§ 9.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Poultry Meat (Hygiene) Regulations 1976 (S.I., 1976, No. 1209), dated 29th July 1976, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th August, be annulled.
§ Mr. Speaker
I understand that it is for the convenience of the House if we take at the same time the following food and drugs Prayer:That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Poultry Meat (Hygiene) (Scotland) Regulations 1976 (S.I., 1976, No. 1221), dated 30th July 1976, a copy of which was laid before this House on 4th August, be annulled.
§ Mr. Jopling
Yes, Mr. Speaker. I merely move the motion now, and I hope that it will be possible for me to speak a little later in the debate.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Blenkinsop (South Shields)
I am grateful for the opportunity of inter- 1326 vening in this debate, because it is of the greatest importance that these regulations should be seen for what they are—a threat to some extent, however limited, to the way in which we in this country organise our environmental health services.
I begin by a declaration of personal, though not financial, interest in the sense that I was President of what is now called the Environmental Health Officers' Association and am now one of its several vice-presidents. No financial consideration is involved, but I have been interested in this work for a number of years and my greatest concern is that these regulations interfere with the way in which we organise our environmental health services.
In the past, we have always organised our community health services on the basis of having a general purpose officer, as it were, covering a very wide range of community health problems. The situation is different on the Continent, where people tend to work through a series of separate specialised bodies. We believe that our general purpose officer has proved to be the most successful.
We claim, rightly, I believe, that our environmental health services are amongst the best, if not the best, not only in Europe but perhaps more wildly. Our environmental health officer of today has a very wide range of duties and is trained and qualified to be responsible for them. He covers such things as the improvement of housing and the problems of slum clearance, air pollution, industrial and factory hygiene, noise, food poisoning, meat inspection and poultry inspection, which is the subject of these regulations.
We have always insisted that it is only by having an officer responsible for this very wide range of duties that we are likely to understand the way in which our problems interlock. It has been our practice, in legislation passed under both Governments, to insist that it shall be the responsibility of the local authority to decide who, in a particular case, should be the responsible officer. We have therefore become used to the term "authorised officer" in some of our legislation rather than specifying individual persons for particular duties.
Thus, recent legislation has taken away such terms as "town clerk", "medical 1327 officer of health" and "public health inspector". Yet these regulations, for the first time in our recent experience, may introduce a specific officer—the veterinary officer—in place of the normal term "authorised officer".
I am seeking to impress upon the House that the regulations do not merely involve a matter of professional pride or argument between two sets of highly-qualified people on whom we rely, the veterinary officer on the one side and the environmental health officer on the other. We are dealing with a matter that is very much more important to the way in which we organise our services.
When we come to the specifics of the regulations and the inspection of poultry meat provisions, the regulations are consequent upon a European directive. Although in most cases the directives turn their attention to the objectives that they seek to achieve, they do not normally specify in detail the particular officer who is to carry out the duties. The normal concept is that it is left to the individual countries to determine the precise way in which the objective will be achieved. That is not so in this case. We have particularisation to a remarkable degree. Although I welcome the fact that the regulations are considerably different from the draft orders that were circulated earlier for discussion, which went into even greater detail and which to the minds of many of us were even more offensive than the present regulations, we still have a greater degree of particularisation than is common or normal.
§ Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)
Does not my hon. Friend agree that the particularisation in poultry meat parallels what already exists for red meat?
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
My hon. Friend rightly raises a warning note, because no doubt it will be argued by my right hon. and hon. Friends that we are concerned purely with poultry meat and that there will be no suggestion of extending these provisions to enable the veterinary officer to deal with red meat.
It is already the case that for export purposes a veterinary officer's certificate is required. That has been the position for some time for poultry meat and red meat. We have always relied upon our own provisions for home consumption. We 1328 have had repeated expressions from Ministers, of both parties, about the high quality of work that is done by qualified and experienced health inspectors who are responsible for the carrying out of the inspection in slaughterhouses and in the processing of the meat. It is our concern not only that the health inspector is to be withdrawn from work that he has done throughout the years to our great satisfaction but that the veterinary officer is to be brought in to engage in work that he has not been accustomed to undertaking.
The veterinary officer has rightly been in charge of the live animal and everything concerned with it. In any matter concerned with the live animal, the health inspector has always approached the veterinary officer for advice, very rightly and absolutely. However, when it comes to the carcase and inspection at the slaughterhouse, the position is different.
Indeed, that is acknowledged in these regulations because now, as distinct from the original draft regulations, the health inspector is accepted, under the term "authorised officer", as one of those entitled to determine whether the premises are suitable for the purpose of the slaughter of poultry and the passing of poultry through the poultry meat house. If he is to be accepted for that duty, one would naturally think that he should be entitled on equal terms—not necessarily exclusively, but on equal terms—to be available and responsible also for the inspection, but under these regulations he is not.
It is that form of particularisation of the veterinary officer that alarms us so severely. As my hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper)—perhaps not altogether understanding the implication—has so rightly warned us, this is the process that might very well be extended also to red meat and, indeed, to other forms of processed meat much more generally.
The health inspector—rightly, to my mind—has always been trained to be the responsible and qualified person in charge of hygiene work in processing factories of a very wide character. It is, therefore, a matter of very much concern to very many of us—on both sides of the House, I am sure—that these regulations introduce a new type of provision which, on the one hand, will endanger the whole 1329 organisation of our environmental health services in this country, and, on the other hand, particularise as to which officer shall carry out certain duties to which we have not been accustomed in the past.
I declare myself as a supporter of the Common Market and not as an antagonist to it, but that does not mean that I accept automatically the views that it expresses, nor do I in these circumstances believe that it is essential for us to accept the recommendations sent to us in the directive in the precise form in which they appear. Indeed, I welcome such amendments as my hon. Friends have managed to secure in the regulations as against those originally drafted and circulated.
I ask my hon. Friends to carry on with their good work and to secure the relatively modest further amendment to enable the health inspector, as we have always known him, or the environmental health inspector to be on equal terms and authorised to do the work that he has always done to great satisfaction in this country rather than have his place taken by a new officer at very great expense. It is almost impossible to calculate how much expense would fall on the local authority concerned and how much would fall on the consumer.
§ 9.44 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Pym (Cambridgeshire)
I apologise for not being here when the debate started but I had not anticipated the speed with which the earlier legislation would be completed.
These regulations were tabled on 4th August—almost at the last minute before the Summer Recess—and I reacted immediately by tabling this Prayer with my hon. Friends, to ensure that a full and proper debate would take place upon the subject, after all the controversy that has surrounded the regulations.
Community Directive No. 118 of 1971 was the initiation of a new regime in poultry hygiene. It was in existence, as the House knows, when we joined the Community. Subsequently, that directive was amended by Directive No. 431 of 1975. The important part of the process still to be completed is the introduction and implementation of the directives in the member countries, including in particular the United Kingdom.
1330 In December last year the Government produced their first proposals and, as the House knows, and as the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) has said, those proposals were greeted with widespread criticism and condemnation.
There is no need here to rehearse the details of the proposals, but almost all the interested parties objected to them. For example, the British Poultry Federation produced a 24-page document of submissions against them and proposals for amendment. The National Farmers' Union was also completely dissatisfied, as were many other interested organisations. As a result, as we know, the Government held a lengthy and continuing series of discussions, which went on throughout the summer, and the regulations now before the House represent the result of those discussions.
The regulations are vastly different from the originals. Numerous changes have been made, all of them acceptable and welcomed. Some of us wonder how and why the original proposals ever came to be formulated. They were not wanted they were not justified, and they proved to be unnecessary.
I shall not weary the House by listing all the changes. Many hon. Members, myself included, were determined, for example, to reprieve the sentence passed on the New York-dressed sector, especially. That is only a small sector of the whole, but it is of great significance for many farmers and small producers, and for turkeys for the Christmas trade. Certainly we are extremely glad that this trade, small though it is in proportion to the whole, can now continue without time limit.
It is fair to say that with the exception of the environmental health officers the whole poultry industry and the interested organisations are broadly in favour of what is now proposed, and the House will want to weigh that fact carefully.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
It is also still true that the Association of Metropolitan Authorities has very strong views about it.
§ Mr. Pym
That is so, but these regulations raise a number of important questions. Obviously, there is a strong case in principle for improving hygiene standards. Just as more or less everyone is against sin, I suppose that more or 1331 less everyone is for better hygiene. It is important for our export trade. For poultry and for other meat it is indispensable that hygiene standards should be internationally accepted. In the case of poultry, the export trade is small but potentially significant. Therefore, these regulations are important from that point of view. If improvements in hygiene standards can be achieved for the home trade as well, that, too, is desirable.
There are two main outstanding controversies, which relate to the cost of the whole exercise and to the position of the environmental health officers. I want to ask the Minister a number of questions and to seek certain assurances from him. These are of direct relevance to the attitude that hon. Members will wish to take. We know that some will be against these regulations, anyway, on an anti-Community basis—
§ Mr. Pym
Some will be, but that is no basis for deciding the matter, as the hon. Member for South Shields said.
First, as to costs, what is the truth about the additional cost per bird? I appreciate that apart from £5 million of Government money for modernising slaughterhouses the consumer and not the taxpayer or the ratepayer will pay the additional cost. In recent weeks the Government have been saying that the additional cost will be about 1p per bird. However, that figure is disputed. A letter produced by the NFU yesterday refers on page 2 to the smaller processors, and it says that 4p to 5p per bird has been quoted as the likely cost. The House will definitely want to know what justification the Government have for saying that it is 1p, and whether the figure suggested by the NFU is accurate or inaccurate. What is more, as this is an additional imposition on food prices, albeit a small one, the House will want to be satisfied on that point now.
The Government are still undecided about the cost of training poultry meat inspectors. They have been asked to underwrite and pay for the cost of training new inspectors. We want a statement from the Minister on that aspect.
The National Farmers' Union, in the letter to which I referred earlier, raised a particular matter in the last paragraph when it mentioned paragraph 22(2) of 1332 the regulations and the Minister's power to direct local authorities about charges. We want to hear from the Minister on that aspect tonight.
There is the question of phasing in. If these regulations are phased in gradually, obviously they will work better and are more likely to be successful and practical. Also, they should make the whole process more economical. If too much is expected too quickly it is bound to cost more. We want an assurance on that point.
Then there is the environmental health officers' case, and the first question that arises relates to the number of veterinary surgeons mentioned in the Ministry's own explanatory note. In paragraph 13 it says that the equivalent of 100 full-time veterinarians will be required ultimately to operate the regulations. When the environmental health officers met my hon. Friends they said that they thought that 100 veterinarians would be required within a year and that the number would probably build up ultimately to about 300 or 400. Will the Government tell us the real position?
The environmental health officers service will not be withdrawn, as the hon. Member for South Shields indicated. It will play an important rôle in the whole process, but the veterinarians will be added to it in a supervisory capacity.
By far the biggest fear of the environmental health officers, and the most important aspect to them, is the implication for the future of this new policy for poultry meat inspection. I quote from a letter that most hon. Members received from the Environmental Health Association. It said:The significance of the new regulations goes far deeper than poultry. They are seen by officers as the thin end of what could be a very thick wedge.It went on to say:The regulations will establish the further principle that the EEC may not only decide the conditions under which we can export poultry to other member countries, but can dictate what we must do for the protection of our own consumers.Do these regulations imply, and do they contain the possibility, that what is proposed for poultry can be applied to other meats? This is a vital question for environmental health officers and they have a practical professional interest.
Paragraph 14 of the Ministry's explanatory memorandum says that the Govern- 1333 ment have already given assurances, both in Parliament, and to the Association. It says:They (the Government) will oppose any move to extend veterinary supervision beyond the slaughter house to domestic food hygiene.But that does not go far enough and does not meet the point about the thin end of the wedge.
The environmental health officers have served this country well for a century. There is no equivalent on the Continent; therefore we can understand the officers' anxiety. They have an important role to play in poultry meat hygiene, in these regulations. What assurance or undertaking can the Government give us?
Are there other Community directives waiting in the wings, as it were, to be wheeled in to apply to other meats? As my hon. Friends and I understand the position, no such other directives exist. Therefore, our environmental health officers' position can be fully protected. However, they are extremely worried, and I know that the House will pay careful attention to what the Minister has to say about this very important issue.
There are other issues in relation to EHOs, but those are the two main issues that I single out in this opening speech.
Finally, the House will wish to hear what is the justification for these regulations, on public health grounds. There has been no opportunity yet for the Government to present the case for them in the House—which is one reason why I put down this Prayer. It is the first statutory scheme for poultry meat inspection, and if these regulations are to operate, with all the costs involved and the extra staff, the House will want to be satisfied that what is laid down here is the right and proper way to proceed, and the best way.
We know that the poultry industry is extremely keen to have these regulations implemented; indeed, it has forecast extremely serious consequences if they are not. We know that the NFU is now in favour of the regulations, although its letter of yesterday cannot exactly be described as wildly enthusiastic. We know that the Government and the veterinary profession believe that these regulations are a valuable advance for hygiene standards, which is an objective that the whole House would share. However, I 1334 am convinced that this debate is absolutely necessary, not only so that hon. Members can express their views but also, and in particular, so that the Government can deal with the items of main concern that I have listed.
§ Mr. Speaker
Before I call any other hon. Member to speak, I should like to say to the House that this debate will last probably until 11.30 p.m. I have a list of Members with urgent constituency interests who obviously want to be called and I shall be able to call everyone who wishes to be called only if we have brief speeches.
§ 9.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Neil Marten (Banbury)
I shall try to be very brief. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) should not imagine that my vote tonight against the regulations has anything to do with my being anti-Common Market. I shall vote against them because I am a Conservative and because I think that this proposal is an unnecessary expenditure of public money, which we are advocating should be cut. This is my basic reason.
I do not believe that these regulations are necessary for health reasons. For generations, for centuries, we have eaten our fowl as we wanted, and this has not caused very much trouble to the health of the people of the United Kingdom.
I recently tabled a Question to askhow many people in each of the last three years have become ill through eating diseased or unwholesome poultry meat or food which has been contaminated by the guts or other viscera from poultry.The reply was:1972, 29; 1973, 34; 1974, 29".—[Official Report,11th March 1976; Vol. 907, c. 298–9.]Therefore, it is a minuscule health problem.
The argument that suddenly we need this simply because we have joined the Common Market is not a very serious reason for advocating these regulations. I take the view that, if we go on like this and other regulations are put forward by the Common Market to deal with purity of water and this, that and the other, as a nation we shall become so cosseted that when we step outside the tariff barriers of the EEC into a foreign country we shall all collapse with diseases. If one goes 1335 to a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference, for example, if it is held in a hot climate it is remarkable how many people collapse. I have always followed a good rule that I learnt during the last war.
§ Mr. Marten
It is not to boil the water. If one goes to a place such as Cairo, which is not the healthiest of places, the first thing one does is to go into one's bathroom, turn on the tap and drink a glass of clean, Cairo bath-tap water. If one does that throughout one's life, one becomes immunised. I have always done that and so far, touch wood, I have not fallen ill. I think that the health reason is spurious.
It is said that the regulations are needed for export, but according to figures from the Department of Trade the export market in chickens in the 12 months to April this year totalled £828,000. This is a minute amount and there is no evidence that exports will increase. The export argument is very weak.
I am against the regulations because the Government will be putting in £5 million capital cost for structural improvements. The expenditure is unnecessary in this context.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire wrote earlier this year 1336 that increases in costs of a result of EEC poultry hygiene regulations would have to be borne by the consumer. He added:The present Government has already saddled the public with rising food prices, with the prospect of further inevitable and horrific rises. All this is a totally unnecessary burden on this sector of the agricultural industry and it will cost the consumer dear.I am not sure whether it will cost the consumer 1p a pound or 4p a chicken, but it will be quite a lot. The people who have addressed our Committee have given us to understand that the running costs will be £10 million to £14 million a year—which will be passed on to the consumer.
The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) raised the question of public employees. I have here a letter from my local council, which is concerned about the level of inspection required and the cost which will have to be borne by the consumer. The council reckons that the present proposals for inspection services are excessive.
We were told that the number of public employees would increase by 1,000 to 1,500, of which between 100 and 400 would be veterinary surgeons and the rest public service employees. It is Conservative policy to cut down the number of public employees.
I shall vote against the regulations on grounds of increased costs and increased number of public servants. The regulations might be all right if they were optional for those who wished to export, but why must we have them for those who do not wish to export?
§ 10.4 p.m.
§ Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)
I do not go along with my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten) in his reasons for rejecting the hygiene purposes of these regulations. There are arguments on both sides. My hon. Friend said that 28 or 30 people were taken ill each year with various types of poisoning as a result of eating diseased chickens. But they are only the cases which have been reported; there were probably many others that were not reported. However, this is not the basis of the argument. The basis is that we are improving hygiene regulations to safeguard the health of people in this country and throughout the Community.
I have a great deal of difficulty over these regulations. I assume that they are meant to follow the Community regulations and directives of 1971 on hygiene, with the amendment of 1975. If so, there are discrepancies which must be cleared up tonight.
I accuse the Government of deliberate misrepresentation, not only in the House but outside. Ministers have been saying that, because of these regulations, New York-dressed poultry will continue indefinitely. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) picked this up and reiterated it in his speech. But it is not so, and the Member knows it. The amended regulations show quite clearly that eviscerated chickens can be a derogation up to 1981 and no further. Indeed, the Parliamentary Secretary wrote to me on 24th August—I have his letter here—after these regulations were laid, and said:Although the directives place a limit of August 1981 on the provisions for New York dressed sales by producers beyond the 'farm gate', we have not put a similar time limit in our regulations thereby allowing for the possibility that the Community provisions may eventually be changed.The reality is that they are not changed now. The Minister's predecessor, now Lord Peart, and the right hon. Gentleman himself have been gambling that between now and 1981 they will be able to renegotiate these directives. They have no right to do that. That was what the Parliamentary Secretary said; anybody can see the letter. It is not private Therefore, the view circulated through- 1338 out the country that New York-dressed poultry will be allowed indefinitely to continue to be sold at retail level, not across the farm gate from the producer to the consumer but via a third party, is quite erroneous, and the right hon. Gentleman knows it. I questioned Commissioner Lardinois about that matter at the European Parliament, and it was confirmed.
Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman or my right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, when he becomes Minister of Agriculture within a short time, will be able to renegotiate that regulation. The right hon. Gentleman is wrong to mislead the House and the country by saying that that can be done. I find it difficult to accept these regulations as they stand. I shall not go into the details, Mr. Speaker, because you have asked us to be brief. Schedule 4 is the crux of the matter. If the right hon. Gentleman in his reply looks at Regulations 3 and 4, he will see that the exemption lasts only to 1981. Let him study his own regulations. The right hon. Gentleman should not mislead the House, producers and processors about this issue, because he is wrong.
I turn now to another matter which concerns the environmental health officers. There has been a certain amount of controversy over this matter. It seems that we have got ourselves into a misunderstanding over what is involved. When I first saw this regulation from the Community and the regulation from the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, it was drafted so that only veterinary surgeons could do ante-mortem and post-mortem inspections not only in big but in small slaughterhouses. This seems incredibly wasteful and expensive. My right hon. Friend said that cost would escalate. It seems an unnecessary imposition. We have well-trained EHOs in the country, as the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) said. Therefore, why should they not undertake these inspections?
I have spoken to members of the veterinary profession in this country. Indeed, I had the pleasure of opening their international conference only a month ago. They persuaded me that there are certain functions which only veterinary 1339 surgeons can fulfil—for example, microscopic investigation. Nevertheless, it seems to me that what was originally in the regulations would vitiate any environmental health officer making a career for himself in that calling.
§ Mr. Nick Budgen (Wolverhampton, South-West)
I wonder whether my hon. Friend will explain why he was convinced that it was necessary to have training of a veterinary surgeon in order to make these microscopic investigations?
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention because I was not particularly clear on the subject. I am not a veterinary surgeon, nor am I a scientist, and one can be baffled by science. Nevertheless, a good case was made by British Veterinary Association members that some cases of salmonella poisoning cannot be detected by the eye and need proper investigation. Presumably that would explain the need for microscopic and bacteriological knowledge which understandably the ordinary environmental health officer does not possess. [HON. MEMBERS: "Why not?"] He is not trained to that level. If I were asked whether he could be trained, that would be a different issue.
I tried to find out the exact intentions which Commissioner Lardinois would be putting forward to the Council of Ministers and what his interpretation was of the regulations which had been passed by the Council and which the British Government are now to implement. He made quite clear in a letter dated 18th July, which I sent to the Minister, that the kind of supervision which he, as Commissioner, envisaged being adopted in this country was having one veterinary surgeon in charge of perhaps a county or a region with the environmental health officers working under his supervision. There was no question, as the Minister said in a subsequent letter to me, of a veterinary surgeon being required to do post-mortem and ante-mortem inspection at all large plants throughout the country.
The interpretation of Mr. Lardinois was that there would be one veterinary officer per county, or perhaps even one per region, which is cutting it down enormously. I understand entirely that the veterinary profession does not quite see eye to eye with that interpretation. It 1340 obviously wants to have closer supervision. But there simply are not enough veterinary surgeons available at present to fill all the vacancies when they occur. In this particular case, there would have to be veterinary supervision by the veterinary surgeon himself.
I hope that when the Minister replies he will make it quite clear that a proper career structure is available for environmental health officers, that there will be only the necessary veterinary supervision and that at best this will mean only one veterinary officer per county or one per region. I hope that that is what will happen.
§ Mr. Dan Jones (Burnley)
Does the hon. Gentleman agree with the observation that the scheme will require no more than 500 extra vocational or professional staff?
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
I sincerely hope that it will be a darned sight less than that. Unless my mathematics are at fault, and as far as the counties are concerned, there are slaughterhouses which will require only something between 30 and 40 if that is the method by which the Minister decides to implement the directive and the regulations. That is all that is necessary. It need not be more than 20 or 30, but I fear that it may well be between 500 and 1,000. That would be wrong, and that was why I put my name to the motion. I do not believe that the scheme will be implemented in the way I have suggested. I believe that the environmental health officer should have a proper career structure.
I agree with the hon. Member for South Shields that what happens to poultry meat and white meat may well apply to red meat. Why not? It is right that it should be done on a European Community basis. Let us get it right tonight. If we do not, we shall be in a dreadful mess later. That is why it is absolutely essential that the 1975 directive is properly interpreted.
§ Mr. Marcus Fox (Shipley)
My hon. Friend, serving as he does in the European Parliament, is a specialist in these matters. He said that between 400 and 500 veterinary surgeons might be involved. If that is so, it could have a grave effect on the way we vote. Some 1341 of us are concerned about the duties of environmental health officers.
§ Mr. Scott-Hopkins
It is not for me to say how the Government will implement the regulations. The Minister in a letter to me dated 14th October said that he expected a veterinary surgeon to be employed in every large plant. That means, presumably, that for ante-mortem and post-mortem inspections the total could be 500 at least. It is not for me but for the Government to reply to my hon. Friend. I fear that that is the way the Government intend to implement the regulations, but they will be wrong to do it in that way. There need be no more than between 30 and 50 veterinary officers involved at the most, and that is how I hope the Government will implement the regulations. For those reasons, I support the motion.
§ 10.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Norman Buchan (Renfrewshire, West)
I never cease to be amazed by Conservative Members who, having swallowed the entire camel of the common agricultural policy, on issue after issue strain at a gnat—or, in this case, a chicken.
I am in the peculiar position of not being a great lover of the Common Market and, at the same time, not straining at the gnat of these regulations, bearing in mind all the lunacies of the common agricultural policy. The regulations are not without merit, despite the arguments used by the Conservatives. I wish that they would stop this nonsense. They brought us into the Common Market without proper consultation of the people and without proper consultation of the House. They raise these issues for no other reason than to make cheap political capital.
In attacking the lunacies of the common agricultural policy, I am not prepared at the same time to refuse a welcome, however grudging it may be, to certain aspects of improvement. There are certain merits in the regulations, regardless of their origin. I exempt from all my strictures the hon. Member for Banbury (Mr. Marten).
The regulations contain improvements which the Government might have considered in the past. I am in favour of any regulations which lead to an improvement in animal health regulations and 1342 in the food which is produced in this country. There are such elements contained in the regulations. There are also questions to be asked, and we shall ask them.
My first view was that environmental health officers were largely to be superseded. I understand now that that is not so. I hope that we shall receive some clarification about that. I am concerned that the regulations should not lead to loss of jobs or to loss of status.
I understand that veterinary officers will be used in a supervisory capacity but that environmental health officers will sometimes be used in fairly senior positions within the administration. I should like verification of that. I hope that on the administrative side there will be no need for any loss of status. I wish environmental health officers to have an equal involvement, but, if the standards are changed, by definition that will alter the present position. There may be no loss of status, but I should like the Government's comment on that. I am not prepared to push this to the point that there can be no improvement in hygienic conditions because of the necessity to bring in a higher level of expertise. In that way no progress is made.
We are dealing with the future of the industry. Whether we like it or not, many markets will be blocked to us if we do not adopt regulations such as these. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) nods his head in agreement, but I wish he had not been so grudging in his speech. Hon. Members have raised the problems of the EHOs and veterinary surgeons. They have said that international trade in many areas demands this veterinary involvement. The Swann Report stressed the importance of the relationship between the abattoir and farm and the resulting following up of health aspects.
Having argued over the years for that, it is difficult for me to object to regulations, whatever their source. I am not in the same hypocritical state as Opposition Members who swallowed the entire camel of the Common Market.
Hon Members want the Minister to comment on the role of veterinary surgeons and EHOs. Do we have enough veterinary officers? There appears to be a pattern of increasing age in the service. If we are not to have sufficient veterinary 1343 officers, can we involve the EHOs in supervision? I do not accept some of the exaggerated numbers which have been suggested, but I can see difficulties even if the minimum number were correct. One of the reasons for the difficulty is that so many young veterinary officers have moved into the private domestic sphere—as we read in the stories by Mr. Herriot—and they prefer that to the public service.
Where will the cost lie? I am not happy about that aspect, but I approve of the £5 million public subsidy for slaughterhouses. I am in favour of improving health conditions in our abattoirs, but I wonder to what extent the cost of supervision will be borne by the consumer. Such questions require an answer.
My previous doubts about the regulations were based on my fear of their effects on the small man, because that is particularly important in this industry. There is also the question of "New York-dressed". There are one or two curious phrases in the regulations. For instance, what is meant by "neighbouring authorities"? Many authorities are surrounded by half a dozen others. Are we talking in terms of distances or of time between killing and when the product reaches the market? Are we right to say that accepting "New York-dressed" will benefit the small man by allowing him a monopoly of fresh-killed poultry? Is the industry's welcome for it merely an endorsement of the big man's case?
My acceptance is partially grudging. I hate health regulations or anything else to be dictated by the exigencies of the market, but the Government should have taken action a long time ago. I hope that the Minister will answer my questions, particularly that about the status and future of the environmental health officers.
§ 10.25 p.m.
§ Mr. David Penhaligon (Truro)
Having read the regulations, I came to the conclusion that the nation could not afford to use people with six or seven years' university training to look up the backside of chickens to see whether they were edible. Some hon. Members have said that that is not so, and that the veterinary officers will not do any of the in- 1344 spection but will employ assistants to do it.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) seemed to imply that one of the arguments for employing veterinary officers was that certain work required to be done which an ordinary environmental health officer was not qualified to do. Yet it appears to me that the highly-qualified, expensively-trained veterinary officer will, in areas such as mine at least, be at best 15 or 20 miles from the nearest killing house. I do not know what his involvement with the chicken will be if that is the arrangement. Why the whole business cannot be given to the environmental health officers, and thus save money and university training, I do not know.
The general improvement of regulations must be treated with sympathy, certainly from the Liberal Bench. Having been brought up in a rural environment, I can assure hon. Members that improvements in hygiene in the killing of animals are required. I have been at one end of the pigs' house killing chickens and helping to gut them while the pigs were doing whatever they chose to do at the other end. The fact that that will be made illegal is to be welcomed.
I do not understand completely the question of the marking of the birds to show that they have been passed. When the cover is removed from the bird, the mark will be destroyed. Will it therefore be illegal to sell parts of chicken? If the butcher will be allowed to hack up a chicken which has already passed the test somewhere and sell parts, he will immediately destroy the marking. If that is to be made illegal, well and good. If not, I wonder what is the purpose of putting on the marking in the first place.
My final point concerns what I suspect to be the cause of many of the health dangers in the selling of poultry—the freezing and thawing, freezing and thawing, and so on, that goes on in the butcher's shop. Whether or not the chicken has a fancy mark under the cover, I suspect that four freezings and thawings can do more harm than anything else.
I admit that I know very little about the regulations, although I tried to read them. Therefore, I ask the Minister to make clear exactly what the veterinary 1345 officer will do. If that officer is not involved in the judgment, why employ him anyway? I hope that the Minister will also comment on the dangers of thawing and freezing.
§ 10.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Andrew Welsh (South Angus)
It cannot be denied that there is much in the regulations that is good and extremely desirable. The general public have a right to the highest standard of cleanliness in the production and preparation of their foodstuffs. But there is still much about the regulations that worries me. The first matter is the whole principle of Common Market interference in the minutiae of everyday commerce and everyday life. It seems that by the regulations the Common Market is trying to harmonise and standardise all preferences and tastes at regional and national level throughout the Common Market. That could be a mistake, because there are individual preferences and tastes which are to the benefit of everybody. However, the constant standardisation and harmonisation continues. The neat and tidy bureaucratic mind likes neat and tidy regulations with which to standardise everybody. If we take the process too far, everyone will be the loser.
There seems to be in the regulations a kind of overkill in the name of safety, with every chicken inspected. Perhaps this is all very well in theory, but can it be fulfilled in practice? We must bear in mind the extra expense that will be involved in new buildings, in the training of inspectors and in creating adequate numbers of veterinary surgeons. The cost of the regulations will be borne by the poultry industry, which has taken a fair hammering financially. Its feeding costs have escalated rapidly. We know the extra burdens which have been placed on agriculture by the EEC's skimmed milk provisions. Those provisions alone have meant a massive increase in costs to the industry.
The Government's concessions in respect of dry plucked birds will be of more use to the turkey producers aiming at the seasonal Christmas market than to the full-time, all-the-year-round chicken processors.
I ask the Minister to consider extending the 50 per cent. grant to producers with fewer than 200,000 birds, because 1346 that would help the medium-size business. The Government have tended to miss out in help to that group.
The argument that United Kingdom firms must raise themselves to EEC standards if they are to be fit to take part in export markets tends to fall down in many cases in a Scottish context. I have in mind the medium-size firms which do not export at all and whose efforts are aimed at the home market. They will find themselves in the worst of all possible worlds since, although they do not export, they will still be required by the regulations to raise their buildings to the required standards at considerable expense. I ask the Minister to examine the situation of such firms in Scotland.
I am concerned about the practical effect of the regulations on manpower and the costs to the industry and also to the housewife. Many conflicting figures have been given in this debate. The Government put the average cost of inspection at 1p per bird, but the NFU instanced a figure as high as 3p to 4p per pound of finished product. Which is the correct figure? May we be told on what the Government figures are based so that we may reach a judgment? The Government should seek to reassure the poor housewife, because she is the one who will end up paying for these changes.
Fears have been expressed that some smaller firms may be driven out of business. Does not the Minister accept that there are differences in scale and that rules based on requisites for large firms might not be applicable to small firms? The small firms can operate effectively and hygenically without the massive outlay on plant required in the larger companies. Again, I ask the Minister to examine that aspect of the matter.
I wish to mention one point of definition. On page 2 of the regulations we see the word "fresh" as including "chilled" or "frozen" meat. I notice that some supermarkets are advertising "fresh frozen chickens". That surely is a contradiction in terms and could be misleading. Does it mean "freshly frozen" because it has been frozen within a short time, or does it mean merely "frozen"? To my mind, a chicken is either fresh or frozen—there is no area in between. I hope the Minister will examine these matters of definition.
1347 If the Government are determined to force these regulations through, will they pick up the financial obligations created by their own measures? Certainly, more Government help is needed to meet the costs. The figure of £5 million is fine, but will it be adequate to help the industry—and will it be taken to the places where it is needed? There must be careful regulation of its effects in the Common Market. I hope that the Minister will keep an eye on the situation in the EEC to ensure that its members raise their standards in the same way as the United Kingdom is expected to raise its standards, otherwise we shall face unfair competition if we obey the rules and they do not.
I also ask the Minister to watch the position in a United Kingdom context and ensure that the small and medium-size businesses are not drowned in extra costs. I hope he will also ensure that the supply of veterinary surgeons and poultry meat inspectors is adequate and available where needed.
Let us remember that the customer—the housewife—is always right. I hope that the Minister will guarantee the situation long beyond 1981 and will devote a great deal of thought to these matters.
§ 10.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Christopher Price (Lewisham, West)
I am no great expert on either agriculture or on the Common Market. In my constituency chickens are eaten rather than raised. This is only the second time that I have spoken in a Common Market debate. I want to make the same point as I did on the first occasion, which was a debate about Common Market attempts to make it more difficult for us to train postgraduate doctors part-time. The same principle is raised in these regulations.
I, too, have been subjected to the same sort of pressures as other hon. Members, as Vice-President of the Association of Metropolitan Authorities. In addition, my own environmental health officers have made representations to me. My point is that what we are discussing is symptomatic of what we shall see in regulation after regulation from the Common Market as it attempts to impose a European professional attitude—which does not necessarily accord with the 1348 development of the professions and our way of doing things in Britain—upon the law and, therefore, the economy of this country.
When we were discussing the postgraduate medical training regulations, because doctors do not train part-time for post-graduate medicine in Europe it was assumed that they should not be allowed to carry on in Britain with a pattern of training which was traditional. Eventually we managed to make some dent in that argument. Here again, because on the Continent there has not been the growth of the profession of environmental health officers, there is this attempt to impose upon us an expensive and absurd system of inspection which has nothing to do with the way we go about things here.
I am particularly concerned because I am interested in the development of training and in the teaching profession in Britain. I am proud of our flexible system of development as against the inflexible system in many Common Market countries. If it had not been for Britain's entry to the Common Market, that system might have gone on with an absurd set of regulations based on hours of study and attempts to correlate them between different countries. Common Market countries can be thankful that we saved them from that.
The attempt to put expensively trained veterinary surgeons in charge of a process which is inappropriate to them is a sign of something we shall see coming to this House again and again. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins said that he was of this opinion until somehow the veterinary officers persuaded him to think otherwise. He was asked how he had been persuaded, but he did not seem to tell us what the arguments were. We have to use our imagination. I certainly have not been persuaded.
Environmental health officers are members of one of a number of professions which we have developed on a pragmatic, sensible basis to meet a need as opposed to operating on a traditional basis, allowing the professions to dig themselves in and demand privileges which inevitably mean increased expenditure for which the consumer pays. It is right that we should draw attention to 1349 this symptom as it is manifested in the regulations. Over the next few years I can see a whole range of other areas where we shall be asked to absorb what are fundamentally alien systems of inspection. I hope that we shall resist them on each occasion, as I intend to resist the regulations tonight.
§ 10.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
The House will have observed from the Order Paper that the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments has drawn the special attention of both Houses to these Instrumentson the grounds that they make an unusual or unexpected use of the powers".conferred by the statutes under which they are made. I draw the attention of the House to the Thirtieth Report of the Committee.
The preamble to the regulations states that the regulations are madefor the purposes of Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972 ….in relation to the common agricultural policy of the European Economic Community … in exercise of the powers conferred upon them by the said Section 2(2) and in exercise of the powers conferred upon them by Sections 13 and 123 of the Food and Drugs Act 1955".In a few respects the regulations go beyond the order-making power given to Ministers and Secretaries of State under the Food and Drugs Act. They therefore rely for vireson the order-making powers in the European Communities Act to take up the Food and Drugs Act powers, and for the enforcement of the provisions of that Act there is Section 100 of the Food and Drugs Act 1953 which allows right of entry to inspectors to premises where they think that poultry-dressing may be taking place.
The proviso to Section 100 is that if entry is to be into a private dwelling 24 hours' notice must be given. That does not permit a right of entry or enforcement under the provisions introduced by the European Communities Act. Therefore, in the regulations there is Regulation 25, which gives inspectors a right of entry for the purpose. However, for some extraordinary reason the proviso of 24 hours' notice in the case of a private dwelling has been left out. Although it is clearly in Section 100 of the Food and Drugs Act it has not been repeated in the regulations. The House has always been careful to examine rights of entry 1350 into people's homes, and there is no good reason for the omission of the proviso in the regulations. There is no reason for entry without notice.
The Thirtieth Report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, having taken evidence from officials of the Department concerned, found the following:The Department … admit that there is no reason why such a proviso should not be included. The Committee consider that it was unnecessary to grant wider powers to inspectors than were granted by the Food and Drugs Act and that this was not necessary in order to implement Article 6 of the EEC Directive under the European Communities Act. Consequently, they consider that the regulations make an unusual use of the powers granted under the Acts.I must ask the Minister to give the House an undertaking to introduce an amendment to the regulations to attach that proviso, the protection against immediate entry into a private dwelling by the provision that there shall be 24 hours' notice. I ask him to give the House an undertaking that he will bring in an amending order to add that proviso to Regulation 25.
§ 10.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Dafydd Wigley (Caernarvon)
I address the House as one who in 1974, on the balance of argument, was a pro-EEC person. For that reason I have grave recriminations about the present situation. It is possible that had I then appreciated the implications of the legislation in greater detail my judgment might have been different. I say that openly and willingly. I have no doubt that the EEC is doing itself considerable harm by trying to get this sort of detailed harmonisation. It is ridiculous that there should be a requirement for such harmonisation.
I have a strong constituency interest in that a number of firms, partnerships and sole traders operate there who could not only be affected but could be killed off. I agree with what the hon. Member for Derbysire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) said about the position of New York-dressed poultry after 1981: that that trade may well be killed off. We all agree on the need for hygiene, but if we have £12 million or £14 million to spend on food safety and hygiene there must be other ways in which the money could be used to greater benefit—for example, research 1351 into food additives. No overwhelming case has been made for the regulations. The Consumers Association in March 1976 raised substantial questions about them which have not been answered.
Secondly, I believe that these regulations are unnecessary for export trade development since we already have considerable export trade in poultry. Indeed, the regulations have been accepted by the export trade. But the fact that they are necessary for the export trade does not necessarily mean that they have to be applied to the home market.
Thirdly, I challenge the authenticity of the EEC directive. It was drawn up when we were not a member, so it could not have given consideration to our circumstances, which are quite different. Our agriculture methods are different. In this context, factors such as temperature are different, as are the distances between producers and markets.
Fourthly, the regulations are impracticable in calling for the time of 100 veterinary surgeons and possibly 900 inspectors. That is ludricrous. People trained to such tasks can be used in ways much more beneficial to the community. These are bureaucratic regulations and should be rejected. I support the case of the environmental health officers. These could be the first of many Common Market regulations going down a bureaucratic path. The House should make a stand tonight and reject them.
§ 10.48 p.m.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
I have only two questions to put. First, is it true that a veterinary surgeon in this country is quite a different animal from a veterinarian on the Continent? Are we speaking of like and like? My understanding is that a veterinarian in Europe is a nice chap with a short training, well qualified to look at chicken guts through a microscope.
Secondly, is the Minister aware that there are 33 export establishments exporting red meat where British veterinary surgeons, not European veterinarians, have been required to carry out inspections, and that four actually do the work, 14 do part of the examination and nine merely put a stamp on the carcase after the environmental health officers have done the work? This quite clearly in- 1352 dicates to me that those veterinary surgeons who are charged with doing the job are unwilling to do the physical work, which they think is not their province. They believe that the environmental health officers can do it more practically and better than they would themselves.
I hope that the Minister will look at the whole position of veterinary surgeons as we understand it in this country and that of veterinarians as the Europeans understand it. I hope he will look at these two different professions and realise that the British environmental health officer is far more akin to a European veterinarian.
§ 10.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)
These regulations represent the culmination of three years' hard work by the veterinary profession. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) has stressed the need to bring our standards of veterinary inspection in this country up to the level of the standards throughout the European Community.
We are facing tonight what virtually amounts to a demarcation dispute between the environmental health officers and the veterinarians. The environmental health officers argue that a veterinary surgeon should deal with an animal when it is alive and that an EHO should deal with the carcase once the animal has been slaughtered. That is a completely out-of-date argument and does not take into account the relationship that the normal livestock farmer has today with his veterinarian—the most important argument for the House to consider tonight.
If an environmental health officer condemns something in the slaughterhouse, that is the end of it. There is a problem with the carcase but there is no feedback to the farming industry. Today, what any livestock farmer wants is to have his veterinarian see his carcases through the slaughterhouse so that there is the necessary feedback to the farmer. The veterinary surgeon is the only person competent to deal with livestock both before it is dead and after it is dead. From the farmer's point of view, the EHO who is dealing with dead livestock is of no help whatsoever. The only 1353 person who can really help the livestock farmer is the veterinarian if he knows the past history of the flock, the herd or whatever it might be beforehand and then sees the results in the slaughterhouse.
§ Mr. A. J. Beith (Berwick-upon-Tweed)
Is not the hon. Gentleman assuming first that the veterinary surgeon who examines the carcases will be the one who also deals with the fanner's animals on the land, and not one who is employed by the local authority, as is likely in this case? Is not the hon. Gentleman also assuming that the veterinary surgeon will be carrying out the inspections?
§ Mr. Kimball
It is the feedback from one professional to another that is important—that the veterinarian employed in the slaughterhouse feeds back effectively to another member of his profession. Half the diseases mentioned in the regulations can be masked with various inoculations. Unless the veterinarian knows what inoculation the flock or herd has received, he is not likely to be able to give a proper analysis. This is another problem with which the EHO is not competent to deal.
This whole matter is a veterinarian's responsibility. The only certificate that is accepted for meat inspection throughout the world is a veterinary certificate. That is the stamp of the veterinary officer. That is the professional mark indicating that the inspection has been properly carried out.
I welcome the regulations as a means of raising the standard of public health inspection in this country.
§ 10.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)
It has been said that this is a matter of job prospects and status, but why should not the environmental health officers be concerned about their job prospects and status? If any other kinds of regulations were to be introduced in this House affecting other professions in the same sort of way, those other professions would be equally concerned. Therefore, I have listened with some attention to the EHOs who have made representations to me and to my hon. Friend when he gave an explanation to them at a public meeting in the House, and I have read the letters that he has written on 1354 behalf of his Department as well as having listened to this debate so far.
At the end of the argument, I ask myself why the EHOs should not do the inspection both of the meat and of the slaughter houses inside this country and, if need be, let the veterinarians deal with it for export. I see no reason why that should not be done. The speech of the hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) confirmed my view that the vets are concerned only to expand their empire and that there is no real professional reason why the EHOs should not continue to inspect meat.
The only reason why we are asked to change that situation is that there is a directive from Brussels. In my view, that is not good enough. Therefore, my hon. Friend has to say why the work should not be split in the way that I have indicated. Why should not the regulations be taken back and amended accordingly? If the answer is only that the directive has already been made, I think that this House should reject the regulations, that the matter should go back to Brussels for reconsideration in the light of English needs and English experience and, accordingly, that the matter should be changed in that way.
§ 10.56 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Johnson Smith (East Grinstead)
I have a number of poultry producers in my constituency. As far as I have been able to judge, they have no objection to the implementation of the regulations. They are badly needed for our export trade at a time when, in the case of anything concerned with the export of this kind of produce or of any manufactured goods or electrical goods, if we are to have inter-Community or world-wide trade, we find more and more conditions have to be adhered to by producers, whether they be farmers or manufacturers in industry. There is no objection, provided that Community-wide laws and regulations are applied fairly.
As some producers see it, the Community has set up highly-trained meat inspectors, but that is no reason why the Community should regard as the equivalent in this country a seven-year highly-trained vet. When EHOs look at the costs, they see that this proposal would impose an obligation which seems to them to be unfair, with a vet getting £11 1355 an hour, and an EHO, say, £2.50 an hour. That is one reason for the resentment.
The other reason stems from the fact that EHOs to whom I have talked think that too literal an interpretation is being placed upon the relevant EEC directives by the Ministry of Agriculture and that this opinion is shared by members of the European Commission. I should like to know whether that is the view of the Minister. The feeling also is that the Commission believes that the directives need be complied with only insofar as their effect is met, the method of enforcement being left to the member States.
One other point made by the EHOs to me is that there is no objection to the hygiene standards imposed by the regulations. That view is shared by the poultry meat producers. The objection is only to the derogation from the EHO of his traditional role in the food inspection service.
If, as I suspect, it is thought that the standards and training of our EHOs are not up to those of meat inspectors on the Continent, we should see to it that the EHO standards are improved. As I understand it, there is no objection from that quarter to any improvement of the inspection criteria. Therefore, if we pass these regulations, we should like to know from the Minister whether it is possible to give us the assurance that EHOs will be able to play a significant part in this sort of meat inspection, provided that standards are improved. It seems silly to me to stop the EHOs continuing their traditional role when the directive was made by the EEC before we joined the EEC and when there was no comparable officer status in the EEC.
If the Minister will give us that assurance, I am sure that he will satisfy a great many hon. Members on both sides of the House.
§ 10.59 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Mills (Devon, West)
As one who had the privilege of having an Adjournment debate on this subject at the height of the problem many months ago, at which time I was highly critical of the Government's proposals, I wish to say on balance that I support the regulations as they are now drafted, with one 1356 exception, and that is on the question of inspection. I believe that something can be done in that field with good will on all sides. These regulations are a far cry from the previous draft regulations.
I believe that we have protected the New York-dressed birds' position, at least for the present. We must fight to continue this. The small producer has been protected, and that is extremely important in the South-West, which I represent. The previous regulations were complete nonsense, and totally unfair to the small producers, particularly those who produce New York-dressed birds.
We shall be able to export once we have brought these regulations into force, and that is most important. I do not take the view or accept the argument that we are now just sending abroad a few chickens—I want to see a great export drive in this area. That is why we must have these regulations. Certainly, we in the South-West want to take advantage of the Roscoff-Plymouth ferry in which much of the poultry meat can be exported back to the Community. We should seize opportunities that the Community offers. We should start a real export drive and move into the Community's markets, just as the members of the Community are moving into ours in various other fields. Whether we like it or not—and I like it—we are in the Community now and we should make the best of it.
These regulations will result in better standards of hygiene, which is important. As the demand grows for the cheaper type of protein in white meat, so our health and hygiene regulations should be improved.
I do not believe that these regulations were brought into force only because of the Common Market. I believe that the Ministry would have done this anyway. When I was a junior Minister we were already talking about it, so hon. Members cannot blame the Common Market for this.
There is only one aspect of the regulations about which I am unhappy—the whole business of inspection. I am not happy about the in-fighting between the environmental health officers and the veterinarians. It is about time that they got together with the Ministry officials and sorted this thing out. We cannot 1357 afford this atmosphere in our slaughterhouses. Sensible men can get together over this problem and get it right. It must be solved. I do not believe that large numbers of vets are needed to do this work. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) that one vet per county, or one per region, supervising the whole organisation is about right. Environmental health officers could be trained up to the standard required and they should do it. Some of the functions must be carried out by a vet. It is a pity we cannot vote against certain parts of these regulations. I would do so. But we cannot, and I feel that the good parts outweigh the one thing that is wrong—this inspectorate.
I conclude by saying that while I am highly critical of the past regulations, I believe that the Government have made some real changes which are right.
§ 11.5 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Gavin Strang)
We have had a very useful debate about these regulations. I want to spend the vast bulk of the time available to me in replying to the many important points that have been raised by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House.
It is quite clear that the matter that is giving hon. Members most concern is the question of veterinary responsibility and the relationship of the vets to the environmental health officers. It is a fact that one of the requirements we must satisfy if our poultry meat is to be acceptable to others is veterinary responsibility for its production. There is nothing new in this requirement. Veterinary certification has been accepted international practice for many years for trade in all types of meat, and we have required it for exports to us just as others have demanded it for our exports to them.
Veterinary surveillance, when fully applied, involves the linking together of information on the live and dead condition of the bird. If carried out promptly and effectively it can benefit the poultry farmer as well as the consumer. Hitherto, we have provided veterinary certification for our meat exports by superimposing ad hocveterinary supervision over whatever system of inspection 1358 already existed. For poultry meat exports we have had to put in a whole team of vets to deal with an export run because no other inspection system is in existence.
This is not a situation that we wish to perpetuate, and what the regulations will enable us to do is to deploy our resources sensibly and effectively. We want non-veterinary inspection to deal with the routine tasks in the slaughterhouse and a veterinarian to keep a general control over the whole operation and to watch for disease conditions in batches of birds at both the ante- and the post-mortem stages. This seems to us to be a sensible and effective use of veterinary resources.
Let me now turn to the position of the environmental health officers. These local authority officials exercise a general responsibility for food hygiene together with a wide range of duties outside the food hygiene field. It is fair to point out that as a percentage of their total work, visits to poultry meat plants have hitherto been of minimal significance. We must ask ourselves why the EHOs are so upset by the regulations, especially in view of the fact that there are several hundred vacancies for EHOs across the country.
I believe that there are two main reasons for their concern. The first is a fear that the regulations are the thin end of a wedge that will eventually put veterinary surgeons in control of the whole area of food hygiene. I accept that there are currently some problems of veterinary supervision to be solved in the comparatively few red meat slaughterhouses that are approved for export; but outside of that area I can see no cause for the EHOs' anxiety.
The Government have given assurances—and I repeat them again tonight—that beyond the poultry meat or red meat slaughterhouse we have no intention of requiring or agreeing to any extension of veterinary involvement in the duties that are now the responsibility of EHOs, and we shall vigorously resist in Brussels any proposals for such an extension. Indeed, I can go further and assure the House that we want to strengthen the EHOs' position in these areas. In other words, there is no thick end to the wedge, and we intend to keep it that way. I am sure that the House will accept these assurances.
§ Mr. Strang
Indeed, it is.
I believe that the other main anxiety of the EHOs is the belief that the general introduction of another profession into local authority employ will cause interprofessional strains that will operate to the detriment of all concerned. A number of hon. Members have raised this point, including my hon. Friend the Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan). This question has also been raised with me by the Association of Meat Inspectors. We are anxious to allay the fears of environmental health officers and to this end we wish to put forward two suggestions tonight.
The first is that local authorities, while retaining their full responsibilities under the regulations, should be able to call on the Ministry to provide them with the necessary veterinary services on a repayment basis as an alternative to taking veterinarians into their direct employ. It would be up to a local authority to decide whether it wanted to take up the offer. I believe this would go a long way to meet the worries of the EHOs.
§ Mr. Blenkinsop
My hon. Friend has raised an important point. Does this mean that local authorities will be able to choose what services they operate and whether to rely on the EHOs or bring in the service of veterinarians?
§ Mr. Strang
I must make clear that, under the regulations, overall responsibility will remain with the authorised veterinary surgeon, but my proposal goes a considerable way to meet the anxieties of the EHOs on the implications of bringing veterinarians into environmental health departments and also meets the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) on the requirements for local authorities to employ a particular type of officer for a particular function.
§ Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)
My hon. Friend has given assurances to the EHOs, but what assurances has he for all the councillors who object to the increased costs?
§ Mr. Strang
I shall come to that important point in a moment.
1360 Our second suggestion to alleviate the worries of the EHOs is that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food should chair a meeting of representatives of the disciplines involved in meat inspection—the veterinarians, the environmental health officers and the meat inspectors—with a view to ironing out their differences.
Hon. Members have raised a number of points regarding the position of local authorities. I shall try to deal with them all briefly as time is running out.
I can assure that right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) that we intend to phase in the regulations and that our estimate of the number of veterinarians required is 100.
The hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells) was correct when he said that veterinary qualifications varied throughout the Community, but the general period of study is between four and six years.
The hon. Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) implied, and a number of other hon. Members seemed impressed by the argument, that we had interpreted the directives more strictly than we need have done on the question of veterinary supervision. To remove any doubts, we asked the Commission for a clear statement of its attitude and have received this reply:The requirements on supervision by official veterinarians necessitate the effective intervention of the latter, at each slaughterhouse and cutting premises. in the task for which they alone are responsible. Although Member States may choose to employ official veterinarians exclusively for all operations prescribed by the directives, for certain operations only the official veterinarian may be helped by assistants working under his supervision and responsibility.It is clear that Member States must ensure that there are sufficient official veterinarians available to guarantee effective application of the directive.In all cases the responsibility of the veterinarian presumes an effective intervention which is not purely theoretical.Important points have been raised on the question of cost. We have estimated the cost of the service when it is fully operational in 1979 at about 1p per bird and that estimate is supported by the British Poultry Federation. There will be no cost to local authorities. The total cost will be borne by the industry which, 1361 at the end of the day, means the consumer. In consultation with the local authority associations and the British Poultry Federation, we are trying to build up an efficient inspection service which imposes no unnecessary burdens on the industry. Our estimate of 1p per bird on average is something which we can sustain. It will not be felt in full until 1979–80. I believe that the consumer will readily pay for the assurance that his poultry has been officially inspected. The effect on the food price index will be negligible.
The right hon. Member for Cambridgeshire referred specifically to training costs. The Training Services Agency will allocate financial resources to assist local authorities with the cost of training poultry meat inspectors recruited between September 1976 and 31st March 1978. That will be of material help in launching the training scheme.
Before turning to the purpose of these regulations, perhaps I should respond to the question of New York-dressed poultry. The derogation with regard to New York-dressed poultry—that is, un-eviscerated birds—going through the slaughterhouses applies from 1979 to 1981. Regarding the further exemption for dry plucked poultry, to which the Commission has taken no objection, it is fair to acknowledge that we are obviously going further than was originally envisaged.
My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Lyon) referred to the application of different standards to birds designated for export from birds designated for the home market. The basic purpose of the directive is to secure that poultry meat from our producers will, by 1979, be acceptable throughout the whole of the Community. That will be an enormous boost to our industry.
We have an efficient poultry meat industry. In the first eight months of this year we exported £3 million worth of poultry meat. These regulations are desperately needed by the industry. They will give the industry a great opportunity to export to other member States. These standards are being demanded increasingly by third countries as well. If we want to develop an efficient British industry and give it the maximum scope to increase exports, it is essential that we 1362 acquire the standards envisaged in these regulations.
We have had an official inspection service for red meat for many years, but we do not have such an inspection service for poultry meat. Such a service has been advocated for many years by the Environmental Health Officers' Association, among others.
We are now providing consumers with a level of protection that has been taken for granted in other countries. This level of protection has been achieved in Sweden, the United States, and some member States of the Community—for example, Denmark. It is only right that the consumer should know, when she buys frozen or chilled birds, that they have been subject to an official inspection. Of course, she may continue to buy New York-dressed poultry which will not be subject to the official inspection service. The exemption extends beyond 1981. That is why the Consumers' Association has said that the consumer will get the best of both worlds.
No. I promised to allow 10 minutes for the hon. Member for Westmorland (Mr. Jopling) to wind up.
The hon. Member for South Angus (Mr. Welsh) asked us to ensure that we were not accepting requirements and laying down standards for our industry which would not be applied throughout the whole of the Community by, for example, France and Italy. I can give the hon. Gentleman that assurance. We will certainly make sure that these standards are properly applied throughout the Community.
What we are talking about is giving the consumer a level of protection. We are all in favour of proper hygienic standards. It is something which should have been implemented many years ago and I hope that the House will be able to support these regulations.
§ 11.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland)
It is rare to have a debate on a Statutory Instrument at this time of night following so many months, indeed years, of debate. discussion and disquiet.
The House will no doubt remember the discussions and letters particularly 1363 from womens' organisations with regard to New York-dressed poultry, as well as the letters of disquiet that we have received within the last few weeks from the environmental health officers. It is right and proper that we have had this debate.
I want to deal with two slants which have arisen in respect of the European connection. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West (Mr. Buchan) is not in his place. The hon. Gentleman and I have crossed swords on many occasions, particularly this year. I was glad to hear the tone of his speech. I hope that the House will get itself more and more into the habit of discussing regulations that emanate from Europe on the basis of their merits rather than perpetuating the old arguments about the Community as a whole. It was heartening to hear the hon. Member for Renfrewshire, West put aside his well-known views about the Community.
I would also draw attention to the speeches of the hon. Member for Lewis-ham, West (Mr. Price) and the hon. Member for Caernarvon (Mr. Wigley), who both described the regulation as perhaps one of the first of a stream of European regulations to deal with existing patterns of organisation in this country. Rather than being the first of a stream it would be more accurate to describe it as the last of a series. In fact, we are now getting towards the end of regulations that were originally formulated before we ever joined the Community. That is partly why we have had so much discussion over the months about these matters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Ban-bury (Mr. Marten) questioned whether these regulations are needed at all. He implied that they were not necessary, as did other hon. Gentlemen. My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Pym) made a fair point when he said that it must be good for the consumer to have proper hygiene regulations for food supplies.
From the inquiries I have made on the question of the way in which existing patterns work with regard to poultry meat, I find that many of the large multiple retail outlets are already instigating voluntary arrangements to inspect poultry meat both before and after slaughter, on lines similar to those envisaged in the regulations.
1364 That seems to imply quite clearly that it is right and in the interests of the consumer, that regulations like these should be imposed. I cannot believe that the large retail outlets from which I have been inquiring carry out inspections for fun. They do so because they think it is in the best interests of their customers. Inspections are already widely carried out. They should be continued and extended over the whole range of activities.
We have heard evidence of exaggeration in some speeches that have been made. We were told that the scheme would cost 4p or 5p a bird. In a brief that I received from the NFU this morning it was suggested that the cost might go up to 50p a bird. The Minister said that the cost will not exceed 1p a bird. He was pressed on this, and I am prepared to accept what he said.
Statements have been made in the House and outside to the effect that 400 or 500 veterinary officers would have to be appointed to supervise the inspections. My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) suggested that it might be necessary to appoint between 500 and 1,000. The Minister said—and I have no grounds for disbelieving him—that 100 would be a more accurate figure.
The hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Blenkinsop) asked whether the regulations would be the thin end of the wedge for the environmental health officers. The Opposition understand the fears of the environmental health officers. It is a matter that causes grave disquiet. We do not agree with the view stated in today's Financial Timesthat it is an irrelevant side issue. We are sympathetic to and fully understand the difficulty faced by environmental health officers.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire asked whether other directives would operate to drive home the wedge between veterinary and environmental health officers, and he received a perfectly good answer to that.
It has been implied that if veterinary officers were brought in to make postmortem inspections there would be no need for vets to visit slaughterhouses. That is true. Under Schedule 5, vets will have to visit slaughterhouses to make ante-mortem inspections.
1365 The Opposition are glad that the problems arising from New York-dressed poultry have been largely resolved. We accept the need for regulations of this sort, but we are still worried about the position of the environmental health officers. We welcome the meeting with the Minister which has been promised. It would be a mistake to throw out the regulations before the Minister has had a chance to meet the veterinary and environmental health officers and thrash
§ out the problems. The attitude of the poultry industry must be considered. The British Poultry Federation has made clear—
§ It being half-past Eleven o'clock,MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded, pursuant to the Order this day, to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.
§ The House divided:Ayes 108, Noes 115.1367
|Division No. 366.]||AYES||[11.30 p.m.|
|Bain, Mrs Margaret||Hutchison, Michael Clark||Reid, George|
|Bean, R. E.||Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford)||Richardson, Miss Jo|
|Beith, A. J.||Jay, Rt Hon Douglas||Ridley, Hon Nicholas|
|Blenkinsop, Arthur||Kelley, Richard||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown)||Kilroy-Silk, Robert||Robinson, Geoffrey|
|Braine, Sir Bernard||Lamborn, Harry||Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)|
|Brotherton, Michael||Lamond, James||Ross, William (Londonderry)|
|Brown, Ronald (Hackney S)||Lawrence, Ivan||Sedgemore, Brian|
|Budgen, Nick||Lawson, Nigel||Selby, Harry|
|Canavan, Dennis||Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)||Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)|
|Cant, R. B.||Lyon, Alexander (York)||Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)|
|Carson, John||McCusker, H.||Silverman, Julius|
|Carter-Jones, Lewis||McDonald, Dr Oonagh||Skinner, Dennis|
|Castle, Rt Hon Barbara||McNamara, Kevin||Spearing, Nigel|
|Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton)||Madden, Max||Spriggs, Leslie|
|Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill)||Marten, Neil||Steel, David (Roxburgh)|
|Crawford, Douglas||Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)||Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)|
|Crowther, Stan (Rotherham)||Moate, Roger||Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)|
|Cunningham, G. (Islington S)||Molyneaux, James||Thompson, George|
|Dempsey, James||Morgan, Geraint||Thorpe, Rt Hon Jeremy (N Devon)|
|Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James||Morris, Michael (Northampton S)||Torney, Tom|
|Drayson, Burnaby||Nelson, Anthony||Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)|
|Durant, Tony||Neubert, Michael||Walder, David (Clitneroe)|
|Evans, John (Newton)||Newens, Stanley||Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir Derek|
|Farr, John||Newton, Tony||Wall, Patrick|
|Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)||Noll, John||Watkinson, John|
|Forrester, John||Onslow, Cranley||Welsh, Andrew|
|Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin)||Orbach, Maurice||Whitehead, Phillip|
|Glyn, Dr Alan||Ovenden, John||Wigley, Dafydd|
|Gow, Ian (Eastbourne)||Paisley, Rev Ian||Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)|
|Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry)||Pardoe, John||Wise, Mrs Audrey|
|Grist, Ian||Pattie, Geoffrey||Woodall, Alec|
|Hampton, Dr Keith||Pavitt, Laurie||Young, David (Bolton E)|
|Hannam, John||Penhaligon, David|
|Hatton, Frank||Powell, Rt Hon J. Enoch||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Hooson, Emlyn||Prescott, John||Mr. Clement Freud and|
|Howells, Geraint (Cardigan)||Price, C. (Lewisham W)||Mr. Richard Body|
|Hughes, Roy (Newport)|
|Armstrong, Ernest||Emery, Peter||Kaufman, Gerald|
|Ashton, Joe||Ennals, David||Kimball, Marcus|
|Barnett, Guy (Greenwich)||Faulds, Andrew||Lambie, David|
|Bates, Alf||Fraser, John (Lambeth, N'w'd)||Latham, Michael (Melton)|
|Bishop, E. S.||Freeson, Reginald||Leadbitter, Ted|
|Boardman, H.||Gilbert, Dr John||Lester, Jim (Beeston)|
|Booth, Rt Hon Albert||Golding, John||Lever, Rt Hon Harold|
|Bradley, Tom||Gourlay, Harry||Luard, Evan|
|Bray, Or Jeremy||Graham, Ted||Lyons, Edward (Bradford W)|
|Brown, Hugh D. (Provan)||Grant, John (Islington C)||McCartney, Hugh|
|Buchan, Norman||Hardy, Peter||McElhone, Frank|
|Cocks, Rt Hon Michael||Harper, Joseph||McGuire, Michael (Ince)|
|Cohen, Stanley||Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C)|
|Concannon, J. D.||Hawkins, Paul||Magee, Bryan|
|Corbett, Robin||Healey, Rt Hon Denis||Mahon, Simon|
|Costain, A. P.||Horam, John||Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)|
|Cox, Thomas (Tooting)||Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey)||Mawby, Ray|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelli)||Hunter, Adam||Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin|
|Davis, Clinton (Hackney C)||Hurd, Douglas||Millan, Rt Hon Bruce|
|Deakins, Eric||Jackson, Miss Margaret (Lincoln)||Miller, Dr M. S. (E Kilbride)|
|Doig, Peter||John, Brynmor||Mills, Peter|
|Dormand, J. D.||Johnson, James (Hurl West)||Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, lichen)|
|Douglas-Mann, Bruce||Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead)||Moonman, Eric|
|Duffy, A. E. P.||Jones, Barry (East Flint)||Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)|
|Eadie, Alex||Jones, Dan (Burnley)||Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw)|
|Ellis, Tom (Wrexham)||Judd, Frank||Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)|
|Moyle, Roland||Rowlands, Ted||Urwin, T. W.|
|Mulley, Rt Hon Frederick||Ryman, John||Walker, Harold (Doncaster)|
|Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King||Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptord)||Walker, Terry (Kingswood)|
|Oakes, Gordon||Silkin, Rt Hon S. C. (Dulwich)||Ward, Michael|
|Ogden, Eric||Small, William||Watt, Hamish|
|Owen, Rt Hon Dr David||Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)||Weitzman, David|
|Page, John (Harrow West)||Snape, Peter||Whitlock, William|
|Palmer, Arthur||Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)||Williams, Alan (Swansea W)|
|Park, George||Stallard, A. W.||Williams, Rt Hon Shirley (Hertford)|
|Radice, Giles||Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)||Woof, Robert|
|Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn (Leeds S)||Stoddart, David|
|Rippon, Rt Hon Geoffrey||Strang, Gavin||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Roper, John||Summerskill, Hon Dr Shirley||Mr. James Hamilton and|
|Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)||Tomlinson, John||Mr. Donald Coleman|
§ Question accordingly negatived.