HL Deb 16 May 1977 vol 383 cc510-3

5.7 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. This Bill is intended to update the law in Scotland so far as that law concerns hygiene in food shops and similar establishments. The Act concerned is the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Act 1956 and regulations under that Act empower local authority food inspectors to ban any business which is carried out where they believe insanitary conditions are prevalent. There is a problem in implementing any measure which is ordered by the food inspectors and of course it is the age-old problem of the length of time which is involved in the necessary legal provisions.

In the cases concerning us, there is a major risk to public health and I believe that for that reason the Bill seeks to empower the courts to close that business. At the moment the owner may be prosecuted, he may be able to pay a fine and then he can continue what could be—and probably in most cases is—a most profitable and lucrative business. The power of closure already exists in England and Wales for such premises; that is, empowered under the Food Premises Act of 1976 and we are now seeking to amend the law in Scotland so as to come into line with the higher standards of food hygiene.

The controls which are proposed in the Bill would empower the Procurator Fiscal to issue a closure order prohibiting any food activities, any preparation of food, selling and processing of such food, until such time as the local authorities are satisfied that any danger to health has been removed. An interim closure order is permitted to be issued where a prosecution is pending or is indeed in progress. I hope the House will bear with me if I go through the clauses of the Bill as briefly as I can.

Clause 1 deals with the issue of a closure order, who may issue it, how it can be done, the time limits for closing the premises, and, when the danger to health has, one hopes, ultimately been removed, for the order to be rescinded. Clause 2 gives power to the Procurator Fiscal to issue an interim closure order. As with a closure order, there remains the period of notice to be given before the order can take effect, which is seven days. Again this particular clause gives the grounds for closure and the measures to be taken in order to lift the order.

Clause 3 covers the important area of appeals, by both the Procurator Fiscal and, of course, the owner of the premises or the stall or the vehicle. The appeal lies to the High Court in the case of a closure order but to the sheriff principal where we have an interim closure order; and, of course, the rights of the aggrieved owner of premises are safeguarded further in the Bill. I think it would be fair to your Lordships to point out that there is a strong possibility that the appeals procedure as outlined in this clause may not, as we see it, achieve what the appeals procedure seeks to achieve. Therefore, we may require an amendment at a later stage in the Bill. I refer to this in passing.

Clause 4 of the Bill sets out the penalties for a breach of an order, be it a closure order or an interim closure order, and indeed the persons to whom those penalties shall apply. Clause 5 deals with the procedures involved in serving notices of orders. Clause 6 contains the relevant definitions and the references to the appropriate authorities who are to implement the provisions of the Bill. Clause 7 extends the Bill's provisions to what I should like to call floating premises; in other words, it is intended that it shall apply to ships. Clause 8 is the short title.

My Lords, I hope I have not wearied the House, because I deem it courteous to give a brief explanation of the clauses as we go through the Bill this afternoon. In general, the Bill has the support of a number of very important bodies. It has the support of the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, the Scottish Institute of Environmental Health, and, of course, the Scottish Food Hygiene Council. What is even more welcome is that the Government have given their valuable support to implement this measure. For this I am most grateful, and indeed I am equally grateful for the expert advice I have received from all quarters. I beg to move.

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

5.12 p.m.


My Lords, I think we must be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for introducing this Bill. I am glad to confirm what the noble Lord said, that the Government support this Bill warmly. It is a Private Member's Bill introduced in another place by the honourable Member for Ayr. It appears to us to be a useful and uncontroversial measure, and it should close a loophole in the law. The Bill follows closely the provisions of the Control of Food Premises Act 1976, which applies in England and Wales. It seeks to remedy weaknesses in the powers given to courts in Scotland under the Food and Drugs (Scotland) Act 1956 and the associated Food Hygiene (Scotland) Regulations. As the noble Lord has said, it would enable the court to prohibit the operator of a food business from carrying on his business at premises which the court, on hearing evidence from local authority officers and the owner, is satisfied are insanitary. At present the position is not satisfactory in that such businesses can continue to function with a serious risk to public health during the full legal proceedings leading to a conviction for contravention of the Food Hygiene Regulations.

As the noble Lord has said, the Bill had wide support in Scotland from local authorities, the Scottish Food Hygiene Council, food trades, and consumer and other interests. Generally, the Government feel that the effect of the Bill would be wholly good, as it would give support to local enforcement authorities in their efforts to ensure that food premises are up to standard, and it could be expected that the powers would be used sparingly and sensibly. As I said, the Bill has the full support of the Government. It had a trouble-free passage in another place. We hope that your Lordships will give it your support, so that it may have an equally speedy and free passage through this House and be brought into law in time for the summer.

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