HC Deb 08 February 1956 vol 548 cc1720-34

Amendments made: In page 40, line 38, at end insert: home-going ship" means a ship plying in inland waters, or a ship engaged in coastal passenger services, and for the purposes of this definition "coastal passenger service" means a passenger service or excursion between places in Scotland which does not involve calling at any place outside Scotland.—[The Lord Advocate.]

In page 41, line 23, leave out "a liquid and gas" and insert "any liquid or gas."

In line 35, leave out subsection (3).—[The Solicitor-General for Scotland.]

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

5.58 p.m.

Mr. J. Nixon Browne

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

This Bill may not have hit the headlines, but it is a very important addition to the public health code in Scotland. It is some considerable time since the Bill was first introduced, and no one regrets the delay more than I do. Nevertheless, I am not altogether sorry. Because of the delay it has fallen to me to pilot the Bill through the Commons, if not through stormy seas at least against a very strong current.

I have the objects of the Bill very much at heart, and I know how strong has been the demand of Scottish housewives for a Bill of this nature. In spite of its many vicissitudes, I think that we can all agree that the Bill is now even better than the one originally introduced. My right hon. Friend and I are indeed grateful to the Scottish Standing Committee for having made the Bill the Measure it is, and I must also pay a sincere tribute to the amount of useful work which Scottish Members opposite have put into it.

The Bill is not a duplicate of the corresponding English Measure which is already on the Statute Book. We have not been bound by precedents or dragged behind England's coat tails. We have produced a Measure suitable to Scottish needs and conditions but in no way embarrassing United Kingdom suppliers or upsetting a uniform United Kingdom policy where that is desirable. Much of the Bill is concerned with clarifying and bringing the existing law up to date, but there is also much that is new. I hope that this blending of the new and the old has been accomplished with reasonable success. If some of the older provisions have been scrutinised in Committee more fully than one might have expected, that in the end has proved all to the good. It is good to pull out the old provisions sometimes and look at them carefully again.

It is commonly said, and I know that the House will think it substantially true, that it is education and not legislation which will achieve an advance in the clean handling of food. I have no doubt at all about the importance of education in this connection, and I can assure the House that much good work has been done by the local authorities and others in the form of food hygiene propaganda. But if education in hygiene is to be successful, the worker's condition, his environment and the equipment and appliances which he has to use must be such as will encourage cleanly habits at work. So, education, which is largely the responsibility of the local authority, and legislation, which we have the responsibility for, in this Bill, must go hand in hand.

Much depends on the attitude of the public, and here I hope that all hon. Members will help. To a great extent this Measure is due to a growing public conscience about clean food, and undoubtedly the best results can only be obtained if the housewife, and the public, generally, continue to make it clear to the supplier that they insist on having food which is clean and wholesome and which is sold or served in a clean manner.

There has also been a certain amount of public concern about the use of new chemical substances in the preparation of food. Perhaps we are worrying too much about these things, but we are taking steps in this Bill to keep the problem in hand with the power to call for information from manufacturers and to prescribe controls. There is every indication that the full co-operation of the Scottish food trades will be forthcoming. The Department of Health has had many contacts with trade representatives and I am satisfied that their organisations are anxious to do all that can reasonably be expected of them.

It is on this note of good will that I conclude. We do not look on this Bill as one which provides a penal code for offenders against idealistic legislation. The Bill is essentially a practical Measure. We will encourage the local authorities and their officers to regard themselves as the friends and advisers of the food trader, and not merely as policemen waiting for contraventions of the law. There is much to be done but I have no doubt that with good will on all sides much will be achieved by the Bill.

6.2 p.m.

Miss Herbison

This Bill has had to undergo many vicissitudes before reaching its Third Reading and being sent on to another place. The Joint Under-Secretary of State has said rightly that the Bill is a great improvement compared with that which came before us originally and he thanked my hon. and right hon. Friends on this side of the House. I would point out that back benchers opposite cannot expect much thanks from us for any part they played in improving the Bill. Almost every improvement has been due to the work done by my right hon. and hon. Friends. Having said that, may I tell the Joint Under-Secretary and his Ministerial colleagues that we are grateful to them for their co-operation in making the Bill what it is today. If the Joint Under-Secretary had approached it with a closed mind, it would not be the good Measure it is, in spite of what we were trying to do.

The two greatest improvements lie in the registration of the catering industry and the provision in Clause 23, whereby every precaution will be taken to ensure that those dealing with food do not contaminate it. Even there, I cannot say that we received co-operation from the back benches opposite. Many of the other improvements will go a long way towards ensuring that in Scotland we shall have for our housewives food that is wholesome, is clean, and which they need not fear to give to their families.

One thing is worrying me. If the catering industry is to do all it must do to conform with the regulations made under the Bill, a considerable expense will result for some of the trade. The whole Government must take responsibility for this Measure, of course, but the actions of some other Ministers will make it difficult for some of those catering interests to bring into their business the utensils and machinery which will be necessary if we are to get what we want. I am referring to the Government's credit squeeze and their increases in Purchase Tax. In some cases, what we have done in the Bill will be rendered almost nugatory because of the general policy of the Government on other matters. If the regulations do not measure up to those made by the various working parties, the Bill will not have the teeth in it that it needs. Its teeth must lie in the regulations, and in making them the Government should take into account all the recommendations made by the various working parties on clean food. We shall examine the regulations carefully when they come before us.

On the question of the part to be played by the Scottish Food Hygiene Council, I hope that the assurances given to us today by the Joint Under-Secretary are sound. Not only do we want the council to deal with regulations and codes sent to it, but we want the council to bring to the Secretary of State its views on any matter affecting food hygiene, and also the result of its discussion of matters about which the Secretary of State may not have thought. In other words, we want the two-way traffic for which we ask. We have spent a long time on the Bill in Committee and on Report—35½ hours—but that time has been very well spent when we compare the Bill as it leaves us with the Bill as it was on Second Reading.

6.10 p.m.

Colonel Sir Alan Gomme-Duncan (Perth and East Perthshire)

Having, for certain reasons, been debarred hitherto from taking part in the discussion so far, I should like to give my support to the Bill as it leaves the House. It is a valuable Measure. I agree with the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) and the Joint Under-Secretary that the Opposition Amendments—of which there were many —have played a great part in improving it. I do not think it can be said that Conservative hon. Members were uncooperative, or they would have opposed the Amendments which have now been incorporated in the Bill. I feel that my right hon. and hon. Friends may take some share of the credit, although the hon. Lady does not seem to be prepared to give them any.

Miss Herbison

I gave some credit to the Ministers, for they did a great deal to help us. There was also the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), who, in one case, gave us real support.

Sir A. Gomme-Duncan

Verbal support is not the only support that is valuable. Voting support is equally valuable. The hon. Lady had a great deal of that from Conservative hon. Members.

I want to utter a note of warning, to which reference was made by the Joint Under-Secretary. The Bill, good as it is as it leaves us after all our deliberations, can only work if the human element works. No amount of legislation will make people clean, nor will it make clean their habits and their handling or preparation of food. Education will play the greatest possible part in making the Bill work. It is a matter not only of the education of school children; it is also a matter of the education of grown-ups who are not as good as they ought to be in many matters of hygiene.

As I said on an earlier edition of the Bill, we do not want the Bill to be a cranks' charter. There is always a danger of that happening when we attempt to put right things which need putting right. I feel confident that the Bill will be a great help to us in trying to do what we all want to do regardless of our political affiliations, which is '.to ensure good clean food, first of all for our children and then for our people as a whole. I have the greatest pleasure in giving my warm support to the Bill as it leaves the House.

6.13 p.m.

Mr. John Taylor (West Lothian)

I believe that this is the first occasion on which an hon. Member has followed the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Colonel Sir A. Gomme-Duncan) in debate since he was honoured a day or two ago. I should like to take this opportunity to congratulate him. I know that he regards his knighthood as a very great honour and is pleased about it, and we are also pleased that he has been honoured.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) said, we have already spent nearly 40 hours considering the Bill. One would imagine that after such a spate of oratory there would be very little new left to say about the Bill and that anything that might be said would be almost bound to be tedious repetition. However, others might say that that was underestimating the ingenuity of Scottish hon. Members, who can always find something new to say at any stage, particularly at the end of a long and not altogether uncontentious Bill.

The Bill differs from the English Measure in one important respect. Clause 14 provides for the registration of catering premises. I notice that this difference was received with many misgivings by, and met some opposition from, the catering and hotel trade in Scotland, the trade feeling that it was being unjustly treated compared with the trade on this side of the border.

I think that the trade is mistaken. If it regards the provision in a proper light, it will find that it is very much to its advantage. Hoteliers, restaurateurs, and other caterers in Scotland who are seeking to attract tourist trade can now say, "When you come to Scotland you can be sure that your food is hygienic. You have no such guarantee when you eat in an English hotel or restaurant. By law, we must now register and conform to fairly rigid standards of hygiene with the object of supplying good, clean, wholesome food prepared in good, clean, wholesome conditions." I give the trade that tip gratis. I must also pay a tribute to the persistence of my right hon. and hon. Friends in pressing for this improvement in the Bill, and to the Government for giving way to reasonable and sensible pressure.

The Bill has been very much improved and is now an excellent piece of legislation. I bid it farewell somewhat regretfully, because throughout its long progress in the Scottish Standing Committee it seemed to me to be an excellent example of the effectiveness of that Committee, showing how well it does its work and how carefully and closely it can examine even minutia? of legislation, and produce, as a joint effort, a very much improved Measure. The present state of the Bill is a compliment to the Scottish Standing Committee.

We wish the Bill well. We agree that it can operate fully only if those engaged in the trade sincerely believe that it is a good trade, and that it is their duty to provide good clean food. The Bill provides that they must not do otherwise, but it will be very much easier if the publicity which the Bill has given to the whole problem results in support by the trade. It may then be that the punitive Clauses of the Bill will never need to be put into effect because our public catering will be all that we wish it to be.

6.19 p.m.

Sir Thomas Moore (Ayr)

It seems that we are all agreed that this is a good Bill, and, judging by the interminable debates in Committee, I dare say that it was badly needed.

In thinking the matter over, the only thing that puzzles me is how people of my age—there are only a few left—survived all the perils of being brought up. My memory now goes back a long time. My memory of milking, for example, is of seeing none-too-clean hands tugging on none-too-clean udders and milk pouring into none-too-clean buckets, and the only time the milk went into a clean receptacle was when it entered the mug which conveyed it to my mouth. I can only think that it must have been a matter of the survival of the fittest. There is no doubt that too many dirty hands have handled our food for centuries, too many dirty receptacles have held it, and too many dirt-carrying flies have fed on it before it reached the human stomach.

As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Sir A. Gomme-Duncan) said, if the Bill is operated with determination and with an anxiety to make it a success, then it will succeed. As the hon. Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) said, a number of constituencies are especially affected. They are those in seaside resorts. Hotel keepers, boarding-house keepers and even the keepers of licensed premises have been seriously perturbed about registration. I imagine we have all had letters complaining of hordes of snoopers descending on such people and of the danger that the local authority might haphazardly remove their livelihoods.

This caused me a certain amount of alarm, because I have a great number of constituents faced with this problem; but I found that the answer was simple, because the clean, well-kept and well-conducted premises have nothing to fear. That is the essential foundation of the provision for registration. There is also the right of appeal, supposing that registration is removed or refused. The appeal is made to the sheriff so that the appellants will have an unbiased hearing. On their fears about hordes of inspectors, I have written to my correspondents to say that my right hon. Friend would be hard put to it, in these days of full or over employment, to find the hordes of inspectors who would be required to go round all the licensed premises in Scotland.

There is one improvement in the Bill for which we owe thanks to the hon. Member for West Lothian. He introduced a new Clause towards the end of the Committee stage for features of the Bill to apply to public houses. Unfortunately, there is a big difference between public houses in Scotland and those in the rest of Britain. In the rest of Britain they tend to cater more for the family, but in Scotland they tend to cater more for the individual drinker. I am sure that by registration we shall largely do away with that defect and as soon as we can we are more likely to clean up bad drinking habits—if there are any drinking habits left in Scotland; only Burns reminds me of drinking habits these days.

I am sure that the Bill will introduce an entirely new atmosphere into Scottish licensed premises and for that reason alone, if for no others, we owe a great debt of gratitude to my right hon. Friend and his colleagues, and to hon. Members opposite, for their assistance in bringing the Bill to a satisfactory conclusion.

6.23 p.m.

Mr. Willis

I want to ask one or two questions in addition to making one or two general remarks. I agree with what has been said by my hon. Friends about the Bill being dependent on the regulations that are issued. It was only in that respect that we did not like the treatment meted out to us by the Government. We feel that we might have had a preview of those regulations, as was done in the case of the English Bill.

Apart from that, our relations were very happy and the Government were forthcoming. I agree that the Bill depends upon the regulations and on putting into effect the recommendations of the various working committees. The Government must soon decide on the Report of the Interdepartmental Committee on Slaughterhouses (Scotland), which has now been before the House for a considerable time and on which we have had no Government statement of policy. That report is important and contains important recommendations affecting meat hygiene. If we are really concerned about it, we have to bring those recommendations into effect and make up our minds about slaughterhouses.

Being pertinacious, I want to ask a short question about the financial assistance under Clause 20. Is it given by loan, grant, or both? I tried to find out during Committee stage and the Joint Under-Secretary could not tell me. I tried to put down an Amendment for the Report stage, but it was out of order and I am still wondering what is the character of the financial assistance; and I would be glad to have an answer.

I hope that in winding up the debate the Government spokesman will give us some information about the Scottish Food Hygiene Council, about which we had a very long debate and about which we have received very little information from the Government. I have gone through the debate very carefully and what the Government said amounted to saying no more than that they would appoint people whom they thought to be suitable.

Very serious considerations about the nature of the council were raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn). One important factor which should be borne in mind is the danger of duplication with the interests mentioned in Clause 56 (6). Nothing has yet been said about that and we have never been told the size of the council. We might have a little more information from the Government, because it is a matter of considerable importance.

Having asked my questions, may I say that I welcome the Bill? In Edinburgh, we intended to seek powers in connection with food hygiene three or four years ago. The intention never got further than being an intention, because it was thought that it would be better to await the Government Bill. Edinburgh has now been waiting three or four years. We had expected that the Government would see the Bill through in a year, but, of course, that did not happen. We are certainly glad to have it, even though we have had to wait a long time for it.

6.28 p.m.

Mr. John Mackie (Galloway)

I am sorry that the hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) has left the Chamber, because I feel bound to say a word or two about the opening passages in her speech, in which she had few bouquets to offer the Government, but a very great deal of criticism to offer Conservative back benchers who were concerned with the passage of the Bill through the Scottish Grand Committee. The hon. Lady called attention to the fact that we spent about 35 hours considering the Measure upstairs. She and her right hon. Friend the Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) will agree that they had what in House of Commons phraseology is called a field day and that, quite permissibly, they were a little obstructive.

As an old Parliamentarian I rather welcomed it, but, as was pointed out by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Sir A. Gomme-Duncan), the hon. Lady and her friends met with no obstructive opposition from our side. I hope that that will be passed on to the hon. Lady. She has been here now for ten years and I regard her as a good Parliamentarian and a good House of Commons "man," if I may so express it. I am delighted to see the hon. Lady coming back into the Chamber. I shall not repeat what I have said, or I shall be reproved by Mr. Speaker for tedious repetition. No doubt her right hon. Friend will tell her what I have said. The substance of my remarks really was that I thought that the hon. Lady was a little unfair in her criticism of Government back benchers.

I made a speech in the last Parliament on this matter. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] There is no reason why I should not offer a few remarks again this evening.

Mr. Willis

We thought that the hon. Gentleman was dead.

Mr. Mackie

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I am very much alive.

I join my hon. Friends in commending the Bill and expressing the hope, which I think the hon. Lady expressed, that it really will do something to meet, to quote accurately what she said, what has been a "long-felt want" among the housewives of Scotland. As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire said, we can bring in legislation, but if it is to work properly we must have co-operation from those responsible for seeing that our food is prepared and cooked in a cleanly manner. We all hope that those concerned will co-operate to make the Bill work.

I am very glad to have had the opportunity to say these few words, and I sincerely hope that the Bill will safeguard us from those horrible conditions to which my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore) referred as being so prevalent in his youth. Although I am ten or twelve years younger than he, I have a faint recollection of them myself. I wish the Bill well and I know that it will receive an unopposed Third Reading.

6.32 p.m.

Mr. Woodburn

I am sure that the whole House will congratulate the hon. Member for Galloway (Mr. Mackie) on his "maiden speech." We had been under the impression for some time that somebody had fitted him with "domes of silence." We are glad to find that the has not lost his great powers of eloquence and very surprised to hear that he is of the kind of age which he suggested, because he looks so full of youthful vigour.

I was struck by what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. J. Taylor) who remarked that, as a result of the Bill, people coming to Scotland would know that Scotland was sound in health and that the food was clean. It rather reminded me of the late George Gibson, who said that he was the only man in public life who was certified as being sane, because it was part of his duty in the mental officers' union to be certified as sane before he could officiate in mental hospitals of the country. We are very glad to know that at least we have a certificate that we are clean.

I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Sir A. Gomme-Duncan), to whom I add my congratulations as well, that in the long run cleanliness will depend on self-discipline rather than on imposed discipline. In this respect, there has been a great deal of misunderstanding about what the Bill does. I hope that the Lord Advocate will make it clear that there is not to be a search party going round to search the "auld wives' barrels," as Burns says. Let us keep the strap in the desk. If the pupils behave themselves then there is no danger of the teacher bringing it out.

I had several letters like those received by the hon. and gallant Member and the hon. Member for Ayr (Sir T. Moore). When I replied I said that the Bill dealt only with people who were endangering public health and, as I understood that my correspondents kept clean and healthy premises, I did not see what they were bothering about because the only people who need bother are those who endanger public health.

The point ought to be made that this is not the start of a great campaign to interfere with shopkeepers and caterers all over the place. I am sure that we can depend upon the medical officers of health and the sanitary officers to treat people courteously, to do their job in a judicious fashion and not to try to impose conditions that the people cannot fulfil. This will be a very gradual process, but I am satisfied that the existence of the new powers will set a standard with which all new buildings and all new catering and other establishments will be able to comply immediately. The pattern will gradually change just as it changed in respect of bakers and others who have been dealt with in the past, and eventually we shall reach a much higher standard.

The hon. Member for Ayr wondered how he survived. Knowing his ancestor as a tough fighting man, we take it for granted that he was able successfully to fight the germs from which others did not survive. He used the words, "we all survived," but we do not all survive. It is extremely interesting to speculate how much we have added to our lives, and to the lives of everyone, by the introduction of health Measures such as this Bill, which have cut down the sickness and ill-health from which people suffered in the past and which eventually shortened their lives. Actually, these Measures are adding to the length of people's lives and to their enjoyment. When we think of the misery eliminated by the introduction of these health Measures we can feel satisfied if we have made one contribution toward a further improvement.

I should not like the opportunity to pass without paying a tribute to the B.B.C. During the earlier stages of the Bill I called attention to the contribution which the B.B.C. could make in the educational work of getting people to help themselves. The B.B.C. put on a very fine television programme to which a great many hon. Members referred. I think that we ought to pay tribute to the B.B.C. and to express the hope that it will not let that be its last effort in this direction, and that it will contribute in many ways to the good health of the population.

A great many people outside the House have the idea that the only important thing that happens here is when we go into the Division Lobbies. The fact is that when we reach the stage of going into the Division Lobbies we have lost. We vote only when we have lost; we do not vote when we win. We vote only when the Government of the day refuse to agree to what we want. The most important achievements of Parliament are gained by debate, persuasion and reasonable discussion. That is not understood outside, because everybody loves a fight and people look only at the fights.

I can remember very few Bills, if any, that have been so successfully carried through Committee and are such a tribute to the constructive work of the Committees of this House. Everybody agrees that the Bill has been greatly improved in Committee. We would not seek to be ungracious in our acknowledgement of the help that the hon. Member for Caithness and Sutherland (Sir D. Robertson), and some of his colleagues, gave in pressing on the Government this reform that we carried in respect of the Scottish Bill.

We give credit to the Secretary of State for Scotland, because he had a tough job. When his fellow Minister had refused to accept this concession in England, obviously he must have had a difficult job to get it accepted for Scotland. I do not think that any of us would withhold acknowledgment of the decision which he persuaded the Government to make though it might have embarrassed them south of the Border. That is one of the difficulties of our joint partnership. The partnership will work all the better if what England does is not necessarily imposed upon us.

Scotland is a different type of country and, in many ways, we can make laboratory experiments in social progress which it is not possible to carry out in England. I hope that the Government will keep this excellent example in mind, and, when we come to other legislation, will not find themselves bound by what is done in another place or in another committee, but will deal with things according to Scottish conditions and produce the best possible legislation.

I should like to add my tribute to those who have taken part in the discussions on the Bill and made their contributions in debate. I must perhaps apologise for all the homework we set for the learned Lord Advocate during our progress on this Bill. We put forward some very thorny legal points for him to settle, and I am quite sure that even his legal knowledge has been greatly improved as a result of those exercises. I think we really all enjoyed ourselves, and I can only conclude by repeating a great Scottish toast, "Here's tae us, wha's like us?"

6.41 p.m.

The Lord Advocate

May I, in the first place, thank hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite for the extremely kind things they have said about those on this side of the House? The hon. Lady the Member for Lanarkshire, North (Miss Herbison) even said something nice about me. It may have been the case, throughout the various stages of this Bill, that her looks have belied her and that the hon. Lady really was not thinking the horrible things which at times she looked as if she was thinking.

May I answer two questions which the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Willis) put to me? One was about the Scottish Food Hygiene Council. Naturally, that cannot yet be set up, but the preliminary steps are being taken. Various authorities and interested people have been consulted, and it is hoped that very soon after this Bill becomes an Act the council will be able to be set up. The other point to which the hon. Gentleman referred concerned the meaning of the word "contribute," in Clause 20. The hon. Gentleman wanted to know whether it would include a loan. The word "contribute" would not normally include a loan, but in a certain context it might. In the context in which we find it in Clause 20, I do not think it would include a loan.

I should like, in conclusion, and before we send the Bill away to another place, where we hope it will be recognised as a child of one of its many ancestors— though, as many hon. Members have said, a flourishing child—stress two things which have been mentioned in the debates during the passage of this Bill so far. They are the necessity for the co-operation of the public and for the education of the public. The right hon. Member for East Stirlingshire (Mr. Woodburn) has referred to the B.B.C., and, of course, the B.B.C. can do an enormous lot of good, as I hope it will, in bringing to the notice of the people the existence of the Bill and what they themselves can do to make it work.

The right hon. Gentleman said, "Let us keep the strap in the desk." Before he used these very picturesque words, I had in my notes for this speech the phrase, "Prosecution as a last resort." In other words, prosecution is a sanction introduced to meet what we hope will be exceptional cases. Throughout the various stages of this Bill, we have all tried to steer a realistic course. One can go too far, but one must try to go far enough. One could make conditions quite impossible for those who deal with food, and could virtually harry them out of existence, but I hope that a middle course has been steered.

I therefore commend the Bill to right hon. and hon. Members, and invite the House to give it an unopposed Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.