HL Deb 15 May 1981 vol 420 cc690-3

11.22 a.m.

Baroness Sharpies

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Section 16 of the Food and Drugs Act 1955 requires that no premises shall be used for the preparation or manufacture, particularly, of sausages and pressed, potted, pickled and preserved food intended for sale, unless they are registered by the local authority and open to inspection. This section of the Act was never intended to affect home kitchens and this has in fact been confirmed by the Secretary of State. That is why this short amendment Bill is before your Lordships.

Last year, Stockton-on-Tees Council said that produce from home kitchens had to come under Section 16, since when there has been great confusion and dismay caused to the numerous voluntary and charitable organisations, and a great deal of obvious uncertainty. The sale of home produce brings in a great deal of money for those organisations. The Women's Institute, with 500,000 members, sells over £2 million worth of produce. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution make even more: they make £3,500,000. There was a survey carried out by the Times Educational Supplement which showed that £23 million is raised by parents, again mostly from home produce. There are many examples: I should like to include villages who are now approaching their flower show seasons and fêtes. They rely virtually entirely on the sale of different types of produce and preserves. All these people have had a year to worry about the present situation in which they find themselves through no fault of their own.

This is a perfectly ridiculous situation. We may well laugh about it, but to the people concerned it is extremely serious. However, I know that now we can put things right and I think that both Houses should take pride in the fact that it has taken for us a fairly short time to act in this matter. That has been largely thanks to the Member for Cornwall North who has piloted this small Bill through the other place. Just to end on a sweet note, my Lords, because of the high sugar content of jam and the fact that it has to be brought to a temperature of 220ê and sealed very promptly, it has never been known for anyone to have been poisoned by jam! I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Baroness Sharpies.)

11.24 a.m.

Lord Airedale

My Lords, besides the voluntary organisations to which the noble Baroness, Lady Sharpies, has referred are the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides Associations. I believe that they prepare jam under proper supervision in their huts, for sale from time to time, not for private profit but at produce stalls, and so on, in aid of their own funds. They never supposed, just as the other voluntary organisations did not suppose, that Section 16 of the 1955 Act held any terrors for them; but if it does, and if an umbrella is being erected to protect the other voluntary organisations, the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides wish to come under that umbrella if they can.

I have in my hand an amendment ready to be tabled, but I will not bother your Lordships with the detail of it now because we are not in a Committee stage. The amendment, I understand, has the blessing of the department and of the parliamentary draftsmen and the only possible snag is that snag which seems always to apply in the case of Private Member's Bills which have passed another place—if they are amended here, is another place going to give itself time to look at the matter again? I hope that in the case of an amendment which is so well agreed by all the important people concerned another place will make time for this. They do not appear this year to be under perhaps quite so much pressure in the summer months as in some years past.

Perhaps I may be permitted to have a discussion with the Minister about this point before the Committee stage, because certainly the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides do not wish to wreck a Bill which is intended to protect voluntary organisations. It is to be hoped that this proposed amendment will be agreed to by this House, that time will be available in another place and that we shall be able to come in under the umbrella.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, for introducing this Bill. It may seem a small Bill but it is important to thousands of people. Having worked for so long in women's organisations, I always found that legislation which was introduced to deal with villains seemed in some odd way to fall very heavily on the voluntary organisations. For example, a simple raffle, after the Lotteries and Gaming Act, became a matter of concern and worry to local groups who feared they might be breaking the law. They were unable, I recall, to sell home-made wine because they did not have a licence. They could not have a fortune-teller in case they contravened some ancient Act going back to the Middle Ages. So it is quite deplorable that a local authority seems to have taken the opportunity to intervene—and one wonders how much work they had to do that they found it necessary—in a good cause like this.

The Women's Institute markets provide thousands of pounds every year and this is one of the best ways for the farmer's wife or the woman at home to provide splendid produce. In fact, my Lords, I think we all deliberately go for the home-made produce when we visit a fair or a bazaar. We are all rather tired of the kind of produce with which we have to put up, particularly in the preserves field—which is often more preservative than fruit—and here we have an example of good food which we are not going to be able to buy any more, and which the folk who have done such a magnificent job for their organisations previously are not going to be able to make. I think that this is a splendid Bill, and it will strike a blow for the voluntary organisations who, so often, suffer under the weight of legislation.

11.30 a.m.

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, following the good example of previous speakers, I shall not detain the House for very long. When difficulties arose last summer for the members of the Women's Institute Market in Stockton-on-Tees, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Social Services made it clear that, in his view, Parliament had never intended that Section 16 of the Food and Drugs Act 1955 should require the registration by local authorities of domestic kitchens used to prepare food for sale at such markets. Accordingly, I welcome the Bill on behalf of the Government. I am sure that the House will agree that it is right to correct this small but important anomaly and, further, that, on grounds of equity, registration should also not apply where domestic kitchens are used to prepare food for sale for what I shall call charitable purposes.

The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, has raised another anomaly. The Government are entirely sympathetic to his view and, as he suggests, perhaps we can have a discussion between now and the Committee stage to see whether the amendment might prejudice the Bill in any way.

I wish to make only one other point. Because members of these markets receive the proceeds of the sale of their product, they are engaged in running a food business. It follows from this, and, notwithstanding the fact that under the Bill the kitchens would cease to be registrable, that the relevant requirements of the Food Hygiene (General) Regulations 1970 will apply. This means that the kitchens and equipment, together with the way in which the food is actually prepared, have to meet certain standards. These standards are not onerous, but are necessary to protect the interests of the public who buy the food. They should present no difficulty for the housewife who, quite apart from legal considerations, is concerned to observe good standards.

It is a mark of the responsible attitude adopted by organisers of Women's Institute markets that they emphasise to their members the importance of observing these good standards, and that they are happy to co-operate with local authorities by supplying them with the names and addresses of market members. This being so, the House can feel reassured that, by doing away with the unintended bureaucratic requirement of registration, the Bill is doing nothing which might put the public at risk from any relaxation of present high standards, which we all take for granted at these markets. I warmly commend the Bill to the House.

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I just ask him a very short question? While I support the noble Baroness, Lady Sharpies, up to the hilt on this issue, does it not bring the Common Market into disrepute to have such daft regulations as this?

Lord Cullen of Ashbourne

My Lords, I do not really see the connection with the Common Market. We are talking about Stockton-on-Tees.

Baroness Gaitskell

My Lords, it is the same with milk on the doorstep.

Baroness Sharpies

My Lords, may I, please, thank my noble friend for his reply, and I hope that he can get together with the noble Lord, Lord Airedale. I should like also to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. This Bill is obviously supported on all sides, and I thank your Lordships very much indeed.

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