HC Deb 22 February 1977 vol 926 cc1231-2

3.50 p.m.

Mr. Jasper More (Ludlow)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to food and drugs. Billingsgate is not always the most attractive form of parliamentary language. In seeking leave to introduce a Bill to amend the Food and Drugs Act 1955, I must ask the forgiveness of the House it it sounds a bit fishy, because a whole lot of it will be about fish.

There are more fish in the sea than ever came out of it—or at least there were until the last lot of Russian trawlers got going in the North Sea. The fish are of many species and they have surprising shapes and names. There is the roughback and the thickback, the forkbeard and the tusk, and many others which I have recently learned through studying the Statutory Instruments issued under the authority of the Act which I am seeking to amend.

We live in the age of Statutory Instruments. A county secretary recently complained that, whereas 20 years ago a year's supply of Statutory Instruments weighed 8 lb. and it took seven years to fill a library shelf, now a year's supply weighs 30 lb and takes only three years to fill the same shelf.

Statutory instruments are currently being issued under the authority of Acts at over 1,000 every year. Many of them are concerned with the labelling of food, as has been found to his cost by a fishmonger constituent of mine who is currently serving 120 days' imprisonment in Gloucester Prison for not paying a fine of £30 levied on him for being three labels short on his fish display counter.

In the first 12 years under the 1955 Act some 30 of these Statutory Instruments were issued and finally, in 1970, there were the Labelling of Food Regulations, which deal with fish. If one is buying a tinned product or a patent medicine, a label is of help. When one wants to buy an opening medicine, it is annoying to be sold something to stop diarrhoea. But fish are natural things with different flesh and faces. One might have thought that, with all that we spend on education, the budding housewife might have been taught at school how to distinguish the lobster from the octopus and the shark from the conger eel.

Fishmongers have to learn much more than that, and learn it in Latin. if one wants to sell the species lophius piscatorius, one must label it, surprisingly, enough angler. If one wants to buy the species sardonops sagax ocellata, one must be careful—at any rate, if one is a Labour Member—because legally it must be labelled South African pilchard. If one wants to sell the species huso huso, one must label it beluga. But if one wants to sell haliotis—not halitosis—one must label it abalone or ormer. If one wants to sell sprattus sprattus, one must, surprise, surprise, label it sprat. Other labels that one must put on so that the housewife can be quite sure of what she is buying include Argentine, atherine, huss, rigg, garfish, lascar, megrim, sild, roker and witch. If one does not, one can be run in.

We have offices full of little men who draft all these regulations for which we are paying. We have other offices full of little men who go round inspecting and bringing prosecutions, for which we are paying. We have magistrates' and higher courts to enforce them, for which we are paying. We also have prisons for offending fishmongers, for which we are paying.

Might it not be better to cut back on all this, for housewives to be encouraged when buying fish to "use their loaf" and, when need be, to sue the fishmonger or to shop elsewhere?

I hope that the House will give me leave to introduce a Bill to restrict the issuing of such Statutory Instruments. If not, I shall want leave to issue another Statutory Instrument, for which I cannot give the precise Latin equivalent, but the English translation on the label would be "Codswallop".

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Jasper More, Mr. Kenneth Clarke, Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg, Mr. Anthony Grant, Mr. John Loveridge, Mr. John MacGregor, Mr. David Mitchell and Mr. Peter Temple-Morris.