HL Deb 13 July 1982 vol 433 cc199-204

7.22 p.m.

Lord Sandys rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 21st May be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, these regulations constitute a necessary step in the process of giving effect to certain EC directives on the marketing of animal feeding stuffs. They will apply throughout the United Kingdom. They will be followed by detailed regulations made under Part IV of the Agriculture Act 1970 as amended by these regulations. These later regulations will be known as the Feeding Stuffs Regulations 1982.

The aim of these two sets of regulations will be to implement the requirements of two harmonisation directives concerned with the marketing of straight and compound feeding stuffs—Directives 77/101/EEC and 79/373/EEC respectively; and to help to complete the implementation of Directive 74/163—controlling undesirable substances in animal feeding stuffs which are not covered by regulations made under the Medicines Act 1968. Taken together with some amendments subsequently agreed to these directives, the regulations will be a consolidated implementation of our obligations under the Treaty of Rome in this sector.

Together with the Feeding Stuffs Regulations 1982, another set of regulations will have to be laid and come into operation at the same time, prescribing the agreed methods of sampling and analysis necessary for the proper enforcement of the feeding stuff regime. These will be known as the Feeding Stuffs (Sampling and Analysis) Regulations 1982.

To a large extent these regulations and the subsequent ones mirror existing United Kingdom legislation already on the statute book. Indeed, we in this country have been concerned to control the trade in animal feeding stuffs since the Fertiliser and Feeding Stuffs Act 1893. The basic principles of our legislation have been to ensure that the buyer is properly informed about his purchase and the philosophy of the European directives is not far removed from outs in that, to accord with Article 3 of the Compounds Directive (79/373/EEC) and with Article 3 of the Straights Directive (77/101/EEC): …feeding stuffs may be marketed only if they are wholesome, unadulterated and of merchantable quality … feeding stuffs may not represent a danger to animal or human health and may not be presented or marketed in a manner likely to mislead". The instrument now before the House seeks to make minor adjustments to the philosophy contained in the Agriculture Act 1970 as are necessary to align it with that agreed within the Community. It will extend the regulation-making powers so that detailed provisions may be lawfully made in regulations to correspond with the detailed provisions of the directives. The instrument also extends the scope of the Act to embrace feeding stuffs intended for pet animals and to comply with EC requirements. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 21st May be approved.—(Lord Sandys.)

Lord Bishopston

My Lords, I am sure that the House is grateful to the noble Lord for describing the regulations which I welcome and which have already had detailed scrutiny in another place. As the Minister said, the aim of these regulations is to implement the requirements of two harmonisation directives dealing with feeding stuffs. They also regulate and control substances and additives in certain feeding stuffs and details of sampling and the analysis for enforcement. This is very desirable.

I accept that these regulations harmonise the EEC with some of the current legislation and practices of the United Kingdom and are aimed at ensuring that the buyer is properly informed about his purchase and also assured about the quality. I note the statutory instrument also includes pet animal feeding stuffs required under Part IV of the 1970 Agriculture Act. I have one or two questions for the noble Lord if he would be prepared to answer them. I understand that the amending regulation to which he referred in respect of the feeding stuffs regulations needs to be laid before Parliament soon. Can we be told how soon this will be and whether this will be before the Summer Recess?

Certain particulars will be requited to be detailed about the make-up of feeding stuffs when marketed and while these added safeguards about the quality and contents of feeding stuffs are welcome—and I believe the trade has also welcomed them—will the Minister estimate the extra cost to the compounding industry and consequently of course to livestock producers of the carrying out of the regulations and allowing for the invariable changes which can be made in the individual composition of feeding stuffs. Can he say what consulations he has had on these changes and with what result about the cost, so far as those aspects are concerned?

I understand, finally, that Article 3, to which the noble Lord referred of the Compounds Directive and the Straights Directive requires: …feeding stuffs may be marketed only if they are wholesome, unadulterated and of merchantable quality … feeding stuffs may not represent a danger to animal or human health and may not be presented or marketed in a manner likely to mislead. That of course is good. For clarification, may I ask whether this means that humans can eat pet food and that tins can specify the contents as fit for animal or human consumption? I ask this particular question because the Explanatory Note, which of course is not part of the regulations, stipulates in paragraph 5: Regulation 6 extends Section 73(1) (which prohibits the sale, or possession for sale, of feeding stuffs deleterious to prescribed animals) so as to apply to ingredients deleterious to pet animals or human beings. The next paragraph refers to Regulation 7 which adds a new Section 73A. I quote: This makes it an offence to sell or possess for sale a feeding stuff which is unwholesome for, or a danger to, prescribed animals or pet animals or a danger to human beings. I think this could be misleading and it is of course important that those concerned in the trade and among the consuming public are not misled as to what is and what is not edible for human consumption. I feel that it would be too bad if human beings, wrongly eating pet food, went around making animal noises. It may even attract a few catcalls. Seriously, I welcome the measure and I hope that the Minister can clarify the several points I have raised.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, did not think that my laugh was a catcall. I am advised in what I have to say by the United Kingdom Agricultural Supply Trade Association. I am going to talk only about Regulation 5 which, as my noble friend told us, will lead to further regulations. We are concerned that the further regulations should not demand any more of the compounders than at the moment they provide, and happily provide, by way of information to their customers. We are particularly concerned that the optional factor in the directive with regard to the declaration of ingredients should remain optional and that there should be no threat in these further regulations of any compulsion with regard to declaration of ingredients or indeed of compulsion with regard to how the ingredients might be presented on any labelling. The point about this, very briefly, is that too tight a control, which is not now required, can lead only to lack of flexibility which in turn can lead only to increased costs—and increased costs will be to the detriment of the livestock farmers, whom I understand are very satisfied with the present arrangements. We are not talking about petfoods and the regulations in relation to those; we are talking only about the supply of feeding stuffs to farmers, who are perfectly capable of making their own arrangements to see that they get the sort of feed which they want and for which the current practices are satisfactory.

There is another factor; that is, that if too much ingredient-marking is required, the value of the research and development on which the compounders spend large sums of money will be eroded and we might get a situation in which further recession development was not continuing or indeed that companies could not withstand pressures from their competitors. All in all, I would hope that any regulation that is yet to be put before your Lordships should have full consultation given to it, and I hope that my noble friend can reassure me on this. I also hope that the points I have made—and, I believe, were made in a similar manner in another place—will be given proper regard in any regulations that may come forward. I trust that my noble friend will be able to give me that reassurance.

Lord John-Mackie

My Lords, I must apologise for not being present at the beginning of this short debate. Does it take three pages of the most dreadful officialese that I have read to say that pet foods come under the Feeding Stuffs Act? The noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, quoted some of it, but when you read at the bottom of page 1: 'pet animal' means any animal belonging to a species normally kept and nourished but not consumed by man,"— am I right in thinking that a judge kept a tame pig in his chambers not so long ago? What are we to make of him? —not being an animal which has been or may be prescribed for the purpose of the definition of 'feeding stuff'. I would quote one sentence from (2)(a) on page 3: In the case of proceedings for an offence of selling, or having for sale, material which is unwholesome for, or dangerous to, animals he shall not be convicted by reason of the fact that the material is found, or the sampled portion of it is shown, to be unwholesome only for or, as the case may be, dangerous only to animals of a kind different from that specified. I ask your Lordships! If any layman, wanting to do something about selling pet foods is given this order, I should think he would be utterly confounded by reading any or all of it. I would suggest that something should be done to write things so that ordinary people can understand what on earth they are all about.

7.36 p.m.

Lord Sandys

My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble Lord, Lord Bishopston, for giving me advance notice of a number of questions he wished to ask about this instrument. His first question concerned when the detailed regulations would be made. I can say that they will be made during August and the main provisions will come into force six months later, but not so far as the pet food labelling is concerned. That will operate some eight months later: that is, during July 1984. The regulations will be by Negative Resolution. Although laid during the recess, 40 sitting days are allowed for purposes against the regulation.

The noble Lord asked, as his second point, whether Ministers would estimate the cost of these regulations to the compounding interests and to the livestock producers. The compounders already provide a good deal of information to their customers. Some changes follow from the change in the law, but that is unlikely to give rise to significant cost increases. For the reasons given above, this is unlikely to suffer significant price increases. However, if mandatory ingredient-listing were to be required—and at this stage that is not yet certain—I am bound to say this would be more expensive both to the compounder and to the farmer. I am very glad that my noble friend Lord Mottistone referred to this. My honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary, Mrs. Fenner, is examining this question and will be meeting representatives of the National Farmers' Union and compounders representatives later this month. I can assure noble Lords that this matter is under consideration at present.

The noble Lord asked what consultations with interested parties have taken place on changes in the law and what reaction there might be on the cost aspects. Section 84 of the Agriculture Act 1970 requires Ministers to consult with all interested parties before making any regulations. There have been expensive consultations. No particular reference has been made to costs, although the Government appreciate that any improvement in consumer information must involve some additional cost, however slight. The noble Lord particularly referred to ingredient-listing cost. My honourable friend is considering whether mandatory listing should be included in the detailed regulations, but no decision has yet been taken on this important matter.

The fourth point mentioned by the noble Lord referred to Article 3: did it mean that humans could eat pet food, and should it be marked as suitable for human consumption? The short answer is, no. The law is concerned that there should be no deleterious carry-over from animal food to the human food chain. Although many pet food manufacturers in this country will say that their product is safe for humans to eat, they do not recommend it. It is not practicable for the law to seek to control use in the home: otherwise rape seed manufacturers would need to put a health warning on all their products.

I should like to refer, once again, to the important matters raised by my noble friend Lord Mottistone. I am afraid that I cannot give him any definitive answer and assurance in the terms which he would hope to receive tonight, because, as I have already said, my honourable friend is discussing this matter at the present moment with the interested parties. I think it would prejudice negotiations if I gave an answer which might be read into the argument in one way or another.

I listened with interest to the words of the noble Lord, Lord John-Mackie, on the definitions of the terms in the order. As ever, as he rightly pointed out, that excellent book by Sir Ernest Gowers called Plain Wordy should constantly be beside us in our discussions, and also beside those who draft the regulations. In a sense, we are subject to so many decisions which have been taken in the drafting of previous regulations. While they are not always in the most elegant forms, we believe that they are as serviceable as they may be. We take the point that the noble Lord made and enjoyed his humorous reference to the judge in chambers. I hope that I have answered the questions put by noble Lords.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, before my noble friend sits down, could he reassure me on two points? Can he reassure me that, when his honourable friend Mrs. Fenner has her meeting with the NFU, the NFU delegation will include representatives of livestock farmers? Secondly, can he reassure me that, at the same time, she will be meeting representatives of compounders?

Lord Sandys

My Lords, so far as representatives of the compounding industries are concerned, I can give that assurance. As to whether National Farmers' Union representatives will include livestock breeders, I think the answer is less certain, except in so far as the National Farmers' Union automatically represent those interests as part of their corporate body.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, would it be possible for my noble friend to suggest to the NFU that in this case it is very important that the livestock farmers should be represented?

Lord Sandys

My Lords, I am quite certain that the NFU will take much interest in what my noble friend has said. But far be it for me, or indeed members of the Government, to suggest to the NFU how their delegation should be composed. However, I think that this matter will certainly receive their attention automatically.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Lord Sandys

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 8 o'clock.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The sitting was suspended from 7.43 until 8 p.m.]