HL Deb 01 March 1956 vol 196 cc66-73

3.6 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I rise to move the Second Reading of the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Bill. When my predecessor, the noble Earl the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, reintroduced the Food and Drugs Bill in February of last year, he asked your Lordships to be tolerant because the Bill was then appearing before you for the second time. This afternoon I must apologise to your Lordships for introducing what is substantially the same Bill for a third time. A. Bill dealing with this subject was first introduced in your Lordships' House in December, 1953, but lack of time in another place prevented it from being passed before the end of the Session. The second Bill—again after passing through all its stages in your Lordships' House in the spring of 1955—lapsed with the Dissolution of Parliament last year.

A different course has been followed in relation to the present Bill, which was introduced in another place and has passed through all its stages there before coming to your Lordships for consideration. The subject with which it deals has, therefore, already received an exceptional degree of consideration in both Houses and, in the circumstances, I do not suppose that your Lordships will either desire or expect me to go into all the details of the measure. Your Lordships will recall, however, that the Bill has two main objects in view. In the first place, it takes account of the increased public interest in food hygiene and the composition of food, and it seeks to strengthen the existing law on these matters. The Bill also consolidates and brings up to date the existing Scottish law on food and drugs, at present scattered through a variety of Statutes and in Defence Regulations. I need say little about the consolidation of the existing law which the Bill effects, except that it will be welcomed by all who are concerned with the administration and enforcement of this branch of the law.

In seeking to strengthen the existing law, the Bill is concerned to promote the greater protection of the public against unsound food. It ensures that the food is made from wholesome ingredients: it seeks to eliminate dishonest or misleading labelling: and it contains important regulation-making powers to secure that food is produced, handled and sold in a hygienic manner. These are provisions of the utmost importance to the ordinary consumer, and your Lordships, from your consideration of the earlier measures, are already well familiar with them. The present Bill, however, differs from its immediate predecessor in one or two important respects and these I will bring specifically to your Lordships' notice.

The most important difference is that it no longer exempts the catering trade from the scope of the registration system proposed to be applied to other food trades. The primary justification of any system of registration is that it reveals to the authorities concerned the whereabouts of the establishments which are to be kept under supervision. Since, however, catering establishments depend for their very existence on being well known to the public, it was thought, when the second version of the Bill was introduced, that it was not necessary to subject them to registration. That Bill, therefore, contained special provisions for the control of the catering trade, outside the registration system.

The same provisions appeared in the present Bill, as originally introduced in another place, but they were strongly criticised on both sides of the Scottish Grand Committee. Indeed, this became the most controversial issue in the Bill. In particular, it was argued that, far from being unnecessary, the registration of caterers' premises was in the public interest, since this would give the authorities the opportunity to make certain from the start that businesses would be conducted without danger to public health. As this was the opinion of the majority of the Scottish Grand Committee, the Government decided to accept it and to delete the special provisions relating to catering premises from the Bill. The result is that the registration system embodied in Clauses 14 and 15 applies to all food trades, including the catering trade. In taking this decision, the Government were influenced by the fact that the registration system includes adequate safeguards for the protection of any trade to which it applies, so that the catering trade will not suffer in any way from the change.

Registration of any trade can be brought into force only after consultation with the interests concerned, and by means of an Order which is subject to an Affirmative Resolution in both Houses of Parliament. An Order need not necessarily apply to a whole trade or class of business. Room is left for exceptions which will enable special types of activity to be exempt from registration, such as the small country tea-shop or a "bed and breakfast" establishment. The important thing is to apply registration not to these small concerns but to businesses where supervision is desirable in the interests of public health.

A further safeguard under the Bill is that the trader has a right to be heard by the local authority before they decide to refuse, cancel or vary his registration, and if he is dissatisfied with their decision, he can appeal 'to the sheriff. The experience of the operation of registration in other fields, such as the registration of milk and ice cream, suggests that local authorities discharge their responsibility with patience and understanding, and if they have erred, it has been on the side of leniency to avoid the withdrawal of registration. It is, indeed, only the trader who is carrying on business in an unhygienic way who has anything to fear from registration.

While the application of registration to the catering industry is the main respect in which the Bill differs from its predecessors, there are other differences which are of sufficient importance for me to bring to your Lordships' notice. Clauses 1 and 6 have been amended to ensure that the advertising agency which advertises dangerous food or publishes misleading advertisements is not free of responsibility unless it had no hand whatever in the preparation of the advertisement. On the other hand, the advertising agency which takes the initiative in deciding the form of an advertisement, or even assists in doing so, will share responsibility with the seller of the goods.

Clause 13 provides that regulations on food hygiene may now be made in respect of what are called "home-going" ships, which are defined as passenger services and excursions around the coast and on inland waterways—an example of which, I suppose, might be Loch Lomond. There are not many people who do not have a meal or a drink while on board ship, and we want to ensure that what they get is hygienically prepared and served. But we realise that we cannot always insist on the same facilities as on land, so the regulations will have to be worked out carefully in consultation with those concerned. Clause 23 of the Bill is new. It is designed to enable more effective regulations to be made to prevent the spread of disease by persons handling food. It seems right to ensure that people who are suffering from infectious conditions are not allowed to handle food.

Finally, my Lords, there is a new provision in subsection (5) of Clause 25, which gives the proposed Scottish Food Hygiene Council the right to initiate representations to the Secretary of State about the working of the various fool regulations. Originally the clause merely enabled the Secretary of State to remit such questions as he thought fit to the Council for their consideration and advice, so that the new provision introduces, I submit, a desirable two-way traffic in this respect.

I trust that the changes to which I have referred will be acceptable to your Lordships as constituting worthwhile improvements to the Bill, and I am equally confident that when the Bill becomes law it will prove to be an important contribution to the Scottish public health code. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Strathclyde.)

3.20 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for going over this Bill, notwithstanding the fact that, to a great extent, we have covered this ground previously. It is as well to be brought up to date with regard to what is in this new Bill—because to a certain extent this is a new Bill—and the time that has passed and brought this measure to its present stage has not been wasted. I am glad to think that those who are interested in this important matter of food hygiene have been able to bring their influence to bear and to make of this Bill what I consider a greatly improved measure to deal with this subject.

The noble Lord has indicated that this is in a considerable degree a consolidation Bill, and it is well, I think, that these matters should be codified and brought into one Statute so far as that is possible. The big step forward that is made by this Bill, and which I think takes it in front of its English counterpart, is the registration of all catering premises. I am glad that that step has been made and has received the approval of the Government, and I am sure that it will commend itself to your Lordships' House. It wom1d be observed that the noble Lord made reference to the passing of certain regulations by Affirmative Resolution in this House. I am pleased that it is by the affirmative method and that we will have to place the stamp of the approval of this House and, of course, of another place, upon the regulations before they become effective.

So far as the Bill is concerned, that. is all the distance we can go at the moment, because it seems to me that the regulations are what are important; the regulations are the important part of the process that is being carried into effect by this Bill. The regulations are very important indeed, but I believe that there is something even more important than the regulations, and that is education in respect of food hygiene. You may make your regulations and yet find that they are being neither interpreted nor applied in the proper spirit. Notwithstanding the fact that there are many opportunities of giving better service to the public in this regard, I know from observation that some of the facilities that are being made available are not being used to the full.

I have in mind the fact that in a particular shop which I know, a baker's shop, the shopfitter made great progress in the way of keeping delicate food from contamination caused by customers who come into the shop and possibly handle the things, by building up a glass frontage to the counter. Everything could be seen but could not be handled except by the assistants behind the counter, who could, of course, handle anything that was there and serve it to the customers. That glasswork was built up to a considerable height and everything was behind it. A portion of the counter was left so that things could be handed over to the customers and payment for the goods could be received. But I was appalled to observe that, on occasions, that lower part where the transaction of handing over money was carried out, where sleeves had to pass across that part of the glass-covered counter, there was placed a tray of delicate pastry with soft sugar coating —in the very place where it should not have been. That portion of the counter should have been left clear. That was obviously the intention of the shopfitter in designing the counter to obviate the possibility of contamination taking place.

It seems to me that that is the kind of thing that could be covered by the regulations; but if the regulations were not properly regarded, then such misuse of the opportunity of protecting goods that I have indicated could result. I make the claim that the regulations should declare emphatically that where food is exposed—and we see food exposed, for example, at machines for cutting bacon and other things—there should be a prohibition on smoking in a shop of that kind, in order to protect the goods from any contamination whatsoever. That is just an indication of the kind of thing that could be done. I remember making other references to the menace that dogs presented by being allowed into shops where goods were exposed on the floor. That is the kind of thing that we shall desire to safeguard by the regulations that are made.

I am looking forward to the appearance of those regulations, which will be framed, no doubt, in consultation with the caterers; but it will be necessary for some inspection to be made to ensure that the regulations are carried out. I hope that what has been said by the noble Lord to-day about the desirability of this Bill, and its purpose, will cause people to realise that they are entitled to claim protection in every possible way from the possibility of contamination of food in these shops. I am glad to think that the Bill has, in the process of time, been so considerably improved. I hope for it a speedy passage into law, and I hope also that the regulations may be effective in carrying out the purpose of the Bill.


My Lords, before the Minister replies, may I ask a question? I have in my hand a copy of the Bill which I obtained a few moments ago from the Printed Paper Office and there is a line in the Explanatory Memorandum which says: Caterers' premises are excluded from these registration provisions.


There is a new one.


Apparently there is a new one which I was not given at the time; it was only about half an hour ago. I think we might have a little light on that subject, because I agree with my noble friend who has just spoken on this matter, Lord Mathers, that the protection of caterers' premises and premises where food is sold is perhaps one of the most important features of this measure. Yet on this printed copy of the Bill, which has been in existence for a long time, it is stated that they are specifically excluded. Perhaps the Minister will be able to throw light on that mystery.


My Lords, perhaps I had better deal first with the point just raised by the noble Lord. Lord Haden-Guest. Due to some unfortunate misunderstanding this Explanatory Memorandum was printed as it appeared on the original Bill and without notice having been taken of the alterations or Amendments which had been made and to which I referred in the course of my speech. Consequently a new Explanatory Memorandum was published so soon as the misunderstanding was observed. I hope that noble Lords have not been put to any inconvenience as a result of this matter. I quite agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mathers, that regulations and education have to go hand in hand if we are to get the best value out of this Bill. I regret, as he does, that there still should be instances of carelessness and lack of thought, such as he has described to us. I can assure the noble Lord that there will be the fullest consultation with all parties who may be concerned in the framing of the negotiations.

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

Forward to