HC Deb 24 January 1989 vol 145 cc880-932
Mr. Speaker

I must announce to the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.52 pm
Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

I beg to move, That this House condemns the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, for its failure properly to protect consumers.

I must begin by saying how sorry we are that the Minister has been taken ill and is unable to be with us today. I know that I speak for the whole House when I wish him a speedy and full recovery and look forward to seeing him back at the Dispatch Box. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]

The Labour party's decision to debate this vital issue was not taken lightly. It reflects our growing concern about the Government's failure to protect consumers—an opinion increasingly, and correctly, held by the general public. It is not an attempt to attack the farmers who produce our food, because there is an identity of interest between farmers and consumers. We believe that our debate will be helpful to farmers because public confidence in the wholesomeness, purity and safety of our food has been severely shaken.

It has been necessary for us to force this debate today because, by its failure to ensure the quality of food in Britain, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has undermined that public confidence. The Ministry has failed to recognise that, in an age of fast-changing food technology and increasing use of convenience food, the threat of food contamination is increasing. I remind the House that food poisoning has increased massively, from the 14,000 cases that were notified in 1982 to 40,000 cases in 1988. That is a threefold increase in seven years and, of course, the figures reported are only the tip of the iceberg.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Will the hon. Gentleman consider seriously the point that there has been a demand to get rid of additives and preservatives, but that the younger generation of housewives have been accustomed to preservatives and are not used to the old-fashioned methods of preparing food that were used by their mothers and grandmothers, when preservatives were not available?

Dr. Clark

The hon. Lady has made her point clearly and has reminded us all of the need for food hygiene. Hygiene in the kitchen is only a small part of that, because we really need a hygiene programme for the whole nation, starting at the point of—I was going to say production—but at the preproduction stage and going right through every chain of food production. Although I accept the hon. Lady's point, I do not agree with her specific argument.

The Ministry has increasingly listened to the producers' side. I thought that the Minister gave the game away last week when, in a written answer to myself, he acknowledged that in 1988 he had met the National

Farmers Union of England and Wales on 37 occasions and the National Consumer Council only twice. That proves part of my case.

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

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way because I have with me a list of all Labour's Supply debates going back to 1979, and not a single one directly relates to food and the consumer. Is that omission by the Labour party the result of its satisfaction or its neglect of the issue?

Dr. Clark

I am somewhat surprised and perplexed by the Minister's intervention. Far from hitting the middle stump, I suspect that he bowled a wide. He knows the truth of our point that last year the Minister met the NFU 37 times but the National Consumer Council—the Government's own statutory body—only twice.

Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West)


Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (Derbyshire, West)


Dr. Clark

I am happy to give way, but if I do so, my speech, which I intend to be short, will be longer, and that may mean that some hon. Members who wish to speak will not be able to do so. I have already given way twice, and if I do so again, some hon. Members may not be able to speak.

Mr. Ryder


Dr. Clark

I happily give way to the Minister.

Mr. Ryder

The hon. Gentleman has failed to answer my question and because he has failed to do so, I shall give him the answer. It was contained in an article in Tribune magazine on 11 November 1988, in which the hon. Gentleman stated that food is a huge field we have neglected".

Dr. Clark

As the debate unfolds, and I start developing our strategy, the Minister and the House will see that, far from us coming new to this subject, we have been planning and developing it for some considerable time. I shall explain that in a moment.

Our case is not only that the Government have ignored the consumer, but, worse than that, when the Government appoint members to their own statutory advisory committees, such as the Food Advisory Committee, the premier committee, they go out of their way deliberately to exclude the consumer—[Laughter.] The hon. Member for Gloucestershire, West (Mr. Marland) may laugh, but I repeat that, of the 15 members on that premier food committee, only one represents the consumer. We maintain—

Mr. Ryder


Dr. Clark

I am sorry, but we have certain rules, and the Minister will perhaps have two occasions later today to deploy his case. He had better deal with his points then.

Mr. Jeff Rooker (Birmingham, Perry Barr)

My hon. Friend knows that it will not go unnoticed outside the House that so far he has raised issues of safety, the consumer, food poisoning and health, but that all we have had on two occasions so far—there has been a third attempt—are petty party political points from the Minister.

Dr. Clark

My hon. Friend makes a valid point. When he hears the case developed, he will see why the Minister is keen for us to obscure the debate, not on the basis of real facts, but of cheap party points.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Clark

I have tried to give way to both sides, and have done so fairly.

I agree with the National Consumer Council that this situation is not good enough. I agree with it when it says: It is essential that the consumer interest is effectively represented when national food policy is made. I wish to turn from this structural weakness in the public's voice to the operational aspect of the Ministry. Perhaps I could turn back to 1986 and Chernobyl because, in the aftermath of Chernobyl, the Government had a specific and obvious duty to protect the public. However, their response has been found wanting by all who have examined it. From first learning of the high levels of radioactivity in sheep, it took the Government seven weeks to impose restrictions under the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985. While the Government dillied and dallied, sheep from areas of high radioactivity went to slaughter. According to the Government's own Meat and Livestock Commission, there were 50,000 such sheep in Cumbria alone. When we include Scotland and Wales, the total figure is likely to be about 100,000.

It is little wonder that the Select Committee on Agriculture concluded: It must therefore be highly probable that sheep above the safety level entered the food chain. That is the case on the figures produced by the Government's own statutory body, the Meat and Livestock Commission.

Let me turn from sheep to milk. Under pressure from the drug producers, such as Monsanto and Eli Lilly, the Government have been a soft touch. From secret documents we now know that the drug manufacturers singled out Britain as the key to the European market for bovine somatotropin, the milk-producing hormone, because they considered that there was likely to be the least political opposition here and because we have the most lax licensing system. The result is that the Government have allowed the drug companies to run trials with BST being injected into cows on 15 farms around the country. The location of those farms has been one of the most guarded secrets of the Ministry. I must pay credit and tribute at this stage to a fine piece of journalism in that most excellent newspaper, the Shields Gazette and Shipping Telegraph, which uncovered one of the farms in Cockle Park in Northumberland.

What is more, not only have those farms been kept secret, but the milk has been allowed to go directly into the milk supply. Many consumers are unwittingly drinking milk produced with BST on those experimental projects. The British public have been used as guinea pigs, and that simply is not good enough.

Let me turn now to more recent times, to the publicity surrounding salmonella and eggs. The Select Committee is currently trying to get to the truth of the issue, but we are not helped by the refusal of the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) to give evidence to that Committee. The country has the right to know on what basis she, as the Minister of the Crown, made her infamous remark on 3 December 1988. Was there any substantiation in the files of the Department of Health, or has the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food done a deal to conceal the evidence? We have a right and a need to know the answer.

Mr. Ralph Howell (Norfolk, North)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Clark

I must get on. I am trying to be as quick as I can.

The House, the medical profession and the general public know that there is a problem with salmonella, but the Government have obscured the extent of the problem.

Mr. Howell

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Clark

No. I have given way generously to hon. Members on both sides of the House, and we are short of time.

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. As a member of the Select Committee of Procedure, I must say to you that we are conducting an inquiry into standards of behaviour in this Chamber. One of the difficult points for the Committee to determine is whether standards of behaviour are responsible or irresponsible, disciplined or indisciplined. I ask you to take note of the fact that my hon. Friend has today been speaking for about 12½i minutes, that there have been seven interventions by Conservative Members and that the interruptions have been disciplined by the Whips on the second Bench and led by the Minister from the Dispatch Box. I ask you to take note of this so that the Select Committee can record it in its proceedings.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

The hon. Gentleman's point of order gives me an opportunity to tell the House that many hon. Members wish to speak and that the debate is very short.

Dr. Clark

Even last week, the Minister was forced to acknowledge in the House that the measures that he had just announced were not new. If there was nothing new, the question must now be why the powers now judged essential for the protection of public health were not used earlier. It remains a mystery to us why the Minister refuses to prosecute the 21 protein processing plants that were found to be contaminated with salmonella in 1987, or the 17 which were found to be similarly contaminated last year. Will he confirm that some of the 21 plants found to be contaminated in 1987 were subsequently found to be so again in 1988? Why does he refuse to name the two flocks of hens identified by the communicable disease centre as a source of repeated epidemics? Will he now take the opportunity to clear the air and tell the House the names of the offending farms? As the general public, we have the right to know the answer in both those cases.

Hard on the heels of salmonella we have the listeria issue. It is clear that, following television and media disclosures, we have a major problem with listeria. Not only has the dedicated Professor Lacey of Leeds university produced evidence—[Interruption.] I thought that Conservative Members might challenge that, so I have also consulted other sources. For example, environmental health officers in Bristol found listeria in three out of 31 cooked chicken products and in three out of five raw chicken products examined. Further evidence to support the arguments of Professor Lacey comes more recently from Leeds, where the local authority found that seven out of 12 samples taken were contaminated with listeria, and from Peterborough, where six out of 17 fell into that category.

The Minister knows that that is the truth of the situation. Why does he ignore all the evidence that listeria can multiply in temperatures as low as 4 deg C? Why will the Government not heed the evidence and insist that adequate storage temperatures be maintained for the type of product most readily contaminated with listeria, and that the maximum shelf life be specified?

Mr. Marland

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Clark

I must get on.

I could give many other examples, but time does not allow me to do so. It is clear that the Government are guilty of neglecting consumer safety; indeed, they are often the direct cause of that neglect. As hon. Members know, our system of public health protection rests largely on inspections and checks, often by environmental health officers, yet, as a result of pressure on local authorities, there is a shortage of environmental health officers. That problem is exacerbated by the cutting of training places, resulting in approximately 430 vacancies last year. The number of food inspections is down by 15 per cent. Even the number of man years of people employed by the Ministry in visiting and advising abattoirs on hygiene and welfare standards has dropped from 53 in 1983 to 45 in 1987. That is the extent of the Government's commitment to these matters.

The Government have also just announced a massive 30 per cent. cut in the research and development of food and agriculture. How can they justify such a slashing of the R and D budget, which is vital to protect public health in Britain? A glaring example of the folly of these cuts is to be found in salmonella prevention techniques. At the food research institute in Bristol, funding has been withdrawn from a programme aimed at finding a method of preventing salmonella in poultry. A mere £300,000 is needed to complete the work. I ask the Minister even at this late hour to reinstate the three workers who have been given their redundancy notices. How can he find £19 million at the drop of a hat to reimburse the egg producers, but not find £300,000 for this vital research?

It is widely believed that two out of three institutes of food research will be closed, and it looks as if Bristol will he a casualty. Much valuable work is done there on food safety and quality, and the animal welfare aspects of meat production. Interestingly enough, one of the other projects under threat is a process for reducing contamination of meat by bacteria, including listeria. Can it really be in the consumers' interests that the Government should stop that work, particularly at a time when we are facing an epidemic of food poisoning and when there is growing public concern about the wholesomeness and quality of our food?

The eagerness of the present Administration to listen to industry is clearly illustrated by an examination of the regulations governing animal processing plants. The Labour Government proposed a public licensing system for animal food protein processing plants, which would have clearly maintained certain laid-down hygiene standards. However, when the Conservative Government came to office, they changed the whole tenor of the regulations and allowed the industry to determine how best to produce a high quality product". The chairman of the United Kingdom Renderers Association, John Field, blew the gaff when 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. I do not need to expand on that.

The Government have repeatedly boasted of their policy to reduce public expenditure, to sweep away regulations and controls and to cut the number of public servants, whom they regard as unproductive and having no place in the Prime Minister's brave new Britain. The blatant irresponsibility of such an approach is seen most vividly in food safety, where its results have been literally deadly. Many of our citizens have died as a result of the Government's failure to protect our food adequately.

The Government have deliberately reversed the policies developed over centuries and abrogated their responsibility to protect the consumer. We call upon them today to reverse their deadly policy; until they do that, they stand condemned of failing to protect the British people.

4.13 pm
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Richard Ryder)

I must at once apologise for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Minister, who had been greatly looking forward to the debate. Unfortunately, as the House knows, he was taken ill last night while negotiating for Britain in Brussels. He is making a swift recovery and will be back at work here very soon. I am sure the whole House will join me in wishing him well, and I thank the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) for his kind opening remarks.

The shells, if that is what they were, fired by the hon. Member for South Shields missed their mark. Under my right hon. Friend the Member for Westmorland and Lonsdale (Mr. Jopling) and my right hon. Friend the present Minister, the Ministry has changed dramatically in recent years. The general allegations made against it are not only way out of date but grossly misleading. To claim that Britain's entire food industry, from the field to the table, is in disarray, and that the entire population must go in fear of almost every item of food on the shelves is a travesty of the truth.

Britain's food industry is not a failure; it is an outstanding success story. Its productivity, its export performance and its range of goods are evidence of that; so is our retail sector, which is envied throughout the world. The industry employs more than 3 million people throughout the country. Does anyone really believe that if the industry and the Government had not paid attention to safety and quality, such achievements would have been possible?

The Labour party is out of touch with the views of consumers and taxpayers, and it admitted as much in the Tribune article of 11 November to which I have already referred. Opposition Members have shown a lack of understanding of, and interest in, the food chain. Since 1979 they have not selected a single Supply day subject directly related to food and consumers. That omission is due either to their satisfaction with our policies or to their neglect of the issue.

Consumers under this Government have much more variety of food on supermarket shelves, better value for money than in the 1970s and improved diet and standard of nutrition. The free market fostered by this Government is working in the interests of all consumers, who are getting a better deal from the food and agriculture industry than ever before. The far-reaching reforms of the common agricultural policy initiated in Brussels during the past few years, which are of direct benefit to consumers, are largely due to the pressure from Britain. For many years it has been a lone battle. It has been the firm voices of this Government and of the past two Conservative Ministers which have spoken up on behalf of consumers in Brussels. My right hon. Friend has raised the interests of consumers and the need to allow market forces to play a greater role in food and farming—

Dr. Lewis Moonie (Kirkcaldy)

Will the Minister explain how the common agricultural policy works in favour of market forces?

Mr. Ryder

I shall tell the hon. Gentleman precisely what we have done. Since the February Council of last year and the decisions that were taken largely as a result of British Government pressure, we have saved consumers hundreds of millions of pounds. I only wish that other European Ministers were as conscious of consumers as is my right hon. Friend—and as he will continue to be when he gets back.

Mr. Curry

Does my hon. Friend recall that, a long time ago when there was a Labour Minister for Agnculture, Fisheries and Food, there was a series of astronomical average farm price rises in Brussels, which was agreed by a Labour Minister? It was necessitated by high levels of inflation, above all in the United Kingdom, which meant that neither producers nor consumers benefited.

Mr. Ryder

My hon. Friend is correct. I shall leave references to the Labour party's record on prices and consumers in the 1970s to my able and talented Friend the Parliamentary Secretary who will wind up the debate later.

My right hon. Friend's first speech of the year in Oxford was a hard-hitting message to the food and farming industry, which emphasised the need for farmers to respond to the market place and satisfy the demand of consumers. That is a message that he has given all the time he has been in the Ministry.

He also reinforced his views on food safety in the same speech: Certainly, as far as my own department is concerned, we have for a long time put considerable effort into ensuring that food is as safe as it can possibly be and I can assure you that this will continue to be a high priority area of the Ministry's work.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing (Moray)

Will the Minister advise the House of the preparations which the Ministry has undertaken to recognise the implications of the European hygiene standards which will be implemented by 1992? They will include, for example, the full-time employment of veterinary surgeons within abattoirs. Will he look at the implications of that not just for veterinary medicine but for all other aspects of food hygiene?

Mr. Ryder

The hon. Lady is right. This matter is being discussed within the Commission, as she may know. It is something to which we shall be returning.

Those people who suggest that my right hon. Friend is in the hands of farmers should have read recent press statements. A recent article in a farming magazine stated: What a pity that the people who have recently accused the Minister of Agriculture of being in the NFU's pocket weren't present at the Oxford Farming Conference. I have never heard a Minister spell out a tougher message than Mr. MacGregor did amid the Dreaming Spires. My right hon. Friend is in nobody's pocket—neither farmers, food manufacturers or retailers. He has struck a careful balance between the interests of consumers, the need to protect our countryside, the need of farmers and food businesses to make profit and the concerns of taxpayers over how their money is spent. The Government believe that consumers and taxpayers are the major beneficiaries of the reform of the CAP instigated by this Government.

Action taken by the Government in Brussels has reduced the surpluses—the mountains are vanishing because of decisions taken at our instigation.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Ryder

I must apologise to my hon. Friend, but I shall not give way.

Our action has reduced the burden on taxpayers—the cost of the CAP is now under control. The reform of the CAP has kept the rises in food prices below the rate of inflation—in contrast to the Labour party when it was in power. It has brought greater realism to the CAP, allowing a greater role for market forces and this provided a stable basis on which the food and agriculture industry can prosper in the 1990s.

Consumers, thanks to the success of this Government's economic policies, have an improving standard of living and can buy food of better quality than ever before. The prosperity which this Government have brought to the United Kingdom economy is, more than anything, responsible for the improved living standards of the vast majority of the population. That has been achieved without weakening the surveillance of the food industry. Indeed, the food law standards, to which I shall be referring later, are increasing and consumers are better protected than ever before.

Consumers have a much wider choice on the supermarket shelves than ever before. In response to the market policies of this Government, the food industry has shown great ingenuity as it satisfies consumer demand. New products and foods are now available. [Interruption.]

Consumers are better off, with rising real incomes and lower inflation. Unlike the 1970s, when Labour was in office and prices were out of control, consumers are benefiting from low food price inflation and, as their real incomes rise, they are able to spend a lower proportion of their incomes on basic foods and more on other things. Economic prosperity has given them the freedom to choose.

From a sedentary position, hon. Members on the Opposition Front Bench have been asking about food surveillance, and safety, and I shall deal with it now.

Consumers are better protected than ever before by Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food scientists. We employ more food scientists now than were employed under the Labour Government. The hon. Member for South Shields appeared to imply that the number of food scientists that we are employing is lower.

Dr. David Clark

I did not.

Mr. Ryder

If the hon. Gentleman did not imply that, I shall, of course, withdraw it. However, we employ more food scientists now than did the Labour Government. They are better equipped than they have ever been, with more sophisticated techniques. They are making sure that the food we eat is as safe as possible, and they are admired and respected throughout the world.

Consumers, as well as producers, have benefited from the emphasis which we have placed on animal health. Major efforts have been put into protecting animal health in the United Kingdom. The Ministry has raised the health status of livestock, so that overseas markets, which are closed to other countries, are open to our producers.

This Government have always believed in the right of consumers to good-quality, nourishing food at affordable prices. Food law's essential purpose is to achieve consumer protection in areas of fraud, misleading labelling and food safety.

The Food Acts were consolidated by this Conservative Government in 1984 and followed major Conservative Food Acts of 1938 and 1955. They made it an offence to render any food for sale injurious to health or to sell—or offer for sale—food unfit for human consumption. The Government announced in October 1987–13 to 14 months ago—but only after consulting consumer organisations, that we would be further updating food legislation. Preparations for the Bill are well advanced. I have met the Consumers Association and the National Consumer Council, and our officials meet consumer organisations regularly or whenever they are asked to do so. Our door is always open to the Consumers Association and the National Consumer Council.

There are countless examples when we have responded positively to consumer representations. We insisted on rejecting the use of clouding agents in soft drinks. We pressed ahead with our nutrition labelling, and we are introducing alcohol strength labelling in the face of industry opposition.

Among issues being discussed with consumers are provisions for the proper evaluation and control of technological developments with food and food packaging materials which could pose hazards for consumers. The Food Bill that we are preparing to bring before Parliament will be the biggest since 1938, and we began the preparation of that Bill in October 1987.

Those hon. Members sitting on the Opposition Front Bench have been rightly muttering that we must devote ourselves during the debate not only to food safety but to food surveillance. It is food surveillance to which I now turn.

There are 10 working parties covering all aspects of food safety that fall within our area of responsibility. Working parties cover additives, nutrients and chemical contaminants in the diet. Their work, carried out by scientists and academics of the highest calibre, is objective and up-to-date. Evidence is assessed on contaminants, residues and naturally occurring toxins. The evidence is published with expert comment on each of the subjects dealt with by the working parties. Recent reports include those on colours in food, nitrates and plasticisers and more are in the pipeline.

Mr. John Home-Robertson (East Lothian)

What about Chernobyl?

Mr. Ryder

For the benefit of the hon. Member for East Lothian (Mr. Home-Robertson), in order to overcome any doubts I have some of the reports with me. Here are some of them. The survey of mycotoxins in the United Kingdom—that report was published and the Government acted upon it; a survey of lead in food—we published it and the Government acted on it; the surveillance of food contamination in the United Kingdom—the report was published and the Government acted on it.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Ryder

No, I shall not give way.

There is full public consultation before Ministers make new regulations. Reports of the Government's advisory committees are, as the hon. Member for South Shields knows, published and comments invited on them from consumer bodies. At the core of our work for consumers is the Food Advisory Committee to which the hon. Member for South Shields alluded. That is a vital body, respected all over Europe, which includes eminent scientists and academics, as well as consumer representatives.

Dr. David Clark

There is only one.

Mr. Ryder

The hon. Gentleman also said that in his speech, but let me put him right. I have a list of the people who sit on that committee and I shall read out the names of the five people who are either representatives of consumers or consumer enforcement bodies. They are Dr. Margaret Ashwell, Mr. Tony Harrison, Mr. Roger Manley, Miss Patricia Mann and Mrs. Anne Stamper. They are all representatives of consumer bodies or consumer enforcement authorities and there are five of them, not one.

Dr. David Clark

Would the Minister also like to advise the House by which other bodies those people are paid? I understand that Dr. Margaret Ashwell is now employed by an industry-funded body. All the other people apart from one, have links with the food industry.

Mr. Ryder

I am most grateful to the hon. Gentleman for enabling me to point out precisely where those Committee members work. Dr. Margaret Ashwell is an independent consultant on food nutrition, Mr. Tony Harrison is chief scientific adviser, public analyst and official agricultural analyst to Avon county council, Mr. Roger Manley is director of trading standards for Cheshire county council, Miss Patrica Mann is head of external affairs for J. Walter Thompson and Mrs. Anne Stamper—in deference to the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) I will not describe her as a "chairman"—is the chair of education for the National Federation of Women's Institutes and a lecturer in biology at Lewes technical college. No one can tell me that those five people, men and women of the highest calibre, do not represent the interests of the consumer on the food advisory committee.

I will take this opportunity to explain some of the work undertaken by the committee on behalf of consumers. Its advice on additives is based on the following criteria—that they are of demonstrable need, are not prejudicial to health, do not affect nutritive value, are used only minimally and are properly labelled. Therefore I yield to no one, least of all the hon. Member for South Shields, in my belief that the advisory committee, chaired by the vice-chancellor of Reading university, protects consumers as its number one priority.

I am glad to report that the United Kingdom concept of need, as outlined and pursued by the food advisory committee, has been adopted by the European Community Commission and now forms part of EC as well as our legislation. All the reports of the Government's advisory committees, including the food advisory committee, are published.

I know that pesticides are a matter of concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House. My Department is one of six Government Departments that must approve any new pesticides before they can be sold. Ministers are advised by the independent Advisory Committee on Pesticides before any approval, review or revocation of a pesticidal substance. The approval system is backed up by an intensive system of monitoring residues by the working party on pesticide residues at a cost of nearly £1 million per annum to the taxpayer.

At the other end of the food chain, food labelling law is designed to assist consumers to make an informed choice at the time of purchase. Food labels must detail the name or description of the food, an ingredients list, date of minimum durability—

Mr. Martlew

This is boring.

Mr. Ryder

It may be boring to the hon. Gentleman, but it is certainly not boring to consumers.

Mr. Martlew


Mr. Ryder

No I will not give way.

The label must also detail the name and address of the responsible packer or seller. In addition, and where appropriate, details of storage instruction, instructions for use and place of origin must be given. Food labelling, which is a matter of great concern to consumers, is kept under regular review by my Department. We have issued a booklet entitled "Look at the Label". Half a million copies have been distributed and another edition will be published shortly.

Sticking closely to the question of consumer information, which is part of the motion before the House today, it is generally recognised that food hygiene is of paramount importance in reducing food poisoning risks. The Government are about to launch a food hygiene education programme aimed at consumers. Of course, additives and processing techniques should not be used to conceal inadequate hygiene, and food manufacturers must comply with good manufacturing practices; otherwise they face the sanction of the law.

Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)

Under what law?

Mr. Ryder

They can be sanctioned under the Food Act 1984.

It is nearly 10 years since we took office and, during that time, we have initiated at least 20 specific debates on the Floor of the House and in Committee that have directly affected food and the consumer. I am not counting among that number the regular agriculture, fisheries and food debates. The subjects of those 20 debates have ranged from misleading labelling to pesticide residues. How does our figure of 20 debates compare with Opposition-instigated debates about food and consumers? I have already pointed out that, since 1979, no Supply day has been given up by the Opposition to discuss those matters. What audacity the Opposition have to appropriate consumerism as their own creed.

There can only be two reasons for the Opposition's neglect of food and consumers—either their satisfaction with our policies of the last decade or their lack of interest in the subject. [Interruption.] Opposition spokesmen may protest, but is it contentment or lack of interest? I am a fair-minded fellow and I offer them the benefit of the doubt. I ascribe the Opposition's silence to contentment and their protests to street theatre.

The truth is that while the Labour party dabbles with the rhetoric of opposition, the Government grapple with the problems, secure the solutions and, as I have explained, act on them.

4.37 pm
Mr. Gordon Oakes (Halton)

First, I join my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) and the Parliamentary Secretary in wishing a speedy recovery to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. He is suffering from a nasty illness and we wish him well and a speedy return to the House. Having listened to a speech of utter complacency from the Parliamentary Secretary, the sooner the Minister comes back to the House the better.

I shall first deal with the Parliamentary Secretary's allegation that the Opposition have taken too little interest in food. I agree with him. I do not believe that we have taken nearly enough interest in this matter, but I remind him that we are not the Government. He said that during the past 10 years we have not instigated any Supply day debate on food. That may be true, but we have instigated one today because there is a great deal of public concern—it has increased since Christmas—about food handling. Any Opposition will use their Supply days to bring public concern to the attention of the House. That is why my hon. Friend tabled today's motion. I am afraid, however, that public concern will not be assuaged by the complacent speech by the Parliamentary Secretary.

If proof were needed that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is so producer-oriented that it cannot adequately look after consumers, surely the Christmas pantomime about eggs put the matter beyond doubt. Let us reflect on what happened at Christmas and what the Ministry did only a few weeks ago. The hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) did her job. I did not give her notice that I would refer to her, but I shall say nothing disparaging about her. In fact, I thought that she would be present and I am astonished that she is not in her place during a debate dealing directly with the matters that led to her resignation as a Minister.

As a Minister for health the hon. Lady warned the public about a potential health hazard. That warning had already been given to hospitals. As a result of what the hon. Lady said, there was sheer panic in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The Government threw £19 million at egg producers as compensation for loss of business. They did not link that money with research into salmonella, improving premises or making the flocks free of salmonella; they simply compensated the industry for loss of orders.

The Ministry is producer-oriented. It is unconcerned with consumers and quite desperately concerned not to offend Government supporters in the egg-producing industry. The only person to emerge with any credit was the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South, who was mocked by the media and jeered at and scorned by Conservative Members—and, I am ashamed to say, by some Opposition Members—for doing her job. It is a pity that she was forced to resign for doing the very job that the Government appointed her to do.

The Minister keeps promising us that there will be a massive Food Act. The last basic Food Act was in 1955. The regulations under which most inspections take place were made in 1970. I am an honorary vice-president of the Institution of Environmental Health Officers. That institution has been pressing the Government for food regulations and for a food Act for more than five years. When the Minister was talking about the various institutions and consumer organisations with which his Department had been in contact, I noticed that he did not mention the front line—the environmental health officers who have to implement the legislation. When the Minister talked about how much research had been done and how many papers had been produced, it was as if, in the face of a crime wave, the Home Secretary were saying how many academics were studying criminology. We do not need academics, we need people in the front line forcing a modern Act and modern regulations.

Let us look back to 1970 when the regulations came into force. Microwave ovens were unknown, except possibly by NASA in America. In 1970 the whole principle of microwave ovens was unknown. Now they are commonplace. Microwave ovens can be dangerous because sometimes they merely reheat food and do not kill germs within that food. In 1970 there was not such an enormous number of freezer shops. Now, in every high street there are freezer shops and there are freezer stores in every supermarket. That was not so in 1970 when the regulations were made.

There has also been a massive increase in the number of take-away food outlets since 1970. In 1970, who would have dreamt of going to Marks and Spencer for a pack of sandwiches or a salad? I say nothing about the standards of Marks and Spencer which are probably the highest in the world, but the other side of the coin is that the local garage on the street corner may sell sandwiches which are being handled by someone with no knowledge whatsoever of food and more than likely the sandwiches have been in the window in the broiling sun before being sold and consumed.

The people who have to deal with those circumstances and police those regulations are the environmental health officers, so we should consider their numbers and recruitment. There is an acute shortage of environmental health officers. Out of nearly 6,000 officers in the United Kingdom there is a shortage of some 430. That is a 4…5 per cent. shortage throughout the country, and here in London—where we read only last week that the rat population makes it almost the rat capital of the world—there is a shortage of nearly 9 per cent.

The Government have done nothing to alleviate that problem. They have been a hindrance squeezing local authorities until the pips squeak so that they have difficulty in paying for more public health inspectors and environmental health inspectors who are desperately needed at present. They have even closed the course at Aston and Bristol polytechnics, thereby reducing the number of recruits by 60 per year. In that profession, there is 100 per cent. certainty of employment once students have completed and passed the course, but the Government have reduced the number of students on those courses.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields said that the number of cases of food poisoning now stands at some 40,000. In 1982 the figure was about 14,000 or 15,000. That increase is in direct proportion to the shortage of public health inspectors. If one looks at the graph the parallel is clear.

Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

Is the right hon. Gentleman talking about the number of reported cases of food poisoning or the number of actual cases? Does he agree that, because of greater public awareness of the problems of food poisoning, perhaps more cases have been reported than previously?

Mr. Oakes

I do not think that is so. I am talking about the number of reported cases, but I do not think that it is a question of people not reporting cases. I am not certain, but I think that when someone goes to a doctor for treatment for food poisoning, the doctor is under a duty to report that case to the public health inspectors. However, I am quite certain that the incidence of food poisoning in this country has increased, and the public is well aware of that increase.

There is an acute need to do something about that, not to set up more academic bodies to consider various matters, but to produce legislation that is modern and up-to-date and that takes into account modern technology and the state of the market at present, and as it is likely to be in future. The Minister should direct his attention to that instead of paying…19 million to compensate egg producers because of a remark by one of his ministerial colleagues.

In the light of that, is the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food the correct Department to administer food? It has held that responsibility for a long time, but I repeat that it is a producer-oriented Department. The institution to which I referred wants a separate Ministry for Food. I do not agree with that; I do not think that the subject merits a separate Ministry with all the panoply of a Department of State.

Should the responsibility for food go to the Department of Health? At first sight there is a case for that, especially as the Department of Health is no longer linked to the Department of Social Security. Diet and food, and food standards, involve health and preventive health, so it is important that the Department of Health looks after food rather than the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Should the responsibility go to the Department of the Environment which looks after local authorities who employ the trading standards officers and the environmental health inspectors?

Mr. Marland

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Oakes

In a moment.

I am not sure about the Department of the Environment, because of its deplorable record on water authorities in the past few months. It also tends to be producer-oriented rather than consumer-oriented. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sir H. Miller) laughs, but the record of the Department of the Environment is deplorable, for example, in what it is allowing water authorities to do at present. It will get worse when the water industry is privatised.

Mr. Marland

Does the hon. Gentleman think that we should also have a separate Department for looking after transport users, other than the Department of Transport? Possibly he could also outline to us what he would do with the users of energy. Would he have them looked after by the Department of Energy or would he like to have another Department for users of energy as well, to carry his theory to its logical conclusion?

Mr. Oakes

So often when one gives way one does so just when one is about to answer the question put by the hon. Member to whom one gives way. I do not think that the Department of the Environment would be suitable. To give MAFF its due, it is not the only producer-oriented Department—and this is the hon. Gentleman's point. I was a Minister at the Department of Energy which was dominated by three boards—gas, coal and electricity—not by consumers. The civil servants all knew people in the industry, there was a sort of incestuous relationship going on all the time and the consumer was forgotten. That does happen with Departments of State.

No, my solution is that we try a Department of Consumer Affairs again. We need to have it as a complete and separate Department of State. In 1974 the Labour Government made a very bungled and half-hearted attempt to set one up, but it failed because it had iao powers. Other Departments were very reluctant to hand over their powers to it, even though they did not want to do the work themselves. What I have in mind is a Department with a Cabinet Minister at the head, with a permanent secretary and fully staffed by civil servants who have the power to deal with all the different Ministries. It should have the responsibility for enforcing food regulations; it should deal with transport complaints; it should deal with energy consumers and telephone bills; and all the statutory bodies would be answerable to it.

The Government should look closely at this idea of a separate Department of consumer affairs. I can think of many of my hon. Friends who would make excellent Cabinet Ministers in charge of such a Department, but on the Government Benches I know of no one with the enthusiasm and determination to do such a job—except possibly the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South.

4.52 pm
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge)

I associate myself with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary and the right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) concerning my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We hope that he will soon be back with us to debate these matters.

I wish first to declare an interest. I am an adviser to two sections of the food industry and worked in that industry for more than 20 years—my interests are declared in the Register of Members' Interests—and I hope that I shall be able to deploy some of my experience of the food industry to effect this afternoon. I would like to record my very high opinion of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food over a long period of time for the way in which it has protected consumers. I have always regarded MAFF, as it is known to everyone in the industry, as one of the best Departments of State. It is well run and well staffed, and its staff know what they are doing on agricultural, food and fisheries policy.

I therefore completely reject the terms of the Opposition motion. I simply do not believe that there is any good evidence—nor has any been adduced this afternoon.—to condemn MAFF, in the terms of the motion, for its failure to protect the consumer. I will demonstrate to the House why I believe this to be so.

MAFF is responsible for food and safety surveillance. The provisions of the various Food Acts require that all food should be safe and that consumers should not be misled. For example, the Acts' general provisions make it an offence either to use any substance during the preparation of food so as to render it injurious to health or to sell food which is not of the nature, substance or quality demanded by the consumer. Food and Health Ministers are jointly responsible for deciding what substances are allowed in the nation's food and rely on the independent advice of distinguished experts, notably those who serve on the Food Advisory Committee and on the Committee on the Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment, known affectionately as "COT".

All these committees are independent of Government, and I am very sorry that the right hon. Member for Halton attempted this afternoon to insinuate that in some way the membership of these committees was not adequate to protect the consumers, or, alternatively, that those people who serve on the committees who represent the consumers had some outside interest which would prevent them from exercising their independence. I know full well, as does the whole food industry, that that simply is not true. The committees are of the highest possible standard. Their members are independent. Their decisions are recognised throughout the industry as capable of being fully respected, and such decisions have always been acted on promptly. So let us get out of the way once and for all any suggestion that the committees are not independent or that their members are somehow biased.

Dr. David Clark

Could I just quote "Food Policy and the Consumer", produced by the National Consumer Council? On page 19 it says: The Food Advisory Committee has itself no independent powers. It can only respond to specific instructions from Ministers Those are the words of the Government's own National Consumer Council.

Mr. Shersby

What it does not say is that the advice given by the various committees is not independent. It is independent, and it is the duty of my right hon. Friend and his ministerial colleagues to refer to the Food Advisory Committee matters of importance that affect the food industry, the consumer and the whole food chain.

Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston)

The first name on the list of members is that of Dr. Albury. I well remember being asked about a year ago to be a presenter on a television documentary programme, and she was one of those that I had to interview. Before I did so, I discovered that she had telephoned the Ministry of Agriculture to find out what she ought to say. Then, after asking her a few questions, I discovered that she earned her living by contracting for food manufacturers. For those two reasons, she did not seem very independent.

Mr. Shersby

My hon. Friend makes that point; doubtless my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary will reply to it later. It is quite right and proper for members of a committee of that kind to know the Ministry's view as well as their own. But there has been an attempt, not by the right hon. Member for Halton but by those outside the House who have written books from time to time, to imply that, because the proceedings of those committees are confidential, they are in some way biased. I hope that the House will accept today that that is not the case.

I would like to quote briefly a couple of examples of consumer protection. One of the problems concerning MAFF and consumers is that of bovine spongiform encephalopathy:MAFF has acted promptly to deal with this new cattle disease. In April last year the Government set up an expert working party to examine all aspects of the disease, including its implications for human health and, although the working party found no evidence of risks to human beings, it recommended that affected cattle and their milk be destroyed—another example of quick action taken by MAFF.

A major research programme has examined practical ways of reducing pesticide input into the environment, something of vital concern to consumers. Another matter which I know about from personal experience is the question of wrapping and packaging materials. Here again, as a result of a report of a working party on vinyl chloride, the level of vinyl chloride monomer transferred to food from PVC packaging materials has decreased substantially. That is very important. I can also tell the House that, following consultation with MAFF, manufacturers have reformulated their products to reduce the levels of placticiser used in PVC and so keep the potential intake to a minimum. That is an important matter, which has been raised by consumer organisations and reported in the press and on radio and television. We see that MAFF is taking action.

The Minister referred to the review of the Food Act 1984. I know from personal experience that that review has been in preparation for several years and has required the most enormous amount of work by his Department and considerable consultation with consumers and the food industry.

We look forward to 1992 and what will happen over food safety. Britain's food standards are generally higher than those in any other European Community country. As a result, we are able to export large quantities of food, not only to other European countries but throughout the world.

An important matter in this context is food labelling and additives. MAFF has been at the forefront of the drive to ensure that food is labelled properly and that accurate information is provided to the consumer. As long ago as 1980, it issued about a million copies of a free booklet called "Look at the Label" which was designed to encourage consumers to look at labels to find out about the contents of what they were buying. All those changes give the lie to the suggestion that MAFF keeps the consumer in ignorance and protects the producer from change.

The United Kingdom has a restrictive view on the use of food additives. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister and his colleagues approve an additive only if they are satisfied that it is necessary and safe. Some additives are necessary, and many of them are safe. The point made by the right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) was important. Food poisoning has been on the increase—at least, the number of reported cases of food poisoning—and that is a matter of great concern to consumers, the Ministry and the food industry.

In this country, as in any other civilised country, we must try to achieve a balance between the use of additives and preservatives, and having foods with no additives or preservatives. We all know that, if one tries to produce jam without its major constituent, preservative, it will go mouldy. Bread and many other products can easily go mouldy. The object of using additives and preservatives is to prevent that happening and to ensure that the consumer enjoys the advantage of having safe food at his or her disposal.

This afternoon we have discussed food intolerance in relation to additives. There is an excellent example of research, funded by the Ministry, into the study of the prevalence of food intolerance to food additives. MAFF is conducting that work, assisted by the initiative of the Food and Drink Federation, which takes a keen interest in that matter.

This afternoon's debate is a result of public concern over food safety. That concern has arisen because of the problem of salmonella and, more recently in the past few days, the problem of listeriosis monocytogenes.

There has been much debate in the House about salmonella and the infestation of chicken flocks and eggs, which I shall not expand on this afternoon. However, I shall speak about listeria monocytogenes. It is not new, but has been with us for more than 20 years. It is important to recognise that, since 1986, only four cases of listeria that is attributable to food consumption have been reported. That figure comes from a report from the public health laboratory. There are other ways in which listeria can infect a human body, but I am talking about those cases which are specifically attributable to food consumption. It is important to bear than in mind.

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield)

Will the hon. Gentleman accept that one reason why the figure is so low is that listeriosis is not a notifiable disease?

Mr. Shersby

I am not sure whether that is the reason. I am sure that the public health laboratory monitors those cases of food infection extremely carefully. Notification may assist in dealing with other cases. The other day, I heard an obstetrician talking about this problem and about the number of cases that he had encountered. It may be that notification will be a valuable way of drawing attention to that aspect of the problem.

As a result of the recent outbreaks of salmonella and listeria, there has been some pressure for the transfer of the responsibility for food safety to the Department of Health. It is argued that MAFF cannot protect the consumer while at the same time acting as the sponsoring Ministry for the food industry and farmers. Is that true? MAFF argues that transferring the responsibility would break the chain of responsibility for the production and safety of food from the farm to the consumer. Some consumer organisations and health pressure groups argue that, as the Department of Health is responsible for the provision of health care, it should be responsible for food safety. There is, perhaps, some right on both sides.

While MAFF is responsible for everything from the short tail docking of sheep to changes in controls on pesticides, it is not responsible for regulations governing the manufacture and storage of cook-chill foods. I draw the Minister's attention to a strange sequence of events. Last week, I tabled three parliamentary questions to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. They dealt with regulations about good practice in the manufacture of cook-chill foods, regulations governing the temperature at which such foods are stored, with any plans that he might have to ensure that instructions about refrigeration and storage on containers of cook-chill products were sufficiently clear.

To my intense surprise, all three questions were transferred to the Department of Health. Those were priority written questions because I wanted the answers for this afternoon's debate. However, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Health said that he would reply as soon as possible. That can only beg the question as to whether his Ministry has responsibility for food safety standards in food manufacture. I say that MAFF has that responsibility because it is responsible for the Food Act and is the food manufacturing industry's sponsoring Ministry.

According to the current list of ministerial responsibilities which was issued by the Cabinet Office last September, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Ryder) is responsible for food policy, food standards and food science, yet important questions concerning food standards are transferred by his Department—by his parliamentary branch—to the Secretary of State for Health. Why? I hope that when he winds up tonight, my hon. Friend will tell us.

It is important that the post of the Minister responsible for food is clearly defined and carries sufficient weight and seniority within the Ministry. Food is one of three major areas of responsibility within MAFF. With due respect to the three Parliamentary Secretaries—my noble Friend the Baroness Trumpington and my hon. Friends the Members for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson) and for Mid-Norfolk—their responsibilities cover a wide range of topics.

Let us take food safety as an example. My noble Friend is responsible for cereals, sugars, oils, fats, potatoes, processed fruits and vegetables, tropical foods, horticulture, plant health, plant varieties, seeds and pesticides, all of which have an important bearing on food safety. My hon. Friend the Member for Calder Valley deals with meat, milk and poultry products, and animal health and welfare. His responsibilities also include eggs, chickens and milk, to which is linked cheese made from pasteurised or non-pasteurised milk. Of course, that all relates to the current concern about, for example, listeria.

Then we have the third Parliamentary Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk, who deals with food policy, food standards and, most important, food science. But my hon. Friend also has to deal with alcoholic drinks and the countryside. In effect we have three Ministers of Food; all of them do a first-class job and are much admired for it. But we have no Minister of State in MAFF. Why? In the light of the events of recent weeks, should there not be one senior Minister in overall charge of food policy, food standards and food science? We cannot reasonably expect my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture who has overall responsibility for the Department, including agricultural support policy, the European Community, price fixing and all the rest of it, to have the necessary hands-on, day-to-day responsibility for dealing with all these other important but less dramatic matters.

In comparison with the structure of MAFF, in the Department of Health there is a Minister of State who is designated Minister of State for Health, and who is responsible for preventive health care, including drugs, alcohol abuse, and so on. Neither the Secretary of State for Health nor the Minister of State for Health is responsible for food policy or food manufacturing standards. Yet it is to them that my questions on these matters have been referred.

One of the best answers to the problems that we face today is to improve our presentation and to have a senior Minister of State for food, responsible for food policy, food standards and food science. Such a Minister might have the benefit of an agency which could look after those interests and advise him. When my hon. Friend next talks to his right hon. Friend about these matters, he should ask him to consider the way in which the responsibilities are divided and to consider whether a Parliamentary Secretary be promoted.

Perhaps I may remind my hon. Friend of the words of one of his distinguished predecessors, Lord Woolton. When Lord Wootton spoke, everyone knew that the Minister of Food had spoken. His word went throughout the length and breadth of the land. All of us appreciated what he had to say; he was a truly great man. From the way my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk handled the debate this afternoon, there is a fair chance that he may follow in Lord Woolton's footsteps.

Let us improve our presentation so that the understandable concern of consumers can be assuaged. We should have a Minister of Food who is responsible for food safety and who will be able to ensure, as the Minister of Agriculture has done for many years, that the standards of food production are as high as possible.

5.13 pm
Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

May I first associate my colleagues in the Social and Liberal Democrats with the good wishes expressed to the right hon. Gentleman, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food? We share the hope expressed in the House that his current indisposition will soon be behind him and that he is well on the way to full recovery so that he may return to the Dispatch Box to discuss agriculture matters with us.

The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) referred to the structure of food policing policy, if I may call it that. Although I agree with the sentiments behind the Labour decision to call for the debate today, I cannot fully endorse, and certainly will not support in the Lobby, the blanket condemnation in the Opposition motion. At the same time, the Minister's account of the state of the art was rather too complacent and self-congratulatory. If someone were not aware of the background over the past few months, his epitaph on the Minister's speech might be, "Problem? What problem?" We had a self-assured performance, which one would expect from the Minister, but it was just a little complacent on the details of policy and its implementation. On that basis I will not support the Government's amendment.

To go back to first principles, running through the debate and some of the criticisms which the Labour and Conservative parties exchanged on the matter is a false dichotomy. At times we overlook the fact that, while farmers are producers, they have a strong vested interest in the highest standards which consumers want because they themselves are consumers. If farmers cannot contribute to the United Kingdom food chain in a way which reassures and gives the public the strongest confidence in the products which they are invited to purchase, the farmers will suffer in immediate financial terms and also because their households and families will be open to exactly the same dangers which we wish to see averted for consumers in general. There is a false dichotomy in suggesting that the two sectors are irreconcilable and cannot recognise shared interests.

Mr. Ron Davies

May I assure the hon. Gentleman that that was precisely the point that my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) made at the beginning of his speech? He made it clear that there was a community of interest between food producers and consumers.

Mr. Kennedy

I accept that the hon. Gentleman made that point. I simply underscore the point in commenting on it.

Equally, if we are in favour, as I think both Government and Opposition are, of effective consumerism, that must surely mean the public having as much information as possible to make rational, sensible and well-informed choices. That is why Britain, although lagging behind North America in consumerism, as in so many other things, is moving radically in the same way in putting much greater emphasis on labelling, on the detailing of additives used food and so on. That is sensible. It is hardly surprising and it is a trend which is broadly welcomed.

The last principle, which again must never be overlooked, is that since the second world war it has been the role of the Minister of Agriculture and a fundamentally important objective for any Government to secure a position in United Kingdom agriculture which does not result in food shortages for the consumer. That policy has been pursued successfully for over 40 years. Even though we have had a legitimate concern about the problems of the past few months, we should never lose sight of the public disturbance which would result if we ever had to go back to the food shortages or the rationing of 40 years ago. Those are the shared principles upon which any policy should be based.

In regard to surpluses, one need not look to many sectors, if any, of United Kingdom domestic production for any surpluses which are accumulating within the European Community. We took steps to reduce our share of the over-production of milk within the Community.

The Minister referred to the speech by his right hon. Friend in Oxford recently. I worry slightly about us becoming more Thatcherite, as is suggested in some quarters, in our attitude to agriculture. When the Minister of Agriculture was speaking in Oxford, he told farmers that they should no longer see themselves as food producers but, to quote his phrase, as "landscape entrepreneurs". His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales would probably endorse that, but I do not believe that it is quite what the Minister had in mind. Landscape entrepreneurial activity is all very well, but another farmer who was at that gathering, Mr. Oliver Walston, from East Anglia—he will not be unknown to the Ministry—has commented that free trade— [Interruption.] I no longer answer for the Social Democrats, but for the Social and Liberal Democrats. I am answerable for the official but not the provisional wing.

If I may quote the poor man, who should not be dragged into that family concern, he told the conference that free trade would leave not a single Scottish crofter, the Lake District a wilderness, and the hillsides of Wales without a sheep or cow. I hope therefore that the Ministry, and the Government in general will bear in mind those very important points when considering the broad policy towards the changing nature of agriculture in Britain.

As the hon. Member for Uxbridge has suggested, there is something of an in-built institutional conflict in MAFF, between the support of agricultural interests, of farmers and food, and its policing role to ensure public safety in food standards.

Equally, if one considers the Department of Health, I would have been interested to hear a Health Minister respond to the debate because it would have shown the degree of consistency or co-ordination within the Government. Although the Department of Health must act where there is any potential threat to the consumer, I understand that with regard to food production, the Department of Health must first persuade MAFF of any potential or actual threat.

There is therefore a case in the longer term for looking at the anomalies that that position creates, although in the short term I want to speak in support of MAFF. Indeed, if the Government are reviewing the position, as Whitehall rumours suggest they are, as reported in the press, there might be considerable merit in moving towards an American-style Food and Drugs Administration. In other words, there would be a Government-funded, yet independent, watchdog organisation. That is not a million miles removed from what the hon. Member for Uxbridge was alluding to earlier.

In the shorter term, with difficulties with salmonella and listeria, which have dominated the headlines, and the Select Committee on Agriculture's inquiry into these events, the clear message coming through is that the ?32 million cut back in MAFF over five years and the effect of that on its research and development, coupled with the scientific importance of that research and development, cannot be seen in isolation from the difficulties that have been encountered recently. The hon. Gentleman correctly detailed some of the scientific reductions which have taken place, and are planned in the future. Surely they can only reduce the ability of the Department to carry out the very statutory obligations that it is supposed to uphold.

We await with interest the Department's proposed Food Bill, which is due in the next year or so. It is also worth looking at the provisions of the Food and Drugs Act 1955 and the Food and Drugs (Milk) Act 1970, to which the Minister referred in his speech. Let us hope that the Bill being drawn up in the Department will seek to deal with some of the omissions. For example, many foods are excluded from any refrigeration requirements, including butter and cheese, uncooked bacon and ham, cakes and pastries. The temperature levels for refrigerating foods are too high. While the Government recommend that at home people should keep pre-cooked meals at a temperature of less than 5 deg centrigrade, the regulations set the level at 10 deg centigrade. Environmental health officers think that that is too high.

Any food that is expected to be sold within four hours of a shop opening for business does not have to be kept in a refrigerator. A shopkeeper needs to claim only that the item is expected to be sold within that time to avoid the refrigeration requirements.

There are no specific regulations about staff training or good practice, to which the right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) referred in his speech. Given the proliferation of available outlets for fast foods, and modern food technology and the different types of food that are available to the consumer, that omission must be dealt with.

Under the Food Act 1984, there is no statutory obligation, only an implied one, for environmental health officers to inspect all the food processing, retailing and eating places in their areas. In a positive spirit, I hope that when the Government review this state of affairs, these considerations will be central to the concerns that they seek to address, as well as the omissions that they seek to redress.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. The thrust of his argument so far suggests that only Ministries have the ability to impose standards. Does he agree that retailers and supermarkets in this country, with their tight specifications and emphasis on hygiene—addressing the very points that he has raised about correct display of foods—are making a major contribution to the correct handling of food in this country?

Mr. Kennedy

I would not deny that at all. But if I may contrast that with the City of London, which is another area at times seen to be close to the hearts—not the pockets—of the Conservative party, the case for self-regulation is not persuasive or convincing.

Although I am not casting aspersions on the retail trade in this country—its standards are among the highest anywhere in the world—it is always important, indeed imperative, for consumers to have at least the backstop of legislative enforcement. So I favour both the carrot and the stick, if the hon. Gentleman wishes to view it in that way.

Equally, with regard to environmental health, I emphasise the points made earlier about cutbacks to local authorities. At the week-end, Mr. Ainslie Bazely, the head of environmental health services in the London borough of Southwark was quoted inThe Observeras pointing out the great problems that are being encountered. I do not believe that the position in Southwark is essentially different from what is happening around the country in terms of the shortage of people to fill environmental health positions. The number of vacancies for local authority environmental health officers has risen steadily from 135 in 1981 to 430 last year, out of a total of 6,000, which I assume to be for England and Wales. That vacancy level represents a 4…5 per cent. shortage outside London and a 9 per cent. shortage in London. That, too, must be an area to address if we are to overcome some of the difficulties that have been encountered in recent times.

In passing, I am grateful to the hon. Member for Moray (Mrs. Ewing) for bringing to my attention at the start of the debate the need to give greater emphasis within our veterinary schools to the training of vets in food hygiene. The Riley report, which is being actively considered, concerns the rationalisation of provision of veterinary training centres and is liable to lead to a reduction of about 20 clinical teaching posts. Certainly, in a Scottish context, as the hon. Lady is anxious to have on the record, any move towards a single student centre or centre of excellence is bound to lead to the dismemberment of the Glasgow veterinary college school as it exists.

Mrs. Margaret Ewing

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that the majority of hon. Members who represent Scottish constituencies are concerned about the implications of the Riley report. The Secretary of State for Scotland today described it as a questionable report and said he would be discussing its contents with the principal of Glasgow university and other interested parties. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that MAFF has a responsibility to make recommendations to the University Grants Committee on food hygiene and training prior to the closing date of 31 March for submissions in response to the Riley report, particularly in the light of European legislation on food hygiene?

Mr. Kennedy

I agree with the hon. Lady and I hope that the Minister, when replying to the debate, will say whether MAFF intends to have input along those lines so that the issue is before the UGC when considering the possible rationalisation proposals. Judging from the public comments of the Secretary of State to which the hon. Lady referred, I am sure that the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries for Scotland will want to be part of that process.

In the shorter term, we shall have to await the report of the Select Committee to judge recent events, particularly in regard to salmonella and listeria. I echo the disappointment that others have expressed—I never thought that I would be saying this in this Chamber—that we shall not hear the former junior Minister, the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), speak in this debate and that she is not likely to give evidence before the Select Committee.

It is uncharacteristic of her to remain silent on these matters. It is also somewhat shameful in a parliamentary sense, given the public importance that has been attached to the issue. After all, her comments in December led to great public attention being given to the subject, and then there was the parliamentary follow-up and scrutiny.

We must strengthen existing institutions in MAFF. We should not blind ourselves to possible institutional changes in the longer term, by which I mean not just action in the United Kingdom but action in concert with our European colleagues.

We find the blanket nature of the condemnation in the Labour motion such that we could not support it in the Lobby tonight. Nor do we feel, short as we are of the details of the Bill which the Government will be bringing forward and the Select Committee's report, and taking account of the tone, tenor and substance of the Minister's speech, that we could support the Government in the Lobby.

5.33 pm
Sir Richard Body (Holland with Boston)

In the belief that the hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) was his party's official spokesman on agriculture, I was anxious to hear his views. But I am afraid that his speech left me in a state of fog. I only wish that he could speak as clearly and succinctly as the Parliamentary Secretary, whom I congratulate on an admirable speech.

I can only think of one argument in favour of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food as it is constituted and that is the Minister himself, and the sooner he is fit and back at work the better pleased I shall be.

The root of the trouble, to parody the words of Dean Acheson, is that the Department has lost its role of 40 years and has yet to find another. For over four decades it has had one paramount aim—to induce farmers to increase their output, then to increase it again and then yet again. That objective has overridden probably every other consideration, and the results have been magnificent.

Our cows now produce twice as much milk as they did when I went as a pupil on a dairy farm years ago. As for arable farming, the fields that I know best now yield four times more wheat that they did 40 years ago. These are amazing figures, and MAFF's leadership deserves to be congratulated on that technical achievement, as do the farmers who have been goaded into participating in the campaign. That success has been due to four factors. They are the use of nitrates, pesticides, antibiotics and hormones.

Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central)

Does my hon. Friend agree that a crucial factor is simply breeding?

Sir Richard Body

Breeding what? We are now breeding wheat which can take up more nitrates. If we did not have the necessary understanding of nitrates, we would not be breeding some of the varieties of wheat that we are now using. In terms of livestock, we are breeding pigs and poultry which can respond to antibiotics in their fattening. So I regard breeding as subordinate to the four factors that I listed.

Unfortunately, the Ministry, so obsessed with this demand to increase output, has turned a blind eye to some of the hazards of those factors. This heralds a great danger and will make it that much more difficult for MAFF to discharge its other functions in future.

We have doubled time and again the use of nitrates, despite the serious evidence produced by the World Heath Organisation, despite experiments in the United States that have shown that 36 species of animals have died of cancer when given more than a certain level of nitrates, and despite the legislation that is now emerging from the European Community about the dangerous levels of nitrates in much of our water supply.

The same applies to the use of pesticides. Again, MAFF has turned a blind eye to much of what has gone on in the past, for many of the pesticides that we use on our farms today were approved years ago, when the standards of testing were abysmal compared with what they are today. Indeed, I doubt whether many of those pesticides would have been approved—this is not simply my view but that of scientists and toxicologists, who are better informed than—if they were resubmitted for testing today. And everything is covered with an appalling cloak of secrecy so that the farmer, let alone the consumer, is not permitted to know the toxicological dangers of the pesticides being used.

In the livestock sector, the Ministry has been warned time and again by doctors of the dangers of using antibiotics as a growth stimulant as well as a precaution against the spread of disease on intensive farms. Even the Minister's advisers have warned that we cannot go on using them because the time will come when they will cease to be effective. Doctors have said that the use of some antibiotics is having an adverse effect on patients who, though ill, are unable to respond to antibiotic treatment.

I think that the Ministry's record on hormones is, I regret to say, abysmal and I am not sure that it is very much better at the moment. I am very disturbed, and I hope that the whole House will be disturbed at the way Monsanto Chemicals and other drug companies seem quite confident that hormones will be allowed in this country for the purpose of getting our cows to produce between 20 and 40 per cent. more milk. Some in the medical profession say that the hormones may not affect 99 out of 100 of us, perhaps not even 999 out of a thousand of us, but there will still be perhaps one out of a thousand whom these hormones will affect. They are disappointed that the Ministry of Agriculture is being so secretive about the tests being carried out and have expressed concern that the relationship between the drug companies and some of the Ministry officials has gone further than it really should, and I hope the Ministry understands this concern.

I believe that the Ministry is now in difficulties and I am not talking about the ministerial team; I am talking about those further down in the pyramid who have the very important task of making sure that our food is produced decently and well and is fit for all of us to eat. Having argued for so long, as they have that those four aids were necessary, and not only necessary but perfectly safe and that everyone could just forget about it because everyone in Whitehall knew best—that has been their attitude over and over again when people have questioned them—I do not believe that they can satisfactorily swallow their words and go along with the anxieties that are known in other parts of the world and are known to some extent in this country about those four aids which we in the farming community have had to use.

That is why I think that there has to be a major change and why I hope that MAFF will be slimmed down and that some of its functions relating to food, particularly the safety and hygiene of food, will be transferred to the Department of Health, where they belong.

5.43 pm
Dr. Lewis Moonie (Kirkcaldy)

I associate myself with the remarks about the Minister's absence. I sincerely hope he will be back with us quickly. While I was charitably hoping last night that the Minister's attack had not been serious, I was uncharitably hoping it might have been due to something he had eaten; but that does not appear to be the case.

I am a little surprised at the tone of injured innocence on the Government Benches today, with the notable exception of the last speaker, and the over-defensiveness of the response to this motion. I think they protest too much. We are questioning not the independence but the effectiveness of the bodies that they set up to monitor food.

We are questioning not the fact that the Ministry has not tried, but the fact that it has failed, and these are two totally different things.

If I had wanted to get a cheap laugh today I would have stood here and read out the amendment from the Order Paper. I notice they are described as the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Food and Consumers. That is a risible remark for you. Quite frankly, the amendment is laughable. It commends the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on its achievements on behalf of consumers in the fields of food safety, food surveillance and consumer information which means they have wide variety of choice of wholesome foods at reasonable prices; commends its comprehensive response to the emergence of health risks and so on.

Protecting the consumer? What of the tens of thousands who have suffered from food poisoning in the last year, or the many who have died? We have heard nothing from the Government side today about them. What way is that to protect the consumer? It is of small comfort to the people who have suffered as the result of the policies of this Government and their failure to act effectively.

Wholesome food? Are we referring to chickens perhaps, to eggs, to the burgers made from unmentionable slurries that are poured down people's throats, to the cotton-wool bread that they are forced to eat, to the salt and sugar laden convenience foods? "It is nothing to do with the Government," they cry. That is the level of intelligence of Conservative Back Benchers: "It is everybody's fault but ours."

The only hygiene, the only handwashing, that is going on is Pontius Pilate washing his hands of the whole issue on the Government Front Bench.[Interruption.] We treat the Government's claims with the contempt they deserve, as a notable misstatement of reality, worthy of a party led by someone who boasts of having cut her commercial teeth on learning how to inject air into whipped cream to make it appear to go further. That is the level of commitment to food from this Government.

Sadly, much of our modern diet is harmful to us, and it does the Government no credit that they have failed to admit it, particularly in the Minister's disgracefully complacent contribution to this debate.

Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

Will the hon. Member give way?

Dr. Moonie

No, I will not.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Arrogant fellow!

Dr. Moonie

This is a serious debate. I do not think the hon. Members who have been trying to intervene raise its tone very well.

Let us consider first of all bacterial and viral contamination of food. The salmonella in chicken and eggs has been well described recently. They have been known to me, as a worker in preventive medicine, for well over 10 years, and nothing has been done about it over that period. Listeriosis likewise has been known for a long time to be a potential contaminant. Campylobacter infection in milk, sadly, is still prevalent. There are many other examples I could give, but I had better pass on.

Let us extend the analogy. Look at the controversy over aluminium so recently aired; the hormones in meat; the use of antibiotics, so eloquently referred to by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) particularly in view of the fact that he is a farmer; the artificial flavourings which are still used; tasteless, mass-produced, factory-farmed beasts, pigs, calves, or for that matter, salmon; the dangers to consumers from the cook-chill process which are only now being fully realised; the equal dangers from many of the fast foods, some of which I know have very high standards of hygiene, but many of which sadly do not. There has been a case in the press recently, but the list is endless.

Let us not forget that an ill-balanced diet also contributes to illness in this country, a diet far too high in fat and salt, lacking in fibre and over-dependent on refined carbohydrate.

Mr. Gill

Will the hon. Member give way?

Dr. Moonie

This is a major contributory factor to our disgraceful position as the country with the highest death rate in the world from heart disease. Well-documented changes to that diet have been recommended over the years, but sadly no action has been taken in the light of them. None of this need be, if we had a Government who acted effectively on the information which they have had for years because, after all, there should be only two principles guiding our actions: first, that we should eat a healthy and well-balanced diet; secondly, that our food should be free from harmful contaminants of any kind.

Sadly, none of the Deprtments responsible for this are up to the job. MAFF, or MAFFC, as we ought to call it now, is the farmer's friend and is not going to put the interests of consumers first. The Department of Health has failed to accept responsibility, with the notable exception of the sadly departed hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie), because it is much given to exhortation rather than effective action.

I was reminded, when the Minister mentioned the education programme that he and his colleagues were going to bring in, of the old story of a former director of Action on Smoking and Health, who at a major meeting on the dangers of smoking listened to speaker after speaker extolling the virtues of health education. It was only after the meeting finished that he discovered that they were all from the tobcco industry.

Let me conclude by mentioning the Department of the Environment. No, I shall pass on. We have had enough jokes.

Let me briefly outline a few of the actions that we could and should be taking, all of which would be cost-effective and have beneficial results. First, we should seriously consider removing responsibility for the quality of food from a Department that has shown itself unfit for the job and create an effective alternative—a Ministry of Consumer Affairs, which could handle a far wider range of issues than hitherto, or a non-elected body with some statutory powers. We should at least consider that.

Secondly, we should accept, and say that we accept, sensible proposals on nutrition that have been made over the past three years, and produce plans, particularly to reduce the amount of fat in the national diet.

Thirdly, we should consider restoring the office of medical officer of health for every district, as recommended last year by the Acheson report, which would strengthen the medical officer's role in the control of infection and the environmental health officer's function.

They should be backed up in the courts. I accept that many Acts exist which, if properly implemented, would improve the quality of the food we eat, but repeated fines of £10 or so mean that people repeatedly contravene the law. That is not the way to improve matters.

Fourthly, we should remove Crown immunity from hospitals and from this place so that they too can be subjected to the same rigorous standards as commercial food outlets. I see no reason why that should not be the case. It would show that we paid more than lip service to the idea of improved food hygiene.

Fifthly, we should act ruthlessly to close down any producers who are shown to have sold a contaminated product until such time as they prove that their premises are free from infection and likely to remain so because of changes in practice.

Sixthly, we should restore the level of research and development, particularly in areas related to food hygiene, which, sadly, have been cut. The Government claim that new market research should be funded by the industry, but if we wait for that, we may have to wait a long time. We also need to take some action on clear labelling. I accept that food is labelled, but to the average person it is by no means clear what they are eating. A much simpler code would be far more effective. We should also urgently consider the role of irradiation to prevent the infection of meat.

Ms. Mildred Gordon (Bow and Poplar)

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Dr. Moonie

No; I have not given way to Conservative Members, so I shall not give way to my hon. Friends.

During the second world war, the people of Britain ate a healthy, well-balanced diet. That was apparent during the war and after in the number of deaths from heart disease. There is no doubt that we can achieve the same again. The Government have failed to protect the health and well being of our people. They have tried to do so, but they have failed. I hope that the new legislation will be effective.

5.53 pm
Mr. Michael Morris (Northampton, South)

The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) called for a healthy and balanced diet. One or two of my hon. Friends might observe that he is an ample example of consumer resistance to the best efforts of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

I must declare an interest as an adviser to a trade association and to certain companies which appear in the Register of Members' Interests.

The motion on today's Order Paper is pretty round in its condemnation of the Ministry of Agriculture. I recall what was happening 10 years ago in the Chamber. Probably only one third of my hon. Friends here today were present 10 years ago when we were in the middle of the winter of discontent. The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) was not right when he said that we had had 40 years of adequate food supplies in Britain. Ten years ago we had statements in the Chamber from the Labour Government on the shortages of sugar, salt, margarine, rice, coffee and lamb. It is pretty arrogant for the Labour party to suggest today that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is failing properly to protect consumers.

If the Ministry had failed, one yardstick of its failure might be its regular appearance before the Public Accounts Committee, on which I have sat for 10 years. We are used to seeing the Ministry of Defence, the Department of Health and the Department of Transport, but it is rare for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to come before that Committee for having failed to meet the objectives laid down; that should be placed on the record.

I am going to Northampton market on Saturday 18 February. If anybody thinks that Northamptonshire's farmers, he they pig, beef or cereal farmers, will greet with open arms the suggestion that the Ministry of Agriculture is firmly in their pockets, they are wildly wrong. I expect to be given a rough time. I shall enjoy that, but the last thing that any of my farmers believe is that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is in their pockets.

During the summer recess, I took the opportunity to go to the veterinary school at Weybridge. I was thoroughly reassured by the work being done in those laboratories and anyone who has a worry about what is being done in the veterinary world should visit Weybridge. I wonder how many hon. Members have ever done so. They might reasonably spend some time doing that.

I doubt whether any hon. Member who visits large manufacturing companies in the food processing industry either at the weekend or during the recess will find any that are not up to the highest standards, whether in terms of sampling or checking raw materials coming into Britain, or in the processing, testing, packaging or sampling of the products. The way in which the Ministry of Agriculture works with those companies is a safeguard for the consumer.

With the noble Lord, Lord Ennals, I helped to set up the parliamentary Food and Health Forum so that we should have an opportunity to hear from interested outside bodies and colleagues their views on food and health matters. Bodies such as the London Food Commission may be highly critical of the Government, but anyone who does some research into that organisation will know that it is highly critical of western democracies and anything to do with the corporate state, or anything else. But the vast majority of organisations that are associate members of the Food and Health Forum recognise that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has played a major role in communicating with the consumer. They want more, but that is understandable.

Ms. Gordon

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Morris

No, I shall not give way. Mr. Deputy Speaker has appealed to us to be brief.

My hon. Friend the Minister outlined some of the Ministry's work. There is no doubt that the Food Advisory Committee is a major source of information and research in Britain. Last year, in a review of the use of colour in food, that committee recommended daily allowances based on the most stringent scientific evidence. It is not just Britain that follows those standards; they are likely to be followed throughout Europe and elsewhere. That is a measure of how the rest of the world recognises the Ministry's work as a reference manual.

Adverse comment has been made about the Ministry's inability to communicate with the consumer. My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby) referred to the publication "Look at the Label" which was issued not last year or 18 months ago but 10 years ago, when the Ministry of Agriculture issued well over 1 million copies. I invite hon. Members, after the debate, to buy some packaged food and to look at what is on the label. There is an ingredients list, which is especially important for those who may have a particular susceptibility to an element in the product. The dates of minimum durability and the name and address of the supplier are also displayed. Would that we could find that in other parts of the world, particularly in some of the continental countries, and that the Department of Health was as strict on generic medicines and parallel imports as MAFF is on food products.

Mr. Ron Davies

I would not normally interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but as he is proclaiming MAFF's readiness to open the books, can he explain MAFF's reluctance to inform the public of the source of eggs that have been infected with salmonella?

Mr. Morris

As the hon. Gentleman has put his question from the Dispatch Box, it must be a question for the Minister to answer later.

If there is a problem, my hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge put his finger on it in the three questions that he asked. He said that certain responsibilities had been transferred to the Department of Health. There are, unfortunately, some grey areas. I believe that the Department of Health should be involved only in those food products that make medical claims and that all other food products should be firmly in the province of MAA]F. The Department of Health is the sponsoring Ministry to the pharmaceutical industry and controls it through the Committee on Safety of Medicines. If it can do both, I see no reason why MAFF cannot do two jobs. If there is to be change, it should be done in that way, so that hon. Members and consumers know that any matter to do with food is firmly in MAFF's court.

In relation to Europe, as we approach 1992, MAFF is doing a good job in interpreting the needs of British consumers in Europe especially in preserving and ensuring British freedoms in relation, for example to beer arid methods of distribution and in opposing nonsensical ideas such as those in the oils and fats tax. MAFF does a good job and should have our support.

6.3 pm

Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield)

I shall confine my remarks to one matter, part of which, I accept at the outset, is not entirely the Minister's responsibility. However, we have established, so far, that there are many overlaps between the responsibilities of the Department of Health and MAFF.

I want to consider cook-chill and listeria for one reason. I became personally involved in the issue as a result of the unfortunate tragedy at Stanley Royd hospital in 1984, n which 19 people died and several others became seriously ill in a salmonellor outbreak. Shortly after that, I became a member of Wakefield health authority which, with no support from me, moved towards a cook-chill system to replace the kitchen at Stanley Royd hospital. At that time, I met Professor Richard Lacey, the microbiologist advising the Wakefield health authority, who was strongly opposed to cook—chill. He is known-and in many instances loved—by many Conservative Members. He has received a great deal of abuse from various sources and has been criticised and treated in a disgraceful way because of his views— to which he has stuck—about listeria and cook-chill, but it has been proved, over a number of years, that he is completely right. The Wakefield system is being used as a pilot system for the whole of the Yorkshire region and is seen as a means of enabling the wholesale privatisation of catering in the NHS.

There was deep concern about the dispute over cook-chill in Wakefield, so an expert group was established by the regional health authority. It studiously avoided involving people who were known to be critical of the cook-chill system. I noticed that Arthur Pinegar, a principal microbiologist at the public health laboratory service, was involved in the expert group, and was doing private work on cook-chill for certain interests outside the NHS and the public health laboratory service. That has been confirmed in answers to parliamentary questions that I have tabled.

I was even more concerned by the subsequent inquiry into the management of Wakefield health authority, which recommended the removal of Sir Jack Smart as chairman and suggested that his replacement should have no contact with the health authority or involvement with the issues that resulted in the various problems. His replacement, appointed by the Government, was Brian Hayward, who had been the vice-chair of Yorkshire regional health authority and had chaired the expert group that studied the introduction of cook-chill. His appointment was the clearest evidence yet that the Government's desire to see cook-chill up and running in Wakefield was a prelude to its introduction elsewhere in Yorkshire and subsequently in other parts of the country. It is interesting that Mr. Hayward has chaired two meetings so far, but has refused to accept anyone raising the issue of the cook-chill system, which is being introduced in the health authority in the next few weeks.

What has happened in Yorkshire has shown clearly the extent of the political scandal that surrounds cook-chill and that powerful business interests—which we see represented in this debate—are overriding serious concerns about public health. There has been a scandalous Government cover-up on the real incidence of listeriosis. Over the past few years, there has been a huge increase in food poisoning which has coincided with the recent trend towards less traditional forms of food preservation, such as chilling.

If one considers the evidence from abroad, one discovers that 200 people died in France in 1986 as a result of listeriosis. In the same year, 200 people died in the United States as a result of listeriosis. It is interesting that, officially, there have been no deaths from listeriosis in this country. I received a parliamentary answer recently which said that in 1987–88, a total of 546 listeriosis cases were reported to the public health laboratory service, but only three had causes that were known to be related to food. The causes of the other 543 cases were not known. That raises serious questions about the reason behind the incidence of listeriosis.

One of the major problems, as I said in an intervention earlier, is that listeriosis is not a notifiable disease in the United Kingdom, so we do not know the true incidence of it. However, we have a good deal of recent evidence. My hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) went through some of the evidence. He mentioned the "This Week" programme and the Bristol survey. I must mention that it has been proved that the death of a baby in Leeds fairly recently was directly related to the consumption of cook-chill food bought from a supermarket. The Leeds environmental health service found that seven of 12 samples from different retail outlets contained listeriosis. There was also a survey in Peterborough and yesterday, there was evidence from the public health laboratory service that listeriosis can lie dormant for five days if stored at 7…5 deg C. and then reproduction erupts. That is a worrying problem facing the Government.

Professor Lacy has stated that he believes that 150 to 200 people die every year in this country directly as a result of listeria. The questions that he has raised are not being answered by the various Departments that are concerned with the problem. I want to ask several serious questions and I expect detailed answers to them in the Minister's winding-up speech.

First, in view of all the evidence, to which I and other hon. Members have referred, why have the Government not issued a warning about the consumption of cook-chill food especially by, for example, pregnant women and other vulnerable consumers? Secondly, why are the Government continuing to push the use of cook-chill food in hospitals—as they are in Wakefield and Yorkshire—when the risks from listeria to vulnerable groups such as pregnant women and the elderly are so obvious?

Thirdly—and most important in view of the evidence that we now have—why have the Government not acted on the fact that most if not all supermarkets are contravening the Department of Health guidelines on cook-chill food, both in terms of length of storage and temperature? I also want to know—this is a clear question that should have been answered in written answers—what is the real reason why the new Government guidelines on cook-chill that we have been expecting for months have not yet appeared? I was told that they would be ready last August. Since then I have been told several times that they are not ready, but I have never been told why.

I have spoken only briefly and would have liked to speak at much greater length but I know that many of my hon. Friends want to take part in the debate. I hope that, having waited so long, they will be able to do so and I shall conclude with a number of serious points.

The Government face a huge dilemma over listeria. If the Government tighten standards on, for example, the maximum three-day detention period for cook-chill food, the catering industry, which has huge contracts and investments worth billions of pounds, will face disaster. If the Government tighten up as they should, that will have an incredible impact on the industry, which is so well represented by Conservative Members today—[HoN. MEMBERS: "Apologise."] Well, a number of Conservative Members have declared an interest in the catering industry, which is what usually happens from the Tory Benches in such debates. They are directly concerned with and paid by food companies. That point is crucial to our understanding of the Government's position on this issue.

The Government are in deep difficulty in dealing with the retail trade over cook-chill and listeria. They are also in difficulties with their policy on privatising NHS catering. Cook-chill is essential to the wholesale privatisation of catering in the National Health Service. If the Government do nothing and there is a serious listeriosis outbreak, there will rightly be a huge public outcry about the fact that the knowledge and the evidence were there, but the Government did absolutely nothing. The Government have, understandably from their point of view, chosen the latter course.

The Government are looking after certain friends of the Conservative party in the food industry, and that is no surprise to my hon. Friends. The Government are looking after friends such as Ranks Hovis McDougall plc, which gave £40,000 to the Tory party last year and is directly involved in cook-chill. The Government are looking after friends such as United Biscuits which gave £100,000 to the Conservative party last year and is involved in cook-chill. Indeed, it recently opened a cook-chill division in south Humberside and is ideally placed to move into private catering contracts in the Yorkshire regional health authority area and in health authorities such as my own in Wakefield. The Government are looking after the interests of those such as George Weston Holdings, which includes Associated British Foods, which donated £150,000 to Tory party funds last year.

Those are the real interests that Conservative Members represent and that is why the Government are in such difficulty on this issue. They dare not move because of those huge interests and the investments that are made directly to the Conservative party by companies that are tied up with cook-chill—

Mr. Lord


Mr. Hinchliffe

No, I am about to conclude. Through loyalty to my hon. Friends who have queued up all afternoon and who may not get called, I cannot give way. The Minister will have a chance to respond to those points.

I repeat that there has been a scandalous Government cover-up of the real threat from listeria. The evidence is clearly before our eyes. The cover-up is necessary to protect the interests of the friends of the Conservative party at the expense of the safety of the consumer.

6.13 pm
Mr. Richard Alexander (Newark)

The House will have been saddened to hear most of the remarks of the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe). He has devalued his own argument and soured what up to now has been a constructive debate.

In the past few weeks we have seen a build-up of hysteria about our food—whipped up by commentators with an eye to a headline, nurtured by the media, which like nothing more than a good scare story, and stirred up not least by the Opposition who are trying to claim that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food cannot be a Food Minister at the same time as being an Agriculture Minister.

In our lifetimes, we have all been used to scaremongering by so-called experts. When I was younger, we were told that children should not eat baked beans. Now we are told that they contain high protein and that children should have more of them. Sugar used to be described as bad for us, but no longer. Milk, eggs and cheese have all had their detractors—and equally their champions—from time to time.

Salmonella enteritidis was the scare story of last month and we all know what happened to the egg industry for a while as a result—

Mr. Martlew

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Alexander

No, I am developing my argument.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on his intervention in the middle of that hysteria as it put a floor on the egg market and did much to prevent a scare from becoming a catastrophe.

Mr. Martlew

I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving way. Does he agree that it is a shame and a crime that the victims of the salmonella outbreaks, the people who have suffered and who on rare occasions have died, have not been compensated at all, while the farmers, who were partly responsible, have been compensated in full?

Mr. Alexander

That is a different argument, but the amount of compensation that was provisionally arranged had had only a small take-up by the farmers.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

The hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) mentioned a tragic episode at a Wakefield hospital. I must advise him that following that incident the Government immediately took action under the National Health Service (Amendment) Act 1949 to remove Crown immunity from the hospital kitchens. That issue was raised earlier by another Labour Member who advocated the removal of something that has already been removed.

Mr. Alexander

My hon. Friend makes a valid point.

This month we have a new villain, listeria. It has been lovingly seized on by the media and carefully nurtured by consumer programmes. It is frightening the life out of vulnerable people who are worried about what they may or may not eat and who until last week had probably never even heard of it. I wonder how many hon. Members, excluding the experts sitting in the Chamber today, had heard of listeria before we broke up for the Christmas recess—not many, I bet.

Ms. Gordon

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Alexander

No, I have already given way many times.

These scares need to be put into perspective. Two hundred million eggs are consumed every week. Do we see people dropping like flies in old folks' homes? Are they carted out of hospital because they have contracted that mysterious disease? Do people approach us in the street, telling us tales of the people whom they know who have been suffering from salmonella and asking what the Government are going to do about it? We did have the unfortunate death of a schoolboy last week, but to the best of my knowledge even that case has not been proved to be salmonella enteritidis caused by eating an egg. About 200 million eggs have been consumed each week during the past four, five or six weeks and there is no evidence of the scare stories that we heard a few weeks ago coming true.

Sometimes I think that the nation loses its sense of perspective. We could put the issue into greater perspective by remembering that about 200 people die on our roads each month and that hundreds of thousands of people are maimed on our roads every year. We do not have many debates about that, and Opposition motions such as the one that we are discussing are not tabled about that situation.

The answer to the salmonella scare, to the listeria hysteria, is known to everyone who was brought up by sensible mothers in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, before the new food processes, the new types of food or the microwave oven came on the scene.

Ms. Gordon


Mr. Speaker


Mr. Alexander

The answer is clear: we should cook our food properly, boil our eggs for at least two minutes, roast frozen chicken properly and never reheat cooked meat that has been allowed to go cold. If we must use microwave ovens, we should make sure that we know how to use them and that they properly grill and roast what we put in them. Most of us learned all that at our mother's knee. We never ate raw eggs, chicken that was not properly roasted or twice-cooked food, yet my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture is pilloried because new techniques have made people more careless, especially when they do not fully understand those techniques.

It has been suggested that it would be wise to split the Minister of Agriculture's responsibilities and that he cannot ride two horses that are running in opposite directions. I do not mind if the responsibilities are split, but, on his behalf, I resent the slurs that have been spread, suggesting that he is incapable of looking after the consumer and the producer. Certainly, many of my farming constituents in Nottinghamshire would take great issue with many of the claims that my right hon. Friend is the farmers' pocket. Equally, the consumer groups would find it difficult to recognise some of the farmers' complaints that he is too much under the thumb of consumer pressure groups. He is riding both horses in the same direction very well indeed.

The food process is a continuous one. It is for growing, producing and marketing food. There need be no conflict in those stages and, even if there were a change, the same civil servants would be doing the same job but in two different offices. The change would be much more cosmetic than real. Many other countries have a Minister for agriculture and food. A Transport Minister can deal with roads and safety. A Secretary of State for industry can deal with manufacturing and encouraging production and still deal with consumer safety and protection.

There is, therefore, no great need for change. There is no need to worry that my right hon. Friend cannot protect the consumer. His recent measures in respect of salmonella and listeria have shown that. There is no need for some of the fear that has recently blown up in the minds of many consumers. We do a disservice to the public and to those who work in the farming and service industries if we try to pretend otherwise.

6.23 pm
Mr. Martyn Jones (Clywd, South-West)

I am glad that the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) has spoken out against cook-chill. He said that we should never eat meat that has been cooked, allowed to cool and cooked again. We have heard a great deal about salmonella in this debate and it is fair to say that I am probably the only Member of this House who has isolated the organism or seen it under a microscope. Judging by some of the comments that have been made, I suggest that few hon. Members would know it if they tripped over a bucket of it.

I should like to tell my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) that the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South (Mrs. Currie) refuses to appear before the Select Committee because she was pontificating on a subject that she knew little or nothing about. It is said that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and, in this case, it was certainly dangerous for egg producers in this country. Instead of putting the blame correctly where it lay—no pun intended—which is at the door of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, she put it at the door of the egg producers. All the real evidence shows that poultry have had a salmonella problem for years, not necessarily phage type 4, but many of the 1,500 species of salmonella that are rife in this country. If she had said that most poultry production was infected with salmonella of one sort or another, she might have had the backing of the evidence and she would have served the nation's health.

The evidence of any special attribute of salmonella enteritidis phage type 4, which makes it much more dangerous in respect of eggs, is extremely tenuous. For some time, transovarian infection of eggs has been shown to occur in septicaemic conditions with all sorts of species of salmonella. The growth of overt cases of salmonella and, incidentally, other types of poisoning—clostridia], staphylococcal and streptococcal—suggests to me that the problem is not one of any "super-bug", but one of food handling. If the rise of chilled and "fast" foods is coupled with the complacency of the Ministry about primary production, we have a recipe for disaster.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food can certainly do something about primary production and it is certain that it is not performing its functions as well as possible. It is probably true that, if a simple, accurate test had been available, we would have had no problem now so far as salmonella is concerned, as other tests have rid the industry of other forms of specific salmonella infection, such as salmonella pullorum and gallinarum during the period 1940–55.

I have dwelt on the subject of salmonella, but there are other grave areas of doubt that need sorting out for the good of the consumer and the producer. They include bovine somatotropin in milk and antibiotics in meat. The hon. Member for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), who is no longer in his place, referred to the case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy as a triumph for the Ministry. However, the Ministry compensated farmers only for 50 per cent. of the value of the animals affected which can hardly be considered as an inducement to report such cases.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was a Ministry with a purpose for the consumer when production was necessary for adequate nutrition. Now, with the advent of increasing technology in preservation and production, different criteria are needed for the good of the consumer and, indeed, to protect the producer from the unnecessary ups and downs caused by scares. The vast majority of farmers wish to have real guidance and want only to produce good wholesome food.

The Department of Health should have a clear responsibility to ensure that food is wholesome at the point of use and that enforcement of any necessary measures, if they are required in the area of primary production, should be mandatory on what is, in effect, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food production.

6.27 pm
Mr. Michael Lord (Suffolk, Central)

I am conscious that the clock is against us and I shall be as brief as I can. I know that this is an Opposition day, but I welcome the debate to highlight what I see as many of the great successes of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food over the years, which the Minister spelled out very well at the beginning of our debate. I should have thought that there was no doubt about its success until very recent days. The Ministry has existed for 34 years, since its amalgamation, and has done an extremely good job. Everyone has been satisfied with it. The Opposition have had opportunities to bring this subject forward for debate before, if they had wanted to do so, but they have not done SO.

The Ministry's achievements are numerous. We all know about the eradication of disease that it has organised, such as tuberculosis in the early days and the great improvements in cultivating and breeding plants and animals. There is increased consumer orientation in the way products such as eggs and meat have been tailored towards the needs of the housewife and the detailed labelling of products has increasingly become a feature of our food, as other hon. Members have commented. We have the highest food safety standards in Europe and, if anyone visited one of my chicken processing factory in Suffolk, he would see what care is taken and would be greatly reassured, in view of much of the talk that has been bandied around today.

The national diet is now much healthier. We have heard this evening of people having to eat cotton wool bread—having it stuffed down their throats. I do not see why. All the evidence is that people are looking carefully at their diets and eating more sensibly. They are eating more wholemeal bread, and so on. MAFF greatly encourages that trend.

The achievement has been largely due to MAFF—we have a huge choice of excellent food, properly labelled and reasonably priced. That is a great success story, not only for MAFF and for farming, but for the food industry. It has been a great combined effort. It is true that recently we have had more problems with salmonella and listeria. I do not underrate them, but firm action has been taken and the matters are now in hand. MAFF was right to take steps to underpin the egg industry before Christmas; they have had the desired result. It was also right to re-emphasise the need that some of my hon. Friends have mentioned to cook food properly. That is crucial. The Minister has also tightened controls on egg production and is pressing forward with research into all these problems which was already in hand.

Like my hon. Friends, I deplore the hysteria and ill-informed comment inside and outside the House. The hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) underlined that point and I agree with him, although I do not have his depth of knowledge. Words such as "epidemic" can be all too easily bandied about and have done great harm—

Mr. Martlew

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Lord

I cannot possibly give way: this is a race against the clock.

Such words do great harm. People comment on the differences between free-range and battery hens without understanding those differences, not knowing that free-range eggs have little advantage over battery eggs.

How eggs are cooked is important. Such cases of poisoning as have occurred have been in the larger catering establishments in which more care needs to be taken. There have not been so many in domestic circumstances, in which eggs can be more carefully cooked in the traditional way.

The House will be interested to know that the people of Suffolk have been sensible. A recent poll in one of our newspapers showed that 1010 per cent. of the people interviewed and asked about their reaction to the egg story said that they had not changed their egg-eating habits—and people in Suffolk live to grand old ages.

MAFF is not alone in its responsibilities. My hon. Friends have explained how other Departments are involved. Local authorities, supermarkets, retailers and consumer bodies all have responsibilities. As we have also been told, independent consumer committees which are able to scrutinise what is going on continually keep an eye on these matters. No one pretends that there are no difficulties. Modern farming methods, mass catering and modern production techniques mean that there are, but I believe that no Department is better qualified or experienced to keep an eye on these matters than MAFF. Nothing is shabbier than an Opposition looking for a scapegoat: MAFF should not be that scapegoat.

6.33 pm
Mr. Ron Davies (Caerphilly)

There is only one thing shabbier, and that is the spectacle of an hon. Member making an agreement with the Opposition to limit his speech and then breaking it. The House will understand if the Minister's opportunity to reply is shortened by the couple of minutes that were deliberately taken up by the hon. Member for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord).

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed concern about the health of the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. I am sure the House will unanimously ask the Parliamentary Secretary to convey to him our best wishes and hopes that he will make a speedy return to the House.

The Minister's absence has presented the Parliamentary Secretary with something of a unique opportunity-two chances to speak in one debate. That is indeed a rare opportunity, but judging from his earlier performance he will manage to avoid having greatness thrust upon him by a comfortable margin.

What was particularly noticeable about the Parliamentary Secretary's speech was not what he included in his defence of his Department's handling of public health issues, but what he omitted from it. My hon. Friends this evening have asked the Government to account for the handling of the following problems: contaminated lamb resulting from Chernobyl, listeria, salmonella, campylobacter, BST and BSE, pesticide residues, nitrate pollution of water supplies, the quality of food imports, meat inspection, hormone growth promoters and tenderisers, irradiation, research and development, animal welfare and antibiotics, veterinary services, the environmental health service and the problems of 1992.

Ms. Gordon

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Davies

In a moment.

We heard nothing about the Government's record on any of those issues. I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for Bow and Poplar (Ms. Gordon) has been in the Chamber all day and is anxious to intervene, so I shall make an exception in her case.

Ms. Gordon

Does my hon. Friend agree that all the issues he has just listed—the dangers of bacteria, hormones, radiation, pesticides and the pollution of water—are of serious concern to the women of this country, who are trying to provide their families with a healthy diet on a limited budget? Is it not most unfortunate that no woman has been included in the list of speakers to present the point of view of housewives?

Mr. Davies

It would be inappropriate for me to criticise the selection of speakers, and I assure my hon. Friend that the subjects she has raised do not concern women exclusively. They are of concern to every man, woman and child in the country—although I accept her point that the problems of eking out a meagre budget fall more heavily on women.

The Minister mentioned the speech of his right hon. Friend at the Oxford conference, from which I too want to quote. He said: People are—quite rightly—taking more interest than ever before in what they eat and drink. They now take for granted the wide variety of products in our shops. They demand quality and they expect that all their food will be nutritious and safe. It is up to the industry to ensure that these expectations are met". I agree with those aspirations, but not necessarily with the Minister's conclusion that it is entirely up to the industry to ensure that expectations are met. It is our contention that the Ministry has a responsibility, as well as the industry. If there is a single issue that divides us it is our claim that the responsibility for the enforcement of standards rests with the Ministry, and that it cannot be abdicated in favour of the industry.

The Minister made his speech on 4 January, so it is fair to say that we can take it as representing the up-to-date thinking of the Ministry. The Minister's demands were for variety and quality, and for nutritious and safe food. We believe that those demands are not being met. The most important reason why the Opposition asked for this subject to be debated on this Opposition day is the simple fact that the demands articulated by the Minister are not being met by his Department.

The most obvious and topical area in which the Ministry is failing the consumer is exemplified by the recent crisis of confidence in the egg industry. It is also a fine example of the interdependent interests of producers and consumers, for without the trust of the latter the producers have no market in which to trade their goods.

The Ministry's failures during this fiasco were manifold. The incident can be traced back to the change in attitude, as my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) pointed out, to public health and consumer welfare that was heralded by the arrival of the Conservatives in office in 1979. They changed the rules. There was at that time a serious attempt to tackle the problem of salmonella in poultry by agreeing standards with the protein processing industry that would ensure, as far as possible, that animal feed was not a vector for the spread of infection.

We have already heard the comments of the chairman of the Renderers Association, who said that standards had changed. I refer to the comment by the hon. Member for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body), who entertained us all with his comments in today's debate: Health concerns were overruled in drafting the rules". If there is a problem with salmonella, it dates back to the change of attitude that went hand in hand with the change of Government in 1979.

In 1986 and 87, 38 out of 218 tests for salmonella in feed processing plants proved positive, but there was not one prosecution. No action was taken by the Ministry. The Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Ryder), described himself as brilliant, and said that his winding up would be brilliant. We thought for a moment that he was reading the Minister's speech inadvertently. In a written reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Carmarthen (Mr. Williams) on 14 December, the Parliamentary Secretary said: On re-inspection, all samples of products from these contaminated plants were found to be clear of salmonella contamination and so no prosecutions were brought. According to a written answer that I received yesterday from the other Parliamentary Secretary, the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson)—who is not here—in 19 cases the plants tested were still infected when examined a second time. Unbelievably, in that same written answer, the Parliamentary Secretary said that in six instances the plants were still contaminated when inspected a third time. Is it not a question, therefore, of a cosy arrangement between MAFF and the renderers? MAFF visits plants and says, "There is a bit of a problem here; you must tidy up there; a hit of new equipment is needed there; then everything will be okay, because we will come back in a month's time and give you a certificate."

It was found on the third inspection that 50 per cent. of the plants which were defective on the second inspection were producing contaminated food which was going into the food chain and causing 40,000 British citizens to be affected by salmonella contamination. There was not one prosecution because of the cosy relationship between MAFF and the renderers. Which of the Parliamentary Secretaries are we to believe?

It is not as if that has been the only problem in the last couple of weeks, because we have heard of the problem of listeria. I welcomed the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), who spoke with great knowledge and experience because of the tragic circumstances in his constituency. In spite of the inadequate monitoring of the levels of infection, which exemplify the Government's attitude, what little surveillance has been carried out has revealed the extent of the problem for several years. According to the public health laboratory's communicable health report, the risk has been known for the past eight years. That information has been available, and it is distressing that it has not been acted on by the Ministry. Those matters worry us greatly.

We have had a series of press releases and written answers from MAFF and from the Department of Health, which tell us unequivocally only one thing—because of cuts, interdepartmental rivalry and neglect, those two great Departments of State can speak with no more authority on the extent of listeria than they did on salmonella. Meanwhile, increasingly, we read of deaths, such as those reported in yeaterday's Independent, which are unequivocally associated with listeriosis.

We have heard about other problems, such as cook-chill foods. Most recently, on 21 December, the Minister was forced to come to the Dispatch Box to answer the complaints about contaminated food supplies in Mid-Cornwall Meat Packers in the constituency of the hon. Member for Truro (Mr. Taylor). I give the hon. Gentleman full credit for his private notice question.

The Ministry was notified in September 1988 that supplies of meat were arriving at Mid-Cornwall Meat Packers, which were contaminated with faecal matter and which were in an advanced state of decomposition. The Ministry was notified of that in September, but the first notification by the Ministry to the air and sea port health authorities was in mid-December after the hon. Member for Truro had raised that matter. During that three months, 30 consignments went through the port of Fishguard alone, each consignment consisting of 20 tonnes of beef from the Republic of Ireland, possibly contaminated—certainly much of that for Cornwall was contaminated.

That meat was entering the food chain in this country, and not one warning or notice was given to either the port health authorities or to the scores of authorities whose environmental health officers are desperately trying to ensure adequate and wholesome supplies of food for the people of this country. We owe the environmental health officers a debt of gratitude.

Mr. Matthew Taylor (Truro)


Mr. Davies

I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but my time has been taken up. I ask him to make the briefest of interventions.

Mr. Taylor

I hope that the hon. Gentleman will share my concern that, even since this matter was raised, the Government in this country or the Irish authorities have apparently not been able to establish how this happened and therefore can offer no reassurance that it is not continuing.

Mr. Davies

That is precisely my point. There is a problem in Ireland. We do not know whether it is because of illegal slaughtering, a black market deal in veterinary seals or a deliberate misuse of the precedures, but the fact is that the system allows contaminated meat to come into this country. At the port of entry, only 5 per cent. of that meat is inspected. Ninety-five per cent. of the supplies are then available to meat packers and to processors without further inspection. The Ministry did not see fit to issue one warning until the matter had been raised in the House.

Environmental health officers have unprecedented demands upon them due to the burgeoning food processing and preparation industries. There are now 300 fewer such posts than there were in 1983. The latest figures show that, of the 5,500 posts available, there are nearly 500 vacancies—that is, up 135 from 1981. The Government's squeezes on local government spending are to blame. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, however, as the sponsor of the Food Acts, must bear the responsibility for failing to insist that those Acts are fully implemented. It beggars belief that, at a time when public concern is at fever pitch—apparently with ample reason from what we have heard tonight—the Government can be so cavalier in their attitude to the consumer that they are cutting back on the very research that has hitherto been the backbone of the fight against such public health hazards.

The Government's attitude to chemical contamination is no better. Before the introduction of maximum residue levels in food regulations, The Food Magazine commented on a survey of British food by stating: 43 per cent. of fruit and vegetables analysed have detectable pesticide residues. And out of a total of 426 chemicals cleared for use on Britain's farms, 166 are known or suspected of causing reactions or of links with cancer". At the current rates of testing approved by the Ministry, it will take 50 years for all the commercially available chemicals to be tested. Until then, we cannot be confident that our domestically produced food has acceptable levels of residues.

It is not only the food we eat, but the water we drink. Millions of our citizens are now in receipt of water supplies containing unacceptable levels of nitrates. Even the Secretary of State for the Environment—who is not especially noted for his sensitivity in these matters—has noticed the problem. As part of his privatisation package, he is proposing to fleece the consumer to put right the problems caused by the historical neglect by MAFF.

The motion is tabled in the name of the Opposition. We know, however, that our concerns are shared by many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen opposite. The hon. Members for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body), for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) and for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. McCrindle) have in their own ways expressed their vote of no confidence in the Ministry by calling for it to be stripped of its food responsibilities. We believe that, however well intentioned they are, their target is the wrong one. It is not the structure of the Government which is to blame, but their policies and their doctrinaire commitment to cuts, and especially deregulation. That is why we invite those who oppose the Government to join us in the Lobby.

6.48 pm
Mr. Ryder

With the leave of the House, I should like to respond to the debate. It is all too easy at the end of such debates for Ministers to describe them as excellent. I believe, however, that this time we have enjoyed an excellent debate with well-informed contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Newark (Mr. Alexander), for Uxbridge (Mr. Shersby), for Northampton South (Mr. Morris), for Holland with Boston (Sir R. Body) and for Suffolk, Central (Mr. Lord), among others. On the Labour side, I especially enjoyed and listened carefully to the speeches of the hon. Members for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) and for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones).

Opposition Front Bench spokesmen asked about the protein processing order. I should like to reply to that point and several others in the short time remaining to me. If sampling of a plant's products reveals salmonella contamination, a notice is served requiring compliance with the bacteriological standard within a time limit. Failure to comply, without lawful authority or excuse, constitutes an offence. In 1987 most operators were able to comply within the time limit and their products proved clear of salmonella on resampling. In the few cases where resampling still revealed contamination it was not considered to be a deliberate failure and, therefore, it was not appropriate to bring prosecutions. In only one case was continuing failure to comply revealed on a second resampling. Even in that case the subsequent tests indicated that a salmonella-free product had been achieved.

The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) asked about restrictions on farms suspected of infection with salmonella. The decision to impose restrictions has depended and will continue to depend on an assessment of the importance of each case and on an overall assessment of the risks from each strain of salmonella.

The hon. Gentleman was also anxious to know whether we had—I use his words—cut the research project in Bristol. The Goverment's financial support for the research work undertaken will not be lost. As my right hon. Friend the Minister has said, that support will be diverted to other important microbiological research. The redeployment of the staff is also being considered by their employers—in this case the Agricultural and Food Research Council.

My hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge was anxious to know why three questions that he had put down to our Ministry had been transferred to the Department of Health. I promised to look into that matter, but the prime responsibility for microbiological surveillance, including listeria, rests with the Department of Health. That is why that Department will be responsible for answering his questions.

The hon. Member for Ross, Cromarty and Skye (Mr. Kennedy) asked about veterinary training. That matter rests primarily with the Department of Education and Science and the University Grants Committee. I shall pass the hon. Gentleman's comments on to my right hon. Friend and my hon. Friends in the DES.

The right hon. Member for Halton (Mr. Oakes) attacked the Ministry for devoting resources to compensation instead of tackling the problems. As my right hon. Friend the Minister has pointed out on several occasions, however, not least in a lengthy written reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Suffolk, Central last week. We have arranged a series of measures to deal with the problem and many have already been introduced. My right hon. Friend said that this amounts to one of the most comprehensive programmes to combat salmonella anywhere in the world.

Listeria was mentioned by the hon. Member for South Shields and other hon. Members, and it is important to appreciate that my Department, together with the Department of Health and representatives of the industry, is considering current food processing, distribution, retailing and labelling to ensure the safety of the food supply. Appropriate research is being carried out where information is lacking and codes of practice are being developed in conjunction with the industry. The Ministry is funding research projects to investigate improved methods of detecting the bacteria and how processing factors and storage conditions affect the growth and survival of this particular strain of listeria which is causing so much concern.

The motion concerns the Government's handling of food and its effect on consumers. Today I pointed out twice that this is the first time that the Opposition have selected a Supply day to debate this issue since we came into Government in 1979. To claim that the Government are not concerned about consumers is as fatuous as claiming that the conductor is interested only in his orchestra and not the audience. The Government have always taken their responsibilities to consumers and taxpayers far more seriously than has the Labour party. Since the Government took office 10 years ago food prices have increased on average at 5.6 per cent. per annum. That is nearly 2 per cent. a year less than the rate of inflation. Therefore, consumers have benefited under the Government. Prices are now 17 per cent. lower in real terms than they were when we took office in May 1979.

What about the Labour Government's record between 1974 and 1979? My hon. Friends will remember that, during the 1970s, food prices were supposed to be controlled by the ill-fated Department of Prices and Consumer Protection. That was such a misnomer that it even defied the Trade Descriptions Act 1968.

The Government have a responsibility for the entire food chain and that responsibility has been exercised with particular emphasis on the joint interests of the taxpayer and the consumer. What a contrast that is with the Labour Government's record when the well-being of consumers was eroded by disruptions to the food chain caused by strikes and that Government's inefficiency.

We have allowed for the operation of the market and, therefore, we have created the environment in which the food industry has become one of the most successful sectors of the economy—it accounts for no less than 10 per cent. of the gross national product and employs more than 3 million people. Under the Labour Government, consumers faced price rises almost every day and consumer choice was impeded by ineffective, muddled and restrictive economic policies. Under Labour, consumers were faced with food shortages and lack of choice. Now consumers have better choice and better quality food than ever before. I am happy to defend the record of the Government against the Labour record today or any day the Opposition choose.

During the 1980s we have taken a consistent line. We have fought hard in Brussels to control the excesses of the CAP and that is exactly what my right hon. Friend was doing last night when he was taken ill. We have reduced prices, surpluses and the waste of taxpayers' money. We have increased expenditure on food safety and, consequently, given a better deal to consumers.

Several hon. Members, including the Opposition spokesmen, have alleged that the Government have cut research and development projects on food safety, but nothing could be further from the truth. I happen to have with me, for the sake of convenience, a computer list of all such R and D projects funded by my Department during the past two years. If I had brought the computer list for the past 10 years I would have been unable to carry it, yet the Opposition claims that we have cut such R and D work.

Since the 1970s, the quality and variety of the food available has changed. The Labour party tried to dictate the composition of food through detailed food law. That discredited and outmoded approach acted as a disincentive to innovation, and the failure of the United Kingdom dairy industry to market low-fat milk earlier than it did was, in part, due to Labour-inspired rules about the fat content of milk.

The Opposition's allegations today have plummeted to the depths of matchless distortion. By attacking the Government, the Opposition have cast aspersions on the scores and scores of vets and other experts whose advice is acted on by the Ministry; that includes scores and scores of doctors and academics. Those scientists, doctors and vets are men and women of the highest probity and their skills and devotion to duty are beyond doubt. They are admired in Britain and respected and envied in Europe. They help to ensure the safety of our food and they will resent and reject, as I do, the accusations levelled against them by the Opposition.

Today the Opposition have behaved like rabbits and, as students of Beatrix Potter will know, rabbits that stray into Mr. McGregor's garden generally end up in Mrs. McGregor's pot. I ask the House to reject the Labour party motion and to pass our own.

Mr. Ron Davies


Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman has spoken once. Mr. Flynn.

6.58 pm
Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West)

The Parliamentary Secretary's speech was a disgraceful response to what he described as a fine debate. It is a shame that the Government cannot do better to answer the deep-seated concerns that have been expressed throughout the country about the purity of food except by resorting, once again, to cheap electioneering and debating points about what happened in the past 10 years.

Do the Government not understand how seriously disturbed the whole nation is by the many cases of food contamination? We have seen a display from the Minister who waved about a long list of computer—

Mr. Don Dixon (Jarrow)

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 206, Noes 313.

Division No. 46] [7 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Clark, Dr David (S Shields)
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)
Anderson, Donald Clay, Bob
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Clelland, David
Armstrong, Hilary Clwyd, Mrs Ann
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Cohen, Harry
Ashton, Joe Coleman, Donald
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Cook, Robin (Livingston)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Corbett, Robin
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Corbyn, Jeremy
Barron, Kevin Cousins, Jim
Battle, John Cox, Tom
Beckett, Margaret Cryer, Bob
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Cummings, John
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Cunliffe, Lawrence
Bermingham, Gerald Cunningham, Dr John
Bidwell, Sydney Darling, Alistair
Blair, Tony Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)
Blunkett, David Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)
Boateng, Paul Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l)
Boyes, Roland Dewar, Donald
Bradley, Keith Dixon, Don
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Dobson, Frank
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Doran, Frank
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Douglas, Dick
Buchan, Norman Dunnachie, Jimmy
Buckley, George J. Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth
Caborn, Richard Eadie, Alexander
Callaghan, Jim Evans, John (St Helens N)
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Fatchett, Derek
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Canavan, Dennis Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Cartwright, John Flannery, Martin
Flynn, Paul Meacher, Michael
Foot, Rt Hon Michael Meale, Alan
Foster, Derek Michael, Alun
Foulkes, George Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)
Fraser, John Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)
Fyfe, Maria Moonie, Dr Lewis
Galbraith, Sam Morgan, Rhodri
Galloway, George Morley, Elliott
Garrett, John (Norwich South) Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)
Garrett, Ted (Wallsend) Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)
George, Bruce Mowlam, Marjorie
Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John Mullin. Chris
Godman, Dr Norman A. Murphy, Paul
Golding, Mrs Llin Nellist, Dave
Gordon, Mildred Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon
Gould, Bryan O'Brien, William
Graham, Thomas O'Neill, Martin
Grant, Bernie (Tottenham) Orme, Rt Hon Stanley
Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S) Owen, Rt Hon Dr David
Griffiths, Win (Bridgend) Parry, Robert
Grocott, Bruce Patchett, Terry
Hardy, Peter Pike, Peter L.
Harman, Ms Harriet Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Haynes, Frank Prescott, John
Healey, Rt Hon Denis Primarolo, Dawn
Heffer, Eric S. Quin, Ms Joyce
Henderson, Doug Radice, Giles
Hinchliffe, David Randall, Stuart
Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth) Redmond, Martin
Holland, Stuart Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Home Robertson, John Reid, Dr John
Hood, Jimmy Richardson, Jo
Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath) Ftoberts, Allan (Bootle)
Hughes, John (Coventry NE) Ftobertson, George
Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Ftobinson, Geoffrey
Hughes, Roy (Newport E) Flogers, Allan
Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S) Flooker, Jeff
Illsley, Eric Fioss, Ernie (Dundee W)
Ingram, Adam Flowlands, Ted
Janner, Greville Fluddock, Joan
Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside) Sedgemore, Brian
Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W) Sheerman, Barry
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Lambie, David Short, Clare
Leadbitter, Ted Skinner, Dennis
Leighton, Ron Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Lewis, Terry Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Litherland, Robert Snape, Peter
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Soley, Clive
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Spearing, Nigel
Loyden, Eddie Stott, Roger
McAllion, John Strang, Gavin
McAvoy, Thomas Straw, Jack
McCartney, Ian Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Macdonald, Calum A. Turner, Dennis
McFall, John Vaz, Keith
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Walley, Joan
McKelvey, William Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
McLeish, Henry Wareing, Robert N.
McNamara, Kevin Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
McTaggart, Bob Williams, Rt Hon Alan
McWilliam, John Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Madden, Max Wilson, Brian
Mahon, Mrs Alice Winnick, David
Marek, Dr John Wise, Mrs Audrey
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Worthington, Tony
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S)
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Tellers for the Ayes:
Martlew, Eric Mr. Ken Easthara and
Maxton, John Mr. Frank Cook.
Adley, Robert Amos, Alan
Aitken, Jonathan Arbuthnot, James
Alexander, Richard Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove)
Alton, David Ashby, David
Amess, David Aspinwall, Jack
Atkins, Robert Fenner, Dame Peggy
Atkinson, David Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Fishburn, John Dudley
Baldry, Tony Fookes, Dame Janet
Batiste, Spencer Forman, Nigel
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Beggs, Roy Forth, Eric
Beith, A. J. Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Bellingham, Henry Fox, Sir Marcus
Bendall, Vivian Franks, Cecil
Bevan, David Gilroy Freeman, Roger
Biffen, Rt Hon John French, Douglas
Blackburn, Dr John G. Fry, Peter
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Gale, Roger
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Gardiner, George
Boscawen, Hon Robert Garel-Jones, Tristan
Boswell, Tim Gill, Christopher
Bottomley, Peter Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia Glyn, Dr Alan
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Goodhart, Sir Philip
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Goodlad, Alastair
Bowis, John Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Gorst, John
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Gow, Ian
Brazier, Julian Gower, Sir Raymond
Bright, Graham Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Brown, Michael (Brlgg & Cl't's) Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Browne, John (Winchester) Gregory, Conal
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Ground, Patrick
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Buck, Sir Antony Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Budgen, Nicholas Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Burns, Simon Hanley, Jeremy
Burt, Alistair Hannam, John
Butcher, John Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Butler, Chris Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Butterfill, John Haselhurst, Alan
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Hayes, Jerry
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Carrington, Matthew Hayward, Robert
Carttiss, Michael Heathcoat-Amory, David
Cash, William Heddle, John
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Chapman, Sydney Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Chope, Christopher Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Churchill, Mr Hill, James
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hind, Kenneth
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Colvin, Michael Holt, Richard
Conway, Derek Hordern, Sir Peter
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Howard, Michael
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Cope, Rt Hon John Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Cran, James Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk)
Critchley, Julian Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Curry, David Hunt, David (Wirral W)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Hunt, John (Ravensbourne)
Davis, David (Boothferry) Hunter, Andrew
Day, Stephen Irvine, Michael
Devlin, Tim Irving, Charles
Dickens, Geoffrey Jack, Michael
Dicks, Terry Jackson, Robert
Dorrell, Stephen Janman, Tim
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Jessel, Toby
Dover, Den Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Dunn, Bob Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Durant, Tony Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dykes, Hugh Kennedy, Charles
Eggar, Tim Key, Robert
Emery, Sir Peter Kilfedder, James
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Evennett, David Kirkhope, Timothy
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Kirkwood, Archy
Fallon, Michael Knapman, Roger
Favell, Tony Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Fearn, Ronald Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Knowles, Michael Rathbone, Tim
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Redwood, John
Lang, Ian Renton, Tim
Latham, Michael Rhodes James, Robert
Lawrence, Ivan Riddick, Graham
Lawson, Rt Hon Nigel Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas
Lee, John (Pendle) Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Roe, Mrs Marion
Lightbown, David Rossi, Sir Hugh
Lilley, Peter Rost, Peter
Livsey, Richard Rowe, Andrew
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Ryder, Richard
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Sackville, Hon Tom
Lord, Michael Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Scott, Nicholas
Lyell, Sir Nicholas Shaw, David (Dover)
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
McLoughlin, Patrick Shelton, Sir William (Streatham)
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Madel, David Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Major, Rt Hon John Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Matins, Humfrey Shersby, Michael
Mans, Keith Sims, Roger
Maples, John Skeet, Sir Trevor
Marland, Paul Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Marlow, Tony Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Soames, Hon Nicholas
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Speller, Tony
Maude, Hon Francis Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Stanbrook, Ivor
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Miller, Sir Hal Steel, Rt Hon David
Mills, Iain Steen, Anthony
Miscampbell, Norman Stern, Michael
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Stevens, Lewis
Mitchell, Sir David Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Moate, Roger Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Molyneaux, Rt Hon James Stokes, Sir John
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Morris, M (N'hampton S) Sumberg, David
Morrison, Sir Charles Summerson, Hugo
Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester) Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Moss, Malcolm Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Moynihan, Hon Colin Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Mudd, David Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Needham, Richard Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Nelson, Anthony Thorne, Neil
Neubert, Michael Thurnham, Peter
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Townend, John (Bridlington)
Nicholls, Patrick Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Tredinnick, David
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Trippier, David
Norris, Steve Twinn, Dr Ian
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Waddington, Rt Hon David
Oppenheim, Phillip Wakeham, Rt Hon John
Page, Richard Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Paice, James Wallace, James
Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil Waller, Gary
Patnick, Irvine Wheeler, John
Patten, Chris (Bath) Wiggin, Jerry
Patten, John (Oxford W) Wilkinson, John
Pawsey, James Wood, Timothy
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Woodcock, Mike
Porter, David (Waveney) Yeo, Tim
Portillo, Michael Young, Sir George (Acton)
Powell, William (Corby)
Price, Sir David Tellers for the Noes:
Raffan, Keith Mr. Kenneth Carlisle and
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Mr. David Maclean.

Question accordingly negatived.

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

The House proceeded to a Division:—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Harold Walker)

I understand that the House has a problem with its time devices and that the order to lock the doors may have been called prematurely. In the light of that, I propose to allow the doors to be reopened and to remain open for one minute.

The House having divided: Ayes 280, Noes 211.

Division No. 47] [7.13 pm
Adley, Robert Davis, David (Boothferry)
Aitken, Jonathan Day, Stephen
Alexander, Richard Devlin, Tim
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Dicks, Terry
Amess, David Dorrell, Stephen
Amos, Alan Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Arbuthnot, James Dover, Den
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Dunn, Bob
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Durant, Tony
Ashby, David Dykes, Hugh
Aspinwall, Jack Eggar, Tim
Atkins, Robert Emery, Sir Peter
Atkinson, David Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd)
Baker, Rt Hon K (Mole Valley) Evennett, David
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas
Baldry, Tony Fallon, Michael
Batiste, Spencer Favell, Tony
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Fenner, Dame Peggy
Bellingham, Henry Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)
Bendall, Vivian Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey
Bevan, David Gilroy Fishburn, John Dudley
Bitfen, Rt Hon John Fookes, Dame Janet
Blackburn, Dr John G. Forman, Nigel
Blaker, Rt Hon Sir Peter Forth, Eric
Bonsor, Sir Nicholas Fowler, Rt Hon Norman
Boscawen, Hon Robert Fox, Sir Marcus
Boswell, Tim Franks, Cecil
Bottomley, Peter Freeman, Roger
Bottomley, Mrs Virginia French, Douglas
Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n) Fry, Peter
Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich) Gale, Roger
Bowis, John Gardiner, George
Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes Garel-Jones, Tristan
Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard Gill, Christopher
Brandon-Bravo, Martin Glyn, Dr Alan
Brazier, Julian Goodhart, Sir Philip
Bright, Graham Goodlad, Alastair
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's) Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Browne, John (Winchester) Gorst, John
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) Gow, Ian
Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick Gower, Sir Raymond
Buck, Sir Antony Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW)
Budgen, Nicholas Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Burns, Simon Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Burt, Alistair Gregory, Conal
Butcher, John Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Butler, Chris Ground, Patrick
Butterfill, John Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Hamilton, Hon Archie (Epsom)
Carrington, Matthew Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Carttiss, Michael Hanley, Jeremy
Cash, William Hannam, John
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr')
Chapman, Sydney Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)
Chope, Christopher Haselhurst, Alan
Churchill, Mr Hayes, Jerry
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Hayward, Robert
Colvin, Michael Heathcoat-Amory, David
Conway, Derek Heddle, John
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Cope, Rt Hon John Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Cran, James Hill, James
Critchley, Julian Hind, Kenneth
Curry, David Hogg, Hon Douglas (Gr'th'm)
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Holt, Richard
Hordern, Sir Peter Oppenheim, Phillip
Howard, Michael Page, Richard
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Paice, James
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd) Parkinson, Rt Hon Cecil
Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Patnick, Irvine
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W) Patten, Chris (Bath)
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Patten, John (Oxford W)
Hunt, John (Ravensbourne) Pawsey, James
Hunter, Andrew Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth
Irvine, Michael Porter, David (Waveney)
Irving, Charles Portillo, Michael
Jack, Michael Powell, William (Corby)
Jackson, Robert Price, Sir David
Janman, Tim Raffan, Keith
Jessel, Toby Raison, Rt Hon Timothy
Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N) Rathbone, Tim
Jones, Robert B (Herts W) Redwood, John
Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine Renton, Tim
Key, Robert Rhodes James, Robert
Kilfedder, James Riddick, Graham
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield) Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm
Kirkhope, Timothy Roberts, Wyn (Conwy)
Knapman, Roger Roe, Mrs Marion
Knight, Greg (Derby North) Rossi, Sir Hugh
Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston) Rost, Peter
Knowles, Michael Rowe, Andrew
Lamont, Rt Hon Norman Ryder, Richard
Lang, Ian Sackville, Hon Tom
Latham, Michael Sainsbury, Hon Tim
Lee, John (Pendle) Shaw, David (Dover)
Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Lester, Jim (Broxtowe) Shelton, Sir William (Streatham)
Lightbown, David
Lilley, Peter Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW)
Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant) Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham) Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)
Lord, Michael Sims, Roger
Luce, Rt Hon Richard Skeet, Sir Trevor
Lyell, Sir Nicholas Smith, Sir Dudley (Warwick)
Macfarlane, Sir Neil Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
McLoughlin, Patrick Sioames, Hon Nicholas
McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael Speller, Tony
McNair-Wilson, P. (New Forest) Sipicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Madel, David Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)
Major, Rt Hon John Stanbrook, Ivor
Malins, Humfrey Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Mans, Keith Stern, Michael
Maples, John Stevens, Lewis
Marland, Paul Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Marlow, Tony Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Marshall, John (Hendon S) Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Marshall, Michael (Arundel) Sumberg, David
Martin, David (Portsmouth S) Summerson, Hugo
Maude, Hon Francis Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Mawhinney, Dr Brian Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Miller, Sir Hal Thurnham, Peter
Mills, Iain Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Miscampbell, Norman Tredinnick, David
Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling) Trippier, David
Mitchell, Sir David Twinn, Dr Ian
Moate, Roger Waddington, Rt Hon David
Montgomery, Sir Fergus Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Morrison, Sir Charles Wheeler, John
Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester) Wiggin, Jerry
Moss, Malcolm Wilkinson, John
Moynihan, Hon Colin Wood, Timothy
Needham, Richard Woodcock, Mike
Nelson, Anthony Yeo, Tim
Neubert, Michael Young, Sir George (Acton)
Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Nicholls, Patrick Tellers for the Ayes:
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Mr. Kenneth Carlisle and
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Mr. David Maclean.
Norris, Steve
Abbott, Ms Diane Anderson, Donald
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Archer, Rt Hon Peter
Alton, David Armstrong, Hilary
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Evans, John (St Helens N)
Ashton, Joe Fatchett, Derek
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Fearn, Ronald
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Flannery, Martin
Barron, Kevin Flynn, Paul
Battle, John Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Beckett, Margaret Foster, Derek
Beith, A. J. Foulkes, George
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Fraser, John
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Fyfe, Maria
Bermingham, Gerald Galbraith, Sam
Bidwell, Sydney Galloway, George
Blair, Tony Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Blunkett, David Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Boateng, Paul Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Boyes, Roland Godman, Dr Norman A.
Bradley, Keith Golding, Mrs Llin
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Gordon, Mildred
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Gould, Bryan
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Graham, Thomas
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Buchan, Norman Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)
Buckley, George J. Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Caborn, Richard Grocott, Bruce
Callaghan, Jim Hardy, Peter
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Harman, Ms Harriet
Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley) Haynes, Frank
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Canavan, Dennis Heffer, Eric S.
Cartwright, John Henderson, Doug
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Hinchliffe, David
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Clay, Bob Holland, Stuart
Clelland, David Home Robertson, John
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hood, Jimmy
Cohen, Harry Howell, Rt Hon D. (S'heath)
Coleman, Oonald Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Corbett, Robin Hughes, Sean (Knowsley S)
Corbyn, Jeremy Illsley, Eric
Cox, Tom Ingram, Adam
Cryer, Bob Janner, Greville
Cummings, John Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Cunningham, Dr John Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald
Darling, Alistair Kennedy, Charles
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Kinnock, Rt Hon Neil
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Kirkwood, Archy
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Lambie, David
Dewar, Donald Leadbitter, Ted
Dixon, Don Leighton, Ron
Dobson, Frank Lestor, Joan (Eccles)
Doran, Frank Lewis, Terry
Douglas, Dick Litherland, Robert
Dunnachie, Jimmy Livsey, Richard
Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)
Eadie, Alexander Lofthouse, Geoffrey
Loyden, Eddie Radice, Giles
McAllion, John Randall, Stuart
McAvoy, Thomas Redmond, Martin
McCartney, Ian Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Macdonald, Calum A. Reid, Dr John
McFall, John Richardson, Jo
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
McKelvey, William Robertson, George
McLeish, Henry Rogers, Allan
McNamara, Kevin Rooker, Jeff
McWilliam, John Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Madden, Max Rowlands, Ted
Mahon, Mrs Alice Sedgemore, Brian
Marek, Dr John Sheerman, Barry
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Shore, Rt Hon Peter
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Short, Clare
Martlew, Eric Skinner, Dennis
Maxton, John Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
Meacher, Michael Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Meale, Alan Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
Michael, Alun Snape, Peter
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Soley, Clive
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Spearing, Nigel
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Steel, Rt Hon David
Moonie, Dr Lewis Stott, Roger
Morgan, Rhodri Strang, Gavin
Morley, Elliott Straw, Jack
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Vaz, Keith
Mowlam, Marjorie Wallace, James
Mullin, Chris Walley, Joan
Murphy, Paul Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Nellist, Dave Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon Williams, Rt Hon Alan
O'Brien, William Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
O'Neill, Martin Wilson, Brian
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Winnick, David
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Wise, Mrs Audrey
Parry, Robert Worthington, Tony
Patchett, Terry Wray, Jimmy
Pike, Peter L.
Powell, Ray (Ogmore) Tellers for the Noes:
Prescott, John Mr. Ken Eastham and
Primarolo, Dawn Mr. Robert N. Warring.
Quin, Ms Joyce
Mr. Deputy Speaker

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

Resolved, That this House commends the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on its achievements on behalf of consumers in the fields of food safety, food surveillance, and consumer information which means that they have wide variety and choice of wholesome foods at reasonable prices; commends its comprehensive response to the emergence of health risks; and commends its constant concern for consumers' interest in European Community negotiations.