HC Deb 19 June 1981 vol 6 cc1272-86




Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 1, line 9, leave out from beginning to "food" in line 12 and insert—

""(3A) Nothing in this Part of this Act shall apply so as to require the registration under this section—

(a) of domestic premises, if the only food intended for sale which is prepared or manufactured on them is".

10.35 am
Mr. Gerry Neale (Cornwall, North)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Speaker

With this we may take Lords amendment No. 2, in page 1, line 16, after "(b)" insert of premises of any description if the only food intended for sale which is prepared or manufactured on them is".

Mr. Neale

For obvious reasons, the Bill and the amendments have not been spoken to in the House. As a Bill it was presented to the Chair and went through all its stages in the House. It then went to the other place, where it was amended.

I thank the co-sponsors of the Bill, who came from both sides of the House—namely, the hon. Members for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor), and for Rochdale (Mr. Smith), my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Chatham (Mrs. Fenner), the hon. Member for Lewisham, West (Mr. Price), my hon. Friend the Member for Belper (Mrs. Faith), the hon. Member for Flint, East (Mr. Jones), my hon. Friends the Members for Cheltenham (Mr. Irving), for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson), and for Melton (Mr. Latham), and the right hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. Morris).

The amendment is so intertwined with the only substantive clause in the Bill that it might be of service to the House if I went through the history involved. No one had realised that the Food and Drugs Act 1955 affected voluntary organisations and the process of making food at home. That came to light last year in Stockton-on-Tees, when an environmental health officer approached a women's institute market. Indeed, there are more than 400 such markets throughout the country. They sell various foods that have been produced at home.

The environmental health officer informed the women's institute concerned that the stall could not sell jam because it had not been produced in kitchens that had been registered with the local authority. His action threw doubts on the activities of that market and of all such markets throughout the country. At the time, I did not realise how much money such markets raised. They raise about £2 million on jam sales alone.

Neither the public nor hon. Members realised how many voluntary organisations and activities could be affected if such action were taken throughout the country. As a result, the National Federation of Women's Institutes inquired into the legality of what the environmental health officer had decided. The Department of Health and Social Security was approached. What came to light was that while the Food and Drugs Act 1955 never intended that such trading should be caught it was revealed that the interpretation that the environmental health officer put on section 16 of the Act could not be disputed.

It is possible that the problem has arisen because, at the time, that element was not clearly recorded in our discussions, but section 16 provides that no premises shall be used for … the preparation or manufacture of sausages or potted, pressed, pickled or preserved food"— or of ice-cream intended for sale— unless they are registered under this section for that purpose by the local authority". The local authorities for this purpose are district councils, London borough councils, the Common Council of the City of London and the overseers of the Inner Temple and the Middle Temple.

Two points arose from that which were somewhat stunning. The first was that it was doubted that the preserved food referred to in that section would cover jams made in domestic circumstances. Secondly, it was never imagined that it would apply to domestic premises or to voluntary organisation premises.

The difficulty arose because the 1955 Act applies only to England and Wales and does not make a distinction in terms of domestic premises and meeting halls used to prepare food. The Department and a number of local authorities were obliged to come to the view that jam is a preserved food, within the provisions of section 16, and as such should strictly require that domestic kitchens and meeting halls should come within the registration requirements of section 16.

Mr. Tristan Garel-Jones (Watford)

I notice that the Bill does not mention jam. I wonder whether the provisions have been drafted to include other preserved food that might be made by the ladies, for example, pickled onions. Is that why the Bill is drafted in vague terms, without specifically referring to jam?

Mr. Neale

That is so. I shall enlarge on that. I was seeking to explain that the problem had arisen about jam. What transpired, much to the amusement and annoyance of such organisations as the National Federation of Women's Institutes, was that it appears that jam is a preserved food whereas marmalade is not. There were various other anomalies of that type.

It is a long-standing practice of housewives—and now of some men—to make home-made preserves and produce to sell through local markets and societies. That is extremely valuable work for such societies, particularly those registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act, raising money for the benefit of various charitable purposes and voluntary organisations.

9.45 am

As a result of what happened in the Stockton case, which required all these domestic kitchens to be registered, it was obvious that the law needed to be changed. It was a mammoth bureaucratic task. Therefore, the sponsors from both sides of the House joined me in the view that we should introduce a Bill to cover the requirements of registration and render it unnecessary.

The Lords amendment requires that the premises in the Bill should be extended so that the Bill covers not only domestic premises but premises used solely for voluntary purposes in the preparation of food. In the past 12 months since this matter came to light, a black cloud has been hanging over jam making and all other forms of food preparation by voluntary organisations.

Hon. Members may recall that just before the end of the last Session I introduced a Ten-Minute Bill, which failed for lack of time. In March this year I presented, my Bill. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, the Department, and the right hon. Member for Openshaw for the kind assistance that they have given.

Clause 1 seeks to insert a new subsection in section 16 of the Food and Drugs Act 1955. That would provide that any food produced on domestic premises will not require those premises to be registered, unless the food produced is: food intended for sale for the benefit of the person preparing or manufacturing it by a society registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965". That covers institutions such as the women's institute market and any other voluntary organisation registered for such purposes. It is a form of co-operative, as defined by section 1(2) of the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965. The qualifying point in the Bill is that it should be food produced only on domestic premises.

The second qualification in the Bill is that it should exempt premises being registered under the 1955 Act if the food produced is food prepared or manufactured otherwise than in the course of a trade carried on by the person preparing or manufacturing it. That covers all forms of voluntary organisations, such as church fetes and all other functions that I shall mention shortly.

The amendment drew to the attention of the sponsors the fact that if the Bill related only to domestic premises it would rule out a large number of functions involving voluntary organisations, such as the scouts and the guides, who play a vital part in our community life and produce food other than in the kitchens of scouts and guides and their parents. It was felt strongly that the premises on which food is produced for voluntary organisations should be covered in certain circumstances. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best), who will enlarge on that aspect.

It will be noted from the amendment that there is no extension of the exemption for premises other than domestic premises where the food is being produced by industrial and providence societies. If the members of those societies produce their food in domestic kitchens, in that sense they will be exempt from the registration, but if the food is produced in halls, in meeting places, field kitchens, and so on, it must be done on a purely voluntary basis. That is a slightly different emphasis.

There is an aspect on which I should like to forstall concern on the part of hon. Members. I refer to protection in terms of hygiene in the production of the food and the safety of the people concerned. Hon. Members may know that the Food Hygiene (General) Regulations 1970 lay down very clear guidelines on the circumstances that cover the eligibility of premises, domestic or otherwise, to be inspected by the local environmental health inspectors. The Bill in no way affects that position, in that domestic premises that are used for the production and manufacture of food that is sold by industrial and providence societies are in that sense deemed to be running a business that under the Food Hygiene (General) Regulations, can be inspected by local authorities. The local authorities have the right to inspect. That position will remain and is not altered by the amendment. In the case of food produced on domestic or other premises, but not by someone in the process of trade, the regulations did not apply and would still not apply, so the position is the same as before.

It is plain that the organisations that are in the process of producing food, particularly the women's institutes, have a very high regard for hygiene. Their markets are only part of the many activities in which they indulge in terms of food preparation. They publish a handbook that contains not only the various legal requirements relating to the form of the market but many pages on the regulations, the requirements for producing food, the protection of food, cleanliness, and many other aspects, to ensure that the standards of food preparation used by their members are the best.

As an example of the responsibility that voluntary organisations readily undertake in these matters, I refer to a condition in the handbook that states clearly to members that all markets and kitchens where food is cooked for sale on market stalls are liable to inspection by public health officers of the appropriate local authority. The officers should be given every freedom to inspect, and opportunity should be taken to seek their guidance on matters of concern. The inspectors usually come in friendly fashion, ready and willing to advise". I do not know whether the voluntary organisations would agree with that in Stockton-on-Tees. The handbook goes on to say that the kitchen should have an atmosphere of cleanliness, adequate supplies of hot water, clean utensils and working surfaces, good lighting and ventilation, proper provision and use of protective clothing, and real care and thought for the food being handled". It is a hallmark of the voluntary organisations involved in and encompassed by the amendment that they show considerable regard for the need for cleanliness, and they do not deserve to be subjected to the bureaucratic requirement of having to register all their domestic kitchens for this purpose. I pay tribute to the National Federation of Women's Institutes for taking a lead in this area. The federation is supported by many other voluntary organisations, such as the Royal National Life-boat Institution, which has some 2,000 branches in this country and raises about £3½ million a year from efforts of the type covered by the amendment and by the Bill itself.

Mr. John Page (Harrow, West)

I have not done a great deal of homework on the Bill. Will my hon. Friend explain whetler the small one-off bring-and-buy event that is held in someone's house for a particular charity, or even for the funds of a political party, is covered, or is that totally exempt? Does the Bill deal more with food markets?

Mr. Neale

The first part of the clause relates solely to activities such as the women's institute markets and co-operatives registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965.

The second part of the clause deals with the production of food on domestic premises, and would, as a result of the amendment, include other places, such as meeting halls. That covers the very point made by my hon. Friend in his intervention. The feeling of the sponsors on each side of the House is that the relevant section of the Food and Drugs Act should not apply to the many activities relating to church fetes, and so on, and to the activities of parent-teacher associations that raise money. It would be nonsense if it applied to them.

Recent studies have shown that the vast majority of parent-teacher associations hold money-raising events in homes as well as in village halls. These organisations raise well over £20 million per year, and it is nonsense that all those activities should be covered by some statutory requirement for registration. The need for that has not been proved, and I hope that my hon. Friend will feel reassured on that point.

It is entirely wrong that women's institutes should have been placed in such a position, and I am sure that hon. Members would wish to see a change made. The women's institutes have a long history of involvement with the Governments of the day in the evolution of regulations affecting food production. Bearing that in mind, the past 12 months have been a difficult time for them, in trying to placate their members throughout the country and the many other people who have made inquiries about the working of the Act.

10 am

I do not want to sound flippant, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but, however we may refer to this Session, the term "jam session" means something quite different to the National Federation of Women's Institutes. I hope that I have assured hon. Members that the amendment does not relate only to jam. It relates to a whole range of foods produced in circumstances that I have described. It concerns people who, as members of industrial and provident societies, make food at home for sale through such society activities, properly registered under existing law. It is concerned with voluntary organisations and community sponsorship, and the most fundamental help of all—nourishment in local communities.

I believe that there is widespread approval among all parties in the House that the amendment should be accepted to enable the Bill to reach the statute book and to rid the activities to which I have referred of the ridiculous inhibitions from which they have suffered over the past 12 months. I should like to take the opportunity of thanking hon. Members on both sides of the House and also my hon. Friends in the Department for all the help that they have given in enabling the measure to reach this stage.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe)

I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale) who moved the amendment with his normal fluency and incisiveness. I should also like to congratulate him in another respect. The hon. Gentleman has two great advantages in dealing with the Bill. First, he is male. Secondly, he moves the amendment on a Friday. Why is it an advantage to be male when dealing with a measure of this kind? I listened with some astonishment, if not interest, to the speech made by the hon. Gentleman in the debate last Thursday about the real problems facing women in the community. The hon. Gentleman had the unique advantage of being the only speaker to be reported by some radio stations in large urban areas.

This was notable in a debate when it was difficult to discover what had been said. If the hon. Member moving the amendment had been a woman and had talked today about women's institutes, voluntary organisations, scouts and girl guides and, even better, about jam, he would have found himself given an asonishing amount of publicity. We should hear what he looked like, what he sounded like, and whether he was a representative of someone who looked like a sportsman or, in this case, a sportswoman. We would, however, experience great difficulty in discovering what he actually talked about. I suppose that, in the case of some Conservative Members, it is difficult to know what they are talking about. One must not therefore be unkind.

The amendment is interesting for a number of reasons. The voluntary organisations are important. They have been changing their functions and their work over many years. The women's institutes are now highly professional voluntary organisations. I was interested to hear the promoter of the Bill say that he was surprised to learn how much money is earned by women's institute shops. Those who have seen the women's institutes moving into the area of women's politics, discussing many important subjects and taking a positive role in lobbying for specific changes in the law are not astonished to learn that they are sufficiently professional to earn a great deal of money through their shops. They produce goods of a high standard and sell them to all and sundry.

Mr. Neale

I was not talking about the total sum. I was talking about the jam to which the amendment relates.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I stand corrected. I am happy to hear that the hon. Gentleman is not surprised at anything that women do. Hearing his remarks last week, I thought he had simple views on the matter.

This Bill is a classic example of how bureaucracy, having got itself into a knot, can occasionally, if shame-facedly, try to put the matter right. I should like to know from the Minister whether the amendments came from the House of Lords. I had understood that the Bill was to be returned from the other place unamended. I am interested to hear that it is in order that these amendments can suddenly appear. It is interesting that parliamentary draftsmanship can stand unchallenged for a number of years until interpreted, in a way that we are told is accurate, by an environmental health officer, who discovers that there is considerable doubt about the correct interpretation of the Food and Drugs Acts.

This is a sensible little Bill. It is a clarification that will help those who prepare food. I have the greatest admiration for women's voluntary organisations. They are grossly under-estimated, not least because, in this House, there are so few women and the virtues of voluntary organisations are rarely fully discussed.

My other reason for congratulating the hon. Gentleman is that today is a Friday and little of what is stated in the House will be recorded or commented upon anywhere. It is interesting to those hon. Members who started their careers in newspapers to find that the more advanced the technology and the more brilliant the equipment the less actual reporting of the doings of the House take place. These days, anyone who speaks in the House after 4 pm from Monday to Thursday is hardly likely to be noted. Those speaking on a Friday are likely to be speaking to themselves.

I hope that the Bill will go rapidly on to the statute book. I am glad to see an unusual note of common sense emanating from the Government. I welcome the amendments.

Mr. Keith Best (Anglesey)

I shall not dare to pretend to speak on behalf of women's organisations in case I come under the unrelenting lash of the tongue of the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody). I shall restrict my remarks to the scouts and, if the hon. Lady allows me, a similar body, the girl guides. I speak as secretary of the Parliamentary Scout Association. It may interest hon. Members to know that this involves more than 50 Members of both Houses, who show a keen interest in the activities of the scouts. Many others have had some link or liaison with the scouts in their lives.

The fear was expressed in the other place that time might not be found in this House to examine the matter again. Our proceedings today can assuage the fears of those who may think that measures which are not particularly tendentious but which are nevertheless necessary and sensible get squeezed out of the parliamentary timetable. The Bill's progress is justification for the belief that if a measure is sensible and especially if it has all-party support it will be given an airing and will find its way on to the statute book.

I pay my compliment to my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale), who has been assiduous in pursuit of these matters. The whole House owes a debt of gratitude to him for bringing the matter before the House. My hon. Friend will have the satisfaction, I hope, of seeing the Bill on to the statute book. He will have the gratitude of many thousands of people up and down the country as a result of the measure.

First, it is undesirable that there should be any unnecessary administrative burden on voluntary leaders of associations such as the scouts and the girl guides. They have enough to do in organising their own activities. The law, as amended, unwittingly places an additional administrative burden on them. That is why my hon. Friend sought to bring the matter before the House.

The other point, which was adverted to by my hon. Friend, is that many other premises are used by scouts for the preparation of food. Inevitably, one thinks of scout huts. They seem to come within the Food and Drugs Act. I welcome the amendments, because that situation will now be safeguarded. I hope also, although I am not sure how it comes within the term "premises", that the preparation of preserves around the camp fire will be safeguarded by this measure. I have many happy memories of such occasions, but I know that I should be out of order if I digressed on that subject.

My third point is that the sale of preserves and the produce that is made by scouts is not for personal gain. It is for scout funds. That is another important aspect to be taken into account. In fairness to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, I am gratified to know that for some time the Department of Health and Social Security has accepted that the activities of the scouts and girl guides should not require to be registered under the Food and Drugs Act. I am sure that my hon. Friend, too, will welcome this measure.

The scout movement is the largest youth movement in the country. It has a fine and enviable record. Many hon. Members have been members of it. Lest I be accused of misogynism, I should add that I am sure that the hon.

Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody) will say that there are many lady Members of the House who have been girl guides.

The measure is sensible. It will preserve the preparation of preserves—if that is not too convoluted a way to put it. It will also preserve the fine traditions of voluntary organisations, such as the scout movement, and enable them to continue in the excellent way that they have in the past. That is something for which all hon. Members can be grateful.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security (Sir George Young)

I shall deal first with the last two speeches, that of my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey (Mr. Best), and that of the hon. Lady the Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody).

My hon. Friend's work for the scout movement is well known. I am happy to say that I am one of the 50 Members that he mentioned. I am a paid-up member of the Parliamentary Scout Association. I sent him a small subscription earlier this year, and I understand that some modest hospitality is to be extended to us on the Terrace some time next month, when I look forward to discussing this matter further with him and others.

The speech of the hon. Lady the Member for Crewe was an unusual and somewhat mischievous intervention. It appears that le broadcasting authorities did not give her speech eight days ago the coverage that she felt it merited—indeed, worse: it sounded as though they gave more coverage to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Neale). If that is correct, I am sure that there was a good reason for it.

The answer to the hon. Lady's question is that the other place is perfectly entitled to amend legislation. There is no constitutional reason why it should not do so. Amendments in the other place frequently add to the quality of legislation. The risk, as my hon. Friend mentioned, is that by so amending it, it has to come back here and may then get caught up in a legislative log-jam or in the convoluted wheelings and dealings that take place at 2.30 pm on a Friday. Happily, there seems no risk of that happening on this occasion. In fact, the legislation will be improved by the amendments that we are debating.

10.15 am
Mrs. Dunwoody

It seems that the Minister has misunderstood me—I am sure accidentally. I was of the opinion that the Bill had gone through the other place unamended, yet suddenly these amendments appeared. That was the question that I put to him, and it is surely worth an answer.

Sir George Young

If the hon. Lady will look at the Amendment Paper, she will see that it is headed Lords Amendments to the Food and Drugs (Amendment) Bill and it sets out the amendments that were passed in the other place. There is nothing unusual about that.

I compliment my hon. Friend the Member for Cornwall, North on the skill with which he has piloted this legislation through the House and, at secondhand, through another place This is the second time that he has attempted to go round this course. The first time, the bell rang before he quite got round. The second time, it looks as though he will have a clear round. He has been much luckier than I ever was in Private Members' legislation. I promoted several important social reforms in the previous Parliament. One sought to require car manufacturers to advertise cars at a price that included the number plates, seat belts and delivery charges, without which one cannot purchase a car, rather than at the fictitious prices at which cars are advertised at the moment. Unhappily, that legislation was blocked. Similar legislation on measures for kidney patients was blocked, although the Government subsequently had the good grace to incorporate it in legislation of their own.

This Government are magnanimous and generous. We have no monopoly of sensible legislation, and we are glad to give a fair wind to the Bill and the amendments. Basically, my hon. Friend is putting right a nonsense, as he said in his speech. Many hon. Members attended a meeting that was organised downstairs a few months ago, when we met representatives of the women's institute. On that occasion my right hon. Friend was presented with some jam that had been prepared by its members. He consumed it, and I am happy to say that he still enjoys the best of health.

I shall briefly sketch the background to the legislation that my hon. Friend seeks to amend, and which in turn is amended by the amendments from the other place. Many of the present provisions have their origin in nineteenth century legislation on the adulteration of food and drugs and on public health. The Adulteration of Food and Drink Act 1860 prohibited the sale of food or drink with which ingredients or materials injurious to health had been mixed. It also prohibited persons from selling food that was adulterated or not pure. That Act was extended by the Adulteration of Food and Drugs Act 1872, which provided for the taking of samples and prosecutions by local enforcement officers and required the appointment of public analysts. The Sale of Food and Drugs Act 1875 had a major impact on the quality of basic food, introducing as it did the provision that No person shall sell to the prejudice of the purchaser any article of food or any drug which is not of the nature, substance, and quality of the article demanded by such purchaser That Act remained in force with amendments until 1928, when it was repealed by the consolidating Food and Drugs (Adulteration) Act. This followed a decade during which regulations dealing with composition and labelling of specific products had begun to appear.

The Public Health Act 1875 gave local officers power to inspect various categories of food, and, if it appeared to be diseased or unsound or unwholesome or unfit for the food of man", to seize it and have it dealt with by a justice. The justice was required to condemn the food if it was diseased, and to order it to be destroyed or so disposed of as to prevent it from being used for the food of man. Similar provisions for Scotland were made in the Public Health (Scotland) Act 1987.

These two strands of food legislation, that concerned with adulteration and other fraudulent practices, and that with public health, were combined in England and Wales for the first time in the Food and Drugs Act 1938. Penalties were introduced for false or misleading labels and advertisements, as was the power to regulate the preparation, storage, sale and delivery of food. Cases of food poisoning were to be notified, and the medical officer of health was given power to give notice to any person in charge of food likely to cause food poisoning that it was not to be used for human consumption.

The 1938 Act applied only in part to Scotland, where the 1928 Act, with amendments, remained in force, and Northern Ireland, and the outbreak of war prevented the introduction of consolidated legislation in those parts of the United Kingdom. Because of the greater need for governmental control over food supply during the war, the 1938 Act powers were extended in 1943 by the Defence (Sale of Food) Regulations, which permitted orders to be made, setting out minimum standards of composition of foodstuffs and also requiring them to be labelled.

The present legislation consists of three separate Acts applying to England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—namely, the Food and Drugs Act 1955, the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Act 1956 and the Food and Drugs (Northern Ireland) Act 1958. The provisions in those Acts are similar or identical on most subjects. However, the 1955 Act covers some additional areas, for example, the regulation of markets, which is not dealt with by the 1956 or 1958 Acts. There is separate subordinate legislation under each of the Acts. There are powers to close food businesses in England, Wales and Scotland under the Food and Drugs (Control of Food Premises) Act 1976 and the control of Food Premises (Scotland) Act 1977.

My hon. Friend is adding his name to a distinguished series of legislative reforms. The Act that is amended by his Bill, and then further amended, is the Food and Drugs Act 1955, which is basically a consolidation measure dealing with such matters as signs to be displayed at slaughterhouses and knackers' yards, the misuse of designation of cream in relation to cream substitutes, and special provisions about the cleansing of shellfish.

The detailed section that my hon. Friend seeks to amend is section 16. It provides a safeguard for public health in relation to the preparation and manufacture of certain foods, especially preserved food of animal or vegetable origin, cooked meat products and icecream. With the exception of catering and similar premises, where food is generally prepared for immediate consumption, all manufacturing premises are registrable under section 16.

An application for registration must specify the purpose of registration and detail the accommodation to be used for that purpose. Local authorities may refuse an application, or cancel registration, if they feel that the hygiene requirements of the Act—specifically section 13 and the regulations made under it—are not complied with. The intention is that the premises are seen to be capable of attaining a standard of hygiene that is likely at all times to protect the public health. Applicants may make representations to local authorities against a refusal to register or against cancellation of registration. Appeal to a magistrates' court is also included in the provisions.

Section 16 makes no distinction between commercial or domestic premises, but most local authorities enforce their responsibilities with two criteria in mind. The first is the scale of the manufacturing operation, and the second is the potential health risk of the food to be manufactured. On that basis, the vast majority of authorities do not seek to encourage applications for registration from premises producing only very small quantities of food falling into the no-risk or low-risk category—for example, jam. I understand that there is no case on the records of anyone ever having been poisoned by jam.

Even where applications are lodged by, and granted to, those running mini-businesses, which would in theory be women's institute marketeers, the local authorities' main purpose will be to achieve a listing of the addresses of such premises so as to facilitate inspection under the Food Hygiene (General) Regulations 1970, should the need arise. Whether applications have ever been required from women's institute marketeers—I believe not, except in the case of Stockton-on-Tees—the addresses of WI kitchens are voluntarily notified to the local authority by the market organisers.

Section 16 had a peaceful existence until last year when it leapt into notoriety due to the activities of the environmental health officer at Stockton-on-Tees. For many years local authorities have either taken the view that women's institute marketeers' kitchens are not required to be registered under section 16 of the Act, or have not felt it necessary to enforce registration. Last summer Stockton-on-Tees borough council, following legal advice that registration was required, refused to approve the registration of WI marketeers' kitchens in conformity with the council's policy of not registering any domestic premises under section 16.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear that in his view Parliament had never intended that section 16 should apply to those kitchens—which are now to be exempt—and that if departmental advice was that registration was required—indeed, that was the subsequent advice—he would seek an opportunity to introduce an appropriate amendment to that section. In fact, we inserted a suitable clause into a draft health and social services Bill for which, unhappily, time could not be found in the current Session. My hon. Friend has beaten us to the draw. We have been pleased to assist him in the preparation of his Bill. I am happy to say that it has no public expenditure implications.

The purpose of the Bill, as originally drafted, was to amend section 16, which applies only to England and Wales. The law in Scotland and Northern Ireland is different and does not need amending. Its purpose was to exempt certain domestic premises in which food was prepared for sale to the public from the requirement contained in section 16 for the registration with a local authority of premises used for the preparation for sale of certain types of food. The domestic premises that my hon. Friend had in mind at that stage were those where the food that was either prepared or manufactured was either food intended for sale for the benefit of the person preparing or manufacturing it by a society registered under the Industrial and Provident Societies Act 1965, or food prepared or manufactured otherwise than in the course of a trade carried on by the person preparing or manufacturing it.

As my hon. Friend said, the first of those exemptions would benefit members of the women's institute markets and any similar organisations, although food hygiene regulations would continue to apply as a safeguard to public health. The second exemption would have accorded parity of treatment on grounds of equity for those who prepare food at home for sale, not for their own benefit, but for charitable purposes.

Of course, the original Bill was amended in another place. In the course of correcting one anomaly, which was the original purpose of the Bill, it is appropriate that Parliament should correct another anomaly now that it has been drawn to our attention. In so doing, the House can be assured that we shall not be opening the way to any abuse of the real purpose of registration of premises by local authorities. That is because the further exemption from registration affected by the amendments before the House this morning will not apply if the person preparing food for sale is doing so in the course of a trade or business.

Mr. Neale

Can my hon. Friend the Minister help the hon. Member for Crewe (Mrs. Dunwoody), who threw some doubt on whether the Bill had been amended in another place, or whether the amendment is being introduced here under the guise of a Lords amendment? Baroness Phillips, who I believe is the hon. Lady's mother, spoke on Second Reading of the Bill. I assure the hon. Lady that the Bill was amended in another place. One of her colleagues spoke on behalf of the Opposition and said that the Bill had their wholehearted support. He said that their concern was that if the amendment were made in another place, although a worthy amendment, it might impede the ultimate progress of the measure on to the statute book. He asked for an assurance that it would not do so, and he was so assured.

Sir George Young

My hon. Friend is right. The relevant records are in Hansard, 2 June 1981, cols. 1175–76. An Opposition Member spoke to the amendment and welcomed it. I assure the hon. Member for Crewe that there has been no underhand manoeuvring that has not been in accordance with the rules of either House.

I was speaking about the amendment and whether it would in any way weaken the protection to which the public are entitled in the area of public health. The exemptions from registration that are effected by the amendments will not apply if the person preparing food for sale is doing so in the course of a trade or business. Equally, if the premises would in the normal way fall to be registered, exemption from registration could not be claimed on the grounds that from time to time they were used for the preparation of food for sale for charitable purposes. Therefore, the amendments before the House are acceptable.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Anglesey said, the amendments were inspired by the scout and girl guides associations. I declare an interest as county president of the North-West Middlesex branch of the scout association. I allow troops from my constituency to camp on my modest estate in the country from time to time. The point made by the parliamentary agent for the scout and girl guides associations is that scouts and girl guides huts in which, from time to time, certain food may be prepared for sale at fund-raising functions are technically required to be registered with local authorities under section 16 of the Food and Drugs Act 1955.

Although the associations and my Department do not know of any instance of a local authority insisting on registration, they are understandably unhappy that scout troops and guide companies are in technical breach of the law. That is why they sponsored a suitable amendment in another place.

10.30 am

At first sight one might say that the case for the amendment is hypothetical. However, a year ago one would have said exactly the same about the registration of WI marketeers' kitchens. The case for accommodating the scouts and guides is strong, and that is why the Government are happy to see the Bill amended accordingly.

As a Health Minister, I have to be satisfied that, the public's health will be adequately safeguarded when the Bill is enacted as amended. I shall mention briefly two important safeguards, one statutory and the other voluntary. The statutory safeguard is the food hygiene general regulations——

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Bryant Godman Irvine)

Order. Will the Minister assure the House that these safeguards arise from the amendment?

Sir George Young

If the amendments are carried, Mr. Deputy Speaker, they will extend the exemption from registration under section 16 of the Food and Drugs Act 1955. If we are to extend the exemptions and deny local authorities the right to ensure that there is registration, we must assure the public that such exemptions do not prejudice public health. The Food Hygiene (General) Regulations 1970 will still apply. The women's institute has always accepted that the regulations must continue to apply even if we amend the 1955 Act.

These regulations provide an important safeguard for public health. They are binding on any trade or business where any person engages in the handling of food. The legal opinion is that, except for food prepared on an irregular basis in a domestic kitchen for charitable or similar purposes, the regulations apply to all preparation and manufacture of food for sale, including that undertaken by WI marketeers.

As there is an enormous variety of food businesses, the regulations are almost entirely in general terms. Basically, the main provisions are directed to ensure the hygiene of premises, equipment, food handlers and food handling practices. Only those running the businesses and the local authorities are in a position to decide what provisions fulfil the regulations for each piece of food handling. Enforcement consists far more of offering constructive advice in particular circumstances than in the treat of mounting prosecutions.

It is common practice for local authorities to give local publicity at varying intervals and by various means to these obligations. They have been assisted in that by guidance from the Health Education Council, which has been widely used by food hygiene educationists. That, together with the voluntary system of supplying lists of WI marketeers to local authorities, denotes a most responsible attitude to public health and underlines their appreciation that these activities are bound by the regulations.

Pages 22–25 of the women's institute's handbook demonstrate that the institute takes seriously the issue of public health. It has issued detailed guidance to its members on exactly how produce should be prepared. A complete page is devoted to stating exactly how preserves should be presented, and ends with strict advice on the level to which jars should be filled. Members are advised that secondhand tops must not be used, and a certain ratio of sugar to fruit is recommended. Members are told that recipes should not be adopted that amount to more than 10 lbs of jam being obtained from 6 lbs of sugar. In many ways voluntary regulations are even better safeguards than statutory ones.

The Government welcome my hon. Friend's initiative and compliment him on the way that he has piloted the Bill through the House. The amendments before us are acceptable to the Government.

Mr. Best

During my brief remarks I postulated the idea of making preserves around the camp fire. Is that encompassed by the Bill?

Sir George Young

I must confess that I am not a lawyer. Section 16 concerns the registration of premises. I am not sure whether the area around the camp fire is a premise. I would say that produce made around the camp fire would not be caught within section 16. If I am wrong, I see scope for another Private Member's Bill in the next Session exempting produce prepared around the camp fire that comes within the 1955 Act. However, I do not think that that legislation will be necessary. I do not think that the excellent produce prepared by my hon. Friend in his youth around the camp fire was in the mind of the Government who introduced the 1955 Act.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 2 agreed to.