HL Deb 24 March 1938 vol 108 cc401-13

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill represents the third of a series of Bills dealing with local government and public health based on the work of a Departmental Committee which was appointed in 1929, originally under the Chairmanship of the late Lord Chelmsford and since his death under that of my noble friend Lord Addington, whose services we all desire to recognise. The House will recollect that the two previous Bills prepared by the Committee reached the Statute Book as the Local Government Act, 1933, and the Public Health Act, 1936. The latter of these covered the major part, but not the whole, of the public health law. The present Bill deals in the main with the law of food and drugs, but includes as well provisions relating to markets, slaughter-houses and cold-air stores.

As the Committee point out in their Report the existing law is now to be found in part in the Public Health Acts, in part in the Food and Drugs (Adulteration) Act, 1928, itself a consolidating measure, and in part in various Milk Acts dating from 1915. These enactments are directed to two distinct objects, the safeguarding of public health and protection of purchasers from fraud and deception. While the first of these objects is naturally the main concern of the Public Health Acts, a number of sections of the Adulteration Act of 1928 and the Milk Acts are also of a public health character, and the Committee accordingly came to the conclusion that there were substantial advantages in combining these various provisions in a single code. The terms of reference of the Committee were enlarged for this purpose, and the Bill now presented is not technically a Public Health Bill but is a Bill dealing with the subject of food and drugs in all its aspects except matters of weights and measures, for which provision is made in the Sale of Food (Weights and Measures) Act, 1926.

As the law relating to the adulteration of food is substantially the same in London as elsewhere, the present Bill, unlike its two predecessors, covers (with minor exceptions) the County of London, and for that purpose representatives of the London County Council, the Common Council of the City of London and the Metropolitan borough councils were made members of the drafting committee. The present Bill, which is not so long as either of its predecessors, consists of 102 clauses and four Schedules. Part I contains general provisions as to food and drugs and re-enacts the major part of the Adulteration Act of 1928, together with the provisions from the Public Health Act, 1875, dealing with the seizure and condemnation of unsound food. It also includes the very important power to make regulations with regard to the importation, preparation, storage, sale and delivery of food which are now conferred on the Minister of Health by the Public Health (Regulations as to Food) Act, 1907.

Part II deals with milk, dairies and artificial cream, and is, in the main, a reproduction of provisions from the Milk Acts of 1915 and 1922 and the Artificial Cream Act, 1929. Part III deals with certain other kinds of food, the most important being bread and flour. The existing law relating to bread and flour dates back, as regards London, to the Bread Act, 1822, and, as regards the rest of the country, to the Bread Act, 1836. These Acts are obsolete both in form and substance, and the question of their super-session has for some time been under consideration. Part IV reproduces provisions in the Adulteration Act of 1928 relating to importation offences, and Part V deals with the operation by local authorities of markets, slaughter-houses and cold-air stores. As regards markets and slaughter-houses, the existing law dates back to the Markets and Fairs Clauses Act, 1847, and it has been found possible to shorten and simplify it very substantially. Part VI contains the ordinary provisions for enforcement of legal proceedings. As in the case of the Public Health Act, 1936, a great simplification and shortening of the law will be effected by the Bill. The Schedule contains a list of thirty-four Acts which are wholly or partially repealed, starting from the Garbling of Spices Act, 1707. The 102 clauses of the Bill take the place of some 251 sections of the existing law.

It may be convenient to remind the House exactly what is the aim of this series of Bills. The terms of reference of the Departmental Committee require them to consider what amendments of the existing law are desirable for facilitating consolidation and securing simplicity, uniformity and conciseness. The Bill, therefore, combines consolidation with a limited amount of amendment. The details of the amendments made and the reasons which led the Committee to recommend them are set out fully in the Committee's Report, which contains in an appendix a note on every clause of the Bill. In this respect the procedure follows exactly the course adopted by the Committee in preparing their two previous Bills. The Government are satisfied that the procedure has proved satisfactory and acceptable and that the two measures which resulted from the previous Bills have proved of very substantial value to local government and public health administrators and to the public at large.

It is right that a Bill of this character should be subjected to a close scrutiny by Parliament, and, as before, the Government propose to invite the two Houses to appoint a Joint Select Committee to undertake a detailed examination of the clauses. The Bill is a non-Party measure, and it has been welcomed by the associations of local authorities (who are represented on the Departmental Committee) and by other important interests concerned including various trade bodies. It is scarcely necessary to add that, as has been said in connection with the two previous Bills, the aim is not to lay down a perfect code of law. To do so would involve some matters of acute controversy. The object of the Bill is rather to gather together in intelligible shape the law relating to food and drugs and thereby to provide a firm foundation and starting point for any necessary future legislation. Any attempt to include in the present Bill extensive amendments of the law, however desirable in themselves, would be foreign to its purpose and might well jeopardise its chance of reaching the Statute Book. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Gage.)


My Lords, I think this Bill will attract the general support of your Lordships' House, but I would like to draw attention, if I may—and I support the Bill wholeheartedly—to what I consider are very patent weaknesses in the Bill, and particularly in Clauses 8, 14, 15, 65 and, perhaps, 39. The Bill, as the noble Viscount has explained, deals with the subject in two aspects; one, to protect the public against commercial fraud—and that I am not going to deal with—and the other, to ensure, if possible, that the public should have clean food. That is not a matter of minor importance. I think one may say that we are to a great extent what we eat. There are two or three apparently trivial subjects which nevertheless are of great importance, not unconnected with the Bill—for example, cleanliness of bread and of milk and vegetables. Now that we are endeavouring to increase the fitness of our population we should use every effort in a Bill like this to see that the foods the people eat are as clean as possible.

There is in Clause 8 a paragraph requiring wrappers or containers for foods of various kinds to be labelled and the next paragraph prohibits or restricts the addition of any substance, and regulates the composition of food generally. Then the clause goes on to say, in subsection (2), that regulations shall not be made with respect to bread or flour. I am so new a member of your Lordships' House that I do not know whether I am in order in referring to a Bill which lately was given a Second Reading in another place. During the discussion on the Night Baking Bill some observations were made about what some may describe as the filthy manner in which some bread is delivered uncovered at householders' houses from a cart or a basket or by a boy's hand. I know there are sonic folks who seem to think it is a good thing that we should eat filthy food. That would apply to bread, because it is said that it teaches and enables our bodies to set up a protective system by which to overcome undesirable microbes. I do not like that idea at all. That is a repulsive view especially with regard to bread because bread is eaten uncooked and therefore not cleansed by fire or heat.

There should be in this Bill some provision that when bread or any food is delivered at the consumer's house it should be protected against insanitary handling. I have myself seen this happen in a street not far from where I live. I have seen a boy upset a barrow upon the handles of which was a basket containing uncovered bread. The bread, uncovered, was pitched into the roadway on a rainy day. I saw the boy pick up the bread, dust it with a green baize cover which had been over the basket and with his soiled sleeve and then put it back into the basket. I expostulated with the boy and asked him whether the bread was intended for my house. When I found that it was not intended for my house all I could do was to tell him that he ought to take the bread back to the shop and not deliver it to his customer. He looked at me in amazement to think that I should take objection to a normal state of affairs.

Your Lordships have only to go through any street in any city or town in England on any morning to see uncovered bread delivered and handled. No provision is made in this Bill for covering bread when it is being delivered. Meat is cooked before it is eaten, and thus some of the unpleasant microbes may be destroyed if anything has gone wrong in the butcher's shop. The omission to provide in this Bill for protecting the delivery of bread is, I think, a grave fault. I notice that recently when a question was asked in another place as to whether public authorities exercise to the full their powers under the Acts which have been passed to protect the public against insanitary conditions where certain foods eaten uncooked are concerned, the reply was given that if any evidence was produced of any specific case action would be at once taken. Any one can go as I did and see bread delivered or vegetables sold and there have evidence that public authorities are not taking the precautions which I submit should be taken with the people's food.

Again, I see nothing in this Bill about the delivery of milk. I think my noble friend did speak of milk as well as bread. We have seen in recent weeks considerable correspondence in the newspapers about the pasteurisation of milk and we have heard in this House discussions about the benefit of having milk made clean by pasteurisation and freed from contamination by microbes. Then I would say to my noble friend who has introduced this Bill that, although much trouble is taken to produce pasteurised milk and clean milk and also to see that the buildings in which milk is handled are whitewashed and that various sanitary requirements are complied with, yet when milk has been put into clean bottles it is left on the doorsteps of the houses, and any of us going through the street for our early walk, at seven o'clock in the morning, can see that the bottles are left on doorsteps or at area gates so that every dog and cat in the neighbourhood defiles them. Clean milk is provided, but it has to be poured out over the mouth of a bottle left outside the house and there defiled. It seems to me that we are straining at pasteurisation and swallowing filth.

Why is it that public authorities are allowed to overlook these matters in relation to uncovered bread and doorstep milk? We have, I think, improved the people's health by seeing that good milk is supplied. We have taught that cleanliness in milk conduces towards the reduction of tuberculosis in children. Yet all these efforts towards pure milk are cancelled by faults in doorstep delivery which renders bottle defilement possible. Who is it that shakes up, if I may use the expression, the local authorities to see that the powers that they have are put into operation? I note that Clause 15 (2) says: A local authority may at any time resolve that, as from such date, not being less than four weeks from the passing of the resolution, … this section shall apply within their district in relation to all kinds of food. … but this clause will be a dead letter unless there is in the Bill some compulsion to ensure that local authorities take these powers and, what is more, see that they operate their own by-laws. In the case of coal I think the London County Council and the Council of my native city do send round inspectors to see that people who buy coal from lorries get proper weight. I do not see any provision in this Bill for inspectors to go daily to see that food sanitary-requirements laid down in the Bill are put into operation after a by-law has been made. Who is to take the initiative? What provision is made in this Bill so that local authorities shall be compelled to pass by-laws? They are allowed an option to pass by-laws and that is all.

There is another matter which I think should be watched. Good vegetables play a medicinal part in the nourishment of the people. Vegetables which are sold in the small streets of great cities are often placed at the pavement level outside the shop and within my own actual knowledge are subject to contamination and defilement by dogs. That risk I think should be dealt with and the Bill should contain provisions giving power to local authorities to prevent shopkeepers allowing vegetables which are to be sold for food to be exhibited in any place or receptacle on the level of the pavement. Of late years we have realised that sound food is one of the necessities of hygienic life. We have taught people in my lifetime that the filthy habit of spitting cannot be allowed and it has been cured. I believe if a medical man were here to-day he would tell us that the curing of the public of that habit has in some degree contributed towards the very considerable fall in the death-rate from tuberculosis. Now we have to teach people that milk and bread and vegetables which are produced pure should be kept free from contamination after they have been dispatched for delivery. I hope my noble friend will take note of what I have said. These observations are about very simple things which are of very great importance to the health of the people, and the remedies are not difficult. I hope that when the Ministry of Health goes through this Bill it will give some attention to the points which I have presented to-day for your Lordships' consideration.


My Lords, as I had the honour of being Chairman of the two Joint Committees which sat to consider the two former Bills to which my noble friend who introduced this Bill referred, I may perhaps be allowed to say a few words. I would recall to your Lordships the somewhat peculiar procedure which has been adopted in regard to these Consolidation Bills, because they are really Consolidation Bills. The first one dealt with local government and the second with public health. They did, it is true, amend the law to a certain extent, but the Joint Committee, I think, under instructions, or at any rate following the wishes of your Lordships' House and the wishes of Parliament, confined the amendments which they recommended to the minimum. As I say, the Bills are Consolidation Bills but they do amend the law to a certain degree, and therefore they cannot be submitted to the Consolidation Committee as if they were wholly Consolidation Bills. As has been said in the debates which took place in your Lordships' House on the two other Bills or at any rate on one of them, we are very chary of combining consolidation with amendment, and exception was taken in the first instance to the procedure of amending in even a modified manner Bills which were merely intended to be Consolidation Bills. But if I may venture to say so, I think that the advantages which this procedure gives us outweigh the disadvantages, because when you get a large number of Bills of that kind—my noble friend enumerated Bills dating, I think, from the early eighteenth century—there must be anomalies and there must be certain amendments which modern conditions have foreshadowed as desirable to be introduced even into Bills which deal mainly with consolidation.

The difficulties I think are greatly minimised because, if those Bills go before a Joint Committee, as I understand my noble friend proposes they should do in the same manner as other Bills which are referred to the joint Committee, the procedure of a Joint Committee makes it possible to examine as a witness the draftsman of the Bill, the representatives of the Departments and also—and this is I think very important—to hear those who have observations to make or opposition to raise or any remark to bring forward upon clauses or points in the Bill. Secondly, the draft Bill is, as your Lordships see, accompanied by a very exhaustive Report made by the noble Lord, Lord Addington's Committee upon the whole question on each clause as it comes in the Bill. It has been in the past, and I imagine that it is the desire of your Lordships that it should be in this case, the duty of the Joint Committee to take very particular care to see that the amendments introduced in the Bill do not go beyond what is reasonable, necessary and proper to make the Bill a real explanation and consolidation of the existing law, and not go into deeper water, so to speak, and endeavour to amend the existing law in a drastic manner. That, I think your Lordships will agree, is better done by separate Bills dealing with each subject as it may come forward. That has been the procedure in the last two joint Committees, and I have ventured to explain it to your Lordships. As I said before, I had the honour of being Chairman of both of them, and I believe, as the noble Lord told your Lordships, that the results were not other than satisfactory.


My Lords, having had the honour to be Chairman of the Departmental Committee which drafted the Bill, might I be allowed to add a word or two regarding it? The criticisms which have been made recognise that we have not been able to make an ideal Bill or to bring in all the regulations regarding the cleanness of food which we should have liked to bring in. I would point out, however, that the three main regulations dealing with food—those under Clause 8 to which reference has been made—deal with the bulk of food. There are, however, two special sets of regulations, both for milk, which are found in Clauses 18 and 19. There are a large number of matters upon which the Minister may make regulations—Milk and Dairy Regulations, for example—and these include the distribution of milk, the sealing or closing of churns and other vessels, the display of the vendor's name and address, and the abstraction of fats. We have gone as far as we can, consistently with the present law, in this direction. Again, in the matter of bread, if your Lordships will turn to Clause 28 you will find a special lot of regulations there dealing with bread, and Clause 28 (e) allows regulations to be made for preventing danger to health from the importation, preparation, transport, storage, exposure for sale and delivery of bread or flour. In those clauses the noble Lord will find regulations which, to a large extent, cover the points he has raised. If I may deal with one other point: Clause 65 lays down very clearly that it is the duty of the food and drugs authority to enforce and carry out these specific sets of regulations.


May I ask the noble Lord one question? Who is it that puts these authorities to work? If the authorities are supine and do nothing, is there anything in this Bill to compel them to safeguard the cleanliness of food by putting into operation Clause 18 or Clause 65? It is left to them to do it or not as they wish, so far as I can see.


My Lords, it is all permissive. Might I ask the noble Viscount if I, also, might put a question? Was he going to wind up?


I was going to reply.


In that case, could I put a point before the noble Viscount speaks?




It is in regard to what the noble Lord, Lord Addington, said. As I read the Bill, I find myself once more, not for the first time, in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. All this is permissive, and there is nothing mandatory about it, in nearly every case. I just wanted to support what the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, says. This is why I want to speak before the noble Viscount, and I am very much obliged to him for allowing me to do so. With regard to this question of bread, it is a fact, of course, that our method of delivering bread in this country is absolutely uncivilised. All bread ought to be wrapped. In the United States it is, except in the remote backwoods. If your Lordships are ever in the United States, I advise you to patronise what are known as cafeterias." They are very clean and cheap places where people of all classes go. You find there the ordinary roll of bread wrapped in paper. The Americans would not eat bread at all as we have it, after it has passed through a dozen hands. I support entirely what the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, says on that point.

With regard to milk, Lord Mancroft gets up early enough to see the milk delivered. I have occasionally worked so late that I have arrived home with the milk, and on more than one occasion I have seen the milkman actually going round and refilling the dirty bottles from the day before. That practice ought to be prohibited. It is a disgraceful state of affairs. These bottles are supposed to be taken away and cleaned; I suppose that the decent dairy companies clean them properly, by steam or some other means, before refilling them, but certain milk roundsmen neglect to do that. As the noble Lord says, this is a grave menace to health and undoes all the good effects of the Milk Regulations. That is the sort of thing to which I suggest that the Government should turn their attention.

My last point is this. Clause 63, I venture to suggest to your Lordships, is very important. It empowers local authorities to provide cold storage. Again, of course, it is permissive. In view of the statement we have just heard from the Foreign Minister with regard to armaments, I want to put in a plea to have that clause strengthened, if possible, in different directions. I do not know if it is possible under this Bill, but I think it should be made the duty of the local authorities to store a certain amount of food as part of our scheme of national defence. Cold storage provides one of the means of doing that. Furthermore, that would be the policy that I would suggest to His Majesty's Government: to help the local authorities financially to provide cold storage, so that they can take advantage of certain foodstuffs which come in gluts.

The present Government's policy with regard to fish, for example, is to limit the supply. It would be far better to arrange cold storage at the fishing ports—and the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, has a great knowledge of this subject; he has written a standard work on herrings, I remember, which I read with great advantage—to enable the local authorities to take the gluts off the market and keep them in cold storage and distribute them to the poor people at reasonable prices. Fruit is another example. Certain types of food come in gluts, and if we could provide a simple, economic method to enable local authorities to keep these gluts in cold storage, every one would be advantaged. As I say, this clause relating to food storage is a very important one and might be made use of in relation to national defence. My noble friends have asked me to say that we welcome the Bill and support the Motion which will be moved to refer it to a joint Committee.


My Lords, I should just like to point out to the noble Lord opposite that his complaint is that this Bill is permissive only. The noble Lord says that he sees milk boys putting milk into dirty bottles. How are the local authorities to take action if they do not know what is going on? If the noble Lord did his duty as a good citizen he would at once inform the local medical officer of health. I do not think there is a single medical officer for health in the whole country who would not at once institute a prosecution. That is a punishable offence, and if the noble Lord, the next time he observes it, will inform his local medical officer of health and is willing to go into court, a conviction will follow.


I did report the matter at the time.


I think, my Lords, the fact has been lost sight of that the object of this Bill is to gather together in an intelligible shape the law relating to food and drugs, and therefore to provide a starting place, or foundation, for any new legislation that may be necessary. I said that we were consolidating certain matters of acute controversy, and I hope that I am not going to be expected to make observations on all the clauses on which controversy might be raised. Otherwise I may look forward to a somewhat preoccupied few weeks in front of me. The noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Burleigh, has dealt with the reflections on Lord Feversham's Department, which I do not think were justified, and as a member myself of a local authority I think it is quite absurd for anyone to believe that the instances brought forward were really sanctified by law. I do not wish, however, to go into chapter and verse for that. Any other matters which may properly be amended in this Bill will no doubt be attended to by the joint Committee to which I shall have the honour of moving that it he referred, if your Lordships give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a.


My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.

Moved to resolve, That it is desirable that the Bill be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament—(Viscount Gage.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Ordered, That a Message be sent to the Commons to communicate this Resolution and to desire their concurrence.