HL Deb 30 March 1954 vol 186 cc862-70

6.57 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a third time. I have it in command from Her Majesty The Queen to signify to the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Food and Drugs Amendment Bill, has consented to place the interests of the Crown at the disposal of Parliament for the purpose of the Bill.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3.(Viscount Woolton.)


My Lords, I do not propose to say much on this Motion. I feel that the Bill as it is to-day is a much better one than as it was first introduced. I should like to pay my tribute to the noble Viscount who has moved this Motion for the, generally speaking, accommodating way in which he has met Amendments from all parts of the House. I should like to refer to only one particular point on which I do not think he has met us as he might have done—that is, on the question of labelling. I think that the Bill, even as it stands and as amended, does not go far enough in the direction of giving the public information about food which they ought to have, particularly where chemicals and other unnatural commodities are added. I should have thought it would be possible, even recognising the difficulties which the noble Viscount, quite properly put to us on this point, to provide for information to be given to the public in the majority of cases that the noble Viscount put. I readily admit that extreme cases it may not be practicable to provide this information, but, generally speaking, I think it could have been done. It is rather late in the day, as regards both the position in which this Bill is in the House and the time of the evening, to do anything about it. There is, however, another place, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will give serious thought to the possibility of still further improving this Bill, as it proceeds on its way in another place, by seeing that the public are as fully protected as is possible by being given the required information about the foods which they are buying. Subject to that, I should once more like to say that this is a very good Bill, which represents a great advance on existing legislation, and I shall do nothing to prevent its further progress.

7.1 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to support what my noble friend Lord Silkin, has said. Undoubtedly this Bill confers wide powers upon the Government. The question is whether those powers will be used freely in order to safeguard the health of the public. One is left with an uneasy feeling, as a result of the earlier discussions upon the Bill, that there is a certain amount of bias in the mind of the Government in favour of chemical adulteration of food. At any rate, they have shown themselves extremely reluctant to accept Amendments which would have prohibited that or would have required disclosure to the public of what has been introduced into food. I think that in this respect they are very much behind public opinion. All over the country there is growing uneasiness about the quality of food, about the way in which it is manipulated and about the chemicals which are introduced into it, and I think that that uneasiness is justified, because there is a prima facie case against the addition to foodstuffs of unnatural ingredients which have never before been used as foodstuffs. I do not say that it necessarily follows that every one of these things is injurious, but additions certainly ought not to be permitted until it has been definitely proved that they are not injurious: that is certainly extremely necessary.

The multiplicity of articles which are now subject to this kind of adulteration is quite alarming. Let me give just one illustration of what may happen. Phosphoric acid and phosphates are not generally recommended articles of diet, but quite an accumulation of these substances may be taken by the ordinary consumer. Soft drinks often contain phosphoric acid. Phosphates are used as leavening agents in baking; they are used as emulsifying agents in processed cheeses. Tricalcium phosphate is added to salt in order to confer what are called free-running properties upon table salts. All these things are quite commonly consumed by people, and an assertion that any particular foodstuff contains not enough phosphate to be injurious to anybody is not a sufficient safeguard, because that same person may take in an accumulation of phosphates or phosphoric acid from a great many sources. I want therefore to support as strongly as I possibly can the plea which my noble friend has made, that there should be disclosure to the public. It ought to be obligatory upon manufacturers and purveyors of foodstuffs to reveal to the public what is put into the foodstuffs. If, after that, the public like to buy them, that is another story: but they ought to be provided with the means of protecting themselves. Until there is full disclosure as is required by many other civilised countries, there cannot be adequate protection.

On Question, Bill read 3.

Clause 2:

Defences available in proceedings under s. 3 of principal Act

>(4) Paragraphs (1) to (3) and paragraph (5) of section four of the principal Act, and section five of that Act, shall cease to have effect; and any reference in that Act to the said section four shall be construed as including a reference to this section.

LORD BURDEN moved in subsection (3) to leave out "and paragraph (5)".

The noble Lord said

My Lords, in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Waleran. I beg to move the Amendment standing in his name. May I say, at the outset, that when the original Amendment was moved by Lord Amulree the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, whom we are glad to see back again with us this afternoon (and may I say here on behalf of everyone present that we hope that he is, if not fully recovered, at least well on the road to complete recovery, in which we wish him Godspeed) informed the House that the associations concerned had agreed to the terms of the Amendment. May I say to Lord Carrington that I at once accept that that statement was made unwittingly, and that the last thing which would be in the mind of the noble Lord on any occasion would be to mislead the House on any Bill. But the House, on information which I think was not strictly in accordance with the facts, accepted the Amendment. The matter has since been considered by the associations concerned, and they ask that for the time being this paragraph should be deleted.

May I say just one or two words in support of that request? Everyone knows that under the National Health Service all sorts of what one might describe as official medicines are being developed and sold. These medicines are built up on proprietary medicines. A doctor may prescribe one of these official medicines and inadvertently the chemist may sell one of the proprietary medicines, which may be better but is not the official medicine. At some stage the person concerned discovers that he has not got the official medicine, but has the proprietary medicine, and he may then decide, to use the words of the Yorkshire comedian, to "have a go"; and then all sorts of symptoms will, consciously or unconsciously, develop. Then he will go to the people concerned with free legal aid, and he will tell of the terrible symptoms with which he has been afflicted as a result of getting the wrong medicine. The matter comes before the court and another terror is added to the life of the person concerned. Everyone knows that under the National Health Service many doctors are at present in a state of great perturbation, particularly those who have to work in casualty wards. No doubt that is a subject which is receiving the attention of Her Majesty's Government. To come back to the Amendment, I suggest that the right thing to do is to delete this paragraph now, and then, between now and the time when the Bill is presented in its final shape in another place, endeavour to obtain a measure of agreement acceptable to all concerned. It is in that spirit that I beg to move the Amendment.

Amendment moved—

Page 2, line 42, leave out ("and paragraph (5)").—(Lord Burden.)


My Lords, with regard to what the noble Lord opposite said concerning the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, I remember that on the last occasion Lord Carrington was extremely careful in what he said: his words were, "I am informed." He was informed and it could not have been fully, and I was not at all convinced by his statement in that form.


I want to make it clear to the noble Lord that I relieve him entirely from any responsibility.


May I join in welcoming back the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. He is looking very much better for his enforced absence. I hope that he is feeling as well as he looks. I think it was in response to my question that the noble Lord gave the assurance that the relevant parties had been consulted, and agreed. It really does not matter because the noble Lord justified the Amendment on its merits and the question of consultation was not very relevant. I disagree with my noble friend Lord Burden and I should like to express the hope that the Government will stand firm and not accept this Amendment. May I tell the House what the Amendment is? Clause 2 provides that if a person sells, to the prejudice of a purchaser, any food or drug not of the nature, substance or quality demanded by the purchaser, then he has committed an offence. That is the same as Section 3 of the Food and Drugs Act of 1938. Then Section 4 gives a number of possible defences, one of which is that the article supplied was a proprietary medicine and was supplied in response to a demand for that medicine. Why that should exempt anybody from misleading a purchaser I do not know and I have never been able to understand. I think the noble Lord is absolutely right in providing that it should no longer be a defence, and I hope he will stick to his guns. It ought not to be a defence that, merely because a man is selling a proprietary article, he can therefore sell anything he likes, whether or not it is of the substance or nature demanded.


My Lords, I said when I introduced this Bill—it now seems a very long time ago—that it was not a matter that need divide the Parties. It is tragic to see that in the last stages it should have divided noble Lords opposite. I am, I think, considerably responsible for the putting down of this Amendment, because when we were last discussing the matter the noble Lord, Lord Waleran, wanted to speak. I was acting Leader of the House at the time, and I was advised that he was out of order, and told him so. He did not gel the chance of saying what he very much wanted to say. I have made my peace with him but in the meantime I suggested that if he liked to put down an Amendment I should be glad to see that he had an opportunity of discussing it. I am sure we are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Burden, for having taken that upon himself.

As to what the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, did, what happened was the simplest thing in the world: the communications got a little mixed up in passage between the Box and here. As the noble Lords opposite are aware, when a Minister is not quite certain of the facts, that is a thing that can easily occur. And that is all that happened. I hope the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, will not feel that anybody in the House has the slightest doubt that anything else happened but that. The result of the matter was this. We were asked whether the trade had been consulted—and they had been—but whereas we thought they had agreed, in fact they had not. Why should they? In some circumstances they had interests which they perhaps thought were damaged by this. What is the purpose of this Amendment? What are we trying to do? The situation has been put quite clearly before the House by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, with his legal knowledge. I do not think I can advise your Lordships to accept this Amendment. Suppose someone goes to a chemist's shop and asks for a certain patent medicine, all fully labelled as to what is inside. But it may not only be inside—it may have been inside for a long time. It may have lost some of its properties. The person is buying it because he thinks it will do certain things, which it would have done in its earlier stages and in its purity. I do not think anyone is entitled to stand behind a proprietary label. The purchaser asked for "blank" and he got it. If an article does not do what the proprietary name professes it does I think the public have a right to protection. On this ground I join with the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and say that I am sorry that I cannot accept the Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Burden.


My Lords, who am I to stand up against two Front Benches? I beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 [Disposal of samples taken for analysis]:


My Lords, I apologise to the House for introducing an Amendment at this stage, but this arose again from some remark that the noble Lord, Lord Waleran, made in Committee stage. The purpose of this Amendment, which deals with notification—the clause in itself is a wide clause and includes all sorts of things, including provisions regarding milk—is to ensure that the notification required by subsection (4) of the clause is confined to samples procured for the purpose of analysis by a public analyst. It is primarily these samples which might involve a producer in legal proceedings. It is both unnecessary and undesirable to oblige the sampling officer to notify in the case of other samples procured for bacteriological and other tests. For the most part these are tests of milk samples. They are taken very frequently indeed, and I think it would be unnecessary and an intolerable and wasteful burden to have to notify in every case. I move to insert" for the purpose of analysis by a public analyst."

Amendment moved—

Page 17. line 42, after ("sample") insert ("for the purpose of analysis by a public analyst").—(Viscount Woolton.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 29 [Interpretation]:


My Lords, the purpose of this Amendment is to make it clear that analyses performed by means of micro-organisms (which are in common use by public analysts) are not to be excluded by the definition of the word "analysis." The effect of the definition with this Amendment is that if the testing of a sample involves micro-biological assay the sample will go to the public analyst; if it involves any other form of biological assay the sample will be sent to a person with the necessary qualifications and equipment. Sampling officers will be given advice on these matters by circular. I hope that I have made this matter abundantly clear to your Lordships.

I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 24, line 23, leave out (" does not include") and insert (" includes microbiological assay, but no other form of ").—(Viscount Woolton.)


My Lords, I was hoping that the noble Viscount would add to my knowledge by explaining in some detail just what is meant by "microbiological assay." At this hour, however, I am going to take it on trust and hope that the noble Viscount really understands what he has been reading. I certainly do not.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Second Schedule [Minor and consequential amendments]:


My Lords, this is a drafting Amendment and I do not think I need enter into any details regarding the other point. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 31, line 37, after ("proviso") insert ("sub-paragraph (iii) shall be omitted and").—(Viscount Woolton.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to,


My Lords, this is also consequential. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 32, line 47, at end insert— ("In subsection (2), for the words ' any food or drug' there shall be substituted the words ' any food, drug or substance capable of being used in the preparation of food '") —,(Viscount Woolton.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to. Third Schedule [Repeals]:


My Lords, this, again, is a consequential Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved—

Page 37, line 34, column 3, at end insert (." and sub-paragraph (iii) of paragraph (a) of the proviso ").—(Viscount Woolton.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Amendments (Privilege) made.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. In moving, I should, with your Lordships' permission, like to thank the Members of this House for the very great consideration they have given to the Bill throughout. I am most grateful to them. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Viscount Woolton.)

On Question, Motion agreed to: Bill passed and sent to the Commons.