HL Deb 08 February 1955 vol 190 cc1006-17

2.38 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I must ask your Lordships to be tolerant this afternoon, because I am afraid that this Bill appears on your menu for the second time after only a few weeks. As your Lordships will appreciate, the reason is that, owing to pressure of work in another place, proceedings on the Bill could not be completed before the end of last Session, and the Bill therefore lapsed. During that time, however, the corresponding English Bill was passed through another place and subsequently received the Royal Assent. This Bill, of which I am moving the Second Reading this afternoon, incorporates the Amendments which were made by your Lordships last year to the Scottish Bill which I then introduced, and also any Amendments in the English Act which were relevant to Scottish conditions, and which we thought should be included. So in some ways delay has proved to be an advantage.

This Bill is partly a Consolidation Bill, and it brings up to date the law dealing with the safety and the cleanliness of food. I would say at once—and I know your Lordships will agree—that the consolidation part of the Bill was long overdue. There have been some changes. The changes are not changes of principle, but they are, I think, of some significance, and I will mention one or two. The addition to food of substances which are dangerous to health is, of course, already prohibited, but during the earlier debate in this House a good deal of concern was expressed by your Lordships that, when this question was decided, it should not be decided only on the short-term harmful effects of a particular food on the health, but on the long-term effects as well. This is provided for in Clause 1 of the Bill, while Clauses 4 and 5 give us greater powers to control the composition of foodstuffs.

Now may I turn for a moment to hygiene? In Clause 13, it is proposed that we should make regulations which will have the result of securing higher standards in the handling of food, and the contents of these regulations, which are now in draft, will first be a matter for discussion with the members of the trade and will then be laid before your Lordships. The Secretary of State, too, can require traders in any particular class to be registered. That, again, is an addition to the earlier Bill. So far as the caterers are concerned, there is a change from the position under the earlier Bill which I introduced. Catering establishments, by and large, are so well known that it was not thought necessary to subject them to the trouble of registration; but in Clause 14 your Lordships will find the methods which are proposed to deal with the catering side. If a food inspector finds that a caterer is infringing the food regulations made under the Bill his local authority may apply to the sheriff for an order disqualifying the caterer from using his premises for catering for a maximum period of two years. That is a fairly serious penalty, but we think it will be sufficient to protect the public and, at the same time, will cause no inconvenience to those caterers who maintain a high standard and give the public a good service.

With the general purpose of the Bill at an earlier date your Lordships expressed emphatic agreement. As I have said, there is in the Bill now before the House no change in principle, but rather some changes in emphasis, changes which are not without significance and which go to meet points made by your Lordships in an earlier debate and subsequently incorporated in the English Bill. Therefore, this afternoon I ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Bill.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Home.)

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, I am well aware of the fact that we have already in this House dealt with what is substantially this Bill as it appears now, and the noble Earl has drawn attention to certain changes that have been made, not of great substance but, nevertheless, adding something to the Bill. I make no complaint about the fact that the English Bill dealing with this subject managed to get through before the end of last Session and did not require to be brought up again this Session: Scotland is well inured to taking second place. I think that is perhaps why we chose St. Andrew, who put himself in second place, as the Patron Saint of Scotland—but I do not want to become Biblical in speaking here. The noble Earl has shown that not merely does the Bill deal with the handling of food, which some of us looked upon as its main object, in order that food should be carefully handled and brought to the consumer in the best possible condition, but it also gives power to deal with the contents of the food. I am sure that that is a point which will be attended to assiduously by my noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch, who, as we all know, is very keen and knowledgeable on the question of the adulteration of food and other substances.

The noble Earl has made particular reference, and rightly so, to the new clause that is incorporated in this Bill—it becomes Clause 14 in this Bill—dealing with caterers and catering premises. I must say that I welcome this change very heartily indeed. It is necessary to see that there are sanctions applicable against those who are guilty of unhygienic practices or anything that can be detrimental to the proper supply of clean food to our people. Clause 14 is certainly, in my judgment, an important addition to the powers that are given by the Bill. There was some perturbation—it was even worse than that; there was weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth—on the part of the caterers south of the Border when the English Bill was passing through this House and another place. Caterers were loud in their protestations about the harshness of the conditions which were being laid upon them. I do not find myself in any sympathy with them. We are entitled to see that the population of this country get their food in the best possible condition and are protected from practices that would impair the purity and have a detrimental effect upon that food in its handling between the producer and the consumer. Therefore, I hope that, arising out of this Bill, the Government will frame regulations ensuring the maximum benefit for the consumer and putting the maximum penalties upon an offending caterer or supplier. I hope the regulations will be such that we can completely approve of and highly commend them because of the improvement that they will effect in the handling of food in this country.

The Bill itself is an important Bill. When, last Session, we had a Second Reading of this Bill, or what was practically this Bill, I remember it was claimed that the Scottish Bill, in its language and its framing, was a better Bill than the English Bill. I was proud of that. As the noble Earl has said, it is to be attributed to the fact that it is, in considerable measure, a consolidation Bill. There is only one question I wish to put to the noble Earl. In Clause 15 of this Bill (Clause 14 as it was previously) qualifying words have been added. I will make the position clear by reading the commencing words of Clause 15, headed Registration. It states: Subject to the provisions of this section"— and then follow the words that have been added— and to such exceptions as the Ministers may by order prescribe. I should like to ask whether these words represent a weakening of the position so far as keeping a tight and firm hold upon manufacturers and traders is concerned, for this particular clause refers to manufacturers and traders. I hope it does not represent a weakening of the position. If the noble Earl can give a satisfactory reply to the single point that I am putting as a question, I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that this is a Bill that we can welcome and to which we can readily give a Second Reading.

2.52 p.m.


My Lords, it is true that we have in recent times discussed various aspects of matters which are touched upon in this Bill; but the subject is so important, so vital to every member of the community, that I think it is justifiable to say a little more about it. Of course, I am not opposing the Second Reading of this Bill; so far as it goes, I welcome it. What I deplore is that the Government seem to be lagging behind public opinion in this matter. Certainly the general public is not fully aware of the extent to which its food has been tampered with—the synthetic chemicals which have been added to it and the nutritive matters which have been extracted from it. Nevertheless, there is a considerable amount of uneasiness. I do not find in the Government any sense of urgency with regard to this matter or in the handling of these affairs.

A week or two ago I asked a Question about a chemical called mono-sodium glutamate, which is most extensively used in foodstuffs nowadays. The noble Viscount, Lord Woolton, said he was not aware of any research which had been undertaken with regard to this substance. I also asked a Question about the waxing of oranges with paraffin wax. The use of paraffin as an ingredient of foodstuffs has been prohibited because paraffin absorbs certain of the vitamins and renders them inaccessible to the human body. To allow the use of wax for this purpose is a retrograde step. It is true that the skin of oranges and of other citrus fruit is not always used, but it is a usual and necessary constituent of marmalade, which I should imagine is consumed upon the majority of breakfast tables in this country. Now the housewife will be quite unable to tell whether or not the citrus fruits which she buys for this purpose have been treated in this fashion. Speaking of this subject, I noticed no later than last week in a well-known scientific journal, Nature, an article on researches about another chemical with which the skins of oranges are being treated and which has now been found to be cancer producing. These are serious matters.

Let me draw attention also to the recently published report of the Food Standards Committee on colouring matters in food. Before I refer to it in detail, I should like to quote to the House from a statement made only a few weeks ago by a world-renowned authority upon cancer, Dr. Otto Warburg, Director of the Institute for Cell Physiology in West Berlin, a Nobel prize winner for medicine and a foreign member of the Royal Society of London. In this article he summarises the results of thirty years research upon cancer, and he goes on to draw this practical conclusion. He says: There is no doubt that cancer could be reduced to a fraction of its present day incidence, if care were taken to prevent chronic injury of the body cells. For example, people must be warned not to inhale cigarette smoke; diesel oil fumes must be banned from the streets; in the smoking of provisions only certain kinds of smoke should be allowed; foodstuffs should no longer be dyed with aniline dyes; foodstuffs should not be preserved with antiseptics which certainly injure the bacteria but which damage the body cells even more. The Food Standards Committee reported that no fewer than seventy-nine synthetic colouring matters were proposed to them for use in foodstuffs, and they classified them into three groups. Group A contained twelve of these dyes which they said have not so far been shown to have any harmful effects and which seem unlikely to be harmful in the amounts ordinarily consumed. That is not a very high testimonial to these substances. Group B contained thirty-five dyestuffs of which the Committee found: no direct evidence of toxicity or harmfulness but about which the evidence was inadequate or uncertain. Of those the Committee has recommended that no fewer than twenty should be allowed as ingredients of food. Finally, Group C contained thirty-two substances which were: shown or suspected to have harmful effects on health. I reiterate: these substances are so dangerous and their consequences may be so dreadful that no risks whatsoever should be run. It is quite unnecessary that they should be used. For many generations foods were prepared without the use of these substances. The object of using them is, no doubt, to pretend that the article is something different from what, in fact, it is. In the long run it is a form of deceiving the consumer, nothing more. These substances are put into food not because they are beneficial to the consumer but because they are supposed to be beneficial to the manufacturers of food by making the food look more attractive. We are not justified in allowing anything to be used in food which is not a natural constituent of food or which has not been proved by the long experience of mankind to be harmless. It is a great mistake of public policy to permit this to be done, and I sincerely hope that this Bill, when passed, and the English Act, will be used far more drastically than appears to be the present intention of Her Majesty's Government.

3.3 p.m.


My Lords, although I do not agree with a large part of what my noble friend has said, I feel that the passing of this Bill is important, because I believe that it will have a great effect in helping to preserve health, by making food more suitable for consumption and ensuring its purity. There is nothing very novel in that. Looking particularly at Clause 23, which deals with food poisoning, I believe that the Bill will have the effect of making our food cleaner and better than it has been. One must remember that there has never been a time when the people of this country consumed so much pre-cooked food as they do now, so that it is very necessary that such food should be satisfactory. Doubtless many noble Lords, like other people, consume considerable quantities of ready-cooked foods. I believe that Clause 23 of this Bill will go a long way to achieving success in ensuring purity and will help to ensure that our food will in future be better and less likely to cause disease.

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, this is not a cause for laughter, for this is a most serious subject. Only yesterday I listened to an American broadcast in which the speaker gave a résumé of the Drugs Act of the United States of America. He pointed out that we in Britain are behind the times, especially with regard to citrus fruits. While appreciating the good that the noble Earl, Lord Home, is trying to do in Scotland (and I am very much interested in Scottish affairs) I wish to pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Barloch, for his nuisance value in this House, because he raises issues in season—and time will prove that he has never spoken out of season. When, last week, the noble Viscount the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster said that he had never heard of the stuff which was going to interfere with the nutritive value, especially of orange peel—


My Lords, the noble Lord must forgive my intervening, but I never used such language.


If I have misrepresented the noble Viscount I at once withdraw.


I did not speak on orange peel and I did not say that I "had never heard of the stuff"; otherwise, what the noble Lord has said is correct.


The United States Congress last week ordained an extension of their Drugs Act because of the danger to so many people from this concoction, which I have seen in both California and Florida. From now on, the downtrodden citizens of the United States of America, instead of having a golden-yellow orange, are to have a brown orange, because brown oranges are more nutritious. There will come a day when this House may want to put a halo around the head of my noble friend Lord Douglas of Barloch—and I have intervened really to pay my tribute to him—just as we recognise more and more the good work done by the noble Lord, Lord Inman, when he undertook to keep railway buffets in order and did such great work during the time he looked after the catering on British Railways. I wish good luck to this Bill, and am glad that the noble Earl, Lord Home, has introduced it, because he will see that it has a good passage.

3.9 p.m.


My Lords, the attitude of noble Lords opposite to this Bill seems to be either clean food or no food. That, after all, is in their tradition. "Sois mon fr ère ou je te tue."




No; I think noble Lords opposite can manage the translation. There is one clause in this Bill which gives me a certain amount of anxiety, and about which I want to say a few words—that is Clause 14. Those of us who know St. John's Wild Sports in the Highlands, and other books of that kind, remember—and probably their mouths water when they remember—the food which he used to get in any humble wayside cottage of Scotland at the period when that book was written. I am a little older than the noble Earl in charge of the Bill, and I remember travelling about Scotland when I was young and how, at any wayside cottage one came to, one could get marvellous teas, or even excellent suppers: for the cottar wife baked, and the food was marvellous and extremely good.

Scotland in those days was "the land of cakes." Today, I am afraid, it is no longer "the land of cakes": most of the cakes they eat there now come from factories and in tins. Nearly every cottar wife has forgotten how to bake. No doubt the food is very much purer, but there is less of it than in the old days. In the old days, you could call at almost any cottage and be sure of getting a meal. To-day, most of the people who are willing to give you something, put out a little label with the word "Teas" upon it, and I am greatly afraid that the people who provide those teas do not provide them in accordance with the regulations of this rather complicated Bill. They might all be put out of business by the sheriff, I believe, if action were taken against them. I should like to hear what the noble Earl has to say on that subject, because I think this is a rather drastic provision.

There is another thing—and in this connection I was glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Latham, enter the Chamber, because he will probably know the truth of what I am saying. My auditing days are pretty well over now. I do not go about now as I used to on audits, though I am still connected with a works canteen which I visit from time to time in order to see whether the food provided there is clean and well served and all that sort of thing. But I am in touch with a great many people who do visit these canteens. Most of them are in charge of the workers in the establishments concerned, and I am certain that a very large number of the works canteens in this country would not pass the regulations of this Bill. In fact, I could bring to the Bar of the House people who could give information about the way in which food is served in a great many of these establishments which would horrify your Lordships. I want to know whether these works canteens are covered by Clause 14, because if we are going to say that any place which does not conform to the standard set up by this Bill can be put out of business for two years, we may be levelling at the industries of this country a blow which it will be difficult for them to parry. Alternatively, it will mean having one standard for public catering works and another standard for the establishments I have described. It will mean that the law will be administered with severity in one case, and with lenience and blindness in another. I have brought up this matter because I should like some information from the noble Earl on this particular point.

3.14 p.m.


My Lords, your Lordships have raised a number of interesting points during this short discussion on the Second Reading of the Bill. My noble friend Lord Mathers raised a question on Clause 14 as to the scope of the regulations as they may affect caterers. Let me say to him that no one wants to be harsh on the caterers—I am sure he does not either—but these regulations will be necessary, as we are seeking to make effective a code which will cover every aspect of hygiene in the catering business reasonably and, at the same time, effectively protect the public. On Clause 15, to which the noble Lord turned next, he asked me why, when an earlier draft of the Bill contained no such words, we here put in: Subject to … such exceptions as the Ministers may by order prescribe. … I think the noble Lord was afraid that these words might weaken the original intention of the Bill and the clause. I do not think they can be represented as weakening, because, as the noble Lord will understand, all producers and traders and caterers will be subject to the hygiene regulations; but it is necessary to have exceptions and for the Secretary of State to be able to make exceptions. For instance, we do not want to make orders applying registration to a class of business without some reserve power of exemption.

From that I go straight on to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Saltoun. Suppose, for instance, that there is compulsory registration affecting the baking industry. In such an event, you want it to cover the majority of the bakers, but you do not want it to cover the lady who runs a small café in the Highlands in the summer; or it may be a hotel, which cooks the visitor a few scones for tea. Take another example. Suppose you want to cover, by and large, the ice cream people, you can reasonably exempt the theatres, which are really only distributors of packed ice cream—Wall's or whatever it may be. So I think the power of exemption is necessary, and the power of exemption for the small people in this way is contained in these words. I hope that the noble Lord will be content with that explanation. So far as workers' canteens are concerned, they will be subject to the regulations, which will be interpreted in exactly the same way as in the case of any other catering establishment. I think that Lord Saltoun will find that, under Clause 52, if there is an offence against the regulations by a canteen owned by the Crown, this sort of catering establishment also could be dealt with—but I will verify that point, since that is only my first impression.

Lord Douglas of Barloch, with his usual perseverance, once again returned to the charge, and I make no complaint over that. But I did think, now that agene is to be taken out of flour, that he would have been bubbling over with joie de vivre and celebration.


Not yet. Not until the end of the year.


Even so, he might have celebrated a little in advance, because this is the great thing for which he has been agitating for a long time. On the whole, I thought the noble Lord to-day was even more depressing than usual. He saw the whole population being contaminated and devitalized. But I hope he will not need to be as gloomy as all that, and that this Bill will do something—if I may borrow the words of the noble Lord, Lord Calverley—to prevent the halo from descending upon his head quite yet. It is perfectly right to be vigilant.

The noble Lord, Lord Douglas of Bar-loch, mentioned certain condiments. He mentioned the treatment of orange skins. I do not know that the preparations applied to the skins of this fruit do any more than make these particular products more attractive or more healthful. It is right that we should be vigilant if they are dangerous, but the Secretary of State is armed with the best scientific advice, and this Bill gives him very wide powers to deal with any product which may be noxious and harmful to the people's health. While I know that we cannot go so far as the noble Lord would with, I feel that this Bill does go a very long way, so far as is reasonable and acceptable at the present time. As Lord Haden-Guest said, it should ensure that the food is presented to the people in a proper and healthy condition for consumption. I thank your Lordships for the points to which you have drawn my attention, and I trust that you will now give this Bill a Second Reading.

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