HC Deb 21 June 1989 vol 155 cc342-93
Mr. Speaker

I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. Fourteen hon. Members have so far expressed an interest in speaking in this debate. If their speeches are brief, most of them, I hope all, will be called.

3.48 pm
Dr. David Clark (South Shields)

I beg to move, That this House, noting Her Majesty's Government's failure to address the growing problem of food safety, deplores the decision to close the Institute of Food Research at Langford near Bristol with the corresponding loss of scientific expertise; believes that this will further reduce Her Majesty's Government's ability to protect the health of the British people; regrets that, two years after the Department of Health issued a consultative document on the control of food hygiene, regulations have still not been laid before Parliament; expresses concern at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's decision to reduce veterinarians in their employ by one quarter and at the national shortage of Environmental Health Officers which leaves many posts unfilled; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to introduce more effective safety and hygiene regulations, to increase the monitoring of food production and safety and to reverse its short sighted policy of cutting research and development work. This is a timely debate which, in a sense, is proven by the number of hon. Members who wish to participate in it. It is also timely because, after 10 years of Conservative administration, we have a food poisoning outbreak of epidemic proportions. Only last week, we had the worst outbreak for years of botulism, which is a particular nasty and deadly toxin. Last Wednesday, the Government gave what can only be described as a bizarre response to this immensely serious problem. Their response was to close the Institute of Food Research at Bristol, which ranks among the premier meat research institutes in the world.

Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)


Dr. David Clark

With respect, Mr. Speaker has asked us to be fairly brief, but I will give way on this point.

Mr. Key

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but surely he knows that that particular infection and toxin was not identified at Bristol, but at the public health laboratory service—the centre for applied microbiology and research at Porton Down—which has nothing to do with the closure of which he spoke.

Dr. Clark

I will treat the hon. Gentleman's intervention with the disdain that it deserves and ignore it as being absolutely irrelevant. The hon. Gentleman ought to think before he gets to his feet. No one suggested that botulism research was being done at Bristol—those were the hon. Gentleman's words-—but I will return to that point in due course.

The act of closing the Bristol institute is typical of Government's response, which is illogical, short-sighted and plain stupid. We should not be surprised that we have these food poisoning epidemics. After all, we have a Government headed by a Prime Minister whose driving philosophy is the enterprise culture and the profit motive. She has weakened food regulations and opposed modification of them, reduced the number of staff involved in safety monitoring and slashed research into food hygiene and quality. The ethos of her Administration can be summarised in the title of the White Paper that she produced, "Lifting the Burdens". She responded positively to that theme in her speech in Nottingham during the European election campaign.

The folly of that approach can be seen most clearly in connection with food. Experience worldwide has taught us that regulation and controls are vital if food safety standards are to be maintained. As recent elections have shown, the British people have not been fooled by the Tory policy. They recognise that that approach is a recipe for an epidemic of food poisoning and a lowering of standards. That is exactly what we have in Britain in 1989.

Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Clark

I have already given way once, after only 30 seconds, and that intervention wasted my time and that of the House.

I know that Conservative Members object to my comments, but the facts speak for themselves. In February of this year, the National Consumer Council commissioned a poll on consumer perception of food safety. The results show that 40 per cent. of those questioned were not confident that they had sufficient information to ensure that the food that they bought was safe. Consumers have every justification for being suspicious. Basic food hygiene regulations have not kept pace with changes in food technology. Most of them were made in the days before microwave ovens, cook-chill and convenience food. The facilities for storing food in retail outlets just cannot cope.

There are horrific stories. In one food manufacturing unit in Birmingham, the owner kept an air rifle to shoot the rats running about the establishment. That is true. Practically the whole of the Royal Air Force strike command in north-east Scotland was laid low after eating oysters. It transpired that these had been supplied not from the Soviet Union but from Japan, and were labelled in Japanese, so no one preparing the oysters could read the instructions. That emphasises the need for more sensible labelling.

Those are interesting, if not amusing anecdotes, but there is a serious aspect to the problem. In 1980, a mere —I use the word advisedly—10,318 cases of food poisoning were notified, while last year that had nearly trebled to over 28,000 cases.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster)

Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Dr. Clark

I know that the hon. Lady participates in these debates, usually with a great deal of intelligence, but I wish to press ahead because I am conscious of the time.

Already this year, there have been 12,396 cases of food poisoning, while in the same period last year there were 7,930. I know that Tory Members deride statistics, but they are serious and, on occasion, represent deaths.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. Many of my constituents are keen on green-top milk, which is unpasteurised and contains a helpful enzyme. They are extremely glad that my hon. Friend the Minister has given way and will allow us to retain green-top milk.

Dr. Clark

The hon. Lady has made an ingenious intervention. I am sure that her right hon. Friend the Minister will take on board those plaudits.

The House will recall that the Government's initial response to the salmonella crisis six months ago was to curtail research into salmonella at the Institute of Food Research in Bristol. The Governments folly on that occasion was astounding, but that is not the whole story. The Government were also caught unaware by botulism. They should not have been because the eminent microbiologist Professor Richard Lacey—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I should tell Conservative Members that Professor Lacey is an official adviser to the Government and to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. He actually predicted in his book, "Safe Shopping, Safe Cooking and Safe Eating" that botulism could return unless the catering industry addresses the problem. Professor Lacey was not being clairvoyant—he was reading the book, so to speak. Only last year, Europe's biggest botulism outbreak among cattle occurred in the United Kingdom. It was caused by a herd being fed a mixture containing chicken carcasses. Ironically, last year the Government ordered the Institute of Food Research to stop work on a project involving the feeding of chicken carcasses to cattle and the links with botulism. That is why there was no work at Bristol last week to detect the outbreaks of botulism. The Government actually stopped that work. They had learnt nothing—having stopped research into salmonella, they compounded their folly by doing the same with botulism.

What is the Government's response to the food crisis? Deep analysis reveals a twin approach. First, they believe that the interests of the public can be protected, in some perverse way, by cutting research and development and closing research establishments. Secondly, to compensate for the resulting huge gap in public health protection, the Government think that they have discovered a new panacea—irradiation. On both counts the Government are wrong.

—During recent years research projects into food safety and hygience have been axed one after another. Recently the Government decided on further closures and cuts following the so-called Barnes review. The effect of the review is to cut by £30 million the money spent on research and development in agriculture and food. The latest example of that was the closure of the institute at Bristol. That was absolutely incomprehensible. Not only will many excellent projects disappear, but more than 100 scientists will lose their jobs. With those jobs will go the experience and expertise—[HON. MEMBERS: "No".] If that is not true, I hope that the Minister will say so and give us more information. My information is that only six out of more than 100 jobs at Bristol will be relocated. The Minister should deny that if I am wrong.

In an attempt to cover up their folly, the Government have given the impression that jobs and projects will be transferred. That is a travesty of the truth. Only six jobs will be transferred and of the 80-plus projects, many involving food safety and hygiene, not more than a handful will be transferred. If I am wrong, I challenge the Minister to say which projects will be transferred. I am sure that there will not be more than a handful.

We shall lose vital work on meat hygiene. Neither the abattoir at the Bristol institute, which allows practical experiments, nor the highly praised food processing hall are being transferred. Work on refrigeration, which is vital to food hygiene and safety is being terminated. Not only expertise, but facilities which exist nowhere else in the United Kingdom are being lost.

In the long run, the main loser from the Government's obsession with cost-cutting will be the consumer. The closure has been forced by the Government's obsession. On 22 May 1989, the Minister announced, with great pleasure, that he had managed to save £379 million in agricultural spending last year.

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

In the CAP.

Dr. Clark

When one compares that figure with the £111 million expected expenditure on research and development for this financial year, it places Government priorities in perspective. To put it another way, the Minister's annual savings last year would have kept the Bristol institute open for 100 years. That puts the Government's policies in perspective.

The Minister has completely misjudged the position on food irradiation. Does he know that one of the foremost members of his advisory committee on irradiated and novel foods, which produced the report on irradiation in 1986 on which he places so much store, has now changed his mind about the process and has said that it is "unnecessary" and doomed to commercial failure. To quote from a recent interview with Professor Philip James, in The Press and Journal Aberdeen: The real dilemma now is that people no longer have confidence that a Ministry of Agriculture linked to the producer and processor is going to safeguard the public interest. The public have been overwhelmed by the knowledge that certain companies have been using irradiation to salvage rotten food … It is a sad reflection of how the Government and some food manufacturers don't appear to understand how to manage affairs of public interest in the fields of health and safety. That is a damning indictment of the Ministry by one of its top advisers.

Professor Philip James is not the only person to express concern. Various organisations, including the National Farmers Union, which is dear to the Minister's heart, and the British Medical Association, which is not so dear to the Government's heart, and prominent food retailing companies such as the Co-op, Tesco and Marks and Spencer have also expressed concern about irradiation. People not only now demand to know whether their food is to be irradiated, but why it needs to be irradiated. That is the key question that the Government should answer.

The Labour party does not believe that irradiation is the answer to our food poisoning problems. It is no alternative to ensuring that cleaner food is on sale in the shops. Irradiation would be no incentive to ensure that high hygiene standards are maintained throughout the food chain. Irradiation will leave food more open to subsequent bacteriological contamination. There is no easy and effective method of detecting whether food has been irradiated or, even more importantly, reirradiated. To return to the recent problem of botulism, perhaps the Minister will confirm that irradiation would have had no effect on wiping out that botulism as it is a toxin.

Another point about irradiation, which has been expressed clearly by Professor James, is that it could be used to make bad food clean. The Minister will be aware, for example, that there have been verified reports of seafood being imported into Britain, mainly from the far east, which has subsequently been found to be substandard. That food has then been exported to Holland, irradiated by Gammaster and then re-imported into Britain and sold illegally—the same food that had been found to be substandard. The incident occurred three years ago, but we have good reason to believe that the trade continues. I have in my possession a letter from Gammaster dated 10 May 1989, agreeing to supply irradiated seafood to Britain. The letter states: Our quality assurance include taking samples of each shipment of prawns before irradiation. The Dutch Food Inspectors also take samples before and after irradiation. I would like to emphasize that the irradiation of food products is not yet allowed in the United Kingdom". However, the letter also suggests the name of the Dutch transport company which would arrange delivery of that food. A telex from the transport company—Allways Transport BV—the following day states: in order to enable Gammaster to irradiate this consignment, it is necessary to arrange import of the goods temporarily (without paying duties or VAT of course). Before we can arrange this customs clearance we will have to present a `health certificate' in acordance with the EEC 'shrimp decree'. Several of my hon. Friends have tabled an early-day motion on this serious matter. As it is clear from the correspondence that the trade is well organised, I hope that the Minister will pursue the case. Unfortunately, when we passed similar correspondence to his predecessor three years ago, the Government refused to act. I hope that on this occasion the Minister will respond positively.

I know that the Minister is alert to the problem because the research consultative committee residues sub-group of the Ministry of Agriculture revealed in its minutes last year that it was aware of the potential for some commodities to arrive in the UK which already have been subjected to irradiation. I stress that that point was made by one of the Minister's own sub-committees last year.

It is because of such uncertainties that the Labour party opposes the introduction of food irradiation in Britain. It is like using gloss paint to cover rotten window frames.

To sum up, the Government's approach to protecting the nation's health from contaminated food has been abysmal. As we have seen in the past few months, they have adopted a crisis management approach. Indeed, it is hard to understand their actions in recent months. When confronted with a food poisoning epidemic what do they do? They cut the number of staff who monitor and control diseases; they close a food research institute; they introduce food irradiation, which nobody wants; and as a final insult, they produce a leaflet putting the blame for food poisoning where it certainly does not belong—on the consumer. I hope that the House will join us in condemning the Government.

4.7 pm

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

I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and add instead thereof: `commends the Government for implementing a comprehensive range of measures to maintain safety throughout the food chain and to improve the scientific knowledge on which these are based; notes with approval the Agricultural and Food Research Council's decision to strengthen the work of its Institute of Food Research at the Norwich and Reading sites by expanding programmes on food safety and nutrition; endorses the Government's policy of transferring responsibility for near market research and development to industry, enabling more Government funds to be channelled into strategic research; congratulates the Government on the substantial increase in resources for research into food safety during the past ten years; and expresses confidence in the Government's policies on food safety and research and development.'. The speech of the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) was fragmentary in the extreme and extremely fragile in its evidence. I shall demonstrate both those points.

As this is a general debate on food safety, I shall begin by setting out in framework the main elements of the Government's food safety policy. That is necessary because of the hon. Gentleman's spasmodic speech. Indeed, the main elements of our policy are consistent and thorough and are worth restating. I shall do that briefly because the Parliamentary Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Ryder), dealt with this at length in his speech in the food safety debate earlier this year, on 21 February, and because I have done so on many previous occasions. Furthermore, you, Mr. Speaker, have reminded us that this is a short debate.

The essential elements are, first, a careful and thorough monitoring of the food supply so as to be certain that whatever we do is based on a factual assessment of the situation as a whole; secondly, thorough surveillance to detect any trends that need analysis or policy action of one sort or another; and, thirdly, continuous and in-depth assessment of the facts that emerge using the best possible scientific advice.

In view of the highly selective scientific examples given by the hon. Member for South Shields, I stress that we use the best possible scientific advice over a wide range, using many people.

Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North)


Mr. MacGregor

This is a short debate; I will give way once.

Mr. Wilson

Does the Minister agree that if he wants the best and most independent scientific advice, by definition any scientists who are also paid by the food industry should not be employed by the Government to give advice?

Mr. MacGregor

I shall be able to demonstrate shortly that we use a much wider range of scientific expertise, so that is a feeble attack.

The fourth essential element is decisive action, which could be legislative or advisory on the basis of the expert advice that we have received, and sometimes further research is called for. The fifth essential element is the provision of full information and guidance to the public. Indeed, we publish so much that often the problem is to get even a small proportion of it over. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary illustrated that graphically in the last debate. The sixth essential element is proper monitoring and enforcement to ensure that legislative obligations are carried out by all in the food chain.

I have available to me substantial resources to carry out these tasks. In my Department I have more than 500 staff engaged in work on policies that relate to consumer protection. Many of them are highly qualified specialists in one branch of science or another. They provide the sound scientific basis to our assessment, enforcement and research activities.

As the House by now will know—this is the answer to the hon. Member for Cunninghame, North (Mr. Wilson) —we are assisted by a wide range of expert committees covering pretty well every area of food matters—to which we have just added the Richmond committee on the microbiological safety of food—to advise us on the many technological developments that are now such an important feature of modern food production. Together we have available some hundreds of independent scientists and experts drawn from the universities, medical schools, research bodies, industry, consumer backgrounds and so on—all leading experts in their particular fields and chosen for their experience and the breadth of knowledge they can bring to bear. They assist us in the assessment of risks of all kinds that are faced by any modern food producing industry, and my colleagues and I rely heavily on their advice. The Opposition keep mentioning one or two scientists. I have been emphasising that we have hundreds of scientists available to us. All aspects of the subject are considered, expertly and in considerable depth, and I stress again the scientists' independence.

The reports that are produced are published. In the case of the steering group on food surveillance there have been no fewer than 25 reports in recent year,. covering a wide range of subjects. Each of them is an authoritative scientific document on the subject under consideration. I repeat that the reports are published. But we do not just listen. We act, and we act promptly. In the last six months or so we have announced decisions on salmonella, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, mineral hydrocarbons and aldrin, and given advice on a number of other subjects. Often the action goes comparatively unnoticed in the media, but it is taken notice of by the industry and the consumer is therefore protected.

Mr. Conal Gregory (York)


Mr. MacGregor

This will have to be the last time that I give way.

Mr. Gregory

In acknowledging, as the Opposition did not, that some £20 million was spent last year in support of food safety, I think that any hon. Member would accept that there is independent advice which the Department uses skilfully, but that it is implemented at the sharp end by environmental health officers. Will my hon. Friend confirm that he will issue central guidelines to the environmental health officers? Otherwise they will go off at different tangents and will interpret the expert advice in different ways which could be misleading to the public. I know that that is not my right hon. Friend's intention.

Mr. MacGregor

We try to give advice and guidance wherever we can. If my hon. Friend has particular points in mind, perhaps he will write to me about them and I shall consider them.

One interesting example of the action that we take relates to certain chemical substances in cling film. Following analysis, our scientists in the Ministry advised that there was a small risk of some leaching to the food contained therein. In immediate consultation with the industries the substances were changed and even any potential slightest risk to the consumer was removed. All this demonstrates that there is no complacency whatever, only constant vigilance.

With the rapid changes in consumer habits these days, including the trend to fast and convenience foods and one-stop weekly shopping on the one hand, and the rapid developments in food technology and processes on the other, there can never be any cause for complacency. I point that out to the hon. Member for South Shields. Most of the Governments of Western Europe, the United States Government and others are finding new salmonella problems with particular types-—in the end we are talking about two types out of more than 2,000 strains—with listeria and with campylobacter at present.

As for botulism, with which the hon. Member for South Shields began his speech, if its continued existence is thought to be a sign of failure—the word in the Opposition motion—then it must be said that we in this country have achieved a measure of success that most other countries would be only too pleased to emulate.

The current outbreak, highly regrettable as it is, is nevertheless only the tenth in more than 65 years. The citizens of such countries as the United States, the Federal Republic of Germany, France and the Netherlands—often held up, and rightly, as examples, like ourselves, of countries with high safety records and standards—are many times more likely to suffer from botulism than we are here.

I heard what the hon. Member for South Shields said about Professor Lacey and his book. Professor Lacey did not predict a botulism outbreak. In fact, the evidence to date of the present botulism outbreak points to a canned hazelnut preparation. Professor Lacey stated that the risk of food poisoning by canned food is tiny. The action that we have taken on salmonella and BSE is typical of the serious and determined way in which we pursue our responsibilities.

As the House knows, the Government have adopted to date a comprehensive package of 19 measures to tackle this new salmonella problem in order to minimise the potential risk to public health.

Dr. David Clark

Seventeen measures.

Mr. MacGregor

It was 17, but we are constantly doing what we believe is right to add to them. I am sorry that the hon. Member for South Shields cannot keep up with our pace on this matter.

One of the 19 measures is the food safety guidance leaflet. I was extremely sorry to hear the hon. Member for South Shields, who is normally very responsible in these matters, say that that was shifting the blame—or words to that effect—on to the consumer. He knows that research has shown that, because of the modern developments to which I have referred—such as weekly one—stop shopping —and the new food technologies, much of the risk of food poisoning can take place after the manufacturing process. Therefore, any responsible Government should give advice to consumers as to how, at their end of the food chain, they can protect themselves from food poisoning. I cannot imagine why the hon. Gentleman denigrates our action of supplying the food safety leaflet. That is a sign of gross irresponsibility. I believe that he has been proved wrong by the fact that it is a best seller, and we shall almost certainly have to reprint it shortly. It shows that we are meeting a positive and, I think, a desirable demand.

Dr. David Clark

I noticed that the Minister moved quickly away from the 17 salmonella measures. He knows that he announced 17, but in a written answer, dated 19 June, that I received from the Parliamentary Secretary I was told that two of the key issues still wait to be laid before the House. When will we get the document—three months later?

Mr. MacGregor

I have not moved off the subject yet, so I do not know what the hon. Gentleman is talking about. I am still dealing with the 19 measures. We have announced all the measures. We have nearly all of them in place and we are carrying all the others through with all due speed. As he knows, some of them require consultation and then parliamentary action. We have announced that we are taking 19 specific measures on the new salmonella problem.

Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West)

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the latest information from the public health laboratory shows that, despite a recent increase in the consumption of chicken and poultry generally, the incidence of salmonella has dropped considerably? Does that not show that the measures that have been introduced by my right hon. Friend and the industry have been a great success?

Mr. MacGregor

As my hon. Friend knows, like other countries, we were faced with a new problem. It is obviously encouraging if there is a change in the trend of cases. We must maintain our vigilance, and the measures remain important. I do not believe that the measures will fully bite for some time—not until they take full effect. I want to be clear about that.

We have taken those 19 measures at all possible stages in the chain from the animal feeding stuffs level, through breeding flocks and hatcheries, to laying flocks and on into the home.

All in all, we are making extremely good progress in introducing those important measures in Britain. No other country in the world has such an impressive range of measures to tackle this exceptionally complex problem.

On the totally new disease of BSE, the moment our veterinary scientists identified what the problem was I set up the Southwood committee; then stopped the feed protein source of the disease, again as soon as our scientists—they were ours—concluded that this was the most likely source; and acted immediately on all the interim and final recommendations of that committee.

Last week I announced that further measures would be taken. Those will ensure that brain and spinal cord, together with certain other bovine offals, cannot be used for human consumption in any way.

I can assure the House that if the scientific evidence and advice suggests that other actions are needed we shall take them. In resource terms the commitment to BSE alone is likely to be in excess of £6 million this year. That, too, is a demonstration of how speedily and responsibly we act.

The emergence of new diseases, like the rapid rate of technological change in the food chain, places increasing demands on the flexibility of the system. It was for that reason among others that we felt that it was desirable to undertake a substantial review of the existing food legislation, which has generally served us well but which needs to be appropriate for all the demands of the 1990s, including developments on the European Community front. I suspect that the hon. Member for South Shields is with me on that.

That is why we have been undertaking a major consultation exercise with over 500 organisations, including many consumer groups, and, as a result, have concluded that the law should be adjusted in the light of changing circumstances. We shall be bringing forward new legislation as soon as the parliamentary timetable permits.

I would expect new legislation to include strengthened controls in the areas of food hygiene—notably powers to require food premises to register with their local authority and powers to require the training of those who handle food; the introduction of emergency control orders to improve our ability to act in food emergencies, although, as the hon. Gentleman knows, we have already taken some action in the Food and Environment Protection Act 1985, introduced by the Government, which enabled me to deal with the Chernobyl situation; and powers to control novel foods and processes as well as a whole range of other changes designed to make food law and its enforcement more effective today to meet any new challenges that may arise.

Just as new technical problems can arise from new processes, so technology can give us new weapons in our armoury to enhance food safety and consumer protection. Let me deal with one such new weapon which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. I want to begin by stressing that it is only one of many weapons in our armoury; it is not the panacea that the hon. Gentleman claimed it would be. In doing so, I hope that I shall answer all his points on food irradiation.

The House is aware that last year on 4 February we announced that the Government accepted in principle that the ban on irradiated food should be lifted, provided that —this was an important proviso—the proper control framework could be established. Therefore, we set up a working party to consider all the issues related to that control system and to make recommendations, and the House knows that I recently received its report.

I am today publishing that report. Copies are being made available in the Vote Office and in the Library. Based on the recommendations in the report, the Government intend to make available to the consumer and to the food industry the option of that additional measure for protecting certain foods. As I shall elaborate in a moment, there will be a number of opportunities for the House to consider that further in full. But I think it would be helpful if today I outline some of the key points.

First, I want to stress that the Government are basing their decision fundamentally on food safety and consumer grounds—on food safety, that irradiation has a useful contribution to make—a contribution, not the total answer—to the reduction of food—borne disease in certain products, and in some cases better than by other means; and for consumers, provided that we have the proper control and information framework, that it would be wrong to deprive consumers of the freedom to choose food treated by that safety method if they wish to avail themselves of it. It will not be thrust upon anyone. I repeat, it will not be thrust upon anyone.

Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way on that point?

Mr. MacGregor

No. I have already given way a lot in this short debate.

I know that some have drawn attention to the ability of the process to extend the shelf life of some fruits by delaying their ripening processes. That, too, is a consumer benefit in that what the housewife buys will last longer in the home. But that is not why the Government are proposing to legalise this process, and I wish to underline that. It was considerations of food safety that were predominant in reaching our decision.

It may be helpful if I remind the House of the background to the subject. There is a mistaken impression that food irradiation is something new about which we ought to learn much more before permitting its use in this country, but that is far from being the case. The first patent on food irradiation was taken out as long ago as 1921, so it saw the light of day well before the birth of most current right hon. and hon. Members of this House, myself included. Considerable research on the process has been undertaken over more than 40 years, and scientists tell me that it has been subject to much closer scrutiny worldwide than any other food process.

The safety of the process was established long ago by distinguished authorities of unimpeachable international standing. Top level joint expert committees of the principal international agencies, including the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, carried out in-depth safety evaluations over a period of years in the 1970s and confirmed in a report in 1980 that food irradiation up to an overall average dose of 10 kilogray is safe and introduces no special nutritional or microbilogical problems. That report was adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission in 1983.

Similar conclusions were reached following full assessments by other national and international bodies. The process's safety, for example, was confirmed by the European Community's Scientific Committee for Food and by the United State's Food and Drugs Administration.

Mr. David Curry (Skipton and Ripon)

Will my right hon. Friend allow me to intervene?

Mr. MacGregor

If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I should like to continue because I know that many other right hon. and hon. Members wish to speak.

Nevertheless, we adopted a thoroughly careful attitude and put in hand our own independent expert assessment. In 1982 we established the Advisory Committee on Irradiated and Novel Foods under the chairmanship of Sir Arnold Burgen, Master of Darwin college, Cambridge. The committee comprised distinguished specialists in all aspects of the subject. Its report, published in 1986, concluded that if correctly applied and up to the level of dose stipulated in the international research of 10 kilogray, irradiation is an effective and efficient form of food preservation treatment.

The committee was satisfied as to the safety and wholesomeness of the food that would result from irradiation and made it clear that for all practical purposes there would be no change in the low level of radioactivity that food naturally contains. In 1987 the committee was reconvened to consider scientific responses to its report and, having done so, reaffirmed its conclusions.

I set out that history to make absolutely clear one basic point—that the safety of food irradiation has been assessed repeatedly over the years by people both in this country and abroad whose highly specialised training and experience best qualifies them to assess all aspects of the technique. The process has been cleared through the most comprehensive set of evaluations.

Mr. Wilson

But who is asking for it?

Mr. MacGregor

I shall come to that point shortly.

No qualifications have been expressed, and no areas of safety remain outstanding. That is demonstrated by the number of countries that already allow use of the process. It is permitted in 35 countries around the world, and is already in operation in 21 of them. Those countries include the United States and four member states of the European Community. It may come as a surprise that we too permit irradiaton and have done so for the past 20 years or more. Throughout that time, irradiated food has been supplied to a limited number of cancer patients who, by reason of their disease or treatment, are at high risk of infection. We have recognised that those vulnerable members of our society, who require the most carefully controlled and safest diet that we can secure, have found it through irradiated food.

What are the advantages of irradiation for consumers generally? I shall deal shortly with the question of choice but first I must set the important scene of safety as a whole. The World Health Organisation is clear that by killing or greatly reducing the number of micro-organisms naturally present in food, irradiation has a useful contribution to make in reducing some—and I stress some—food-borne disease. Obviously, it cannot be used to treat all food products because in some cases it can affect taste and other qualities. Nevertheless, it is important in reducing some food-borne disease.

Irradiation has, for example, been shown to be effective in dealing with bacteria such as salmonella, listeria and campylobacter. It is not suitable for all foodstuffs, as I have already emphasised, but it has proved its value as a treatment for poultry meat. It is so used already in France and other countries, and the BMA's recent publication "Infection Control" mentions its particular effectiveness for the purpose. Some shellfish can also be successfully treated.

Second, for certain produce such as herbs and spices irradiation can be used to destroy insects, pests and bacterial contamination in place of the existing chemical fumigation methods, about some of which there are concerns on health grounds. For example, the chemical ethylene oxide, which is used for that purpose, is now banned in many countries of the European Community and will shortly no longer be available for use. Manufacturers and consumers need some means of being able to continue to make herbs and spices available without infestation.

All this is extending consumer choice, not damaging it. It is an effective way of dealing with some bacteria and hugs, but of course the essential pre-condition is a proper control mechanism. The Food Act gives the possibility of providing for the registration of irradiation facilities by local authorities. The Government have concluded, however, that it is preferable to have a full licensing system under central Government control, rather than through local authorities. Closer and more specialised supervision will he achieved through the concentration of the powers by central administration than if the responsibility is diffused. This will permit detailed inspection by specialists and the imposition of precise conditions with the granting of licences. It will mean delaying the introduction of food irradiation until we can obtain more extensive powers in the new food Bill, but we think it right to do so.

Conditional upon the licence will be the maintenance of clear and full records, which will be regularly inspected and will allow for the tracing of consignments treated and the verification, through the recording instrument readings, of the dose applied. A further provision will be a requirement that full documentation must accompany each consignment leaving the irradiated plant, so that recipients of irradiated food at any point in the distribution chain are aware of the treatment that has been given.

Apart from inspection of the documentation and of the measuring instruments—the dosimeters—the premises would also be subject to the normal local authority controls on food hygiene. It would be necessary for local authorities to satisfy themselves that good manufacturing practices were being followed and that, in particular, there was proper segregation of treated and untreated foodstuffs and the possibility of contamination after treatment was avoided.

For imported supplies it will be necessary for us to make arrangements to check that the control systems applied and the standards achieved by countries wishing to export to the United Kingdom are equivalent to the controls and standards to be applied in this country. If the European Community's proposal goes ahead, action will of course follow on a Community basis, but, whether Community or national arrangements need to be made, we are quite clear that proper reassurances must be obtained.

As important as the control framework is that consumers should be able to make an informed choice, so that those who do not want irradiated food can be assured that they are not buying it.

Mr. Martlew

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. MacGregor

I think that I must move on as I must also answer the debate.

Mr. Martlew

Will the Minister give way on that specific point?

Mr. MacGregor

There will be plenty of opportunities for the hon. Gentleman to speak. In any case, I am about to give the answer: making consumers aware whether they are buying irradiated food means labelling.

Mr. Martlew

Will the Minister give way on that point?

Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman can make his contribution during the debate, and there will be many other opportunities.

I assure the House that the Government will insist on a firm requirement for full and clear labelling of all irradiated food and listed ingredients. We want wording that will be clearly understood, and the options that we have in mind, are "irradiated" and "treated with ionising radiation".

I am sure that the House will want to debate this issue in full, and as we must seek new powers there will be plenty of opportunities to do so. There may also be a chance to debate it before the summer recess if time can be found to consider European Community document No. 10377/88 on this subject, which the European Community Scrutiny Committee has recommended for debate. There will thus be many occasions to respond to the concerns and to dispel the myths, but today I should like to deal with the two most common ones.

First, it is argued that the treatment should not be allowed in the absence of a detention test that can confirm its use. There are plenty of views to the contrary. The World Health Organisation did not consider that necessary; nor did Codex or the United States Food and Drug Administration. Moreover, our own advisory committee gave particular attention to the point. It concluded that, while a detection test could be a useful supplement to a control system based on licensing and documentation, such as we shall have, it was not necessary for the satisfactory operation of controls. Furthermore, none of the 21 countries already allowing irradiation and operating control systems around the world considered it necessary to wait for the availability of a diagnostic method. The crucial factor is the control system, but given that a diagnostic method could be a useful supplement we shall continue to fund the research work that we are doing on this.

Second, it is argued that irradiation can somehow be misused to make bad food good. I am advised that this is simply nonsense. Irradiation cannot improve appearance, it cannot disguise taste, it cannot mask unpleasant odours. If food is not of acceptable microbiological standard, then these factors will give it away. Food irradiation will not save it.

Moreover, we intend to provide for the examination of food prior to treatment, and we shall be providing that food that does not meet the normal acceptable standards of the industry shall not be irradiated. It will remain an offence to sell or offer for sale unfit food, whether irradiated or not.

Therefore, I commend the working party's report to the House and the Government's decisions upon it. I repeat that irradiation is not a panacea for food safety. I do not, and never will, suggest that it is. It is only one weapon in our large armoury. All the other measures I have talked about today and on other occasions continue to be important parts of the whole surveillance, regulatory and legislative framework that we have to ensure the highest standards of food safety. However, it does offer for certain products a further and successful way of enhancing safety. It can provide clear consumer benefits. In our view, it is now wrong to deprive the food producer and the consumer of the free choice to avail themselves of it, if they wish to do so, and it is on that basis that I am making this announcement today.

Let me underline that point once and for all. Consumers in Britain, under a Conservative Government, enjoy a right to safety, a right to be informed and a right to choose. Irradiated food is safe, irradiated food will be properly labelled and consumers will have the right to buy it and the right to refuse to buy it. Only an irresponsible Government, neglectful of consumer interests, would deny British consumers the same protection as is already afforded to consumers in over 20 other countries. All this demonstrates the responsible and carefully considered approach of the Government to food safety matters. I can hardly say the same about some of the allegations of the Opposition.

The other day the hon. Member for South Shields alleged on "The World this Weekend"—and he has said it again, in part, today—that they have documentary evidence—repeated examples, he said—of seafood coming into this country, being declared as unfit for human consumption and then being exported, irradiated and reimported back here. He said that these companies had actually been flouting the law and that the Government has known about it, has turned a blind eye and indeed appear to be encouraging these companies to break the law. These are serious allegations. I shall therefore be quite fair with the hon. Member for South Shields—and, I hope, quite clear. I should be concerned about any allegations of companies flouting the law. I have therefore checked whether we knew about them. We did not. I have made clear publicly that I would be happy to look at any evidence that the hon. Gentleman can give us.

In the same programme the hon. Gentleman said that he would pass this information on to me. That was 11 days ago. So far I have not received anything from him, but I hope that I shall do so shortly. [Interruption.]

Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)


Mr. MacGregor

The hon. Gentleman said that there had been "repeated examples" of seafood coming into this country, and he said that they were recent repeated examples. The only allegations that I can find are in early-day motion 950, signed by a number of his hon. Friends, making allegations about named companies. Is that the evidence that the hon. Gentleman had in mind? I should be very interested to know whether that is the evidence.

Dr. David Clark

I did not pass it on to the Minister previously—[Interruption.] If hon. Members will be patient for a little longer I shall explain why. Three years ago we passed information to the Minister's predecessor —[Interruption.] Hon. Members must let me finish—including the certificates of irradiation from Gammaster. The Minister's predecessor refused to act upon that information. I have the information and I shall pass it on to the Minister. I made it quite clear today that I would pass it on to the Minister, but I wanted to make sure that it was on the record in the House before I did so. Only by doing so could I guarantee a response from the Minister. I think that the Minister will look into the matter seriously in view of the Government's record. That is why I did not pass it on to him.

Mr. MacGregor

That is a frightfully feeble answer. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, it suggests that he is more interested in grabbing headlines than in dealing with serious issues responsibly.

Let me tell the hon. Gentleman that there was one case, involving Young's, in January 1985. The company received a severe warning at the time and there is no evidence that anything has happened involving that company since. That is the only case of which I and my Ministry know. That was only one example four years ago and the hon. Gentleman has never suggested otherwise. The hon. Gentleman said on "The World this Weekend" that we had evidence of repeated examples. We have no such evidence; therefore, I had to turn to the early-day motion.

Some of the companies named are Dutch, and some of the imputed actions referred to in the early-day motion took place in other countries. It is not for me to comment on those since they would he matters for other authorities. But let me tell the hon. Gentleman that if this is his evidence, all three British food importing firms referred to have firmly denied the stories, and indeed my Department's regular contacts with the authorities in the Netherlands have provided no information that would support the Opposition's claims.

I repeat that 1 am ready to look at any evidence. But I think it is disreputable to name companies in an early-day motion without firm evidence, and I am not surprised that the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) has firmly, on the Order Paper, rejected the allegation made against one of the firms. I shall look at any evidence, but ultimately the best guarantee of dealing with the issue and ensuring that irradiation is used responsibly and properly is to have the new control system that we have in place.

I ask the House to contrast the difference in the approach of the two parties—the Government's careful, thorough consideration based on the fullest scientific evidence, the establishment of a proper control framework, making a very useful device for food safety available to consumers who want it, and the irresponsible allegations by the Opposition.

I turn briefly to some of the other charges made by the hon. Gentleman in his speech today. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary will deal with one or two other matters in winding up. I shall turn first to research and development on which the hon. Gentleman concentrated and in which he knows I have a particular interest.

I make no apology for the Government's approach to the funding of near market research and development because I am sure that it makes sense. It is right that the Government should review their priorities on research and development across the board from time to time, and that is what we have been doing. It is right to ask the agrochemical and farming industries to fund the near market development work, that is that which is close to commercial exploitation—as they do in any other industry. That work is to their benefit—they can better assess the commercial possibilities and are more likely that way to carry the results through to full development in the market place—and it avoids duplication. We estimate the industry itself is funding more than £300 million a year of R and D, most of it probably near market.

But that is a different matter from research on food safety, which is not affected. Indeed we are now spending over £10 million a year on food safety and nutrition research, and it has been steadily increasing. It is noteworthy that expenditure on food research has more than doubled in real terms under this Government and since the Opposition left office.

Last week's decision by the Agricultural and Food Research Council to consolidate the work of its Institute of Food Research at its Norwich and Reading sites has to be seen in this context. The near market research from which Government support is being withdrawn at the food research institute is work on eating quality, flavours, shelf life and non-food safety aspects of food processing. That work is of interest to the industry and we hope it will fund it, but it is not related to food safety or other public good issues and I want to be absolutely clear on this point.

So far as food safety is concerned, the decision to restructure the IFR means: more scientists working together on food research at Reading and Norwich, in a more focused way, using the most sophisticated equipment and technology available; an enhanced capacity to deal with a wide range of micro-organisms, including salmonella, listeria and those causing botulism; and increased funding for research in these and other food safety areas.

In Norwich and Reading, the United Kingdom will continue to possess a world-class Institute of Food Research. It will ensure a sound science base which can address and resolve issues of concern to the consumer, the housewife, the man in the street, the producer and industry. For food safety there are real, positive gains.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

It is absolutely wrecking the national fruit variety collections at Brogdale.

Mr. MacGregor

I want to move on.

Had time permitted, I should have liked to deal with a number of other issues relating to early-day motions and my hon. Friend will try to deal with some of them when he replies to the debate.

Finally, I want to touch on one matter not raised by the hon. Gentleman this afternoon, pesticides. The Government have taken more action than any other on pesticides. We have a proper statutory system of approval, registration and control for the first time. No one has the right to sell a pesticide, to store it, advertise it or use it unless it has been given safety clearance and approval by Ministers. That is all in the interests of consumers and users.

Before there is any possibility of approval the company has to have tested the safety of the product in terms of health and the environment and its efficacy in use. And there is thorough independent, scientific evaluation.

An independent committee, the Advisory Committee for Pesticides, makes a scientific assessment.

Detailed monitoring takes place thereafter, not least by the working party on pesticides residues. Regular sampling takes place. From time to time concern about pesticides emerges and it is important to set out what we have in place.

Such a control system needs to be completed with an enforcement regime and a policy of public information and guidance in which our agricultural inspectorate plays a crucial part.

Against the background of a control system which is as comprehensive as we can devise and as expert as we can get I have to report to the House an extraordinary incident which occurred last week.

A few days before that, my officials became aware that the Labour party was advertising in one of its magazines two insecticides. My officials established to their satisfaction that the products advertised had no approval, and that the advertisement showed no regard to the legal requirements. Without reference to Ministers my officials did what they would do to any other trader who appeared to be breaking the law, and issued a notice requiring that the Labour party ceased selling non-approved products, and ensured that advertisements observe the established regulations.

Imagine my astonishment when the first I heard of this was, via the press, a letter from the general secretary of the Labour party demanding that I repudiate the actions of my officials immediately. So there we have it from the party professing such environmental and safety concern —one law for the Labour party on pesticide regulations and another for everybody else; great moral huffing and puffing as far as everyone else is concerned and unrighteous indignation when the law is applied to the Labour party.

The hon. Gentleman talked about deregulation. It is the Labour party's version of deregulation. For the Labour party it means deregulation beyond the law. That sums it up.

The Opposition spokesman has admitted that his party came to food issues very late. He said that it was a huge field that the Opposition had neglected. The Opposition are willing to throw about wild allegations without proper assessment of the facts and throw their weight about to get me to ask my officials to bend the law in their favour. The Government devote very substantial resources to food safety matters and give them high priority, have a well-established set of mechanisms for obtaining the best scientific evidence and advice, take effective action promptly and give the highest priority to consumer protection and consumer choice. That is why I have no hesitation in commending the Government amendment and urging the House to reject the Opposition motion.

4.49 pm
Dr. Lewis Moonie (Kirkcaldy)

In a long and dismal procession of incompetent Ministers who have paraded themselves before the House in recent months we have surely heard one of the worst this afternoon. The only "green" thing about the Minister's Department is probably the tie worn by the Parliamentary Secretary.

Two aspects stand out from today's debate: first, the woeful incompetence of the Ministries entrusted with responsibility for public health in this country; secondly, the need to define clearly the objectives that we should be pursuing. The failure of the relevant Ministries is most clearly shown by the disjointed, defensive and reactive approach adopted by the Minister this afternoon. I shall pass over his speech, except for a reference to the irradiation of food, which is a disturbing development.

In passing, I should say that I am sponsored by the Co-operative movement and thus represent the major food producer in this country. It has come out clearly against irradiation. I hope that other hon. Members who speak today will also declare their interests and tell us which of them are in the pockets of big business and which represent the interests of the farmers. People should not imagine for a moment that Conservative Members will not be speaking from prejudice or self-interest, just like the lap dogs in the Ministry who are in the pockets of the agricultural companies and of food production interests. Speaking of lap dogs, the Minister's parliamentary private secretary might be called the rottweiler of big business, although, come to think of it, rottweiler is not a good description of the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Stewart).

We must examine the whole of food policy, not just parts of it. The Minister selected a few non-diseased trees from the wood and concentrated on them, but we must look at the whole picture—the production, distribution, processing and consumption of food, and its impact on our health.

First, let us examine the direct effects which cause illness. The Minister rightly touched on many of the worrying items. Salmonellosis is still the single largest cause of major food poisoning—at least of notified cases, if not of all cases seen in clinical practice. Other conditions are related to the consumption of milk—brucellosis, tuberculosis and campylobacter are all still major causes of ill health. I deprecate any attempt to retain the sale of unpasteurised milk in England and Wales. Such attempts are shameful. We have not had this problem for many years in Scotland and that is exemplified by the much lower incidence of these conditions there. I hope that the Minister will not listen to the more foolish among his hon. Friends—and among mine—who are trying to persuade him that people should be allowed to consume unpasteurised milk. There is compelling evidence that they should not. I know of no public health authority in this country or in any other that would recommend the drinking of unpasteurised milk, which affects not only the health of the individual consumer but can play a part in a chain of infection leading to the infection of innocent people.

There are other direct causes of illness—the contamination of food, the use of hormones in production, the over-use of antibiotics and the largely unknown and ill-defined effects that they may have on the quality of our food. I know that the Government and the EEC are closely examining additives, although perhaps not in as well co-ordinated a way as they might.

I do not blame only the Minister or this Government. This problem has gone on for a long time and is hardly new. The problem of food poisoning did not begin with the rather warped description of a diseased chicken by a former Under-Secretary of State for Health last year. A succession of Ministers and civil servants have failed to protect public health for a long time.

We must also look into the introduction of more sinister elements to the equation. Growth hormones are being used in meat production, not necessarily in this country, but in others from which meat may be imported to this country. The use of irradiation and of new processes such as cook-chill require close attention to detail. I welcome the fact that the Government are introducing a food Bill in the next Session of Parliament and I look forward with interest to reading it, but I still contend that it will not solve the major problem, which is that there is no co-ordinated food policy in this country. Until we have one, problems will continue to arise and need to be dealt with. I grant that some problems have been dealt with promptly, but they were unforeseen. We should look for problems before they arise and try to prevent them from occurring in the first place.

A bad diet indirectly affects people's health. I have mentioned that before and shall go on mentioning it until Ministers of whichever party happens to be in power listen. Bad diet has a sinister, persistent and all-pervasive effect on health. The fat and sugar content of such diets is still far too high. Bad diet can lead to diabetes, heart disease and some forms of cancer. We tend to forget that poverty leads to the inadequate consumption of calories and to an insufficiently balanced diet, and so to ill health. For all their denials, the Government have introduced poverty in full measure to this country over the past few years to an extent that we never thought possible in a civilised society.

From the vast range of problems that I have attempted to outline it must be clear that major improvements in health will only follow action to create a proper food policy which has as its primary objective the improvement of our national diet, not the protection of the interests and well-being of food producers. Confusion reigns at present. Many Ministries are involved—the Department of Health, the Department of Social Security, which deals with aspects of the poverty 1 have mentioned, the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the Department of the Environment and the Treasury, which ultimately controls what we are allowed to spend. The Minister, with his familiarity with that Department, is only too well aware of the problems that it can create for the best intentioned of schemes.

All these Departments have conflicting objectives and lack definition and the co-ordination of a common purpose. We have three choices: we can do nothing; we can examine the possibility of setting up a food Ministry —with all the difficulties that that would entail—in an attempt to co-ordinate the work of the different Departments; or we can follow the example that the Government set two years ago when alcohol problems became so manifest. They used the auspices of the Leader of the House to set up a ministerial committee to co-ordinate the efforts of different Departments. That has proved much more successful than I—somewhat sceptical of this type of approach—was at first prepared to admit. Such a committee might be a means of ensuring proper developments.

The Government's record is unsound and is best shown in two areas—first, in their attitude to poverty, of which I shall mention one specific example. Many young pregnant women cannot purchase an adequate diet because they have low incomes. This has been borne out time and again by observers and it is a problem that will not go away. It damages not only the woman's health but the future health of her child. The Government should look into this problem carefully.

The second aspect has already been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). The Institute of Food Research in Bristol is a good example of this. The Minister did not mention it today; perhaps he merely overlooked it and the Parliamentary Secretary will refer to it later. The Government are pursuing the mirage of near-market research. They believe that, merely because something will clearly benefit the public, it will be picked up by commercial organisations, which will perceive it as being of benefit to themselves.

Miss Emma Nicholson (Torridge and Devon, West)

I am anxious to correct the hon. Gentleman because in what appears to be his peroration he is going from one pinnacle to another without bothering to stop to consider a problem and to find proper solutions. In the last point to which he referred he was wrong, as he has been wrong all along. It is not a question of near-market research meaning that when something is of public benefit it will be taken up by commercial companies. The idea of near-market research is that when something is of commercial benefit companies will take it up and pay for that research. When it is for the public good and demonstrates no immediate, near commercial benefit, the Government will continue that research.

Dr. Moonie

Unfortunately, what the Government define as near-market research and how companies define it are very different, as can be seen from the number of projects that are dropped by the Government and not taken up by the companies concerned, despite a clearly demonstrated value to public health. Companies are in business to make money, not to care for Members of this House and their constituents. The balance sheet at the end of the day is their objective, and that determines their activities, not any altruistic concern for the public health.

Even so, some companies, particularly the one with which I am involved—but also companies such as Marks and Spencer—have gone out of their way to develop sound practices in the handling of food. I accept that, but they have not gone out of their way to share them with any other companies because, obviously, to do so would not be to their commercial advantage.

Not only near-market research is important. The Government are also attempting to cut back on research which is seen by most people to be of limited value to the market but which is of vital importance to the future well-being of, for example, plant research in Britain. I refer to reports that the Government are cutting back on research at several plant stations, particularly at Wellsbourne, Rosemaun and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) mentioned, Brogdale.

Those stations, Brogdale in particular, contain genetic material which, if not kept, will be lost to the world for ever. This material stretches back to different varieties of fruit and vegetables for centuries, much of which has not been properly explored. Much of it could provide cross-breeding of different varieties of fruit and vegetables which could then be developed for consumption in this country and perhaps improve the quality and variety of food to which we are exposed.

It is shameful that the Government will not maintain research at those plants. The issue has been taken up by the scientific press, in particular recently by the New Scientist. Wellsbourne has been described by the International Board for Plant Genetic Resources in Rome as one of the most important temperate vegetable gene banks in the world. Hon. Members will appreciate that it is not simply a matter of my concern. It affects the public generally and it is regrettable that the organisation is not receiving the funds that it needs to keep going.

I have tried to demonstrate how, in a wide variety of areas, the Government have failed to act responsibly. They have failed to perceive that the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts, particularly the few parts to which the Minister referred today. Until the Government accept that principle, we will not develop the type of food policy that our people deserve.

5.3 pm

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

About 10 years ago I found myself with junior ministerial responsibility both for the food industry and for agricultural research. The then Agricultural Research Council was funded equally by the Department of Education and Science and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

I took the opportunity at that time of visiting many research institutes to look at their work. I am not a scientist, but as a practical farmer and having visited university and research institutions over the years, I feel practically qualified—I put it no higher than that—to make a judgment about the quality of work being done in, and of the scientists working at, those institutes 10 years ago.

I found that all was not well. Where the scientists were excellent—and there were many—they were grossly underpaid and were reluctant to stay in the employment of the ARC. They were leaving in large numbers to go to industry and into outside research. Where they were elderly and burnt-out, they were being feather-bedded into retirement by an organisation that was well capable of extracting funds from the Government, whether for basic or practical research.

I expressed my concern about that state of affairs over a lengthy period, and although hon. Members will appreciate that two years is too short a time to turn round such a vast ship as a research council, I am sure that those civil servants who were responsible in the Ministry had no doubt of my concern and displeasure. That subsequently was translated by my successor into a welcome change when the ARC became the AFRC, recognising the importance of food and reorganising the way in which it allocated funds for research.

Mr. Marland

During his time as a Minister and while visiting laboratories, did my hon. Friend discover much duplication of research? Did it occur to him that there might be possibilities of saving money because one job was being done in two or three different places?

Mr. Wiggin

That was the case. For example, the ARC ran two fruit research stations. Given the size of the industry, that did not seem necessary, but many matters of that type have been put right. I am referring to the situation 10 years ago. The recent changes in funding, in the first instance, and, more important, the approach of the AFRC in putting out much of its work to universities and outside institutes, as well as in supporting individuals in the work that they are doing, is to be welcomed, and I totally support the action that the Government have taken.

I hope that in dreaming up projects for near-market application, civil servants will not become too imaginative because there have been some examples where there is no possibility of industry being interested. That is where a common-sense approach must be taken.

The change is deeply traumatic to those who work in the institutes, and the frustration felt and the insecurity in general has frequently meant that many leading scientists in institutes have left, either leaving research altogether or going to work for private industry. When leading scientists leave an institute, that has a demoralising effect on others, and a damaging cycle begins.

Well-informed though they are in the AFRC, the news of closures and changes spreads rapidly. The morale of many employees has been poor for some time, and nowhere worse than at the food research institute at Langford in my constituency. I have always enjoyed excellent relations with the staff of the institute and I have been a visitor there on many occasions. Although forewarned for a considerable time, I was extremely sad to learn last week of the final decision by the AFRC to close the institute in its present form.

Few of the scientists will be offered jobs elsewhere. Some will be, and naturally I am worried about the local employees—the laboratory assistants and staff who work on the farms and in the abattoir—who will not be able to move. But I feel that I am insufficiently informed—as is the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr, Clark)—to tell the AFRC how to run its business.

That organisation is deliberately at arm's length from Government, and I therefore find the wording of the Opposition motion strange, since it is the responsibility of the AFRC, not of the Government, to administer its funds and to decide to which projects to put its work. Indeed, the Ministry of Agriculture funds its projects through the AFRC as an arm's length operation. I am not qualified to tell that body, in acting with taxpayers' money, how best to operate.

But I am keen to assist those who believe that they can save some of the specialist facilities at Langford. There is a unique opportunity for another organisation to take over the institute's facilities and building. I have in mind Bristol university, the veterinary school of which is world famous and which is also sited at Langford.

There is a possibility that with funding from the Ministry of Agriculture—I hope that the Minister will be in a position to comment positively on this matter—the Meat and Livestock Commission and the AFRC, some of the unique work carried out at the special facilities will be able to continue.

Ms. Dawn Primarolo (Bristol, South)


Mr. Wiggin

I shall not give way to the hon. Lady who last week made no attempt to offer me the most elementary courtesy before she raised in the House the matter of the institute, which is in my constituency. In view of the time, I shall continue.

The obvious merit in being able to carry out this special work is not only that it will continue, but will be conducted in a university atmosphere, which is right and proper. Furthermore, local employees may well be able to find work.

The Opposition's suggestion that there is to be a serious and total change in all food research is patently rubbish. While I accept that some work will cease, who are we as non-scientists and non-experts to decide on this allocation of funds? It is irritating to me that we appoint extremely expert people, indeed we have a fine chairman of the AFRC, but do not then leave them to decide how their funds should be allocated.

I strongly welcome the statement of my right hon. Friend the Minister about the irradiation of food. Much of the original checking of the safety of irradiation was done at Langford and I hope that the expertise will remain within the AFRC. One of our difficulties is that we are approached by scientists whose projects have been terminated and who, naturally, greatly resent that. They have been bound up in the work and believe it to be worthwhile. They resent a committee or outside body saying, "Sorry, it is no longer worth continuing with your research," or "You are not making sufficient progress." Therefore, we sometimes receive a distorted story.

Not however in one case, and I particularly want to mention one aspect of the work at Langford refrigeration. The House will know that the Low Temperature Research Station was originally set up in Cambridge but moved to Langford, and the expertise contained within that department is very special. I hope that there are plans for continuing work on this facility. If there are, the staff concerned are not aware of them. I hope that the Minister will look with particular care at this aspect. The suggestion that there is nothing further to learn on the subject is patently absurd, and I understand that such work is not being carried out elsewhere.

During the Select Committee's recent inquiry into salmonella in eggs it became clear that, although much is known about food poisoning, the subject is ever changing. The ability of bacteria to change and mutate needs constant vigilance. The dividing line between the responsibility of doctors at the Department of Health, the public health laboratory service and the vets is narrow. It would not be right for me to detain the House by repeating that argument, but those interested may find it worthwhile to study the Committee's report on the subject.

Ensuring the health and cleanliness of our livestock is an expensive business. The poultry industry is counting the cost of recently introduced measures to combat salmonella in eggs. That cost will, unquestionably, be passed on to the consumer. Nevertheless, I believe that the public will be willing to pay. However, it is absurd that other countries in which standards are appreciably lower than ours—this means all other countries because we now lead the world in this matter—can export to this country eggs from flocks which do not meet our health standards. The Government must insist on ending such unfair practices which discriminate against the United Kingdom's egg producers.

Despite all the problems of the past few months, the British public have never enjoyed a wider, more attractive and safer range of foodstuffs than are currently on sale. Some 66 per cent. of all our food is now bought from six main supermarket chains. We have only to see the efforts which they make to confirm the purity of their food to realise that the public is well protected, not just by officials or the Government but by extremely competitive retailers who rely on the quality of their produce to beat the competition down the road.

We shall never totally eliminate food poisoning, any more than disease. Recent events have unquestionably had a salutary effect on all involved, but in the long term we shall have had a most beneficial look at the subject, which must be in the interests of all consumers.

5.16 pm
Mr. Ronnie Fearn (Southport)

Much of what I said in this House on 21 February during the debate on food safety and water is relevant today. Despite the Government's attempt to dispel fears and to look as though they are taking action by announcing, for example, the appointment of the Food Safety Committee and the ban on bovine offals for human consumption, the fact remains that the Government's prime motivations behind their policy are profit, economic gain and a reduction in public spending.

The order of the day is a menu that is quicker, cheaper and more efficient. Without the ingredients to ensure quality and safety, it is a recipe for disaster. As I said in the previous debate: in our rush to progress and our haste to produce food more efficiently and profitably … certain people and industries have been allowed to cut corners. Consumers' rights have been neglected and the dangers to their health have become much more prevalent."—[Official Report, 21 February 1989; Vol. 147, c, 883.] Incidences of food poisoning have risen dramatically since that debate. My sources claim that they were investigating at least one and a half times as many cases this spring as last spring. In the second week of May there were 240 reported cases of salmonella poisoning, and everyone is aware that the vast majority of cases of gastric enteritis go unreported. With the prospect of a long hot summer in front of us, as most of us hope, more concerted and organised actions are required from the Government.

At the moment, Government food policy appears to be in a shambles. For example, Ministers cannot make up their minds whether they should ban green top milk. One minute they say that they will and the next that they will not. I welcome the most recent decision that consumers will retain their right of choice to buy untreated milk and I hope that the Government will extend that right to bovine somatotropin-treated milk by bottling separately milk which has been treated with the genetically engineered hormone, and clearly labelling it as such.

New technologies in agriculture, food production and processing make it important for the Government to be aware of the repercussions on consumers' health and the environment in general. That requires research, quality and hygiene standards, regulations and monitoring services. Instead, the Government have decided to cut public spending on food research by as much as 27 per cent. by 1993–94 and to reduce their commitment to experimental husbandry farming.

The closure of the Institute of Food Research at Langford, near Bristol, is part and parcel of the Government's reorganisation of agricultural research and development. The withdrawal of funds for near-market research projects in the belief that the private sector will pick up the tab is naive in the extreme and an example of what blind faith in the market will do. The Government also ignore the fact that many projects cannot: be separated, and their attempts to identify near-market research, and to reduce or withdraw their funding, are having a devastating effect.

The Government's action is symptomatic of their entire policy towards research and development. Scientists are leaving Britain on an unprecedented scale. Only last week, a microbiologist involved in food research at one of our universities said to me: I do not see any way forward. Research is now seen as a source of income to the institute. If it is left to the private sector, the only research that is likely to be funded is that which follows the goals and objectives of the specific organisation providing the funds. British industry is not well known for its investment in research and development, and many of the projects which are funded and founded involve pre-marketing research paid for by the sales and marketing departments. Needless to say, their guidelines are fairly stringent. This could be disastrous for the food safety aspect.

What guarantee is there that the findings will ever be published? I note that the large food chains such as Sainsbury's and Tesco's have refused to inform the consumer of the results of their massive testing programmes into chemical contamination of food. Sainsbury's justify this by saying that it considers the information to be confidential to itself and to its suppliers. Surely the consumer, who is the one most likely to be affected, has the right to know what this information is. I do not see why, if the retailer is doing a good job and is satisfied that the food being sold is safe, it should not want the consumer to know the results of the tests. The consumer has a right to know what pesticides are used on foods. There is a clear case for labelling to give such information—a factor that the Minister hardly mentioned.

The Government's stated objective is to roll back the state. I do not think they have achieved that. All that they have done is to concentrate power at the centre. However, another topic for debate—something that the Government must not forget and must remember in their pursuit of their objectives, whatever they are—is their responsibility to those whom they govern. The Government are responsible for the protection of public safety, which is threatened not only by outside factors, but by all sorts of other hazards. Where there is a threat to public safety or health that any action by the individual cannot remove, it is the Government's responsibility to find the cause and the means to eliminate the danger. The production of a glossy food hygiene booklet aimed at the housewife, at a cost of £750,000, as a response to the recent outbreaks of food poisoning is a poor effort by the Government to carry out their duty, and in many cases is an insult to the consumer.

The consumer, by using proper cooking methods, can kill whatever bacteria are present in the food, but we have to address the question of how the organism got into the food in the first place, and how to prevent it doing so in the future. Prevention can be achieved only through research, detection and control throughout the food chain. The Government must no longer rely on self regulation by the industry. When demands are moving and changing as fast as they are today, with fads coming and going and competition rife, the industry must not and cannot be expected to regulate itself to an extent that ensures safety in food production, processing and retailing. The Government must introduce more regulations and the means to enforce them. Parliamentary time for whatever legislation is necessary to enable sufficient regulation, monitoring and control to take place must be set aside. Self regulation is not the ideal way to ensure safety in food products.

More rather than less research is required. It is no good the Government trotting out statistics and numbers to back up claims that spending in this sector is higher than it ever has been before, because I do not care whether it is or not. I care about whether the amount being spent is adequate to meet health and safety needs. The answer is quite obviously no.

The Government must give food safety top priority. The decision, announced by the Minister today, to allow irradiated food to be sold in Britain without full knowledge of the long-term effects and without other back-up measures to protect the consumer is an example of other considerations having priority. If irradiation is to remain, then the Government should consider such moves as a ban on fractionalised dosage and the proper funding for environmental officers to inspect premises regularly.

I am also concerned about Government action on bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE. Can the Minister assure the House that the banning of cattle offal for human consumption and the move to have all cattle suspected of having BSE slaughtered and destroyed is adequate protection against all aspects of the disease and its human health implications? Can the Government say with confidence that the risk to humans from the disease is remote? Although I am told that the fundamental science on this has not been carried out, can the Minister say that the Government have done all in their power to prevent any such risks? I cannot believe that the Government are so satisfied with the standards of health and animal hygiene that they see their way clear to reducing the complement of veterinary surgeons in the public service. Are the Government content that the standards of hygiene in all abattoirs is safe and something of which we should be proud?

Is the Secretary of State for Health satisfied that the level of environmental officers in post, and even the establishment number, is adequate to do all the follow-up work that is required as a result of the recent outbreaks of food poisoning? Where is the follow-up work that should be done if we wish to ensure that lessons are learnt and mistakes not merely repeated? Does the Secretary of State believe that there are enough officers with enough power to deal with the expansion in the numbers of small manufacturers, retailers and caterers and the many other types of premises that they have to inspect?

The Government must now think in terms of prevention, which is one of the most cost-effective of measures. Food poisoning, other diseases and illness could be avoided with the proper foresight, organisation, co-operation and resources. The cost to the nation as a whole in terms of the costs to the Health Service, to social security and to industry from days off work could easily be avoided.

In the debate last February, I called for the lines of responsibility within and between various Government Departments to be clarified. When various Departments are involved, it is too easy to claim non-responsibility, too tempting to fight one's own corner and too difficult to co-ordinate objectives. Therefore, today I issue a challenge to the Prime Minister. When she reshuffles her Cabinet in the near future, she should set up a Ministry of Food to establish a mechanism to make and carry out a coherent policy on food, and to give the safety and interests of the consumer the utmost priority.

5.27 pm
Mr. Tim Boswell (Daventry)

I must immediately declare an interest as a council member of the Agricultural and Food Research Council. I attended last week's meeting at which the decision to close the Bristol laboratory was taken. In saying that, I put myself forward neither as a lightning conductor for, nor as a clone of, Government policy. No one need think that the decision was taken lightly, or without consideration of the staff situation, which was sensitively touched on by the constituency Member of Parliament, my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin).

The Opposition motion rests on two fundamental misconceptions. The first and major one is a rehash of the old philosophical confusion about the belief that, because one event follows another, the first must cause the second. For instance, if one believes that night follows day, one ends up believing that day causes night. It is very much the same with food safety. It needs only some accident to happen—accidents in food safety can be extremely unpleasant, as the recent outbreak of botulism has been —and for there to be the coincidence of that accident with some development in agricultural research for the two to be inevitably put together by the Opposition. I am not quite sure of their view of the direct causation in this matter. For example, I am not sure whether last week was seen as a Government plot to infect their citizenry with botulism or as a plot by the bacillus to embarrass the Government on the eve of the European election. One way or the other, that is the way they see it.

Mr. Frank Cook

We infected them, did we?

Mr. Boswell

I did not say that.

Sometimes things go wrong with food safety. They have done in the past and they will do in the future. Our interest is in minimising their occurrence. Equally, decisions sometimes need to be taken in food policy and food research. It is inexusable to take those two coincidental happenings and to link them by a chain of causation which does not exist.

My second criticism of the Opposition motion is that for all their efforts, about which we read so much, to modernise and bring themselves up to date for the 1990s, they have not come to terms with the need for restructuring in the wider economy. We would not have made very much progress as a nation in the past 10 years, or even previously, if we had never had to make hard decisions to close a factory or to restructure a business. Anyone with an element of business experience appreciates the central importance of overhead costs. It is a matter of common sense that the number of sites on which an activity takes place, whether it be research or manufacturing, has a close bearing on the level of overhead costs—as, for example, my two district councils found when they consolidated their activities on one site. The larger the number of sites, the higher the overhead costs. That has been a major underlying theme in the decisions that the AFRC has taken to rationalise each of its institutes on one or two sites, and to modernise its operations.

I acknowledge the impact of the withdrawal of the MAFF contribution to near-market research. That could build up to a significant element in the total budget for the AFRC and the IFR during the next three years. However, I must stress that not all the work necessarily has to be done at the same location as the central science activities of the IFR. It need not all be carried out under the same organisation or funding umbrella. Much of it can go to other organisations, whether in the public or private sector. Insufficient attention has been paid to the tremendous increase in funding for AFRC institutes on contracts for the private sector. Much of the work might well be carried out elsewhere or under the funding of other bodies. An example of that is the important work on carcass quality—not that it need necessarily move from Langford—which could appropriately be funded by the industry.

On the public good aspect, I would cite the facilities for the welfare of animals at slaughter—a very sensitive issue —which are sited at Bristol. I understand that MAFF is prepared to continue with that as an item of public good, and so it should.

The result of making such difficult decisions will be a somewhat slimmed down IFR on two sites instead of the current three. The concentration will shift from the somewhat old-fashioned commodity-by-commodity approach, because modern developments have overtaken that, not just in technology but in consumer taste. For example, a TV dinner is not just meat. A number of different items have to be put together and cooked appropriately. With chicken Kiev, different indgredients are mixed, widening the range of consumer choice and taste.

A multi-disciplinary approach is required, looking at the basic science and applying it to all situations. The new institute will concentrate on the disciplines of central science underlying that—safety; the early, rapid and effective diagnosis of bacteria, nutrition, consumer acceptability, the avoidance of taint, and bio-technology.

As an example of the way in which that can be done under the new arrangements, Dr. Roberts and the appropriate members of his microbiology team at Bristol will be transferred to Reading. All the relevant work on food safety can and will continue. It is interesting to note that there were 40 MAFF-funded food safety projects within the research system last year, which is a high number. I have every confidence in the leadership of Professor Georgala at the IFR and a chance for a new, modern activity under the new structure.

This debate concentrates upon the more general aspects of food safety. If nothing else, the events surrounding egg production earlier this year have highlighted the problem, which in general is still growing. However, it is interesting to note that as a result of Government action the salmonella problem has now stabilised. With respect to the hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn), the Government will have to consider a balance of a number of important issues such as consumer safety, consumer confidence and product innovation to meet consumer taste and choice. There is also a need to get the regulatory structure right, as I am confident the Government will do in their forthcoming food legislation.

I call on Ministers to bear three points in mind when preparing this autumn's work. First, they should work actively with their colleagues in the Department of Education and Science to ensure that the necessary funds are available for the full restructuring of the IFR. Secondly, they should ensure that the resources are adequate for the monitoring and regulation of food safety both at national and at environmental health officer level. Thirdly, the campaign for food safety should be applied at all levels so that all the gateways through which bacteria can get in are closed. One that has not been mentioned today, and about which I feel strongly, is food and hygiene training in restaurants.

The bugs that cause food poisoning—which are over, around and within us—are more varied and ingenious than we could ever imagine. We need to close all the possible pathways into the human food chain. Simple slogans and simple assumptions of priority will not work. To take the necessary action, we need the best possible structure for the basic science. I believe that the Government have acted to secure that structure.

5.36 pm
Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle)

Earlier in the debate the Minister would not give way on the question of irradiation of food. It is a pity that he has left the Chamber because he could have put me right. We were given assurances that any irradiated food would be labelled, but what will happen in cafés and restaurants? Will there be labelling on the menu or on the restaurant door? That will not happen. Irradiated food brought into this country will end up on the consumer's plate—

Mr. Frank Cook

In the Strangers Dining Room.

Mr. Martlew

I should be sorry if that happened as it is an excellent Dining Room.

The Government are deliberately misleading the public. If the Minister is prepared to say that irradiated restaurant food will be labelled, I will give way to him.

Mr. Frank Cook

The silence is deafening.

Mr. Martlew

The record will show that the Minister has refused to give that assurance.

The Government have shown a great deal of complacency today. During the past century consumers have never had a better chance of suffering from food poisoning. The choice is whether it should be from salmonella or campylobacter. The Government's food policy is unfit for human consumption.

I am glad that the problem of salmonella in eggs is improving. A letter from the British Poultry Federation today says that it has improved considerably since the Select Committee's report. The Select Committee can take credit for that, but the Government cannot take any credit because they have done nothing to stop the import of contaminated foreign eggs.

The Government's own chief officer of health said that the worst area in the European Community was Spain. Yet there is no ban on Spanish eggs coming into this country. Only last week, there was a positive test of salmonella in Dutch eggs. Why are the Government doing nothing about that? Those countries do not have our strict standards. They will now undercut us, the consumer will buy foreign eggs and our poultry industry, which has started to put its house in order, will suffer as a result of unfair competition.

Last year, there were 30,000 cases of food poisoning —or so the Government said. There is a question of reporting and whether the figure might be 10 per cent. or 100 per cent. higher. A further 30,000 reported cases of food poisoning did not go into the statistics—the cases of campylobacter which were recorded and blamed on food —so there were really 60,000 recorded cases of food poisoning last year. The problem is worse this year. June and July may be the strawberry season, but it is also the campylobacter season. There is an epidemic at present, which did not happen 10 years ago. Fortunately, it is rarely a fatal disease, but it is unpleasant, as anyone who has suffered from it will testify. What are the Government doing about food safety? The answer is that they are doing very little.

To take the fiasco of green-top milk, last January I asked in a written question whether the Minister intended to ban green-top milk. The answer was that there were no plans to do so. In February, the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) asked the same question and the reply was reported in the west Yorkshire evening press. I am sorry that the junior Agriculture Minister is not here.

Mr. John Home Robertson (East Lothian)

The big one.

Mr. Martlew

Yes, the big one. I refer to the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, the hon. Member for Calder Valley (Mr. Thompson). The local paper said: MP backs green top milk ban. Plans to ban the sale of green top milk, which will affect the livelihoods of up to 40 Calderdale farmers, have the backing of junior minister Mr. Donald Thompson. He said the ban was necessary in the interest of public safety. Green top milk"— [Interruption.] This is a serious matter. We should not joke about the next part! Green top milk was blamed for the deaths of five elderly people and a baby in Calderdale in 1984". In fact the figure was seven adults and one baby. That was the year after the Government banned the sale of green-top milk in Scotland. Had they taken action in England at the same time, those people would have lived. The article was written in February. The Minister continued—

Miss Emma Nicholson

If the hon. Gentleman follows his train of thought logically, would he want to stop people driving and to close all roads on the ground that 300 people die every week on the roads? The public want the choice to drink green-top milk. With proper consumer labelling, they now have that choice in England and Wales, and I am delighted that that is so.

Mr. Martlew

I am sorry that the hon. Lady delights in continuing to advocate a product which has killed people in the past and will kill people in the future. The Government decided that the pressure groups to which the hon. Lady answers—

Miss Nicholson

I ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw that remark.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Paul Dean)

Order. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has given way.

Mr. Martlew

Those pressure groups have deceived—

Miss Nicholson

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it possible for the hon. Gentleman to withdraw that statement? I am answerable to nobody. I assume that the hon. Gentleman means financially answerable, as other Labour Members have made that statement. He is incorrect to say that.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

That is not a point of order, but the hon. Lady has got her point on the record.

Mr. Martlew

Pressure groups in this country have persuaded the Government to continue to allow the sale of a lethal mixture. I was asked last week whether I would drink green-top milk and I answered that I would not even give it to my cat. It has created terrible problems. The Government are not fit to run a food policy if they do not have the courage to ban green-top milk. The old advertisement said that milk had a lot of bottle. That is certainly more than the Government have.

The Government said that they had no evidence of the irradiation of products. I spoke to local health inspectors who had had a complaint about some prawns which did not smell right. The prawns were sent to the public laboratory in Glasgow, which found there were no bacteria in them, so the only conclusion was that the prawns had been irradiated. The Government have been allowing irradiated food in Britain for years and have given only one warning. They are not in a position to put forward creative policies to protect people from food poisoning. They have failed to do so and, as a result, 2 million people will suffer this year. I have no confidence that the legislation that they intend to propose in the autumn will do anything but continue to protect vested interests.

5.45 pm
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury)

It falls to me to bring the debate down to earth. We seem to have been groping in Utopia for the past hour or so. I regret the sharp exchange that I had with the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) at the beginning of the debate. It was probably rather uncharacteristic and the hon. Gentleman is far too nice a man for me to treat his remarks with disdain. However, it is important to get the matter into proportion. I ask the hon. Gentleman what is the virtue in not just the duplication but the triplication of scientific procedures which would have resulted if the influence of the Langford institute had remained. I do not wish to dwell on the matter, so I will go on to the important issues facing the consumer. Consumers have not been mentioned much so far. I declare an interest in that I represent many food producers and many food consumers. I also represent the scientific researchers at the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research at Porton Down.

Shopping is not just a chore. Perhaps the hon. Member for South Shields will accept the challenge to accompany me to seek out the freshest ingredients, the best value for money and the best food for health. If he came to my home in the Wiltshire countryside, which I would be delighted to put at his disposal, he would find that my chest freezer was empty, that the cupboards tended increasingly to be full of beans and that my garden was full of vegetables and rather too many weeds.

I suggest that we need to address ourselves more to the question of whether we, as consumers, are going down the right path. Is it virtuous to be told that more than 60 per cent. of all food is bought in supermarkets in some sort of processed form? Should we not seek instead to extol the virtues of food in season and the value of natural foods, and should we not look rather more seriously at organic farming?

I listened with interest to the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) and I am sorry that he has had to slip out temporarily. I was interested in and impressed by his comments. 1 should like to expand on one point that has been missed so far—the role of education of the consumer. It is a matter of health education, which is crucial, and also of good, old-fashioned domestic science, or home economics. I hope that it is taught to boys as well as girls, as all the best chefs in the world are men.

Another point raised was the future of the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research. We cannot consider the issue before us today without looking at the institutions concerned. The decision to preserve the former microbiological research establishment at the Ministry of Defence was taken by Parliament in 1979 with the full agreement of all parties in the House. The Labour Government took that decision and the Conservative Opposition agreed with it. The management of the renamed Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research —CAMR—was entrusted to the public health laboratory service and became funded on the health Vote. That point is crucial.

In 1985 CAMR's remit was to generate income. Agreements were signed between CAMR and Porton International and the public health laboratory service board covering the marketing of CAMR products and the building of a much-needed new fermentation pilot plant. The question of building a production centre was also raised, but I regret to say that that was something of a fiasco with severe design failures. That fiasco had nothing to do with either PHLS or CAMR. It was sub-contracted work. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman), can tell us what is happening about that as there is clearly a role for an expanded CAMR and, indeed, future employment in my constituency could be affected.

There have been many ministerial visits to CAMR in recent years, for which I am grateful. My noble Friend Lord Trefgarne came in 1982 and directed that CAMR should maximise its income generation and aim for economic self-sufficiency, which was the first new trend in research in that area. The second visit was made by my noble Friend Baroness Trumpington in 1987. She gave the centre a new remit. It was to have four corners to its work. The first related to public health laboratory service work, such as AIDS research; the second was work for the then Department of Health and Social Security, such as the development of new vaccines; the third, which has not yet been mentioned, was research for the Department of Trade and Industry into multi-company work; the fourth related to income generation, including money from marketing its scientific expertise.

The present position was outlined both last week and this week in articles in the Financial Times. There is much interest and speculation at the moment. It is widely believed that one option is the complete privatisation of CAMR. That would create considerable difficulties in the present contractural arrangements with Porton International in CAMR's other functions and commercial relationships, such as that with Wellcome, and in its remaining public health responsibilities.

There is also the unwelcome possibility that privatisation could close down the centre's work on AIDS and on food poisoning and lead to the destruction of its unique, important and successful European collection of animal cell cultures, as such things would not be attractive to private sector investment companies.

If we are looking for income generation, and since we are increasingly concerned about the destruction of tropical rain forests, not only because of their climatic importance but also because of the loss of genetic diversity, CAMR could be encouraged to set up a new forest cell culture centre which could be internationally self-financing. There could be a number of roles for CAMR in the future, but a key principle must be its ability to retain and develop its multiple relationships with United Kingdom companies, while in no way seeking to derogate from its contractual relationship with Porton International.

The organisation also has a strategic role which can never be divorced from the role of Government, especially in areas such as AIDS research and food poisoning research. One solution could be for the institution to be allowed to become a free-standing agency as part of the Government's review into all their research institutions. As that is feasible, it is possible that CAMR could become financially self-supporting within about five years, so great is its income-generating potential.

Today was supposed to have seen a lobby of Parliament by scientists working in the National Health Service, but it was cancelled because some of their union colleagues decided to have a railway strike instead and the lobby has been rearranged for next month.

When talking about food research, we must remember that we are talking not about a few highly qualified specialist expert scientists but about whole teams including everyone from the scientist to the man in the boiler house. I should take this opportunity to point out that there are two completely separate organisations at Porton Down —the chemical defence establishment and the public health laboratory service, CAMR. There are 700 employees at Porton Down, the vast majority of whom provide support services to scientists. This country faces a demographic problem in relation to man and woman power in the coming years. There is a severe problem with the recruitment and retention of staff, especially at that scientific and technical level in the National Health Service.

Several scientists at Porton Down—and, indeed, representatives of other interests there—have drawn my attention to problems to which I draw the attention of Ministers. The first is the problem of retention and recruitment of younger scientific staff. It is caused by a combination of what I acknowledge is relatively low pay in those institutions and by the high price of housing. I can only conclude that the Whitley Council system of national pay bargaining is serving my constituents badly when the national averages are taken into account in determining pay. It would be very much in the interests of my constituents if an agency for local pay bargaining were established.

The second great difficulty—I suspect that it is faced by many similar institutions throughout the country—is that the people who are employed directly by the National Health Service at CAMR often carry out identical jobs or jobs with nearly identical specifications and requiring identical qualifications, but receive lower pay rates than those employed at Porton International, for example. That means that some people working in the same institution, doing almost the same jobs, receive lower rates of pay. On the other side of the road, scientists who do the same or similar jobs for the Ministry of Defence are on different rates of pay because they are not NHS staff but are civil servants. Furthermore, even within that establishment there are differential pay rates between Army personnel and civil servants. All those differences exist on the one site and present an increasing problem.

Porton Down CAMR is dealing with the important fight against infectious diseases. Salmonella has already been mentioned, but there are also legionella, botulism, bovine spongiform encephalopathy and AIDS.

I should like my hon. Friends to spare a thought for the small poultry producers in my constituency who produce eggs from flocks of just over 25 birds. At the moment—rather ludicrously—Ministry vets are rushing around the country sticking swabs up chickens' backsides to see whether there is any salmonella infection. However, severe doubt has been cast on that test because it is possible for poultry to lay eggs that are infected but for the infection not to show up on a test of the bird, and it is also possible for the reverse to happen and for an egg to be uninfected when the bird is not free from infection. That discrepancy has never been denied by the Government. They have always been completely honest and have said that internationally no test is foolproof. They are right. However, is it worth all the hassle if our small poultry producers have to face the possibility that if infection is discovered their flock will be destroyed and they will be compensated at only one third or one half the market replacement value of their flocks?

In conclusion, it would be to the advantage of the work force at CAMR, which is crucial to food safety in this country because it was there that scientists discovered the source of the hazelnut yoghurt infection within just three hours, if consideration were given to its future within the whole equation of food safety in this country.

5.59 pm
Mr. Frank Cook (Stockton, North)

The Minister took 41 minutes to respond to the robust and probing opening speech of my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). He devoted 25 minutes to a ministerial statement that should have been made in Government time. I shall not be churlish about that because I was pleased to hear it at long last. We have waited long enough for it. He made one or two challenges that I will answer quickly because many of my colleagues want to speak, despite some of the delaying tactics on the Government Benches.

The Minister referred to early-day motion 950 in my name. I want to alert the House to the fact that after I tabled the motion I did an interview with Central Television. That interview was cut, as interviews are. Part of a leading statement by Central Television last week was that I had said that irradiation could cause illness—I will not quibble with that—and even kill. I have never said that about food irradiation and I never would, because it could not be substantiated. What I said was that there is a huge question mark over the technique and its application.

I hope to outline briefly the nature of that question mark. It is not only I who say that, but the Consumers in the European Community Group which, as the House should know, is made up of 29 voluntary and professional organisations in the United Kingdom, with an interest in the impact of European Community legislation on the British consumer. Irradiation is also opposed by the Retail Consortium, by the Institution of Environmental Health Officers and by the Institute of Trading Standards Administration. So it is not a light-weight reservation that we seek to put on the record.

I want to tackle some of the challenges made by the Minister when he referred to the early-day motion. I am surprised that the Minister should make such efforts to challenge my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields about the nature of an early-day motion that refers to a practice that the Minister seeks to legalise. It is topsy turvy that he should expend so much energy on it.

The Minister asked for evidence. The evidence will be made available. I have always found the Minister to be most candid and I have paid tribute to him on more than one occasion. I have found the Under-Secretary of State for Health, who is to reply to the debate, to be the same, so I expect similar treatment from him.

The investigations that lay behind the early-day motion were set up by people working for a national newspaper. They established a dummy company to import consignments of food that had previously been irradiated —in other words, in contravention of existing legislation. I note that the Minister did not challenge early-day motions 713, 714 and 715 which were tabled in 1986 when we supplied documentary evidence that proved conclusively what was happening, but no action was taken. Further copies of that evidence are available. That explains our lack of confidence in Government action this time.

As I said, a national newspaper set up a dummy company. Contacts were made with Gammaster BV and Hank de Bruijne. Gammaster BV provided the information that Allways Transport could get the consignments into this country and distribute them wherever they were needed, without fail. Not only did the company do that, but it undertook to give a guarantee of bona fides to Allways Transport. In other words, it was prepared to say that the dealer was a good Indian who was not likely to sprag the game or squeal on the practice.

Hank de Bruijne went further. The daughter of the proprietor said that not only would there be no problem with the consignment but that if the intended trader was worried about discovery by port health authorities because the load was too clean bacterially the company had the answer. Instead of giving the consignment the full dose of irradiation, it would apply only a partial dose, irradiating to only 2 kilogray, thereby killing only some bacteria and leaving some creeping and crawling so that the port authorities would be put off the scent, if scent there was to be—an unfortunate phrase in the context.

I doubt whether people will derive any confidence from the controls that the Minister proposed. If we are to be confronted with traders who are likely to adopt practices and subterfuges such as I have outlined, what confidence can we ask the British consumer to have in the measures that the Government propose? In any case, what good will the Government measures do? Everyone agrees that irradiation will kill some bacteria, but I was pleased to hear the Ministr say that it is not a panacea. He said that three times. I hope that he keeps on saying it. It is far from being a panacea. It cannot he used in isolation. The Minister also said that irradiation would not make bad food good. That is right. But it stops bad food from looking and smelling bad. That is the main point that we should emphasise.

I am trying to rush through many points and it is proving difficult. The bacteria that is removed by irradiation will not affect clostridium botulinum because it is not susceptible to irradiation. It is a spore-borne organism which thrives better out of oxygen. That is why the American authorities will not allow irradiation of vacuum-packed meat; that would be the perfect environment for clostridium botulinum. The Minister earlier, and the Secretary of State in his statement on botulism last week, claimed that we have a better resistance to botulism and that the incidence of botulism in other countries is higher.

The Government are trying to claim credit, but I put this riddle to them. If consignments of food are irradiated, the yeasts and moulds that are in competition with clostridium botulinum are killed and clostridium botulinum is allowed free rein to develop even more virulently. There will be more vigorous toxins which may increase the incidence of botulism. The Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot claim better health because of the low incidence of botulism and at the same time seek to introduce a technique which, if used freely, could give botulism free rein.

Consumers want healthy, wholesome food that is produced, prepared, stored, distributed and retailed in healthy and hygienic conditions; there is no substitute for that.

Mr. Andy Stewart (Sherwood)

That is what they get.

Mr. Cook

The hon. Gentleman says that that is what they get. The evidence indicates that that is not what they have been getting. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) has already made an effective point about catering establishments.

My point is that the consumer has a right—not a choice —to expect healthy and wholesome food. Choice is determined by the amount of money in the pocket and the wherewithal. It is all well and good for Government Ministers to tell us that we can go out and buy the food that we want, but they cannot say that to a person living on social security who has a limited income. It is strange that we should be prepared to invoke penalty on social security miscreants when we are not prepared to invoke penalty on people who have transgressed against the rules of food irradiation.

Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman

Pesticide advertisements.

Mr. Cook

I am pleased that the hon. Lady has returned to the Chamber in a state of consciousness.

Choice is not an answer to hygienic standards.

I made some points in a letter to the solicitors who are seeking to have a go at me on the basis of the early-day motion, and perhaps this is the right note on which to finish. I said in that letter: I note too your unequivocal assertion that your 'clients have never imported or sold any product which has been subjected to the irradiation process'. Given that there is no reliable method devised as yet to determine whether or not food has been irradiated prior to examination might I counsel the use of the word 'knowingly' after 'never' in any further statements. One must assume from the content and tone of your letter that —until contacted by the reporter— your clients were completely ignorant of the practices identified in my EDM. Is this so? Had you known of them what would have been your reaction? You will have noted from my interview with Central Television that I act not only for the benefit of the consumer but also at the behest of parties interested in the British food industry who are anxious to ensure that those trading in that sector employ routinely the same proper and effective standards of hygiene as they do themselves in the production, preparation, distribution and retail of healthy and wholesome food for the consumer both in the UK and abroad. I'm sure that if you … feel as concerned for these ends as you are for the standing of … in the eyes of the consumer, … you will join with me in pursuing energetically measures to eradicate totally such abuse at the earliest date. If we expect the consumer to choose between irradiated and non-irradiated food, we must at the same time give them a good reason for irradiating it—not the end result but the need for irradiating food in the first place—because at the moment for me there is none.

6.11 pm
Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

I support the Government's amendment. My right hon. Friend the Minister has outlined the very positive, professional and responsible aspects of this Government's policy in relation to food safety, which is in sharp contrast to the sparseness of the Opposition policy, as expounded by the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark). The hon. Gentleman spoke about oysters, and I for one found very few pearls in the oysters to which he referred. Regardless of the language and the country of origin, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that there is no known method of salvaging rotten food, nor of making that food good. It is mischievous and irresponsible of him to suggest otherwise.

Having worked in the food industry for about 30 years, perhaps I should declare an interest. That interest is the same interest that everyone working in the food industry would declare, which is in seeing safe food products of a consistent quality provided for the consuming public. If we do not provide safe consistent products, we will go out of business.

My right hon. Friend referred to the rapid changes in consumer habits. Over the 30 years in which I have been involved in the industry, we have seen food—far from being the major purchase that it once was—relegated to a fairly insignificant part of the family budget. Meals and meal times are also less structured than they were years ago. Above all, 30 years ago ingredients were almost exclusively fresh. Food was prepared in a domestic kitchen, cooked immediately prior to consumption, and eaten at regular times; but that is no longer the case.

First, the food that we eat is no longer fresh; it might be frozen, dehydrated or cooked and chilled. Secondly, less and less food is prepared in a domestic kitchen. More and more of the demand is for convenience food of which there is little or no preparation at home. There has been a dramatic increase in eating out, where the restaurateur or caterer does the preparation and the cooking. All that is quite predictable, having regard to the greater number of housewives and mothers who go out to work, and, indeed, the greater prosperity that people enjoy as a result of 10 years of Conservative government. At this stage I pay tribute to the great British food industry, which has risen to the challenge of satisfying the modern demand for a greater diversity of interesting, wholesome, nutritious, affordable and convenient food.

Thirdly, meals are no longer necessarily cooked immediately prior to consumption. The advent of the microwave and the concept of cook-chill meals means that the cooking process is often remote from the domestic situation. It is remote both in time and place, in the sense that the cooking process has probably taken place in a factory many days or even weeks in advance of consumption.

Fourthly, the notion that meals are taken at regular times is a thing of the past; so too, regrettably, is the notion that meal times are a significant family occasion. We have become a nation of browsers. We eat irregularly in a completely unstructured manner and we eat whatever appeals to us at the time.

As a consequence of those habits—this is the point I wish to underline—we as a nation have a reduced knowledge of buying, preparing, cooking and presenting food. As a nation, we have less understanding of the properties of food, the nutritional values and, specifically, as far as it relates to fresh food, the keeping qualities of food. We have a less than satisfactory understanding of the importance of good hygiene. Indeed, the confidence of consumers in their own ability is so depreciated that in a recent National Consumer Council poll more than half of those interviewed thought that the Government, health education authorities and manufacturers should be doing the most to provide clear advice and information to consumers on Food Safety. Never once, for example, was it mentioned that mothers would be the most important influence in guiding families in how they should produce food for their offspring.

The question is what, if anything, those three groups of people, who have been identified in the National Consumer Council poll, should be doing to redress that situation and, especially, what could and what should the Government be doing. There is always a danger—certainly the Opposition would lead us down this dangerous path —of trying to do too much. There is a danger, as a result of trying to do too much, that we will dilute the responsibility of the consumer. There is a danger, too, of being too prescriptive in our legislation. That holds the hazard of stultifying one of the United Kingdom's most successful and innovative industries and, directly following from that, restricting consumer choice and variety.

What should we do? My right hon. Friend the Minister reminded us of the need at all times for constant vigilance —and there is no gainsaying that at all. We must take swift and effective action wherever problems manifest themselves. I fully endorse the Government's policy that we must act only on the basis of the best scientific information available at the time. We must uphold the law which at the moment states that all food should be safe and that all consumers should not be misled. I for one would be happy at the prospect of the Government and the enforcing authorities throwing the book at those who offend those laws. We should continue to publish and disseminate straightforward, simple-to-read common-sense advice to consumers, and I commend to the House the recent booklet on food safety which satisfies all those criteria in good measure.

The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie), who is no longer in his place, spoke about diet, but we should beware the false prophets. A diet industry is becoming prominent which says that some food is good and other food bad. But there is no such thing as bad food, only a bad diet. A good diet is a balanced and varied one. In the words of the old maxim, one might say moderation in all things.

I know that moderation does not always appeal to Opposition Members, but let me leave them with this thought. If, in their estimation, so many things are wrong in Britain today, why do we have a higher proportion of old people than any other country bar one? As they know, as I know and as the Minister knows, it is the old and the young who are most at risk from food poisoning. There cannot be anything terribly wrong with the British diet when so many live to such a ripe old age.

6.20 pm
Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

The Secretary of State said that the Government act quickly to ensure that people eat safe food, but I hope to explode that myth. I have plenty of evidence to show that the Government do not act quickly and that their approach to the problem of food safety is cavalier and irresponsible, particularly on the safety of airline passengers, and, in the next few months, there will be hundreds of those as the holiday traffic increases. It is utterly disgraceful that the Government have not addressed that problem.

In February 1989, the three local authorities responsible for environmental health standards at Heathrow completed a report on airline food safety. They discovered that excessive levels of potentially dangerous bacteria have been found in nearly a quarter of all the meals tested at Heathrow airport—a quarter of the meals on the ground, before they even reach the aircraft.

Only last weekend it was reported that air travellers are being exposed to the risk of a 'disastrous outbreak of food poisoning' because of long flight delays and poor hygiene. The Institution of Environmental Health Officers was reported as saying that lack of hygiene training among cabin crew, combined with the rapid increase of bacteria during flight delays, poses a serious threat to passengers' health. It demands new powers to monitor the safety of food on aircraft, which escape controls because the food is given away. The Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Kettering (Mr. Freeman), was reported as saying that he would review regulations in the light of the report. He said: I am looking forward to being briefed further on this to see what can or should be done. I want to illustrate how, despite having a report from the environmental health officers responsible for environmental health at Heathrow, the Government have ignored those reports and have refused to take any action.

More than 1,000 separate foods were examined by environmental health officers at Heathrow who found some of the worst contamination in paté, appetisers, main courses of beef and rice puddings. The tests were conducted by the airport's local boroughs on freshly made meals which had not even reached the aircraft. By the time that the meals reached passengers, bacteria levels would often be much higher because of poor temperature control.

Most of the foods were prepared by the cook-chill method, which has been implicated in many of the recent cases of food poisoning, but those particular foods were not tested for listeria, which was not looked on as a problem when the tests were carried out. The three London boroughs are beginning a second survey to try to determine whether listeria is present.

Of the foods tested, 24 per cent. harboured 1 million bacteria per gramme—100 times more than the maximum recommended by the Department of Health. E. Coli, the bacteria associated with faecal contamination, was found in 209 separate dishes and salmonella was found in four dishes tested by the environmental health officers.

In case hon. Members think that those are isolated cases, the reported outbreaks of food-borne infections over several years have involved large numbers of people. On one flight from Tokyo to Paris 197 people were affected. On 11 charter flights from Las Palmas, 550 people were affected. In one year on several flights from London 766 people were affected, and on another flight 304 people were affected. This is not a small problem. It is a large problem at the moment and a potentially large problem in the future.

Mr. Elliot Morley (Glanford and Scunthorpe)

I listened carefully to the figures that my hon. Friend gave of the number of people affected. An outbreak of salmonella in my constituency resulted last week in the tragic death of Benjamin Walker, aged two. One of his friends, also aged two, is currently in hospital, and a third child of the same age from an adjoining village has recently been hospitalised. That is the human face of the tragedy behind those figures.

I have heard much talk of responsibility during the debate, but does my hon. Friend agree that it is not responsible for the Government to cut research programmes into salmonella, including the one led by Dr. Meade in Bristol dealing with eradication programmes? That cut was heavily criticised by the Select Committee's report into salmonella, the members of which were unanimous that the Government should undertake more research into salmonella. The Government cannot be held responsible for that child's death, but a Government who do not face up to their responsibilities to undertake such research will have the deaths of other children and people on their hands.

Mrs. Clwyd

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is irresponsible to cut research when, over the past few months, it has been clearly shown that the number of food poisoning cases in Britain is growing rather than decreasing. I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention.

Let me return to the Secretary of State's claim that the Government act quickly. In March, the three environmental health officers responsible for Heathrow sent the Secretary of State for Health a copy of their report. In April, I asked him whether he would make a statement and he said: I have just received a copy of the report and I will give it due consideration."—[Official Report, 6 April 1989; Vol. 150. c. 290.] In May, I asked the same question and the Under-Secretary of State said: We have recently received a copy of the survey … It is still receiving careful consideration within the Department." —[Official Report, 2 May 1989; Vol. 152, c. 100.] In June I asked the same question, and the Under-Secretary of State said: I shall let the hon. Member have a reply as soon as possible. One would think that the Government were studying a massive report, but in fact it is slim and its recommendations are clear. I should not have thought that this urgent problem needed four months' consideration before the Government could make a statement on what they intended to do about it.

Not only that, but as long ago as 1986, at the second world congress of food-borne infections in Berlin, the Government's central public health laboratory service said that the provision of meals on aircraft, particularly on those travelling long distances, posed many food hygiene problems, and that outbreaks of food-borne infections had been reported associated with in-flight meals and had involved a wide range of organisms, including salmonella. It reported the results of that survey at some length. As long ago as that, the Government's own agency had the necessary information, yet the Government refused to take any action.

Heathrow environmental health officers are concerned about the present situation and its potential. The hundreds of thousands of people using Heathrow and other airports throughout Britain are entitled to Government protection. The health officers produced clear reports and suggestions. They argue that the aviation catering industry ought to adopt a common standard for meal production, which should be the guidelines on pre-cooked and chilled foods published by the Department of Health in 1980. The Department has since issued new guidelines, but how will it compel caterers to observe them? That should not be the responsibility of EHOs, who are already hard pressed.

Heathrow health officers also published a long list of deviations from the required standards. Guideline 2e, for example, states: Reheating of the food to be done immediately upon removal from chilled conditions and raised to at least 70°C. The report comments: This raises the question as to whether the food is still in a chilled condition on the aircraft as this depends upon the time of leaving the catering unit, ambient temperature, the length of the flight, any delays … There appear to be no international checks on these matters. Guideline 2g states: + 10°C is regarded as the critical safety limit for chilled foods. According to health officers, Temperature variances with or without botulism during production, storage and delivery are tremendous. Recommendation 4 is: All raw materials to be of good quality. The Minister himself stressed the importance of quality control. The deviation noted by health inspectors was: Most caterers check out their suppliers, but the degree to which this is done varies enormously. On occasions this is not done at all. Can the Minister say how the Government will make their new guidelines stick better than the old?

Environmental health officers would like a reply to their report, which the Government have taken so long to consider. The hundreds of thousands of airline passengers who believe that the food they eat is safe should either be advised that fears to the contrary are groundless or that they should take sandwiches for the time being. When the Minister winds up, I hope that he will address himself to the problem of ensuring airline food safety.

6.32 pm
Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston)

I am glad to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) in her concern about the health hazards posed by airline meals. I have some interest in that subject, as on average I eat two airline meals per week while travelling to and from my constituency. The report to which my hon. Friend drew attention is particularly interesting and provides striking evidence that even in a catering establishment which might be regarded as up-market there is no guarantee that it is free of the health hazards that frequently exist in the food that we buy and eat.

My hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) made a thoughtful and considered speech, as one would expect of one with his background as a community physician. My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) made a forceful case for exploring the Government's contradictory attitudes to green-top milk. As to his observation concerning the Government's reversal on that issue, I was struck by the report that the Government backed down on green-top milk after receiving 1,200 objections. We understand from a written answer that the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food received 6,000 objections to food irradiation. Unfortunately, it seems that that number of objections —five times the number received in respect of green-top milk—is somehow not so conclusive.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) fluently put a well-informed case for not regarding food irradiation as a total solution and pointed to the paradox that at this moment irradiation is being offered as a solution when the particular incidence of food poisoning that we currently have in mind was caused by botulism, to which irradiation is almost irrelevant. In so far as it is relevant, it is in the sense that irradiation may contribute to an environment in which the botulinum bacterium will thrive.

The first comment that I have to make is, very sadly, that I understand that during the course of the debate one of the 26 victims of the botulism outbreak in the north-west has died. It is perhaps regrettable that the Secretary of State referred to that outbreak as being one of only nine this century. That may be so, but as many people were affected by the latest outbreak as by all the previous eight outbreaks put together. That is the gravity of the latest occurrence. We must now try to grapple with the serious problem of combating food health hazards.

Throughout the debate there has been a division between Government and Opposition Members. While my right hon. and hon. Friends and I are undoubtedly exercised by the threat, having listened to most of the speeches made by Conservative Members I am not persuaded that they are seized with the gravity of the crisis.

The first step to finding a solution is to admit that a problem exists. The Government's own figures should alarm them. Formal notifications of food poisoning rose from 10,000 in 1978 to more than 20,000 in 1987. Even more alarming than that doubling of cases in a decade is that since 1987 notifications have doubled again. In the first five months of 1989 there were 16,700 recorded cases, giving an annualised rate of more than 40,000.

Fortunately, we have a way of expressing the cost to society of food poisoning in terms that Conservative Members should find easy to grasp. Bradford university's food policy unit conducted a study which concluded that productivity losses from food poisoning cost employers £350 million and that twice as many working days are lost by it as through strikes. The Government's most visible response to date is a consumer leaflet of which we were informed in February. After being briefed by the Government, the press faithfully reported that the Government want housewives to "cook just like mother". The problem is that the Government are still trying to control the food industry with the same regulations that were around at the time when mother went shopping.

Food hygiene regulations for shops effectively date from 1938, although they have been much consolidated. It is breathtaking that while a revolution in food retailing has taken place, with the conversion to open display and self-service, there are no regulations covering the temperature at which such food is stored. We know that the Department of Health is uneasy about that because it produced a consultative document on food hygiene, the background note to which comments: In recent years there has been increasing criticism of the absence of regulations on the temperature control of food in retail shops. The background notes containing that sentence and the consultative document itself were published on 22 June 1987—two years ago tomorrow—but nothing has been heard since. No regulations have been laid before the House in those two years, during which there have been 73,000 recorded cases of food poisoning.

Last February, weary of waiting for the Government to produce regulations, we drafted our own regulations on food hygiene. The response of the Secretary of State at the time was that he was "on the point" of introducing regulations. That was on 15 February. Four months later, the Secretary of State is still ambling around the point, although I was advised in a parliamentary answer received this afternoon that I shall now have to wait at least another four months until the autumn for any draft regulations from the Government.

Instead, the Government have issued a leaflet to shoppers providing advice on what they should do with products after buying them. It seemed reasonable, therefore, to test how shops themselves followed the advice offered to the consumer. One of the key pieces of advice in the leaflet is Make sure the fridge is cold enough—and stays below 5 deg C.… buy a fridge thermometer to check. Yesterday I carried out a survey of shops in north London. They were not major supermarkets, but they were not corner shops either—some were parts of local and regional chains or mini-markets. The results of the temperature tests were appalling. Of the seven shops that we inspected, only one was displaying food at less than 10 deg C. One offered tuna pate at 19 deg and was selling chicken pieces at the same temperature. In another the meat pie freezer was running at a temperature of 17.5 deg. In a third, sausages were on sale at 24 deg and ham at 15 deg.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Cynon Valley observed, the most remarkable feature of such tales is that none of the premises is committing an offence or breaking existing regulations, although, in microbiological terms, the temperatures at which the food is offered for sale are hair-raising. There is no point in spending £750,000 on beautifully drawn leaflets advising consumers to store food at temperatures below 5 deg C. if the food bought from the shop is not safe to be put in the fridge, let alone eaten.

There are obvious ways in which the Government could regulate the food industry to provide the consumer with more confidence and safety. Instead, this afternoon we have heard them reach once again for the technical fix—in this case, irradiation. It is extraordinary that the Secretary of State should announce that he is introducing that measure to respond to consumer demand for choice when every opinion poll confirms that consumers do not want their food irradiated. The most recent poll carried out by Marplan found 83 per cent. against it.

Moreover, the irradiation proposal is wildly irrelevant to the problem. Irradiation cannot be applied to fatty foods, because it turns them rancid. It cannot be applied to eggs, although they have been the single most obvious source of concern to the public. Nor can it be applied to yoghurt—if it is, the result is a taste defined by the experts as that of burnt wool. If it is applied to meat of the kind that I found being stored at such high temperatures, the taste is described by the experts as "wet dog smell". It is true that it can be applied to hazelnut purée, but that will not stop botulism—it may destroy the bacteria, but it will not destroy the toxin which causes food poisoning.

The most profound reason to oppose irradiation, however, is that it does not deal with the root causes of the increased incidence of food poisoning. It does not offer a remedy for the results of intensified farming methods and the growing practice—which I, as a layman, find rather bizarre—of recycling one animal's waste as another animal's feedstock. Nor does it address the pressure from the food industry for a longer shelf life, although it is clearly intended as a response to that pressure. It does not address the problem of the varying standards of hygiene in food outlets which have resulted from the explosion in the number of vast fast food chains. It merely provides a technical fix which enables the Government to pretend that it is possible to go on living with all those trends when it is clearly not possible. Food poisoning will continue to increase until we bring in regulations which compel shops to apply the same standards that Ministers are urging on housewives.

We know why the Government dare not do that. It is no accident that they keep putting it off. It is not because the regulations have slipped their mind, or have been put in a file marked "mañana". It is because the present Prime Minister's ideology is flatly opposed to tighter regulations. In her influential intervention in last week's European elections, she denounced what she described as more regulations, more bureaucracy and more state intervention. One of the Ministers present today will have to pluck up courage to explain to the Prime Minister that the consumer is to be protected adequately from being poisoned by the food on sale in the shops, more regulations will be required, along with more state intervention and—yes—perhaps even a touch more bureaucracy to ensure that the regulations are enforced. I know that it is demanding a good deal of Ministers to ask them to find the courage to storm Downing street with that message, but I offer them a spur, sharpened by the glorious results of last Thursday: if the present Government persist in their refusal to protect consumers, those consumers will increasingly look for a Government who will protect them.

6.45 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Roger Freeman)

I shall answer as many questions as I can. If I cannot deal with all of them today, I shall write to hon. Members.

The Government's policy on food hygiene is to put the consumer first. Hon. Members on both sides of the House agree that the consumer's interests must be our main priority. The hon. Member for Livingston (Mr. Cook) began by referring to botulism, and I shall deal with that first. We have received no reports of any new cases this week; a total of 26 have been reported. I understand that six patients are still on ventilators, and that five are stable and improving. I join the hon. Gentleman in expressing my regret to the family of the 78-year-old lady who, sadly, died of complications this afternoon, and I am sure that the whole House will wish to join in my hope that the remaining patients will make a complete recovery.

My Department is continuing to co-ordinate exhaustive investigations into the outbreak of botulism, in close collaboration with the food industry. The lessons that may be learnt from that investigation will be directly relevant to our review of food legislation. Let me take this opportunity of congratulating all who work in the Health Service, the public health laboratory service, and local authorities which have contributed so magnificently to the investigation and control of the outbreak and the treatment of patients.

The country's excellent record for rapidly identifying and dealing with food poisoning outbreaks owes much to the work of the public health authority Service and its component bodies. In particular, their pioneering work on the detection and identification of the different kinds of salmonella have formed the scientific foundation that has made it possible for the Government to identify the nature of the problems and introduce the advice and measures necessary to combat the bacteria. The resources available through the laboratory service have increased significantly under the present Government, and this year alone will see a 14 per cent. cash increase. I believe that the service is probably the most efficient and effective of its kind in the world.

The hon. Gentleman went on to deal—by implication —with listeria. New cook-chill and cook-freeze guidelines for catering are to be published tomorrow, 22 June, and copies will be placed in the Library of the House. The guidelines sharpen and clarify existing advice. Copies are also being sent to all health authorities, which are being asked to review their operational procedures to ensure that they conform. We believe that all health authorities conform. We are drawing the publication to the attention of relevant trade organisations, and I hope that all who operate or propose to operate cook-chill or cook-freeze catering systems will follow the principles set out in the guidelines.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the review of the food hygiene regulations. The regulations are statutory, and we are proposing to issue, within two weeks, draft regulations for consultation with the industry and the public. That consultation will take some three months, and we expect to lay regulations before the House in the autumn. The regulations will deal with the temperature controls for food that is required to be kept chilled in the retail distribution system.

We propose to base the legislation on a stratified temperature regime, requiring a maximum of 5 deg C for products where the risk of the growth of pathogenic organisms is high, such as soft cheeses and ready-cooked products intended to be eaten without cooking or reheating, and a maximum of 8 deg C where, although it exists, the risk is lower. In both cases there may need to be a tolerance margin to allow for fluctuations over short periods—for example, during the defrost cycles. We shall need to allow a reasonably brief implementation period to give industry time to re-equip as necessary to meet the new temperature controls. I commend this firm action by the Government as evidence of our determination to protect the consumer, with the co-operation of the food manufacturer, preparer and distributor.

Mr. Andrew Bowden (Brighton, Kemptown)

Will my hon. Friend confirm that when the regulations come into force environmental health officers will have the power to enter shops and ensure that the regulations are being fully implemented?

Mr. Freeman

I can give my hon. Friend that assurance.

Perhaps I may now deal briefly with the points raised by several of my hon. Friends about environmental health officers.

Ms. Primarolo

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Freeman

Perhaps I might just explain to the House that, together with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, my Department is consulting local authorities, which are responsible for recruiting and controlling environmental health officers, about a review of whether their staffing is satisfactory, both now and prospectively, for the changes that are to come.

The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy (Dr. Moonie) referred to a number of matters. I recognise the importance of the gene banks at Brogdale to which he referred. We are taking steps to protect those resources.

My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin), whose important position as Chairman of the Select Committee I respect and understand, asked a number of questions about Bristol, as did a number of hon. Members. We are hoping to transfer not six but 70 posts in food research from Bristol to the other two locations. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food will write to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare in some detail about Bristol.

My hon. Friend also asked me about current arrangements which he thinks are unfair to United Kingdom producers, who are required to meet the cost of rigorous control measures that do not apply to competing importers. It is a very important subject. Our primary and overriding concern must be to protect the consumer against the risk of infection. Over 97 per cent. of the eggs consumed in the United Kingdom are from domestic production.

The most essential point must, therefore, be to ensure that effective measures are taken at every point in the chain from farmer to consumer. That is what we have done. We cannot just ban imports from other member states, as some people have simplistically assumed. We do not have the power to do so. However, my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is tackling any possible risk from imports on two fronts. First, we are systematically sampling imports of eggs and testing them for salmonella infection. We shall take up with the member state concerned any case which is found of contamination with salmonella enteritidis. My right hon. Friend has already done so, on the one occasion that we found an infected sample.

Secondly—this is most important—we are working towards the establishment of effective controls at the point of production in other member states. That is the fundamental safeguard for the medium and longer term, but it can be achieved only by agreement on a Community-wide basis, which inevitably takes time.

The hon. Member for Southport (Mr. Fearn) asked me about sell-by dates. The Government intend to phase out sell-by dates and to replace them with the use of use-by dates which will be compulsory for highly perishable foods. I hope that the House will welcome the change.

My hon. Friend the Member for Daventry (Mr. Boswell) asked about environmental health officers. I hope that I have already answered his question, but I shall write to him in greater detail.

The hon. Member for Carlisle (Mr. Martlew) asked about green-top milk. I hope that the House will accept and welcome the Government's decision to permit the sale of green-top milk. That is clearly in accord with the wishes of consumers, but we shall ensure that the milk is properly labelled so that the risks, such as they are, are properly understood.

My hon. Friend the Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key) asked me a detailed question about the Centre for Applied Microbiology and Research. I shall write to him, but may I say to him now that we shall ensure that essential public health and food safety work continues, under Government control. As to the management of the control of the centre, we are still reviewing what to do, but the important point is that we want the centre to continue and to prosper.

The hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) asked about food irradiation and made an interesting contribution, but may I correct him about a point that he made when he intervened during the speech of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. Food irradiation is used and has been used within the National Health Service.

Mr. Frank Cook

Has been.

Mr. Freeman

No. It is being used tonight at the Royal Marsden hospital. Food irradiation makes safe the food that is prepared for patients who are at particular risk.

Mr. Robert Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Freeman

No. I have only four minutes left.

The hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Mrs. Clwyd) asked about airline meals. There are two aspects to her question. 1 share her concern, and that of other hon. Members, about airline meals. First, are the existing regulations being complied with? We have a range of regulations covering aircraft on the ground and in United Kingdom air space. We expect aircraft flying in international air space to follow the code of practice of the International Air Transport Association. I should be very pleased to meet the hon. Lady and her colleagues, and also environmental health officers, to pursue further her concerns, which I share.

The hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) opened the debate. His thesis was that changes in food research have led to an increase in food poisoning. There are three reasons why his thesis is false. It deserves good marks for effort but very low marks for logic.

First, food research in this country has not been curtailed. It is running now at twice the level, in real terms, as in 1978–79—at £26 million. We have an excellent record on food research. The difference between the Government and the hon. Gentleman is that we do not share his prejudice towards the near market research that is conducted by the private sector.

Secondly, food poisoning and the increase, which I concede, in the last two years in food poisoning is not unique to the United Kingdom. It is a common factor—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Stockton, North may laugh, but it is common to the countries of western Europe and to the United States. What is unique about this Government is the series of tough measures that my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has taken to eradicate salmonella.

Mr. Robert Hughes


Mr. Freeman

Thirdly, and finally, the hon. Member for South Shields attempted to draw a conclusion from the change in research into botulism at Bristol and the recent incident. There is absolutely no connection between the two. The recent outbreak of botulism was due to the lack of heat treatment by the food processor. It had nothing whatsoever to do with research at Bristol.

The Government have taken firm action as regards food safety and food research. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) for recognising that. We have set up the Richmond committee, and we have agreed to review food legislation and that review is well in hand. We have an excellent public health laboratory service which is the envy of the world, and we have increased resources for research. We are working in partnership with the private sector.

I urge the House to support the Government amendment and to throw out the Opposition motion.

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

The House divided: Ayes 211, Noes 318.

Division No. 256] [6.59 pm
Abbott, Ms Diane Dixon, Don
Adams, Allen (Paisley N) Dobson, Frank
Allen, Graham Doran, Frank
Alton, David Douglas, Dick
Anderson, Donald Duffy, A. E. P.
Archer, Rt Hon Peter Eadie, Alexander
Armstrong, Hilary Eastham, Ken
Ashdown, Rt Hon Paddy Fatchett, Derek
Ashley, Rt Hon Jack Fearn, Ronald
Banks, Tony (Newham NW) Field, Frank (Birkenhead)
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Fields, Terry (L'pool B G'n)
Barnes, Mrs Rosie (Greenwich) Fisher, Mark
Battle, John Flannery, Martin
Beckett, Margaret Flynn, Paul
Beggs, Roy Foot, Rt Hon Michael
Beith, A. J. Foster, Derek
Bell, Stuart Foulkes, George
Benn, Rt Hon Tony Fraser, John
Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish) Galbraith, Sam
Bidwell, Sydney Galloway, George
Blair, Tony Garrett, John (Norwich South)
Blunkett, David Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)
Boateng, Paul George, Bruce
Boyes, Roland Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Bradley, Keith Godman, Dr Norman A.
Brown, Gordon (D'mline E) Golding, Mrs Llin
Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E) Gordon, Mildred
Brown, Ron (Edinburgh Leith) Gould, Bryan
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon) Graham, Thomas
Buckley, George J. Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)
Callaghan, Jim Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)
Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE) Grocott, Bruce
Campbell-Savours, D. N. Harman, Ms Harriet
Cartwright, John Hattersley, Rt Hon Roy
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Healey, Rt Hon Denis
Clarke, Tom (Monklands W) Heller, Eric S.
Clay, Bob Henderson, Doug
Clelland, David Hinchliffe, David
Clwyd, Mrs Ann Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)
Cohen, Harry Hogg, N. (C'nauld & Kilsyth)
Cook, Frank (Stockton N) Home Robertson, John
Cook, Robin (Livingston) Hood, Jimmy
Corbett, Robin Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Corbyn, Jeremy Howells, Geraint
Cousins, Jim Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)
Crowther, Stan Hoyle, Doug
Cryer, Bob Hughes, John (Coventry NE)
Cummings, John Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)
Cunliffe, Lawrence Hughes, Roy (Newport E)
Cunningham, Dr John Illsley, Eric
Dalyell, Tam Ingram, Adam
Darling, Alistair Janner, Greville
Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli) Johnston, Sir Russell
Davies, Ron (Caerphilly) Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)
Davis, Terry (B'ham Hodge H'l) Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Môn)
Dewar, Donald Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn
Kennedy, Charles Richardson, Jo
Kirkwood, Archy Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Leadbitter, Ted Robertson, George
Leighton, Ron Robinson, Geoffrey
Lestor, Joan (Eccles) Rooker, Jeff
Livingstone, Ken Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)
Livsey, Richard Rowlands, Ted
Lloyd, Tony (Stretford) Ruddock, Joan
Lofthouse, Geoffrey Salmond, Alex
Loyden, Eddie Sedgemore, Brian
McAllion, John Sheerman, Barry
McAvoy, Thomas Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert
Macdonald, Calum A. Shore, Rt Hon Peter
McFall, John Short, Clare
McKay, Allen (Barnsley West) Skinner, Dennis
McKelvey, William Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)
McLeish, Henry Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)
Maclennan, Robert Smith, Rt Hon J. (Monk'ds E)
McNamara, Kevin Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)
McWilliam, John Snape, Peter
Madden, Max Spearing, Nigel
Mahon, Mrs Alice Steel, Rt Hon David
Marek, Dr John Steinberg, Gerry
Marshall, David (Shettleston) Stott, Roger
Martin, Michael J. (Springburn) Strang, Gavin
Martlew, Eric Straw, Jack
Meale, Alan Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)
Michael, Alun Taylor, Rt Hon J. D. (S'ford)
Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley) Taylor, Matthew (Truro)
Michie, Mrs Ray (Arg'l & Bute) Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Turner, Dennis
Moonie, Dr Lewis Wall, Pat
Morgan, Rhodri Wallace, James
Morley, Elliott Walley, Joan
Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe) Wardell, Gareth (Gower)
Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon) Wareing, Robert N.
Mowlam, Marjorie Watson, Mike (Glasgow, C)
Mullin, Chris Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)
Murphy, Paul Welsh, Michael (Doncaster N)
Nellist, Dave Wigley, Dafydd
O'Brien, William Williams, Rt Hon Alan
Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Williams, Alan W. (Carm'then)
Owen, Rt Hon Dr David Winnick, David
Patchett, Terry Wise, Mrs Audrey
Pendry, Tom Wray, Jimmy
Pike, Peter L. Young, David (Bolton SE)
Powell, Ray (Ogmore)
Prescott, John Tellers for the Ayes:
Primarolo, Dawn Mr. Frank Haynes and
Quin, Ms Joyce Mr. Jimmy Dunnachie.
Redmond, Martin
Adley, Robert Blackburn, Dr John G.
Aitken, Jonathan Body, Sir Richard
Alexander, Richard Bonsor, Sir Nicholas
Alison, Rt Hon Michael Boswell, Tim
Allason, Rupert Bottomley, Peter
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Bottomley, Mrs Virginia
Amess, David Bowden, A (Brighton K'pto'n)
Amos, Alan Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)
Arbuthnot, James Bowis, John
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham) Boyson, Rt Hon Dr Sir Rhodes
Arnold, Tom (Hazel Grove) Braine, Rt Hon Sir Bernard
Ashby, David Brandon-Bravo, Martin
Aspinwall, Jack Brazier, Julian
Atkinson, David Bright, Graham
Baker, Rt Hon K. (Mole Valley) Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N) Brown, Michael (Brigg & Cl't's)
Baldry, Tony Browne, John (Winchester)
Banks, Robert (Harrogate) Bruce, Ian (Dorset South)
Batiste, Spencer Buchanan-Smith, Rt Hon Alick
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Buck, Sir Antony
Bellingham, Henry Budgen, Nicholas
Bendall, Vivian Burns, Simon
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke) Burt, Alistair
Benyon, W. Butcher, John
Bevan, David Gilroy Butler, Chris
Biffen, Rt Hon John Butterfill, John
Carlisle, John, (Luton N) Hayward, Robert
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Heddle, John
Carrington, Matthew Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael
Carttiss, Michael Hicks, Mrs Maureen (Wolv' NE)
Cash, William Hicks, Robert (Cornwall SE)
Channon, Rt Hon Paul Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.
Chapman, Sydney Hill, James
Chope, Christopher Hind, Kenneth
Churchill, Mr Holt, Richard
Clark, Dr Michael (Rochford) Hordern, Sir Peter
Clark, Sir W. (Croydon S) Howard, Michael
Clarke, Rt Hon K. (Rushcliffe) Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A)
Colvin, Michael Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Conway, Derek Howell, Rt Hon David (G'dford)
Coombs, Anthony (Wyre F'rest) Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)
Cope, Rt Hon John Hunter, Andrew
Cormack, Patrick Hurd, Rt Hon Douglas
Couchman, James Irvine, Michael
Cran, James Irving, Charles
Critchley, Julian Jack, Michael
Currie, Mrs Edwina Jackson, Robert
Curry, David Janman, Tim
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey
Davis, David (Boothferry) Jones, Gwilym (Cardiff N)
Day, Stephen Jones, Robert B (Herts W)
Devlin, Tim Jopling, Rt Hon Michael
Dicks, Terry Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine
Dorrell, Stephen Key, Robert
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Kilfedder, James
Dover, Den King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Dunn, Bob King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Dykes, Hugh Kirkhope, Timothy
Eggar, Tim Knapman, Roger
Emery, Sir Peter Knight, Greg (Derby North)
Evans, David (Welwyn Hatf'd) Knight, Dame Jill (Edgbaston)
Evennett, David Knox, David
Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas Lamont, Pt Hon Norman
Fallon, Michael Lang, Ian
Favell, Tony Latham, Michael
Field, Barry (Isle of Wight) Lawrence, Ivan
Fishburn, John Dudley Leigh, Edward (Gainsbor'gh)
Forman, Nigel Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling) Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)
Forth, Eric Lilley, Peter
Fowler, Rt Hon Norman Lloyd, Sir Ian (Havant)
Fox, Sir Marcus Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Franks, Cecil Lyell, Sir Nicholas
Freeman, Roger McCrindle, Robert
French, Douglas Macfarlane, Sir Neil
Fry, Peter MacGregor, Rt Hon John
Gardiner, George MacKay, Andrew (E Berkshire)
Garel-Jones, Tristan Maclean, David
Gill, Christopher McLoughlin, Patrick
Gilmour, Rt Hon Sir Ian McNair-Wilson, Sir Michael
Glyn, Dr Alan McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick
Goodhart, Sir Philip Madel, David
Goodlad, Alastair Major, Rt Hon John
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Mans, Keith
Gorman, Mrs Teresa Maples, John
Gorst, John Marland, Paul
Gow, Ian Marlow, Tony
Grant, Sir Anthony (CambsSW) Marshall, John (Hendon S)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N) Marshall, Michael (Arundel)
Gregory, Conal Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N) Maude, Hon Francis
Grist, Ian Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Ground, Patrick Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Grylls, Michael Mellor, David
Gummer, Rt Hon John Selwyn Meyer, Sir Anthony
Hague, William Miller, Sir Hal
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton) Mills, Iain
Hampson, Dr Keith Miscampbell, Norman
Hannam, John Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)
Hargreaves, A. (B'ham H'll Gr') Mitchell, Sir David
Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn) Moate, Roger
Harris, David Moore, Rt Hon John
Haselhurst, Alan Morris, M (N'hampton S)
Hawkins, Christopher Morrison, Rt Hon P (Chester)
Hayes, Jerry Moss, Malcolm
Moynihan, Hon Colin Stanley, Rt Hon Sir John
Neale, Gerrard Steen, Anthony
Needham, Richard Stern, Michael
Nelson, Anthony Stevens, Lewis
Neubert, Michael Stewart, Allan (Eastwood)
Newton, Rt Hon Tony Stewart, Andy (Sherwood)
Nicholls, Patrick Stewart, Rt Hon Ian (Herts N)
Nicholson, David (Taunton) Stokes, Sir John
Nicholson, Emma (Devon West) Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Norris, Steve Summerson, Hugo
Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley Tapsell, Sir Peter
Oppenheim, Phillip Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Page, Richard Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Paice, James Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Patnick, Irvine Tebbit, Rt Hon Norman
Patten, Rt Hon Chris (Bath) Temple-Morris, Peter
Pawsey, James Thatcher, Rt Hon Margaret
Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)
Porter, Barry (Wirral S) Thorne, Neil
Porter, David (Waveney) Thornton, Malcolm
Price, Sir David Thurnham, Peter
Raffan, Keith Townend, John (Bridlington)
Raison, Rt Hon Timothy Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)
Rathbone, Tim Tracey, Richard
Redwood, John Tredinnick, David
Renton, Tim Trippier, David
Rhodes James, Robert Trotter, Neville
Riddick, Graham Twinn, Dr Ian
Ridley, Rt Hon Nicholas Vaughan, Sir Gerard
Ridsdale, Sir Julian Viggers, Peter
Rifkind, Rt Hon Malcolm Waddington, Rt Hon David
Roberts, Wyn (Conwy) Walker, Bill (T'side North)
Roe, Mrs Marion Waller, Gary
Rossi, Sir Hugh Walters, Sir Dennis
Rost, Peter Ward, John
Rumbold, Mrs Angela Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)
Ryder, Richard Warren, Kenneth
Sackville, Hon Tom Watts, John
Sainsbury, Hon Tim Wells, Bowen
Sayeed, Jonathan Whitney, Ray
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas Widdecombe, Ann
Shaw, David (Dover) Wiggin, Jerry
Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb') Wilkinson, John
Shelton, Sir William Wilshire, David
Shephard, Mrs G. (Norfolk SW) Winterton, Mrs Ann
Shepherd, Colin (Hereford) Winterton, Nicholas
Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge) Wolfson, Mark
Sims, Roger Wood, Timothy
Skeet, Sir Trevor Yeo, Tim
Soames, Hon Nicholas Young, Sir George (Acton)
Speller, Tony Younger, Rt Hon George
Spicer, Sir Jim (Dorset W)
Spicer, Michael (S Worcs) Tellers for the Noes:
Squire, Robin Mr. Tony Durant and
Stanbrook, Ivor Mr. David Lightbown.

Question accordingly negatived.

Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.

Resolved, `That this House commends the Government for implementing a comprehensive range of measures to maintain safety throughout the food chain and to improve the scientific knowledge on which these are based; notes with approval the Agricultural and Food Research Council's decision to stengthen the work of its Institute of Food Research at the Norwich and Reading sites by expanding programmes on food safety and nutrition; endorses the Government's policy of transferring responsibility for near market research and development to industry, enabling more Government funds to be channelled into strategic research; congratulates the Government on the substantial increase in resources for research into food safety during the past ten years; and expresses confidence in the Government's policies on food safety and research and development.'.