity of considering then the additional points he wishes to make.

Mr. Mitchison

I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary has another look at this Amendment, particularly the second part. What is suggested is that no regulation is to authorise the description of any article of food in terms that are likely to conceal its true nature and composition. That is not the kind of thing a regulation does, but the words in subsection (1) are extremely wide and they are extremely vague, and I should find it very hard indeed to say that we could not put into the regulations some provision which might have that effect. That is all, because that is a possibility, and as, clearly, nobody in the Committee will for one instant want anything of the sort to be done, I see no harm in putting in a restriction of this sort when it is, at any rate, an open question whether otherwise we may not have a regulation which authorises in some form or another a misdescription of an article of food.

Look at what the regulations are regulating— … the addition of any specified substance … the use of any such substance … It is just a general regulation, which does not simply say we may put in only so much of a thing and then sell the article as so-and-so, or that if we put in so much of a thing it must be called this, that and the other, or that if we put in something else it must be called something else. One can think of an infinite variety of regulations under which there could be misdescriptions not authorised in any way by regulations made by Ministers.

This type of Amendment may be made out of caution; perhaps, it may be said, out of excessive caution; but we can also say that the caution is for a good purpose and that it cannot do any harm, and that it may do some good to have in a proviso of this kind. I am not referring to the first part of the Amendment because I am inclined to agree that that has been met by the other subsection, but I suggest that the Parliamentary Secretary should look again at the second part of the Amendment, remembering how wide is the word "regulating" in this sort of context.

Mr. Willey

I rise to help the progress of the Bill. I agree largely with what was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Mitchison); the first part of the Amendment has been met. I appreciate the difficulties of going further but, after all, this was an Amendment accepted in another place because of such points as those which have been made today. The Government have at any rate shown their good intentions in endeavouring to meet these points.

I think the Parliamentary Secretary should look again at the second leg of the Amendment. At the moment it is "Fancy calling Stork margarine," but if the Parliamentary Secretary goes on enthusiastically adding additives to margarine it may be a question of "Fancy calling margarine margarine." This Amendment concerns the possibility that one might change the nature of a substance by insisting, on medical grounds, or on nutritional grounds, on additives being added. It might be unfortunate that the old name should remain and it might be necessary to make it quite clear that we were not concealing its true nature by using a name which was no longer appropriate.

I do not press this as a matter of major importance at the moment, but this legislation will last a long time and I am sure it would not be the Government's purpose to allow these regulations to be used so that there might be a misdescription of some foodstuffs. The Parliamentary Secretary has shown an anxiety to look at these matters again and I hope that he will see whether there is any possibility of meeting this point. I agree that we have another opportunity of dealing with it on Clause 5, and in the circumstances I advise my hon. Friend not to press the Amendment.

Dr. Stross

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Amory

I beg to move, in page 3, line 37, at the end, to insert: (4) Regulations so made may provide, in relation to such cases as may be specified and subject to such exceptions as may be allowed by or under the regulations, that where any food is certified by a public analyst as being food to which the regulations apply so far as they are made under paragraph (c) of subsection (1) of this section that food may be treated for the purposes of section ten of the principal Act (which enables food to be seized and condemned on the order of a magistrate) as being unfit for human consumption: Provided that nothing in any such regulations shall be taken as prejudicing the generality of the powers conferred by the said section ten. Clause 3 empowers the Ministers of Food and Health to make regulations controlling the composition of food, and this Amendment is to enable the Ministers to provide in such regulations that food not complying with them may be treated as unfit for human consumption for the purpose of Section 10 of the 1938 Act. The Amendment is required because without it food containing prohibited preservatives or prohibited quantities of injurious metals, for instance, cannot be seized. The only thing to do is to prosecute the distributors after the food has gone into the channels of trade.

Hon. Members will, I know, be familiar with the question of oranges and the trouble over thiourea, and that is exactly the kind of case with which we want to deal here. We want to ensure that the injurious food can be seized, if necessary, at the port, and that we do not have to rely on action being taken at too late a stage. I think that hon. Members generally will feel that it is a reasonable thing to do.

Mr. Willey

We are much obliged to the Minister for that explanation. Of course, we accept the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill"

Mr. Willey

This is a Clause which we welcome. It gives powers to make regulations. At the moment we have the Defence (Sale of Food) Regulations, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary whether it is the Government's intention to continue the purpose of those Regulations. Once the Bill becomes law the Government will not wish to continue the powers under the Defence Regulations but will rely upon this Bill, and I ask the Parliamentary Secretary for an assurance that the purpose of those Regulations will be continued in the powers provided by the Bill.

I want to ask the hon. Gentleman two further questions. The first I have asked before but it arises again under this Clause; it is a request for an assurance that the work of the Food Standards Committee will be continued and pressed forward. It is appreciated, I think, not only by the public but by the trade, that that committee is doing excellent work. As I said in the debate on the previous Clause, its work will provide the basis for what most of us want to see in connection with additives to and subtractions from food.

The other question is rather different. Here we are all showing a keen interest in food hygiene. Can the Parliamentary Secretary give an assurance that there will be no economy in his establishment at the expense of the food standards division, because it would be wrong to say with one voice that we are doing all we can to promote hygiene and at the same time to allow any economy considerations to affect the excellent work which is being done.

In dealing with additives, the Parliamentary Secretary mentioned margarine. He should also have mentioned bread, because his Government are still insisting, very properly, upon calcium being put into bread. When we were in office hon. Members opposite criticised us for putting chalk in bread. I think the Parliamentary Secretary should do the service of admitting that he is very properly doing what we did.

Dr. Hill

I give the hon. Member the assurance which he requires about the Defence Regulations, and about carrying on the improvements which have been made. It is remarkable how in time of stress it becomes possible to effect improvements which are later incorporated in permanent legislation. It is proposed to continue the work of the Food Standards Committee. I am not aware of any proposal to decrease its scope. Indeed, a subsequent Clause of the Bill will show how it will be necessary to extend the kind of work and investigation which has been associated with the Food Standards Committee in the past.

Dealing with the hon. Gentleman's last question, this delightfully peaceful atmosphere led me to give an example which I thought would be accepted rather than be one which might be the subject of prolonged debate.

Dr. Stross

This is perhaps the most important Clause in the Bill because of the powers which can be used under it, if the Government are so willing, in order to implement what will be an admirable Bill by the time we have finished with it. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) that to limit ourselves to the question of margarine in connection with additives is not fair to those sections of the public which are rather nervous about what are called prophylactic measures being taken on their behalf in order to improve their health. For example, there are some who are nervous about the addition of iodine. I am not nervous about it; I have been the strongest supporter of it but I recognise, and it is recognised by every authority and certainly by the Medical Research Council, that some people are sensitive to the tiniest amount of iodine, and they have to have special consideration.

I have had my doubts about the addition of chalk from the beginning, but that does not matter here. This is not the time to go into the matter, which can be discussed on a future occasion. I know the arguments, of course, both for and against. The hon. Gentleman was good enough to send me a very interesting statement of the whole of the discussion a year or two ago.

8.0 p.m.

Other people are worried about the proposed addition of flourine to their drinking water—I think with some justification—and I am not sure that we shall not be compelled to have a look at that matter again. The Housewives' League, I must assure the right hon. Gentleman and the Parliamentary Secretary, are very disturbed about some of these matters, and they have been campaigning about them for some time. I may perhaps be allowed to quote a sentence or two from an issue of their magazine of 1st January of this year. The Parliamentary Secretary will then see how disturbed they are.

A lady writing says this, after consultations with the Department's officers: We are aghast at the evidence of degeneration, physical, mental and spiritual, on every hand. Our only comfort is the knowledge that we at least are not sitting on our bottoms, but are trying to do something"—

Dr. Morgan

Surely no lady would say that.

Dr. Stross

I am quoting— however small and however insignificant, even if it is only baking our own good bread in the belief that a little leaven will lighten the whole lump. I am sure the Committee will realise that it is not fair to leave these ladies in this very uncomfortable position. I think that very frequently the gist of their complaints has good common-sense behind it, and I hope that in future the Parliamentary Secretary and his right hon. Friend will pay more attention to them.

I now come to the most important part of these regulations. That is the amazing power which the Minister has and which I hope he will now use to protect the public. At an earlier stage, when we were discussing Clause 1, some of us discussed the work of the Delaney Committee. I think that it may be appropriate to consider what is happening there and compare the procedure with what we are trying to do in this Bill.

In fact this Bill is running a race with our American cousins to see who is to be first with a first-class piece of legislation in order to protect ourselves. I know that in February of this year the food, drug and cosmetic journal was describing the legislation to come very shortly before Congress. I do not know whether they have yet passed it. If they have it is as a result of the decisions and the advice which has come from the Delaney Committee, and I think that hon. Members will be interested if I give shortly their four main recommendations.

They were, first, that the increase in use of chemical additives by the food manufacturing industry has created a serious public health problem. I think that we would all agree with that, and we are legislating to make sure that it does not grow to become a serious health problem in our own country.

Secondly, their existing Federal laws do not provide adequate public protection. Nor do ours. Thirdly, before a chemical is used in, or on, or as a food, it should be subjected to acute and chronic toxicity tests to ensure that so far as possible public health will not be endangered by its use. We agree on that. That is what we are going to do. Fourthly, early legislation should be introduced to provide that before any new chemical is introduced into the food industry, evidence should be submitted to the Food and Drug Administration demonstrating that the chemical is safe and produces no harmful physiological reaction. I was quoting this from the "British Food Journal" of May this year.

I think that there must be some misunderstanding in our minds, because at the end of the article we find these words, in which I think the Parliamentary Secretary will be interested. It says This development in the United States is the more interesting in view of the fact that the Food and Drug (Amendment) Bill, now awaiting consideration in our own House of Commons, makes provision for a system of notification of the use of chemical additives to food, which appears somewhat similar to the remedy rejected as inadequate by the Food and Drug Administration in Washington. I think that they are wrong; at least I hope they are wrong in their criticism. I am pretty sure that they are wrong.

But what they had in mind was the fact that there was a rejection in Washington by the Food and Drug Administration of the suggestion that it was enough for the manufacturer merely to notify the Administration that they were going to use a new chemical. The Administration said, "That just won't do. You must also give us proof that you have subjected it to control and test, and when we have looked at the evidence we must be satisfied that it is safe to use"

I ask the Parliamentary Secretary if I am right in belief that we have in mind throughout this Bill that no new substances are to be allowed to come into use unless they have been carefully looked at. Earlier this evening, an hon. Member opposite spoke on behalf of the chemical industry, with which he had been associated, in its defence. I am sure that in this country those associated with the food industry or the chemical manufacturers are not lacking in public responsibility. But it is right that we should, from this House, give a lead to these bodies.

I think that the industry on both sides is waiting for a lead. The way in which it was put in the United States—and I think this is worth mentioning—was that there are three partners in this matter which we are discussing. There is the partnership between three sets of people which will not be broken by legislation of the type which we are now passing, but which will bring about closer cooperation. I refer to the chemical manufacturer, the food industrialist and the food and drug administration, which is ourselves, because we represent the public.

We must not under any circumstances let our cousins get ahead of us on this subject. Why should we not be first? Certainly, we must not lag behind. Our responsibility to the public makes us, I am sure, at least as eager as they are in the United States to demonstrate that public health and the public welfare come before anything else.

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