HC Deb 05 May 1961 vol 639 cc1753-75

Nothing in this Act shall authorise the Secretary of State to make regulations under section one of this Act in respect of any article or substance in respect of which there are for the time being in force regulations made under the Food and Drugs Act, 1955, or the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Act, 1956.—[Mr. Dudley Williams.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.5 a.m.

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

I should not refer to the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Act, 1956, but unfortunately I have been unable to obtain a copy of the Food and Drugs Act, 1955 because, I presume, other hon. Members have borrowed the copies from the Library in order to study it. I have been fortunate in obtaining a copy of the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Act, 1956, and to the best of my memory—I was in the House when the Acts were passed—I believe that those Acts are very similar, and I do not think that I shall be misleading the House in any way if I confine my remarks to the Scottish Bill and do not deal with that which concerned England and Wales.

I have never concealed from the House that I do not like this Bill. I spoke against it on Second Reading and in Standing Committee C. What I think is happening under the Bill was described eloquently by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cheltenham (Major Hicks Beach), in Standing Committee C: I am trying to be helpful, but we are getting into rather a muddle—"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 22nd February, 1961; c.51.] I think that that is happening as a result of the Bill. We are getting several aspects of our legal affairs into a muddle because we have not related the Clauses of the Bill to past legislation, which I maintain is liable to be seriously impeded as a result of the powers given to the Secretary of State in Clause I.

Since Standing Committee C in its wisdom passed the Bill through the Committee stage, I, being a believer in the democratic process, have naturally accepted the Committee's decision, but the new Clause is an attempt to tidy up the Bill. I am sure that the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards), who introduced the Bill in such an eloquent way on Second Reading, will see the force of the argument which I am about to present. Under the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Act, 1956, very comprehensive powers were given to the judiciary to ensure purity in food and drugs.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;

House counted, and, 40 Members being present—

Mr. Dudley Williams

I am glad that there has been a reassembly of hon. Members in the Chamber so that I may continue my speech. I take the applause that greeted the announcement that there were 40 Members present to mean that several hon. Members wish to hear what I have to say further regarding the Bill.

In Clause 1, comprehensive powers are being given to the Secretary of State to prescribe what should be the regulations covering the sale of various classes of goods. He can give instructions regarding the composition of any packaged goods, their design and construction, and so on, provided that the goods are liable to lead to death or injury. That is the qualification that he has to bear in mind before issuing regulations under Clause 1.

My submission is that that cuts straight across the Foods and Drugs Acts, under which provision is made for the proper packaging and composition of goods which are sold and which might be liable to affect the health or cause the death of people. For example, if one turns to the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Act, 1956, one sees from the arrangement of the various Sections what a comprehensive Measure it is. Section 1, for instance, specifies offences in connection with the preparation and sale of injurious foods and adulterated drugs. That is a wide field to cover.

Section 2 of the 1956 Act states: If a person sells to the prejudice of the purchaser any food or drug which is not of the nature, or not of the substance, or not of the quality, of the food or drug demanded by the purchaser, he shall, subject to the provisions of the next following section, be guilty of an offence against this Act. I will not bore the House with the "following section", but it shows that stringent regulations are to be laid down regarding the sale of drugs and food.

That was a Government Act. It is the sort of Measure that should be passed through the House, because it does not leave everything to be decided subsequently by the Secretary of State by regulation. I dislike delegated legislation very much. That is one of the reasons why I oppose the Bill. If we have a Food and Drugs Act in being, as we have both for Scotland and for England and Wales, it would be quite wrong for us under this Bill to give powers to the Secretary of State which may well supersede the provisions of the Acts to which I have referred.

11.15 a.m.

We can always get the argument that the Secretary of State is a wise man, as I am sure he is, and that he would not seek to do under the Bill anything that was already covered by the earlier Acts. That, however, is not quite true. Situations have changed in the course of the last four or five years. Whereas in the Acts of 1955 and 1956 we prescribed precisely the regulations under which food and drugs should be sold, the Bill is a short and simple one and is introduced, not by the Government of the day, but by a private Member, and it gives wide powers to the Secretary of State.

My hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department explained to me in Standing Committee C that the words "Secretary of State" cover all Secretaries of State. That means that all Secretaries of State will be able to introduce regulations under the Bill—

Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)

Does my hon. Friend mean that the Secretary of State either for War or for Air, or any other Secretary of State, could issue regulations under the Bill, if Parliament is so foolish as to pass it, and that they would have the force of law?

Mr. Dudley Williams

This matter was discussed upstairs. Possibly, my hon. Friend was not in the Committee when it was explained. I understood my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary to say that the office of Secretary of State was indivisible and that the term "Secretary of State" applied to every Secretary of State. I find this difficult to understand, because the Navy is under the direction of the First Lord of the Admiralty, who is not a Secretary of State, whereas both the Air Force and the Army are under the control of a Secretary of State.

In the event of regulations having to be issued under the Bill, if it passes through this House, I imagine that what would happen would be that one Secretary of State would become the issuing authority for any regulations prescribed under the Bill. Who the Secretary of State would be, I do not know, but in view of the fact that my hon. and learned Friend the Under-Secretary is here this morning, I assume that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department would be responsible.

Unless the new Clause is added to the Bill, we may well find that the Secretary of State issues regulations which conflict with what is laid down in the existing Acts, which obviously received careful thought when they went through the House of Commons. The Scottish Act, for example, has 61 Sections and three Schedules and there is another Act for England and Wales. If a Measure is given that amount of consideration by the House, having been introduced by the Government of the day, it would be undesirable for a Private Member's Bill, introduced here on a Friday when few Members are present, to give to the Secretary of State powers that would allow him to overthrow certain Sections of the earlier Act. It is reasonable, therefore, that we should ask the House today to consider and possibly to accept my new Clause.

The Food and Drugs Act is comprehensive. We all know that unless care is exercised, it is possible to suffer grave injury as a result of irresponsible people disposing of food and drugs. It was quite right that Parliament should spend a lot of its time in passing the earlier Acts.

Examining the question of drugs, I am not sure I should not have drawn the new Clause a bit wider, because I believe that the goods which are sold under control of the Poisons Act should also have been specifically included in this Clause. I have a copy here of the extra "œia", 23rd edition, 1952. I can let my hon. Friend have a copy if he wishes. Looking through the extra "Pharmacopœia", 23rd edition, 1952, you realise, Mr. Speaker, what you are up against. There are described in this volume no fewer than 18,000 poisons of various sorts which can be sold from the various retail establishments in this country—18,000.

I believe that, if my new Clause were accepted by the House, then the goods which are listed in the extra "Pharmacopœia", and which are sold, would be covered by the Food and Drugs Acts of 1955 and 1956. I have examined those Acts with considerable care, and I believe myself that if this Clause were accepted, then the poisons and so on which are sold in this country would be covered by the Food and Drugs Acts, 1955 and 1956. I think that it would be quite wrong for this House to pass this Bill today only to find that, as a result, those earlier pieces of legislation, which were drawn up very carefully under expert guidance, would be superseded by the powers which might be used by the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he were to decide to issue regulations under Clause 1 of the Bill. I should not have thought that in those circumstances those powers should be used.

It may, of course, be argued that under this Clause regulations relating to the canning industry could be issued by the Secretary of State for the Home Department. We all know that canning is a complicated business in which goods can become poisonous due to fermentation, and so on, and the Secretary of State might well decide to issue regulations under Clause 1, to cover that aspect of the canning industry, and, in consequence, he might decide that he would be in conflict with the earlier legislation.

I have some experience of canning, and I can assure you, Mr. Speaker, that it is a very difficult industry indeed. Goods first of all have to be in a prime state before they are even collected to go to the canning factory, and during the process of canning, if the procedure is not proper, one may find that the goods come out in such a condition that they begin to ferment when inside the can—which is the American term: "tin" is the one we use in this country—and as a result gas is released, the can begins to expand, a leak can be caused, and the whole thing can go wrong and be bad.

Regulations to cover that sort of danger should, in my submission, be covered by the earlier legislation. It would be quite wrong for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department to issue regulations under the Bill to cover that aspect of our affairs.

I do not know whether the hon. Member for Bilston, the sponsor of this Bill, would like to give any indication of what he would like to do regarding this new Clause or Clause 1 of the Bill, or whether my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department would like to make any statement upon that, but I think that this is a perfectly reasonable new Clause, that it cannot be held to be a wrecking amendment, that it is perfectly reasonable and should be accepted by the House. I hope that we shall find, as the discussion goes on today, that it will be possible for this Clause to be accepted. If it were, I think it would be a great improvement to the Bill.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

During the Second Reading debate on the Bill there was not a great volume of attention given to matters such as my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) has just been dealing with—food and drugs, and so on. One or two hon. Members did mention the matter of various poisons possibly being in the wrong bottle and so on, and chemical substances used in agriculture were, of course, also mentioned.

I should just like to draw the attention of the House to this matter and to the speech of the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds), who said: Since the war, chemists have run rampant concerning the nation's food, not for the sake of bringing about purer and more nutritious food, but largely for private profit. The hon. Member went on to say: I could not help thinking the other day of the wise words of one of our greatest nutritionists, Dr. Bicknell, who said that chemists are using it in such a way that there is in this nation a tired feeling which before the war was often to a doctor a symptom of some very serious disease, but is now so universal that it ceases to be any good to doctors, because, in effect, we are being slowly but surely pickled in chemicals. Here, there is great scope for consumer protection."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1961; Vol. 633, c.545.] I suggest to the House that if we accept the new Clause proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter we shall be bringing food and drugs into their proper perspective, although I agree with the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford. I am sorry that he is not with us this morning. What he said is absolutely true, that chemical substances are properly to be regulated for consumer protection, but I submit that the existing legislation which, as my hon. Friend said, was a Government Measure, is better left as it stands, and I hope that the House will accept my hon. Friend's new Clause.

He himself said that, perhaps, it should be more widely drawn. I, too, think perhaps it should. I think that the exemptions which he indicates in his new Clause might indeed have been much wider. For instance, the Food and Drugs Act, 1955, which I have in my hand—I am sorry if I have deprived the hon. Member of the only copy evidently available—deals with many widespread matters including regulations affecting motor vehicles. If we are to protect the consumer properly we must include regulations affecting motor vehicles. As the hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards) said when he first spoke upon the Bill, it is his intention—as I remember—that this Measure should have application to motor vehicles.

The Food and Drugs Act, 1955, travels over the widest range of substances—in particular, of course, Sections 6 and 7 dealing with false labelling or advertising of a food or drug, and regulations as to the labelling and description of food. I think that that was one of the matters which worried a number of us, lest there should be any extension of wrong labelling. I suggest that this matter is perfectly adequately covered already in Sections 6 and 7 of the existing Act, which goes on, in Section 8, to deal with food unfit for human consumption. That was a substantial improvement.

Section 10 deals with the matter of food offered as prizes and so on. It is becoming an increasing feature of advertising of one sort or another to offer cash or semi-cash inducements in the form of gifts of food. It is difficult to deal with this matter without mentioning proprietary names and one does not want to get it wrong. The advertisements tell the consumer that if he buys such and such a product he will receive another product from the grocer free every month.

11.30 a.m.

This giving away of all sorts of articles is a new feature of trade. The consumer is adequately protected in the matter of labelling, but I know that a number of hon. Members and particularly hon. Ladies have been somewhat concerned about this and also lest consumers do not get proper value for money in the matter of packet size. This comes very properly within the scope of the words of the rubric of Section 10 of the Food and Drugs Act, 1955. Food offered as prizes, etc.". Who shall say where the "etc." begins and ends?

The 1955 Act provides for the most express regulations about food hygiene. It is really so extremely comprehensive that I think that the House will be well advised to accept the new Clause which makes this exemption. I do not think, however, that my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter has drawn his new Clause nearly widely enough. I would have liked to see other exemptions made.

Mr. Dudley Williams

I think my hon. Friend is probably right in saying that I have not drawn the Clause widely enough, but we must deal with this Clause today. Would my hon. Friend like to say to what extent it ought to be wider? Then perhaps we can have an Amendment to the Clause set down in another place.

Mr. Wells

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. I had in mind in particular, as I have already mentioned briefly, certain exemptions relating to motor vehicles. No doubt the promoter of the Bill, the hon. Member for Bilston, could arrange for a new Clause to be moved in another place, in view of the interest that he has expressed in safety regulations concerning motor vehicles. It is within the memory of hon. Members that the hon. Member was particularly concerned about safety belts.

Mr. Dudley Williams

I am sorry to continue to interrupt, but the regulations which can be issued under Clause (1) of the Bill are so complicated that they increase the complication of other legislation. They conflict, for instance, with the Motor Vehicles (Construction and Use) Regulations. If we are to bring motor vehicles within the scope of the Bill it will be necessary to repeal some of the earlier regulations.

Mr. Wells

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that point, but I was not trying to deal with it. I am a much newer Member of the House than he is and I am not as skilled or as knowledgeable about the procedure involved in having an Amendment put down after the Bill leaves this House. I did not want to show my ignorance on procedural matters. As my hon. Friend rightly says, the construction of motor vehicles is something very much in the public mind at present. We are all seeking every possible method of increasing road safety and obviously the improved quality of construction of motor vehicles has a bearing on the matter.

Section 14 of the Food and Drugs Act, 1955, is the Section which deals with the power of the courts to disqualify a caterer. This is very important. The great majority of caterers are doing a very satisfactory job. They are helping the balance of payments situation with the excellent facilities that they offer to overseas visitors, and so on, but there are, of course, a number of caterers who are not so good and I think that the House welcomes the Public Health (Washing Facilities) Bill which is down for Second Reading later today and is designed to improve standards of hygiene among catering and other establishments. Section 14 (3) of the 1955 Act states: A person subject to an order under this section shall be guilty of an offence if, while the order is in force,—

  1. (a) he uses the premises to which the order relates as catering premises, or
  2. (b) he participates in the management of any business in the course of which the premises are so used by another person."
I mention this because my hon. Friend's wording of the Amendment is perfectly simple.

The third line of the new Clause reads: …for the time being in force regulations made under the Food and Drugs Act. 1955…. I do not think the wording of the Clause goes wide enough in this respect, because in the 1955 Act there is this much wider interpretation of the use of premises, which goes a long way to meet the hon. Member for Bilston, whose anxiety, as is that of all of us, is to protect the consumer. We do not want to alter the law where the consumer is already adequately protected. Therefore, although I welcome the new Clause in that it says that Nothing in this Act shall authorise the Secretary of State to make regulations… in a matter that is already covered, there is nothing about regulations covering the hygiene of premises.

Mr. Dudley Williams

It is my submission that if the new Clause is not accepted the public will be less adequately protected. Under the 1955 Act the penalties are severe. On summary conviction a person could be fined up to £100 or imprisoned for a period not exceeding six months, and on conviction on indictment the penalty could be £500 or one year's imprisonment or both. It has never been suggested that under this Bill penalties of that order will be introduced. If they are to be introduced, we should know about it, but the Bill should not reduce the powers already available under an earlier Act.

Mr. Wells

I must have been expressing myself badly. I was urging the importance of accepting the new Clause but at the same time trying to express my regret that it had not been drawn wider still by referring to the Food and Drugs Act, 1955.

Mr. Speaker

The intervention of the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) was in order, but at present I have difficulty in following how the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) is in order on this point, because the virtues or defects of provisions relating to premises in the Food and Drugs Act, 1955, would be wholly unaffected by the question whether or not the House were to accept the new Clause now before it.

Mr. Dudley Williams

On a point of order. Will you clear my mind on this subject, Mr. Speaker? I accept your Ruling without question, of course, but surely my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) would be in order in saying that if the new Clause is not accepted the powers under the Food and Drugs Act, 1955, would be adversely affected. I thought that that was the point my hon. Friend was making.

Mr. Speaker

Not adversely affected. I thought that the argument was that the hon. Member's new Clause was drawn too narrowly and should have copied the same provisions relating to premises in principle which are contained in the Food and Drugs Act. That, of course, is most difficult in relation to the terms of this Bill, which both hon. Members are seeking to amend. That is why I thought that the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) was out of order.

Mr. Wells

I am very grateful to you, Mr. Speaker.

I now turn to Section 16 of the Food and Drugs Act, 1955, which deals expressely with he manufacture and sale of ice cream and sausages. It may be said that it is a far cry from consumer protection, but I do not think that that is so at all. There are few substances in regard to which it is more important to protect the consumer than these foodstuffs, because it is possible for them to pick all sorts of infections. Naturally, the handling of these foodstuffs on manufacturers' premises is done in the most excellent manner. Many hon. Members have in recent months had the opportunity of visiting a large works in north-west London and of seeing some wonderful new processes of food manufacture.

I suggest, however, that the existing legislation is quite good enough, and therefore I ask the House to accept my hon. Friend's new Clause, but, at the same time, I must repeat my regret that it does not go wider. In particular, I ask the promoter of the Bill, if he is able to accept the new Clause, whether he will consider, when the Bill goes to another place, getting some noble Lord possibly to put in a further new Clause—

Mr. Dudley Williams

Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Stansgate?

Mr. Wells

Yes, perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Stansgate may like to do it—a new Clause dealing with the matter of the licensing of vehicles.

Mr. Robert Edwards (Bilston)

The hon. Members for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) and Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) have submitted their case for this new Clause in a very moderate and constructive way. I wish, however, that any words of mine could convince them about the folly of their new Clause. After all, we have discussed this matter at very great length and for many hours during the Committee stage, and all the eloquence of my colleagues and of the Secretary of State failed to convince the two hon. Members of the soundness of the Clause in the Bill as it stands. Therefore, I do not hope to succeed where a more eloquent advocate failed during the Committee stage.

We have made it perfectly clear that Clause 1 covers many codes, but we did not define just what consumer goods are. This was quite clear, and there was no question of hiding it, but the regulations have to come before this House. Furthermore, any regulations made under Clause 1 would be issued only after the very closest consultation with all the elements involved—consumers, the State Departments and industry, in fact, every element involved and affected by them. These interests would be consulted before the regulations are even drafted. As a matter of fact, we amended the Bill to allow for the closest consultation before the regulations are issued.

Mr. Dudley Williams

I do not doubt the hon. Gentleman at all, but could he tell me in which Clause of the Bill this question of consultation is dealt with? I do not doubt his word for a moment, but I just want to see it.

11.45 a.m.

Mr. Edwards

The hon. Gentleman will find it in Clause 1 (5). In Committee, we accepted an Amendment, which I think the hon. Member supported, calling for the closest consultation with industry and consumers' organisations before any regulations were issued.

Mr. Dudley Williams

The words of subsection (5) are: It shall be the duty of the Secretary of State before making any regulations under this section, to consult with such persons or bodies of persons as appear to him requisite. There is no width in that provision, which provides that the Secretary of State shall consult with those whom he thinks should be consulted, but not with any others.

Mr. Edwards

This clearly involves every Government Department, which will be consulted before the regulations are issued. The manufacturers and the consumers will also be consulted, and therefore the point made in this new Clause is not valid. I am sure that the hon. Member himself knows perfectly well that it is not a valid point. Therefore, I do not feel that it is necessary for me to deal with this at length, because I am sure that I shall not be able to persuade the hon. Member to withdraw the new Clause.

The Government Departments, before issuing regulations, will consult one another. Possibly, this is done every day in the week, but these Departments are dealing with difficulties relating to all the points that have been made in connection with the Poisons Act, the Petroleum Act and all the regulations and codes which govern the protection of the consuming public. This new Clause would not perform the functions which the hon. Member for Exeter has in mind. It would perform only a very limited function, with which he has dealt. If he feels strongly about the matter, I am sure that after consultation with some of his hon. Friends, he may be able to do something about it in another place. I hope that he will not press the new Clause, because I do not think it adds anything to the Bill, and I do not think for a moment that it will serve the purpose which he has indicated.

Dr. Alan Glyn

The hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards) has expressed the feeling which all of us have expressed, namely, that what we want is consumer protection. The difference between us is how to effect it. I thought that I detected, both in Committee and on Second Reading, a wide cleavage of opinion as to the way in which it should be done.

I was interested in what the hon. Member said about regulations being laid before the House, but I cannot agree with him on this point. The regulations have to be laid on the Table, and hon. Members have an opportunity to examine them, but I suggest that this is not the right way to conduct our business. Hon. Members are extremely busy. I—and I am sure this applies to many other hon. Members—sometimes let regulations go without proper examination. It is easy for such regulations to be passed without the proper supervision of Parliament.

I warmly support my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) on his new Clause, and although my reasons for doing so have already been given, I should like to reinforce them. First, there is nothing in the subsection to which the hon. Member for Bilston referred to indicate which goods will be the subject of regulation. It has been emphasised that it could apply to almost any range of goods. In Committee my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter pointed out that any Secretary of State—because the office is indivisible—could issue regulations under the Bill.

I see no logical reason for not accepting the new Clause. There is already an Act which prescribes penalties for offences in connection with food and drugs. Why try to override it? Why not leave it to those Parliamentary provisions to provide the proper penalty? I do not know whether my hon. Friend was correct, and no doubt my hon. and learned Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State will give an assurance on the point, but if regulations are made under the Bill the penalties imposed will in some cases be less than those imposed by the Food and Drugs Act. It appears that there could be a prosecution under either Act, and that is a very unsatisfactory state of affairs.

During the discussion it has been suggested that we might like the new Clause to be wider. Like many of my hon. Friends I should like the scope of the new Clause to be widened. Why not motor vehicles and other categories of articles?

I see no reason why the new Clause should not be implemented. May I read the House an extract from a decision made many years ago in a popular case known as "The snails in ginger beer bottles case." It was the case of Donoghue v. Stevenson in which the House of Lords made a definite decision whereby the manufacturer was held to be already responsible. I draw the attention of the House to this case to reinforce my hon. Friend's argument and to show that although the new Clause is designed to exclude food and drugs because they are already covered by another Act of Parliament, there is a legal decision in which a second security is given.

As far as I remember, the plaintiff in this case consumed a bottle of ginger beer which contained a snail, and he sought redress from the courts for the damage which he had sustained. The court ruled that where the manufacturer of a product intended for human consumption"— and that has considerable relevance to the subject which we are discussing— sends it out in a form which shows that he means it to reach the ultimate consumer in the form in which it left his factory"— in other words, provided that it is in a sealed container— then he has reason to believe that it will reach the ultimate consumer in the condition in which it left his factory. The quotation continues, with no reasonable possibility of intermediate examination by the retailer or consumer and with the knowledge that want of reasonable care on his part in the preparation of his product may result in injury to the consumer, the manufacturer owes a duty to the consumer to take such a care and will be liable to the latter in damages if he suffers injury through the failure to take such care. It was held in an action for damages brought against the manufacturer of the ginger beer by the person that he or she had been poisoned from ginger beer bought from a retail dealer in a sealed bottle in which it left the manufacturer's premises and which contained a decomposed snail.

Most lawyers have been brought up on this famous case, which illustrates that the public have another remedy, in addition to the Food and Drugs Act. If regulations in connection with food and drugs overlap each other, as I think they must if the Bill is ever passed, would it be open to the prosecution to decide whether to prosecute under the Bill or under existing regulations covered by the Food and Drugs Act? Will my hon. and learned Friend answer that question?

There can be no reasonable ground for failing to accept the new Clause. I was in no way swayed by the hon. Member for Bilston, and I do not consider that the acceptance of the new Clause would detract in any way from the value of the Bill. Many hon. Members will have much to say on other parts of the Bill but surely it would be to the advantage of both sides if the hon. Member for Bilston accepted this new Clause. I know that the Bill has the Government's backing—a point on which I feel strongly. I know that the promoter has not entirely a free hand and I also feel that Friday is not a day on which the Government should interfere with Private Member's Bills. There seems to be no valid reason for not accepting the new Clause. Let us exclude food and drugs, which are already covered by other legislation. I ask the House to accept the new Clause.

12 noon.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. David Renton)

There is undoubtedly opportunity of overlapping between the powers to make regulations in Clause 1 and the powers to make regulations under Section 4 of the Food and Drugs Act, 1955, and the equivalent Section of the Scottish Act of 1956. Generally speaking, I am sure the whole House agrees that when legislating we should avoid overlapping and duplication. To that extent my hon. Friends were right in Committee—and again today—to have drawn attention to the possibility of overlapping, and to have invited the promoter of the Bill, and the House, to consider how overlapping can be avoided.

I pointed out on Second Reading, and did so more fully in Committee, that here we are in a dilemma. I hope that the House will bear with me if I take the opportunity of repeating what I said on those two occasions. It is tempting to paraphrase, it is tempting to ask hon. Members to read what I said, but I do not think that would be quite enough in the circumstances. I apologise for repeating what I said, but at least it has the advantage of consistency.

On Second Reading I said: I have already referred to the very wide scope of Clause 1 (1). It refers to 'any prescribed class of goods' without limitation. I take the intention to be that the Bill should be used only in respect of what are commonly called 'consumer goods,' but that is a very wide definition. We can see no way expressly to limit the Bill to such goods, because they would defy definition. If we started to make such a list I do not see why the list should ever end. There is a draft dilemma there, but we feel that with reasonableness on the part of all concerned it will work. The powers in the Bill can be applied to goods which are already regulated under other legisation, for example"— and I gave just those examples that have been discussed today: foods, drugs or poisons. We recognise, however, the difficulty of excluding such goods which arises from the fact that some of the other codes of legislation have also given very wide powers, the extent of which sometimes may be uncertain. Then there is the point that those wide powers are never fully exercised. Although there is an apparent danger of overlapping, we do not think it is likely to be a real danger and, in any event, consultation between the Government Departments concerned will avoid any difficulty which apparent overlapping might cause."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1961: Vol. 633, c.505.]

The hon. Member for Bilston (Mr. R. Edwards), replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams), quite rightly pointed out that the Standing Committee amended Clause 1 by adding subsection (5), under which it is the duty …of the Secretary of State before making any regulations under this section, to consult with such persons or bodies of persons as appear to him requisite. I have to tell the House that in this context the word "persons" includes other Ministers.

It is in the light of that that I would ask the House to consider what I said in Committee. I said: In passing a Bill of this kind, Parliament must assume—and it is reasonable and proper to assume—that in administering the Bill, the Government will act sensibly and consistently. Parliament has, of course, the last word, because of Parliament's control over any regulations that may be made. Surely, the ordinary process between members of the Government ensures proper co-ordination and avoidance of overlapping or of inconsistent regulations. It cannot be supposed that any Home Secretary would make regulations under the Bill which were in any way inconsistent with other regulations made by another Minister in the same field or inconsistent with another Minister's policy. This whole matter is best left to something that exists—that is, common sense and sound administration—instead of trying to make the most elaborate provisions in the Bill to prevent overlapping, and doing it in such a way that the job would be done imperfectly. I added a point that impresses me, but which does not, I am afraid, impress my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn): In the last resort, Parliament will be able to reject regulations which it does not consider to be justified or satisfactory."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 8th March. 1961; c.118.]

Mr. J. Wells

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is not the matter with which the Minister is now dealing covered by the next new Clause standing in my name?

Mr. Speaker

I am afraid that I was guilty of a momentary inattention. I was looking at a point on a Standing Order. As I do not know what the Minister was saying, I must have his assistance in order to rule.

Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

With respect, Mr. Speaker, as this was in order in Committee on a similar new Clause, would it not now be in order on this new Clause?

Mr. Speaker

What next new Clause was available in Committee, I do not know, and I would not be governed by the decision of the Chairman there. Would the Minister be good enough to tell me what he was saying?

Mr. Renton

I had made this point, repeating what I said in committee, that if in spite of the process of consultation that goes on between Ministers there is nevertheless an apparent inconsistency between regulations made under this Bill and Regulations made under previous legislation, the remedy for preventing that inconsistency being translated into law lies in the hands of Parliament, because Prayers can be made against any regulations under the Bill. With respect, Mr. Speaker, I should have thought that that was in order on this new Clause.

Mr. Speaker

I shall have to rule. I do not think that gets anywhere near impinging on the question raised by the next new Clause in the name of the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells).

Mr. Renton

I would ask my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham not to lose faith in the procedures of this House and the opportunities that those procedures give to hon. Members. After all, Parliament very frequently provides that there shall be an opportunity for a Prayer—a negative Resolution—and it is quite often the case that those opportunities are used.

One realises, of course, that inevitably there is no opportunity for an Amendment in a case like that, but surely if there were a patent inconsistency between what was put forward in a regulation made under this Bill and Regulations made under previous Statutes, that would not be an occasion for Amendment but for outright rejection of the regulation before the House. Therefore, as I say, I hope that my hon. Friend will not lose faith in our procedures and will realise that this is a very real safeguard—

Dr. Alan Glyn

I do not think that my hon. and learned Friend has interpreted my remarks aright. I was not in any way saying that this procedure for laying down regulations and the mechanism for Prayer was inadequate, but one has to recognise that with an omnibus Bill like this the number of regulations that could be laid down is very great. My hon. and learned Friend says that that will not happen, but, with the greatest respect, I suggest that we are still giving Ministers an extremely wide scope—I would hazard a guess that it is probably the widest scope we possibly could give them, and is even greater than that under existing Acts of Parliament. If it were only a matter of giving powers to make one or two regulations, I am sure no one would object, but this Measure gives Ministers very wide powers indeed. They might not intend to use them, but the powers are still there.

Mr. Renton

We are here dealing not with the whole scope of the Bill, but with the question of whether the Bill should contain powers to make regulations in relation to food and drugs and whether there is a conceivable overlapping with the Food and Drugs Act. I do not think it would be in order for me to deal with the more general point that my hon. Friend has just made as to whether or not the powers in the Bill are too wide, but let us compare the powers given by Section 4 of the Food and Drugs Act, which has been referred to by the three hon. Members who have so far spoken, with the powers in the Bill.

As was pointed out on Second Reading, this is virtually a safety Bill. Clause 1 (1, a) says that it is to prevent or reduce the risk of death or personal injury. The Food and Drugs Act, by implication, also had that object to some extent, but it did not have it as an express object. The Food and Drugs Acts are mainly concerned with the purity and quality of food and drugs and with ensuring that purchasers shall not be defrauded in any way, or let down innocently.

We therefore reach the situation that although the powers in Section 4 of the Food and Drugs Act are wide, it is conceivable that a dangerous practice would arise that would not be covered by the Act and which might be required to be covered by the Bill. Therefore, although, as I have stressed, there is a considerable potential opportunity for overlapping between the Bill and the Act, there is also just the possibility—rare it well may be—for the Act not to contain a power which could be provided in the Bill. For that reason alone, it would be as well if we stuck to the terms of the Bill in order to avoid the possibility of confusion.

Mr. Dudley Williams

This is the whole burden of our criticism of the Bill and why we want the Clause accepted. Hon. Members on this side of the House do not like any more delegated legislation than we have to have. The Food and Drugs Act is very comprehensive, and if my hon. and learned Friend is nervous about something not being covered by that Act, the right thing for the Government to do is to introduce amending legislation and have the matter thrashed out, and not to allow a Private Member's Bill to go through so that regulations can be issued under it.

Mr. Renton

Either my hon. Friend has missed the point—that the promoter of the Bill wishes to prevent or reduce the risk of death or personal injury to members of the public—or, if he has not missed the point, for some reason, which he has not yet explained, he does not agree with the Bill. If one accepts that this is a laudable motive for legislation, namely, to prevent or reduce the risk of death or personal injury to those who are buying goods, the main purpose of the Bill is one which should be accepted. In any event, on this new Clause the only thing with which we have to concern ourselves is whether the fact that there is already very wide provision in the Food and Drugs Act for dealing with matters such as the purity and quality of goods and their contents should preclude us from taking a power in this Bill of the kind which is there.

My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells) referred to Section 16 of the 1955 Act and paid tribute to our food manufacturers. I am sure that the House will agree that tribute should be paid to them, for they have reached very high standards of cleanliness and service to the public, and I like to think that Parliament has helped them to reach those high standards by means of the Food and Drugs Act.

My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter referred to the position of the Home Secretary as Secretary of State. The position is as I stated it in Standing Committee: The office of Secretary of State is one and indivisible, and for the past 250 years or so there has always been one office holder. Therefore, the powers given by Parliament to any one Secretary of State are given in constitutional theory to each of them. My hon. Friend was good enough to say on that occasion: Now we know."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 15th February, 1961; c.32.] The Interpretation Act says that the powers given to one Secretary of State may be exercised by any of the others.

Mr. Dudley Williams

My hon. and learned Friend's remarks have caused some hilarity on the other side of the House. My point is that some Ministers can act as Secretaries of State while other Ministers with similar responsibilities, such as the Service Ministers and the First Lord of the Admiralty, cannot. That is the point I was making and I think that it is valid.

Mr. Renton

It is not for me to compare the relative distinction of great offices of State. The point is that the Secretary of State is an office well established in our constitution. There are several holders of that office, and it has been recognised by Parliament that each of the holders of the office may exercise the powers given to any of them. That has often turned out to be a matter of great administrative convenience.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

But only a Secretary of State can use those powers, and no other Minister, not even the Prime Minister.

Mr. Renton

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman who has completed the picture.

This is not a Bill which is promoted by the Government, and I am therefore in the position of merely advising the House to the extent that such advice may be helpful. In view of what I have said, I hope that the views expressed by the hon. Member for Bilston, namely, that the Clause should not be accepted, is the view which will prevail.

Dr. Alan Glyn

My hon. and learned Friend has said that Government Departments would be very careful that there was no overlapping of powers. By that he has destroyed his own case, because the new Clause would prevent that very thing from happening. In other words, it would prevent overlapping of two Acts of Parliament.

Mr. Renton

I do not wish to repeat myself and I have already explained the drafting dilemma once we try to avoid all overlapping with all previous legislation on all the matters which the Bill can cover, but I hope that my hon. Friend will rest assured when I say that if there is power in one of the regulations already made under the Food and Drugs Act, then obviously there will not be a regulation made under the Bill, because it would be a complete waste of time and effort to do so.

Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 2, Noes 49.

Division No. 159.] AYES [12.19 p.m.
Glyn, Dr. Alan (Clapham) Mr. Dudley Williams and
Mr. John Wells.
Bowden, Herbert W. (Leics. S. W.) Holman, Percy Mitchison, G. R.
Brown, Alan (Tottenham) Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hon. Patricia Pike, Miss Mervyn
Brown, Thomas (Ince) Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.) Redmayne, Rt. Hon. Martin
Burden, F. A. Hughes-Young, Michael Renton, David
Castle, Mrs. Barbara Hunter, A. E. Ridley, Hon. Nicholas
Cullen, Mrs. Alice Hynd, H. (Accrington) Sharples, Richard
de Ferranti, Basil Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Skeet, T. H. H.
Doughty, Charles Irving, Sydney (Dartford) Sumner, Donald (Orpington)
Ede, Rt. Hon. C. Jay, Rt. Hon. Douglas Thomson, G. M. (Dundee, E.)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Jenkins, Roy (Stechford) Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Evans, Albert Johnson, Eric (Blackley) Williams, Ll. (Abertillery)
Finlay, Graeme Johnson Smith, Geoffrey Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Gammans, Lady Lawson, George Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)
Goodhart, Philip Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold(Huyton)
Grimond, J. Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)
Harris, Reader (Heston) Marsh, Richard TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Mason, Roy Mr. Darling and Mr. Oram.
Hastings, Stephen