§ Mr. Willis
I beg to move, in page 22, line 29, at the end to insertin accordance with a scale of fees approved by the Secretary of State.In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) and I had down an Amendment to limit the charge to Is. in order to make it possible for people readily to have samples analysed. In the course of a very long debate, it was pointed out that the Government's concern was in case business firms could have samples taken and then use the result for the purpose of advertising their products in the market. The Joint Under-Secretary of State advanced the argument that in these cases business firms ought to be made to pay. Obviously we must take cognisance of that; the argument seems to be quite sound.
We pointed out, however, that we desired to make it easy for people who suspected food which they had bought to have it analysed, and we felt that if the charge were too high, as might well be the case, that object might not be achieved. In Committee we suggested that the charge should be is. We recognise that our Amendment in Committee 1710 was probably not effective. We had a long debate, at the end of which we were given an assurance that the matter would be looked at; and the Amendment was withdrawn on that undertaking.
I understand that the Lord Advocate is to reply to this debate, and, therefore, I am not very hopeful. If he intends to refer to anything else, I hope that he will tell us what are the arguments to which he is referring instead of simply giving a reference number, as he tended to do on the previous Amendment. I hope that he will not merely say, as he did earlier, that he is giving us the best of his arguments—in other words, that he will not approach this matter as though he is fighting a case in Parliament House.
I do not want to go over all the arguments used in Committee because I think that they are still fresh in the mind of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but I would point out to him that during the Committee stage it was stated that under the Weights and Measures Act a housewife who thought that she was not getting fair weight of sugar could go to the weights and measures inspector and have that sugar weighed for no charge at all. It was pointed out that that ought to be the type of provision made in relation to the taking of samples.
After giving this matter some thought, we felt that the words of this Amendment would possibly cover the various arguments put forward on Committee. At the same time, it would achieve the purpose which we sought to achieve, namely, make it easy for people to get samples of food analysed when they thought that there was something wrong with that food.
§ Mr. Ross
I beg to second the Amendment.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis), in his very cogent speech, has adequately covered the points at issue which we want to press on the Government. If we are to get the co-operation of the public in getting the best out of this Bill we must not penalise by a far too high cash payment for an analysis the person who seeks to have that analysis made.
Originally, we suggested a charge of is. Objection was taken to that, although we thought that a purely nominal figure would cover the case. Now we are trusting to the good sense 1711 of the Scottish Department—I wonder whether we are wise in doing so—properly to interpret the spirit of what was said by Scottish hon. Members in the Committee. We suggest that the Minister should fix a scale of fees.
I am sure that if the Lord Advocate has read fully the arguments put forward in Committee and fully understands the reasons for the Amendment moved on that occasion and the Amendment moved on this occasion, this time he should not be the carrier of bad news.
§ The Lord Advocate
During the Committee stage a most interesting argument took place as to whether, in point of fact, there should be any charge at all, and it was tested on the question of whether there should be is, charge. This Amendment does not raise that point at all. The reason why I cannot accept this Amendment is because, again, I think that it is unnecessary and most discourteous to the local authorities.
§ The Lord Advocate
I shall most certainly do that. I invite hon. Members to consider how this would read if subsection (3) were amended in the way suggested. It would say:Provided that in the case of a sample submitted by a person not being an officer of the local authority, the analyst may demand in advance such fee as may be fixed by that authority in accordance with a scale of fees approved by the Secretary of State.I should have thought that the House would have been prepared, as we on this side of the House are prepared, to trust the local authority to fix a suitable fee. Quite apart from that, there would be very great difficulty—I should have thought it would be almost impossible— if my right hon. Friend had to fix a scale of fees for work which varies so enormously from one operation to another. I invite the House to reject the Amendment and to leave this matter, as I think it can be safely left, in the hands of local authorities.
§ Mr. Steele
The Lord Advocate continues to bring bad news. When he started his speech on this occasion I had a feeling that he was a harbinger of good news because he drew our attention to 1712 the fact that during the Committee stage the arguments had all been concerned with whether or not there should be a payment. For one second I thought that he was going to tell the House that he had abandoned the idea of asking for any payment. I was soon disillusioned when he told us, as he has told us on previous Amendments, that the Government could not accept this Amendment. He told us that the Amendment, if accepted, would be nonsense.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leith (Mr. Hoy) says that the arguments of the right hon. and learned Gentleman are the same. We are not wedded to any particular form of words, so long as the intention is accepted. The intention is that anyone who purchases food should not have in mind any question of cost for having that food analysed if he has a feeling that there is some danger about that food and that he ought to have it analysed.
May I draw the attention of the House to the attitude of the Government in this matter? If a local fanner has some concern about the soil on which he grows food he is advised by the Government to send samples of that soil to the Department, which will analyse it and give him all the advice necessary. The Department will send representatives from the local agricultural executive committee to tell the farmer how to deal with the soil —what to put into it, and how to work it—and that is all done without any cost to the farmer. But, after the food has been grown and goes to a shop, if the shopkeeper feels that there is something wrong with it and sends it to the public analyst, he will, according to this Bill, have to pay a charge. I think that is entirely wrong and I hope that the Government will look at this matter again, firstly, to see if they cannot provide that no charge be made, and, secondly, if that cannot be accepted, to ensure that the charge is not such as would tend to prohibit or lessen the desire of the individual to send such food to the analyst.
§ Captain Duncan
I think that on this occasion the Lord Advocate is bringing good news. The argument in support of the Amendment is really between whether one believes that the local authority should fix the charges or the Secretary of State should fix the charges. I think that the Lord Advocate is right.
1713 This Bill is largely a consolidation Measure, and I think I am right in saying that the provision we are discussing has been in force since 1928; local authorities have had these powers since then. So far as I know, they have worked the powers perfectly smoothly and no account has been given by hon. Members opposite to the effect that these powers have not worked satisfactorily. I am one of those who believe that if things are working well, we should not change them simply for the sake of change, but should leave a good system to continue to operate.
I further believe in this connection that when we can leave power in the hands of the local authority, we should do so rather than bring in the Secretary of State to fix a scale of fees when it might be difficult, even if it were practically possible, to lay down a scale which would be fair between the public and the public analyst. For these reasons, I think that my right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate is right and that the Amendment should be rejected.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Miss Herbison
I beg to move, in page 23, line 3, after "but," to insert "part of."
We had a fairly long discussion on the Clause in Committee, although not on this Amendment. In Committee, it was my desire to have the work of analysing done either by the public analyst or by his deputy under his direction. I moved an Amendment which was negatived. In trying to support his case, the Lord Advocate said:The normal position one would contemplate would be that there would be an analyst and a deputy analyst, and that in the offices of the local authority there would be appropriate laboratory facilities, and the like.The right hon. and learned Gentleman was not very sure that we would have all this, but that was what he thought there would be. He said:Obviously, under them, they would need to have as assistants persons who were apprentices or trainees, or perhaps people even more qualified.Now we come to the important part in support of my Amendment:When the analyst was about to make an analysis he might say to those persons, 'Will you prepare that for analysis?' I do not know, any more than does the hon. Lady, how an 1714 analyst works, but I imagine that there would be some preliminary work which, strictly, could be called part of the analysis, the donkey work, which the analyst would ask his assistant to do."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Scottish Standing Committee, 15th November, 1955; c. 455–6.]The Lord Advocate did not seem very sure, but that was what he thought would happen in the public analyst's office.
Like my hon. Friends, I accept that what the Lord Advocate described as likely to happen is what really happens. If he felt that the trainees or apprentices, whatever name is given to them, would do simply part of the preliminary work or the donkey work, I should point out that that is not what subsection (6) states, for by subsection (6) it would be possible for the trainee or apprentice to do the whole of the work and for the public analyst to give his signature to it.
It is because I feel that every Clause of the Bill should be so drawn as to leave no loopholes which might permit of mistakes that could lead to food poisoning or lessen the standard of hygiene that we wish to be observed, that I feel that the important job of analysis should in no instance be left completely in the hands of an apprentice or trainee. I am willing that the apprentice or trainee should do any preliminary work for which his state of training fits him, but I feel that at some stage the analyst himself should come in, not simply to take from the apprentice or trainee the report of what has happened, but to complete the analysis.
In other words, my Amendment goes halfway towards meeting the Lord Advocate and the arguments that were put forward by the Government. If it is not accepted, there will be grave danger of leaving a loophole so that we do not achieve the security we want.
§ The Lord Advocate
The hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) and I are in agreement as to what happens when an analysis is made. There is the preliminary stage and then, at some indeterminate stage, the analysis proper starts. The hon. Lady wants the Bill to provide that the analyst himself—the gentleman who is to sign the certificate—should take some part in the analysis. The Amendment does not say how much part he should take; it simply 1715 States "part of." By a strict reading of the Amendment, the analyst would conform with the terms of the subsection if he merely stirred a dish or whatever it happened to be.
The question is whether the analyst himself must do it all himself or whether, in simple circumstances, he is to be entitled to leave it, as in the Bill at the moment, and as I agree, entirely to somebody else, while taking the full responsibility, as he is bound to do.
In our view, the various types of analysis are numerous and there are some which, I understand, are comparatively simple and which might conceivably and quke properly be left to the assistant of the analyst, who would do the work, and the analyst himself would then, on his responsibility as a professional man, sign the analysis. For these reasons, we do not think it is desirable to include a subsection which could be easily evaded by the analyst looking in simply for a brief moment and taking no active part in the analysis.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ Mr. Willis
I beg to move, in page 23, line 3, after "any," to insert "competent."
We withdrew a similar Amendment in Committee on the assurance that this matter would be looked at. During the Committee stage, the view was expressed that subsection (6) was widely drawn, and my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) and others of us felt that it should be tightened. To achieve this we thought that the insertion of the word "competent" before the word "person" would help.
I hope the Government have looked into this since the Committee. I wonder if the Lord Advocate is to answer the case? If he does, then I suppose that it is a foregone conclusion it will not be accepted. However, I hope the Government have reconsidered this subsection and have come to the conclusion that to make this Amendment would improve the Bill.
Some of the Government's arguments against a similar Amendment moved in Committee were specious arguments. One was that the word "competent" appeared nowhere else in the Bill, and that, therefore, we should not put it in here. There were other arguments of that character. 1716 As the Clause stands at present, anybody may do the analysis. An office boy may do it. The Lord Advocate could be called upon to do it. The analysis having been done by anybody, a certificate of the results are signed by the public analyst. Presumably the certificate may be shoved into his hands for signature along with a handful of other papers, at any time, perhaps late at night, or whenever the person who has done the analysis may chance to meet him.
To prevent anything like that from happening we ought to make this Amendment. It was argued that it would be an insult to the public analyst to make such an Amendment as this, expressly to provide that the analysis must be made by a "competent" person. It was argued that the public analyst would naturally be careful in his work and would not employ any person other than a competent person to help him. Nobody doubts the trustworthiness of the public analyst, but it is not difficult to visualise circumstances in which the public analyst may have nothing whatever to do with the analysis and in which only a very casual examination of the samples may be made. It is not difficult to visualise the analysis being carried out in circumstances of which the public analyst would not approve but may not know. Therefore, I suggest that this Amendment, far from being an insult, is really a safeguard, since it insists that the analysis must be done by a competent person. That is all we are asking, and I sincerely hope that the Government will accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Steele
I beg to second the Amendment.
My hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) just now made it perfectly clear that we want to ensure that the Bill puts the responsibility on the public analyst. The Lord Advocate will remember that he told us in Committee that this subsection is in the Bill because of a difficulty which arose in England. The difficulty had not then arisen in Scotland, but in England there was a case in which a certificate was rejected because the analyst had not himself done all the work.
However, the subsection says only that the certificate of the results of an analysis shall be signed by the public analyst. It does not say that he must do the analysis. 1717 It says that the analysis may be done by any person acting under his direction. That is quite unsatisfactory, and we ought to have at least the safeguard that any person making the analysis under the analyst's direction shall be a person competent to do the job, and I hope that the Lord Advocate will accept the Amendment.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ The Lord Advocate
Hon. Members opposite will be glad to know that this is positively my last appearance on this stage of our proceedings on the Bill. The question is whether it is desirable to put in here the word "competent." Hon. Members must remember that the person we employ for this work is the analyst, and it is the analyst who has to sign the certificate. The analyst is a professional man, proud of his work, proud of his name. One can hardly imagine that a professional man would in such circumstances entrust any part of his work to anybody he himself did not think competent and adequate to do it.
There is a further check, I think. if the certificate were doubted, then it would be very appropriate in cross-examination of the analyst, to ask him, first, whether he had done all the analysis. If he were to say that he had not, one could then ask him who had done it. If it turned out to have been done merely by a small boy who normally ran round with letters—or some one of that sort—then almost certainly the certificate would not be accepted by the court.
§ Mr. Woodburn
That is just the point that is worrying us. The matter may not go to a court, yet somebody may be affected by the analysis. Because of that analysis somebody's food may be destroyed, even although the analysis was left to the office boy. If the Amendment is accepted, then by law the analyst must employ a competent person to make the analysis. To that extent he will be liable for not doing his duty, if an incompetent person makes the analysis. If the Amendment were made an analysis made by an incompetent person would lose its validity. When we are dealing with food, clean food, prosecutions in cases of unfit food—
§ The Lord Advocate
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that the case would not necessarily go to court. However, the analyst is a man of skill, and one who is not likely to sign just any certificate. No professional man will sign a certificate unless he is satisfied that the other people taking part in the operation are competent to do their duty.
I know that the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) does not like this argument, but I must remind him of it, that if we were to put in the word "competent" here we should have to put it in a great many other places in the Bill. If we did not, some bright person would suggest that a man did not need to be competent for this work, because when Parliament meant competent it said competent.
§ Amendment negatived.