HL Deb 30 March 1954 vol 186 cc870-6

7.25 p.m.

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee on re-commitment of the Bill read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Earl of Home.)

On Question, Motion agreed to. House in Committee accordingly:


Clauses 1 to 6 agreed to.

Clause 7:

Regulations as to labelling and description of food

7.—(1) Without prejudice to the provisions of the last foregoing section, the Ministers may make regulations for imposing requirements as to, and otherwise regulating, the labelling, marking or advertising of food intended for sale for human consumption, and the descriptions which may be applied to such food.

LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH moved, in subsection (1), to substitute "shall"for"may," where that word first occurs. The noble Lord said: This Amendment and the following one go together, and, therefore, if I may, I will deal with them both at the same time. They arise out of the discussion which took place at an earlier stage of the Bill in which my noble friend Lord Sempill was very active, and if he had been here to-day he would himself have moved these Amendments. Unfortunately, he is, for the moment, in hospital, recovering from a slight operation, and therefore is quite unable to be present. Noble Lords know what a deep interest he has taken in this particular subject and how assiduous he has been in his attendance at the House.

Clause 7, as it stands, gives powers to the Ministers to make regulations. The purpose of the Amendment is to require Ministers to make regulations; but as it was pointed out that in certain cases it might be difficult to enforce regulations requiring labelling or marking upon the foodstuff or upon its container of the ingredients, the second Amendment provides that the Ministers may exempt certain classes of food or certain particular ingredients from these requirements. The difference, in fact, between what is proposed in the Amendments and what is contained in the Bill is to a certain extent of course, a matter of emphasis. The object of the Amendment is to put the emphasis upon a full disclosure to the public of the ingredients which are being put into any particular article which is sold as a foodstuff. This matter was the subject of some correspondence between my noble friend, Lord Sempill, and the noble Earl, Lord Home, and I hope that the noble Earl will not mind my referring to the letter which he wrote to my noble friend, in which he said that he had difficulty in accepting this Amendment, but that the Government had every intention of continuing, their policy of making regulations as to the labelling of food as far as possible. And the noble Earl stated: It is already law that all pre-packed foods must bear a statement of their composition.

I am a little puzzled about this, and I wish that the noble Earl would enlighten me about it. Maybe, of course, the law is more stringent in Scotland than it is in England, and I have not had the opportunity recently to be in Scotland, but I have noticed that articles of food which emanate from that country and reach this one do not appear to be labelled in the way in which the noble Earl suggests. I do not know whether there is some very limited meaning attached to "pre-packed foods," but jams, biscuits and many other things are sold in containers or packages of various kinds, and I have not observed that those foods are labelled with a precise statement of their contents. Indeed, I have the feeling that in many cases manufacturers are doing their best to conceal what the contents are. This is particularly the case with regard, for example to jam, which the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, dealt with very cogently upon a previous occasion. The ordinary jams which are sold do not bear any labels—or at least I have never seen any —stating that they are made out of fruit pulp which has been preserved by means of sulphur dioxide. Therefore I do not follow the argument that this is already being done in the case of pre-packed foods.

The noble Earl also said that there were difficulties in effectively labelling things like fruit, vegetables, meat and fish. Well, I agree there are probably difficulties about labelling meat and fish which are sold fresh, and, happily, for the most part, these things do not appear to have been adulterated to any great extent. Vegetables may also present difficulties, but I venture to say that there is considerable need for the public to know whether their vegetables have been treated with various things. It is becoming extremely common to use various poisonous sprays in agriculture, such as the chlorinated hydrocarbons, D.D.T., and some two dozen others which belong to the same species, and it is well known that they are absorbed by the leaves of green vegetables. I should say it is highly undesirable that any article should be sold in that condition. I know it is suggested that D.D.T. and similar classes of insecticides are relatively harmless, but there is an accumulating amount of evidence that that it not true. An experiment was made in the United States on test animals, in which it was found that they survived a dosage of food which had 1 per cent. of carbolic acid added to it but did not survive the ingestion of food to which one thousandth of 1 per cent. of D.D.T. was added. Therefore, although it may he difficult, some steps ought to be taken to protect the public from the use of things of that kind.

Let me give one more illustration on this point. There are now being sold in considerable quantities various kinds of soft drinks, in particular, the so-called cola drinks, which contain phosphoric acid detrimental to the teeth; caffein, a dangerous substance when taken in considerable quantities—and it is in considerable quantities in these drinks—and especially undesirable for consumption by children, who are large consumers: sugar, which is not a desirable addition to the diet in too large quantities: flavouring matters and colour- ing matters. That is an illustration of the necessity for compulsory labelling. I beg to move the Amendment.

Amendment moved—

Page 6, line 2, leave out (" may ") and insert (" shall ").—(Lord Douglas of Barloch.)

7.32 p.m.


I am obliged to the noble Lord for moving this Amendment in the absence of the noble Lord, Lord Sempill, who would have moved it had he been here. There is common ground between the noble Lords and the Government in that the public must be protected. As the noble Lard said, it is largely a matter of emphasis on how it is done. Let me say how the public is protected. So far as pre-packed food is concerned, it is possible to make rules, and a great many rules have been made and can he found in the Labelling of Food Order, 1953. If the noble Lard receives jam from Scotland which is not labelled, that is one of the exemptions which have had to be made, even under the Labelling of Food Order. That Order is available. As to the unpacked, and perhaps largely unpackable, foods, how is the public protected by this Bill? Under Clause 2, it is an offence to sell to a customer anything other than that for which the customer asks. Under Clause 6, it is an offence to display any false or misleading label. So there are substantial safeguards.

The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Ear-loch, talks about introducing colouring materials, which we all agree may be injurious to health. Under Clause 4, these materials can be examined, and if they are found to be harmful to health their use can be banned. I think there is almost complete protection for the public here. This is really a matter of administration. Under the noble Lord's Amendment, it would be obligatory upon the Secretary of State to say that all foods should be labelled; then he would start to make exemptions. We do not feel we have enough knowledge yet to do that, and we prefer to use Clause 7 to extend the list of those foods which can be labelled. There is a difference between what we and the noble Lord think is practicable. We think it is practicable to proceed in the way we are doing and to use Clause 7, and we have every intention of using it fully. We think the other method would be bad administratively, because we have not sufficient knowledge at present. While I have every sympathy with the noble Lord's objective, I hope he will not press his Amendment.


The noble Earl has put forward a very persuasive argument. Nothing is worse than to pass laws which are administratively impossible to enforce—I see the full weight of that. On the other hand, many other countries have found it possible to pass such laws and I believe they have found it administratively possible to enforce them, so I do not know that what the noble Earl said is entirely a testimonial to the efficiency of public administration in this country and I do not feel very happy about the net effect of his argument. It may be that there is something in it, and it may be that an opportunity may be taken in another place to strengthen this Bill somewhat. On those grounds, I ask leave of the House to withdraw my Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 7 agreed to.

Clauses 8 to 11 agreed to.

Clause 12 [Slaughter of animals intended for food]:


I think it would be convenient to your Lordships to put together the Amendment to Clause 12 and all the Amendments from Clause 12 to Clause 58. All these Amendments are consequential on the separate Slaughter-houses Bill which was introduced in yon Lordships' House last week. It may be convenient to take them en bloc,, as they raise no question of principle and are merely administrative. I beg to move the Amendments Nos. 3 to 21 on the Marshalled List.

Amendments moved—

Page 8, line 38, at end insert— (b) the expression ' slaughter-house 'means any 'premises lawfully used for slaughtering animals the flesh of which is intended for sale for human consumption.")

Clause 13, page 10, line 14, at end insert— ("(5) For the purposes of this section the expression knacker's yard ' has the same meaning as in the Public Health (Scotland) Act, 1897.")

Clause 14, page 10, line 15, leave out subsection (1)

Clause 15, page 11, line 40, leave out from ("regulations") to ("of") in line 41 and insert ("in force under section thirteen")

Page 12, line 30, leave out (" Secretary of State ") and insert (" Ministers ");

Leave out Clause 23; Leave out Clause 24; Leave out Clause 25;

Clause 27, page 19, line 11, leave out lines 11 to 23 and insert (" the council of a county or of a large burgh within the meaning of the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1947; and any small burgh within the meaning of that Act shall, for the purposes of this Act, be included in the county in which it is situated.");

Clause 37, page 25, line 13, leave out ("or byelaws")

Page 25, line 21, leave out ("or byelaws")

Clause 40, page 27, line 17, leave out ("byelaw")

Page 27, line 35, leave out ("byelaw")

Clause 42, page 29. line 23. leave out ("order or byelaw") and insert ("or order")

Page 29, line 40, leave out subsection (8).

Clause 44, page 31, line 1, leave out ("or byelaws")

Clause 46, page 31, line 45, leave out ("order or byelaw") and insert ("or order")

Page 32. line 8, after ("regulation") insert ("or order")

Clause 58, page 37, line 24. leave out from ("Act") to end of line 27.—(The Earl of Home.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Clauses 12 to 58, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 59 [Interpretation]:


I thought I might have had to make an explanation of this Amendment, but my noble friend Lord Woolton has given such a convincing definition of micro-biological assays that I do not think I need add to it. I beg to move the Amendment.

Amendment moved—

Page 37. line 35, leave out ("does not include") and insert (" includes micro-biological assay, but no other form of ").—(The Earl of Home.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


The same comment that I made on the earlier Amendments applies to the remaining Amendments to the Bill: they are all consequential on the introduction of the Slaughterhouses Bill. It might be convenient to your Lordships to take them en bloc. I beg to move.

Amendments moved—

Page 39, leave out lines 4to7;

Page 39, leave out lines 40to43;

Clause 60, page 40, line 20, leave out ("drugs, slaughter-houses or knackers' yards") and insert ("or drugs");

Clause 61, page 41, line 6, leave out ("order, regulation or byelaw") and insert ("regulation or order")—(The Earl of Home.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Clauses 59 to 61, as amended, agreed to.

Amendments moved—

First Schedule, page 42, line 8, at end insert ("concerned ");

Third Schedule, page 44, line 24, leave out lines 24 to 31.

Third Schedule, page 44, line 31. column 3, leave out lines 32 and 33.

Third Schedule, page 45, line 8, leave out lines 8 and 9.

Third Schedule, page 45, line 27, leave out lines 27 and 28.

In the Title, leave out ("drugs, slaughterhouses and knackers' yards") and insert ("and drugs")—(The Earl of Home.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Schedules and Title, as amended, agreed to.

House resumed.