HC Deb 02 March 1971 vol 812 cc1377-80
9. Mr. Arthur Davidson

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will introduce legislation to ensure that consumers purchasing food in shops can know, from the labelling on the products, what is the last date upon which it should be consumed to ensure that it is safe.

19. Dr. Gilbert

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will take steps to require the brewers to label all their bottled beers with an uncoded indication of the date on which the beer was placed in the bottle.

40. Mr. Hunt

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food what reply he has now received from the Food Standards Committee about the question of open date stamping of perishable food products.

46. Mr. Carter-Jones

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will introduce legislation to compel retail establishments selling pre-packaged and convenience foods to give direct date stamps on such items or to compel any codes used to be publicly displayed on their premises; and if he will make a statement.

57. Mrs. Joyce Butler

asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he expects to receive the report of the Food Standards Committee following its reconsideration of the need for open date stamping of perishable food.

Mr. Prior

I have now consulted the Food Standards Committee on this question. In an interim report, which I have made available in the Library, the committee recommends that in view of developments since 1964 it wishes to review the whole question of date marking of food. It considers it essential to invite evidence from all interested parties. I propose to accept this recommendation.

Mr. Davidson

Aside from his having ruined my supplementary question, is the Minister aware that this is a substantial step forward? Will he accept that, for example, Marks and Spencer's has already announced that it will put date stamps on food, so that this is possible? Will he further accept that there is overwhelming evidence that the public has a right to know that the food it is buying is safe beyond any doubt and is not likely to be mouldy?

Mr. Prior

It might be dangerous if I were to go quite as far as the hon. Gentleman has gone because, as the Consumer Council report some months ago said, this is a superficially attractive idea. It is right that it should now be examined properly once more, and I would not want to prejudge any decision likely to be reached.

Dr. Gilbert

While I welcome the Minister's statement, may I ask for an assurance that this will not be just one more example of a situation in which the brewers alone are exempt from the labelling requirements of this country?

Mr. Prior

If the hon. Gentleman drinks a bad bottle of beer good luck to him. [Interruption.]

Mr. Hunt

Will the Committee be seeking evidence from overseas, from countries such as France and Germany where open date stamping is working smoothly and effectively to the benefit of suppliers, retailers and customers?

Mr. Prior

Yes. The Committee will be free to take evidence from whatever source it wishes, including health departments, both at home and overseas and international organisations. It will start by inviting the Association of Public Health Inspectors to give oral evidence at its next meeting on 22nd March.

Mrs. Butler

In view of the public interest in this question, can the Minister say whether this inquiry will be making its report reasonably soon because it would be unfortunate for consumers and traders if the proceedings dragged on for an undue length of time?

Mr. Prior

I recognise the importance of what the hon. Lady has said but if we are to have a proper report on this it will take some time to collect all the information. I think it would be unlikely to be less than a year. It would be better if a proper job were done rather than hurrying this.

Mr. James Hill

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the Early Day Motion on page 6635 of today's Order Paper? Is he further aware that in the national health survey of the Public Health Inspectors Association report there is conclusive evidence—this is why this matter is imperative—that stocks are being moved from shop to shop until they are sold?

Mr. Prior

This is what is known as the "sale or return racket." This is against the law in so far as it does not comply with the Food and Drugs Act. I am aware of my hon. Friend's complaint, and this will be taken into consideration by the Committee.

Mr. Cledwyn Hughes

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that his reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley (Dr. Gilbert), who put a reasonable question, was totally unworthy of a Ministerial reply? Will he now be good enough to give a reasonable reply? Secondly, is he aware that the information he gave about the length of time that this inquiry will take is rather disquieting? Will he give the House an assurance that he will consider, at his discretion, making an interim report and publishing it because of the great public concern over this important question?

Mr. Prior

I recognise that there is great public concern on this matter. On the other hand, the public must understand that a storage condition by itself is absolutely meaningless because it depends very much on the method under which the food is being kept and stored. There are, therefore, two sides to this question, as was put forward by Focus, the Consumer Council publication, in February, 1970.

If I gave a flippant answer to the hon. Member for Dudley (Dr. Gilbert) about beer, I apologise.