HC Deb 26 October 1954 vol 531 cc1853-9
Mr. Willey

I beg to move in page 4, line 5, after "production," to insert "use."

I will do so very briefly because I do not know whether the Parliamentary Secretary intends to indicate that the Government will accept it. Here we are dealing with the power of Ministers to obtain particulars. The Amendment deals with the definition of a business. As the Bill stands, that would be a business which includes the production or importation of substances of any class specified in the order.

We are suggesting that this definition would be widened a little if we made the provision read: "A business which includes the production, use or importation of substances." I would emphasise that we are only giving the Minister power to make regulations. He is not obliged to make these regulations; it is a discretionary power which lies with the Minister. I think that there is a good case for widening the definition of "business," and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to indicate that he can accept such an expansion of the definition.

Dr. Hill

It is not quite as simple as the hon. Member suggested. He will appreciate that under this Clause power is given to collect information about substances that are being used, research that is being done on them and the like. Clearly the person from whom to demand that information is the manufacturer or, if the substances are manufactured abroad, the importer. The words which the hon. Member seeks to insert would make it possible to demand such information from those who are using the material.

I do not want to give an extreme example because the hon. Member is raising a serious point, but an extreme example is a bakery using a small quantity of fat extender. In order that the Minister may determine what action he can properly take power is given to require information from the manufacturer of these substances. That is the reason for limiting it to manufacture and importation and not including the word "use."

Mr. Willey

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman, but I should like him to raise his sights and go a little beyond his brief. I would readily agree in ordinary circumstances and accept every word he has said, but I still feel there may be cases in which it would be desirable to get information also from people using the substances.

I cannot see why the hon. Gentleman should hesitate to accept this Amendment. It is not placing an obligation on the Minister that he must do this. This is a new provision. I accept at once the power to obtain information, and I am sure that in the obtaining of this information the Minister will get the utmost co-operation from the food trades. There is good will on this question and such information as may be available should be made available.

All I am suggesting is that the hon. Gentleman should at any rate concede that there may be circumstances in which it would be desirable to go wider than the manufacturer or the importer and to say that there may be information available in other food businesses. The trade would accept the good sense of the Minister. These regulations would be brought to Parliament. Even with a joint Minister of Agriculture and Minister of Food there is, happily, a very good association between the food trade and the Ministry of Food.

I do not think this provision would cause suspicion. No one would be upset if the power were there. We could rest assured that it would not be exercised unless there were good reasons for saying that the information obtained was incomplete and it was desired to go a little further.

Dr. Hill

I will look most sympathetically at the question of collecting information. I agree that here and there the experience of those who have used the substances may be of value. I will give the matter sympathetic consideration. I hope that, on that understanding, the hon. Member will withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Mitchison

May I express the hope that when doing that the hon. Gentleman will bear in mind that one of the particular things about which we ask for information is the use of the substances? Therefore, it is not unreasonable to ask for the information from the person concerned in using them. I suggest that it is wholly unreasonable to refuse the power to ask for that information from people concerned in the use of the substances.

Mr. Willey

I think we have made some impact on the Minister and the Parliamentary Secretary and, in view of the assurance given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.15 p.m.

Mr. Mitchison

I beg to move, in page 4, line 7, to leave out "or regulated."

This Amendment admits of no refutation. Here is a subsection to deal with getting information about substances sold for use in the preparation of food for human consumption. It is not altogether unreasonable that we should expect information about substances the use of which is unregulated, but substances which are regulated, those are ones in respect of which we want this power. I am sure that these words which the Amendment seeks to delete were put in by inadvertence and I move this Amendment with confidence.

Dr. Hill

In response to the arguments of the hon. and learned Member I propose to go further and, in reference to the next Amendment, in line 7, to leave out from "section," to "to," in line 9, to say that on reflection we think we should remove the whole of the words appearing in brackets. That would leave more elbow room for the Minister. In the light of that, and the assurance that we shall seek to remove the words within brackets, perhaps the hon. and learned Member will wish to withdraw the Amendment.

Mr. Mitchison

I understand the Parliamentary Secretary to be undertaking at a later stage to move an Amendment to omit the words in the brackets.

Mr. Amoryindicated assent.

Mr. Mitchison

On that assurance, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Dr. Summerskill

I beg to move, in page 4, line 28, after "to," to insert: or in any other way affects.

The Temporary Chairman (Mr. George Thomas)

It might be convenient to consider at the same time the next Amendment in the name of the right hon. Lady, in line 28, at the end, to insert: (d) particulars of any investigations or inquiries carried out by or to the knowledge of the person carrying on the business in question for the purpose of determining the cumulative effect on the health of a person consuming such substance in ordinary quantities.

Dr. Summerskill

This Clause is concerned with the power of Ministers to obtain particulars of certain food ingredients. I seek to strengthen the power of the Minister, and I hope he will accept the Amendment. If I were in his position I would feel, under the circumstances—the circumstances being that today so many foods have additions made to them and our whole approach in this field is exploratory, as I think the Parliamentary Secretary will agree—that none of us can be dogmatic about the effects of new drugs and of some of the foods which have been adulterated. I mean adulterated in its broadest sense, not necessarily by some careless person, but by someone who believes that by making some addition he may be improving the foodstuffs. Nevertheless the effect may be injurious to health or it may affect the individual in some other way.

It is known that certain foods contain mineral oils and, while a small amount of mineral oils are not injurious, large amounts are injurious. People fear that certain foods may contain fertilisers which may be injurious, but we must recognise, while making this tentative approach to the subject, that these new materials in food may also cause changes in personality.

I put that point to the Parliamentary Secretary. I think that he will agree that certain drugs which have been used during the last few years—and which have been lauded by the medical profession and subsequently by the public as being something very wonderful and which would have an excellent therapeutic effect—have been discovered subsequently to be injurious in so far that they sometimes even affect the personality. I have an idea that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) will develop that point, but I will put it broadly in that sense.

There is no pathological effect, in so far as the expectation of life of the individual is not affected, but the condition as described in this Amendment or in any other way affects is there. The individual may be affected by something which is in the food, but he need not necessarily develop some pathological condition. That is why I am asking the Minister to accept this Amendment. When he comes to interpret this, I think that he will find it very useful, because he will be able to demand from those people making investigations into these products other information which may be useful to him.

The other Amendment deals with the cumulative effect on the health of the person. Again I would say that in the matter of foods the British are very conservative. It is possible for a family to eat similar foods every day year after year. Again I make my point, that if those foods contain some substance which has an injurious effect, or which affects the individual in some other way, then of course the cumulative effect is even worse. That is why I am asking the Minister to insert these two Amendments. I think it true to say today that there are only two foods which are free from artificial ingredients. There is fish—

Mr. Paton

What about kippers?

Dr. Summerskill

—and wild fruits. I do not know of any other food in the country which is free from artificial ingredients.

Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)


Dr. Summerskill

Potatoes are subject to fertilisers. But fish straight out of the sea is not subject to artificial ingredients. As my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Paton) said, kippers are subject to artificial ingredients which may be extremely injurious, but I will not develop that.

To press my point, I think that I am right in saying that there are only two foods which we consume today in the 20th century which are free from artificial ingredients, fish—though it may be subject later to some process making it injurious—and wild fruits. That is why I wish to impress on the Minister that he should take the widest powers offered to him. Investigations are being made, as we know, by voluntary organisations, by research organisations, by big drug houses and by all kinds of people. They are investigating these different materials and, therefore—I was going to use the expression used just now by the Parliamentary Secretary—these Amendments would give the Minister more elbow room. I think that in this matter he should be willing to take it.

Mr. Amory

I agree with the right hon. Lady that we want to be sure that we do not exclude any future information that we may want, and we cannot know now exactly what we may want in the future. I consider that she has made out her case and I agree with her.

We do not think that the second Amendment is necessary. We consider that the powers taken under Clause 1 (5) will enable us to get this information. I agree that the British people are conservative about their food. The Parliamentary Secretary and I are both accustomed to having our evening meal at about 7.30. We do not look like getting it at that time tonight, and so we are getting rather hungry. In the circumstances I agree with what the right hon. Lady has said, and we can accept these Amendments.

Dr. Stross

The Committee. I am sure. are greatly obliged because it is true that the acceptance of these Amendments will give the Government latitude to take such steps as are necessary under contingencies which would not be covered by the term "health" alone. Powers are available in the Bill to take action but it might hamper the courts unless words such as these are added.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 4, line 28, at end, insert: (d) particulars of any investigations or inquiries carried out by or to the knowledge of the person carrying on the business in question for the purpose of determining the cumulative effect on the health of a person consuming such substance in ordinary quantities.—[Dr. Summerskill.]

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