HC Deb 02 July 1992 vol 210 cc949-50
4. Mr. Simon Coombs

To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food if he will make a statement on the implementation of the Food Safety Act 1990.

Mr. Soames

The public demanded the Food Safety Act 1990. As a result, they are now better protected than in any other country in Europe. If they want the safest food, they should buy British.

Mr. Coombs

Although I recognise that the 1990 Act was a most important milestone, does my hon. Friend agree that the importance of training and education about food hygiene cannot be over-emphasised? What action does he propose to take to ensure that the highest standards in that education and training are maintained?

Mr. Soames

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising an important point relating to the Act. The Government are committed to the introduction of food hygiene training, which has an important part to play in raising standards in some parts of the food industry and raising the morale and motivation of staff. Of course, we must take the EC draft directive into account. Nevertheless, I understand that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health hopes to make an annoucement soon. I hope that that will please my hon. Friend.

Mr. Pike

Does the Minister appreciate that local authorities have tremendous responsibilities under the Act to carry out the provisions of that legislation? They are concerned because of the delay in publishing the regulations and about the lack of consultation. Does the Minister appreciate that local authorities are also concerned because the £30 million that was to be available to them to finance the introduction of their responsibilities under the Act was not ring-fenced? Because of that and the fact that local government spending in general has been squeezed because sufficient moneys have not been provided, that money is not available to local authorities to carry out their responsibilities under the Act.

Mr. Soames

The hon. Gentleman is overdoing it a bit. If local authorities have spent that money on something else, that is thoroughly reprehensible. It is true that we have taken a good deal of time to bring the proposals forward, but that is because we want them to be workable, efficient and effective. We want them to have the broadest effect throughout the industry. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall lay them before the House as soon as they are ready.

Mr. Fry

Bearing in mind the need for the utmost food safety and hygiene, is my hon. Friend aware that over-zealous local authority employees are preventing the provision of food in many church halls and village halls? That food has been served for many years without any evidence of illness and such prevention will cause concern, particularly to those who are able to buy food at a cheaper rate because it is provided by a charity. Surely we should reach a balance. We should not destroy the valuable service which many voluntary workers have given for many years.

Mr. Soames

My hon. Friend is correct. We have issued forceful guidelines to ensure that events such as church fetes and other charitable functions, which have always met the highest standards of food hygiene and for which voluntary workers go to a great deal of trouble to prepare food for other people, are considered low-risk events in food safety terms. Local authorities have far higher priority areas at which to target their resources. I assure my hon. Friend that we watch this matter carefully. Some of the reports have been exaggerated, but some are true and we shall keep a careful eye on the matter.