HC Deb 21 February 1989 vol 147 cc852-944

4.9 pm

Mr. Neil Kinnock (Islwyn)

I beg to move, That this House condemns Her Majesty's Government for its failure to fulfil its duty of care and safeguard the safety and quality of food and water in Britain, for its failure adequately to protect the health of the consumer and particularly the health and welfare of the children of this country, and for the failure to ensure the clear, consistent and co-ordinated action of Ministers needed in the public interest; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to accept its proper responsibility far the protection of the consumer, commencing with the introduction of effective and up-to-date regulation, the restoration and development of research in food and agricultural science, and the provision of clear information and advice to the consumer.

Mr. Speaker

I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment standing in the name of the Prime Minister. In view of the number of hon. Members who wish to participate in the debate, I propose to put a limit on speeches of 10 minutes between 7 pm and 9 pm.

Mr. Kinnock

I begin this debate with what I believe to be feelings that are common to both sides of the House. First, there is no hon. Member on either side who does not consider that the rise in the numbers of people affected by food poisoning is serious and, in some cases, tragic. Secondly, there can be few, if any, in the House who do not believe that a modern Government in a complex society have a duty of care for the health and welfare of the citizenry. Thirdly, there is no hon. Member who does not believe that consumers have a responsibility to themselves and to others to be fastidious in their personal habits, especially in the handling and preparation of food. Fourthly, there cannot be any hon. Member who believes that the British people are over-reacting to the problems that have come to their attention, and indeed been experienced by several hundred thousand or even millions of them.

Whatever the headlines say, the British people have not been hysterical. But they have been quizzical. They have watched the comings and goings in the Government, they have heard the inconsistent statements; they have seen complacency become confusion and contradiction and, in the words of Mr. Simon Gourlay, cock-up. The British people ask, just what do the Government think they are playing at?

It is not that the British people believe that Government could or should do everything to make life perfect in every sphere of human interest and activity. But they do believe that there are areas of human affairs in which the Government must set and maintain standards of protection, and one of those most important areas is obviously food hygiene. They believe that the Government have been negligent and, in the most confused way, are trying to cover up.

Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow)


Mr. Kinnock

I will give way to the hon. Gentleman shortly.

They believe that the Government have been trying to protect producers more than they have been fulfilling their duty to protect consumers. The British people believe that the Government should be anticipating, planning and providing for change, instead of standing aside and intervening only when great alarm is sounded.

Mr. Hayes

The right hon. Gentleman accuses the Government of being negligent. He must be aware that the Opposition spokesman on agriculture, the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), wrote an article three months ago in Tribune in which he described the issue as a huge field we have neglected. Considering that this is the second debate on the subject that the Labour party has initiated in 10 years, who is being negligent?

Mr. Kinnock

If the hon. Gentleman will show the same eagerness for effective action as that which unifies completely Opposition hon. Members, I will welcome the comments that he makes. I recall him professing great confidence the week before last that all would now be all right. I saw him interviewed and reported in the newspapers saying, "It is all right now. The Prime Minister is coming in."

The British people want a consistent and cogent food policy from the Government. That must be right. That is why we say that the Government should now discharge that duty of care by seeing that research is not restrained by lack of funds, up to and past the point where the product of research is applied in the market place.

The Government should ensure that resources are adequate to provide the 430 environmental health officers who are now needed to fill the gaps of much-needed qualified people. The Government should commit themselves to providing the education, the information and the health services necessary for the promotion of good health, including food hygiene, dietary advice and the prevention of ill health. They should now establish an independent food standards agency with tough regulatory powers to restore public confidence, to provide better standards of production and to give information and advice to consumers on all aspects of food policy and food hygiene.

To discharge their duty of care in this modern society, the Government should introduce modern comprehensive food hygiene legislation to protect the interests of the consumers, to raise the standards of producers and sellers and to assist in universalising the best standards that are achieved by producers and sellers.

Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that British firms lead the world in cook-chill foods [Interruption.]—and is he further aware that they have dismissed his proposals as naive, imprecise, inadequate and unenforceable? Does that not just about sum up the leadership of the Labour party?

Mr. Kinnock

I take that intervention in the spirit in which I am sure it was intended. It must be said, however, that if we lead the world in cook-chill food, and we are watching an enormous increase—a doubling over six years—in listeriosis, and if our regulations are so inadequate as to enable any observer to go to stores large and small and pick up from the shelves inadequately and improperly stored goods, then obviously we do not have much of a lead in handling cook-chill foods.

In asking the Government to set their hand to a programme of comprehensive and up-to-date legislation, I am conscious of the fact that the Government can plead that they do not have the legislative time. I give them the undertaking that if they go ahead with introducing effective legislation, we will assist them. More than that, they could provide themselves with oodles of time in this Session by scrapping the Water Bill that nobody wants.

Everyone outside the Government can see the need for action on food hygiene. For 10 years the Government have presided over a large and accelerating increase in food poisoning. The number of cases of listeriosis has more than doubled, from 115 in 1983 to 259 in 1987. Officials forecast that the figure for 1988 will be more than 300. In the six years from 1982 to 1987 inclusive, the central public health laboratory registered a six-fold increase in the number of identified cases of salmonella enteritidis. In 1988, the number had doubled again, to 13,000 people, to make it 12 times the 1982 figure.

That trend must be reversed, and reversed quickly. But the Government will not do it by allowing a national shortage of environmental health officers. They will not reverse the rise in food poisoning cases by continuing to cut research into agriculture and food. They will not improve food hygiene by demoting the subject, as they have done, with their centrally-imposed core curriculum in the schools that virtually wipes out food hygiene as a subject for teaching.

Each of those actions in respect of all of those matters has been a product of Government policy to cut and to centralise. None of those actions is accidental. None of those actions is the product of carelessness. They are the result of the Government's conviction that there should be less funding for local government, less funding for higher education and research, less discretion and less breadth in education in the schools.

Nobody can call that non-intervention. It is Government interference of the most destructive and deliberate kind, and it contrasts starkly with their refusal to intervene properly to protect consumers. In that they have been at their most zealous in non-intervention, obeying to the letter the creed of today's Conservatism that business is not to be regulated, even when it is clear that, left to themselves, there are interests in the market who will exploit the consumer and cut corners on safety.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that during the 10-year period to which he refers the Opposition did not allocate a single day to a debate on food? Is that because they were content with the Government's policies, or because they had no interest in the subject?

Mr. Kinnock

This is the second such debate in three weeks. If the hon. Gentleman, with his power on the Back Benches, will give me an undertaking that the Government will respond to the public demand that is articulated by this side of the House, we shall debate the subject every week. Perhaps the Prime Minister will even turn up for one of them.

The Government observe their creed of noninterference in respect of consumer protection, and convincing evidence of that is provided by no less an authority than the head of MAFF's standards (food, fertilisers and feeding stuffs) division. In a candid address, to the Institution of Environmental Health Officers last September, Mr. Charles Cockbill, explaining the Government's view, said: The concept of consumer protection … has to be balanced against business considerations. Mr. Cockbill was doing no more than his duty as a civil servant, and made clear to his audience of environmental health officers why they, and the public, cannot look to the Government for tighter regulations. Mr. Cockbill reported, for example, that the Government vetoed a proposal to refuse to license food premises where standards of food hygiene or design are not met, because Such a concept of prior licensing approval runs contrary to the policies of the Government on deregulation and lifting the burdens on business, and it is therefore not possible to pursue the original idea. Mr. Cockbill added that, for the same reason, there was difficulty in imposing a duty of due diligence on food retailers, because retailers and especially the multiple retailers can claim with some justification that the change will increase their costs substantially. And with such a claim comes a conflict with the Government's policy on lifting burdens on business. Mr. Cockbill cannot be blamed for those policies and was merely explaining the Government's view. The content and tone of his full speech shows that to be so—it completely exposes the Government, who are reviewing food legislation with the objective of introducing more relaxed regulations, not tighter standards to protect the consumers. His speech exposed the Government as not being positively against consumer protection, provided that it can be achieved at nil cost to the producer or seller.

The Secretary of State for Health knows that it is Government policy to lift the burdens on producers, no matter what burdens are placed on the shoulders of the consumers—for the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in his former post as Paymaster General, was responsible for that policy. It was he who, in May 1986, presented to the House his White Paper "Building Businesses, Not Barriers", which presented a glowing report of the progress that the right hon. and learned Gentleman said had been achieved in lifting the burdens from business. As the Secretary of State must be proud of that magnum opus, I am sure that he will recall the entries that appeared under the heading "Ministry of Agriculture". The first measure was the abolition of the eggs authority, so that costs to egg producers will be reduced.

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

Would a Labour Government reintroduce it?

Mr. Kinnock

I shall give the right hon. and learned Gentleman an answer to his question shortly.

Three years after that White Paper—just a couple of weeks ago—Mr. Keith Pulman of the Egg Producers Association offered a plaintive postscript. Mr. Pulman, who is a man of considerable experience, stated: I think those who were responsible"— for the disbanding of the authority have a lot to answer for. If we still had a properly funded authority with research facilities, the whole business could have been dealt with fully and professionally.

The Secretary of State asked me whether Labour will restore the eggs authority. We might not call it that, but call it the Kenneth Clarke Memorial Institute. We shall certainly have a properly funded, professionally staffed research body—especially in an area where, because of their failures, the Government have had to sign a cheque for £20 million. When Mr. Pulman asks for a properly funded authority with research facilities he must surely realise that he is asking the impossible of the present Government.

The Secretary of State may recall the second measure in his White Paper under the heading "Ministry of Agriculture", where he commented on a subject that has become very topical in the past fortnight: The restrictions on the sale of untreated (that is, unpasteurised) 'green top' milk which were introduced in 1985 caused difficulty for farmhouse caterers. He proudly announced: Following representations from the industry the regulations have been amended. That was in 1986. Two weeks ago, the arrangements were changed again, when the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food banned the sale of all green top milk. Small wonder that even the Prime Minister commented: there appears to be some confusion."—[Official Report, 14 February 1989; Vol. 147, c. 146].

Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

Every morning in the Tea Room, the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) orders five boiled eggs. If the situation is as dangerous as it has been portrayed throughout the controversy about salmonella. why has the hon. Member for Stockton, North not stopped eating boiled eggs?

Mr. Kinnock

I hope that it will be realised that I am not bound by this answer. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) is known as a man of many parts—not least among them being his ability to juggle eggs. It becomes really exciting when he has not even boiled them—much like the food policy of Her Majesty's Government.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a great many of my constituents like drinking green top milk and have no wish to see it withdrawn? They prefer to make their own decisions. Incidentally, cheese made from unpasteurised, green top milk is no more liable to cause disease than any other.

Mr. Kinnock

I appreciate both points, and certainly there is some contention surrounding the subject of green top milk, both in respect of personal taste and scientific evidence. However, as Professor Livsey has testified—

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

The right hon. Gentleman means Professor Lacey.

Mr. Kinnock

I apologise. I should only have to look at the hon. Lady who has just intervened to think of lace. As she will know, there is less contention over the use of unpasteurised milk in cheeses. It is to be hoped that the Government can be more coherent on that subject. The hon. Lady will recall a dramatic weekend, not very long ago, when not only did the Ministry say one thing one day, and something else the next, but along came the helpful Secretary of State for Health to say something entirely different again.

Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West)

The right hon. Gentleman's slip concerning Professor Lacey was his second error so far. He said that the Government have signed a cheque for £20 million, but they have not. The Government have signed a cheque for only £3 million.

Many people outside the House are anxious to hear the truth, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will concentrate on getting his facts right, for which we shall all be most grateful.

Mr. Kinnock

The hon. Gentleman and I had the distinction of fighting each other in 1970 at our first parliamentary contest. When, during that election, he was asked how, as a working farmer, he managed to get three weeks off to fight an election, he said that he had left his hands in charge. That provoked my uncle Cliff into saying, It's no good him looking for the sympathy vote.

However, I am more than happy to correct the record. The figure is not £20 million. I am more than happy to receive that information from the hon. Gentleman, whom I shall cherish in my memory for many reasons, not the least of which is that in the late affair of the Under-Secretary of State for Health he played the part of Stalin to her Trotsky.

The Prime Minister said that it appeared that there was some confusion. So there is. But there can be no confusion about the fact that the present cause for consumers' concern is rooted in the conditions resulting in large part from the attitude and actions of the Government, who so favour producers and sellers and so neglect the interests of consumers.

Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

Will the right hon. Gentleman given way.

Mr. Kinnock

No, I am anxious to get on.

That neglect is not confined to food. Indeed, it intensifies when we address the subject of water privatisation. The Government will insist that privatisation will bring new regulations to safeguard the consumer. They will insist that massive increases in charges are justified by the need to fund investment in the improvement of water treatment and supply. But that is not the true purpose. That is obvious to everyone. But perhaps it was put most graphically by The Daily Telegraph, which says: Mr. Howard's declarations that the consumer will have to foot the environmental bill are providing the reassurance industry leaders want to increase the investment attractions. The message is obvious. The water price explosion, fostered by the Government, is not to raise standards but to raise profits. That is also why they have been so resistant to accepting the EC directives and regulations on the subject. The reason for their delays and evasions is obvious. To comply with those regulations will cost a great deal of money. As The Times put it: It is going to be hard to combine this with selling shares to millions of consumers. Perhaps the most direct and authoritative comment on the implications of what the Government are doing comes from an expert in private water supply, Mr. Michael Swallow, the director of the Water Companies Association. Explaining the week before last why the private water companies felt it necessary to make huge increases in charges before privatisation, he said: At the moment we operate under profit control, which puts the customer first. This very simple form of regulation goes back to the middle of the last century and it has been very effective. The Government's proposals will put the companies under price control, which puts the shareholders first.

Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch)

The right hon. Gentleman has now reached the important subject of water safety, about which he spoke at the weekend. Far from the Government not providing investment, as I understand it investment in water sewerage controls is at its highest ever point, and the Select Committee on the Environment said that the major fall in investment of 50 per cent. took place under the previous Labour Government.

Mr. Kinnock

I respect the hon. Gentleman, not least because of his strong support for freedom of information. The information that he is seeking is available if he looks at the consistent record, year on year, of investment in the water industry and sewerage. He will find that after a dip under the previous Labour Government investment rose and continued to rise, so much so that if this Government had sustained that trend they would have spent a great deal more money in the development of our water supplies.

It also has to be said that such expenditure is necessary since the Government have been in power for 10 years and must be the first Government this century to mark a decade in office by an increase in rodent infestation in the major cities. I noticed on Sunday that The Sunday Telegraph reported a rise in rat infestation in nowhere other than the Prime Minister's constituency. The rat officer—there is a job for him in the Government Whips Office—in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph said that the rats are becoming very cunning; they have a nibble at the poison and then see if it goes bad in a day. I thought when I read that that was basically the strategy that guides the Government publicity policy.

Putting the shareholders first, as Mr. Swallow so aptly and accurately put it, is another canon of the Government's creed.

If the Secretary of State for the Environment is the shareholders' chum, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food takes the prize as the producers' friend at court. In 1987 his Ministry found salmonella infection at 21 of the animal feedstuff processing plants which supply Britain's poultry industry—one quarter of the total. In 1988, the Ministry found salmonella at 17 plants, some of them the very same plants which had been found to be infested a year before. None of those plants was prosecuted. None of the feedstuff was impounded. Incredibly, it was not until a few weeks ago that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food halted processing at plants where salmonella had been found and stopped the sale of eggs from farms where flocks were infected.

The Minister told the Select Committee a fortnight ago that he had not dared to impose such a ban before for fear that the egg producers would stop telling him when their flocks were infected. If he knows that there is such resistance, why does he not promise 100 per cent. compensation for the killing of animals infected by bovine spongiform encephalopathy, since that would not only protect producers but is an essential protection for consumers?

It is not that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is reluctant to help producers. The first people outside the Government who were told of the evidence linking salmonella with eggs were the egg producers. They were told on 13 June 1988, almost two months before the public were told at 4 pm on the Friday afternoon of August Bank holiday weekend. I bet that Mr. Bernard Ingham was not handling that particular piece of publicity—or perhaps he was.

Even when a salmonella outbreak hit the other place in May, Mr. Speaker, as you will recall, the producers' representatives were told the contents of the ministerial statement on the outbreak a day earlier than either House of Parliament. The reason for that prior warning, as given in the minutes of that meeting, was that it was to reassure the industry representatives". That concern to calm the industry's anxiety is touching. It is a pity that it was not matched by an equal measure of concern for consumers. Whether they be common or noble, they all have an interest at stake.

It would not be fair to suggest that the public were entirely forgotten at that meeting in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. On the contrary, the meeting ended with Government officials and egg producers agreeing on what they called a common "defensive briefing statement". It was not the job of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or of the Department of Health to help egg producers draft a defensive statement; it was the job of both Departments to make sure that egg producers were responsive to the need for action to remove the threat to public health. But to this date—we may hear differently this afternoon—neither Department has made compulsory the egg industry's voluntary code of practice. Perhaps that is because the Prime Minister would consider such controls to be what she calls "bureaucratic" and as imposing unnecessary burdens on the industry —to use the phrases that she used in her specious letter to me yesterday.

Perhaps that attitude also explains the reluctance of the Government to respond properly to the growing evidence of the link between listeriosis and the increased sale of cook-chill convenience foods. I touched upon this in answer to an intervention earlier on.

It has to be brought to the attention of the House that it is in this matter that the Secretary of State for Health is at his most languid. A fortnight ago he assured listeners to the "Today" programme: Most of those infected by salmonella have an upset stomach. They are not actually ill. Coming from the Secretary of State for Health, that is a fairly novel revision of the boundary line between sickness and health. I just hope that it does not spread to the opted-out hospitals.

Last week the languor grew deeper. The Secretary of State informed Jimmy Young's listeners that listeria was not as frightening as it sounded. He said this about bacteria that have contributed to the death of 100 people in the last two years. In case that knowledge does not make the Secretary of State change his attitude, I draw his attention to a letter from a mother who lost her second child in the 28th week of her pregnancy because of listeriosis. The writer is a lucid and calm woman. I shall provide the Secretary of State with a copy of the letter, although, for obvious reasons, I am not disclosing the writer's identity. She wrote: In the last month since my child's death I have had to cope not only with the grief from the loss of my baby, but also with feeling alternately guilty and like a helpless victim. I feel guilty because he died as a result of contaminated food eaten by me. I feel like a victim because I did not have the necessary information on the risks of listeriosis in time to safeguard my unborn child. Firstly, it seems unacceptable to us"— that is, her and her husband— that we were not given any warning about the danger of listeriosis even though the Government has known about the increase in the number of diagnosed cases for well over a year. Secondly, the advice issued by the Government on the 10th February focussing as it did on soft cheeses, seems partial to the extent of being misleading. Thirdly, it is infuriating to witness Government Ministers contradicting one another on such a serious public health issue. The danger now is that 'public confusion' will be presented as an over-reaction and Government advice will be confined to reducing anxiety rather than presenting facts and issuing clear guidelines.

I believe that every hon. Member must share that concern and I would like the genuine reassurance of the Secretary of State in the course of this afternoon. I quote the letter in order to ensure that the Secretary of State, himself a loving father, will never again even begin to say that listeria is not as frightening as it sounds. That is not the way to put the issue into perspective.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

Will the right hon. Gentleman concede that in the Jimmy Young interview—a typescript of which I have in front of me—I frequently referred to the danger of listeria to expectant mothers, which was indeed the burden of the advice that we had given? Secondly, can he give a single instance of any two Ministers having contradicted each other on the risk of listeria to expectant mothers or any other sector of the population?

Mr. Kinnock

I am not suggesting contradiction in the advice given on listeria, but, since the Secretary of State is so vigilant now, perhaps he could get his right hon. Friend to tell him, or to tell me, why it was that salmonella was connected with eggs in June and the public received a general announcement at the end of August, but it was December before the Ministry of Agriculture or the Ministry of Health drew specific attention to the risk to young children and old people of salmonella enteritidis.

So far as listeria is concerned, yes, the Secretary of State did draw attention to the danger to expectant mothers. What we are asking for, and what the mother who wrote to me asks for, is effective action and proper information to ensure against all the food possibly contaminated with listeria. That is the comprehensive action that is now required. I put it to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for Health that a correction of his attitude and an updating of regulations and legislation are necessary as the real reassurance that I know that, as an individual and as a Minister, he would love to be able to give to people in the country, whether expectant mothers or not. I hope that he will do that.

The danger of listeria is well known, and yet every day, as I indicated earlier, 400,000 cook-chill convenience meals are sold without specific regulations to control the temperature at which they are displayed, the length of time for which they are on display or labelling advising consumers when they are safe to eat. The Government are still attempting to control modern food technology and retailing techniques with food regulations that are merely a consolidation of basic laws passed in the 1930s.

In addition, in their perplexity, the Government have now come up with a campaign "to urge wives", as the blurb says—as if females who are not married do not do any cooking—to return to the "rules of hygiene and good housekeeping" of yesteryear. But the solution is not to advise consumers to return to the shopping habits of the 1930s in order to conform with the laws of that time; it is to modernise, strengthen and enforce the law on consumer protection.

In any case, I am sure that if Ministers needed advice on shopping and cooking, they could get it from their resident modern housewife, the Prime Minister. As she reminds us, she has extensive experience in this field. In addition, of course, she has had a more than passing acquaintance with the retail food industry ever since childhood. To her credit, as she also reminds us from time to time, she was previously a food scientist. When we add to all that the fact that she has now, according to the newspapers, taken charge of the Government's food policy, I wonder why she has not taken the opportunity to debate this particular topic on any day this week. It has to be said that the announcement that she had taken charge somewhat underwhelmed her right hon. and hon. Friends. I saw a report in The Independent that one of the Cabinet Ministers supposed to be a member of the ad hoc committee denied knowledge of its existence. And from The Times we heard the story of the Back Bencher, necessarily anonymous, who said: We have seen it all before. It's 'Maggie steps in' yet again.[Interruption.] No, it was not the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes). The hon. Member has gone. I suspected that it might be him, with the originality and exuberance for which he is so well known.

It is true that there is a certain aura of "Maggie steps in again", because this is another cause of great public concern on which the Prime Minister alights, as if by her very presence she can transform conditions, like some hyperactive fairy queen. At least we know who is the Titania of this Government. What we have yet to discover, as we look across the Chamber this afternoon, is which of the two Cabinet Ministers is Oberon and which will get the ass's head. Perhaps it will be both, because they are both main agents of policies which, the longer the Government press them, the greater the unpopularity they attract.

That is certainly true of electricity privatisation, the poll tax and the privatisation proposals for the NHS which she has imposed upon the Secretary of State for Health, to which there is huge majority opposition. It is certainly true of the privatisation of water, to which in every opinion poll 70 per cent. are opposed. It is also true in the case of food policy on which 70 per cent. say that the Government are doing too much to protect the industry and too little to protect the consumer, while 90 per cent. feel that the Government should introduce more controls on how food is produced—I swear that those polls with the 90 per cent. majority were not taken in Albania.

The feelings of the British people on all these issues are well known, widely recorded and very obvious. The Government, in persisting in these policies that are so profoundly against the interests of the nation, are not showing toughness; they are showing obedience to vested interests. The Government are not showing strength, but arrogance. Such arrogance breeds incompetence and such arrogance is incompatible with democracy in government. The British people understand that. As a result, they do not trust the Government and the consequences of that will be that they will punish the Government.

4.49 pm
The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Kenneth Clarke)

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof: expresses complete confidence in the Government's policies for protecting the safety and quality of the nation's food and water supplies. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is at the memorial service for the victims of the crash on the M1.

I find this an extraodinary debate. It began on a tone with which we could all identify and, as Secretary of State for Health, I can agree with the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) that we are dealing with a serious issue which has had tragic consequences for some people and one about which the public wish to be reassured, both in terms of the advice given and the action being taken to deal with what is obviously a worrying new risk in the food chain.

What I find extraordinary is that the Leader of the Opposition should choose to make a speech—I think it is his first major speech since the general election, apart from in the debate on the Queen's Speech—in a Supply day debate on a subject in which, as several of my hon. Friends have pointed out, his party has taken precious little interest for many years. Of course, we are talking about recent events, but I must say that as the worrying events have unfolded—and we have had two particular new features of food poisoning which have been identified steadily over the past 12 months—the Labour party has not taken any great interest, until today.

One feature of the background is the worrying increase in the incidence of one type of salmonella and of listeriosis, which may be connected with food throughout the developed world—[Interruption.] There has been a steadily unfolding amount of evidence over the past 12 months. By the middle of last year, there was concern about salmonella enteritidis phage type 4 in eggs in particular. In July last year, the Government took what I would have thought would be the worrying and significant step of warning people in the National Health Service to use liquid pasteurised egg and not raw egg products. The Opposition did not react to that and took it as a minor matter. [Interruption.] On 26 August last year, the Government took a step that had to be considered carefully because the evidence was still unfolding. We took the fairly startling step of advising the public to avoid eating raw eggs and we gave a public health warning. Again, there was no reaction from the Labour party. [Interruption.]

By November last year, the evidence was becoming clearer that lightly cooked eggs, as well as raw egg, might be involved in this outbreak and on 21 November 1988 yet another public health warning was given, bringing the matter up to date. Again, it produced no reaction. By that time, television programmes such as "Watchdog" and the "Food and Drink Programme" were often following what we had said. Good Housekeeping magazine was giving advice to housewives based on what the Government were saying. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was having a difficult time with some people in the egg industry because he was explaining that a code of practice would have to be introduced and action would have to be taken. Yet no interest was taken by the Labour party.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Clarke

As we all know, the matter came into the political arena on 3 December 1988 when my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), who was then the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, received a great deal of publicity for one of her weekend remarks.

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Clarke

For the first time, the Opposition came to life. They were in the vanguard, with some sections of the egg industry, in demanding the dismissal of my hon. Friend. They were not alone.

Mr. Foulkes

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Clarke

I shall give way in a moment.

The spokesman for the Social and Liberal Democrats attacked my hon. Friend for undermining confidence in the egg industry and the then spokesman for the Social Democrats compared the risk with the risk of being hit by a meteorite. That was the level of concern then being shown by Opposition Members.

Mr. Wilson


Mr. Foulkes


Mr. Speaker

Order. If the Secretary of State does not want to give way, hon. Members must not persist.

Mr. Clarke

The idea that the Opposition suddenly now scent the red meat of politics in the subject for an Opposition Supply day, traditionally a somewhat party political occasion, is quite extraordinary. It is two and a half months after all the political fuss, and endless events have taken place since then. They have missed the bus in exploiting the Currie affair.

Mr. Kinnock


Mr. Clarke

I shall give way first to the right hon. Gentleman.

I waited to see what would be contributed by the amazing and prestigious speech of the Leader of the Opposition. His contribution was his new style in wit, a very good line in jokes, a rather inadequate understanding of the problems of food poisoning and a theory that it is all caused by the policies of the Government.

Mr. Kinnock

The Secretary of State is absolutely right about my wit. Everything else he has said about the Opposition is a travesty. That is the only reason I have intervened. Over the years, we have repeatedly drawn attention, in all the debates on local government, for example, to the effect that the Government's policies would have on public health. In even more recent times, we dedicated a whole day of the debate on the Queen's Speech to the environment. I, together with two of my hon. Friends in the course of that debate, drew attention from the Front Bench to what the British Medical Association was then calling an "epidemic" of salmonella. There have been many other occasions on which we have taken an effective and vigilant interest in the whole problem of food hygiene. I hope that the Secretary of State will get on with his speech and will stop fooling about with completely false reports.

Mr. Clarke

The Leader of the Opposition has been fooling about for most of the afternoon so far with his new-style wit on the subject.

Mr. Allan Roberts (Bootle)

This debate is about water as well as food. Do I take it from the remarks of the Secretary of State that he disagrees with the Secretary of State for the Environment and that speeches arid statements made by myself and my hon. Friends over the past three years about drinking water quality have not been scaremongering, of which he accused us?

Mr. Clarke

I have not accused the hon. Gentleman of scaremongering yet, but I shall. The whole point of the debate seems to be to arouse the alarm of the public and then to try to turn that to party political advantage. I shall, in due course, return to the extraordinary proposition that where there are worrying problems about water purity, somehow one is safe with public water but not with private water. That seems to be wholly irrelevant to the Water Bill and is only raised again by the hon. Gentleman because he wants to oppose the privatisation of water for other reasons.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

If the Secretary of State is giving us dates and explaining his interest in this subject, can he tell us why it took him from 15 December 1988 to 15 February this year to answer a simple question that I tabled about what was his responsibility for food safety? It took two months to answer a simple question. How many meetings did he have about that question? How many draft answers? How many nights' sleep did he lose? I suggest that that prevarication and delay showed a complete lack of interest or lack of confidence by the Secretary of State.

Mr. Clarke

My duties on food safety have been clear as were those of my predecessor. They are in the published details of the responsibilities of Government Ministers. .1 apologise, of course, that it took so long to answer the right hon. Gentleman's question. I fear—as is always the position when people first suspect a conspiracy and then think of the alternative—that his question, quite improperly, remained in the bottom drawer of some official over the Christmas recess. [Interruption.] There have certainly not been any changes in my responsibilities for food safety nor in those of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for many years. The present system has been working effectively for the past few months.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Clarke

I must be allowed to get on a little further, but I shall give way later.

Having dealt with the background to this debate and its contents so far, may I suggest that we are all agreed that those who are following the debate from outside the House wish to have clear advice and clear action and to know what is being done about a problem that is causing concern in this and every other developed country in the westerm world? The housewives of this country do not want party political exchanges across the Floor of the House, which are plainly dependent on the opportunist instincts of the Leader of the Opposition. They want to know exactly what advice we are now giving them so that they can protect themselves and their families. They want to know the background to the problem and why we are giving such surprising advice and they want to know what is going to be done about the problem. On all those counts, on which the Leader of the Opposition did not spend over-long, we have a duty to be clear and to demonstrate that we have been clear and consistent in the past few months.

I remind all hon. Members of the precise status of the warnings that we have given. We have had to give warnings to certain sections of the public about the way in which they should treat certain foods. If the Opposition are really sincere in their declaration that they wish to be responsible—I shall take that at its face value and in the way in which it was put to me—they should underline the advice that has been given and agree that it is the crux of the issue.

We have been consistent throughout in our advice about eggs. We went to the lengths of publicising the Chief Medical Officer's advice in full-page advertisements in the newspapers. I have a small offprint with me. The extent of that advice, which evolved as the evidence during the autumn, was that for healthy people there is very little risk from eating eggs which are cooked in whatever way one prefers them. For vulnerable people—the elderly, the sick, babies, toddlers and pregnant women—eggs should be thoroughly cooked until the white and the yoke are solid, but everyone should avoid eating raw eggs or uncooked foods made from them.

Mr. Wilson


Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)


Mr. Clarke

I shall give way later.

That remains our advice on eggs. No one is suggesting that it is wrong or that it should be changed. No one is suggesting that at any stage any Minister has given any advice inconsistent with that which stems from the Chief Medical officer or from the course of public debates.

Mr. Wilson

Before the Secretary of State strays too far from his somewhat sketchy chronological account, is he categorically telling the House that his Department had no warnings of salmonella in the poultry flock before 1988?

Mr. Clarke

Salmonella in the poultry flock is a subject with which everybody who follows this issue has been familiar for many years. The new type of salmonella—salmonella enteritidis phage 4—and the discovery that it could be carried inside the egg, was first suspected and emerged towards the end of last year. To this day, we are still trying to discover exactly why and how it has emerged. We want to increase our scientific knowledge of it so that we can react to it.

Ms. Gordon

Does the Secretary of State agree that what old people, pregnant women and mothers with children require are not warnings about not eating eggs, but safe eggs that they can eat? They want an assurance that the producers have been inspected and they want lists of safe producers and retailers from whom they can buy eggs with confidence. The Government have not provided that.

Mr. Clarke

I agree with all that apart, of course, from the last phrase. We have given the warnings because we had to—because a new problem has emerged. I agree with the hon. Lady that it now falls to us and the industry to tackle that problem and to reduce the level of infection to the minimum practicable and eliminate it as quickly as possible. However, a new problem has emerged, and we must give warnings. We shall maintain those warnings until we are satisfied that it can be lifted—that is the essence of this subject. [Interruption.] I am explaining how the problem emerged, when we first became aware of its full extent and the warning that we have given.

Mr. Foulkes


Mr. Clarke

I shall stick to this matter for the moment. I shall give way later.

The other worrying area is listeria and listeriosis. Again, there is no doubt about the warnings that we have been giving, which were last given in a full public press notice on 10 February 1989 and which received a lot of attention. It was aimed at pregnant women and particularly vulnerable people, especially patients who have had transplants, those on certain drugs that depress the immune system, and those with leukaemia or cancers of the lymphatic tissues. Those people were warned to avoid eating soft cheeses and to follow carefully instructions on how to handle precooked chilled food and precooked ready-to-eat chicken. They were advised to warm it until piping hot.

Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)


Mr. Clarke

I shall give way later to the hon. Gentleman because I do not think he wishes to intervene on that point.

Before we get back to the political hullabaloo, I want to ensure that the public understand the warnings and get them in proportion. It is not complacent to say that one needs to keep this matter in proportion. Indeed, I think that the public know that.

In supermarkets and kitchens, the public are behaving more sensibly than many politicians and journalists. That is the full extent of the health warnings that we have given. Nobody has said that we should extend them—



Mr. Clarke

Well, I shall give a simple example first. Let us take someone like myself who, as far as I am aware, is healthy. It may not be my just deserts for my way of life, but I think that I am healthy—as are most hon. Members. I have not been warned to desist from eating any food on grounds of salmonella or listeria, except raw eggs. If one has an occasional raw egg, one knows that one is running a calculated risk.

Mrs. Gorman


Mr. Clarke

Our advice has been aimed only at vulnerable groups. Average members of the public are not facing a risk that justifies hysteria or over-reaction. However, what it does justify is positive action, research and more scientific information to tackle the problem at its root before it gets any worse.

Mr. Cook


Mr. Clarke

I shall give way in a second.

To put this into proportion, during the 1980s deaths from food poisoning averaged about 50 per year. By comparison, deaths from accidents in the home were over 4,800 and for road accidents nearly 4,950. No one is complacent about any of those figures, but they do put the comparative risks in context. The average person is nearly 100 times more likely to die from an accident at home or on the road than from food poisoning. Although the risk from food poisoning in this new form should be reduced, it does not justify the amazing alarm expressed about it in some places.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)


Mr. Cook


Mr. Clarke

I shall give way in a moment. As I shall show later, the risk does not justify the attacks on the Government for our reaction to the problem—to the worrying extent that it exists.

Mr. Cook

I thank the Secretary of State for giving way after that "second". He said several times that the problem emerged only last year. However, he will be aware that the figures that he has deposited in the Library show that between 1981 and 1987—not last year—the incidence of salmonella enteritidis increased sixfold. Is he aware that in 1987 the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food discovered infection in one quarter of the poultry foodstuff processing plants but did not close a single one? Is he further aware that in September last year the Lancet was able to state that there had been an "uncontrolled" epidemic of salmonella poisoning "for about two years" in Britain? If the Lancet knew that in September 1988, why did his Department wake up to the problem only a couple of months earlier?

Mr. Clarke

The big increase in salmonella enteritidis was in 1987. Its connection with the whole egg became clear only in the summer of last year. Nothing that the hon. Gentleman has said has contradicted that. Indeed, I do not believe that it is possible to contradict that.

The big increase in listeria and listeriosis occurred two years ago, but we stil do not know why there has been a big increase in listeriosis. Only four cases have been positively traced back to food. In 1988 the World Health Organisation gave us its opinion of the problem-that probably the bulk of listeriosis was, in some way as yet unknown, foodborne as an illness.

As I shall explain in a moment, we are in the forefront of monitoring systems and research. In the advice that we are giving to the public and the steps that we have taken vis-a-vis the industry we are ahead of most other countries in western Europe and across the Atlantic.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

This debate must be about reassuring the public—[Interruption.] That is what the public demands of Parliament today. May we have an absolute, unconditional assurance today that all feedstock protein coming from these plants is salmonella-free? If we receive that assurance today, why could not we have had it in August of last year, when it would have meant so much more?

Mr. Clarke

I shall be coming to that in a moment. I shall leave most of the assurances to my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, but I shall touch on the 17 measures that he has taken to check salmonella in our flocks.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

We want an assurance.

Mr. Clarke

Yes, I believe that I can give that. We have made orders controlling—[Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) asked a question and he is receiving a reply.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

I am not.


The hon. Gentleman should not point at the Minister and demand the answers to other questions.

Mr. Clarke

We have created the necessary powers to be able to give that assurance. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will be able to bring the hon. Gentleman up to date with the enforcement of those powers when he replies.

As I shall explain in the appropriate part of my speech, we have taken much action and given ourselves many additional powers to control salmonella in egg-laying flocks.

Mr. Foulkes


Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West)


Mr. Clarke

I shall give way in a second. It is a little rich for an Opposition Member to declare that the purpose of the debate is reassurance when the Opposition have so far spent their time misrepresenting both the date at which the problem first became known and the advice that the Government have given. With no scientific grounds on which to do so, they are challenging the action taken by the Government last year when the nature of the problem first became clear.

Dr. Reid

Does the Secretary of State realise that if anything in today's debate will cause wide public concern, it will be his refusal to give the categorical assurance asked for by my hon. Friend the Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours)? Does he think that comparing the statistics of people who died from food poisoning with those of people who died on roads is any consolation to the relatives of those who died from food poisoning?

Does the Secretary of State understand that advertisements in newspapers are no substitute for policy? Will he take the opportunity today to explain to the House and the country why the Government vetoed their own 1984 proposals to subject new food premises to Government regulation and approval? In doing so, did the Government put the health of the nation or the Prime Minister's dogma of deregulation first?

Mr. Clarke

I have already explained that I gave the figures, not to minimise the impact on the individuals affected, but to make it clear to everyone in the Chamber that it is still safer to eat any kind of British food than it is to cross the road. Quite demonstrably, that remains the case.

Mr. Foulkes


Mr. Clarke

Secondly, I shall—

Mr. Foulkes

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Speaker

Order. As a Front Bench spokesman the hon. Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes) should be the first to know that if a Minister, or even an hon. Member, does not give way, he must not persist.

Mr. Clarke

I shall not give way before I have answered the last intervention because that would reduce the debate to a farce. I have given an assurance that the Government have the necessary powers to control the production of protein in this country. As part of the assurance that I shall give about the steps we have taken, I can say that the Government have the necessary powers to monitor the flocks and are checking protein as it comes from the producers.

The hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) is doing what his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition does by calmly changing the subject to talk about a regulation on new food premises that was introduced three years ago. He cannot demonstrate that any case of the food poisoning with which we are concerned this afternoon arose from the Government's decision about that regulation. The Opposition must stop thrashing about trying to find vaguely food-related topics to suggest that the risk is worse than it is or that, somehow, the Government are not tackling the problem.

Sir David Price (Eastleigh)

In order to make some sense of assessing the degree of the problem, will my right hon. and learned Friend deal with the point raised about the alleged under-reporting of salmonella cases? Does he agree that academics who multiply the Department's figure by 100 do not add to our appreciation of the problem? Is he aware that applying that factor of 100 to the basic health figure—the mortality rate—would mean that all of us in the House and the nation would die 1.2 times every year?

Mr. Clarke

My hon. Friend helpfully takes me on to my next point, which concerns the exact extent of the infection and our assessment of what action should be taken to reduce it.

As I have explained several times, we are talking about a new form of salmonella. There are hundreds of different types of salmonella of varying seriousness, but we are dealing with a new type—salmonella enteritidis phage 4. Cases of that particular type associated with poultry and eggs have risen during the 1980s. In 1988, 12,553 cases of phage 4 were reported in this country. The latest score for 1988 of cases directly associated with eggs is 60 outbreaks, involving about 1,600 people.

It is true that all types of food poisoning are under-reported. Many people's symptoms are not severe enough for them to trouble their doctor, or if they do, he does not always submit his results for pathological examination. In America, where I suspect reporting systems are not as good as ours, by convention some academics multiply by 100 the number of reported cases to give a figure closer to the truth. By definition, no one knows exactly how much under-reporting takes place, but those involved in the matter in this country believe that a factor of 10 is more suitable for monitoring the conditions in Britain.

Mr. Foulkes

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Clarke

Let me again give some factual information about listeria. I do not think that any hon. Member in this debate can challenge the information I have given, because they have none better.

The difficulty about listeria is that it is also a new and insufficiently understood problem. The type of listeria with which we are dealing is an organism that is widely distributed in the environment and with which we all come into frequent daily contact. It is present in water, vegetation and soil. For some reason, as yet imperfectly understood, although we are all exposed to it—about one in 20 of us probably carry it in our bodies—it causes ill effects in vulnerable people.

For a few of us the organism causes a disease known as listeriosis, which is fortunately quite rare. Last year there were 287 cases. In the past two years the number has suddenly risen. In healthy adults it can cause a mild flu-like disease but unfortunately, in more serious cases, it can cause meningitis and septicemia. As the Leader of the Opposition said, it presents a particular problem for pregnant women, in whom it may also infect the developing baby and lead to miscarriage, stillbirth or the baby being born with severe illness. The problem is being studied throughout the western world. However, it is only in the 1980s that serious outbreaks have begun to occur.

Soft, ripened cheese appears to be a particularly common carrier of listeria. Again, before people rush out to cancel their orders for soft cheese, I shall repeat that healthy adults have probably consumed listeria several times in the past few days without even being aware of it or showing any symptoms. However, pregnant women are at risk if they eat cheese with listeria.

In the 1980s there were outbreaks of listeria, first in Canada, and then a particular cheese, Vacherin Mont D'or, caused deaths in Sunderland—[Interruption.]—in Switzerland. [Interruption.]—and had to be banned. Then in America they had a serious outbreak involving Mexican soft cheese. Hence, we have given the advice to those consuming soft cheese in this country, although to date we are aware of only four cases directly attributable to food, only two of which concerned soft cheese. It seems to make no difference whether the cheese is pasteurised or unpasteurised. We have given warnings to this carefully selected group of vulnerable people because most of us can eat soft cheese, which has a lot of listeria in it, without knowing that we have it and without suffering adverse effects.

That statement produced some momentary silence and even a little less hilarity from the Opposition because it is a factual description of the particular aspects of food poisoning with which we are concerned. Those facts do not lend themselves to party political attacks. They are not facts about which the Opposition are any more scientifically informed than the Government.

Dr. Lewis Moonie (Kirkcaldy)


Mr. Clarke

But certainly they wish to know exactly what we are doing about it.

Mrs. Rosie Barnes (Greenwich)


Mr. Clarke

First, the Government are armed with many independent expert committees.

Dr. Moonie

Perhaps I am slightly better informed than the Secretary of State on this subject. He must be well aware that the rise in the number of cases of listeria is exactly paralleled by the rise in the use of cook-chill methods of storing food. He will also be aware that this fact is recognised by major manufacturers such as Marks and Spencer, which have taken action to ensure that this bacterium is eradicated from their food production.

Mr. Clarke

Certainly it is true that, among other things that have happened during the 1980s, there has been an increase in listeria, especially in the past two years. There has been an increase in the use of pre-cooked chilled foods on sale for retail. It is certainly true that listeria is a risk that must be looked out for in pre-cooked chilled food. I shall come to that in a moment. No one has yet established the direct link. We know that the level of listeria should be kept reasonably low and precautions should be taken by those who are particularly vulnerable to the bacterium. The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) is a registered medical practitioner who I know therefore has qualifications in his field. The hon. Gentleman claims to know exactly why particular groups get listeriosis from listeria. If he knows exactly what steps must be taken to reverse that, he should be in pursuit of a Nobel prize, and not in pursuit of retaining his seat in the House of Commons.

Mr. Tom Clarke


Mr. Clarke

I do not believe that the medical and scientific world is entirely sure yet of the answers to these questions. We will take the hon. Gentleman's advice, and we are taking advice. The Government already have many independent expert committees to rely upon, including doctors and vets within the Government and a wide range of outside expertise, such as the food advisory committee, and the committee on toxicology. Those committees will not be attacked by anybody on either side of the House. We have 10 specialist working parties dealing with all aspects of food hygiene, which contain experts from inside and outside.

I trust that we shall not hear any bizarre attacks upon them as part of some political conspiracy in support of the producer, private industry or whatever is claimed to be at the root of this difficulty. No subject is considered closed by them. We analyse thousands of samples of food each year. We monitor what is going on in this country to a much higher extent than most other countries.

Mr. Tom Clarke

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Clarke

Research has been mentioned. We are financing research on a considerable scale. That case is not undermined by finding one disappointed researcher whose research has been finished—and where the money is being switched to some other aspect—and suggesting that that is incontrovertible proof that we are neglecting research. At present, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is funding 14 research projects, either specifically on listeria or including work on listeria. We are in the forefront of work in this sphere.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Clarke

Most developed countries, as I keep on saying, are experiencing a similar problem. It is not confined to this country. One thing that arises from our system of monitoring, answering questions and giving advice—indeed, from our system of parliamentary debate—is that we in this country are more aware of the extent of the problem than most members of the public in other countries are aware of the extent of similar problems in those countries.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)


Mr. Clarke

We are taking a considerable amount of action to tackle this. We are taking more action than most of our neighbours.

On salmonella in eggs, going back to the question that was raised by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours), my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture has put in place a package of no fewer than 17 measures. 1 shall touch on some measures that are especially relevant to the hon. Gentleman's intervention, because the Minister will deal with his own measures.

We have given ourselves new powers to stop the supply of products from protein processing plants where salmonella is found. We have put out notices preventing the sale of eggs from flocks that have been identified as a source of salmonella-infected eggs. Very shortly, an order will be made under section 29 of the Animal Health Act 1981 to provide, where necessary, for the compulsory slaughter of laying flocks in which salmonella has been confirmed. Much interest has arisen, especially since my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South made her remarks about the extent of infection in the flocks. Another order will be made shortly providing for the compulsory bacteriologial monitoring of all laying flocks which will enable us to improve our knowledge of the extent of infection of the flocks.

Mr. Foulkes

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Clarke

I shall give way, although I will not give more details at this stage. I know of no country, and I challenge the hon. Gentleman and any of his colleagues to disagree, that has introduced a more comprehensive package of measures to deal with the problem, although we are by no means the only country that faces it.

Mr. Foulkes

The Secretary of State said earlier that we need clarity and not confusion. I think he was trying to accuse us of scaremongering. He will recall that all this confusion started with the statement that he has just mentioned from the former Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie). Could the Secretary of State now tell us what he said to the hon. Lady immediately after that statement was made? Did he ask her to correct her statement because it was misleading, or did he ask her to shut up?

Mr. Clarke

The first time that serious interest was taken in this subject by the Opposition was when they joined in the demands to sack my hon. Friend because of her remarks. On the following day, when the hon. Gentleman was probably in the House, I answered a private notice question in which I gave the clear advice of the Government and a clear description of the nature and extent of the problem. To the best of my knowledge, nobody, certainly not so far this afternoon, has challenged anything that I said on that occasion.

The Chief Medical Officer gave widespread interviews on television and to newspapers to give the public health advice. I use the Chief Medical Officer because, although he is a civil servant, he is quite free of any suggestion of being subject to political interference in his medical judgment. He is also best qualified to give medical advice to the public and he did so. What I said to my hon. Friend was that she should decline to give interviews, because the only interviews that she would give was where she would face attacks from people like the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) demanding that she withdraw— [Interruption.] Yes, certainly. At that stage, this responsible Opposition put the issue on a par with woolly hats and Edwina-baiting—[Interruption.] Yes, of course that was said.

Again, the following day, my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South repeated her belief in what she had said on the Saturday and added to it the Government's health advice, in exactly the same terms as I and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had given it, as well as the Chief Medical Officer.

Mr. Foulkes

Will the Secretary of State follow that up?

Mr. Clarke

We have had quite enough of that. I gave evidence on it for an hour to the Select Committee on Agriculture. [Interruption.]

Mr. Tom Clarke

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Clarke

I shall give way to my namesake, who is being most persistent.

Mr. Tom Clarke

I am very grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. While he attempts to reassure the House, will he accept from me that in the past 15 minutes I have received information from the management of D. B. Marshall's chicken factory in my constituency, which has just announced redundancies for 239 people, which is more than half the work force at the factory? The management has told me that recent publicity has much to do with the decision. Does not the Secretary of State agree that the Government will have to get their act together much better than this unless even more jobs are to be lost?

Mr. Clarke

With the greatest respect, the hon. Gentleman should take that up with his right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—[Interruption.] A few moments ago I attempted to repeat—and, despite the interruptions, I think I succeeded—the medical advice currently being given to the public about the safe handling of food. It was not greeted with derision, because there is no different advice that the Opposition want us to give, but it was greeted with repeated interruptions, weak jokes and general disbelief that I should compare it with road accidents or anything of that kind.

It is important that the vulnerable groups take the advice that we give, and it is important that other people realise that if they use common sense in handling food they are perfectly safe. It is also important that the Opposition parties stop messing about on this subject and find a subject for debate in respect of which they can make a useful contribution.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Will the Secretary of State give way?

Mr. Clarke

No, I cannot keep giving way.

Let me go on to the question of cooked, chilled food. We have dealt, so far, with salmonella in eggs and with listeria in soft cheese. Cooked, chilled food is also an important matter. Listeria is carried in soft, ripened cheeses. We are concerned also about the handling of cooked, chilled and ready-cooked food in supermarkets. A recent report, produced by the Government's own public health laboratory service, which appeared in The Lancet, gave what is, so far, the best measurement of the extent of listeria infection in some foods found in supermarkets. That report was known about and was fully taken into account by Sir Donald Acheson when, recently, he gave pregnant women and seriously sick people his advice about listeria and the handling of cooked, chilled food.

Nevertheless, we do intend to follow up recent concern about cooked, chilled food, and we now have regulations in draft, under the Food Hygiene Act, to require a maximum temperature for the distribution, storage and sale of pre-cooked, chilled foods. This is an aspect into which the hon. Member for Livingston entered a few days ago, with an essay at his own regulations. I said at the time that he was a little bit like a third-rate Liberal candidate in a county council election, knowing that we were producing regulations and that they were about to come, but demanding their introduction. Nevertheless, what he said was interesting, although, in fact, he lifted our existing guidelines for cook-chill catering in hospitals and applied them to the retail sale of various pre-cooked, chilled foods. They are not quite the same; the practical problems are different. Nevertheless, we have our regulations in draft, and our experts' conclusions—and plainly we have access to a much wider range of expert advice than he has—will come out soon.

The hon. Gentleman was not wholly foolish in choosing as a model our cook-chill guidance to National Health Service hospitals. I am glad to say that it comes out extremely well in all recent surveys. Our National Health Service guidelines have a good record. In the case of cook-chill in hospitals, there is such a short time between cooking at a high temperature, storage at a very low temperature for a very short time and then bringing the food up to piping hot again that the process has a good record and is giving rise to no concern.

Contracting-out was said to be about to cause a wave of food poisoning throughout the hospitals. We have gone through a tendering process for well over three quarters of hospital catering, and the rate of salmonella infection in hospitals is dropping, not increasing. [Interruption.] Yet again, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) cannot resist bringing into a debate about food poisoning absolutely irrelevant ideological nonsense about his resistance to private caterers or contracting-out. In fact, since contracting-out started, salmonella infection has dropped.

Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)


Mr. Clarke

If the hon. Gentleman waits to hear what I have to say about the regulations, I will give way before moving away from them.

On the question of cooked, chilled, our experts have now agreed, and we will be laying the necessary hygiene regulations in the very near future. Those regulations will control the maximum temperature throughout the manufacturing and distribution chain, and that is important. We are working on a code of practice to ensure careful handling at every stage, from the preparation of foods to their sale on the shelves. We are also carrying out investigations into the temperatures necessary to kill the organism during heat treatment and into the effectiveness of microwave cooking. The results will be available shortly, and, once more, we shall take action at once.

Mr. Robin Cook

I readily accept what the Secretary of State says about the promise of regulations in this area. The Government have been promising regulations in this area since they issued a consultative document in June 1987. Can the Secretary of State explain to the House why, 20 months later, no action has been taken on that consultative document, despite the growing evidence of listeriosis? If it really is necessary for his Department to take 20 leisurely months to consult over one statutory instrument, could we please have 20 months of consultation on the White Paper before he dismantles the National Health Service?

Mr. Clarke

The Opposition keep bringing in subjects that it might have been wiser to debate this afternoon. They would have been more relevant to a Supply day debate.

On the hon. Gentleman's first, and serious, point, let me say that I regret that it has taken 20 months, since we first announced our intention to consult, to produce these regulations. I can give the hon. Gentleman a perfectly straightforward explanation: the experts have taken a long time to come to agreement. [Interruption.] It really is quite absurd that every time we produce anything in an area of this kind Opposition Members insist that there is a party political conspiracy behind it. The fact is that when one is dealing with an area in which the scientific knowledge is far from complete, one brings together the widest body of expert knowledge. But the experts do not always agree. They had pressure put upon them by me and by my right hon. Friend because we needed the regulations. I am glad to say that—without compromising their scientific position, I am sure—they have finally agreed, and that we are about to lay the regulations.

I agree with the Leader of the Opposition that the consumer is entitled to look for the safest food that it is possible to get. It is not the consumers' responsibility in the first place. Nevertheless, consumers have a responsibility to take good care of themselves and of their food in the home, and we shall soon be launching a full-scale health education campaign on food hygiene to explain to people making increasing use of convenience foods in modern kitchens how they can handle that food safely in order to reduce the risk of disease there.

Mr. Robert Hughes

Does the Secretary of State recall Question No. 16 on today's Order Paper concerning the irradiation of food? Contrary to normal practice, the written answer to that question is still not available in the Library. though the other written answers are available. Why is he so coy about his Department's position concerning a proven method of making food safer? Will he say what is his policy towards the irradiation of food?

Mr. Clarke

It is true that all the best evidence we have so far is that irradiation actually kills bacteria and poses no problem for the consumer. But, as the hon. Gentleman, who follows these matters, knows, we are again in the hands of an expert working party, whose report we are considering. It is one of the ironies of the recent controversy about food that a lot of the lobbying is contradictory. Irradiation tends to kill bacteria in food, and there is no evidence that it creates any difficulties.

People talk about the safety of eggs. We hear about battery farming, which is not popular with many people in this country. There is no evidence that free range eggs are any more free of the newer types of salmonela than battery eggs. Infection has been found in both.

When we have looked at the infections that come from cheese, we have found nothing to suggest that factory-made cheese is safer than the farm gate variety. As someone said, we are consulting all over again on the question of the sale of unpasteurised farm gate milk, which some people like to buy and which undoubtedly also gives rise to a degree of food poisoning. Irradiation is a subject to which we shall certainly have to return, because the process would not actually kill some of the bacteria about which we are talking.

Mrs. Rosie Barnes

I wonder whether the Secretary of State could say something about the use of unpasteurised milk in cheese making. Comments at the weekend before last caused a considerable degree of anxiety about which cheeses were safe and which were not. Some hard cheeses are made from unpasteurised milk, and I know that many small manufacturers of cheeses have been finding their livelihood very hard hit in the days following those remarks.

Mr. Clarke

When questioned on the Jimmy Young programme I gave my understanding of what the newspapers told me my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had been saying on Saturday. At the same time, in Brussels, he was explaining that he had not said it—that we were not contemplating a ban. The position is that we are not contemplating a ban on any kind of cheese. So far as listeriosis is concerned, we cannot detect, from any evidence, any higher risk of disease in unpasteurised cheese than in pasteurised cheese, and there is no case for discriminating between them.

Mr. Shersby

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that the point raised by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) is important? Can my right hon. and learned Friend comment on what studies his Department has made on the use of irradiation in other countries such as the Netherlands? Does he share my view that if he intends to legalise irradiation, the Opposition should support that as a valuable measure for dealing with food poisoning?

Mr. Clarke

It will be interesting to see. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food may find time to deal with irradiated food when he replies to the debate. There is considerable concern about it and at the moment it is not allowed in this country. Much of the public concern is caused by confusion about the general subject of radioactivity. There are people who do not hesitate to confuse the two things. Again, we shall examine the best, up-to-date scientific information, both from here and abroad, about irradiation.

I cannot have been asked many more questions in any debate than I have been asked this afternoon, but there are limits to the extent of the scientific knowledge that exists about the new strains of salmonella, the worrying increase in listeriosis and other things connected with the subject.. No one denies that during the 1980s—not, as the Leader of the Opposition says, uniquely in this country because of the political policies of the Government, but throughout the developed world—there has been a worrying increase in particular types of food poisoning. No one knows exactly why. We all know that there have been sociological and technological changes in the production and handling of food. There has been a big increase in the mass production of food, which has had desirable consequences for the consumer, not least in reducing the price. Supermarket sales of food are increasing, and increasingly food is of a convenience type, made to be prepared in new inventions like the microwave oven by busy people coming home from work.

All the evidence from this country and abroad gives no cause for panic or hysteria. As we have all said throughout, in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Health, the evidence gives rise to serious concern that more infection is getting into the food chain at some point than used to be the case. It needs the most close scientific investigation. For that reason the Government have already announced their intention to appoint a committee on the microbiological safety of food. The committee will contain the widest possible range of expertise. Its members will be able to give advice on every part of the food chain and bring together their various specialities so that we can improve our understanding of why there has been an increase in food poisoning and what we ought to be doing to reverse it.

We have invited Sir Mark Richmond to be the chairman of the committee. Sir Mark is professor of molecular microbiology and vice-chancellor of Manchester university. He is also chairman of the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. Among his various posts he has been chairman of the British national committee for microbiology, a member of the Lister Institute and a member of the Jarrett committee for university efficiency.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Is he a Tory?

Mr. Clarke

Once again the Opposition have betrayed the full extent of their interest in the subject. The political predilections of the chairman of the committee are more important than his scientific background. I have not a clue whether he is a Tory.

The terms of reference of the committee will be: To advise the Secretary of State for Health, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Secretaries of State for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland on matters remitted to it by Ministers relating to the microbiological safety of food and on such matters as it considers need investigation. That means that it will be invited to respond to specific issues put to it by Ministers but it can also initiate longer term studies of its own.

The committee will look at the increasing incidence of foodborne illnesses particularly from salmonella, listeria and campylobacter. It will try to establish whether this rise is linked to changes in agriculture and food production, food technology and distribution, retailing, catering and food handling in the home. It will recommend action where appropriate. It is intended that the committee will have an expert membership which will include an epidemiologist, a microbiologist, an environmental health officer, a veterinary surgeon, a farmer, and food scientists with experience in production, distribution and catering. Consumer interests will also be represented on the committee. I hope that it will make some of its early recommendations in time for them to be included in the food legislation which the Government are contemplating.

I have taken a great amount of time, most of it in deference to interventions from all over the House—I have promptly provoked another one.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

My right hon. and learned friend will be aware that the Leader of the Opposition referred to certain vested interests in the food industry. Will my right hon. and learned Friend take the opportunity to reassure the House that the food industry, whether producers, manufacturers, processers, retailers or whatever, has a big vested interest, that is, ensuring that it markets a product that gives total satisfaction? The food industry has as big a vested interest as any individual.

Mr. Clarke

Of course, food producers, retailers and supermarket chains are all anxious, above all, to restore consumer confidence in their product. Within the food industry there is considerable expertise on catering, retailing and the handling of cooked, chilled products. We are working closely with the Ministry of Agriculture and the food industry in what we are doing.

We have a record which is second to none of any country in the developed world of careful monitoring, of research, of prompt advice to the public and of action on the threats that are posed to the public by new varieties of food poisoning. We have set up a new independent committee to advise us on the worrying new developments in food poisoning in recent years. The whole subject has been trivialised to some extent this afternoon by the Opposition who made it a Supply day debate and then tried to make cheap political points out of it.

I began by saying that I was astonished that the right hon. Member for Islwyn was here. This is his first major Supply day presence since the election. Was it on defence, on the Health Service or on economic policy? No. He talked about the unity of his party, but his party either has no policy and is listening to various groups before deciding on what it should be, or it is only unified on the question of bad eggs and goat's milk cheese which it sees as its route back to power. The Labour party has made a deliberate attempt to arouse public concern, for party political advantage. On an issue which should be bipartisan the Labour party has tried to fan public concern. I invite my right hon. and hon. Friends to treat the Opposition motion with the contempt that it undoubtedly deserves and to vote for the Government amendment.

Mr. Speaker

Before I call Back Benchers to participate in the debate, may I remind them that there will be a 10-minute limit on speeches between 7 o'clock and 9 o'clock. I hope that those who are called before then will set a good example by not taking much longer.

5.47 pm
Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South-West)

I shall try my best, Mr. Speaker, to make my five minutes count.

Whatever may be said from the Government Benches, some of us are qualified to speak on the issue. It does not take an expert to know that public confidence in food is at an all-time low, with some justification. In the last few years, a combination of Tory free market dogma and ministerial complacency and bungling has been literally deadly.

I have no wish or right to pre-empt the report of the Select Committee which is investigating salmonella in eggs, but I wish to comment on the evidence which was given in public. When the Secretary of State for Health, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) were interviewed, the ordinary person in the street had to assume that one of two things appertained: that there was a cover-up of evidence by the former Under-Secretary of State for Health, who had been ordered to shut up, or that the former Under-Secretary of State had decided to keep quiet for her own personal reasons, literary or egotistical. Neither says much for inter-departmental liaison or the people involved.

Inter-departmental relations between the Department of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food were also pretty scrambled, for whether eggs are the cause of the increase in salmonella infection generally or not, it has been known literally for years that there has been a problem with salmonella of all kinds—there are, after all, 2,200 species or so—in poultry meat production, and the kind of action we are now hopefully seeing—the enforcement of zoonosis orders and tightening up of feed regulations and the 15 or so other measures which are to be listed later—are probably years overdue, both for the benefit of the consumers and the producers, who by and large want to produce good, wholesome food, and do not benefit from scares. This is a perfect example of how free market theories cannot work in a modern society. Indeed, they have never worked in health and hygiene matters.

What further delights have we in store in this area? Will the cutback in research funding have an effect? Of course it will. My right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock ) mentioned BSE—bovine spongiform encephalopathy, which is quite a mouthful and is a long name for a potential hazard of gigantic proportions, dealing with a very esoteric and long-term pathogenic agent. It is supposedly viral-like, but nobody really knows. It is resistant to heat, capable of causing degenerative brain disease in cattle and is very similar to scrapie in sheep.

That leads to a very interesting question. We have compulsory slaughter for cattle in place now albeit, I believe, with insufficient compensation. If the Ministry believes that the risk from cattle with BSE is enough to insist on the incineration of the bodies, why is there no such order for sheep with scrapie? The carcase of a scrapie sheep still ends up in the butcher's. People in Britain and probably elsewhere have been eating meat from sheep with scrapie for hundreds of years. Any shepherd worth his salt can recognise the first signs of scrapie and would tend to send the sheep to the butcher's before anyone else noticed, which could happen with BSE.

However, there are other knock-on effects of this problem. The disease has frightened off buyers from other countries. Britain's cattle exports are worth about £58 million a year, and 12 months ago Australia and Israel banned the import of British cattle. Australia's ban also includes semen for artificial insemination, although there is no evidence that the scrapie agent can be transmitted via semen. The Ministry will pay compensation, as I said, but it is only for half the average market value for a cow that must be slaughtered. We are fobbed off with the idea that the cattle in that condition are probably worth only that much, but that is not the point. We need to prevent the likelihood of this disease getting into the food chain, because we do not know whether it is transmissible to human beings, and we are not likely to know if we do not research the issue.

Kuru is a very esoteric human disease. Microbiologists have this as an example of a very strange pathway, in that it is reckoned that it is passed on because of the cannibalistic instincts of the Fore tribe in New Guinea, who had the unfortunate habit of eating their relatives, which is not widely known in the hills of Wales. But we certainly eat beef, and as cows are in the food chain, it is possible that this unusual and basically unknown disease can get into human beings.

Another human disease, which is probably not connected but is a similar sort of organism, is called Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, which shows at least that human beings can be susceptible to this sort of organism.

Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the incidence of Creutzfeld-Jakob disease is 30 times higher among Libyan Jewry who treat as a delicacy the consumption of sheep's brains? Is this not a fairly firm indication that there is the possibility of transmission of scrapie via this unknown agent into humans where it is manifest in clincial forms of CJD?

Mr. Jones

I suggest that it is very likely an indication of the possibility of transmission in that way. I understand that there is some evidence that the eating of sheep's eyes can cause a similar problem. On a lighter note, I inform my hon. Friend that mock turtle soup is made from sheep's brains, and it may be something to avoid in future, bearing in mind the possible problems. I certainly do not wish that to be used as an excuse to start killing turtles again, because that would be the wrong inference to draw.

We have an example here of inter-departmental bungling, because we do not know what risk there is of human transmission of BSE and I doubt whether this is near-market research, so I would think that this is a problem of both Government policy and Government intentions. Over the last few years we have seen that free market dogma simply does not work when it is applied to food production and research. In fact, it is tantamount to a licence to kill.

5.55 pm
Mr. Alick Buchanan-Smith (Kincardine and Deeside)

I very much welcome the fact that we have had this debate today, because there has been, as has been acknowledged on all sides, a great deal of confusion over the whole of this issue. To that extent at least I welcome the opportunity.

I enter this debate, I hope as the House recognises, as someone who has had a reasonable amount of practical experience of what is involved in the production and processing of food. Indeed, I was brought up on a family farm which, in the early 1930s, in the east of Scotland, was one of the pioneers in producing tuberculin-tested, tuberculin-free milk. The need for proper hygiene and for freedom from disease in food production is one with which I have certainly been concerned for the whole of my life.

I also hope that in speaking in this debate I can speak from a degree of practical experience, because I had responsibility in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for four years, admittedly dealing much more with European matters perhaps than with domestic food matters. None the less, the one thing that did impress me and which was touched on by my right hon. and learned Friend in his speech a few moments ago was that, when we relate our standards in the United Kingdom to standards elsewhere in the western world and in Europe, ours are the highest standards. Yet from what we have heard in recent weeks one would wonder whether that was true. It seems that we could be accused of literally shooting ourselves in the foot over the good record of our industry.

I need no persuasion of the need for the highest possible standards of hygiene and quality in our food industry. To maintain such standards requires, as I think my right hon. and learned Friend acknowledged this afternoon, constant vigilance and persistent effort. I hope that there will never, from any quarter in this House or elsewhere, be signs of complacency. For that reason I very much regret the amount of confusion and contradiction there has been. If we are honest with ourselves there has been an element of confusion and contradiction over recent weeks, and this has not helped.

I am particularly grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health for what I believe was a much clearer statement in the House this evening of exactly where we stand on these issues, why we stand where we do, and what action is being taken in the future. I feel reassured, and I hope that the Opposition will acknowledge that as well. I certainly believe people outside the House ought to be reassured as well. I believe that the problems have been identified and, having been identified, must be dealt with.

Equally, whilst I regret some of the confusions that have arisen, I deprecate even more the degree of irresponsible scaremongering to which people have been subjected over recent weeks. Consumers have been misled, and the livelihoods of innocent people outside the whole of this controversy have been threatened or at worst destroyed, as was said by the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) a few moments ago in an intervention.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

When the hon. Gentleman said that there had been a good deal of scaremongering, was he referring to the comments made by the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie)?

Mr. Buchanan-Smith

Scaremongering has come from all quarters. I exclude no one and no political party. Such scaremongering in connection with the nation's food is something that I deprecate, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman will join me in doing so.

What worries me is that so much of what has been said is based neither on clear evidence nor on scientific principles. To a great extent, reason has gone out of the window. What I hope that the debate will do, and what I shall certainly try to do, is to keep matters in their proper perspective. Given the way in which people have talked in recent weeks, it is surprising that there are any elderly people in the population. As a journalist said to me today, how frequently—if ever—do we meet someone who has actually suffered from food poisoning?

Over the years the Ministry of Agriculture has had a good record in protecting the quality and standards of the nation's food and promoting healthy food production. Since pre-war days, through the Ministry and the country's agriculture departments, disease after disease has been eradicated from animal food production—foot and mouth being perhaps the most significant, although it is probably less important in relation to human health. Tuberculosis and brucellosis are examples of human diseases on which the initiative has been taken by our agriculture departments. After their eradication effective and careful monitoring has ensured that they have never returned to our livestock population with the subsequent threat to human health.

The Ministry's record applies to a long list of other diseases: swine fever among pigs; Aujesky's disease, almost completely eradicated through work supported by the industry, financially as well as in other ways; and fowlpest among poultry. I hope that the Minister will not be diverted from this course by the events of recent weeks. The Department that he heads has a record to be proud of, and I believe that it will continue to be our best insurance against disease and in support of proper health and food hygiene standards. If we examine it properly and dispassionately, we see that this is the record of an industry and a Ministry that are not irresponsible, but have considerable achievement behind them. Comparison with other countries suggests that we have one of the best records—if not the very best—in the western world. I hope that the Ministry will remain true to its history and will continue to tackle the problems resolutely and unwaveringly.

If the Government and the Ministry are to be effective, they must provide proper resources. That is especially critical in two respects. First, it goes without saying that proper resources must be given to the state veterinary service for the eradication and monitoring of disease. It is important to attract staff with qualities necessary for the task by offering appropriate salaries. Staff numbers are another issue to which, in view of what has happened in recent weeks, renewed attention should be given and, if necessary, additional resources devoted. The veterinary service is in the front line of the battle against disease and in support of hygiene, and I hope that the Government will provide the necessary support.

My second point concerns research. As my right hon. and learned Friend knows, I have serious doubts about the classification of some areas of near market research, the financing of which he wishes to return to the industry. I remind him that we are dealing with an industry with a multiplicity of small, independent units, and that at present it is finding things very difficult financially, for reasons of which he is aware. Some of the research needs to be reviewed to establish whether it should more properly be the Government's responsibility. I am thinking especially of public health and food hygiene. Of course we want support from the industry, but I think that we need more attention from the Ministry as well.

One example is the work on listeria being done at the Moredun research institute in Edinburgh, currently being funded by Government but earmarked as near market research to be funded by the industry. Another—I know that the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) will agree—is the work of the Torry research institute in Aberdeen. My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health spoke of chilled food and the importance of refrigeration. At that institute, some of the foremost work in Britain is being done on refrigeration techniques and how to improve them. I beg my right hon. and learned Friend to re-examine some of those research programmes, which I think should receive continuing Government support rather than being handed over to the industry—not because the industry is uninterested, but because of the difficulties of providing finance from that source.

As I have said, I welcome the debate. We needed a clear lead from the Government, and I am glad that my right hon. and learned Friend has given it today. We need an end to scaremongering, and I hope that the Opposition Front Bench and others will recognise that. Otherwise it will be the British consumer who will ultimately suffer through unwarranted uncertainty. It is in the British food industry—production and processing—that livelihoods will be lost. The only winners will be overseas producers and processors. That will be bad for our balance of payments, and bad for Britain.

6.8 pm

Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)

It is very difficult to assess accurately what is happening to the food and water industries, and the repercussions for the health of the nation, especially at this stage. Excessive secrecy—the dominant feature of the present Government—and a lack of real information have served only to fuel the controversy. The public are utterly confused, and the question "What would you like for dinner?" has taken on unnecessary and nightmarish proportions.

Much of the hysteria of the past few months could have been avoided if the Government had for once approached an issue on the basis that the people have a right to know. If clear and sensible information and guidelines had been issued when the salmonella infection in egg production was first identified, much of the subsequent panic reaction from various Government Departments need not have happened. The response to the issue of soft cheese, unpasteurised milk and the listeria risk was such a reaction, and the issue still needs thorough investigation and clarification.

It is obvious, however, that, in our rush to progress and our haste to produce food more efficiently and profitably in a market-oriented society, certain people and industries have been allowed to cut corners. Consumers' rights have been neglected and the dangers to their health have become much more prevalent.

In the present era of mass production and of scientific and technological advance it is even more important that the public have access to information. Individuals have the right to know what they are eating; mothers have the right to know what they are feeding their babies and what the effects may be. They should have the right to choose what substances they are consuming. Above all, they have a right not to he used as guinea pigs without their consent. Food should state clearly all contents, and where that is not practicable, the information should be easily available.

An example of the public not being informed or being given little choice as to what they consume is the use of bovine somatotropin treatment in milk production. Milk containing that hormone should be bottled separately and clearly labelled. In addition, the facts and information surrounding the use of BST should be made available to the public now. Are the public aware that in the United States the Food and Drug Administration is not completely happy with BST and there are restrictions on its use in that country. What does the Minister intend to do about the fact that the Veterinary Products Committee has refused to license the use of BST on the ground that not enough work has been conducted into its effects on animals?

It is known that there is an increased incidence of mastitis and anaemia and there is concern that it may reduce fertility. Although the possibility of the bovine somatotropin hormone becoming active in humans is very remote, there is some risk. What will be the overall effect on farmers and milk production? This is the first time that a genetically-engineered hormone has been introduced into the human food chain, and instead of clouding the issue in secrecy the Government should take the opportunity to set up hard and fast procedures to cover the introduction of other such drugs in future.

Consumers must be given the opportunity and information to make an informed choice. Consumers should also be given more information and more protection from the possible ill effects of cook-chill foods. The expansion of that industry makes it imperative that not only should such food be subject to stringent quality control, but that wherever it is used the individual consumer should be informed. The Department of Health particularly needs to look into its wide use in the Health Service and in local government services such as schools and meals on wheels. The fact that it is cooked and dispatched from one central unit to many hospitals exposes more patients to the possible source of contamination and makes any food poisoning outbreak difficult to control. The recent outbreak of salmonella poisoning at St. Helen's hospital, Mersyside, which was traced to a cook-chill cottage pie, should cause deep concern since it is known that listeria is a much tougher bacteria able to survive at very cold temperatures. Will the Minister consider introducing regulations requiring health authorities, hospitals and other units to inform patients of the use of such food and to offer alternatives to those patients most susceptible, such as those in maternity units, or perhaps even to ban the use of such foods at least in certain units until further investigations have been conducted?

The report in The Guardian this morning that leaders, in the food industry and retailers were being asked to draw up a draft code to help prevent listeria is not good enough. Surely we have passed the stage where the food industry should be allowed to regulate itself. The Government must act now. There is a need for strict legislation, regulations and enforcement.

Mr. Shersby

Has the hon. Gentleman ever heard of the Food Act 1984? Has he read the provisions of that Act and does he not know that there are already very strict regulations governing food production in this country?

Mr. Fearn

I have read the Act and I have seen the regulations, but they are not implemented because there is not enough inspection.

The practice exposed in The Sunday Times on 19 February whereby large retailers such as Sainsbury's are allowed to offload surplus rejects or near-to-shelf-date goods, knowing that they will be sold for human consumption, cannot be tolerated. The fact that the wholesalers of such food cannot be prosecuted under the present law is not acceptable. The poorer sections of the community should not be put at risk or sold poor quality food in the interests of large companies cutting their losses.

Mrs. Gorman

I should like the hon. Gentleman to know that I regularly buy such products which have gone past their sell-by dates. I buy a whole tray of yoghurts in my local market for 50p and they are absolutely excellent. Many people who are much less well off than I am find a marvellous source of food in the supply of items which are marked with ridiculous sell-by dates.

Mr. Fearn

I hope that others do not follow the hon. Lady's example.

Profit and loss issues lead me neatly to the quality of water now and in future. The reported cases of water pollution incidents in England and Wales between 1980–81 and 1986–87 rose from 12,500 to 21,095, yet the Government have granted some water authorities new and relaxed effluent standards. At the same time, in the drive towards cost efficiency, the water authorities' capacity to invest in improvements has been curtailed. Lack of investment in the infrastructure means broken and rotten sewers which have contributed to an alarming increase in the rat population with the inherent danger of disease.

We have heard today that people in Oxfordshire and Wiltshire are being advised to boil their drinking water. Claims that the warmer winter may have some bearing on such events should not be allowed to detract from the real problem. Surely we can expect those in control of our water authorities to have expertise and knowledge as to the effects of warm weather and to provide some protection against it.

At least 5 million people in the United Kingdom receive tap water that does not meet the legal limits set in the European Community directive. Now the Government are to ask for a time extension. Do we seriously believe that a privatised industry intent on profit will improve matters? Stringent controls will impose greater costs and will be vigorously resisted by water companies.

Everyone is aware of how easy it is to find loopholes in the law or to flout regulations. The consumer, unable to refuse to buy that necessity of life, will be virtually powerless. Once again the Government's obsession with secrecy has led them to refuse to accept freedom of information amendments to the Water Bill in Committee. What makes us so different from the rest of Europe? Are we so immune from bugs and the effects of pollution that the Government think that they have the right to ignore or manipulate EEC regulations and directives?

Once we could boast of some of the purest water in Europe. Now the name, "sick man of Europe" is applied to us, not in terms of our place in the league of powers, but because of our poor standards of environmental pollution, hygiene and so on. Are we proud of that? Are we content that British people are exposed to more possibly harmful substances than people in other countries? Do we accept the line of thought that British people do not have the right to know about things that affect their everyday lives, or that they are incapable of making a sensible, informed choice?

The Government must get their act together. There must be freedom of information for the consumer and increased consumer representation at the decision-taking level. The lines of responsibility within and between various Government Departments need to be clarified. Tougher legislation and regulations are required for food and water production, processing and so on. However, laws and regulations are useless unless they can be enforced. The Government should make available resources for the training, recruitment and retention of environmental health officers and investigate ways to increase their powers.

Mr. Gill

I should be interested to hear the hon. Gentleman's view on how many additional inspectors would be required to make sure that our food was 100 per cent. safe.

Mr. Fearn

No country could boast that its food is 100 per cent. safe. I was asked how many inspectors would be needed. I have looked into the question and I learn that 1,500 inspectors are needed.

I hope that the Minister will take to heart the issues that have been raised today. I hope, too, that action will be taken to prevent the chickens from coming home to roost.

6.19 pm
Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West)

I accept, as do others, that there is widespread concern about bacteria in food, and the debate has attracted great interest. I pay tribute to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health for telling us in such great detail about what his Department is doing. He did his best to reassure both those who have been listening to the debate and those who will read the report of the debate in Hansard and to set the record absolutely straight. The hype and sensationalism that the issue has generated is quite wrong, and it culminated in a few tasteless jokes by the Leader of the Opposition. That hype and sensationalism has misled consumers, jeopardised many businesses and resulted in a severe slap in the face for all those who are involved in the production, distribution and sale of food.

The issue has become a charter for cranks. They have blown it out of all proportion. Dubious professors and assorted nut cases have ached to tell us that virtually everything that we eat is bad for us, or poisonous, or in some way will jeopardise our health. That is fair enough with cigarettes and alcohol. However, when I heard one of the so-called experts tell us on radio that there is a trillion to one chance that we shall be infected if we eat a certain brand of processed food, I knew that the time had come to turn it off.

It is hard to achieve a true sense of proportion. When I was in west Gloucestershire last weekend, therefore, I conducted my own research by visiting food manufacturers and retail outlets. I also talked to my friendly local doctor. They know a great deal more about these problems than they are given credit for. They have had in place for many years methods and systems to minimise infection and disease. In the case of responsible firms, the methods and systems that they use are far in excess of what is demanded by local authorities.

Voluntary practices should be backed up by local regulations that are enforced by inspectors. It is easy for Opposition Members to say that there should be 1,500 inspectors, but I found that statement about as convincing as the man on the radio who said that he thought that there was a trillion to one chance of people being infected if they ate a certain brand of processed food. The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) made an off-the-cuff remark. He was on the ropes. He had no idea what the answer was, so he just trotted out the first figure that came into his mind.

Hysteria is causing more trouble than listeria. My friendly doctor told me that listeria is an organism that is found in soil, water, vegetation and even grass cuttings. None of us can avoid it. It is present in some soft cheeses and in certain cook-chill foods. However, it can be completely destroyed by thoroughly heating the food. As Sir Donald Acheson said of listeria, the chances of an ordinary person becoming infected are so remote that it is not worth worrying about. Those of us who have met him, or who have heard him talk, know that he is not a man who is given to overstatement. I was moved, as I am sure other hon. Members were, by the Leader of the Opposition's story about the lady who lost her baby through listeria infection. I do not, therefore, dismiss the fact that in certain cases listeria can be dangerous.

Salmonella is a more serious problem, but it has been grossly overstated; there has been a great deal of scaremongering by hon. Members. Producers and retailers are well aware of the dangers, but it is ludicrous to use—as some have—the multiplier of 100 to arrive at an estimate of the number of people who have been infected. People have always suffered from upset stomachs. It is wrong to attribute all of them to salmonella. Nevertheless, it is a problem and it should be further investigated. We have heard today that that is precisely what is happening.

I welcome the new programme of microbiological research and the inquiry into food infection that is chaired by the Prime Minister. This Government have never discounted food poisoning scares. They have acted responsibly by finding out the truth. It would be pointless to go into the history, but BST in cattle, radiation from Chernobyl, lead on solder in cans that are used for preserving food and anti-freeze in wine have been dealt with quietly and efficiently by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. In 1988, £20 million was spent on ensuring food safety, and 500 people were employed in that work. If the Ministry is guilty of anything, it is guilty of not having blown its own trumpet loud enough. It has not said precisely what has been done.

I welcome the education programme that is to be targeted at consumer practices. I believe that more than 50 per cent. of food poisoning outbreaks start in the home. Cracked eggs that have been stored in the fridge are used by the housewife. I wonder how many people check the fridge temperature when they store frozen food and ensure that it is stored at the right temperature. I wonder, too, how many housewives and cooks check the defrosting instructions and make sure that they cook the food in the right way. As most families shop only once a week, I wonder how many people check the storage instructions on the back of the products that they buy? The industry takes great care to put instructions on their products so that the consumer knows under what conditions frozen or chilled foods should be stored and then cooked. Today's occasional shopping practices and irresponsible cooking play a fair part in causing food poisoning.

Guidelines are needed, but we have them already and they should be followed. The cry for more Government legislation and for more restrictions reminds me of the nanny state that we have worked so hard to abolish. Our opponents want more Government control, more regulation, more bureaucrats and less choice, but we should end up with tasteless lunches. We do not want that. We need to find out the facts and to act on them. We need to adopt a prudent and cautious approach. We must also bear in mind that the ever-changing practices and customs when preparing and eating food and the ever-changing practices and customs in its production and distribution are having an effect in the increase in food poisoning.

It is a complicated subject, but plans have been made and advice for the consumer will be forthcoming. The consumer will be given advice on how to look after food products. The Select Committee's report is soon to be published. I hope that it will make interesting reading for all those who are interested in the subject.

Two key principles underlie the Government's strategy on food safety. First, prompt action should be based on proper and detailed scientific evidence. Secondly, the need to provide consumers with information on food quality and safety is imperative. That is the right spirit and way in which to go forward.

6.30 pm
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

Anyone would think from the speeches of Conservative Members that this whole issue had been invented by people other than their own spokespersons. Despite their protestations, any lingering doubts we may have had about the validity, if not the total accuracy, of the remarks made before Christmas by the former junior Minister, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), have been dispelled by subsequent events.

The comical sight of Ministers rushing to defend the indefensible as their friends in the food production and distribution lobby cried "foul"—contradicting themselves and each other on radio and television over eggs, poultry and cheese—proves that the Prime Minister's first priority must be to make "foot in mouth" disease notifiable, at least for her Ministers.

For once, the media have managed to get it right. There is a justifiable crisis of confidence in our food production which will not be dispelled by the largely cosmetic actions which Ministers have taken so far. There can be no argument about the facts. Food poisoning has increased dramatically in the last 10 years and, according to recent reports, is continuing to rise. To the long-standing problem of salmonella has been added the new fear of listeria, a common enough bacteria the potential for harm of which has only recently been recognised as new methods have enhanced the risk of infection and the medics have recognised how serious the consequences can be.

Let us not forget how serious food poisoning can be. Gastrointestinal infection can be a major systemic illness, causing high fever, copious diarrhoea, vomiting and pain. Weight loss and dehydration are severe and death in elderly and infirm people is all too common.

Mr. Gill

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that another relevant statistic is that we have the second highest proportion of old people in our population in the world? It follows that that would not be the case if the food industries were providing a substandard product to those people, who are, in any event, the most vulnerable section of society.

Mr. Cook

That is an interesting line of argument. Perhaps they are better cared for than those in the same age group in Third world countries. I was referring not to statistics but to conditions that result from food poisoning, as the hon. Gentleman would have been aware had he been paying attention to what I was saying.

Listeria infection may cause abortion, with all the grief and anguish that such an unforeseen event can bring. When we fully recognise the damage that these conditions can cause, it is right for us to expect effective action to be taken. The problem which we are facing affects the whole food chain—production, distribution and preparation, either commercial or domestic. I agree that stringent control of practices in the home can reduce the chance of eating infected food, but that cannot be the whole answer, unless we adopt in the kitchen the same standards as in operating theatres to prevent cross-infection.

People have a right to expect their food to be clean and substantially free from powerful bacteria or additives before they purchase it. Government have an absolute duty to see that that is so. For Ministers to attempt to blame anyone but themselves for the problem is a gross dereliction of duty on their part.

The Secretary of State was a singularly inappropriate choice to speak first for the Government in this debate. He is not responsible for food production or distribution—the direct source of the problem—but is merely the gatekeeper trying to lock the door after the horse has bolted. Of far greater importance are the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, with total responsibility for food production and most distribution, and the Department of the Environment, which is responsible for the upkeep of local standards. The balance between those two areas is critical.

One can argue a reasonable case that food in Britain is over-intensively produced—for example, poultry and eggs, the factory farming of beef and pork and the attempt to extract extra milk from cows by using hormones—and that much of it is over-processed, over-dependent on additives and sold through far too few outlets. Many friends of mine who have lived in Europe testify to the latter, comparing the number of outlets for fresh food in Holland, Germany or Switzerland with the situation in this country. We have mistakenly concentrated on quantity and convenience rather than quality and choice, and we are paying the price for our folly.

Several actions must be taken now to restore public confidence and improve standards. I welcome unreservedly the proposal to ban unpasteurised milk in England and Wales, as is already the case in Switzerland. I am less certain of the need to use only pasteurised milk in cheese production; the number of producers is small enough for action to be taken to control the process and ensure that harmful contaminants are excluded.

We in Britain must shift the emphasis away from the producer-oriented Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to a new food standards agency which would make the well-being of the consumer its primary concern. It is no accident that such a plethora of information is coming from major producers and distributors of food. They know that they have been rumbled, that they have forfeited our trust and that they will have a hard job to regain it.

A food standards agency would concentrate on quality and have regard to the nutritional and health standards that the Government must set. It could build on much of the excellent work that has been carried out locally on food policy in areas such as Fife, London and elsewhere. The excellent work done by local authorities and health boards compares favourably with achievements in this sphere at central Government level. No wonder Ministers want such bodies to be abolished.

We must strengthen control over food distribution and sale. The whole cook-chill process must be investigated and revised, with more stringent control of temperature and sterility. If, hopefully, we reverse the over-centralisation of food production and the over-concentration on huge retail outlets, we shall have to accept an expansion of environmental health departments. Practices such as the improper display or handling of cooked or raw meats must be stamped out.

The Government must not go ahead with cuts proposed in research and development. It is high time that we took a serious look at the CAP and the appalling effects that has had on quality and the price of food in this country. The featherbedding of production at any cost must stop before farmers will concentrate on rearing high quality animals, cereals and vegetables which will command a decent price without the need for the processing tricks at which the manufacturers are so good. On all those aspects, the Government have woefully failed in their duty to the public.

I should hate people to have the wrong impression about the technique of the irradiation of food. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) is right to say that it kills bacteria. However, it fails to remove the toxins that are generated by the bacteria, so it can leave food looking decent and healthy but also retaining toxins which are dangerous. In no way will irradiation improve the standard of food or make it healthier to eat. It succeeds only in prolonging shelf life. It serves no purpose for the consumer, only for the retailer.

For all those reasons, and despite the protestations of the Secretary of State and the whingeing of Conservative Members, the Opposition have been right to choose this subject for today's debate. It highlights the confusion and contradiction that are still clearly evident on the Government Benches. That is why the Government stand condemned for their incompetence and folly and for mismanaging the whole affair.

6.39 pm
Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen)

In concentrating my remarks solely on food matters, I speak as a Member of the House and as a consumer; and let us not forget that every member of the public is a consumer and therefore has an important role to play. With that in mind, we must bring some realism and clear thinking into the issue of food safety.

Some issues are being taken out of context and exaggerated out of all proportion. We have one of the finest food industries in the world, with reputable farmers and manufacturers attempting to provide us with the best produce. Their record shows that, despite the present furore, they are succeeding. Britain has recently demonstrated that, together with Denmark, it has the highest quality milk in Europe; they are the first countries to achieve the EEC's new health and hygiene standards. Also, we have our milk delivered daily to our doorsteps, which many of us appreciate.

I challenge any right hon. or hon. Member to deny that we have some of the best-run and cleanest supermarkets in the world, offering the widest choice of foods, and meeting all tastes. Anyone who has shopped outside the United Kingdom will be aware of that. The situation has changed over the past 20 years. We are handling and purchasing food in better condition than ever before, and there is much greater choice. I am not saying there is no need for further change. There is always room for improvements, but they must be introduced in a logical, carefully thought out way, and not be panic measures. The Government must be receptive to changes and improvements, but I implore them not to be panicked into taking steps that are likely to damage the food industry, manufacturers, retailers, or consumers.

The question of salmonella in eggs and poultry and of listeria in other products must be addressed as a matter of priority and be resolved. However, we cannot tolerate allowing an eccentric professor at the university of Leeds, who has analysed a few eggs and a few cooked dishes, to draw conclusions that such foods are killing hundreds of people every year. It is not sensible to draw such a conclusion, and our deliberations must not be guided by such a pseudo-scientific approach.

I understand that listeria is a common bacterium that is to be found in soil and in vegetation, in the atmosphere, and in human bodies. It has been shown to be present in many of the raw foods we eat, such as vegetables and salads, yet we do not view those foods as posing a problem to our health. Nevertheless, Professor Lacey at Leeds has found listeria in cook-chill foods, causing total panic and misunderstanding among many consumers. My belief is that he does not know either the level of listeria that he has discovered or the level that is needed to make a person ill. However, he still concludes that many, many people have died from listeria. In my view, his views border on science fiction. I am not saying that nothing should be done, but we should be sensible and keep matters in perspective.

As to the quality of farm products, the Government must be given sufficient powers to improve and defend quality where necessary—even if that is to the detriment of producers on some occasions. The Government have long experience of eliminating tuberculosis and brucellosis in cows, and a similar campaign must be mounted to eradicate samonella from the country's poultry flocks, on a region-by-region basis.

The Government must also intensify their efforts to improve the quality of animal foodstuffs. We cannot allow the spread of salmonella through contaminated chicken feed, be it of British or imported origin. We must ban for ever the use of animal or chicken offal as an ingredient in animal foodstuffs. We must never again need to wonder whether the use of sheep offal has spread the widely recognised sheep disease, scrapie, to cows, which, as we have already heard, causes in them the unpronounceable disease known as BSE—sometimes called "mad cow disease"—which currently attacks our herds.

In the best-run factories, exhaustive steps are taken to ensure that all food manufacturing operations are conducted hygienically. There, processing procedures are designed to ensure—as they should be in the home—that unsafe, raw food never comes into direct contact with processed, finished products. That should be a basic rule in anyone's kitchen, and I defy any right hon. or hon. Member to state that it has not been followed by producers, as well as in many homes, for years.

Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

The hon. Lady made a number of sweeping assertions about Professor Lacey—calling him, for example, eccentric. Is she aware that he is professor of microbiology at Leeds university, and is also a consultant of microbiology to Leeds western health authority? Is she aware also that his work has conclusively proved a link between stillborn and premature births and listeriosis? Does the hon. Lady still adhere to her view that Professor Lacey is eccentric?

Mrs. Peacock

I knew of the information that the hon. Lady gives, but I reiterate my remark that Professor Lacey has caused confusion and concern among many consumers.

We must ensure that consumers follow strict codes of practice in preparing and cooking food. The critical process of heat treatment or cooking kills the offending bacteria, and many techniques, such as milk pasteurisation, guarantee that products are not released before they are properly heat treated. However, it is still possible for food to become contaminated during the final assembly and packaging operations, and perhaps those are areas in which the Government should lay down firm but sensible modern guidelines, covering factory standards in respect of buildings, cleaning and sanitation—where, if great care is not taken, problems can often arise.

Such guidelines could best be drawn up by specialists from the food industry sectors concerned, who have the relevant information, and who are already well versed in good practices. They could work closely with specialists from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and from the Department of Health. We do not need to introduce specific legislation for each type of operation, but food factory licensing, linked to adherence to specific industry operational guidelines—monitored by environmental health officers as part of their routine activities—is needed.

I suggest that a separate food regulatory body, as envisaged by some Opposition Members, is not required, because it would soon be at loggerheads with local government. It would lack the local knowledge and contacts necessary properly to perform its duties.

One of the most important points to emerge from this debate is that there must be better control over the temperature at which food is stored. Right hon. and hon. Members may be aware of the leaflets that one well-known store is offering to its customers, and 3½ million copies of which have been produced. It serves to remind the housewife how products that have been manufactured and packed under the strictest conditions of hygiene should be treated in the home. There is also a leaflet about the safety chain. Marks and Spencer says that the key elements it has found to have held good for the past 20 years are clean factories, safe cooking, good refrigeration, and short shelf life. With the help of the leaflet laying down guidelines for the housewife to follow, none of the scare stories that have been emerging should come true.

Much has been achieved in the area of better food temperature control by retailers such as Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury, Tesco and Asda, to ensure that companies supplying food to them do so at the right temperature. They recognise equally the importance of maintaining food at the correct temperature in their own display counters. However, experience shows that more must be done, and perhaps controlling legislation is needed. However, one must approach that task sensibly, with retailers working together with the Department of Health in devising guidelines not only for supermarkets but for the corner shop, which is an important form of food outlet in many areas, including my constituency of Batley and Spen.

We should also ask housewives to check their fridges. How often do we check that our fridges are not frosted up and are operating at the right temperature to ensure correct product storage? Fridge manufacturers should consider incorporating red warning lights in the event of a rise in temperature and we may need to store food at lower temperatures. However, the Government must not remove whole sectors of food from retail display, putting manufacturing jobs at risk and denying many consumers the choice of prepared dishes they have come to expect. I welcome the Government's announcement that they are to sponsor research into the operation and maintenance of domestic fridges. That will be helpful and it is long overdue.

We must not concentrate solely on the food manufacturing and retail sectors. We must look also at standards in catering. Many food poisoning outbreaks stem not from the home but from pubs, hotels, restaurants, residential premises and hospitals. They have a duty to ensure that the food that they are serving is of the highest possible standard, particularly in hospitals where people are extremely vulnerable and may be affected when others in the community are not.

If there are hygiene problems in some of the so-called best restaurants in London, what are the standards in some of our more humble establishments? Some guidelines may be helpful in that area. We may need a review of some of our manufacturing practices and better control of food storage at retail level. We also need a general food hygiene drive in all food outlets.

We must not forget the consumer. We can do much to promote food safety until the product reaches the consumer who can then undo everything at one stroke. Conditions in the home cannot be controlled. People set their own standards and conditions in the own kitchens. But we can improve knowledge and understanding of food safety matters and that is important. I look to the Government to mount a domestic food hygiene programme, not just through leaflets but by using television, which reaches many people, radio, particularly local radio, and perhaps an advertising campaign. In addition, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science should take steps to improve education in this area in our schools since many young people use microwaves for preparing their suppers.

The Government should review the food industry to dispel the uncertainty about food safety. It would be helpful if all food manufacturers and packing premises were licensed, perhaps by local authorities, to agreed standards of hygiene and construction. The safety and hygiene of all food manufacturing and packing processes should be capable of inspection by local authority environmental health officers. All premises selling or preparing food for human consumption, such as shops, supermarkets, cafes, restaurants and public houses, must be licensed by local authorities and minimum standards of construction and hygiene, particularly in their kitchens, must be clearly defined.

As a further safeguard, there should be written codes of practice, agreed by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Health, covering all sectors of cook-chill food manufacture and packing industries. The food distribution chain is an important link in food reaching the retail outlets, in retailing and in catering and institutional food preparation. Those guidelines should lay down methods of processing, product temperature control and hygiene. Agreed codes of practice are preferable to legislation and trade associations should be able to implement them with the minimum of delay. They should provide a framework for monitoring by environmental health officers.

We need a sensible, systematic approach to the problem. We must not be panicked into taking steps in the House which many of us, including consumers and housewives, would eventually regret.

6.54 pm
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me to speak. You may remember that on 24 January, when we had a similar debate, I was unsuccessful in catching your eye. As a result, I had to sit throughout the debate, which I enjoyed. However, I did not enjoy the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who, I am sorry to say, is not in his place. He made a complacent speech which suggested that we had the finest food in the world, that there was no problem about food quality and that it was the wicked Labour party, aided and abetted by irresponsible media, which had made up all the horror stories about food poisoning.

On 14 February, St.Valentine's day, the Prime Minister announced that not only was there a problem with food poisoning but that it was so great that it could not be left to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or the Secretary of State for Health, but she personally had to take charge. I cannot understand why she is not here to take charge today.

The Prime Minister took charge to save the nation. Where does that leave the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? It leaves him looking rather foolish, and rightly so. If ever there was a speech that did not stand examination in the cold light of day, it was that one. It oozed with complacency and was wrong in tone and content. Even when the hon. Gentleman introduced the great Cumbrian philosopher, Beatrix Potter, referring to the political essay, "The Tale of Peter Rabbit", he got it wrong.

Let me remind hon. Members about that story. Peter invaded the garden of a rather dim-witted, grim individual called Mr. McGregor, eating his vegetables and avoiding the ponderous Mr.McGregor on his way home. The point of the story is to be found on page 56, which says: I am sorry to say that Peter was not very well during the evening. His mother put him to bed and made some camomile tea and she gave a dose of it to Peter.

Hon. Members will be aware that camomile tea is a traditional cure for food poisoning. Peter Rabbit got food poisoning from eating something out of Mr. McGregor's garden.

That story was written at the turn of the century, but the serious point is that 80 years later people are still getting food poisoning from eating food from Mr. McGregor's garden. Since 1980, reported cases of food poisoning have increased from fewer than 10,000 to more than 30,000, according to official figures, and there is the possibility of under-reporting by a factor of 10 or even 100.

Conservative Members have not asked what happened under the previous Labour Government because their record was three times better than the present Government's. The situation in Britain today is so bad that it has reached "epidemic proportions". Those are not my words but the words of the chief medical officer of health to the Select Committee on Agriculture, of which I am a member.

The Government have presided over a massive reduction in local authority spending. They have reduced the number of environmental health officers in every district at the very time when they should have been increasing them. The Government have taken credit for the number of restaurants, cafes and take-aways that have opened and the new developments in cook-chill methods and microwaves, but at the very time when such developments demand more and more inspections the Government have reduced expenditure, laying the consumer open to more problems.

Worse still, standards have been reduced. In 1970 the medical profession recommended that any food handler who had salmonella poisoning or food poisoning of any kind should be excluded from work and not allowed to return until he or she had had three negative tests. In 1983 the Government changed those regulations. Now people who are still salmonella positive are going back to work in our food factories, shops and restaurants. Only yesterday I was talking to some environmental health officers—I will not name the constituency—and they told me about a woman who worked in a butcher's shop, serving meat, and was salmonella positive but, because of this Government's regulations, could not be stopped from going back to work. She is back at work serving over the counter. That is a disaster waiting to happen, and it is the same all over the country. If the Minister wishes to investigate, he will find that I am telling the truth. The reason for this is that when people are laid off public money has to be spent on keeping them at home.

The Government have reduced the standards under which we produce food in our factories to those of a Third world country. The standards of a factory which is fulfilling export orders, whether the goods are for export to the United States, Germany, Nigeria or El Salvador, have to be much higher than the standards demanded by the Government here. There are higher standards of packaging and labelling and the buyers insist upon knowing exactly what is in the product, which is not the situation in this country. There are higher standards with regard to food additives. Many of the additives which the Government allow to be put into food are banned abroad. There is a lower bacterial count, and there are more bacterial counts than we demand in this country. Goods for export have a shorter shelf life.

I do not want to give the wrong impression. We have some very good food-producing companies in this country. I worked for 20 years for a company with a very good reputation for quality. The United Biscuits factory also has a very high standard, and there is one company, the largest employer in my constituency, Cavaghan and Greys, which has the highest standard in Europe, if not the world. However, this has nothing to do with Government regulations; it is in spite of Government regulations. It is all to do with the fact that it manufactures for Marks and Spencer. Firms such as Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury demand very high standards—or so they seem, but they are only high standards in comparison with those the Government lay down.

Those firms want to make maximum profits, but they lay down standards that will safeguard the health of their customers. I suggest that it would be better if Marks and Spencer, instead of making thousands of pounds available every year to the Conservative party, gave its members a copy of the food hygiene regulations. We should be aiming for the manufacturing standards that Marks and Spencer insists upon.

Mrs. Peacock

The hon. Gentleman, in the early part of his speech, made a scurrilous attack on many of the companies in this country producing food for many stores. He then redeemed it a little by saying that there were companies that supplied Marks and Spencer whose standards were very high, but they were high only because—and so on. Will he admit that there are many food-producing companies in this country that have the highest standards, not because they are exporting but because that is what the consumer and the housewife demand and are willing to pay for?

Mr. Martlew

The hon. Lady misunderstood me. I was not attacking the companies. I was making a vicious attack on the standards laid down by the Government. I will give the hon. Lady an example.

In 1986, after the Chernobyl incident, the milk in this country was contaminated by radiation to varying degrees. Milk was transported from one part of the country to another. It was taken out of factories that were making milk products for export because it would not meet their standards and sent to another part of the country to be put into bottles or made into cheese or butter. That is how high the "marvellous" standards in this country are and that is what I am complaining about—not the standards of the food companies but the standards of the Government.

I will give two more examples of the Government having let us down. I refer again to the Chernobyl incident, and the question of irradiated lamb. The Government failed to safeguard the health of the people. Lamb went into the food chain in this country that had a degree of radiation above the safety level. The Select Committee said that.

Green top milk is another example. I have heard one or two hon. Members try to defend it. We know that since 1983, when the Government refused to ban it in England and Wales, there have been 1,700 recorded cases of food poisoning caused by green top milk. That means that 2 per cent. of the milk on the market has been responsible for .50 per cent. of food poisoning caused by milk. In the Calder Valley, in Yorkshire, in 1984, eight people died through drinking untreated milk. The Government have refused to do anything about it.

I asked the Minister on 19 January whether there were any plans to ban green top milk. The answer was no. The hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) asked the Minister on 3 February the same question and the answer was that the Government were entering into immediate consultations on banning it. That shows not only the incompetence but the confusion of the Government.

Those are all examples of the Government failing to protect the consumer.

I do not understand why the Prime Minister is not here today, but I have grave doubts whether any plan put forward to safeguard food in this country will safeguard the consumer. Let me revert to the incident before Christmas when the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) made her famous statement. A Minister who was, I believe, very frustrated made a statement that was exaggerated. There was a great clamour from the farming lobby, the food-producing lobby, the egg producers and the Retail Consortium for the hon. Lady to be sacked.

There was also a clamour from the Labour party but the right hon. Lady never takes any notice of members of the Labour party so I will not include them.

Did the Prime Minister defend that Minister and refuse to ask for her resignation? No, she did not. Within 11 days she was asking for the hon. Lady's resignation. The right hon. Lady is putty in the hands of those powerful lobbyists, and I do not trust her with the food health of the country.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

I remind the House that the 10-minute limit on speeches is now in operation.

7.9 pm

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

As in previous debates on the subject, I declare an interest. I worked in the food industry for about 20 years and I am an adviser to a section of the food industry today.

I have listened to the debate with great care. In some ways, I am rather sad because it seemed that it was being used as yet another opportunity for the Opposition to make political mileage out of a situation that is worrying many consumers. I intervened during the speech by the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) and made the point sincerely to him that, without wishing to pull his leg, it was the first time in my 16 years in the House that I had heard the Labour party use an Opposition Supply day for a debate on food, except for the debate in January, to which the Opposition drew attention. That is a long time.

I am glad that the Opposition have instigated the debate today because, unlike the Labour party, my party—I hope that the Leader of the Opposition will be kind enough to listen—has a special committee dealing with food and drink industry matters. I know that the Labour party had a food and agriculture committee and when Tom Torney was a Member of Parliament, he was a regular spokesman on those matters and took a great interest. I should like to see the Labour party take more interest in the food and drink industry than it has. I make that suggestion constructively and not in criticism of the way in which the Labour party organises its committees.

Despite the problems to which the Leader of the Opposition referred, we in Britain have a wide choice of healthy food. Our food is among the safest and best in the world. Let us be very careful before we allow criticism of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, of farmers, of the food industry and of our retailers to reach such a level that it suggests that there is a widespread or large-scale risk to human health in Britain today. That is not so. There are some problems, and some are serious, but they must be put in perspective and discussed in a well-informed and moderate manner if we are to deal with them properly. I say to hon. Members, including the Leader of the Opposition, that they should remember that ill-informed criticism of our food could affect our food exports. They were worth £5,575 million to Britain in 1987 and the main markets for them were western Europe, north America and the middle east. Many people in those areas will read what hon. Members have said today.

Today, there is a more varied supply of food than ever before in the history of this country. Consumers must not be misled into believing that there is a major threat to their health or that of their children as a result of what the Opposition said or of the media coverage of the problems of salmonella and listeria, serious though they are. Both of them have been known by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and the Department of Health for some considerable time and timely action has been taken. Where further action is appropriate, it has been taken quickly.

Let us first consider the question of salmonella enteritidis. It has been a problem in chickens, as has been widely recognised by the British Poultry Federation and by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The phage 4 type is a new and growing problem here and in many other countries. It has not become a problem as a result of inactivity by MAFF or the Department of Health and it has been tackled with vigour at each point along the egg production chain. Some time ago, the British Poultry Federation told me and my fellow members of the food and drink industry committee that it had taken steps to isolate chicken flocks where outbreaks had been detected, and that was well before the comments on salmonella made by my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie). It moved quickly to ensure that poultry feed that might be contaminated was excluded from feed for chicken flocks.

MAFF has now complemented the timely self-policing action by the respected and responsible poultry industry by bringing forward new regulations to avoid contaminated food entering the chain. We have new codes of practice to minimise the risk of infection. A new code has been introduced to require bacteriological monitoring, rodent control, the cleaning of poultry houses and the hygienic handling of eggs. But salmonella enteritidis will not be eliminated by MAFF, by the Department of Health or by the Leader of the Opposition. It is in the environment, but with 17 measures to deal with the problem our approach is among the most comprehensive in the world.

I ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food when he replies, to deal with the interesting point raised by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes) about irradiation. Many hon. Members would like to know what Government policy towards that is likely to be. It is an interesting and important matter on which I hope the Government will make a statement.

Mr. Frank Cook

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Shersby

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, but I shall not because I have only 10 minutes and Mr. Deputy Speaker has asked us to be brief.

Mr. Cook

I took only nine minutes.

Mr. Shersby

I would like, in the short time available—

Mr. Cook

This is an important point.

Mr. Shersby

I remind the House that the food and manufacturing industry in this country has been well ahead of the Government in taking action to inform the consumer about the importance of food hygiene in the kitchen. I have here a publication entitled "Common Sense about Food Care in the Kitchen", which was published in July 1988. It starts by warning the consumer about food poisoning and its causes and it advises consumers how food poisoning can be avoided by common-sense measures in the kitchen. It was preceded in September 1986 by another publication called "Common Sense about Food". Those publications have been complemented by a widespread campaign addressed to schools called Foodline, which started in December 1988. It deals with food care and hygiene in the home. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be able to launch a campaign from his own Ministry which will be as good and comprehensive as the one that has been run by our own food manufacturing industry and which has been in place for some time. In the nature of things, the amount that the food industry can do is limited. The Government have greater resources at their disposal. I hope that they use them wisely to complement what I regard as an excellent initiative.

We have heard much about listeria in this debate. Listeria was first identified in humans in 1928 and it has been widely distributed in the environment for a long time. For the average healthy person, the risk of becoming ill with listeriosis from eating food is very small. We have been told of the risk with certain soft cheeses, especially for pregnant women, and that has been a matter on which my right hon. Friend has rightly been quick to advise those at risk.

One would think that cook-chill food was only invented yesterday from the amount of interest shown and by the number of hon. Members who see it as a major source of listeria. We know that cook-chill foods are safe, convenient and of high quality if they are manufactured, stored and reheated properly. I am glad that MAFF is to introduce new regulations covering the manufacture, storage and reheating of such foods. I have urged my right hon. Friend to do that for some weeks in a series of parliamentary questions and I am glad that he has taken good advice from his expert advisory committees and has not been stampeded into premature action. I look forward to the regulations being approved soon by the House. I hope that my right hon. Friend will give some idea of when the regulations will be published because I am sure that the House is anxious to pass them into law.

There is an urgent need for the consumer to be aware of the need to store cook-chill food properly immediately following purchase. It seems that some consumers buy cook-chill food at lunchtime and keep it in the office for four, five or six hours at room temperature before taking it home and putting it in a domestic refrigerator. Perhaps some consumers do not realise the difficulty that that can cause, or the problems that may arise from leaving cook-chill food in the car on a hot, sunny day. For absolute safety, cook-chill food needs to be stored at— 5 deg Centigrade. It may cost a little more to run a refrigerator at that temperature, but at least one has a guarantee that the food is safely stored. I understand that MAFF will run a campaign about food hygiene and food storage and I hope that it will deal with that aspect. I wonder whether my right hon. Friend will talk to his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and suggest that the manufacturers of domestic refrigerators fit a temperature gauge to their equipment as standard practice. Surely that is not too much to ask and it would aid many people to know that their food was stored at the right temperature.

The Government are taking timely action to deal with the problems that we have been debating today. I am glad that we have had another debate on this topic, I hope that the Labour party will keep up its interest in food matters and that we shall have the pleasure of hearing its views on other occasions.

I am grateful, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this debate. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Health on his speech. I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will complement it when he replies.

7.19 pm
Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

Modern food production methods could lead to plentiful cheap food and a higher standard of living if they were properly regulated and controlled. However, with this Government's philosophy, which puts profits before public health, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is inevitably forced into acting first and foremost in the interests of the farmers' lobby.

Even this Government can no longer keep the lid on the fact that things are going dangerously wrong. It is true that in the past most people closed their minds to the hideous concentration camps for animals that modern farms have become, but most people had no idea that chickens were being cannibalised and that a great deal of animal feed was made up of excrement. For many years, while feeling somewhat uneasy about what was happening, most people kept silent because they felt that there was no halting the changes that were being made in the name of progress.

However, the press has now opened up the matter. Indeed, the Government could hardly keep the problem of the increasing incidence of food poisoning out of the papers after the outbreak of food poisoning in this building. People are beginning to realise the dangers to themselves and their families. People who have been campaigning for years in favour of healthy food and who were looked upon as cranks now begin to assume the role of prophets.

Most of the purchasing and preparation of food in this country—as in every other country—is done by women. The work of women who have to manage on a limited budget is made much harder because of the lack of information, conflicting information, and the insufficient details on labels. The Government are allowing information about manufactured food ingredients to be kept a trade secret when it should be available to housewives. That is shocking and must be stopped.

As has been said by hon. Members of all parties, women need more information about frozen food. One of my worries is that owners of corner shops, operating on tiny margins, with high rents to pay and who work all hours in the struggle to compete, may be tempted to lower the temperatures in frozen food lockers when they are hit by the coming huge increases in the cost of electricity.

It is the most vulnerable groups in society that are forced to shop at corner shops, such as those who have no transport, or who find it difficult to get about. These vulnerable groups have already been mentioned and include old people, mothers with babies and disabled people. We need an army of inspectors to check frozen food lockers in shops and supermarkets. We need guidelines on temperatures and on the lengths of time for storing frozen products.

The same vulnerable groups are now being forced to eat cook-chill meals in hospitals, day centres for the elderly and disabled and, increasingly, in schools. That dangerous trend is definitely the result of the Government's policy of cuts and enforced privatisation within local authorities. It is equally disgraceful that baby food containing aluminium has still not been banned by the Government, in spite of the call by doctors and scientists that it should be banned.

The result of the Government's policies, which put the interests of powerful profit-making lobbies before the interests of the community, is always more work for women. Cases of salmonella and other types of food poisoning have increased enormously since 1986 and the work of looking after the sick members of their families and managing on less money if the wage earner is ill all falls on women's shoulders. They bear the brunt of the policies of this uncaring Government.

Intolerable problems are created when older people succumb to senile dementia brought on by aluminium in the water supply. Some chemicals that are suspected of causing cancer are being used by farmers and residues meant for plants above the surface are seeping down and ending up in drains and watercourses. About 4 million Britons drink water that breaches EEC nitrate levels. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is not invoking the powers that it was granted under the Control of Pollution Act 1974. We in this country can no longer boast about having safe water. People are deeply worried about the future standard and cost of water when the industry is privatised.

A further cause of concern, which has already been mentioned, is the future maintenance of sewers and the increasing problems of rodents, which pose a further health hazard. I have raised that subject many times since becoming a Member of the House.

Chemicals and pesticides used by farmers are now said to penetrate the skins of apples and potatoes, so the earlier recommendation to wash all fruit before eating it will not help. The increasing numbers of allergy eczema cases probably stem from the increased use of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides.

Air and ground pollution from nuclear power is also a problem. The books have not been closed on the effects of Chernobyl, but the Government are proposing to build yet more nuclear power stations, although they do not yet know how to dismantle the ones that were built 30 years ago.

There is a marked class gradient affecting one's chances of survival and remaining healthy in old age. The ability to buy good food is a major factor. Several reports have shown that working-class people and the poorer ethnic minority groups have the poorest health. That point is especially relevant to my constituency. In the case of ethnic minority groups, poorer health does not stem from their type of diet, which is often healthier than the usual diet in the West, but is directly related to poverty.

We need cheap food, but we also need good food. We need a Government policy that considers the interests of the consumers and makes them paramount. We need a Government who are not the puppets of vested interests. We need a new Consumer Protection Act, which not only requires companies to trade safely, as the Consumer Protection Act 1987 requires them to do, but one that is extended to include agricultural produce. We need a Government policy that is less concerned with cover-ups and allaying public fears, and more concerned with cleaning up the increasingly dangerous mess into which we are drifting.

The public do not want to be assured that healthy people can take a fair gamble in eating food that is infected with listeria and salmonella. The public want proper control to make food safe for everyone.

7.27 pm
Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight)

It is a remarkable fact that, in a debate that has been well trailed and given much publicity, there are precisely nine hon. Members on the Opposition Benches and 12 on the Government Benches. There could not be a better demonstration of how much the Opposition parties truly care about the health of the nation in relation to food.

Mr. Frank Cook


Mr. Field

Before the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) intervenes in my ten minutes because he wants to mention my earlier intervention about eggs—

Mr. Cook


Mr. Field

If the hon. Gentleman insists I shall, of course, give way to him.

Mr. Cook

The hon. Gentleman is as accurate in his counting of eggs as he is in his counting of hon. Members in the Chamber. He cannot fail to get things wrong this evening. I sympathise with you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in having to deal with him.

Mr. Field

That was probably the least worthwhile intervention that we shall hear this evening. However, it confirms the accuracy of the statement that I made to the Leader of the Opposition when I pointed out that his hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North regularly takes an egg in the Members' Tea Room in the morning—[Interruption.] Well, I have seen him order as many as five, but that was probably when he was taking them up to those of his hon. Friends queuing to introduce ten-minute Bills. Nevertheless, that confirms that the hon. Gentleman consumes eggs so, although the Leader of the Opposition was endeavouring to tell us how dangerous those nourishing little things are, it is clear that members of his team are continuing to consume them.

I thought that the first rule of politicians was that there were no votes in sewerage. Obviously, part of the new Labour party review is that there are votes in Montezuma's revenge. The Opposition's contribution to this evening's debate on the motion standing in the name of the Leader of the Opposition should be completely refuted. For me, the only effect of the whole debate has been that I have eaten more eggs—boiled, scrambled and fried—in public in the last few months than ever before.

It is hypocritical of Opposition Members, with their mouths full, to criticise farmers, particularly during food and farming year. My right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) made a good point about the agricultural contribution to the balance of payments. It is hypocritical to criticise farmers when the demand from housewives is for cheap, good-value food.

A retired medical officer of health told me that he hated a warm Christmas because the turkeys hung around in the butchers and salmonella bred inside them. He guaranteed that after a warm Christmas there would be an increase in tummy upsets. However, I shall not dwell on that.

In his speech in Southampton this week, the Leader of the Opposition spoke of care of the environment. I should like to speak about pollution, particularly on our beaches. I noted that the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) used the usual Social and Liberal Democrat trick of donning the mantle of protecting the environment.

We have heard so much recently about the water industry that I felt that in a debate on food and water I should draw the attention of the House to the remarkable progress that has been made in my constituency in the disposal of sewage and the cleaning up of the environment.

In 1984, a triple ditch oxidation plant costing £2 million was installed at the Fairlee sewerage works on the Medina river. There is one similar installation in Kent and another in Denmark. In recent memory, before the plant's installation, the river Medina was so polluted—I believe, though I have not been able to check, that this was under a Labour Government—that the medical officer of health banned the consumption of mussels taken from the river because of the number of bacteria they contained due to the raw sewage in it. As a result of the installation of that plant there has been a remarkable improvement in the quality of the river water.

In Cowes, an outfall system costing—8 million was installed which used, for the first time in the United Kingdom, the horizontal direction-drilling technique for the cross-Medina river and seaward outfall. At Sandown, the clariflow system was pioneered by Blue Circle Industries and Portsmouth polytechnic. It was installed in 1985, at a cost of £1.5 million, and under a Conservative Government, long before the hype about the care of the environment and the nation's health. It is so revolutionary that it is the only sewerage treatment plant of its type in the world. It relies on the injection of clariflow—a chemical that reduces the bacteria to make the water ideal as an EEC standard bathing beach. In the past two years, a new sewer outfall costing £8 million has been installed at Ryde.

This debate is about not simply the safe disposal of sewerage, but the quality of drinking water. At Sandown water works, Southern Water has installed a new Neptune Nichols system and at the Knighton water works the iron removal plant has just been completed, and the island's entire water supply is now up to EEC standard. In the past two years, the expenditure per head of population has been more than £80. When that is set against the average water bill of £120 per head for the Isle of Wight, even Opposition Members will begin to realise that this country's water industry is investing in the nation's future and environment.

For far too long water authorities have been the judge and jury on pollution, but water privatisation will bring an end to that remarkable situation. Under the new Bill, for the first time the criminal law will apply to pollution and the standard of the drinking water supply.

Frankly, Opposition Members' contributions to this health debate amount to chicken feed.

7.37 pm
Mr. Calum Macdonald (Western Isles)

I am grateful for being called and I shall try to keep my remarks within the recommended time limit, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The hon. Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Field) began his speech by suggesting that the absence of Opposition Members showed their lack of interest in the nation's health and food. The most conspicuous absentee from today's debate has been the Prime Minister, and I suggest that he addresses his remarks to her.

I shall try to relate my brief remarks to a comment made by the Secretary of State for Health at the beginning of the debate in response to a question put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), who asked why it had taken the Secretary of Stale two months to answer a question that he had tabled. The Secretary of State replied that he was sorry but that the question had probably remained in some official's bottom drawer for those two months.

That answer sums up the Government's attitude to this problem. First, the Government have given low priority to food and health. The Secretary of State falsely accused the Opposition of not addressing those issues. As has been pointed out by several Opposition Members, we have raised the dangers caused to health and the environment by the Government's successive cuts in research. The number of environmental health officers has been cut as a consequence of their policy.

The Government have also wholly failed adequately to regulate private businesses because they prefer profits to people. The Opposition are right to say that the Government have accorded the problem a low priority.

The other notable aspect of the Secretary of State's remarks was his reference to an official. Passing the buck has been another characteristic of the Government's handling of this issue. The prime victim of that trait was the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), to whom the Secretary of State passed the buck towards the end of last year.

To return to the question or low priority, the Secretary of State's comments and the Government's attitude make it clear that not just written answers, but consumers have been left in the bottom drawer over the past several months. Meanwhile, the producers have been in the Secretary of State's top drawer. That is exemplified by the now notorious defensive briefing that was conducted by Government officials and representatives of the egg industry as early as last June, with the Government feeling it should be their duty to get into huddles with egg producers to produce defensive briefings rather than telling the public at that stage what they knew about the problem. That says a lot about the Government's attitude.

When the Government did move, it was to alert officials of the National Health Service. They gave the excuse that they did that because people might be at risk in hospitals, ignoring the fact that most sick people would not be in hospital but would be at home being looked after by relatives and would be equally at risk. It is fair to say that the Government have consistently afforded low priority to the issue and put it in the bottom drawer.

What I really wish to deal wall is the trait of passing the buck as exemplified by the Secretary of State's response to my right hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley (Mr. Foulkes).

The right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) spoke about the confusion over the issue. The responsibility must lie with the Government. The right hon. Gentleman also spoke of irresponsible scaremongering. The right hon. Gentleman was asked whether he would associate the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South with that irresponsible scaremongering, and he coyly declined to answer the question directly. But it must have been clearly in his mind. I would have said to him—unfortunately he is not in the House at the moment—that if there was scaremongering and confusion, the responsibility lay not with the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South alone but, in the last analysis, with the Government and especially with the Secretary of State for whom the hon. Lady was working at that time.

In response to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, the Secretary of State repeated the astonishing admission, which he also made to the Select Committee on Agriculture when he came before us, that he had advised the hon. Lady to keep quiet following her controversial statement on 3 December about most egg production in this country being affected by salmonella. When the Secretary of State came before the Select Committee he said that his advice to her to keep quiet had been given because he felt that Sir Donald Acheson was the most appropriate person to go about the country and to clarify the question of salmonella infection. Again, I suggest that he was passing the buck to an official rather than taking responsibility upon himself.

The solution offered to the problem of the controversy generated by the remarks of the former junior Health Minister was wholly inadequate and stretches credulity.

Mr. Kenneth Clarke

The hon. Gentleman totally ignores the fact that I spent the afternoon answering questions on the subject in the House of Commons on the Monday in question. I received enormous coverage of my remarks because of the interest in the subject. Similarly, the chief medical officer is the best placed person inside Government circles to give medical advice to the public. I simply do not understand what the hon. Gentleman is saying today, which was the gist of his questioning in the Select Committee—that because we gave advice in that way for 24 hours, we somehow failed to correct the impression created the day before. People like the hon. Gentleman, and some of his hon. and right hon. Friends on the day, were more intent on pursuing the personality issues that they thought were raised by the position of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South. That would have got in the way of information getting to the public, if they had been allowed their day out on the Monday trying to pursue my hon. Friend.

Mr. Macdonald

It is astonishing for the Secretary of State to say that the junior health Minister would have got in the way of providing correct information to the public, and it shows a grave lack of confidence in the abilities of his former junior Minister.

Mr. Clarke

I did not say that she would have got in the way, but that the hon. Gentleman and people like him who saw the whole thing in terms of the personality of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South would have got in the way of information being given to the public.

Mr. Macdonald

The Secretary of State is simply missing the bald and obvious fact that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South, who was then a Minister, was conspicuous to the whole nation by her silence. The very fact that she remained silent attracted the attention that the Secretary of State now complains of.

If I could use a literary reference, I shall repeat a story about Sherlock Holmes and the dog that did not bark in the night. Holmes was investigating a crime and referred Dr. Watson to the curious incident of the dog in the night. Watson said that the dog did nothing in the night and Holmes replied that that was the curious incident. That is what people are saying about the former junior Minister. It is even more curious because, on this occasion, the dog did bark in the night but then was put quietly to sleep.

The Secretary of State came up with a new excuse in response to an intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley, which relates to his previous feeble excuse, namely, that if he had asked the hon. Lady to clarify and expand on and qualify her statement, she would have been subjected to the unfriendly questioning of the media and from the Opposition. It is astonishing for the Secretary of State to suggest that the hon. Lady needed the Secretary of State's protection from Opposition Members.

The central mystery remains unsolved. If the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South said nothing wrong in her remarks on 3 December, why did she have to resign? If, on the other hand, she said something wrong, why was she gagged and advised not to clarify or to expand upon her statement? If what she said was neither right nor wrong but simply ambiguous, which is the Secretary of State's interpretation, the same question must be addressed to the Secretary of State. Why was she advised to keep silent and advised not to expand her remarks?

I remind the Secretary of State that he can pass the buck only so far. Those who pass the buck to ensure their own survival will eventually die by having the buck passed to them. The Prime Minister has today sent in the two Ministers—

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd)

Order. Mr. Jacques Arnold.

7.47 pm
Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

I wish to speak about the listeria hysteria. I must admit that in the course of the debate I felt somewhat sick; not sick to the stomach, because I had cheese for lunch and I thrived on it, but sick at heart at what we are seeing in the House of Commons and generally in the grand commotion to put fear into the British people about the food they eat. There can be nothing more base than taking that approach. I am also made sick at heart to see Opposition Members leaping on the bandwagon in the hope of demolishing a few Conservative Members, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie).

The worst possible example of this hysteria during the afternoon was the shroud-waving of the tragic case of the death of a baby, which was far too reminiscent of the way in which the great debate over the NHS was conducted. That shroud-waving was to the shame of the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock).

Mr. Marland

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way. Does he agree with me that we should have a little more background information as to what actually infected the mother who was carrying that child, because I have much sympathy with my hon. Friend's remarks?

Mr. Arnold

Indeed, I thoroughly agree with my hon. Friend. So frequently, in the health debates in this Chamber, and now in this debate, have family tragedies been bandied about without the facts upon which hon. Members could come to a view being substantiated.

I am angry at the current situation because there is in my constituency a modern cheese packer. H. T. Webb and Company. That firm was set up three years ago in the Springhead enterprise zone, and today it gives work to 300 of my Northfleet constituents. Thanks to the hysteria in which Opposition Members indulge, there has been a drop in sales, and 200 of those workers, in the packing and production part of the plant, are now on short time, with the fear of redundancy.

Let us look at the facts of the matter. Last year there were only 287 notified cases of listeria. It is not known how many of those were caused by eating contaminated food. Clearly, the right hon. Member for Islwyn knows even less about listeria, as he demonstrated today when he strayed from his carefully prepared text to try to answer a question from my hon. Friend the Member for Bolton, North-East (Mr. Thurnham), which he seemed incapable of doing. Listeria is nothing new; it has been present on the farms of this country for generations, particularly in silage and in cows and grazing sheep. But it is containable if sensible hygiene is practised. The success over the years can be seen in the survival of our farming community. Listeria has had no significant impact on the health or mortality rate of farmers.

It is cheese packers and producers and their workers who are being affected by the current hysteria. How has my local firm reacted to the very real problems? When the problem of listeria in cheese raised its head in early 1987 the firm took acton. The problem, it may be recalled, raised its head in a serious manner in the Swiss canton of Vaud, where the local cheese, Vacherin Mont D'Or, was found to he infected. The firm in my constituency required all suppliers to certify their cheese to be listeria-free, and it did this by insisting on certification by laboratories in the country of origin—usually in the universities—and in all cases authorised by the respective countries' Governments. It then carried out continuous testing in its own laboratories. Hon. Members may care to know how much listeria it has found. The answer is none. The tests for dangerous listeria have always proved to be negative.

One thing that I would, however, ask of my right hon. and learned Friend is that the advice given to the public be more clear. The public have been advised to avoid some cheese. What they should have been told is that only ripened soft cheese, such as Brie or Camembert, is liable to listeria, and 90 per cent. of that is made from pasteurised cream and milk. Tests have been carried out regularly, both here and abroad. We might care to reflect, when we consider both Brie and Camembert and their propensity to dangerous listeria, that generations of Frenchmen have eaten these cheeses, yet the population of France has not been decimated.

Other fresh soft cheeses, all of which have acidity below 4.8 pH cannot, technically, carry listeria. We are safe in buying cheese such as roulé, Philadelphia or potted cheeses and yoghurts with foil tops that are available in supermarkets.

The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke), who, no doubt, is also at dinner, reported to this House the loss of over 200 jobs in his constituency owing to the collapse of an egg producer. He was told that less than an hour after his leader had made great play on public fears. The producer no doubt thought his cause, in restoring public confidence, was lost, and threw in the towel and, with it, those jobs.

My right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State was right: the Opposition are concerned with woolly hats and Edwina-baiting and with scoring party political points. What is at stake is thousands of jobs in the food industry and the restoration of faith in public advice on food safety. To my mind, the Secretary of State's long speech earlier today clarified that advice. I hope that it will be reported clearly to the public and that it will be heeded.

7.56 pm
Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South)

The House will, I hope, forgive me for confessing that I have no financial or constituency interest in the food industry. I make no plea on behalf of the agricultural business or the procesing business or the storage and distribution arms of the industry. For me, and for many hon. Members, the interests of the public are paramount.

I fundamentally reject any suggestion from Conservative Members that legitimate concerns voiced by Labour Members about the standards that prevail in the food business are harmful to the interests of this country. Unlike advisers to the Government, I do not believe that the concept of consumer protection … has to be balanced against business considerations. In truth, it is the failure of this Government to impose standards that has had the effect of undermining both export potential and the domestic purchasing of products. I am very concerned that hon. Members on the Government side seem wedded to the concept of voluntary regulation when, so obviously, voluntary regulation has brought us to our current sorry state.

I wish to draw the attention of the House to the threat posed to research on listeria being carried out in my constituency. Staff at the Moredun research institute have been studying the effects of listeria on sheep, and their studies may well have beneficial implications for humans. The research being carried out by Dr. William Donnaghie has benefited from a grant of £10,000 a year from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for Scotland. But the Barnes review has cast doubt on the future funding of this project beyond 1991. This Government review is recommending that listeria research must be funded by industry instead of by the Government, but all the attempts by the Moredun research institute to secure funds from industry have failed. Industry does not appear to be interested in funding such work, I am told; there is simply no profit in it.

Yet earlier this month the Department of Agriculture warned, in a press statement, about the dangers to pregnant women of contact with sheep or lambs. The infection which causes enzootic abortion in sheep can also affect humans. Unfortunately, the Department is not so willing to make long-term financial commitment to research and development in this area. In the White Paper on the Government's expenditure plans to 1992, which was debated in this House on 9 February, the Government make their commitment clear. Chapter 4 shows that the expenditure on agriculture, fisheries and food research and development is falling. My hon. Friend the Member for the Western Isles (Mr. Macdonald) was perfectly correct when he lamented the cuts in food research. Table 4.24, on page 18 of the Government's expenditure plans, sets out the cut at £20 million in real terms by 1991–92. The cut in MAFF expenditure on agricultural and food research and development has occurred in each year from 1984 to 1988 and will have fallen from £125.1 million in 1984 to £88.8 million in 1992.

It is hardly surprising that the Government seek to cover their tracks by looking for scapegoats. Earlier Professor Lacey, who has an interest in the food industry, was called a crank. The Government have been accused in responsible newspapers such as The Independent of covering up. There has been the headline: Secret document charts spread of salmonella". Other newspapers have pointed to the cover-up in the baby milk scandal involving aluminium. The headline in The Observer was: Danger baby milks kept secret. These newspapers are not the rags that have been condemned on both sides of the House; they are not given to hyperbole and their sales are not dependent on sensationalism and exaggeration. I have quoted from The Observer and The Independent, respected papers for which the Minister, the Secretary of State and their colleagues write.

The Government's search for scapegoats has to end. Their attacks on the press have to stop. Their attacks on the public and their pious view that the public should take almost full responsibility for any food poisoning must also end. The Government have to face up to their responsibility. The problem emanates from their cuts in research and development and from their championing of the interests of business rather than the consumer and of profit against the public good.

8.1 pm

Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

I declare an interest as an adviser to a trade body and to a company in the food industry. If the charge of the Opposition is to stand, they have to prove that the Government, by their actions, have ignored the problems in the food chain. The Labour party itself has consistently challenged the Government with alternative policies which it believes would solve the problems.

The key determinant of whether food poisoning is being controlled and analysed properly lies with the public health laboratory at Colindale. I hope that hon. Members who take an interest in the subject have visited Colindale. I took the opportunity last year to spend a morning there. I do not think that anyone who has visited that establishment can be in the least worried that the medical side is being ignored. That extensive laboratory, which is well staffed and equipped, is doing an enormous amount of analytical work on salmonella and on other problems in the food chain.

For anyone to suggest that the range of work is superficial or inadequate shows a complete misunderstanding of the work of the laboratory. The work is being done competently and with great thoroughness. The nation should recognise that. It is to the work of the laboratory that Ministers in the Department of Health and in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food react. At the time that I visited the laboratory—I have had no reason to believe anything to the contrary since—the right warnings were given at the right time.

If that is so, one asks why there has been an increase in problems, particularly when the standard of living is rising noticeably. The problems in the poultry industry have not arisen in the last 12 months. There has been salmonella in chickens probably for 10 years or more. The Secretary of State for Health correctly pointed out that the most recent strain is difficult and that the evidence is that it was introduced through infected feed material.

The underlying problem has been there for quite a long time. Whereas in the 1950s and 1960s the House, Members of Parliament, the press and the public accepted what scientists put forward as a result of their analyses of food and nutritional values, that is no longer so. Every time scientists present reports, they are challenged by the media or by what I call the greater green movement. There is a great distrust of what scientists say. That is a worrying dimension. A small group of activitists challenge everything that scientists, particularly food scientists, put forward.

I understand that E numbers are supposed to be a safeguard. No doubt other hon. Members share my experience of people saying in surgery, "Does it mean that we should worry if a product has an E number on it?" So E numbers have had the reverse effect. Through the media the public are calling for the removal of preservatives and additives, and for restrictions on herbicides and pesticides. There is a flotilla of claims that these are all harmful in food manufacture and production. We have even reached the extraordinary stage that because a tiny percentage of hyperactive children react to a particular additive, some people demand its removal from food products. I think that a distrust of scientists is causing some of the problems today.

On my way to the House at lunch time I listened to the "World at One". It was announced on the programme that six supermarket chains had set up a hotline called "Foodline" as a food safety advisory service. What a good thing they have done. By taking the initiative, the food chains have shown a proper regard for a difficult situation. What was the comment by the BBC reporter? He asked, "Can we trust what is being put out by these interested parties who are food retailers?" He also asked, "Can we trust Government statistics?" When people in an industry which is fundamental to the economy take action to help, it seems extraordinary that commentators should immediately debunk it and assume that the whole thing is being done in self-interest.

A key determinant has to be what the Labour party offer as an alternative. Opposition Members will remember several documents produced by their party. One was called Food Policy—a Priority for Labour It was a microcosm of the National Advisory Committee on Nutrition Education and the chairman of NACNE appeared to have written three quarters of it. I assume that that was dumped because we got another document called "Health for All", which was a charter on preventive health. It included about half a page on healthy eating, which was indicative of the deep research done by the Labour party. Very little of it had anything to do with what we are debating today, apart from something about withdrawing additives if there were doubt about safety, and a little about the irradiation of food.

On Friday of last week there was a press release from the Labour party. I note that it was on House of Commons paper. I hope that the Select Committee on Services will check why two Front Bench Labour Members issued a press release on House of Commons paper because I believe that that is illegal. That is on the record and I hope that someone will c heck on it.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths

Get on with it.

Mr. Morris

I will get on with it. I am talking about a press statement by the shadow Minister for Agriculture and the shadow Secretary of State for Health. They say: It is clear that the voice of the consumer has taken second place to that of the producer. That is absolute rubbish and bunkum.

They then go on to say: We believe our proposal would have averted the problems that arose with salmonella and listeria. The hon. Gentleman would know if he had listened to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State today that we do not yet know what the answer is to the new strain of salmonella. Perhaps he does know, and perhaps he will inform the scientific world of the answer, but I do not think he knows it.

Finally, we see that the proposal is to set up a food standards agency which would be independent of Ministers and able to speak authoritatively on food protection matters. The press statement continues: The Agency will be responsible to the Cabinet Office and to Parliament. Who will answer in this House? Will people from the Cabinet Office come here and answer questions on the food standards agency, or will it be the Public Accounts Committee?

Is this a deeply thought-out policy arising from all the policy documents? No. The truth is that it was knocked out at the end of last week on House of Commons paper and thought to be a good idea. It is a very shallow approach to a very difficult problem. The real truth is that the Labour party has not done any work on this. It has just run a scare programme and frankly I think that that is deplorable. I suppose that one good thing has come out of this debate, and that is that the people of Britain recognise the importance of food safety and that they should listen to the scientists and the people in the public health laboratories. When the chief medical officer makes a statement, that is a statement based on fact, and he is the person they should listen to, not to the media or the other hype and the sort of comments that we have heard from the Labour party today.

8.11 pm
Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

I would like to make it quite clear that I have no connection at all with the food industry. Unlike some Conservative Members, I have not been paid to come along here to today to state the case of vested interests.

I want to examine the facts at issue. I am not interested in scaremongering or in trying to frighten consumers. I am interested in getting to the bottom of what I think has been the irresponsible handling of the situation by the Government and in seeing whether there are any practical lessons to be learnt.

I believe that the root of the problem lies with the whole attitude of deciding that the market should be self-regulating, and that goes back to a comment made in 1980, when the Labour party argued for a tightening of controls in the protein processing order, which we had discovered was not working successfully. It was said in response that in the present economic climate the industry should itself determine how best to proceed. The underlying theme of the Government's food policy is that the industry itself should be allowed to decide its own priorities.

When we had a discussion about regulation, about a policy, about a strategy, it was said to be the policy of a nanny state. I would rather have a nanny state than a free market economy, which simply lets loose the Lucrezia Borgia of the free market into the kitchens of this country. When we are taken to this extreme, the choice for the consumer lies between salmonella and listeria. I emphasise that that is taking the issue to the extreme.

I would be the first to concede that there are many good food producers and many caring farmers in terms of standards of food production, but some Conservative Members have been trying to blame the consumer, the housewife, the people who cook the food. It seems to be they who are responsible for the outbreak, not the producers. I know it is fair to say that cooking methods have changed over the years. We have microwave cooking now, for example. However, it is equally fair to say that farming methods have changed over the years. They are far more intensive now. There is far greater use of inputs, chemicals, agro-business, agro-product methods.

On that point, I wonder whether the Minister will take into account the animal welfare issue. It is fair to say that the Secretary of State for Health did mention that many people were concerned about such things as battery farming and, apart from animal welfare, there are very real arguments. There is evidence to suggest, for example, that if there is infection within intensive animal units, it is spread at a far greater rate than it would be if there were more space.

There is also a problem with the grandparent stock of hens, for example, and the cloning that there is these days in intensive animal units. It is something which needs to be looked at in terms of the conditions of intensive animals—the cage spaces—and whether there should be a move away from battery egg production towards deep litter egg production. Although deep litter production is not exactly perfect, it is more desirable than the intensive method, where hens spend the bulk of their lives, on average two years, locked up in a tiny cage, with no daylight and no floor to stand on. A great many people are concerned about that. I think that the answer is that people will eventually decide themselves through their own pockets, through green consumerism, that they will not purchase the products of such intensive methods of farming.

There has also been concern about pigs. Again, I would pay tribute to some of my local farmers, who have introduced different models of farrowing cages which allow sows to stand up and turn round, something which the traditional farrowing cage does not allow. That is a step in the right direction.

Nevertheless, although there are caring farmers and good producers, there are also other farmers and producers who simply want to maximise their profits without taking any interest in the welfare of their animals, or anything else for that matter.

I believe that we need to do more research into intensive animal rearing to find not only the best way of producing food for the consumer, but to pay more attention to the condition of battery animals and intensive farm animals.

One of the worst issues that has come to light in this whole inquiry into what has been happening with food is the way that the Government have been cutting back on research and development in the farming sector. We already know that there is a proposal to cut £30 million from the AFRC over a number of years in a move to shift the research to what is deemed near market research. We have heard from some Conservative Members that they accept that the farming industry itself is fragmented and it is very difficult for the industry to pick up the research on this. The real condemnation comes with a scheme at Bristol led by a Dr. Mead, which was told last summer, before this scare on salmonella started, that it would be axed in March of this year. That research scheme was actually very near finding ways of eliminating salmonella in chicken and is now deemed to be ready and suitable to be picked up for the market.

On the Select Committee, when I asked whether any firm had picked up this scheme, the answer was no. So here we have a Government-funded scheme which was near to developing a system for eliminating salmonella which has been axed and thrown on to the free market to be picked up or not. I think that that is an irresponsible way of dealing with important research to tackle the serious problem of salmonella.

The hon. Gentleman talked about positive suggestions from the Labour party; I will give him one now. The Government set aside £19 million for compensation to farmers and only £3 million has been taken up. A total of £16 million is earmarked in the Budget. Why do the Government not take some of that £16 million and inject it into the various research programmes investigating animal husbandry, intensive farming, salmonella elimination and methods of identifying salmonella in the early stages? The money is there, it is budgeted, and it could be used now. It is a question of political will and desire, and I would be interested to see whether the Government are prepared to do that. It is no use saying that they do not have the resources; we know full well that they have.

There is also the question of the reaction to other issues, such as BST in milk. To be fair to farmers, I quote Mrs. Mary James, a delegate at a recent meeting of the NFU, who said: All BST will do is line the pockets of the drug companies. The salmonella scare tells us that we cannot afford to take risks where the safety of food is concerned. What I would say on that issue, if hon. Members want a positive suggestion, is that if we are to have trials with BST, why not label the milk coming from herds of cows injected with BST so consumers themselves can choose whether they want to buy that milk or not? That is certainly not being done by the Government. BST-treated milk simply goes into the milk pool, and people have no idea whether it is in their milk bottles.

There is also the question of BSE, or "spongy brain" as it is commonly called. An inquiry has been set up by the Ministry and the Department of Health under Professor Richard Southwood of Oxford university's zoological department. The Guardian claims that, because Ministers do not like its findings, the report is being held up. It is also alleged that the Treasury has put pressure on proposals for a joint inquiry into salmonella because some of the proposals that might emerge from such an inquiry could prove expensive to implement. That again is a condemnation of a Government who take risks with people's health rather than making available what are, in comparison with the alternative, quite small sums to ensure that health is protected through the research that we need.

The Government have failed in many cases to notify the public or to give enough warnings. There was no excuse for them to withhold, for over a year, the information that listeria in cheese threatened pregnant women. Such information is not scaremongering in the way that Ministers have described. It is balanced, reasonable and rational, but it came too late.

Let me say a brief word about water quality. It is outrageous that the Government have suggested that the standards for effluent and discharge levels for sewage outfalls will be lowered rather than meeting EEC requirements simply to try to make water more attractive to investors and public institutions. The Government's priority should be to ensure that our beaches reach EEC bathing standards, that our rivers do not deteriorate and that our drinking water is of adequate quality. I do not believe that privatising water is the way in which to do that. It simply enhances the risk to the consumer. The underlying failure of the Government lies in their claim that the free market delivers. It certainly does not. We need regulations, planning and strategy, and we are not getting them from the Government.

8.22 pm
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

I speak as a housewife. The women in this country buy 90 per cent. of the food, and on their behalf I want to say how disgraceful it is that the Labour party has sought to worry and confuse them by making a political issue out of matters which are nothing of the sort.

Housewives like me are eminently grateful to our excellent food industry for the tremendous variety of foods available—not least cooked chilled foods, which make our lives much easier by cutting down enormously on preparation time. Along with the microwave oven, they have revolutionised the lives of women like me who go out to work but want to provide a variety of interesting foods for our families. To suggest that the cooked chilled food industry is somehow harmful to the population is nonsense.

I am sick and tired of these campaigns. We get one almost every week. Everything that makes life interesting and bearable seems to be wrong for us: the air that we breathe, sex, tobacco, alcohol, sugar, salt, unwashed food, red meat, fast food, eggs, chickens—and now lovely smelly cheese. I would quarrel with the French about many things, but their cheese is delicious, and to suggest that it is bad for people is absurd.

The truth is that germs are everywhere. They are all over our skins—some 2 million on every square centimetre. Every time that we open our mouths to breathe we suck a load of them in. They are a damn sight less dangerous than many politicians—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—particularly those on the Opposition Benches.

Furthermore, if we eliminated all those germs, the minute that we stepped out of this country we should all go down with the local version of Delhi Belly, the Aztec Two-Step or Montezuma's Revenge. In fact, a good dose of germs every day builds up natural immunity and is an essential part of human biology. Without it we should all be a good deal worse off.

We must keep this problem in perspective. I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend on his excellent exposé of the political motives behind all this nonsense. The truth is that there were fewer than 40,000 reported cases of food poisoning in this country last year compared with—this is not my estimate—1some 120 billion portions of food eaten in the same period. Such problems from food are less the equivalent of being hit by a meteorite but rather that of finding a particular grain of sand on the beach at Blackpool. The chances are infinitesimal, and although the cases that happen are unfortunate they are not the end of the world.

Of the 50-odd cases of people who, on average, have died from food poisoning in this country over the past five years, almost all have died in public institutions such as hospitals and old people's homes. In the Stanley Royd hospital, 19 people died not because the food was bad but because of the hygienic practices in the hospital. The food had been left standing around for too long.

Most problems are caused not by food itself but by the way in which it is handled, prepared or left standing around. That is the message that we must get across, and not necessarily to housewives. Most cases happen because people nowadays can afford to entertain more, and food is prepared in advance and left standing around.

astThe Labour party is looking around for some cause to embrace. It is even harping back to the idea of a Ministry of Food. I heard a Labour party member on the radio the other day actually extolling the virtues of the old days when we had a Ministry of Food and people's diets were controlled by the Government: good old Socialist rhetoric. The Leader of the Opposition has told us that the Labour party would also like another 500 health inspectors, another 500 researchers and more and more jobs in Government Departments for more and more of the boys. That is the motivation behind the campaign, and it is disgraceful that the British public are not being warned.

Even more interesting is the source of most of the Labour party's information. Just as the Low Pay Unit stirs up nonsensical campaigns about what it alleges to be three quarters of the British public living on below average wages, Labour relies considerably on the organisation called the London Food Commission, set up by the hon. Member for Brent, East (Mr. Livingstone) with a £1 million grant. Masquerading as a respectable organisation, it publishes almost all its stuff in Left-wing journals, including the journal of the International Marxist Group and other such bodies.

The publications have such names as "Food and Profit: It Makes You Sick". If we did not know their political orientation before, we would when we read stuff like that. They are also behind the campaign to prevent the irradiation of food, which one Opposition Member actually extolled. He will get into hot water for extolling the virtues of a process that the Labour movement is officially opposing.

The organisation has as its declared aims to expose the evils in society in which we live and how the health of society is affected by social and economic conditions, particularly in the case of food, its production and its consumption. That is the motive behind much of the nonsense that is appearing in our newspapers.

Mr. Frank Cook

Will the hon. Lady give way?

Mrs. Gorman

No, I will riot. I have only 10 minutes, and I am going to fill them up.

One of the campaigns is against fast foods. The organisation has got it in for the hamburger. Its employee—known as Dr. Tim Lobstein—is conducting a campaign against the Big Mac. Another is the cook-chill campaign. This is what it has to say: Cook-chill foods result in job losses, change of working hours, reductions in pay and de-skilling. One of its leading lights, Dr. Tim Lang, is also an adviser to COHSE, which is trying to protect food jobs in the Health Service by alleging that cook-chill food brought in from outside and served to the patients is infected. He makes a scurrilous attempt to discredit the Government's policy of bringing private enterprise into the catering industry. That reveals the motivation of that organisation. It is another Labour party front which is visibly running out of money and trying to drum up support for its campaign. I warn industry against giving any money to that organisation as it is a thoroughly sinister body.

Mr. Frank Cook


Mrs. Gorman

I want to warn the Government, because the editorial of The Food Magazine published by that organisation tells us that after 6,000 letters were sent to the Government complaining about the lack of openness in the food industry, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which ought to know better, has finally allowed a consumer representative into its party to the world talks in Geneva. These people are definitely and openly trying to infiltrate those Ministries which influence Government policy, and no doubt the Chief Medical Officer of Health. The Government had better watch out for that organisation because it is definitely not devoted to the policies to which the Government are dedicated.

In my opinion, the whole campaign has been drummed up by the Labour party, which is devoid of campaigns by which to justify its existence. Among other things, the Labour party is calling for a food policy—shades of the Labour movement after the war—and a Food Ministry. It attacks the multinational companies—the great Satan of the Left—which provide most of our major chains with the excellent quality food that they offer the housewife and I have already explained why I think that is a wonderful idea. It has even mounted an attack on cheap food. I am sure that the British housewife will be delighted to know that that is Labour party policy—not that we have a cheap food policy thanks to the CAP which puts £12 a week on the food bill of the average British family. But the Labour party is quite happy to see the price of food rise if it can use that as a means of attacking the private sector, which provides a high-quality, interesting and varied diet.

Now that we know who is behind much of that nonsense, I ask the Government to keep their wits about them and examine what is going on in Ministries to find out whether an infection of Socialist ideas is influencing Government policy and to ensure that they are wiped out and disinfected.

8.32 pm
Mrs. Audrey Wise (Preston)

The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) called Professor Richard Lacey who has done a great deal of work on listeria an eccentric. Although I pointed out that he is doubly qualified as a doctor and a microbiologist, and that he is professor of microbiology at Leeds university and a consultant in microbiology to Leeds Western District health authority, the hon. Lady stuck to her views, which were echoed by other Conservative Members. One of the major results of Professor Lacey's work has been to establish a link between premature births, stillbirths and listeriosis. I suggest that that is far from eccentric. After all their demands for facts, I am interested to see Conservative Members react in that way when they are presented with facts by someone who has become quite interested in his research and is enthusiastic about informing people of its results. I am quite sure that expectant mothers are keen on knowing about the dangers that they may face.

We have been told by Conservative Members with the utmost confidence that cooked, chilled food is safe. One Conservative Member said, "You would think that it had been invented only yesterday". But it has not been in use for much longer, as it was introduced only two or three years ago. In that time there has been an explosion in the use of cooked, chilled foods, with massive investment in equipment and products. Listeria is important not because of the proven incidence of listeriosis but because of what the future may hold due to the current investment in cooked, chilled food in the private and public sectors. It is the only form of food preservation being used on a large scale without proper scientific evaluation or having stood the test of time. The issue is not whether we like cooked, chilled food or whether it is nice to have a convenient form of food, but the fact that that particular form of food preservation needs further evaluation and the products need particularly careful handling. It is not simply that the listeria bacterium survives refrigeration—it thrives under refrigeration. There is a very narrow band at which it is safe. I understand that it is stunned at between 0 deg and 3 deg, but that at any temperature above that it multiplies and becomes more pathogenic. In that way it differs from most organisms. Therefore, listeria is very important.

We have received from the Chief Medical Officer of Health and from the Government advice which is hardly precise. We have been told to keep our food really cold. By means of parliamentary questions I am trying to find out how cold is really cold. It is hardly self-explanatory. We have been told that the bacteria, which are very common, are thriving and multiplying because of the extensive practice of keeping food refrigerated for lengthy periods at insufficiently low temperatures. That is a possible reason why the disease is spreading.

It is not hysteria on the part of Labour Members to say that the matter needs to be treated very seriously, not least for the sake of workers in the industries involved as they will carry the can if the investment in cook-chill products proves to be ill-founded and firms get into difficulties through the distortion of trade which results from its expansion without proper evaluation.

Listeria is important and the Government are not providing adequate information. We are told that everything is all right, that analysis is taking place and the public are being informed. However, when we realise that public analysts can analyse only four out of every million items purchased and that total spending on food analysis represents only 5p per person per year, we are entitled to say that that is hardly an extravagant use of resources. It is not even an adequate use of resources for food analysis. We believe not only in adequate regulation, but in the proper resourcing, financing and enforcing of those regulations.

We have heard a great deal from Conservative Members about the housewife. Their motto seems to be, "If in doubt, blame the housewife". I resist that as I do not consider that the blame can be laid at the door of women in Britain. We choose what we buy and what we eat, but over the years our choice has not been increased but has in an important sense been narrowed. In a really profound way it has been narrowed. It is difficult for people to buy food with confidence that it is pesticide residue-free and to feel sure that they know what they are eating. The public want that information. That is why there is such a huge demand for organic food.

Some of the reasons for these deep problems can be found in the way that animals are reared and in the way that food is grown. When "The Food Programme" on Radio 4 investigated the way in which pigs are reared in Britain, it found that 250,000 sows are tethered so closely together that they can barely lie or stand. That is not a healthy way in which to keep animals.

I keep free range chickens. I know about hens. The notion that hens can be healthily kept in tiny cages where they are unable to turn around and that they can be stuffed with antibiotics with impunity is a monstrous distortion of food production. People are resisting more and more the production of food in that way.

The Government's job is to ensure that consumers can find the healthy food that they want. It is also their job to ensure that nobody lives in such poverty as to be unable to afford healthy food.

Food is a political issue. Research has shown that it is easier and cheaper to buy healthy food in the better-off areas than in the worst-off areas of Preston. Poor people find it harder and more expensive to gain access to healthy food. That puts food on the political agenda, good and proper.

8.41 pm
Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)

I have a keen interest in the debate. As a cook, I once poisoned 120 people with salmonella. Having listened to what Opposition Members have had to say today, I feel that it is proper to issue a guide as to how to poison people with salmonella. It is quite clear that the Opposition do not know how to go about it. It is a very interesting trick.

What one does is to become a hotel cook in a rather run-down hotel where the profits are slender and the free market does not seem to operate. That cannot be in this country. It must be in a country where everything is state owned and nationalised, where there are no profits and where the free market does not operate. One takes from the back of a lorry a job lot of frozen chickens. Because one has come from a farming background, one has never seen peculiar, misshapen, frozen lumps before. One bungs them in the oven and cooks them for the time that one normally allows for cooking a chicken from father's back yard that one has plucked and drawn oneself. Alas, 120 hot air balloonists from all over the world were fed by me with salmonella, which meant that they were unable to rise in their hot air balloons for the best part of a week.

Since those days, I have taken the keenest possible interest in food. I have watched closely the inaccuracies that have been put forward by Her Majesty's Opposition and—dare I say it?—by those dreadful people the media. What about the headline, "Eggs poison boy"? That led to the sad death of nine-year-old Zamire Hussain. A week later it was agreed by the medical authorities that no trace of salmonella—egg induced—had been found in that lad's body, but there was no apology in the media for that inaccuracy.

The Sunday before last the health correspondent in one of the Sunday "heavies" spurned the coming Government leaflet on food and said: We won't have the Government telling us to wash our hands. The correspondent said that virtually all food poisoning comes from cross-contamination or from food storage and handling. Before I am accused of being on the side of the farmer, I should point out that, at a meeting of my farm council about 10 days ago, 350 farmers referred to their keen interest in the consumer. My constituency depends on food. We produce, process, transport and ship it. We sell it to the consumer who eats it. The consumer is the whole purpose of the exercise.

When we consider hygiene and why food poisoning is on the increase, it is worth remembering that 7 billion meals were cooked and consumed outside the home last year. I suffered from food poisoning last year on the way to Stoneleigh. On the way to the agricultural show we stopped at a cafeteria early in the morning. Somebody in the cafeteria was wiping his nose, another person had grubby hands and somebody else had grubby hair. We should have walked away, but it was early and we were hungry. By midday at Stoneleigh we felt extremely ill.

Of the 2,000 or more strains of salmonella, very few are injurious to human or animal health. One must match containment at source, which is a most crucial element, with improvements in food handling. Most egg infections have arisen from the multiple handling of eggs. As for salmonella enteretidis, phage type 4, it is good news that the discovery has been made that it is contamination not from the ovi-duct but from the gut. That is a much more regular form of cross-infection from a chicken and it is something that will be easier to contain. All the evidence points to that conclusion, and it is genuinely good news. I know that the House revels in scare stories, but let us occasionally be glad to hear good news.

It is the utmost ill-fortune that the United Kingdom is suffering from phage type 4, either by mutation or because it has come from Spain. It is a close cousin of two salmonellas that have been virtually eradicated in the United States. I do not believe that all is lost. I am confident that it will be contained by the excellent and speedy measures that have already been taken by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The key is to maintain good food hygiene. With phage type 4, one starts with the broiler breeder; it should be eliminated from the food chain.

Contrary to views that have been expressed this evening, it is important to remember that if salmonella is present in an egg, a small number of the bacteria can multiply to levels that cause illness. If, for example, we leave eggs outside either the refrigerator or a cold room and if they are then broken open in a warm temperature and fed to people who are sick and who can therefore tolerate only a much lower level of salmonella concentration, they may become ill. Conversely, one can identify eggs with only a small number of salmonella which, if properly handled, are perfectly tolerable, even by somebody who is in poor health. If we look hard enough, we can find salmonella in all the food that we eat. It is the way that food is handled that is critical. For example, if we make a salad in a bowl in which we have stored raw meat and the bowl has not been disinfected properly, our families may suffer stomach upsets.

Families' shopping habits have changed. They shop once a week. People have small refrigerators in small flats and kitchens without larders. The Government must try much harder to educate and help the housewife as well as to enforce proper regulations, as they are already doing, in the case of those who mass produce food.

The sterilisation of eggs does not help. They need an effective temperature of 56 deg C and eggs have to be cooked at that temperature for 15 to 20 minutes. That will eliminate the salmonella, but it kills our appetite, too.

It has been said in the debate that the withdrawal of funding from near-market research has led to cuts in research into salmonella or scrapie. I want to put that right. The funding of one particular project on the competitive exclusion of salmonella, which had been in progress for more than a decade at the Institute of Food Research, has been terminated because, after comprehensive review, it was decided that it had reached a successful conclusion. However, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is continuing to fund other research on salmonella at the IFR. There is also funding of research into scrapie. The requirement for research into BSE is currently under review. Scrapie research is being carried out at the nemopathogenesis unit, which is jointly funded by the Agricultural and Food Research Council and the Medical Research Council. MAFF is collaborating with the NPU and is already funding work on BSE. That is a most important point.

I should be appalled if the Government followed the Opposition line and banned the sale of green top milk. Consumers increasingly prefer food which has the least processing—that is the move towards more natural foods—but there are dangers inherent in this. Listeria from raw milk is an extremely rare possibility. Regular drinkers have developed an immunity, and occasional drinkers should be given warnings, particularly if they are sick or pregnant.

Is it the Government's line, if we are to ban raw milk, to ban cigarettes and tobacco because of the known causal link between self-induced lung cancer and smoking? If we are not to follow that line—and I know that we shall not—it would be wholly wrong to ban fresh raw milk. I was brought up on it, and I am exceptionally fit.

The majority of listeria-contaminated soft cheeses are made from pasteurised milk which has been reinfected during subsequent manufacture. This bug is adept at living at a wide range of temperatures. Bacteriological analysis applied to dairy products is the key to ensuring safe consumer choice. This will protect the consumer and the manufacturer.

I will give an example of the least need to be frightened of food poisoning from cheese. Gidleigh park, one of the major hotels in my constituency and a five-star establishment, has served 75,000 meals since it opened, and 90 per cent. of the clients have cheese, almost all of it made from non-pasteurised milk and over half of that being soft or semi-soft cheese. That hotel has not had any cases of food poisoning.

The withdrawal of additives—the E number fuss—which means that food has a shorter life, has in many ways been reflected in the rise in the incidence of food poisonings as food decays sooner. Undertakers will be sorry to hear this. I am referring, of course, not to sewage or water undertakers but to those who are concerned with human carcases. They used to say that, with all the preservatives we ate, we spent two weeks longer on the slab.

The keynote issue is consumer choice—giving consumers complete information, regular knowledge and public education—following the ministerial line rather than the Opposition line in wishing to take away from consumers that to which they have a right, the choice to buy and consume what they wish. After all, if the market does not work, will the Opposition seek to nationalise farming?

8.52 pm
Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

I must be brief because I have less than five minutes in which to speak.

I agree wholeheartedly with the right hon. Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) in the united approach that north of Scotland hon. Members have adopted in trying to restore the funding of the Torry research institute which deals with fish and which has had 25 per cent. of its research budget cut. It cannot make that up in near market research and I hope that the Minister will meet us to discuss the issue before the matter becomes final.

I have been deeply disturbed by the way in which some Conservative Members—including the hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland), who I see leaving the Chamber—have behaved in this debate. I am glad to see that that hon. Gentleman has decided to remain to listen to me. There has not been the slightest contribution about the fact that there is food poisoning from primary food sources, no hint of shame and no whiff of apology for the fact that food is contaminated at source. There has been only screaming that housewives are to blame because they are not handling food properly. I have also found the attitude of the farming industry reprehensible; it is simply screaming about its compensation.

There is an old adage about prevention being better than cure. Clearly it would be better if bacteria and other organisms did not get into food. I have some knowledge of these matters, having been the convener of the health and welfare committee in Aberdeen at the time of the major typhoid outbreak. I am therefore aware of how bacteria works its way through the food chain. I also appreciate the way in which the farming industry sometimes feels under threat, when it believes that it is not the only responsible party—that the processors, distributors, manufacturers and handlers all have a degree of responsibility, as have the restaurants and everyone else in terms of trying to avoid food poisoning.

Everyone must bear a responsibility, and the Department of Health should take a lead and push more strongly for the irradiation of food. That technique kills 99.99 per cent. of the pathogens that are dangerous to human beings. This health matter should be pursued. We accept modern technology in terms of cook-chill, refrigeration, microwaves and so on. The fact that food is refrigerated, for example, means that it lasts longer and that the organisms get a chance to develop.

In the old days, when we had no refrigerators, the food went off, it stank like hell and it was thrown out. I should add that irradiation does not help with eggs because they pong if they are irradiated. Nor does it affect fatty foods. But the possibilities are such that we should pursue these issues with greater vigour.

We must increase the number of environmental health officers. Only by that means shall we be able to do more checking. It is high time, considering the dangers facing the public, that we brought into the food industry the concept of product liability in the way in which it exists for other manufactured goods. If one sells a dangerous iron or television and somebody is killed, one is responsible. It should be a badge of honour for the food industry to boast that its food is contamination free, that it has done everything possible to protect the public. If that is not done, it should have a responsibility, by way of criminal prosecution and compensation.

This has been a valuable debate. I regret that it has been devalued by those who spoke, in a totally uncritical way, on behalf of the food industry and who were not willing to accept that faults exist in that industry. Nevertheless, it has been a valuable debate and I hope it will not be long before we return to those matters.

The degree of interest in the subject has meant that, whereas most hon. Members thought there would be ample time in which to speak, that has proved not to be the case. There are many other issues on which I would have liked to have spoken. I was told that, had I done so, I would have probably got myself into hot water, so I will resume my seat and face the consequences.

8.56 pm
Mr. Keith Raffan (Delyn)

In the few minutes available to me, I will comment on only one issue raised by the hon. Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hughes), and that is water, although I wish to speak about cold rather than hot water. The debate is about the safety of food and water, though most contributors have, perhaps understandably, concentrated on food.

The British Government signed the EEC drinking water directive in 1985. Even by that time, many treatment works were up to standard. Since then, a further 300 have been brought up to standard, and by next year a further 90 will have joined that number. By the mid-1990s, 150 of the 170 remaining will be brought up to standard, though many of them are covered by derogations under article 9 of the directive because the lower standards in those areas do not cause any health risk. Indeed, the lower standards are due largely to geological problems making water purification difficult. So by the mid-1990s nearly all of Britain's water will meet or better the EEC drinking water directive.

We on the Government Benches must concede the Opposition's point that this could have happened earlier. But it did not happen earlier because in 1976 capital expenditure by the water authorities was cut by a third by the then Labour Government. Labour Members must therefore accept responsibility for the fact that it is taking us till the mid-1990s to get our water treatment works up to standard. They cannot blame the present Government for the delay.

The Conservative Government have increased capital expenditure on water treatment works by 50 per cent. in real terms. In 1976–77, Welsh water authority capital expenditure was £32.9 million but by 1987–88 it had risen to £67.8 million. Incidentally, I am glad to see the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) in his place as I shall refer to him later. Expenditure on water infrastructure has greatly increased under the present Government, compensating for gross neglect by the Labour Government.

The Water Bill is the key to attaining higher standards for Britain's water. For the first time, the European water directive's provisions will be given the full force of law. It will also free the new water pies from external financing limits, enabling them to borrow money for capital works as they require it, and so to accelerate their capital programmes. They will no longer have to queue behind schools or hospitals. Should the nightmare occur—difficult though it is to fantasise—of Labour ever returning to power, the pies will not face the prospect of that Labour Government slashing capital expenditure on water and sewage treatment works as they did in the mid-1970s.

The Water Bill will also establish a tough, regulatory framework. For the first time, it will be a statutory offence to supply water that is unfit for human consumption. The National Rivers Authority will play a valuable role. I recall that in 1985, in the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs, many Opposition and Conservative Members, when considering coastal sewage pollution, made the point that it was ridiculous for water authorities to be both poacher and gamekeeper. The NRA will bring an end to that position. It will now monitor and enforce quality objectives. A drinking water inspectorate will ensure, for the first time, that suppliers monitor water quality and comply with standards. That has not occurred before, assessment being left to the water authorities. The pies will also be required to give detailed information about water quality to the public. For the first time, there will be exact, numerical standards for drinking water quality set down in United Kingdom law, approved by Parliament. All that is due to privatisation.

I am glad that some Labour Members have admitted, no doubt unintentionally, that high water standards can be achieved by a private water company. I refer to a report in the Wrexham Water News of November 1988: Three Clwyd MPs have praised Wrexham Water Company for the work it does in maintaining the quality and safety of water supplies to its consumers. There follow quotes from the three Labour Members concerned. The hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West, who is himself a microbiologist, and on whose opinion we can therefore surely rely, commented: I have been a resident of Wrexham all my life and have always found the water to be of good quality and very dependable. The shadow Secretary of State for Wales, the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mr. Jones), stated: 1 was very pleased to be given every assurance that the company's top priority is to deliver safe and wholesome water to every household it serves. I rate this aspect of the water industry of enduring priority. And the hon. Member for Wrexham (Dr. Marek) commented: It is reassuring to see the dedication of the staff and the work they do to maintain a safe supply of water. The hon. Gentleman was reported as saying that he had been impressed with everything he had seen.

Those are the comments of three Labour Members. They show that, behind the scenes, when they visit a private water company, they acknowledge that water supplies can be kept perfectly safe. Under privatisation, the consumer has nothing to fear.

9.2 pm

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield)

Having sat in the Chamber for five hours, it is a matter of concern to me that my contribution is limited to five minutes, but I shall try to make one or two serious points about issues that concern me.

It has been interesting listening to a variety of speeches. Tonight, I learnt why my wife plays merry hell with me if I purchase food from supermarkets that is past its sell-by date. She realises that if I consume such food, my brain will end up in the same state as that of the hon. Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman). I have never before heard remarks of the kind that she came out with tonight. To say, as she did, that a good dose of germs each day is good for one sums up the Government's policies on food hygiene.

The present Government have presided over a threefold increase in food poisoning. Their record is one of incredible complacency. Giving due justice to parliamentary answers I have received on the cook-chill issue, there are contrived cover-ups time and time again, with the Government refusing to divulge information that I know is available. As my hon. Friends have said, at the heart of the problem is that which is at the heart of so many other problems existing under the present Government: vastly increased profits are sought at the expense of wider considerations of safety and care of the environment.

Alongside that political question there are deep moral issues. My hon. Friends have mentioned animal welfare, although that has not been taken up by any Conservative Member. In factory farming we see maximum output with minimum input. There is a complete disregard for animal welfare in many aspects of their treatment in factory farms. Animal transport is a matter for deep concern. Animals are crammed into lorries and poultry into cages to be carried about and that is a disgrace.

Those conditions create stress, which in turn creates infection, often just before animals are slaughtered. Mass slaughter itself is new. Poultry are often slaughtered in flocks of 10,000 at a time. Abbatoirs have a huge through-put, carried out at such speed that cross-infection is a frequent occurrence.

The huge increase in food poisoning is clearly linked to the way in which we have moved towards mass food production. It is as though nature is telling us that we are getting it wrong; that the food poisoning is a sign that what we are doing to the animal kingdom is wrong. We should address that issue as a nation.

Alongside the mass production of food we have seen the development of mass catering techniques such as cook-chill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Preston (Mrs. Wise) said. I wanted to spend a good deal of my speech looking at what is happening in the Yorkshire region where cook-chill methods are coming into our hospitals as part of the privatisation of NHS catering services. The extent of the problems that arise from cook-chill methods is not known. Conservative Members say that we have no figures, but the Government do not ask the questions in order to obtain them.

Within the past 18 months in the Leeds area there have been six known deaths from listeriosis—three babies and three elderly people. Those deaths have been proven to be the result of listeriosis related to food consumption. That fact comes from Professor Richard Lacey, who has been abused several times today by a number of Conservative Members. The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) left the Chamber a long time ago, no doubt to go for dinner. I wish that she would address her comments on Professor Lacey to the lady in Horsforth who lost her baby through consuming food purchased from a supermarket. The complacency that I have heard tonight from Conservative Members is incredible.

If the six deaths in Leeds reflected the situation nationally—there is no reason to believe that they do not—that would mean 400 deaths per annum from listeriosis. That is a disgrace.

I have had a bad day. I have sat here for five hours and have only five minutes at the end of the debate. I also sat through health questions today. My question was No. 15 but we reached only No. 12. I asked the Secretary of State for Health: what proportion of perinatal deaths, still births and miscarriages which have occurred over the past year have been examined for the presence of listeria monocytogenes. The answer was: Post-mortem examinations of still births or perinatal deaths to establish the presence of listeria monocytogenes would only be carried out at the request of clinical staff or a coroner, and we do not hold information on these requests centrally. That is why we know nothing about listeria. The figures are not asked for. The Government are covering up the reality of what is going on.

It is a disgrace that I am limited to this small amount of time at this stage in the debate. My constituents are faced with the introduction within the next few weeks of cook-chill methods in their hospital. They cannot opt out of that. They do not have the great consumer choice about which the Government talk. They will have that method whether they like it or not. The people of Wakefield are frightened by what is facing them.

9.8 pm

Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North)

We have been exposed to substantial media scaremongering in recent weeks and months. One example of that is the so-called level of radiation said to be found in the Rannoch area of my constituency. At best that can be described as dangerous misinformation. It could have a damaging impact on the major industry—tourism—of that area. No thought was given to that by those who appeared on television to talk about it.

It is interesting to hear that all the things that make us Scots so happy and enjoy being on this planet—whisky, haggis, lamb, red meat, fish and chips—are not good for one. What nonsense. We have to achieve a balance; a balance about the risk.

Every aspect of human activity contains risk. We must look at the element of risk and what the choices are. In car driving, coach tours, travelling on ships, cycling or even walking on the roads there is a risk. We have to evaluate the risk and how we should deal with the problems. Sufficient levels of inspection and supervision are required, not repressive levels. Hon. Members on the Opposition Benches have leaned largely to repression.

There is no question whatever but that the housewife and the farmer have a joint interest in this matter. To put the record straight on some comments that were made earlier about farmers, the farmers in my constituency made it quite clear during the salmonella scare connected with eggs that the first thing that we had to do was to get the facts, the second was to deal with the facts when they were known and the third was, if any compensation was required in any area, to deal with that. The farmers approached the matter, as they have in my experience approached all such matters, responsibly and respectfully. I wish to put the record straight because I will not have Opposition Members calling the people in my constituency, who are the backbone of Scotland.

9.11 pm
Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

This has been an interesting debate, a debate of two halves. One half of the debate has been about facts and the other about false perceptions. I must say that from the beginning the majority of the facts came from the Opposition and the false perceptions from the Government.

I found it rather strange that we on the Opposition Benches were being attacked for considering bringing in legislation to ban green top milk. It is not our proposal to do that; it is a proposal, if I understood correctly what he said as reported in the papers, that the Minister of Agriculture is considering. We were also attacked for making assertions about listeria in soft cheeses. It was not we who raised that matter; it was none other than the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Agriculture.

I felt that Government Members were slightly unfair in accusing us on those points, but this emphasises perhaps the point that 1 am making, that they were talking about false perceptions and we were talking about facts.

We have had a good, wide-ranging debate in which a great many hon. Members have been able to participate. I regret that we did not have longer, because I know that many hon. Members would have liked a little more time to develop some other arguments.

I also think that it was unfair and unwarranted to accuse us of scaremongering. It is the duty of the Opposition to highlight the inadequacies of the Government. Indeed, if we had not done so, especially when public health is at risk, we would not have been doing our duty. So we reject and rebut absolutely the charge of scaremongering. My right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) made that point quite clear at the beginning of his excellent speech today.

We are not attacking the farmers or the food manufacturers. We accept that the overwhelming majority of those people are trying to provide us with food of a high quality. But we feel that the Government have been acting in a manner which is not beneficial to the consumers.

The theme that has come from all Opposition speakers is that we should really not be surprised at the Government's failure to protect food. Food safety and the basic philosophy of the Government are simply incompatible. For any Government to proclaim their priority to sweep away regulations and their ambition to reduce public expenditure and to cut the number of public servants in monitoring food, research and development is a recipe for an epidemic of food poisoning, and that is what we have in Britain. Incidents of food poisoning have doubled since 1985. That is a fact and we have approached the debate on the basis of facts.

I shall examine some of the points in a little more detail. I asserted that the Government do not like regulations. Ever since the Government came to office, they have made no pretence of their ambition to sweep away regulations because they have seen regulation as an unwarranted attack on free enterprise. The Opposition reject that view. We contend that, without minimal positive state intervention, the public will remain vulnerable in terms of safeguarding our food and the environment. Almost from their first day of office, the Government started dismantling and weakening the regulations that protect the general public.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Islwyn said that the chairman of the United Kingdom Renderers' Association, John Field, summarised the situation well in his comments on the Government's proposal to regulate protein processing plants. He said: There was a change of heart when the Conservatives came into office. They were happy to drop the idea of a code and settle for random testing. As we now know, the result was that thousands of people suffered from salmonella poisoning as the regulations for protein processing plants were not strict enough.

For almost 10 years, the Government have continued their unremitting campaign. In July 1985, they were bold enough to publish a White Paper called "Lifting the Burden", in which they made no secret of their views. They argued: the impact of regulation takes its toll in diverting precious time and energy that would be far better used in generating products, services, sales. I might add, "and profits". Their intentions were clear and, as a consequence, they continued the process of removing statutory protection, at the cost of the health of the general public. I put to the Minister the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew): is it right that the public health regulations have been changed and that people with a positive salmonella test result could be working in the food processing industry or serving in food shops? That is a serious matter which affects public health directly and we need to know whether that is the case.

Time and time again in the recent debate on the quality of food there have been examples of the Government pursuing that key theme and, by doing so, putting the public at risk. On listeria, we know that the Government had in preparation 20 months ago regulations that covered cook-chill foods. The Secretary of State for Health said that there was disagreement between scientists about that. Yes, there was, but the Secretary of State could have taken it further and said that there were disagreements between scientists in the Department of Health and scientists in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The two Departments were bickering and arguing and, as a result, we have not yet had those regulations. The sooner we have them the better.

Of course, not only consumers are concerned. Our evidence is that most progressive manufacturers and food retailers support sensible regulation because that is the only way in which they can retain the confidence of consumers and customers and, therefore, stay in business. However, our criticisms do not concern only regulations. The Government have been involved in delay and procrastination all the way. From the beginning, they had a deliberate policy of cutting back on research and development, as well as on monitoring. Tragically, the pace is quickening, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. Griffiths) argued accurately at some length.

It is widely acknowledged that we are short of environmental health officers who are the first line of defence for the customer. However, although it may have gone largely unnoticed, there has been a swingeing decrease in the number of staff employed by the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Between 1981 and 1984, there was a reduction in science staff of over 8 per cent. Between 1984 and 1988, there was a loss of a further 15 per cent. That means that since the Government came to office one quarter of the science posts in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have been axed. That is not good news for food safety.

Let us examine the picture in a little more detail. The state veterinary service is vital to animal and therefore to human health. Its role is critical to food safety because vets intervene at an earlier stage than environmental health officers. Although they are vital, in a written answer that I received yesterday from the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, I was informed that the number of veterinary officers permanently employed in Great Britain since this Government came to office has fallen by nearly one quarter.

Those drastic cuts have had an effect on food safety. They have resulted in a reduction in the level of abattoir monitoring for hygiene and welfare standards from 53 man years in 1983 to 45 man years in 1987. The monitoring of poultry slaughter premises over the same period shows a fall from 8.5 man years to 7.1 man years. Those are serious and significant reductions in the inspections undertaken in relation to meat and poultry slaughters.

In turning to further examples to make my point, I emphasise that we are talking about facts. We are not speculating. It is clear that, although there is a growing link between problems in animal health and human health, the Government are failing to recognise that. Although the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has the greatest difficulty in recruiting veterinary officers, the Treasury is forcing the University Grants Committee to cut the number of veterinary schools. The proposals to close the two schools at Cambridge and Glasgow are indefensible and are yet another example of the Government putting short-term financial considerations before the long-term health of the British people.

The Government's cuts in research and development are proceeding unabated. During the past four years, cuts in research and development in the Ministry have resulted in the loss of no fewer than 2,000 research posts—a reduction of 25 per cent. in staff numbers. On top of that, the Government are now proposing to cut research and development in agriculture by another 30 per cent., which will include vital research work in food and other environmental concerns.

It is true that public funding in this area has been significantly cut, and further reductions are in prospect. This is not in the long term interest of the United Kingdom. Those are not my words, but were given in evidence to the House of Lords Select Committee on Agriculture and Food Research. That was a considered view shared by a Committee with a majority of Conservative Members.

Only last Friday the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food issued a statement warning pregnant women to stay away from sheep and new-born lambs because they could be risking their own health and that of their unborn baby in a condition known as enzootic abortion. That was wise and sensible advice. The tragedy is that, while the right hand is issuing that advice, the left hand is making research cuts at the Moredun research institute in Edinburgh. What hypocrisy from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

I shall not outline the cuts in research into salmonella but I feel that the Minister has been little more than disingenuous in his claims that research at the institute of food at Bristol has been completed. The research is complete but he knows that it will not be worth while until the development work takes place.

I shall repeat the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Glanford and Scunthorpe (Mr. Morley). He asked how the Minister could find £19 million at the drop of a hat to support the egg industry but not find £300,000 to allow this project to continue for another few years. That is the sort of question which I hope that the Minister will attempt to answer.

At the Moredun research institute, vital research into listeriosis has also been cut back. Why? The Opposition submit that it is another example of the Government's actions not matching their words.

Furthermore, the Opposition know of a range of cuts in agriculture and food research into milk and cheese production. I would have thought that cheese production was one issue about which the Minister would like to know more.

The Government are culpable not only of cutting research and staffing but of delay in action. Their complacency in dealing with bovine spongiform encephalopathy—BSE—is little short of a scandal.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Donald Thompson)


Dr. Clark

The Minister shouts rubbish, but it took 18 months before the Ministry could summon enough courage in June 1988 even to make the disease notifiable. We then had to wait another two months before it introduced a compulsory slaughter and compensation scheme. Compensation of 50 per cent. of the estimated market value is not good enough. It means that farmers stand to lose between £350 and £400 per cow. What is most serious is that reports show that as a result some farmers sell animals for slaughter—hence into the food chain—as soon as the first suspicious signs appear.

In The Sunday Telegraph of 19 February, a senior National Farmers Union source is reported as saying: It is common knowledge in the industry that infected animals have gone into the food chain. That could be lethal.

It should be noted that BSE is increasingly widely recognised as constituting, eventually, a possible risk to human health. It already appears to have jumped species from sheep to cattle. It is widely acknowledged in medical circles that it has jumped to humans in the form of Creutzfeld-Jakob disease. All three forms of the disease affect the brain and the central nervous system. If hon. Members doubt that, I refer them to the British Medical Journal of 4 June—

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

Half the Cabinet have spongybrain.

Dr. Clark

My hon. Friend appears to have other ideas.

This species jump appears to occur when the brain or spinal cord of an affected animal is eaten, yet the Government refuse to take steps to stop meat products made from sheep and cattle brains entering the food chain. It must be noted that the incubation period before the disease manifests itself may be two or three years, and many animals with the latent disease inevitably enter the food chain. Why do not the Government ban the sale of animal brains in the United Kingdom?

There is a lighter side to the matter. I know that the Minister occasionally eats in the House. Is he aware that mock turtle frequently appears on the menu of the House and that it is made from calves' brains? Does that make a lot of sense? I urge the Minister to ban the sale of calves' and sheep brains.

How can the Government justify cutbacks on research into BSE? Is the Minister aware that blood samples from infected herds are held in storage at the central veterinary laboratories because there are no resources to proceed with research projects jointly with the institute of animal health in Edinburgh? Why will the Government not release necessary monies for that vital research to go ahead?

While we are on the subject of animal health, it is difficult for the public to assess accurately the extent of many of these events because of the excessive secrecy of the Ministry of Agriculture. We have seen this attitude especially during the drug trials by companies including Monsanto in which the milk-producing hormone BST has been tested. It is inexcusable that the Government have allowed 15 farms throughout the country to allow tests on cows to boost their milk production but then have allowed the milk to enter the food chain, so that consumers unwittingly drink milk produced in this way.

We appreciate that the public safeguard to this lies in the veterinary products committee of the Ministry of Agriculture, which advises Ministers on the safety of BST. The committee advised the Government to go ahead with field trials and we have no grumbles about that. But does the Minister deny to the House tonight that that same veterinary products committee has on two occasions advised the Minister against granting a product licence to Monsanto chemicals in respect of BST on grounds of safety? Will the Minister come clean and confirm to the House the accuracy of that information?

In the past few months the Government have been in a state of complete disarray and confusion. This would be amusing if public health had not been at risk. There can be no doubt that the Government have shown incompetence in handling this issue. They have been pushed in one direction by the powerful drug and chemical companies and in the other by the strength of public feeling. But the issue goes to the root of the Conservative party's approach to the quality of life. Food safety and environmental protection cannot be attained purely by market forces. The food issue proves that even wealth cannot guarantee food of safe quality. Increasingly, both prosperous and poor people in Britain are seeing a great reduction in their quality of life.—[Interruption.] I am most amused by the ribaldry on the Government's side. I am sure that that is not shared by the commuters coming into our big cities who are caught up in the traffic when they travel by road or who experience overcrowding and cancellation if they travel by rail, for that is the order of the day. Anyone who travels on the London Underground knows that that service has deteriorated and that cuts in investment lead to delays, overcrowding and poor safety standards.

The Government, in their bid to reward their friends by privatising water, not only openly announce that they do not intend to adopt the European Commission's standards of safety for water, but actively campaign for those safety standards to be lowered. They are condemning millions of people in Britain to inferior water standards. That is not accepted by the Opposition.

In essence, the debate has highlighted the differences between the Labour Opposition and the Government. The time has now come when the people see that the Government's fundamental approach is not in the interests of protecting the quality of life, whether that is the safety of our food, our water, our environment or our transport system. The events of the past few days illustrate clearly that people will demand better and higher standards with regard to their quality of life, especially for those essentials—food and water. It is clear that the Government, with their philosophical hang-up, are incapable of meeting the demands of the British people.

9.35 pm
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John MacGregor)

We have had a debate—[Interruption.] TI at shows how little the Opposition are prepared to lis .en. We allowed the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) who wound up for the Opposition to make his speech, and I hope that I will be allowed to reply to the many points that have been made in this debate. I will endeavour to reply to as many as possible, but at the beginning I should like to set the general background.

I agree with my right hon. Friend the Member for Kincardine and Deeside (Mr. Buchanan-Smith) and with my hon. Friends the Members for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland) and for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock), who emphasised the very high standards of food safety we have in this country, both compared with any earlier period and compared with most other countries, and who insisted that it is right that the Government continue to deal with food safety issues in a logical, carefully thought out, clear and unhysterical manner. That is what we have been doing.

Let me start by stressing that we see it as our responsibility, first, to ensure the safety of all food supplies, regardless of their source; secondly, to ensure that the interests of consumers and of the industry are taken fully into account; and, thirdly, to ensure that, throughout the food chain, there is effective monitoring and a framework of fully adequate regulations and the right framework to enforce them.

In carrying out these responsibilities, we act on three principles, which I think it is very important to bear in mind: first, thorough surveillance and monitoring; secondly, prompt action—[Interruption.] On all the issues that have been raised today I will demonstrate that we have taken prompt action, but—and this is a critical point—it has been based on the best scientific, medical and technical advice, which, of course, means not acting on supposition or rumour but only when we have the clear information and evidence. The right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) talked about deregulation and about the Government's desire not to overburden the industry. We do not burden any industry with regulations unless there is good reason to do so, but we take the necessary action when the evidence is there.

The third general principle is that the public should be given full information, including the results of research and monitoring, and timely health advice. I shall have something to say later about the substance—or, rather, the lack of it—of the right hon. Gentleman's speech. Let me say straight away that there are three points on which I agree with him. First, the Government must set and maintain standards of protection—and that we have done and are doing. Secondly, as he accepted, consumers need to handle food properly. I was grateful to him for saying that, because some of his hon. Friends have suggested that when, this point is made, the Government are endeavouring to shuffle off responsibility. I do not think that that is the case at all, and he agreed that it was right to advise consumers of the need to handle food properly. We have to acknowledge the fact that food hygiene issues apply throughout the food chain.

Dr. Reid


Mr. MacGregor

I am not going to give way, because I have many points to answer.

We are carrying out the food hygiene education programme following market research that we undertook last year. That research indicated, among other things, that a surprisingly low proportion of consumers actually regard the home as a potential hazard for food. We agree on that, and we are taking action on it.

The third point on which I agree with the right hon. Gentleman is the importance, as he put it, of the British people not over-reacting to panic headlines. This is a very important point. Many of my hon. Friends have emphasised the importance of keeping food issues in perspective. I only wish that some Labour Members had heeded their own leader's advice, including what the hon. Member for South Shields said in his winding-up speech.

Dr. Reid


Mr. MacGregor

I have to give answers to many hon. Members who have raised questions in the debate, and I intend to do so.

The right hon. Gentleman and some others spoke in exaggerated terms that do nothing to keep the matter in perspective. Let me emphasise that we are certainly) not complacent. We recognise that we have some new and serious problems.

Dr. Reid


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. This has been a quiet debate so far. I hope that hon. Members who were not present during the debate will not now interrupt the Minister.

Mr. MacGregor

I have a lot to cover. Many important points were raised. If I can get through them, I will give way.

I want to emphasise that we are not complacent. We recognise that we have new and serious problems, which we have tackled and are tackling. Equally, there is no cover-up. We have always made public the information that is available to us. Indeed, one of the problems in the whole food issue is that we publish so much information it is sometimes difficult to get the key facts through consistently. So let me get the perspective clear.

Our consumers are better protected than ever before in terms of our knowledge of potential risks and the action taken to reduce them. I emphasise the point on reduction of risks since it is impossible to live in a risk-free environment. Those who ask that we should be salmonella-free do not understand the nature of the problem. Salmonella has existed ever since man can remember. [Interruption.] There is nothing odd in saying that. Salmonella is in the environment. It is not possible to eradicate it and no country has succeeded in doing so.

What we aim to do is to reduce salmonella to the absolute minimum. I am told, for example, that each gramme of soil contains 10 to 100 million bacteria. It is self-evident that we cannot control birds and rodents or avoid muck among livestock. So problems always exist. What we can do is to observe all rules that protect the food chain. This we have done by regulations on what animals eat, what additions can be made to their diet and what medicines they can be treated with. For arable and horticultural crops, we have greatly increased the controls and regulations over pesticides and the quantities in which they can be used on land. There are strict controls over diseased animals. There are controls at slaughterhouses and throughout the distribution chain down to the retail cabinet in the supermarket.

That demonstrates that the Government are very active in pursuing a science-based reduction of risk. In all areas where improvements can be made we are seeking to enhance safety margins. Often safety margins are ultra-safe.

Dr. Reid


Mr. MacGregor

That is a clear response to the charge of the right hon. Gentleman that our emphasis is on protecting producers. On the new legislation on pesticides, on the fact that we have 17 measures dealing with the new strain of salmonella—[Interruption.] They are all in parliamentary answers. It would be pointless to reply to them now. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman does not do his homework. He does not read Hansard; they are all there. I shall happily send him the parliamentary answers.

In all these ways, we have been taking measures to deal with the problems in the industry. On mineral hydrocarbons, despite the fact that the advice to us is that there is no food risk, to be ultra-safe we have taken further steps which the industry will have to follow. We are guided by various advisory bodies.

Dr. Reid


Mr. MacGregor

We have a wide range of advisory bodies with outside experts on whose advice we act. I will demonstrate in answer to some of the issues that have been raised how quickly they have acted. These produce a stream of reports and we act on them promptly.

Dr. Reid


Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. The Opposition Front Bench spokesman was listened to quietly. I hope that the Minister will be accorded the same courtesy.

Mr. MacGregor

With the background I have given, I come to some of the charges. We get advice and we publish reports. There was prompt action on Chernobyl lamb, on BSE, on dialdrin in eels, on salmonella and on mineral hydrocarbons, to give a few recent examples. Until very recently, we were constantly taking action based on the advice we received, but the reports of surveillance and the action that we took normally did not get much press coverage. That did not mean that they were ineffective. They were doing a job and appropriate action was being taken in the interests of consumers.

Dr. Reid


Mr. MacGregor

I want to get through the points that were made and then I shall give way.

Of course, the industry, from the primary producers right through the food manufacturers to the retailers, has an equally strong interest, as some of my hon. Friends have been pointing out, in ensuring the highest possible standards of food safety and quality. After all, they depend on their customers, and increasingly their customers are demanding higher standards of quality. I believe that the industry has responded extremely well over recent years, and let me illustrate that by two points.

British food exports have increased by nearly 140 per cent. over the last 10 years—and in the added-value food sector exports rose by 20 per cent. in the last year alone. One does not get that standard of performance of increased exports unless our food standards and quality are of the highest. That is the proof. British industry is spending substantial sums on investment. One company is spending £200 million in two years to improve food standards and quality. Those hon. Members who mentioned the importance of what supermarkets do to ensure high standards were quite right. Much has been happening recently.

I would like to bring out a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen, when she drew attention to the fact that this country and Denmark are the only two member states in the European Community which have been accorded high standards of milk hygiene. When we reached that status at the end of last year it received a lot less publicity than a single food poisoning story, but I have to say that it was of much greater significance to the consumer. It was evidence of very high standards.

As to the charge that we do not take the consumer into account when we are considering food issues, let me make it clear that my Department takes full account of consumer interests across the whole range of its activities. We have always been ready to meet representatives of consumer organisations and Ministers have always responded when asked to do so. Last year, in addition, my officials had 31 meetings with consumer organisations. My Department also requests written consultation with consumer organisations on a wide variety of issues. Much of the consultation is and can be taken into account in writing. In 1988 we consulted 40 consumer organisations on no fewer than 225 occasions on 35 different issues. We always consult under the Food Act when subordinate legislation is being proposed and last year we did so on 38 occasions. So consultation with consumers is intense.

Now let me come to the salmonella issue, because I have indicated how we have taken prompt action on others. This is a new and growing problem, as everyone recognises. It is an international problem, which is being met in many other states. When the problem first came to the attention of our scientists, they had to investigate it carefully and closely towards the end of 1987 to be sure of the evidence before we acted. When it became clear that there was a problem with raw eggs, the Department of Health acted promptly both in relation to the hospital service and the consumer. When it became clear in November of last year—and it only became clear then—that there could, in addition, be a problem directly related to lightly cooked eggs, on 21 November a health notice and an announcement were issued straightaway. In the period from August until the end of November my officials were working flat out with the Department of Health and with the industry to develop the measures we now see. As I told the Select Committee, a package was put in front of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and myself in early November. We took decisions within a fortnight, strengthened them, and the first announcement was made in December. Since then we have taken 17 measures, and we can fairly claim that they are among the most comprehensive in any country in the world, because I have consulted all my ministerial colleagues in the Community, and I am confident that that is so.

Similarly, with mineral hydrocarbons, we received the advice of our food advisory committee on 2 February this year. Within a week we had not only taken a decision but announced it to Parliament. That is the promptness with which we act.

Let me turn now to BSE—[Interruption.] I will answer the point that the hon. Gentleman asked earlier about food protein and salmonella. He is quite right that I owe him an answer on that. The answer, as with so many of the issues concerned with salmonella, is that until this new and growing strain became clear, it was not necessary to take the kind of measures we take now, and that applied also to food protein. Incidentally, the hon. Gentleman ought to know that there are very few cases of salmonella enteritidis virus type 4 coming from food protein, whether imported or domestic.

Nevertheless, one of the 17 measures that we have implemented is to take powers to stop the protein going from the plant. Those powers have been in operation since 2 February, and we will use them whenever the evidence is there. [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours) must not start shouting from a sedentary position. He has had his questions answered.

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) raised the question of BSE. He is right to say that this is a new problem which must be taken seriously. Here, too, we acted promptly. The moment that it became clear that the probable source—not yet proved at that stage—was protein from other ruminants, namely sheep, we banned it. I also set up a committee under Sir Richard Southwood to advise us. Sir Richard will acknowledge that within days I accepted the exact advice and recommendations set out in his two interim reports and we took the necessary action.

Mr. Campbell-Savours


Mr. MacGregor

I have a lot more to say.

Very recently, Sir Richard put before me his final report. Ministers are now examining the report and its recommendations. We shall take a very quick view of it and publish it in full: I give that promise to the House.

Hon. Members have given examples of food poisoning resulting from unpasteurised milk. The Government made a number of decisions to deal with the problem in England and Wales by limiting substantially the number of outlets for unpasteurised milk. We have a problem here. Let me say to some of my hon. Friends who are unhappy about my recent announcement that I thought long and hard. It could be argued that straightforward information enabling the consumer to take his own view about a product is sufficient, but there is increasing public concern about food safety and we are constantly seeking ever higher standards. That is why we decided that in this instance such considerations outweigh freedom of consumer choice in relation to the continued sale of untreated milk.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that the Secretary of State is going to give way.

Mr. MacGregor

I hope that my hon. Friends will forgive me for not giving way. There will be other opportunities for them to speak, and I must get through the rest of my reply.

Effective heat treatment is known to be the only way in which to minimise the risks of transmitting milk-borne diseases to the consumer through unpasteurised milk. I therefore feel that it is right to take that step now. We shall be publishing—[Interruption.] Opposition Members want issues such as research and development to be discussed, and I am anxious to deal with them.

We shall be publishing the consultative document later this week. Issues concerned with unpasteurised milk and other milk products will be included in that document. May I make it clear, however, that there is no intention of banning cheese.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. If the Minister will not give way, the hon. Member for Lancaster (Dame E. Kellett-Bowman) and other hon. Members must not persist.

Mr. MacGregor

I have some serious points to respond to about research and development. I hope that, despite the hubbub, I have made clear the position on cheese from unpasteurised milk. We do not propose a general ban, as will be clear from the consultation document.

I have defended the position relating to near market research and development many times in the House. But it is not the case that the industry funding of near market research and development applies to issues of public good and food safety. We shall still be spending more than £200 million a year on research and development.

With regard to salmonella, I am currently considering the recommendations of the working party's report and we have increased the amount of research into BST in the past year.

The Leader of the Opposition charged us with the task of anticipating, planning and providing for change. One of the big challenges these days in relation to food safety is the fast-changing food technology, food processing and food innovation. We have been doing that regularly by bringing forward necessary regulations based on scientific advice such as the food hygiene regulations to which my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State referred.

Mr. Campbell-Savours


Dr. Reid


Mr. MacGregor

Since October 1987 there has been a review of food legislation and when parliamentary time permits we propose to introduce a new Food Bill.

We announced last year that we accepted the expert advice that under prescribed conditions irradiated food is safe and wholesome, but we also stated that we wanted to make sure that we had proper advice on the scope and format of regulatory controls before doing so. We expect a report from officials on that point.

Because of the lack of time I have not been able to cover many issues that have been raised, but I have demonstrated that there has been no cover-up, no conspiracy with the industry and certainly no complacency, but regular and prompt action based on a wide range of scientific advice.

The criticisms levelled against the Government and the British food industry today have been misleading and alarmist. They are also out of date and inaccurate. Labour's feeble claim that the British food industry is no more than a capitalist conspiracy against consumers is even dottier than suggesting that the Leader of the Opposition uses words as sparingly as Clement Attlee. If the Labour party is so concerned about food safety, why did it not initiate a single Opposition day debate on the subject between 1979 and 1989? Was it because Labour Members were satisfied with and supported our policies or was it because they lacked interest in and knowledge of the subject? The answer is yes to both questions. Now, suddenly they try to belittle our policies, which some of them have supported for the past 10 years and others have ignored.

I refer to the exchanges in the House on 5 December 1988 when my right hon. Friend reported on salmonella in eggs and the hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) responded—[Interruption.]

Mr. Campbell-Savours

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I doubt whether it is a point of order, but I shall hear it.

Mr. Campbell-Savours

At 4.50 pm the Secretary of State gave me a promise that I would receive an assurance from the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food that all protein feedstuff supplies from the producer were free from salmonella. I still have not received such an assurance. What am I to do?

Mr. Speaker

Order. That is patently not a point of order from me. It is a point of argument with the Minister.

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman raised that point of order for the simple reason that he is afraid of what I am about to say.

In his reply on 5 December, the hon. Member for Livingston did not refer to the food safety aspects of salmonella; he simply called for the resignation of my hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie).

The Labour party lacks credibility on food issues and the performance of Labour Members today has shown us why. Their grasp of the subject has been scanty and their knowledge even scantier and that was reflected in the speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition. By contrast, we have increased the number of food scientists and surveillance of the food chain. We have increased expenditure on food safety and we have taken promptly all the necessary action based on the scientific advice.

Another point of interest to the consumer is food prices. I noted that the Labour party is now suggesting a new food agency. I shall talk about that on another occasion. However, when the Labour Government had a Department of Prices and Consumer Protection, there was a massive increase in food prices much larger than has ever occurred under this Government. That is why we say that we are proud of our record. We are proud of the scientists, doctors and veterinary surgeons who monitor the changes with skill and probity. Today was expected to be the Leader of the Opposition's big day. He failed to make his case. I rest mine on our record.

Mr. Derek Foster (Bishop Auckland)

rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question, That the Question be now put, put and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, That the original words stand part of the Question:—

The House divided: Ayes 199, Noes 289.

Division No. 107] [10.00 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Cunningham, Dr John
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Darling, Alistair
Alton, David Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Anderson, Donald Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Armstrong, Hilary Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Dewar, Donald
Ashton, Joe Dixon, Don
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Dobson, Frank
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Doran, Frank
Barron, Kevin Douglas, Dick
Battle, John Dunnachie, Jimmy
Beckett, Margaret Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Beith, A. J. Eadie, Alexander
Bell, Stuart Eastham, Ken
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Evans, John (St Helens N)
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Bermingham, Gerald Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)
Bidwell, Sydney Fatchett, Derek
Blair, Tony Fearn, Ronald
Blunkett, David Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Boateng, Paul Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Boyes, Roland Fisher, Mark
Bradley, Keith Flannery, Martin
Bray, Dr Jeremy Flynn, Paul
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Foster, Derek
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Foulkes, George
Buchan, Norman Fraser, John
Buckley, George J. Fyfe, Maria
Caborn, Richard Galbraith, Sam
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Godman, Dr Norman A.
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Gordon, Mildred
Cartwright, John Gould, Bryan
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Graham, Thomas
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Clay, Bob Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Clelland, David Grocott, Bruce
Cohen, Harry Hardy, Peter
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Harman, Ms Harriet
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Corbett, Robin Haynes, Frank
Corbyn, Jeremy Heffer, Eric S.
Cryer, Bob Henderson, Doug
Cummings, John Hinchliffe, David
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Holland, Stuart. Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Home Robertson, John Patchett, Terry
Hood, Jimmy Pendry, Tom
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Pike, Peter L.
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Primarolo, Dawn
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Quin, Ms Joyce
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Radice, Giles
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Randall, Stuart
Illsley, Eric Redmond, Martin
Ingram, Adam Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Janner, Greville Reid, Dr John
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Richardson, Jo
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Lambie, David Robertson, George
Lamond, James Robinson, Geoffrey
Leadbitter, Ted Rooker, Jeff
Leighton, Ron Ruddock, Joan
Lewis, Terry Sedgemore, Brian
Litherland, Robert Sheerman, Barry
Livingstone, Ken Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Short, Clare
Loyden, Eddie Skinner, Dennis
McAvoy, Thomas Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
McCartney, Ian Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Macdonald, Calum A. Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
McFall, John Snape, Peter
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Soley, Clive
McKelvey, William Spearing, Nigel
McNamara, Kevin Steel, Rt Hon David
McTaggart, Bob Steinberg, Gerry
McWilliam, John Stott, Roger
Madden, Max Strang, Gavin
Mahon, Mrs Alice Straw, Jack
Marek, Dr John Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Turner, Dennis
Martlew, Eric Vaz, Keith
Maxton, John Wall, Pat
Meacher, Michael Walley, Joan
Meale, Alan Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Michael, Alun Wareing, Robert N.
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Wilson, Brian
Moonie, Dr Lewis Winnick, David
Morgan, Rhodri Wise, Mrs Audrey
Morley, Elliott Worthington, Tony
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Wray, Jimmy
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Young, David (Bolton SE)
Mullin, Chris
Murphy, Paul Tellers for the Ayes:
Nellist, Dave Mrs Llin Golding and
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Mr. Nigel Griffiths.
O'Brien, William
Adley, Robert Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Aitken, Jonathan Body, Sir Richard
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Boscawen, Hon Robert
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Boswell, Tim
Amess, David Bottomley, Peter
Amos, Alan Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Arbuthnot, James Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Bowis, John
Ashby, David Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Baldry, Tony Brazier, Julian
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Bright, Graham
Batiste, Spencer Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Browne, John (Winchester)
Beggs, Roy Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Bellingham, Henry Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Bendall, Vivian Buck, Sir Antony
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Budgen, Nicholas
Benyon, W. Burns, Simon
Biffen, Rt Hon John Burt, Alistair
Blackburn, Dr John G. Butcher, John
Butler, Chris Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Butterfill, John Holt, Richard
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Hordern, Sir Peter
Carrington, Matthew Howard, Michael
Carttiss, Michael Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Cash, William Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Chapman, Sydney Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Chope, Christopher Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Churchill, Mr Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hunter, Andrew
Colvin, Michael Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Conway, Derek Irvine, Michael
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Irving, Charles
Cope, Rt Hon John Jack, Michael
Couchman, James Jackson, Robert
Critchley, Julian Jesse], Toby
Currie, Mrs Edwina Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Day, Stephen Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Devlin, Tim Key, Robert
Dorrell, Stephen Kilfedder, James
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Dover, Den Kirkhope, Timothy
Dunn, Bob Knapman, Roger
Durant, Tony Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Dykes, Hugh Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Emery, Sir Peter Knowles, Michael
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Knox, David
Evennett, David Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Lang, Ian
Fallon, Michael Latham, Michael
Favell, Tony Lawrence, Ivan
Fenner, Dame Peggy Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lee, John (Pendle)
Fishburn, John Dudley Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Fookes, Dame Janet Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Forman, Nigel Lightbown, David
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lilley, Peter
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Forth, Eric Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Fox, Sir Marcus Lord, Michael
Franks, Cecil Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Freeman, Roger McCrindle, Robert
French, Douglas Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Gale, Roger MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Garel-Jones, Tristan MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Gill, Christopher Maclean, David
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian McLoughlin, Patrick
Glyn, Dr Alan McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Goodhart, Sir Philip McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Goodlad, Alastair Madel, David
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Major, Rt Hon John
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Matins, Humfrey
Gow, Ian Mans, Keith
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Maples, John
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Marland, Paul
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Marlow, Tony
Gregory, Conal Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E') Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Grist, Ian Mates, Michael
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom) Mellor, David
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Meyer, Sir Anthony
Hanley, Jeremy Miller, Sir Hal
Hannam, John Mills, Iain
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Miscampbell, Norman
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Harris, David Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Monro, Sir Hector
Hayward, Robert Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Heathcoat-Amory, David Morrison, Sir Charles
Heddle, John Moynihan, Hon Colin
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Needham, Richard
Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE) Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE) Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)
Hill, James Norris, Steve
Hind, Kenneth Pawsey, James
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Raffan, Keith Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Temple-Morris, Peter
Riddick, Graham Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Roe, Mrs Marion Thorne, Neil
Ross, William (Londonderry E) Thornton, Malcolm
Rossi, Sir Hugh Thurnham, Peter
Rowe, Andrew Townend, John (Bridlington)
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Ryder, Richard Tracey, Richard
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Trippier, David
Sayeed, Jonathan Trotter, Neville
Scott, Nicholas Twinn, Dr Ian
Shaw, David (Dover) Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Viggers, Peter
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Walden, George
Shersby, Michael Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Sims, Roger Waller, Gary
Skeet, Sir Trevor Walters, Sir Dennis
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Ward, John
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S) Watts, John
Soames, Hon Nicholas Wells, Bowen
Speed, Keith Wheeler, John
Speller, Tony Whitney, Ray
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Widdecombe, Ann
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Wiggin, Jerry
Squire, Robin Wilkinson, John
Stanbrook, Ivor Winterton, Mrs Ann
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Winterton, Nicholas
Steen, Anthony Wolfson, Mark
Stern, Michael Wood, Timothy
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Woodcock, Mike
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Yeo, Tim
Stokes, Sir John Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stradling Thomas, Sir John Younger, Rt Hon George
Sumberg, David
Summerson, Hugo Tellers for the Noes:
Tapsell, Sir Peter Mr. Kenneth Carlisle, and
Taylor, Ian (Esher) Mr. Tom Sackville.
Taylor, John M (Solihull)

Question accordingly negatived.

Question, That the proposed words be there added, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 30 (Questions on amendments):—

The House divided: Ayes 287, Noes 199.

Division No. 108] [10.14 pm
Adley, Robert Biffen, Rt Hon John
Aitken, Jonathan Blackburn, Dr John G.
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Body, Sir Richard
Amess, David Boscawen, Hon Robert
Amos, Alan Boswell, Tim
Arbuthnot, James Bottomley, Peter
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Ashby, David Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Bowis, John
Baldry, Tony Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Batiste, Spencer Brazier, Julian
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Bright, Graham
Beggs, Roy Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Bellingham, Henry Browne, John (Winchester)
Bendall, Vivian Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Benyon, W. Buck, Sir Antony
Budgen, Nicholas Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Burns, Simon Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Burt, Alistair Hind, Kenneth
Butcher, John Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Butler, Chris Holt, Richard
Butterfill, John Hordern, Sir Peter
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Howard, Michael
Carrington, Matthew Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Carttiss, Michael Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Cash, William Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Chapman, Sydney Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Chope, Christopher Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Churchill, Mr Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hunter, Andrew
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Colvin, Michael Irvine, Michael
Conway, Derek Irving, Charles
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Jack, Michael
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Jackson, Robert
Cope, Rt Hon John Jessel, Toby
Couchman, James Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Critchley, Julian Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Currie, Mrs Edwina Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Davis, David (Boothferry) Key, Robert
Day, Stephen Kilfedder, James
Devlin, Tim King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Dorrell, Stephen Kirkhope, Timothy
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Knapman, Roger
Dover, Den Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Dunn, Bob Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Durant, Tony Knowles, Michael
Dykes, Hugh Knox, David
Emery, Sir Peter Lamont, Rt Hon Norman
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Lang, Ian
Evennett, David Latham, Michael
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Lawrence, Ivan
Fallon, Michael Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel
Favell, Tony Lee, John (Pendle)
Fenner, Dame Peggy Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Fishburn, John Dudley Lightbown, David
Fookes, Dame Janet Lilley, Peter
Forman, Nigel Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Forsythe, Clifford (Antrim S) Lord, Michael
Forth, Eric Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Fox, Sir Marcus McCrindle, Robert
Franks, Cecil Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Freeman, Roger MacGregor, Rt Hon John
French, Douglas MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Gale, Roger Maclean, David
Garel-Jones, Tristan McLoughlin, Patrick
Gill, Christopher McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest)
Glyn, Dr Alan Madel, David
Goodhart, Sir Philip Major, Rt Hon John
Goodlad, Alastair Malins, Humfrey
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Mans, Keith
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Maples, John
Gow, Ian Marland, Paul
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Marlow, Tony
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Greenway, John (Ryedale) Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Gregory, Conal Mates, Michael
Griffiths, Sir Eldon (Bury St E') Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Grist, Ian Mellor, David
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Meyer, Sir Anthony
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Miller, Sir Hal
Hanley, Jeremy Mills, Iain
Hannam, John Miscampbell, Norman
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Molyneaux, Rt Hon James
Harris, David Monro, Sir Hector
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Hayward, Robert Morrison, Sir Charles
Heathcoat-Amory, David Moynihan, Hon Colin
Heddle, John Needham, Richard
Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Norris, Steve Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Pawsey, James Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Temple-Morris, Peter
Raffan, Keith Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Thompson, D. (Calder Valley)
Riddick, Graham Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Ridsdale Sir Julian Thorne, Neil
Roberts, Wyn ,(Conwy) Thornton, Malcolm
Roe, Mrs Marion Thurnham, Peter
Ross, William (Londonderry E) Townend, John (Bridlington)
Rossi, Sir Hugh Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Rowe, Andrew Tracey, Richard
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Trippier, David
Ryder, Richard Trotter, Neville
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Twinn, Dr Ian
Sayeed, Jonathan Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Scott, Nicholas Viggers, Peter
Shaw, David (Dover) Waddington, Rt Hon David
Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey) Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Walden, George
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Waller, Gary
Shersby, Michael Walters, Sir Dennis
Sims, Roger Ward, John
Skeet, Sir Trevor Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick) Watts, John
Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield) Wells, Bowen
Soames, Hon Nicholas Wheeler, John
Speed, Keith Whitney, Ray
Speller, Tony Widdecombe, Ann
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W) Wiggin, Jerry
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Wilkinson, John
Squire, Robin Winterton, Mrs Ann
Stanbrook, Ivor Winterton, Nicholas
Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John Wolfson, Mark
Steen, Anthony Wood, Timothy
Stern, Michael Woodcock, Mike
Stewart, Allan (Eastwood) Yeo, Tim
Stewart, Andy (Sherwood) Young, Sir George (Acton)
Stokes, Sir John Younger, Rt Hon George
Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Sumberg, David Tellers for the Ayes:
Summerson, Hugo Mr. Kenneth Carlisle and
Tapsell, Sir Peter Mr. Tom Sackville.
Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Abbott, Ms Diane Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Campbell-Savours, D. N.
Alton, David Cartwright, John
Anderson. Donald Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Armstrong, Hilary Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Clay, Bob
Ashton, Joe Clelland, David
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Cohen, Harry
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Cook, Frank (Stockton N)
Barron, Kevin Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Battle, John Corbett, Robin
Beckett, Margaret Corbyn, Jeremy
Beith, A. J. Cryer, Bob
Bell, Stuart Cummings, John
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cunliffe, Lawrence
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Cunningham, Dr John
Bermingham, Gerald Darling, Alistair
Bidwell, Sydney Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Blair, Tony Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Blunkett, David Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Boateng, Paul Dewar, Donald
Boyes, Roland Dixon, Don
Bradley, Keith Dobson, Frank
Bray, Dr Jeremy Doran, Frank
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Douglas, Dick
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Dunnachie, Jimmy
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Buchan, Norman Eadie, Alexander
Buckley, George J. Eastham, Ken
Caborn, Richard Evans, John (St Helens N)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Ewing, Harry (Falkirk E)
Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray) Meacher, Michael
Fatchett, Derek Meale, Alan
Fearn, Ronald Michael, Alun
Field, Frank (Birkenhead) Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n) Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Fisher, Mark Moonie, Dr Lewis
Flannery, Martin Morgan, Rhodri
Flynn, Paul Morley, Elliott
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Foster, Derek Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
Foulkes, George Mullin, Chris
Fraser, John Murphy, Paul
Fyfe, Maria Nellist, Dave
Galbraith, Sam Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Garrett, John (Norwich South) O'Brien, William
Godman, Dr Norman A. Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Gordon, Mildred Patchett, Terry
Gould, Bryan Pendry, Tom
Graham, Thomas Pike, Peter L.
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Primarolo, Dawn
Grocott, Bruce Quin, Ms Joyce
Hardy, Peter Radice, Giles
Harman, Ms Harriet Randall, Stuart
Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy Redmond, Martin
Haynes, Frank Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Heffer, Eric S. Reid, Dr John
Henderson, Doug Richardson, Jo
Hinchliffe, David Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Robertson, George
Holland, Stuart Robinson, Geoffrey
Home Robertson, John Rooker, Jeff
Hood, Jimmy Ruddock, Joan
Howarth, George (Knowsley N) Sedgemore, Brian
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Sheerman, Barry
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Short, Clare
Hume, John Skinner, Dennis
Illsley, Eric Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Ingram, Adam Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Janner, Greville Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk ds E)
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Snape, Peter
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Soley, Clive
Lambie, David Spearing, Nigel
Lamond, James Steel, Rt Hon David
Leadbitter, Ted Steinberg, Gerry
Leighton, Ron Stott, Roger
Lewis, Terry Strang, Gavin
Litherland, Robert Straw, Jack
Livingstone, Ken Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Loyden, Eddie Turner, Dennis
McAvoy, Thomas Vaz, Keith
McCartney, Ian Wall, Pat
Macdonald, Calum A. Walley, Joan
McFall, John Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Wareing, Robert N.
McKelvey, William Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
McNamara, Kevin Wilson, Brian
McTaggart, Bob Winnick, David
McWilliam, John Wise, Mrs Audrey
Madden, Max Worthington, Tony
Mahon, Mrs Alice Wray, Jimmy
Marek, Dr John Young, David (Bolton SE)
Marshall, David (Shettleston)
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Tellers for the Noes:
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Mrs. Llin Golding and
Martlew, Eric Mr. Nigel Griffiths.
Maxton. John

Question accordingly agreed to.


forthwith declared the main Question, as amended, to be agreed to.


That this House expresses complete confidence in the Government's policies for protecting the safety and quality of the nation's food and water supplies.

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