HL Deb 24 November 1953 vol 184 cc480-510

4.43 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill, which I think noble Lords will regard as one of considerable importance. In spite of its somewhat cumbersome Title, I hope that this Bill will be known popularly as the Clean Food Bill.

Conditions of life since the war have led to a great increase in the use of food prepared in factories, and in the variety of processes of food manufacture. The habit of "eating out" has also grown, and now extends over a wide range of people and places and prices. The principal Act, the Food and Drugs Act, 1938, useful though it is, no longer achieves its purpose of protecting the public from either the carelessness or the perfidy of human beings. The object of the new Bill is to strengthen the Act and to bring it up-to-date in two major respects. Both, I venture to think, will command the support of all parts of your Lordships' House. The first main object is to ensure a higher standard of cleanliness in places where food is prepared or handled, before it is sold over the counter or eaten in restaurants or canteens. Powers are also taken to control the disposal of food which is unfit for human consumption.

The 1938 Act attempts to lay down conditions and standards applicable to all food premises. But such premises, as your Lordships know, differ widely. We think a better way is for the Ministers of Food and Health to be given powers, which are set out in Clause 6 of the Bill, to make ad hoc regulations suited to the conditions of many different kinds of businesses and foods. Subsection (2) of Clause 6 gives the detailed proposals and subsection (3) deals with different kinds of businesses affected. The Bill also proposes that the present powers of registra- tion of premises, which cover only ice-cream, sausages and certain preserved foods, shall be extended to all premises where food is handled or stored. Clause 9 enables local authorities to make similar regulations for licensing hawkers and stall-holders. A start will be made with new hygiene regulations, and after that will come registration, beginning with premises where food infection is most likely to occur, such as catering establishments. The public have a right to protection in these ways, and in the highly competitive catering trade Government action will be welcomed by all good traders. It is as easy for a small firm as for a large one to attain proper standards of cleanliness. Indeed, the personal supervision and concern of the proprietor of a small family business perhaps makes it easier for him than for the large organisation, where personal touch and control is less easy.

The second main purpose of the Bill is to bring up to date the protection of the public against the use of substances and processes which are liable to render food injurious to health. There have been, as your Lordships are aware, remarkable developments in food manufacture during recent years. The scientist has become an important factor in this process. The chemist has become a usual factor on the staff of manufacturing concerns. The housewife has secured many advantages in the form of easy availability of prepared and preserved food. The hand that wields the can-opener receives many congratulations from untutored man for the high quality of meals prepared with obvious ease and speed. We have all experienced the pleasure of eating foods preserved for our use beyond their season of natural growth. Thus, food manufacturers have added much to the convenience and pleasures of life. They represent an honourable trade in which most exert themselves to produce a high standard of purity in their products. But all the contributions of science are not clear gain. In any trade there are some who are careless, some incompetent, and some not too scrupulous. The present laws on adulteration came from a cruder age when the treacherous trader mixed alum with his flour and sand with his brown sugar. In our own more inventive and complex age, it has become the more necessary to protect the public from those who, either from ignorance or greed, endanger the public health.

This Bill, in its first clause, seeks to do so by preventing the addition of any substance to food, or the abstraction of any constituent, or the use of any treatment in preparing food, which makes it injurious to health. The present law has proved inadequate in one respect in particular—that is, in dealing with the problem which is rather troublesomely described as chronic toxicity. This is dealt with in Clause 1 (5) of the Bill, which lays down that the cumulative effect of additions or subtractions, or ingredients or processes, must be taken into account when the possibility of injury to health is being thought of.

Clauses 1, 3 and 4, dealing with these matters, and with powers to obtain information about the composition of substances used in foods, are complicated. Your Lordships will, I know, want to discuss them in Committee in some detail. It suffices for me to say now that the Government is satisfied of the need for powers of regulation in these matters. We must preserve a balance in our minds between what is the good that science can give us and what are its dangers. Let us not be too much afraid of eating things because they are, or contain, chemicals, or because they have been preserved. In this island we depend on both for our existence. Chemicals have their uses: mankind has contrived to survive through many ages despite a heedless addiction to sodium chloride. For those of your Lordships whose education was confined to the classics, let me add that this is another name for common salt.

Fear of chemicals arises from ignorance of their meaning. Take, for example, calcium salts, added to bread during the war to safeguard children's teeth. I remember very well receiving a letter from a lady telling me that her husband was lying in agony on a couch, suffering from what she described as "stone." She said that it was directly resultant from the fact that I had been so unwise as to put calcium in flour. I was very sorry for her, but I had to write back and tell her that I hoped that her doctor would make a further examination, because I had only just announced that I was going to put calcium in the flour and that it would not be in for another two months. But there was the fear that had arisen in that poor, unfortunate woman's mind about the use of calcium.

The 1938 Act afforded some protection for the public against the use of inaccurate description or misleading advertisement by fraudulent traders. I refer to no known product when I give your Lordships as an example some product which might have been called, for instance, "Eggo," but which would be produced without any particular reference to a hen. Such a description on a label could be accurate and still misleading. There can be "large-sized fruit" on a label, but very little fruit inside the jar. It can also mislead by claims as to the nutritional or dietary value of the food it affects to describe. "Bristol cream" was, of course, not meant to mislead the public—but claims for vitamin content of some foods may, indeed, mislead them. There were provisions against such practices in the Defence (Sale of Food) Regulations, 1943, and these useful improvements have been written into Clause 5 of the Bill now before the House, incidentally making it possible for us to dispense with these Regulations. I am sure that advertising practitioners generally will welcome these provisions, because the misdemeanours of the unscrupulous reflect on the integrity of all advertisers.

May I now say a word about the machinery by which the provisions to which I have referred—necessarily rather briefly—will be put into effect? Broadly speaking, there will be administrative control of standards of food, hygiene and composition, from the centre, by way of regulation. It will then be for local authorities to execute and enforce these regulations. But also in Clause 13 (4) of the Bill, the Minister is given power to initiate proceedings where he is of opinion that the general interests of consumers are affected, as, for example, where a product is distributed nationally, or advertised nationally. I draw your Lordships' attention to the safeguards provided against too free an exercise of the regulation-making powers by the Ministers concerned. In the first place, they must not make regulations without first consulting all the interests involved. This is provided by Section 92 of the principal Act. Secondly, all regulations and orders must be laid before Parliament and may be annulled by Negative Resolution save as regards orders introducing the registration of premises for new trades, which are subject to Affirmative Resolution of both Houses. Finally, may I say that it is the intention to introduce in due course a Consolidating Bill to consolidate the principal Act of 1938 as amended, the Food and Drugs (Milk Dairies and Artificial Cream) Act of 1950, and the present Food and Drugs Amendment Bill. This Consolidation Act, I think, is essential for easy reference.

I have attempted to-day to do no more than lay before your Lordships the principal provisions of the Bill and the reasons that have actuated the Government in bringing it forward. In so far as legislation can hope to achieve the improved standards of cleanliness we all desire for the good of the people of this country, I believe that the Bill will commend itself to your Lordships' House. But, when all is done, very much remains in the hands of the individual in this country, either the individuals in trade as a purveyor, a caterer, or an employee, or the individual in the community at large. Especially is the opportunity given to the consumer to enforce higher standards by making more fuss when he meets with dangerous and disgusting practices and by withdrawing his patronage from the people who indulge in them. In so far as these things can be controlled by Parliament, however, we are determined to seek and to use powers to secure for the people the elementary advantage of clean and wholesome food. Thus, in Clause 23 of the Bill we have raised the maximum penalty for offences from £20 to £100, or three months' imprisonment. In subsection 3 of the same clause, an officer of a company proved to be responsible for an offence may be deemed to be guilty equally with the company itself.

I trust that we may have a wide measure of public support for this Bill. During the war I took and used some of the powers now in the Bill under regulations which were temporary, in order to protect the public from misleading statements and fraudulent products. The public approved, and will support the fact that we give permanency to these things in this Bill. I am glad to see that clean food associations have been formed in some areas, with traders, caterers, and the public, working in unison to raise standards. Mankind is subject to enough physical ills and suffering that are beyond our preventive capacity. We do not need to suffer from dirty food and its consequences. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

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

5 p.m.


My Lords, we on this side of the House gladly welcome this Bill, which we regard as a most important measure. It must be gratifying to the noble Viscount, who was such a distinguished Minister of Food during the war, to come back to his old love and to be responsible for introducing a measure of this kind, one which is capable of being fraught with so much benefit to the people of this country. The noble Viscount did not refer to the parentage of this Bill. It has, I may say, very respectable parentage. Most of it was drafted during the days of the Government which preceded the present one, and for that reason, if for no other, we give it a cordial welcome. Perhaps at the outset I ought to refer to one of our company, a noble Lord who has taken a great interest in this matter—I refer to my noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch. I will not go so far as to say that he can take responsibility for the introduction of this Bill, but he has from time to time urged a measure of this kind upon the Government, and he will be most gratified with this measure, although he considers that it is capable of certain improvement. He has asked me to say that he is unfortunately prevented by other important public duties from being here this afternoon, as he would have liked to be, to take part in the debate.

The noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, in the earlier part of his remarks, referred to the changing society in which we are living. Of course, it is perfectly true that, for a variety of reasons which I need not elaborate but which will be in the mind of every noble Lord who is here, conditions are changing so that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the housewife to prepare a normal meal at home, as was the custom in years gone by. More and more, whether we like it or not, we are all dependent upon food that is prepared outside which we have to buy, or upon food which we have to consume outside. In consequence, there are an increasing number of places where food is prepared or sold or consumed. Unfortunately, the general public of this country are most undiscriminating where questions of food are involved; they are probably less discriminating than any other people in the world. I sometimes feel that it is something which is psychological. It seems to be regarded as disgraceful to take too great an interest in the food we consume. Also, I think that the British public are very long suffering and patient when it conies to questions of food. I know that we are reputed to be a nation of grumblers, but certainly we do not grumble about the food we get in public places. I wish there were more grumbling, as the noble Viscount suggested: when foodis badly served or badly cooked, I wish people had the moral courage to say, "Take it away. I am not going to pay for it" But, in fact, people just meekly accept it; anal they not only pay for it but leave a tip as well, showing their gratitude.

From time to time, there have been outbreaks of food poisoning when considerable numbers of people have been affected, obviously as a result of something being added to the food. We are shocked for the moment, but the feeling soon passes. It reminds me very much of road accidents. I do not know whether the numbers of casualties which the consumers of food suffer are comparable with those caused by road accidents. There are some, of course, Who claim that the casualties from bad food are more than the casualties from road accidents. I am not in a position to say. But I am quite sure that the number of casualties from bad food is considerable and, while we seem to be becoming conscious of what is happening to us on the roads, we are not yet entirely conscious of the consequences of unclean or adulterated food. This Bill, and the speech which the noble Viscount has made, will, I hope, make the public rather more conscious because, as the noble Viscount very properly said, a good deal of the remedy is in the hands of the public themselves. This Bill constitutes a cautious, perhaps, but distinct step forward in the law for protecting the cleanliness, purity and wholesomeness of food sold in the shops.

The cleanliness of food is, of course, not a new problem. Apart from the methods of preparation, we have always suffered from carelessness in handling food. Noble Lords will, no doubt, have their own experience of the way in which you buy bread or meat. If you are lucky, you get your bread wrapped up in an old newspaper. Sometimes I have known a shopkeeper say, "You must produce your own newspaper. We do not supply the newspaper." Quite often—I do not say that this is universal, but quite often—the bread is handled and supplied without any wrapping at all. So far as meat is concerned, it is a normal thing, apparently, to wrap up meat in old newspapers—certainly not in up-to-date ones. They seem to keep old newspapers expressly for the purpose of using them for the wrapping of meat. The same applies to other products, and the amount of manhandling by people who are not particular to wash their hands frequently must at times make for toxic conditions in the food. That sort of thing is very much in the hands of the public themselves. If the public refuse to put up with it, the shopkeepers will soon feel obliged to provide hygienic methods of handling their food.

The same applies to the exhibition of food. I was recently in Switzerland, and if any noble Lords happen to find themselves in Switzerland over the Recess I recommend them to look at a few butchers' shops and see the way in which the meat is handled there—I should not say "handled": it is wrapped up in the most hygienic condition. It is put in the windows in appetising form and it gives one the feeling, which I believe is fully justified, that the utmost care is taken over the cleanliness of the food which is sold. The same applies to the United States of America. I admit that many butchers' shops have improved considerably in the last few years, but there are still far too many in the old condition, where the meat is manhandled over and over again; customers are allowed to feel it and examine it, and eventually the poor buyer gets the result of the manhandling not only of the assistant but also of many other people.

Then we have the chemicals which are, applied to food. I agree with the noble Viscount that not all chemicals are bad. The trouble is to distinguish between those that are bad and those that are not. It seems to me that there is a growing attack on the purity of our food by the addition of synthetic chemicals of all kinds, for all sorts of purposes. There is the extender which blows out food and makes it look bigger than it really is. There is the emulsifier, which is a substitute for fats, milk products and eggs. It is not misleading; it is not called "Eggo," it is called an emulsifier. But the object is to use chemicals, instead of the wholesome products which people expect. It is used mostly in baking, in ice-cream and in salad-dressing.

Then there are the bleachers. One of the chemicals used in bleaching is sulphur-dioxide. Last week we had a discussion on smog, on the amount of sulphur-dioxide one absorbs during a period of smog and the harm that it does. But, in fact, in addition to smog, we consume sulphur-dioxide frequently when we eat maraschino cherries, which are often bleached with that chemical to make them of the right colour. Then there is the flavouring agent, the sweetening agent, the preserving agent, the preservatives and all kinds of other chemicals which are used in the preparation of food. The action on the human body of any one of those chemicals is problematical, but you may get in food a combination of these chemicals, with the possibility of action, interaction, reaction and so on. I do not want to exaggerate the dangers but they do exist, and they are increasing. Therefore, I am glad that power is taken to deal with these various preservatives in a more stringent way than has been the case in the past.

There is one clause in the Bill, Clause 2 (I do not want to enlarge upon it at this moment, because we shall have an opportunity of discussing it on the Committee stage) which puts upon the purchaser or upon the authority taking proceedings the onus for proving that these additions to food are harmful. I admit that I am in some difficulty about this because it is the normal thing that if you accuse a person of committing an offence, the onus of proof is on you. Nevertheless, there are exceptions, and I should have thought that this was one of the exceptions which ought to be considered, because it is difficult for the ordinary layman to prove that certain things have been added which are injurious. I think that if a person adds a chemical to a food, the onus ought to be on him to show that it is not injurious. I do not want to develop that point further at this stage. It is one of the points which might well be dealt with in Committee. I am glad that the Bill contains provision in regard to the cumulative effect of various additions to food. It is right that that should be so. It is possible to take a certain amount of chemical without its doing any harm, yet the cumulative effect may be serious.

I have but one or two criticisms of the Bill in form. I have no criticism at all of the intention of the Bill; as I have indicated, I think it is a very good Bill, and if it were implemented it would mark a great step forward in securing good and pure food for our people. But all these beneficent provisions are, as the noble Viscount has pointed out, permissive. I have no complaint about dealing with the matter by regulation. I might have had, because when noble Lords now sitting opposite were sitting here, they were constantly complaining about legislation by regulation. But I recognise that it is inevitable in a measure which is already sufficiently complicated, that, on the whole, the legislation should be by regulation. The whole Bill, however, is permissive, and we have little indication as to how and when the Government propose making these regulations, or what kind of regulations they are to be. If it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to go forward vigorously and energetically, and as speedily as may be, having regard, of course, to the fact that consultations have to take place; if the noble Viscount in replying says that, while the Bill says "may," in fact he is prepared to regard it as meaning "shall as soon as may be," then I shall be satisfied. But as the Bill stands, it is left in a vague and uncertain form, and all these excellent intentions may never be carried out.

Certainly, I should like to know whether it is the intention of the Government to deal with restaurants. In restaurants, canteens, and other public eating places, an increasing amount of food is consumed, and I find it a little difficult to know whether restaurants are intended to be included under this Bill. I understand that they are, but I should be glad to have an assurance. I wonder whether the Government would agree to put in the Bill something which would make it clear beyond any doubt that it is their intention to cover restaurants.


Will it help if I say that that certainly is our intention, and we think it is covered? It is intended to be covered by Clause 6 (1) which says: The Ministers may make such regulations as appear to them to be expedient for securing the observance of sanitary and cleanly conditions and practices in connection with the sale of food for human consumption or the importation, preparation, transport, storage packaging, exposure for sale, service or delivery of food intended for sale.… It is certainly our intention to cover restaurants, but if the noble Lord is not satisfied that the word "preparation" does cover it, we should welcome his suggestions on the Committee stage.


I am glad to have the assurance. I am a little doubtful whether it covers restaurants, and I think the noble Viscount himself, as he read the clause, felt some doubt; but at any rate it is not necessary to leave the matter in doubt. While we are passing this Bill we can make quite sure, without a peradventure, that we are covering what we intend to cover.

Then the noble Viscount said (and I was very glad to hear it) that it is the intention of the Government to consolidate this Bill with he two earlier Acts of which this is an amendment. I hope that will be done very soon because to interpret this Bill in conjunction with the two principal Acts is an almost impossible task. Almost every one of the first dozen clauses provides for amending one or other of the principal Acts in one form or another. Then we have a whole Schedule of, I think, some five or six pages, which contains amendments to one of the principal Acts—almost every section of it. In the Second Schedule there are twenty-seven separate amendments to the principal Act. The Third Schedule repeals a large number of sections of the principal Acts. Hardly a section of one of the principal Acts remains unaffected by the combined operation of these three processes. If I may be greatly daring, I would suggest that it would be a great convenience if we could have, even for the Committee stage, a draft showing what the 1938 Act and the 1950 Act will look like with these amendments, or what this Bill would look like when incorporated with the 1950 Act. I remember that when I was responsible for the Town and Country Planning Bill in 1947 we had the same problem, because we were making great amendments to the earlier planning Acts, and we did provide, for the convenience of Parliament, something of that kind. If the noble Viscount would be kind enough to examine that, he might find it a very useful precedent.

Some of these criticisms are perhaps inevitable at the moment. I am not prepared to ask the Government to re-cast this Bill and make it a different kind of Bill, one which is not legislation by reference. I suppose that, at some time or other, we have all complained about legislation by reference. I think this is perhaps the worst example of any I have come across. It is unintelligible to most people without most careful study, and unless they have the other two Acts in front of them. Yet I do not see a remedy except that of putting before us something of the kind which I have suggested. As for the other provisions of the Bill, those dealing with machinery and so on, they will, of course, have to be carefully examined in Committee. And I can promise the House that they will be so examined, but not with any unfriendly intent. We on this side of the House are as anxious as noble Lords on the other side to get the Bill passed at the earliest possible moment, and we shall facilitate its passage in every possible way.

5.24 p.m.


My Lords, it seems to me fitting that one of my profession should utter words of welcome to this Bill. Indeed, it is very gratifying to see that definite action is now being taken, or rather being proposed. At the same time, I should like to congratulate the noble Viscount who has moved the Second Reading on the opportunity he has of seeing some of his ideals carried to fruition. I should further like to thank him for the ready way in which, when he was Minister of Food, he received suggestions from my profession—indeed, on some occasions from myself—and for the immediate way in which he responded to those which appealed to his judgment. Naturally the parts of this Bill that appeal to me are those designed to deal with misleading labels and advertisements, those imposing requirements and those which are to regulate the additions of specified chemicals. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, dealing with the legal niceties of the measure, complained that it was unintelligible. To me the main purpose of the Bill seems perfectly intelligible, and I cannot see that it could be stated more clearly, except in regard to one point which also puzzled Lord Silkin. He could not find out whether the Bill referred to restaurants. Neither could I until the noble Viscount made his introductory speech, and then he quite readily included them. In trying to justify his inclusion of them, he quoted the first paragraphs of Clause 6 but omitted a word from which I derive some comfort. I thought the clause showed that restaurants would be included when it made reference to "service"—not to the preparation of but to the service of food.


I take it that the noble Lord will not object to mention being made of restaurants.


No. I was merely trying—very inadequately, no doubt—to help the noble Viscount. I think it would be an advantage if it were clearly stated in the Bill that it does apply to catering establishments. In Clause 6 there are references to the provision, maintenance and cleanliness of sanitary and washing facilities, apparatus, furnishings and utensils, but there is no reference to the personnel. I realise that it is extremely difficult to ensure that the workers will be cleanly, not only in themselves but in their clothing and so on, but it is a matter of first importance, and it has been treated as a matter of considerable importance in the Factory Acts. When I was a boy, I saw the conditions which prevailed in the Potteries. Lead-poisoning was quite common, and legislation was introduced requiring the pottery manufacturers to provide washing facilities, particularly for cleansing the mouth and teeth, but it was not by any means easy to get the workers to make use of those facilities. I can well imagine that that may be a very difficult thing to legislate for.

It has been suggested that the members of the public themselves can be a big controlling influence in imposing the adoption of cleanly methods by those who serve them with food. That is true. But the public are not particularly well-informed on the requirements which this Bill, or regulations under it, will demand. Nor are they necessarily well educated in what is the correct way of handling food. In this connection, I should like to call the attention of the noble Viscount to the voluntary association with which I have the honour to be connected. The Order of St. John has, for some time, through the St. John Ambulance Association, been giving courses of instruction to the public. There are courses designed specially for those who handle food, and they are taught hygienic ways of dealing with it. I hope that when the time comes that this Bill passes into law and regulations are framed, every encouragement will be given to this voluntary association to continue and extend their courses of instruction so that the public shall be fully informed upon these matters.

5.30 p.m.


My Lords, I am very glad to have the opportunity of speaking on the occasion of the Second Reading of this Bill, because I believe that it will prove, with some Amendments, a very valuable safeguard of the national health. There are some Amendments—small ones—which must inevitably be made. There is no doubt that, on the whole, this Bill is a considerable advance on the present legislation, which came into existence in 1938. I should like to quote the opinion of a highly competent and well-informed correspondent of mine regarding the Bill. He states: The Bill is potentially designed to meet the practical difficulties which have arisen in the operation of the Food and Drugs Act, l938, and in this, by and large, it appears to have succeeded. The Bill does include very many of the suggestions which have been made by the Society of Medical Officers of Health from time to time to the Ministry of Food. The Bill also includes extensions to the powers by which the Ministries of Health and Food may by regulation invest food and drug authorities. After carefully examining this Bill which, from the medical point of view, largely deals with public health, I feel it is essential to have an extension of the number of regulations. I hope the noble Viscount will not think he can do everything in the actual wording of the Bill I think more regulations, not fewer, will be required, and their purpose should be to make abundantly clear to those wino are to carry out the work of inspection and to keep clean places where food is sold or dealt with, what they have to do. It is necessary to have the regulations written out in plain English so that they can be clearly understood.

The main purpose of the Bill is to bring legislation up to date. There have been changes in social habits since 1938. There have been great changes in the way food is prepared, in the kind of food we are consuming, and in the incomes of the people. A large number of people have more money than they used to have and many more people eat out in restaurants—not all of them, by any means, luxury restaurants. In this connection, it is important to take cognisance of the various provisions laid down in Clause 6. This clause replaces Section 13 of the 1938 Act, under which local authorities did most of the work connected with the hygiene of premises where food was sold or stored, or prepared for sale. The old Section 13 was in rather general terms and there were widely differing applications due to the many interpretations of those terms. Clause 6 of the present Bill empowers the Ministers to make regulations going into much greater detail as to the standards of the premises, or parts of premises, in which apparatus andutensils are cleaned. The provision, maintenance and cleanliness of sanitary and washing facilities, and all apparatus, furnishing and utensils, will also be the subject of regulations. I think it will be necessary to have more regulations because the habits of the people demand apparatus on a much larger scale for dealing with the complicated way in which people of all classes live.

There is one point with which I am not sure we can deal by regulations, although we may make them. In food shops and in all places that deal with the distribution of food, it is necessary to have a higher standard of personal cleanliness among those who handle the foodstuffs. I believe that can come only from health education and training. I do not know if the noble Viscount will be able to say whether it will be possible to take any steps to promote such education. At the present time, there may be people in well-equipped shops handling very good food whose own cleanliness may not be as great as it ought to be.

This Bill is welcomed by the health authorities and by the Society of Medical Officers of Health which represents the men who have most to do with the administration of the regulations concerning public hygiene and health. I hope the Bill will be given a Second Reading and that it will pass in another place as a useful piece of legislation affecting health and the prevention of disease. The Bill also deals with drugs, but to a much smaller extent than with the hygienic handling of food. I think we can have a very useful Committee stage on this Bill, when a number of matters can be gone into in detail. I hope that the noble Viscount will be open to suggestions which may be made from all quarters of the House, because this cannot be described as a political measure. It is chiefly an administrative measure, one in which we can all agree to co-operate, because it will be for the general good that this should be the best Bill possible when it becomes an Act.

5.38 p.m.


My Lords, last week's Punch asks whether we prefer lovely food and filthy kitchens or awful food and spotless kitchens. This Bill is the answer of Her Majesty's Government to that conundrum. In the last few days I have received a good many letters from trade associations about this Bill. On making inquiries, I find that the Bill became available to the public only on the thirteenth of this month. I would humbly ask the Government whether they would give a little time before the Committee stage is taken in order that the various trade associations who are bound to consider this Bill rather carefully have sufficient time to digest it. I am sure that would save time in the long run.

The Bill imposes wide duties and gives enormous powers to the Ministers. I might almost say, from the speeches we have already heard, that the Ministers have pretty well carte blanche to deal with this question. It might be worth while to go into the facts of the problem we have to deal with so far as they are disclosed in Government reports. In the course of a year the Caterers' Association, which has written to me, tell me they sell some 10,000 million meals to the public. In the report of the Chief Medical Officer of the Ministry of Health, for the twenty-one months from April 1, 1950, to December 31, 1951, it is shown that there were 255 outbreaks of food poisoning which were traceable. Of those, 41 occurred in hotels, restaurants and cafes, and 31 in works canteens. The other day the Minister gave the figures for the first nine-and-a-half months of this year. Out of 700 traceable outbreaks, 27 occurred in hotels, restaurants and cafes and 17 in works canteens. I think that goes some way to answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, about the extent of cases of traceable food poisoning. When I read the Bill, I asked myself whether we were not making an enormous machine to deal with a comparatively small affair.

Clauses 3 to 9 inclusive deal with the power of the Minister to make regulations, and the trade associations, while they welcome the Bill on the whole, express some fear as to the extent to which the Minister will exercise his power. Clause 3, and the provisions as to the composition of food, might well put birds nest soup or Chinese eggs off the menu. Clause 5 contains regulations about the description of food. I feel that that is a good thing; but I see that my noble friend Lord Webb-Johnson is here, and I am certain he will agree with me that a description of food, like "Guinness is good for you," itself is sauce for the Guinness and helps the Guinness to be good for you. Clause 5 (3) might possibly be carried too far. Some of the people who have written to me suggest that the provisions as to food hygiene contained in Clause 6 (2) (f) might extend to forbid alfresco meals and picnics, or, at least, might prevent the serving of meat at such meals. I am sure the Minister will not make regulations of that sort, but, at the same time, I feel it would be a good thing if some word of encouragement or comfort were given to these people. Then they say that under Clause 4 the Minister is empowered to call for the recipe of any dish that appears on any menu. That might be carrying the matter too far. What I have said is not hostile to the Bill, but it does show how wide are the powers conferred by it, and I believe the public would like some information as to the extent to which it is proposed to use these powers.

There is one point which I am bound to say causes me a little concern—namely, the question of the double Ministry. I expect the reason for two Ministers being concerned in this Bill, whereas in the original Act there was only one, is that we still have the Ministry of Food, which everybody hopes will disappear. The difficulty, however, seems to me to be that, if any member of the public is aggrieved and tries to get to the Minister, the highest effective person he will be able to get to, under the system which appears to be intended by the Bill, will be that officer whose duty it is to co-ordinate the work of the two Ministers—unless he were to procure an interview with the two Ministers at one time. It seems to me that some information about that point would be helpful.

Some people are rather troubled that under the original Act the consent of the Minister had to be obtained to any prosecution that was undertaken, whereas in this Bill that provision is apparently waived. I should like to know whether the Government consider that provision unnecessary, or whether they would consider including it in the present Bill. Those are the points I have been asked to put forward. The only one about which I am particularly concerned is that the Committee stage should not be taken too quickly. The people who will be concerned with this Bill, when it becomes an Act, are numerous, and they ought to have a chance of letting your Lordships know what are their considered views of this measure.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join with noble Lords who have spoken in this debate in congratulating the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, on introducing this Bill, which aims to put on our tables better food that is, food the character of which has not been altered in any way that is injurious to health by the addition of inorganic substances or by processing. As one who has had the advantage of speaking from time to time to your Lordships on such matters, I would pay a sincere tribute to the noble Viscount for the sympathetic way he has always listened to any suggestion that has been put forward at different times in your Lordships' House touching these matters. In these days, when circumstances call upon us all to be ever more active, both mentally and physically, since without this we cannot survive as a nation, the importance of our getting the right food cannot be over-emphasised.

As noble Lords have stated, in the immediate past there has been an increasing tendency to add to food various substances which appear to achieve an immediate advantage in handling or keeping, without considering the long-term influence of such substances on the national health. As your Lordships will remember, that eminent medical authority, Sir Edward Mellanby, one-time Secretary of the Medical Research Council, has for years been pointing out tie dangers that may arise from food manipulation. The conclusions reached by the Medical Research Council, when he was Secretary, as to the effects of agenised bread were immediately taken note of by the Government of the United States of America, which excluded the use of agene as an improver. How different was tie view of His Majesty's Government of that day! Not long ago, in 1951, I think, Sir Edward Mellanby stated: The present apparent official complacency to the ingestion of agenised flour in this country is disturbing not only in itself but because it indicates a reluctance to consider seriously the wider problem of chemical manipulation of food and its relation to health aid disease. The chemical manipulation of food may well be the basis of some of these errors in living that are undoubtedly developing at the present time, and the problem requires investigation. The noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, by the introduction of this Bill, has shown how different is the view of Her Majesty's Government in regard to these problems, than was the case several years ago. In the Bill, the words "rendered injurious to health" appear a number of times. Surely a definition is required of these words. An application to the Ministry of Food leads one to the assumption that the various local authorities will have to apply their own interpretations, since it is they, presumably, who will have to enforce the Bill when it becomes an Act. Surely, it would be better for a specific definition to be incorporated in the Bill to avoid the wide divergence of practice that is otherwise bound to arise. With regard to the question of labelling, of which a good deal is said in the Bill, there is immense room for improvement here. For instance, "full fruit standard" jam bears no relation at all to the product that "mother used to make," which was a product of fruit and sugar, since it often contains only 20 per cent. of fruit, and that preserved with benzoic acid or sulphur dioxide, and not less than 68 per cent. of soluble solids, presumably sugar, pectin and various synthetic colours and flavours. Such a title, therefore, as "full fruit standard" is entirely misleading, and I hope that in these new circumstances before us it will be abolished.

May I take another example, that delightful product which we sometimes get, meringue, which is, or rather should be, entirely a white of egg and sugar product. To-day, as was recently pointed out by the City analyst of Birmingham, it is no such thing at all; it is, instead, a vulgar, synthetic impostor, made of a mixture of methyl cellulose, an artificial product made from cotton which has a superficial resemblance to white of egg but no food value, to which has been added an allied substance, ethyl methyl cellulose, together with potato starch just to round it off. Strange to say, this vulgar fantasy was approved by the Ministry of Food. I suggest that the Bill does not give the Ministers sufficient power to prohibit the use of substances or processes which may have a deleterious effect on health. I suggest, therefore, that when we come to the Committee stage Clauses 2 and4 require considerable modification, so as to remove the possibility of manufacturers, or packers, of food products or substances added thereto, from sheltering behind any bad habits of the past—as, for example, the fact that such substances were commonly used in the preparation of food before January 1, 1940.

Clause 10 (1) (b) of the Bill refers to …prohibiting the sale for human consumption of milk obtained from cows milked in any market or other place… As I understand it, the inclusion of the words "other place" would surely prohibit such admirable ventures as the milking of cows in the recent Festival of Britain agricultural section. At a time when the Milk Marketing Board are to have their freedom of action restored, it is surely ludicrous that their hands should be tied so as to prevent their carrying out such an excellent piece of propaganda.

As I said before, when we discuss food in your Lordships' House we always think of the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, to whom we all owe so deep a debt of gratitude for the remarkable work he did during the war as Food Minister, and I congratulate him in sponsoring this Bill. I have every confidence that the noble Viscount will give the most sympathetic consideration to the questions that your Lordships and I have submitted, since no one recognises better that the health of our nation cannot receive too much thought. As your Lordships are aware, in certain aspects it gives rise to justifiable anxiety. It has been said by some eminent biologists and medical men that the main reason for poor health in our country is the number of toxic elements in our food. The most important question of all—which, rather surprisingly, is not specifically mentioned in the Bill—is the health of the children, and to this matter more attention should be given.

In conclusion, there is a startling increase in the degenerative diseases, and these degenerative diseases should be carefully considered, particularly when they are noticed in the forty-five to fifty age group. For instance, the incidence of killing cancer in men has increased by 56 per cent.; of strokes in men by 45 per cent.; of strokes in women, by 27 per cent.; of angina and thrombosis in men, by 175 per cent.; of angina and thrombosis in women, by 80 per cent.; of high blood pressure in men, by 195 per cent., and of high blood pressure in women, by 550 per cent. All these significant figures are based on the datum line of the 1940–1950 average figures. These figures have been compiled by Doctor Bicknell, Chairman of the Food Education Society, of which my noble friend Lord Horder is President. I submit that they emphasise how vitally important it is that the food on our tables should be the natural product, free from the adding and extracting ministrations of the food chemists, and treated with great discretion by the refrigeration and processing technicians.

5.56 p.m.


My Lords, I feel bound to intervene for two minutes, having devoted a good part of my life to this subject of food production and the purity and non-sophistication of natural foods. I should like warmly to endorse what my noble and ever-active friend Lord Sempill has said on two subjects. First, I rejoice to find that the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, has charge of this Bill, because I think we must all be agreed that we have never had a more efficient Minister of Food than he proved to be during the war, or one in whom the general public had greater confidence. On the other subject, which I quite expected my noble friend Lord Sempill to mention—what he called the agenisation of bread—I can only venture to hope, as there is obviously much difference of opinion won the justification of this particular ingredient or mode of so-called "improvement" of bread, that this matter is still being persistently explored by experts, with a view to our having a greater confidence in its use or the possibility of its disappearance altogether in days to come.

I wish to refer to this question of street barrows. I view with horror the exposure on street barrows of certain foods which are particularly susceptible to infection—I refer particularly to fruit, including apples. I happen to be a large grower of apples, and I think fruit growers generally take great care as to the quality and cleanliness of the fruit which they put upon the market. I have seen apples being sold in the streets of London without any protection. Bear in mind that they are particularly susceptible to ferments and enzymes which rapidly make use of any germs that there may be in the streets. I have seen people, obviously suffering from influenza, or from some other pulmonary trouble, coughing over apple stalls in the streets. Those apples are without any sort of covering, often owing to their attractiveness. Incidentally, apples sell more readily for their appearance than their flavour. However that may be, many of those apples, duly impregnated with germs, find their way into the bodies of many human beings—with what morbid results I dread to think.

There is another matter about which I wish to speak—one which has exercised the county medical officers of health in this country for many years, and is still exercising the Medical Officer of Health in my own county: I refer to the question of the non-adulteration of milk. I know perfectly well—and the noble Viscount will tell me so presently—that milk is in most respects excluded from the provisions of this Bill, having already been dealt with in the 1950 Act. What I object to is the fact that there still remains, if I remember aright, and if I am not misinformed, what was called the "appeal to the cow" as to whether milk has, or has not, been watered. I have never yet met a medical officer of health who has not protested against that provision, which I believe occurs in the Food and Drugs Act of several years ago, as being unfair to the public. After all, let us make no bones about it, milk can be diluted through the body of the cow. I do not think anyone has ever refuted that suggestion. I am going to be perfectly plain; perhaps the most popular breed in this country is the British Friesian breed. There is no breed that has improved itself so much as the British Friesian. In old days, it gave what we farmers used to call "blue milk"; and often that milk fell below the statutory limit of 3 per cent. butter fat. The answer, when that happened, was always: "Well, the appeal is to the cow"; and if it could be shown that the cow did, in fact, yield milk of less than 3 per cent. butter fat, there was no misdemeanour on the part of the producer. I think the time has come—if not in this Bill, at any rate in that consolidating measure to which Lord Woolton has referred—that we should once for all get rid of that "appeal to the cow" as being unfair to the consuming public, and particularly unfair to those of us who do cur best to produce high quality milk.

There is one small matter which I should like to mention. Dispensing chemists and druggists are rather apt, when they receive a doctor's prescription, to paste a label on the container over the name of the drug. A great many of these proprietary drugs, of considerable value, are being dispensed for the public at the present time; and that chemist's label covers up not merely the name of the drug but also, what is so important, the formula of its composition. I should like to see it made illegal to put those labels over the name of the drug. One other point is this. Clause 5 (2) of the Bill says: It is hereby declared that for the purposes of the said section six, a label or advertisement which is calculated to mislead as to the nutritional or dietary value of any food is calculated to mislead as to the nature, substance or quality of the food. That provision will be extremely difficult to enforce. I do not see for the life of me how any regulation that is drafted is likely to be brought into actual effect.

I want to mention, in connection with that, an interesting parallel. Forty years ago exactly, when I was in another place, I got set up a Select Committee (on which I served), on patent and proprietary medicines. What we found, amongst other things to which I strongly objected, was that certain journals—and the newspaper people, including the British Medical Journal, were at fault—allowed advertisements to be inserted actually "booming" remedies for incurable complaints. One result of that, of course, was that the law has been strengthened in that respect. I venture to mention that case only because the amount of advertisement that one sees to-day, "booming" various foods and synthetic preparations as likely to enhance health, or, shall I say, to improve general being, is enormous. Such advertisements are very prevalent; and many poor ignorant people, of the type to which my noble friend Lord Webb-Johnson has referred—and, indeed, the general public as a whole—are grossly ignorant about these matters: far more so than people in many of the new countries, particularly New Zealand, where in most of the schools the young people are trained to these matters. I hope your Lordships will forgive me for butting into this debate, but these are important matters with which I have had a great deal to do over many years.

6.7 p.m.


My Lords, I will not detain you for many moments but I should like to support this Bill. If I may have the impertinence to use almost the same words as the noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, used in his introductory remarks, I should like to call it a "Clean Food Bill." I hope the public at large will get to know this Bill fully. I look upon this as a very important matter, but as many noble Lords who have spoken before me have covered most of the points which I was going to talk about, I will say only that I look upon this Bill from the point of view of how the local authorities are going to administer it. I consulted the public health officials of a local authority as to what view they take of it. I found they looked upon it with considerable favor. I am informed that they had difficulty under the existing regulations in exercising their powers; they found these powers somewhat awkward and cumbersome at times. Under the proposals of this Bill, however, local authorities will be enabled to exercise these powers much more simply and quickly. I am very glad to hear this, because most local authorities in this country are only too keen to see that all food establishments, however large or small, in whatever category, are properly run and that the food reaches the public as it should do. With these few words I should like to welcome this Bill very much and to support its Second Reading.

6.9 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Viscount a question on a matter which is of great and of increasing importance to the agricultural industry of this country. The noble Viscount will be aware from his knowledge of the work of both the Food Ministry and the Ministry of Agriculture, from the time when he was their overlord and from knowledge derived from those days during, the war when he prodded me very successfully into increasing the output of milk, that we are now almost within sight of a glut of milk in this country, involving consequent considerable trouble for Lord Carrington's boss, the Minister of Agriculture. I have just returned from a brief visit to the United States, where their problem is very much the same; but they have extended very largely the markets for milk and its byproducts, and have thereby prevented a drop in the average consumption of milk per head of the population. I venture to think that something similar will have to be done in this country.

Undoubtedly, one of the valuable food products of milk is cream. The making and selling of cream, free from control, has only recently been permitted, but its further use is at present definitely circumscribed by the manufacturers of ice-cream. These manufacturers, as no doubt all your Lordships will remember, were hampered during the war by the absence of milk and milk products, and with considerable skill and ingenuity they devised alternative methods of making what goes by the name of ice-cream. The natural cream content of that ice-cream is negligible, if, indeed, there is any at all. I should like to know particularly whether the noble Viscount thinks that Clause 5 (2) will enable him to take steps, and whether if it does so enable him he will take steps, to prevent the use of the word "cream" to cover anything except the natural product of the cow.

I do not disguise from your Lordships that it is going to be no easy task. He is going to be up against extremely strong vested interests. There is one very large combine that makes a particular type of ice-cream, and there is another combine, almost equally powerful, that makes ice-cream under another trade name. In the United States there is a legal prohibition against selling anything under the name of "cream" unless it is made practically exclusively from the product of the cow. That, I venture to think, is a matter of supreme importance to the future of the agricultural industry. The noble Lord, Lord Sempill, quoted the case of a methyl cellulose, which is used to produce an imitation of the white of eggs in meringue; but I am told on good authority that it is also used in imitation cream in the cream bun and the cream puff which is sold in some of the cheaper restaurants throughout the country. As the noble Lord said, this cream puff, so far as it contains methyl cellulose, contains no nutriment whatever. Therefore, I should like to ask the noble Viscount whether he thinks that this clause will enable him to bring in a prohibition of that kind, and furthermore whether, when he does get this Bill through—and I hope it will pass fairly soon—he will give the matter his earnest consideration, in spite of the vested interests that I know he is going to find himself up against.

6.13 p.m.


My Lords, the noble Viscount who has just sat down enables me to put my question definitely. He has been talking about food that is not food and yet comes within the ambit of the Ministry of Food, so far as regulations are concerned. The question I wanted to put was whether this Bill will apply not only to restaurants, as we have been assured, but to bars and public-houses where drink is sold, because I am quite sure that a good deal of cleaning up could be done in respect of the supply of a commodity which comes within the charge of the Ministry of Food but which, in my judgment, is not food. The noble Viscount who is just about to reply will remember that, when he was wrestling with these problems at the Ministry of Food during the war, drink came within his jurisdiction, to some extent. I inquire whether the sale and service of this commodity, which I hesitate to say has any food value—it is almost a complete fiction to talk about drink as having a food value; yet it comes within the charge of the Ministry of Food—also conies within the terms of this Bill.


My Lords, perhaps I had better set the mind of the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, at rest straightaway on the subject of drink. The Bill does apply to all drink, except water, and you will notice that in Clause 28 the definition for the purposes of the Bill is clearly given. I am sure it will give the noble Lord much satisfaction to know that. My noble friend Lord Hudson has put a question to me and he will not be surprised when I say that I should like to give a provisional answer and not to commit my right honourable friend the Minister of Food. But my reading of the Bill was quite definite. I should have said that Clause 5, subsection (2) and subsection (5), made it quite clear that cream that was used for food was included. The noble Viscount was altogether too wide in his generalisations when he talked about creams, because all cream is not food. For instance, cold cream is not generally regarded as a food for human consumption.

I am most grateful to noble Lords for the reception that has been given to this Bill. This House is ever mindful of food problems. Sometimes in debate we are just a little imaginative, I think, of the dangers that might occur to us. I am sure the noble Lott, Lord Sempill, is going to make a speech on the subject of agene on the relative clause in the Bill; in fact, when I read the Bill for the first time, his name immediately came to my mind. Since he to-night quoted a previous head of the Medical Research Council, I shall endeavour on that occasion to fortify myself with the latest report of the scientific work that has been done on that subject by the Medical Research Council. I can assure the noble Lord, from my certain knowledge, that investigations have been going on all the time, and when I was Lord President of the Council I had a report on the subject from them. Perhaps he will therefore not expect me now to go any further into that question. My noble friend Lord Bledisloe, whom we are always glad to see and to hear, speaks from very long experience. He asks me whether Clause 5 (2) can be made effective so far as it concerns chemists' labels. Well, I think it can. I can see no reason why it should not. In regard to the point that he has raised about chemists covering up with their own label the trade label giving the contents of the bottle, I think that will be prohibited under this Bill.

The noble Lord, Lord Saltoun, rather took me aback because I was not clear for whom he was speaking. He said that some people, I gather trade associations, have not been given sufficient time. They ought, of course, to make their representations to the Minister. I am sure that my right honourable friend Major Lloyd George would be glad to receive their representations and then, subsequently, to instruct me when we come to the Committee stage of this Bill. But the noble Lord asked me one peculiar question. He said, if I am quoting him correctly (I hope I am), that the public want to know whether we intend to use these powers, But certainly. What hypocrisy it would be for us to come to your Lordships' House, making protestations about the necessity for regulations, if we did not intend to use them! I was just a little surprised that the question should be put to us. I am assured by those who are in charge of the matter that before we go on to the Committee stage, there will be plenty of time for any trade which feels itself affected by these proposals (there are indeed many) to give full consideration to the Bill. The noble Lord asked me why two Ministers were involved in this Bill. Well, this is a sort of "belt and braces" precaution. We know now that we have two Ministers. We do not know whether in the future there will be both a Minister of Health and a Minister of Food, because my right honourable friend Major Lloyd George is reputed to be rapidly organising himself out of a job. When that happens (if it does happen) there will still be a Minister of Health, but only one Minister will be involved.


May I for one second interrupt the noble Viscount? Of course I realise that these powers will be used. I was trying to point out that some of the trade associations feel that the powers are extremely wide, and, though they have no cause to think that they will be used to excess, they feel alarm at the very wide extent of the powers granted.


I amobliged to the noble Lord. I was much impressed by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Webb-Johnson, on the importance of the encouragement of voluntary instruction. He referred, with commendation, to the work of the Order of St. John. Of course in the end, as I tried to indicate at the beginning, we shall depend very largely upon the interest of the public in this matter, and upon their determination to have the clean food which is their right. But I am sure that if we can get public opinion active in this matter—active because it is informed—we shall much more quickly arrive at the position which we want.

The noble Lord, Lord Haden-Guest, was consoling to me because, as Lord Silkin has remarked, when we sat on those Benches opposite we made certain observations about the number of regulations which the Government of the day had found it necessary to bring in. I was much comforted by the fact that he was suggesting that here we were doing the right thing—I hope he will convince the rest of his colleagues on that side when we come to the Committee stage of the Bill. But the thing that impressed me most was that he asked that the regulations should be in plain English, and easily understood, not only by those who were to apply them but also by those to whom they were to apply. I will transmit that piece of wisdom to the Minister of Food, who I am sure will welcome it. I was glad to hear the noble Lord say that he hoped the Bill would be regarded as open to any part of the House. I am quite certain that this is not at all a matter for Party politics, and any improvements in the Bill that noble Lords opposite suggest will certainly not be regarded by us as anti-Government suggestions. We want the best Bill that we can get. Of course, Lord Silkin was right in saying that the Bill was difficult to understand because of its constant references back. I can assure him that at a very early stage—that remark is purposely left vague—the consolidating Bill will be available to enable us to follow more clearly the intentions of this Bill.


May I just get this clear? Is it intended to produce the consolidating Bill during the progress of this Bill?


Perhaps I may answer that. As the noble Lord knows, I happen to be Chairman of the Consolidation Committee, which will be meeting next Friday. I shall certainly call the attention of that Committee to what the noble Lord has said. As I have said on a previous occasion, there is a long queue of Statutes awaiting consolidation. There is only a limited, though very skilled, staff to deal with them, but I will certainly bring to the notice of my Committee what the noble Lord has said


I am very grateful to the Lord Chancellor. The noble Lord now realises the reason why my reply to him in regard to this matter was somewhat "cagey."

My Lords, I do not think there is anything else that I need say. I am grateful to the House for the way in which this Bill has been treated. I am sure it is a matter of profound public interest. I hope that anyone in your Lordships' House who has any influence with the trade associations will urge upon them the importance of welcoming the Bill. This is good practice. If I may be allowed to say so, it is good business practice. I would add that I am sure that it is good hygiene and also good salesmanship, and that trade associations, who after all are the servants of the public, as well as of their individual members, will realise the immense value to the health of the nation which this Bill may have when it becomes an Act. Consequently, I hope that they will give it their fullest possible support.

On Question, Bill read 2a; and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.