§ 3.59 p.m.
§ Second reading debate resumed.
§ Lord Gallacher
My Lords, first of all, perhaps I may thank the noble Baroness for explaining the Food Safety Bill to us in such detail and with considerable clarity. The Bill has been generally welcomed by those people who are most interested in it and likely to be most affected by it. In particular, those who speak for consumers, for the local authorities, including the enforcement officers of those local authorities, for producers and for retailers, have all expressed general support for the Bill. However, naturally they have reservations on a number of counts in respect of their own specific interests and in respect of specific clauses. This support with reservations —if I may so describe it —promises an interesting Committee stage for the Bill in your Lordships' House.
As the noble Baroness said, the Bill was subject to much discussion with interested parties over recent years. Thus it shows signs here and there of compromise. But the important thing, as the Minister said, is that overall the Bill is decisive in a text which is admirably clear.
The need for the Bill is paramount. In spite of our reputation for the quality of our food and its 757 diversity, it would be very difficult not to be concerned about food safety in recent months and years, not only in respect of new products but also of basic foods. The Department of Health has already reported that in the first nine months of 1989, 21,843 cases of food poisoning have been recorded. That was an increase of 13 per cent. over the same period in 1988.
I have already mentioned what I believe to be the clarity of the Bill. Perhaps I may express the hope that the same thing will apply to the important codes of practice which are to be made under it. It is particularly gratifying that the role of environmental health officers and trading standards officers under the Bill has been recognised and will be extended, and that the Government have agreed to fund an additional £30 million for this purpose. That is good so far as it goes. Naturally the only query regarding the figure is whether it will be enough for the many new duties which the Bill imposes on environmental health officers and trading standards officers.
There are considerable recruitment problems, particularly of environmental health officers. There are also training and placement problems, certainly in areas where high housing costs are making staff recruitment well nigh impossible. This naturally leads me to ask the Minister and indeed the Department of Health, which is vitally concerned in this as well, whether they will impress upon the Department of the Environment the vital nature of the extended role which the Bill now places on environmental health officers. I would ask also whether local authorities operating under the supervision of the Department of the Environment will ensure an adequate budget for the enforcement work which the Bill envisages for this important service. Mention of the budget causes me to ask whether or not the way in which local authorities discharge their duties under the Bill will in any sense or way be monitored. If so, how?
The noble Baroness mentioned that Scotland is included in the Bill and gave the reasons for this. She also mentioned that Northern Ireland is in it, together with England and Wales. My query is whether or not in the extended discussions leading to the drafting of the Bill, organisations which were purely Scottish were consulted in the same way as their counterparts here in England. I wonder also whether in the Scottish Office the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and the Department of Health were fully taken into account in relation to the Bill, and whether they are totally in agreement with it.
The scope of the Bill has caused many organisations to indicate their support for it. In particular, the extended provisions for the supervision of food processing have been generally welcomed. I am informed that the main body in this area —the Food and Drink Federation —accepts the provisions of the Bill. That useful organisation speaks mainly for large firms which are already well equipped to deal with the responsibilities which the Bill will place upon them.
There are however queries about certain smaller companies in food processing, especially in new high tech areas, as to whether or not they have the necessary experience and resources to comply with 758 the Bill. Also, in view of that, perhaps some assistance will need to be given to them, particularly in the early stages.
Farmers, I am glad to say, tell me that they also accept the need for the Bill and its scope, although being farmers, they have queries about aspects of the application of the Bill to them. The queries are, in particular, whether enforcement officers will have knowledge of modern farming practice in sufficient measure to understand what the farmer is attempting, and why his compliance with the Bill may be more difficult because he is a farmer than would be the case in other areas.
Nevertheless, I personally welcome the responsibilities which the Bill places on farmers to ensure observance, including the codes and in particular to ensure that the inputs of farmers are safe and that their primary produce is also, so far as humanly possible, a safe product.
The Bill is greatly concerned with the doctrine of due diligence. This is enshrined of course in its totality in Clause 21. I understand that retailers generally regret the repeal of Section 102 of the Food Act 1984 and the defence of warranty which is included in that section. Clause 21 attempts a fair balance between the parties. There is no doubt that further discussion will take place upon it at the Committee stage. I only say here that consumers must have protection without wearisome and costly litigation. That, it seems to me, is what Clause 21 seeks to do.
In connection with prohibition orders, one notes that Clause 11 imposes fairly strenuous and far-reaching powers on the courts with very limited discretion concerning convictions. I agree that these powers are necessary; but, nevertheless, I also agree that they are at the heart of the clause and of the Bill itself. However the strenuous character of Clause 11 is undeniable. This may be a point which we shall come back to at the Committee stage.
The codes of practice envisaged under the Bill have been given a welcome by interested parties, not least because they will ensure even-handed enforcement. This is important for those who are involved in the Bill.
In Clause 39 the subject of enforcement is discussed. Here, as concerns the drafting of codes, I ask how far advanced the work is. Preparation of codes could delay the introduction of the Bill for which the noble Baroness gave a date., and I think that it would be a great pity if, for that reason —important though codes are —we had any unnecessary delays in giving effect to the Bill by reason of a problem with the codes. We had rather an unhappy experience in your Lordshps' House with the drafting of a code concerning bargain offers under the Consumer Protection Act. Subsequent experience with that code —an unhappy experience in its entirety —leads me to think that codes in themselves are not always the answer to every problem.
The noble Baroness dealt in some detail with the registration and licensing of premises. The distinction that she made about which premises will be registered and which will be licensed is exactly 759 the one which I had already decided was the correct distinction. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to ask at this stage what the cost of registration and licensing will be. In deciding what costs will be made for these services, one wonders whether any thought has been given to the difference between a very large establishment and a very small one. Obviously, if a common registration fee were decided upon, this would bear somewhat harshly on smaller shops. Here one dares to suggest that if no decision has already been taken, thought may be given to using the rateable value as an indicator of what the registration fee ought to be.
We welcome Clause 23 on food hygiene training. At the same time I wish to ask the Minister whether food authorities will recognise hygiene training courses arranged by food businesses or groups of such businesses which follow schemes approved by the local authority. There is a problem with the training of staff in food hygiene, particularly in those areas of retailing and food processing where transient staffs are a normal fact of life and therefore the continuity of training may not be as good as it should be.
Hygiene and safety are also important in the home. It is important that continuing publicity should be given to those matters among housewives. The pamphlet recently issued by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on hygiene in the home was in my view an admirable document. The main factor, as I see it, is to keep those matters constantly before the housewife because there is a tendency to overlook these things and, with the passage of time, perhaps unwittingly to take risks.
Clause 17 is concerned with implementing Community requirements and also in a sense with the irradiation of food. I felt that the noble Baroness skated somewhat lightly over the controversial question of the irradiation of food because there is no doubt that if arguments arise over this Bill they will concern that matter. The Bill has found a facile solution to this problem. Under the Bill powers are taken to permit the irradiation of food, but no general indication is given of how or when the powers will be used. We already know that there is a sizeable volume of opinion in this country against irradiated food in any shape or form. It would be better for the Ministry to recognise that fact and deal with this matter in an open and frank manner.
As I understand the state of play, when the Government first announced their intention to proceed with the irradiation of food they did so for the reasons which the noble Baroness has given. However, they did so on the basis that, even at that stage, they were going rather further than the draft Community directive on irradiated food required. The noble Baroness was kind enough to write to me about the matter and I remember suggesting to her that it might be politic, in introducing what I knew even at that stage to be a controversial matter, to limit the proposals to what was in the draft Community directive. Since then, of course, the draft Community directive has had the misfortune to receive the "thumbs down" sign from the European Parliament which only favours the irradiation of 760 herbs and spices. The Government have taken that very much in their stride. In a Written Answer in the Official Report of another place on 28th November the Minister responsible for food commented at col. 190 on the implications for government policy of the recent European Parliamentary vote. He said:The vote as such has no implications for Government policy. It is the means by which the Parliament has set out its opinion on the proposals from the Commission. The co-operation procedure provides for the Commission to take a view of the Parliament's opinion and for the Council to seek a common position among the member states".If I may say so in the presence of the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, who is a former distinguished Member of that European Parliament, those comments put the European Parliament nicely in its place. In spite of all the powers given to it, or the powers it thinks it has, it remains what it originally was, which is a consultative body giving opinions. However, given the rates of pay which its Members enjoy, it is not a bad body to belong to. Where does this leave her Majesty's Government?
I am interested in particular in the position of the House of Lords' Select Committee on Community affairs in this area because I understand it has been working assiduously, as always, on the draft directive and is due to report on it fairly shortly. In my opinion it will be to the advantage of this House, certainly in Committee, if we have the benefit of the informed opinion of the Select Committee on this vital question as there is a sharp conflict of opinion in the country at large. The more information we have to guide us in this area, the better it will be for all concerned.
On the question of irradiated food we also come up against the problem that, although the Government are taking many powers to themselves to make orders under the Bill, they propose as a general theme to use the annulment procedure for the making of these orders. I must tell the noble Baroness that already I have received from diverse sources the unsolicited opinion that the use of the annulment procedure in areas as important and as vital as these across the board is totally unacceptable. That is my own view.
We shall need to look very seriously at the relevant clause when we come to it because the powers are far too sweeping and they are totally inappropriate to the questions which will arise in the making of orders under this Bill. If one may fly a kite in this particular direction, I should say that, in view of the credit which the Government are seeking to take for their new consumer panel, they may care to consider seeking advice from it on whether or not the annulment or the affirmative procedure should be used when the Government are ready to introduce draft regulations to your Lordships' House. At any rate as the procedure stands it goes too far and for that reason we are not very happy with the proposition that the annulment procedure should apply.
In general this is basically a good Bill, but in my view it needs to rekindle public confidence in food throughout the food chain. The White Paper on which the Bill is based failed to impress because for 761 many of us it was a public relations exercise in which the Ministry of Agriculture sought to take too much credit for things it had little to do with. The Bill rectifies that position and we now have an opportunity to deal with a measure which is relevant to the needs of consumers in a fast changing food environment. It is a Bill which, with some improvements, can meet the needs of the times.
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ Lord Ezra
My Lords, like the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, I wish to welcome the Bill. It contains many positive features which are clearly stated. However, like the noble Lord I should like to see some modifications which I shall discuss in a moment. I wish to begin by declaring an interest as president of the Institute of Trading Standards Administration. I am glad to say that in that capacity I had a helpful meeting with the noble Baroness a few weeks ago which led to a clearer understanding of what was in the mind of the Ministry.
Needless to say, as someone connected with the trading standards administration I am glad to note that an additional £30 million a year will be taken into account in next year's revenue support grant settlement for local authorities to enforce this legislation. Noble Lords will no doubt recall our concern when we were discussing the consumer protection legislation in early 1987 that no provision was made for enforcement. That seemed to be a major weakness of that legislation and I am very glad to see that it is rectified on this occasion.
There is one aspect of financial assistance that I wish to return to in a moment and that is an early and preliminary provision for training. I do not think it is sufficient to provide the moneys concerned, starting from 1991–92, without having trained up the personnel beforehand. I shall indicate the relatively small sums which I feel could be involved in providing for that training.
There are two omissions in the Bill which I regret. The first is that there is not to be an independent food safety and standards agency. The second is that there is no provision for product liability. On the first omission, the Minister went some way when he announced on 2nd November the setting up of a food safety directorate within the Ministry. Certainly that is to be welcomed.
We also welcome the establishment of a consumer panel. However, there are many, who are concerned with protecting the consumer in this area, who would have been happier to see an independent directorate, operating in much the same way as the Office of Fair Trading in relation to the DTI. We feel that that degree of independence could give a greater sense of security to the public and could provide a more visible implementation of the provisions and intentions of the Bill than a directorate, however efficiently and well run, which is an integral part of the department. I hope that as we proceed with the consideration of the Bill that aspect, which we brought to the attention of the noble Baroness when we had our meeting with her some weeks ago, can be taken into account once more. I should not have thought it was too great a problem to give greater 762 emphasis to the independence of the new directorate. I assume we can be reassured that the members of the consumer panel will have access to all appropriate food safety and standards information in order to make an informed judgment on behalf of consumers. It would be necessary that the members of the panel should themselves be sufficiently well qualified to discharge their responsibility on behalf of all of us.
Assuming that these points can be met, it seems to me that there is also a need for experienced trading standards officers to be invited to serve as advisers to the consumer panel and also, I believe, as members of the directorate. The Department of Health has for many years had the benefit of two experienced environmental health officers working full-time within that department. Chernobyl and subsequent accidents, which have resulted in contaminated animal feed and human foodstuffs, suggest that the new MAFF directorate would likewise benefit from being able to call immediately on practical and enforcement advice from trading standards officers serving from within the directorate and therefore familiar with the work the directorate is carrying out. I should be happy to write to the noble Baroness with detailed recommendations in that regard if she would like that.
In regard to product liability, noble Lords may recall that the noble Lord, Lord Allen of Abbeydale, moved an important amendment during our consideration at Committee stage of the Consumer Protection Bill in early 1987 for the application of the consumer protection provisions in the product liability directive to be incorporated without any exception in the subsequent legislation. However, although this was widely supported by the House, and indeed on Report stage was again brought forward and even more widely supported, it was resisted by the Government. I hope that this Bill will provide an opportunity for repairing that omission. I should like to put that forward in clue time at Committee stage.
I should now like to return to the question of further training for trading standards officers, environmental health officers and public analysts. We are grateful for the £30 million that will be provided, but it will come into operation from 1991–92 onwards. What we need, in order to make the best use of this money, is to ensure that we can from now train up the personnel suitably to take on this new role.
The amount of money involved in this would be relatively small. I have been advised that we are talking about a couple of million pounds or so, bearing in mind that these officers are already well qualified and that what would be needed would be to bring them up to date with factory enforcement methods as opposed to the current law, which mainly prescribes enforcement at the point of retail sales. It is not an arduous training process but it would mean that if an advance payment could be made of that sort of order, these people could be ready to assume these increased responsibilities at the due date.
I may say that the Department of Trade and Industry provides a good example of this sort of 763 assistance being provided. For example, it provided £220,000 in the past for quality training in factories; for quality assurance training; for additional training for trading standards officers, and so on —quite substantial sums which have helped considerably to reinforce the quality of the service. I therefore hope that the Ministry will be able to follow the example of their colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry and will be persuaded to make this small additional sum of money available as soon as possible.
These are the general points that I wish to make in relation to this admirable Bill. There are a number of detailed amendments that we should all like to bring forward at the Committee stage. In my case we are perhaps a little concerned about the extent of the Minister's powers of delegation. The noble Baroness, in introducing the Bill, explained why this had been introduced. We accept that. Nevertheless, we feel that there could be some case for introducing an affirmative resolution as a way of dealing with these extended powers, and we shall draw attention to those.
In summary, I should like to say that we welcome this Bill. We think it answers many of the qualms that people now have; and with one or two of the amendments to which the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, referred, added to those to which I referred, we believe that it could be made into an excellent measure.
§ 4.25 p.m.
§ Lady Saltoun of Abernethy
My Lords, while I welcome many of the provisions of this Bill there are some aspects, two of which I shall speak about, which worry me. The noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, has already spoken about irradiation, so I shall not speak about that.
One of the things that worries me is the apparent lack of any power for the Secretary of State to make regulations about feedstuffs and the feeding of livestock in view of the suspicion — I think it is more than a suspicion —that a primary cause of salmonella in poultry may be the feeding of birds on their deceased chums and on antibiotics. This seems a serious omission, if it is an omission. I think that it is unless that power is implicit in Clause 1(1)(a). Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, will be able to tell me the answer to that when she comes to wind up.
The other thing I am worried about is this. As worded at present the Bill sounds the death knell of charity fetes, dances, garden openings, sales of work, coffee mornings, wine and cheese parties —you name it; in short, all the multitude of fund-raising events that take place every week all over Britain from Land's End to the northernmost tip of Shetland at which food is provided by voluntary workers either for sale on a stall or as refreshments.
Millions of pounds are raised every year by these social events for innumerable good causes, which would be very hard hit without them. Moreover, they form the backbone of the social life of town, village and countryside, and the social consequences 764 of killing them would be very grave. In view of the fact that I read in some newspaper that the Secretary of State had said that the Bill would not affect church fetes, I cannot believe that it is the intention of the Government to do that; but according to the legal advice that I have received that is precisely what the Bill, as it stands, would do.
Clause 2(1) provides that the supply of food should have the same meaning as the sale of the food. Subsection (2) provides that the,Act shall apply Ito] any entertainmentand that,'entertainment' includes any social gathering'.In my legal adviser's opinion, charitable functions would be subject to the provisions of the Bill as they are within the definition of entertainment and supplying food otherwise than on sale in terms of Clause 2. He suggests that the words "social gathering" should be deleted from this clause, for as the Bill is, I think, to protect consumers and improve the standards of hygiene facilities of commercial businesses there seems no good reason why these regulations are extended to social gatherings. I shall be interested to hear the noble Baroness's comments on this point when she comes to wind up.
§ 4.28 p.m.
§ Lord Lyell
My Lords, the first thing I want to do this afternoon is to congratulate my noble friend the Minister of State for the clear way in which she has introduced this particularly important Bill. I want to pass on my personal congratulations to the Ministry as well as to all departments. I am particularly pleased that my noble friend Lady Hooper will be taking part today and at all stages of the Bill.
I congratulate the departments on this initiative, which I believe is much needed. It is topical and it is relevant to the food industry. What will be of particular relevance to many in your Lordships' House is the great annual exhibition at Smithfield, which is taking place this week. No doubt today, later this week and perhaps even next week, we may have the benefit of many members of the agricultural industry who may be able to come and listen to the deliberations of your Lordships, and perhaps even learn something.
Many of the points that I wish to raise have been raised by my noble friend Lady Trumpington. I have no doubt that many of the points that I have in mind will be raised by later speakers, so I shall desist from many of my more quixotic thoughts and try to be brief. I wish to concentrate on one subject which has already aroused a considerable amount of controversy this afternoon; namely, irradiation.
Noble Lords may know that I had the honour to serve for five and a half years as the Minister responsible for agriculture in Northern Ireland. One of the constituent sections of the Department of Agriculture there is the scientific service. Our pride and joy went under the name of the Food Irradiation Unit and was situated in Newforge Lane, a suburb of Belfast. I recall my noble friend the Minister of State paying a visit there with me. She nods assent, so that visit clearly did her no harm.
765 The process of irradiation can engender some terrifying thoughts among us if we remember the results of the dramatic explosion at Chernobyl which caused appalling havoc with the sheep industry, particularly in Great Britain. It also caused some problems in Northern Ireland, but a year later than on the mainland. I am sure that I speak for my noble friend when I say that we were awash with bequerels, Caesium 135 and Caesium 137. My noble friend paid a visit to Northern Ireland and saw some of the effects on the sheep and the lamb industry there of one particularly malignant form of radiation.
Under the cover of the Bill before us today we hope to discuss the question of irradiation. A patent for a process akin to irradiation was granted as far back as 1921. The process is in operation in 21 countries and is permitted in 35 countries. The working party in the United Kingdom, which goes under the name of the Advisory Committee on Irradiated Novel Foods —I enjoy these acronyms; one never knows what to make of them —recommended that irradiation should be permitted, but under certain safeguards. The noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, and all noble Lords including me will be on all-fours on this matter. I had perhaps better not deal at too great length with the overall average dose of 10 kilograys. No doubt my noble friend Lady Hooper will be able to advise us on the matter, if not today at a later stage. We shall no doubt go deeply into the subject.
As noble Lords will know, there was a report in 1986 with further study in 1987, but the one thread which went through all those deliberations and is central to our discussion of the subject this afternoon is the matter of licensing and inspection. I believe that I am right in thinking that Clauses 16 and 19 are particularly germane to the problems of licensing both the process of irradiation and the premises where it may be carried out. Above all, it is important to realise that licensing should be under the direct aegis of a competent national authority. I believe that that is part and parcel of the directive referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher. My noble friend Lord Middleton may have more to say about the matter, so I had better move on.
It is important that the facts concerning irradiation should be publicised and that the consumer and the housewife should have confidence in the process. It is particularly important that the destination of the food should be verified and that labels should be precise and well detailed. Above all, we should understand that irradiation will not make food that was originally unfit in any way fit for human consumption, let alone any other consumption. We should also understand that irradiation will not change to any significant extent —if indeed to any measurable extent —the nutritional value, taste and texture of food. If that were to happen, it would nullify the entire process.
I understand that irradiation has some benefits in that it will reduce, if not entirely eliminate, pathogenic organisms such as salmonella, campylobacter —I received some tuition about that earlier, I hope that I have it right —and listeria. However, one virulent virus which it will not cure and which received some publicity and caused a 766 considerable amount of concern to my noble friend Lady Trumpington and me was clostridium botulinum. It is a particularly virulent virus and has particularly unpleasant characteristics in human and bovine species. I understand that irradiation is of great use in herbs as well as in some fruit and potatoes. That will suffice from me on the subject of irradiation. As I do not have an O-level in science, I shall allow my noble friends who have a little more experience to deal with the matter in more detail.
There are one or two points in the Bill on which I seek clarification from my noble friend Lady Hooper. I strongly support the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, on the subject of the offences in Clause 21. I was not entirely sure about the defence spelt out in Clause 21(3)(c), but I think I am half-way to understanding it. Perhaps I may contact my noble friend later or perhaps write to her.
On the question of food safety and consumer protection, the Bill takes us a substantial way along the path of progress that we seek, especially in the 1990s. Perhaps my noble friend Lady Hooper will confirm the definition of "entertainment" in line 5 on page 3. That is quite interesting. I hope that it is wide enough and covers all the venues that might be relevant to the protection that the Food Safety Bill should give.
I am delighted to see the consumer protection aspects of Clauses 3, 8, 14 and 16. Perhaps my noble friend will write to me to answer one query regarding Clause 5, in which there are frequent references to the Inner and Middle Temples, which I understand are not too far from this House. I wonder why those two institutions have been mentioned. Why has Gray's Inn not been named? There may be cries of partisanship from noble Lords who are members of those institutions. No doubt my noble friend will be able to enlighten me.
We all know that the greatest protection to the consumer and the public is the reputation of the supplier, be he or she the retailer, the wholesaler or the farmer who is the original or primary producer. Once a reputation for wholesomeness and all the other qualities that we look for in our food is lost, it is extremely difficult ever to regain it.
Perhaps my noble friend Lady Hooper will write to me to let me know under which clause the celebrated case of Donoghue v. Stevenson —a 1932 case from Scotland concerning a snail found in a bottle of ginger wine —will be caught. That case runs to 40 pages, but I shall desist from mentioning one of them today. I should be extremely grateful if my noble friend would write to me or even let me know later this evening.
In conclusion, I believe that the Bill will set the pattern for the food industry, for agriculture and for all of us for the next 20, 30 or indeed 50 years. I bid the Bill all good wishes and success. I commend my noble friends for producing it and wish to add my support.
§ Lord Zuckerman
My Lords, before the noble Lord takes his seat, perhaps I may put a question to him. In his introductory remarks he appeared to 767 be equating the radiation effects of fall-out from incidents such as that at Chernobyl with the process of irradiation of foodstuffs. Am I correct in believing that he regards the two processes as the same?
§ Lord Lyell
Not entirely, my Lords. I said to your Lordships that I do not have any major scientific qualifications. I shall look forward to taking a lesson. If I have caused any confusion, I apologise.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Lord Irvine of Lairg
My Lords, I apologise to the House in that a longstanding commitment will prevent me remaining until the conclusion of this debate. If the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, in her reply to the debate feels able to deal with any of the questions that are troubling me about the Bill, I shall of course tomorrow read with care in Hansard what she has thought it right to say.
I think it was Florence Nightingale who said that the hospitals should do the sick no harm. Conversely, we should ensure that food does the healthy no harm. In stating that objective it should be recognised that prevention is better than cure. The first question therefore to ask of this Bill must be: how comprehensive is it? That is a difficult question to answer in the absence of detailed regulations. Once again it is necessary to protest that a broad-ranging statutory code cannot properly be scrutinised by Parliament in the absence of regulations which alone can give practical meaning to its general provisions and tell us how it will work in practice. Therefore we must be entitled in this debate to ask some specific questions about what the regulations will contain.
Responsibility for ensuring that food poisoning does not occur at any stage in the production process is by no means confined to the retail end of the chain of food production. On the contrary, food poisoning can result from any activity in the chain of food production and sale from beginning to end. Consumers are surely entitled to be satisfied that effective action in preventing food poisoning is being taken at every stage in the production chain, including the earliest one. At every production stage the goal should be to prevent or block any risk of food contamination from the first stage to the next and every subsequent stage.
In trying to understand this Bill I ask myself whether its emphasis is on the food end product rather than a consideration of the whole continuum of production events from, for example, the broiler house where the chicken is hatched, through every production stage —killing, cleaning, preparation, packaging, storage and transport —until it ends up available for sale at the retail outlet. The consumer at the purchase point surely should have confidence that everything that has been done to produce the food that he is purchasing has been subject to very careful hygienic considerations at every stage of production.
So the basic question that should be asked of the Bill before it is given an unqualified welcome is this: does it apply to every activity that is involved in the 768 production of food for the consumer? I am bound to say that it does not appear to me to highlight activities at each stage of food production: for example, the animal on the farm and the feeding stuffs for animals, birds or fish.
In common with the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun of Abernethy, I confess that I am very puzzled by Clause 1(2)(b) which excludes from the definition of food "feeding stuffs for animals, birds or fish". In common with the noble Lady therefore my welcome to the Bill is distinctly qualified until I hear an explanation about this matter. Why are we excluding from the new statutory code feeding stuffs for animals which have been highlighted in recent food poisoning incidents: for example, the feeding of chickens with chicken entrails, carcases and debris?
Most food poisoning incidents in recent years have been related to animal sources such as salmonella in eggs. Should it not be recognised that every raw material that contributes to food is capable of being rendered injurious to health? For example, there is bread, which so far as I know includes flour, water, yeast, salt and fat (although I am ready to be corrected on that as on so many other things). Each of those raw materials is capable of causing the final product, the bread, to be injurious to health.
When I look at Clause 1(4) I am puzzled to see that although food includes drink, "drink" doesnot include references to tap water unless it is bottled".Why is tap water excluded? Is it excluded because it is not politically timely for water to be considered as a cause of food poisoning? Yet we know of recent events in Oxfordshire where water has had to be boiled in order to make it safe for consumption.
It is the intended width of the Bill that I question. Are there to be regulations which will cover the production of primary food sources on the farm? Can we be told clearly that the intent of Clause 1(3) is to include within the definitions, and therefore within the scope of the Bill, all food production on farms and in factory units, or is that not so?
I go to Clause 7(1) and look at the offences listed there. It seems to me that they all relate to positive actions that have been undertaken on food such as adding a substance to it and so rendering it injurious to health. I should welcome an explanation on that point from the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. I hope I am wrong but as I read that clause it would be an offence to add a toxic substance to milk (which is surely right) but not an offence (which is surely wrong) to fail to pasteurise it at the required temperature and time. Moreover, as I read the clause it would not be an offence to fail to apply a hygienic procedure to avoid contamination of the chicken with salmonella. That should surely be an offence whether or not salmonella is specifically found later in the food.
Food safety regulations should surely be laid down as quality assurance systems from the earliest stage, and they should be enforced. Failure to comply with regulations —the quality assurance system —should itself be an offence. We should not have to wait until a salmonella is grown in the food on sale or in the patient. A reasonable but clear quality assurance system throughout every production stage should 769 minimise the likelihood of food being produced for sale in a state that is injurious to health.
I suggest that what is required is a regulatory framework of control over all the methods and stages of producing food so as to monitor that they are being carried out to an acceptable standard. Thus, quality assurance would be designed to ensure that every production method and procedure was to an acceptable standard.
With reference to Clause 7(2) I suggest that food should be regarded as injurious to health having regard to the probable effect of that food not only on the health of the person consuming it but also on the health of the person handling it. That is perhaps something to which we might return in Committee.
From Clause 8(2) I have the impression —I am ready to be contradicted if I am wrong —that all the emphasis is on waiting until food appears on the market unfit for human consumption. Presumably in order to establish those offences the environmental health officers will have to take large scale random samples for testing or wait until there is an outbreak of food poisoning.
Prevention is always better than cure. Food should fail to comply with food safety requirements, for example, if it is stored under unsuitable environmental conditions, irrespective of whether or not an individual item itself is proved to be injurious to health. That is analogous to sterile medical products. It is the process and not the product that is tested.
The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, called particular attention to Clause 8(3). The provision presumes that the whole of a batch is affected if part fails to comply with food safety standards. I wonder whether the clause imposes too lax a standard when it provides the defence "until the contrary is proved". I doubt the widsom of that let-out clause. Perhaps the Government might consider it again. Should the whole batch not be deemed to fail to comply? I assume that a batch represents a quantity of food prepared by a process on one occasion.
Statistical laws and the limits of sensitivity of a microbiological assay may well give what are called false negatives. The next negative sample in a batch should not therefore be used to imply that the rest of the batch is safe. The preferred and safer action would be to reject the entire batch once a part of it has been demonstrated to fail to comply with the requirements. In fact that is a basic requirement of an effective quality assurance system: batch testing, batch records and batch rejection.
When I consider Clause 9(1) I become anxious when I see that the authorised officer's powers are confined to the inspection of food. Why are not also the means of production of food —the machinery, the quality of the environment, for example the temperature and the hygienic standards —being applied in the food production premises? I appreciate that I may be told that all will become clear from regulations made under Clause 11. But without the regulations this House simply cannot begin to judge. I would prefer to see a clear quality assurance system, and if the standards are not 770 maintained then the food should be deemed to be unsafe.
For example, Clause 15 provides for an offence of falsely labelling food. The provisions are of course welcome. But let us take a topical example —a claim that food has been irradiated. It is the very example that the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, gave when explaining the clause in her speech. It is in practice very difficult to test that the irradiation of food has occurred, unlike, for example, testing food in a refrigerator where the temperature can be measured. The concern for the consumer is that a false claim is made on a label that food has been irradiated. The consequences might be a substantially inflated price, poorer keeping qualities and the possibility of contaminated food persisting. But if the Bill were to bring in regulations for a quality system of food production, such as a kite mark, then the food producer's irradiation plant records could be checked and any of his food could be deemed suspect if failures of compliance were noted.
I then come to what we can divine about regulations which may (not must) come under Clause 16. The regulations will be all important. Without them we cannot scrutinise the system that the Government really intend for food safety. Let me make a few observations.
Clause 16(1)(b) talks of provision being made for securing that food meets,such microbiological standards … as may be specified by … regulations".The regulations should surely not be confined to microbiological standards. The olive oil disaster in Spain was one example of a toxic chemical rendering a food unsafe. Standards should surely be applied to the non-microbiological toxic hazards, for example, chemicals.
Clause 16(1) states that:The Ministers may by regulations make —(c) provision for requiring, prohibiting or regulating the use of any process or treatment in the preparation of food or any class of food;(d) provision for securing the observance of hygienic conditions and practices in connection with the carrying out of commercial operations with respect to food or food sources; and(e) provision for imposing requirements as to, and otherwise regulating, the labelling, marking, presenting or advertising of food, and the descriptions which may be applied to food or any class of food".I am bound to say that this heralds for me a very poor approximation to a proper quality assurance system. There should be regulations to test the performance of a process applied to food and not just to regulate that a particular process is being used or is said to be used. The regulations should include training in all aspects of the food production process, including hygiene.
Clause 23 —under which a food authority may (not must) provide training courses in food hygiene is very weak. Surely what is required is an independent assessment of training requirements for food handlers, laboratory staff, inspectors and the like. There must surely be some inspection to ensure the adequacy of training schemes set up by food businesses.
§ Baroness Trumpington
My Lords, it is probably very rude of me to interrupt the noble Lord. However, when I was speaking originally I said that my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health is today issuing a consultation paper on the subject to which the noble Lord is referring. Therefore none of these matters is written in stone until the consultation period is through.
§ Lord Irvine of Lairg
My Lords, I hope that what will emerge from the consultation process is an independent training authority which will be charged with giving accreditation to laboratories and businesses or local authorities offering in-house training. I hope that, in line with EC directives inspectors will meet the standards set by an independent testing authority. The regulations should include provisions for batch records, traceability of source of food, and additives in the production process. They should also require quality control tests to be undertaken by the food producer and the appointment of quality control staff, distinct from the production line staff, for in-house quality control.
Under Clause 19, registration is to be confined to premises to be used for the purposes of a food business. I shall be very happy to be contradicted and corrected, but it seems that we shall not have a registration scheme also to be applied to the farmer producing meat, animal feeds and the like.
I return to my original point, and end with it. What is the true extent of the monitoring envisaged by this Bill? Will it be a glorified charter for environmental health officers to instigate more food sampling so that there will be some more active policing of food, the end product, suspected of being injurious to health, but nothing much else? On reading Hansard tomorrow —in accordance with the assurance given by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, that there will be a full reply from the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, to all the questions that are raised in the debate —I shall welcome a clear statement of the extent to which the new regulatory framework will ensure that food contamination in the early stages of production does not occur. Does the noble Baroness accept that the goal ought to be to break the chain of food poisoning very early before the point of sale to the consumer? Of course there will always be some late breaks in the chain. For example, a food handler may be a carrier of a food poisoning organism. But these should be capable of being minimised.
I ask this question. Is it accepted that what is required is a genuine and effective quality assurance system, properly enforced from the earliest stage of production, in particular on the farm? If the noble Baroness accepts that, exactly how will the regulations achieve it?
§ 5.00 p.m.
§ Baroness Stedman
My Lords, as the Minister said in introducing the Bill, consultation has been taking place for some time. Therefore, it is not a reaction to the recent food safety scares, although we must accept that there have been a large number of scares 772 about salmonella —even in your Lordships' House —and about listeria and botulism.
The incidents of food poisoning have risen from 12,000 notified cases in 1981 to 41,000 in 1988. As the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, has reminded us, numbers are rising again this year. Not all those affected consult their doctors and, therefore, the figures are lower than the number of cases. A great deal of the increased concern is due to the new salmonella strain. However, a number of other factors have led to the increased number of cases of food poisoning and increased concern about the problem.
As we move into the more environmentally conscious 1990s there is a greater interest in the quality of life. The safety of products is one aspect of that. In part that is due to the food safety problems caused by the vast array of foods on display and available today. In particular, I refer to the ready-made meals and cooked-chilled foods. More people now travel abroad and we have become more adventurous in our eating habits.
We give a general welcome to the provisions of the Bill in promoting the safety of the whole food supply chain and in the strengthening of the powers of enforcement. A satisfactory enforcement system is absolutely necessary if the benefits of the Bill are to be realised.
As a vice-president of the Association of County Councils, I must express its concern about the additional resources. Thirty million pounds is being provided in next year's revenue support grant settlement. However, there are doubts about whether that will be sufficient to meet the additional responsibilities and the proposed level of inspection and enforcement. The ACC believes that there will be a need for a relatively small sum of money to be provided by mid-1990 to bring trading standards officers, environmental health officers and public analysts up to the necessary standard of expertise to implement the Bill and the directive from day one.
Given such a commitment from MAFF, the local authorities and the local authority associations, in conjunction with the various professional institutes, would be able to provide the supplementary training necessary to meet the requirements of the Official Control of Foodstuffs Directive and the Food Safety Bill.
The Association of County Councils also welcomes Clause 5 confirming that the non-metropolitan counties are also food authorities. However, counties and districts will be food authorities for the purpose of this Act and will have enforcement powers. But the Secretary of State will have the power by regulation to decide which class of authority enforces which provision. Clause 5(4) allows the Minister by order to transfer functions between shire counties and shire districts.
Clause 6(3) provides power for the Minister to direct that certain duties imposed on food authorities be transferred to the Minister. The local authorities are worried about that aspect of the Bill. They ask for an assurance concerning the use of those proposed powers which, in the Bill as drafted, 773 significantly reduce democratic control over legislation. The EC directive aims:not to interfere with systems of proven worth which are best suited to the particular situation in each member state".I hope that in his reply the Minister can give that assurance to the local authorities and their association.
As regards the general safety requirements in Clause 8, the offence of selling food that does not comply with food safety requirements is set out. That is food that has been rendered injurious to health and is sold for human consumption, or which is so contaminated that it would not be reasonable to expect it to be used for human consumption. The National Consumer Council is on record as welcoming that but it would have liked a more positive duty to provide safe food. The Consumers' Association says that it still does not meet the standards of other consumer protection legislation. No doubt we shall return to that matter and look at a general safety requirement for food such as exists in respect of suppliers of other consumer goods.
The new powers in Clause 9 in respect of inspection and seizure of food are generally welcomed, as are the new powers for enforcement officers to make spot checks on food production processes and to withdraw food from sale. The National Consumer Council accepts that owners of safe food wrongfully seized are as entitled to compensation as are the victims of unsafe food. But they believe that compensation order provisions should not act as a disincentive to effective enforcement.
The Food and Drink Federation has argued that a time limit should be specified within which an officer, having given notice of suspect food, must indicate his intention to the person in charge of that food either to confirm or to rescind the notice. It also believes that compensation for the wrongful seizure of food should be not only for the depreciation in the value of the food seized but should also take account of other commercial losses. They appear to be valid points to which we may wish to return.
From the number of lobbying documents that we have received there would appear to be a difference of opinion between consumer organisations about registration and licensing. The National Consumer Council believes that licensing is preferable because it minimises the risk to public health as it is based on a system of prior approval. On the other hand, the Consumers' Association favours the tougher approach of licensing under which every food premise would need a licence before it could open. Rather than being open ended such licences should be reviewed regularly after a fixed period. The Food and Drink _ Federation supports compulsory registration and believes that licensing should apply only to specific processes and practices where prior approval of the premises for such use is deemed essential on the ground of food safety.
I believe that there will be general criticism about the amount of power that Clause 19 gives to the Minister to regulate as he or she thinks fit. The clause would allow a government to introduce whole 774 new tiers of bureaucratic regulation without passing a sentence of new legislation. We must devote some time to the registration/licensing argument. To require licences for all food premises would be to impose a very expensive system of checks which would make life difficult for small businesses. However, I believe that licensing must go further than the restricted list which the producers are putting forward.
I believe that there will also be opposition to the amount of power given to the Minister through regulations. The Government should spell out their intentions in full legislative form, otherwise Parliament is prevented from debating and amending the proposals which are central to the Bill. The Minister and other noble Lords will do well to read the lead article in today's Independent concerning similar powers given to the Minister concerned with education in respect of student loans.
It is not a long Bill and it is not party political but I am sure that there is scope for a great deal of discussion. We shall need to know more about irradiation and the necessary safeguards. There will be arguments about the "due diligence" defence, the offences and the punishment and the codes of practice. The removal of Crown immunity will generally be welcomed, as will better training of food handlers, provided that sufficient funds are available to make the training schemes effective, and also regulations that ensure that such training is comprehensive in all areas.
I return to the question of funding. Extra money to ensure that local authorities have adequate human and financial resources to administer and enforce the regulations is vital to the success of the Bill. I believe that the extra money allocated to food safety administration and inspection should be specifically for those purposes and not part of the general funds of an authority where it may be used for other purposes according to the authority's own priorities.
We wish the Bill well. Like the noble Lord, Lord Irvine, I shall have to leave the Chamber for about an hour in the early part of this evening but I hope to be back in time to hear the winding up speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Lord Middleton
My Lords, my noble friend the Minister and several other noble Lords referred to irradiation, which is a food processing technique at present not allowed in this country except in special cases where a sterile diet is required in hospitals. I understand from what the Minister said, that it is the Government's intention to bring forward regulations allowing food irradiation as soon as this Bill is agreed by Parliament.
As the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, told your Lordships, Sub-Committee D of the Select Committee on the European Community has just finished an inquiry into the irradiation of foodstuffs, although our report to your Lordships is still in draft form. Therefore, anything which I say is my own personal opinion based on the evidence which my committee heard.
775 I propose today to be brief and to say very little about the food process itself. If our report is to be debated in this House, then that will be the time to discuss it more fully. I merely say that I agree with the Government's view, as stated by my noble friend Lady Trumpington, that irradiation has a useful contribution to make to the reduction of food-borne diseases in certain products. As my noble friend Lord Lyell reminded us, it is useful because it can be used to control salmonella, listeria and campylobacter. Those pathogenic organisms are the subject of increasing public concern, not least among your Lordships, some of whom, like myself, have rather painful memories of being poisoned on our own premises.
There are those who say that irradiation should not be allowed until a satisfactory test has been developed that a product has been so treated. I do not agree with them. However, of course it is very important that the research now going on into finding a testing technique should be pursued.
Because of the potential hazard in any process using ionising radiation, it is essential that tight control be exercised at any irradiation plant. Given that safeguard, the Health and Safety Executive has told us that irradiation plants do not present it with any particular difficulties in ensuring that risks are kept under control.
It is claimed that food irradiation is one of the most comprehensively researched of all food processing techniques. That research has been evaluated by expert groups from many countries as well as by the joint FAO/WHO/International Atomic Energy Committee on Food Safety and by our own Government's special advisory committee, which reported in 1986. The general opinion of all those bodies was that food irradiation up to a dose of 10 kilograys is a safe method of food treatment which presents no toxicological hazard and no special nutritional or microbiological problems. The draft European Commission directive, on which my sub-committee has based its inquiry, was published just a year ago. That proposes an initial list of foodstuffs for which irradiation can be permitted in prescribed doses. It also prescribes a regulatory framework for the control of irradiation plants.
Our own Government announced in February 1988 that they accepted in principle that the ban on irradiated foods should be lifted provided that a proper control framework could be established. Yet another working group was set up. Following its report the Minister of Agriculture announced last June that the Government would bring forward legislation to allow the ban to be lifted in the Food Safety Bill. As we have heard, Clause 16 allows Ministers to regulate the use of any food process with particular reference to food safety and for the protection and promotion of the interests of consumers.
The Government's approach differs from that of the Commission and proposes a general authorisation to allow irradiation up to a maximum average dose of 10 kilograys. My noble friend the Minister also reminded us of the licensing procedure which will be brought forward under Clause 18.
776 My own view is that there is a lot to be said, where new techniques are developing all the time, for a fairly flexible regime which would allow the actual take-up of irradiated foods to be determined by consumer demand. However, the Commission's more detailed proposals have yet to be agreed and, as the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, reminded us, already those proposals have run into a certain amount of trouble in the European Parliament, which proposes a very much more restrictive application of the process.
I do not know what view my sub-committee will take, but it seems to me that, while the Government are certainly right to assume enabling powers in this Bill, any domestic regulations will have to await the outcome of a decision in the Council of Ministers on the Commission's proposals. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, also made that point. That is certainly the intention of the Dutch Government, as they told us last month when we visited a working irradiation plant in Holland. They will not legislate until the Community law on irradiation is established.
I believe that irradiation will not figure largely as a means of food processing in the UK for some time to come. The public is not yet prepared for it, although a really serious outbreak of food poisoning may alter that outlook. Producers, retailers and consumers have all signalled their reservations. Except in the case of imported spices, where urgent measures are required, there does not seem to me to be an enormous hurry. It seems to me that any detailed UK regulations in respect of irradiation of food can only be drafted within a framework of Community law. I have no doubt that that is what the Government intend. Perhaps the noble Baroness will confirm, when she replies to the debate, that that is the case.
§ 5.18 p.m.
Earl Baldwin of Bewdley
My Lords, we have before us a Bill which has been awaited for a long time. There is no doubt that there are some good measures in it. The registration of premises is a step in the right direction. Whether it is a step far enough will doubtless be debated at a later stage. Measures to make suppliers accountable for the safety of the food which they sell are much to be welcomed. Powers of enforcement are provided for and it is a relief—not to say a turn-up for the books —to find an acknowledgement by the Government that there will be costs falling on local authorities which need to be taken account of. The move towards proper training for the handlers of food can only be good.
However, there are also omissions and disappointments in the Bill. Before I look at those, I should like to say something of a more general nature. There was a time when the intimate link between food and health was well understood. In many medical traditions, it still is. In modern Western medicine, it has largely been lost sight of. This has partly to do with the love affair with high technology. It is also, I suspect, connected with a peculiarly English fear of being thought faddish or hypochondriac. This makes it quite difficult for voices to be heard which proclaim some of the 777 things which diet can achieve; for example, there is evidence to suggest that the introduction of our highly processed Western diet has done much to undermine the health of more primitive societies. There is, too, a growing body of evidence which points to the link between that same diet and mental functioning in terms both of intellectual development and deviant behaviour. There are strong indications that a nutritional approach to preconceptual care —paying attention to vitamins, trace elements, additives, pesticides and toxic metals such as lead and aluminium —can help parents to have normal children.
There is an organisation called Foresight which has documented many hundreds of success stories in this field, casting an interesting light on the claims for embryo research after the event which your Lordships will be discussing in a couple of days' time. There is also the area of food allergy and intolerance, where I have some personal experience, which seems to be a puzzle to many doctors though less so to the man in the street. It is not cancer and heart disease alone among the degenerative scourges of our time which have an association with what we eat.
Acquaintance with these and other facets of the subject has convinced me that there is a lot more to food than the simple avoidance of microbiological hazards. That is why, unlike some others of your Lordships, I find this Bill disappointing. Even its title with the word "Safety" sounds a negative note. There was surely an opportunity here for a wider view to be taken of the nation's diet, with a positive approach to health which might, for example, have included the encouragement of further research into some of the areas I have mentioned. There has never —at any rate since the war —been a co-ordinated food policy and it sadly looks as if the chance to have one now will be missed.
Other disappointments centre on the protection of the consumer. The Bill does quite a lot in this direction on a limited front. It needs, I feel, to do quite a lot more. The public is still grossly under-represented on government committees and working parties, which function, for some reason, under the Official Secrets Act. The Food Advisory Committee, for instance, has eight members from the food industry as against one from consumer bodies. There is no good reason why this situation should continue and there is much to be said in the present climate of distrust for a free-standing agency, independent of government —a food standards agency, call it what you will —to oversee the whole area of safety. I do not believe that anything less will satisfy the public that the Government value the consumer as highly as the larger food groupings.
It would be good if some progress could be made on labelling. The present voluntary system is not resolving the existing confusion. The committee on medical aspects of food policy called for improvement some years ago and it is surely time the consumer had access, as of right, to knowledge about what he or she was eating. For allergy sufferers in particular, this is a matter of crucial importance. It was at least some consolation to hear from 778 the Minister that the Food Advisory Committee is taking this forward.
There could have been some encouragement in the Bill for organic farming. The demand for it is there from a public which has become rightly alarmed at the sheer artificiality of much of the food which appears in our shops. There is a school of thought —a very powerful one in scientific industrial circles —which holds that there is not much danger to health from additives and pesticides. It is largely the newness of environmental medicine as against the well-established discipline of microbiology which results in this perspective at present. It takes a long time for a new voice to be listened to, however right that voice may be.
I want to see something specific in the Bill about tighter controls on food additives. For all the good intentions of Clause 16(4) about restricting substances of no nutritional value, there is likely to be no more action under it than there was under the similar wording of the 1984 Act.
Finally, we have the spectre in the background —irradiation. I was puzzled to find no mention of this in the Bill until my attention was drawn to the subtly enabling provisions of Clause 16(1)(c). What a way to introduce the most contentious item in the whole package! In this I fully agree with what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher. What a way, in a Bill ostensibly about cleaning, tightening up and protecting the consumer, to let the industry do what it wants through the back door, because virtually no one else wants it. The Government understandably wish to keep a low profile on the matter and I too shall hold my fire at the present stage. There will be plenty to say later.
I shall close with a quotation from a report in the Independent of 19th September, which baffled me when I read it at the time and which baffles me still. It was about irradiated food, but that is not relevant to my point. It reads:The quality of irradiated food will take precedence over its safety and nutritional value, a leading scientist said yesterday".Well, if quality has nothing to do with safety and nothing to do with nutritional value, what on earth has it to do with? The speaker was a professor, the head of an institute of food research. This says a lot about what is wrong with our food supply and I fear that this Bill, as drafted, does too little to put it right.
§ 5.26 p.m.
§ Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes
My Lords, I warmly welcome the Bill, which is by far the most important measure of consumer protection in relation to food that we have had in this country, and is probably the best in the world. No government have taken such radical, comprehensive and indeed, some would say, draconian steps before. As an ex-chairman of the National Consumer Council I was particularly delighted to note that a number of the NCC proposals had been incorporated into the Bill.
I am not one of those who has taken the view in the past that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food existed only for the benefit of farmers or that it put the interest of farmers first. As a former 779 farmer I have often thought that quite the reverse was true. Clearly we have in my right honourable friend the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, someone who is determined to put food safety and the consumer first. That is something he made clear when, immediately upon being appointed, he insisted on seeing consumer representatives before anyone else. He has demonstrated his commitment and that of the Government with this Bill.
The Bill does not represent a panic reaction to the events of the past year. It has been under careful preparation for a good deal of time; building very substantially —as it does —on existing regulations, extending them and reinforcing them in a way that permits flexibility where necessary while maintaining that fine balance which needs to be achieved in regulations to protect consumers without undermining their interests by over-regulation. I believe that the British consumer is probably served by the best food industry in the world, with a wide choice of ever more sophisticated prepared and fresh foods available at a reasonable cost.
Of course the very variety and sophistication of the food available in Britain today brings with it inevitable dangers and penalties. It is quite true —as a number of noble Lords have claimed —that the number of cases of food poisoning has risen considerably and in many ways alarmingly over the past year or so. However, a number of factors must be considered in this context. More cases are being reported because the scares of the past year have resulted in much higher public perception about food poisoning, and that is a good thing. Also, we have a better surveillance system than most other countries so that cases are detected and collated much more quickly, and this continues to improve. That is also a good thing.
Then we have to remember that a number of the reported cases have arisen in food provided by institutions and catering establishments and not in the home. When one thinks of the proliferation of takeaway shops and of delicatessen counters, and of the sheer numbers of meat pies that are heated or half-heated both in the home and outside every day in this country; when one considers the widespread misuse or malfunction of microwave ovens and the sheer volume of food prepared and unprepared that leaves the shops in Britain today, it is not in the least surprising that food poisoning is on the increase.
I believe that there is no substitute for food which is bought fresh, cooked fresh and eaten fresh. But I fully accept that convenience food is here to stay. I am not critical of working mothers or mothers who work in the home with families to feed, who resort to convenience food. In their position I would probably do so myself. Although the figures for food poisoning are not surprising, they present a serious problem. I believe that the Government have fully recognised that with this Bill.
Over the past year there has been a rising crescendo of alarms about food safety. A number of them were very well founded and others were not. Alas, the growing problem has brought in its wake a proliferation of "experts", many of whom appear to 780 have had a vested interest in scaring people. They have sometimes been joined by politicians seeking to make party political capital but not of course in your Lordships' House. This has meant that the issue of food safety has become a political football and that is manifestly not in the consumers' interests. The hysterical reaction that we have witnessed has only served to confuse consumers and to make it more difficult for them to discriminate between what was said by those who genuinely wanted to warn them and those who merely wanted to frighten. In the end consumers have been confused by this cacophony to a point where everybody has lost credibility and nobody is heeded.
This Bill should restore confidence and credibility not just in relation to immediate problems, but for the foreseeable future. It will improve and strengthen the whole of food safety legislation. The duty to provide safe food is comprehensive and, with its greatly strengthened enforcement provisions, the Bill should eliminate or at the very least sound early warnings about possible contamination. Especially in the case of the swingeing fines in Clause 35, the Bill will be a very serious deterrent to the small minority who may have been careless in the past.
I believe that the Government have got the balance right in this provision. Of course people in the industry say that it goes too far and some in the consumer movement say that it does not go far enough. These two opposing views encourage me to think that the Government have probably got the balance just about right. The additional money provided in the Bill for surveillance and enforcement is obviously necessary because of the tough controls. But, like Oliver Twist, a number of noble Lords have asked for more.
When my noble friend winds up I hope that she will tell your Lordships' House that the Government will keep the matter under review and that if more money is necessary for this particular purpose that they will not hesitate to provide it. The best legislation in the world is of no use to consumers if it cannot be enforced. The emergency controls and the codes of practice about hygiene, together with the training for food handlers, are provisions that are all urgently needed and are particularly welcomed in this Bill.
However, consumers will still have to exercise the one attribute which I hope we all have; namely common sense. They will remain the final link in the food chain. The consumers' responsibility starts the moment the food leaves the shelves. They must transport it, store it and cook it sensibly and safely. They are entitled to expect the food that they take off the shelves to have been treated in that manner and that it is safe food. I hope that this Bill will reinforce their confidence regarding this issue.
Concern about irradiation has been expressed by a number of noble Lords. I believe that the alarm is unnecessary. The Bill quite rightly upholds the consumers' right to choose whether to buy irradiated food. This measure is not being brought in by the back door. Consumers should know whether the food has been irradiated and they must know for sure whether it has taken place. My noble friend will be aware that concern has been expressed both in 781 your Lordships' House and elsewhere about detection tests and their availability. It is not much good giving consumers the choice if they cannot be confident that the labelling is correct.
Therefore I hope that the centralised licensing and irradiation facilities, with detailed inspection and supervision, will apply to all food sold and described as irradiated. Meanwhile I hope that a detection method will be urgently sought because I am told that the discovery of such a method is not very far away. I believe that irradiation is of proven benefit. It has been used in other countries for a number of years. I approve of the Government's intention to impose it statutorily where no dangers in food exist.
I believe it was the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, who said that he would like everything relating to food regulations and consumers to be removed from MAFF and dealt with completely independently. Whereas in the past I had some sympathy with those views, the transformation that has taken place, the change in attitudes, together with the Bill and the new food safety directorate and consumer panel which are to be set up, satisfy my concern.
My only remaining doubt relates to the content of some animal and poultry feedstuffs. But that is something which I hope the consumer panel will be able to take up at an early opportunity. I have spoken at some length but I have not managed to cover even half the number of points that I wanted to make or to refer to in relation to this Bill. However, I shall not detain your Lordships' House much longer. This Bill shows that the Government mean business and have declared war on unsafe food wherever it is in the chain. It is a tribute to all those Ministers responsible that the Bill has been so widely welcomed both by industry and by the reputable consumer organisations. Of course, all have minor reservations and want some amendments. Some, like the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, and the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, want some fairly major amendments.
But it would be churlish for anyone to be less than wholehearted in acknowledging the significance of the measure and the severity of the penalities to be imposed. It underlines the determination of the Government to defend the health and safety of consumers. I congratulate the Minister of State on its introduction and I wish the Bill a speedy passage through both Houses.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Baroness Carnegy of Lour
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes who is an expert in this matter. She knows a great deal about the subject. She has made a very encouraging and interesting speech. When I went to collect my newspapers in Scotland yesterday morning I remarked that I was on the way south to take part in the debate regarding the Bill on food safety. The lady in the newsagents said: "Well, just tell them that it does not matter too much what they do as long as they do not put the prices up too much".
Had there been time for discussion I am sure that that lady would appear as concerned for the safety of food and the food for her family as everyone else. 782 But she put her finger on a very important point. In considering this Bill we have to bear in mind all the time as the Government have had to bear in mind in drafting it, who has to pay for whatever Parliament decides. Ultimately it is the lady in the newsagent and all the other consumers. All the extra costs that the Bill may add to ensure that food is safe will ultimately be added to the price of food on the supermarket shelf. I point that out especially to the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, who wants so much more than is in the Bill. He should bear in mind how much some of what he wants would cost.
In the explanatory section of the White Paper, the Government point out that responsibility for the safety of food has to be shared between government, producers, food manufacturers, retailers and consumers themselves. The Bill makes this very plain. It proposes a framework which will make it necessary and possible in a practical way for all who share responsibility for the safety of the food we eat to operate more conscientiously and more effectively in a manner that can be constantly updated to meet new problems as they arise. It also allows for European Community legislation, as it arises, to be incorporated into our national law. That is a good thing too.
It is good, as the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, said in an interesting speech, that the proposed framework has been widely welcomed in principle and is not controversial to many consumer and retailing bodies. They agree that the framework is right. It is good too that food safety arrangements, which have hitherto been separate in Scotland, should be brought together in United Kingdom legislation. Much of the food produced or manufactured on one side of the Border is sold on the other side and vice versa. Common arrangements are provided for in the Bill. That is highly desirable. I am extremely glad that local authorities will continue to have a major role in the enforcement of the arrangements and that it is intended that their ability to do the job should be considerably strengthened. Local inspections by local officers overseen by local councillors answerable to local consumers is undoubtedly the best way so long as enforcement can be made more even across the country. The Bill goes a long way towards achieving that.
The clear definition of what is required by the defining of a new offence is also particularly welcomed. If one knows what one cannot do, it is easier to know what one can do. It is good that inspectors will have the right to carry out spot checks throughout the system so that food still in the factory and in supermarket warehouses, as well as food for sale on shop shelves, can if necessary be condemned and seized or withdrawn. It is encouraging that those representing the retailers accept the stringent requirements this places upon their members.
It is right too that the penalties for committing an offence should be great enough to be a strong deterrent. The proposed maximum fine in a magistrates' court in England and Wales of £20,000 with a possible six months' imprisonment —the fine is, I believe, 10 times the present maximum —and the possibility on indictment of an unlimited fine 783 and up to two years imprisonment are heavy penalties indeed. It seems only appropriate that the scope for matters which can be included by way of defence if one is accused of an offence should be suitably updated as well. The Bill seeks to do this in its provision on due diligence. This is right, but as several noble Lords have asked, how will people know precisely what "due diligence" involves? There must be a system of codes of practice to assist in this matter.
The noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, and other noble Lords protested that there is so much scope in the Bill for government regulation. It may be overdone here and there, but I believe it is right that in this Bill central government should be able to bring forward regulations and change and update them from time to time to establish detailed safety measures made necessary, for example, by new technology in manufacturing and storage, by new treatments for farm animals and produce, by new forms of food and by other innovations that may come along. Parliament is wary of governments seeking unnecessary powers of regulation, and rightly so. But in the case of food safety, where constant vigilance, flexibility and swiftness of response are so important, the Bill's way is the best one.
I have set out those aspects of the Bill which I particularly welcome. Perhaps I may now ask my noble friend four questions on matters which concern me. The first two relate to Scotland. The noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, questioned the degree of consultation the Government have carried out with organisations in Scotland and with Scottish local authorities. Can my noble friend tell the House precisely what consultation there has been in Scotland? Secondly, page iv of the Explanatory and Financial Memorandum states:The additional cost for local authorities is likely to be of the order of £30 million a year … This will be taken into account in next year's Revenue Support Grant Settlement".Does this £30 million include the cost to local authorities in Scotland? If so, what proportion of that can they look forward to receiving? If not, what sum will they receive from the Scottish Office in their rate support grant settlement?
My third question relates to the importance of arriving at common practices and fairness across the country in the ways local authorities enforce food safety law. Will there be a system of recommended practice for local authorities to follow in their enforcement? If there is, can we see that system before the Committee stage? If we cannot, it will be difficult to know whether the system is fair and even, which is what people want.
My fourth question concerns the education of the public—of everybody who buys, stores and cooks food. My noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes referred to this point. The new arrangements proposed in the Bill will be effective only if food is well bought by the customer, well stored at home and properly cooked. New information is constantly arriving. It is difficult for the public to keep up. Only this morning advice was being given on the radio about correct cooking procedures in microwave ovens. People were told that if the microwave does 784 not heat the food evenly they should move it about while they are cooking it. I had never heard that before. I do not have a microwave, but perhaps I should have known. It is important to know that. Do the Government mean to persist in their campaign to make consumers more aware of what to look for when shopping for food, of how to store it safely and of how to cook it safely? Some excellent information booklets have been produced. Do the Government intend to continue to make such material available?
The Bill as a whole is well thought out and creates a framework for all concerned to work together in partnership for the safety of our food. There are detailed aspects at which we shall want to look. I heard what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, about the control of quality on the farm. I am sure he knows better than I do that under the Sale of Goods Act 1979 farmers are obliged to supply produce of quality suitable for human consumption. They can be prosecuted if they fail to do so. The Food and Environment Protection Act gives the Government powers to limit the distribution of agricultural produce. We have had recent experience of that.
The idea of the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, that the Consumer Protection Act should cover everyone—and I assume he meant primary producers as well—would have problems, many of which have previously been explored in this House. I was not present in the Chamber when these matters were discussed but I must point out to the noble Lord that if, for example, a load of grain is found to be faulty soon after it has left the farm and while it is still in one batch, it can be returned. But once grain and other farm produce arrive at the manufacturers they are then all mixed together and therefore it becomes most difficult to trace back any faults. Moreover, many products are liable to deteriorate because of the weather; for example, potatoes will deteriorate if there is frost on the road between the farm and their ultimate destination. Such a situation is completely outside the control of the farmer, and, indeed, there are many problems in this respect. However, I am sure that we shall find ourselves discussing such matters in Committee.
As we go through the Bill we must remember all the time that whatever we decide must be paid for by those people like the lady I met in the newsagents yesterday and all the other consumers. I hope that your Lordships will bear that factor in mind. I also hope that the Bill will receive a Second Reading this evening.
§ 5.51 p.m.
§ Lord Walston
My Lords, I should like to join the general welcome given to the Bill by my noble friend Lady Stedman, and I think I can say by all other noble Lords. It is essentially a good and necessary Bill, although as many noble Lords pointed out there is scope for improvement. Many of the proposed improvements have already been dealt with and I hope that I shall not be thought of as being too repetitive if I make further mention of some of them. However, I shall approach the matter in a somewhat different way to that of other noble Lords.
785 I suggest to your Lordships that while food is obviously an essential element of life, there is also an element of enjoyment in it to many if not to all of us. However, sources of danger are present. Those sources can be roughly divided into four sections.
The first source of danger is on the farm. Such farm dangers have for many years been subject to considerable regulation —for example, the inspection of milk at the dairy; the inspection of meat at the slaughterhouse, and so on —and we should not blind ourselves to the very great success which has followed on from the legislation of early days. After all, it is not so many years ago that tuberculosis was a source of grave danger for consumers of milk. However, that danger has now completely disappeared as has the danger from brucellosis. Moreover, many diseases following upon the ingestion of unsuitable meat —such as, those caused by tapeworms, helminth diseases of different kinds and other diseases —have been, to all intents and purposes, abolished. That fact must be put to the credit of our present system which was introduced many years ago of inspection on the farm and at the place of first handling; that is, the slaughterhouse, the creameries, and so on.
However, more recently a new source of danger has arisen mainly, although not solely, from salmonella infection. This is a much more difficult problem to contend with and one which cannot be coped with by inspection. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, slightly exaggerated the responsibility of farmers and primary producers for the spread of disease.
However, because of the presence of salmonella and other similar diseases, I accept that there should be a greater concentration on the care exercised in relation to the ingredients which are put into the production of food on the farm. This process should be subject to very much more control than it has been in the past. Specifically, it is quite clear that feeding stuffs and their ingredients, whether contaminated with metals, with bacteria or with other noxious organisms, must be inspected, controlled and prevented from being used by, I think in all cases, the innocent user of them; namely, the farmer. In my view, the Bill could well be strengthened in that particular respect.
The second source of danger, which takes place during the general division of food in its movement from the producer to the kitchen, is in the processing. There are already some strict controls in the matter. However, over the past decades there has been a great increase in the processing of food. No longer does food move direct from the cow to the churn, to the doorstep and then to the cup of tea; it now goes through creameries and other processes of which your Lordships are aware. Further, no longer is the beast slaughtered in the local slaughterhouse, put on the slab in the butcher's shop, bought by the housewife and then cooked and served as the Sunday joint. Again, the meat goes through a much longer process.
Then there is a whole range of manufactured foods which quite rightly demands a far greater rate of control and inspection than was the case 20, 40 or 786 even 60 years ago. The Bill strengthens the control in that respect, but then the somewhat controversial question of irradiation arises. Quite clearly there is a difference of opinion on all sides of the House in the matter. I have not had the benefit of seeing the evidence given to Sub-Committee D under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Middleton. Therefore I speak without the depth of his knowledge. But my instinct is that despite the fact that irradiation has been successfully and safely used, so far as we know, in other countries including some in the Community, there are still question marks hanging over this method. It is all very well to say, "Leave it to the consumer, so long as the consumer knows that the food has been irradiated the choice is there".
In my view in a matter as complex and complicated as irradiation the consumer needs more than a label which says, "This product has been irradiated". We must know more about what, if any, are the potential risks arising from irradiated food products. We do not really need to know about the safety of the product because we can take that for granted —indeed, I am certainly prepared to do so—but we do need to know what the effect will be on the product when all the noxious bacteria have been killed by irradiation should it be reinfected by some extraneous pathogens. Therefore I urge caution in the use of irradiation. I would rather have more knowledge about the matter than appears to be the case at present before advocating its use.
The third area in the food chain about which I wish to speak is the retail outlet. There is a growing risk in this respect largely because of the growing use of convenience foods. These are foods which are already prepared when they reach the retail outlet. They are attractively packaged and exhibited for sale. They can be taken home and either eaten at once, which is relatively safe, or they can be stored in a refrigerator and eaten within a few days or, in certain cases, within a few weeks. There is obviously need for great control because the risk of contaminating healthy, clean, bacteria-free food in retail shops is manifestly considerable. There is risk of contamination from the bacteria which are present in the air and which descend upon the food and from handling by customers or staff whose hands are not sterile. None of us has sterile hands. There is a risk of air contamination merely from people speaking, sneezing and breathing. All those factors add to the risk of food contamination.
It is good to see that the Bill talks about increasing the education of those who handle food. I hope that the accent will be far more on food handlers than food inspectors. I accept that the food inspectors are already sufficiently well trained in their job, although more of them may well be needed. The need for food hygiene must be brought home to those who own, operate and work in retail outlets and who handle food. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, is not in his place, but another of his family will speak in due course. We need have no doubts about standards of hygiene in such outlets, but there are many far smaller outlets where it is harder to enforce such high standards. There should be more 787 concentration than at present on training people in such retail outlets in all aspects of hygiene.
The fourth aspect of the food chain, as the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes so rightly pointed out, is in the home itself. Even though the food may, and probably does, come into the kitchen in a healthy and hygienic manner, by the time it has been put on the kitchen table, left out of the refrigerator for a while, put back into it and brought out again, not eaten entirely, put back and consumed a week later, there is a real risk of food poisoning. One cannot obviously inspect private kitchens, but there should be a greater publicity effort to inform the housewife, or the househusband, of the importance of elementary hygiene when looking after convenience foods. It does not matter with the joint of beef which goes into the oven, because any bugs will be killed by cooking that, but pates and other foods which need no cooking are wonderful feeding grounds for pathogenic bacteria and they must be treated, if not with as high a degree of caution as shown in a hospital laboratory, at least with great respect.
I repeat that this is a useful Bill. By the time it has passed through Committee, it will be an extremely good Bill, and I wish it well.
§ 6.4 p.m.
Lord Campbell of Croy
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Trumpington for outlining and explaining the purposes of the Bill. I welcome the Bill and I am glad that it has been given a place this Session. The main consultative document was issued in 1984. There will no doubt be further technological changes in the fields affected but we should not have to wait any longer before considering primary legislation.
The Government seek in Clauses 16 to 18 powers with which they can meet developments with subordinate legislation. The consumer should benefit from what is proposed. I applaud the provisions for monitoring and enforcing regulations and the £30 million a year which is allocated for the additional resources needed.
This afternoon in what I hope will be a short speech I intend to concentrate on the increasing menace of food poisoning, which others have already mentioned. The number of recorded cases multiplied by three between 1982 and 1986. Other figures were given earlier in the debate but they all come to the same general conclusion of an increase of that order.
We are all aware from press reports and parliamentary Statements of outbreaks of salmonella and listeria. Those and other bacteria have been around for years and yet they have caused much more illness and distress in the 1980s than earlier. That may seem strange at a time when medical science has virtually eliminated the scourges of diphtheria, polio and other such diseases in human beings.
Food poisoning has sometimes been a subject of jokes, usually connected with eating favourite dishes out of season and before the wide distribution of deep freeze equipment. It is no longer a joke. Not 788 only is it acutely incommoding, it can be dangerous. The consumer is entitled to be protected from it. Food poisoning should be forced to retreat rather than to advance at this stage of man's development and knowledge. In that connection I was asking Questions at Question Times which your Lordships will remember in the early part of this year about the irradiation of food. I was not commending one argument or the other but asking for information and knowledge about the Government's attitude.
The irradiartion of food is a process which kills unfriendly bacteria. I asked whether it damaged food and whether it could be misused to preserve the appearance of food beyond its proper shelf life. Since then, my inquiries have brought me to the conclusion that there is little, if any, danger and that it has a considerable advantage by destroying bacteria in certain foodstuffs.
It is sensible to take powers now in the Food Safety Bill to allow irradiation to be introduced, although as I shall indicate I agree with others that this should be done with caution. I gladly noted the Government Statement made on 21st June in another place which said that it was their intention to take those powers. Clearly the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, who made a thoughtful speech dealing with that subject, had missed that Statement because it was made clear to us that the Government were going to take powers to allow food irradiation in this country. That was stated in a press release on 21st June.
Irradiation is already legal here for hospital patients who need a sterile diet, for example, after major abdominal surgery, and it does no harm to them. Should not everyone be able to benefit from that service made available by modern science if they wish to? And the wish is the important point which the Government make in their proposals.
I understand that the Government propose to make irradiation legal under powers provided in Clauses 16 to 18, while ensuring that irradiated food must be clearly labelled and need never be bought or consumed by anyone who is opposed to or uncertain about it.
For my part I shall have no hesitation in opting for irradiated food to avoid the horrors of food poisoning. I must admit that up till now I have suffered it only when I have been abroad. But that was because I was fortunate in not eating anything at a certain reception in London some years ago and also in not partaking of certain meals in your Lordships' refreshment department at another period much closer to us. Colleagues and others were inconveniently and in some cases seriously ill with salmonella poisoning on both those occasions.
Some consumers will doubtedless be suspicious of the word "irradiation", anxious about a possible connection with radioactivity or radiation. However, they are both part of ordinary life, for example, in natural surroundings and hospital radiotherapy. I am satisfied that there need be no danger in irradiated food properly controlled. It should be introduced gradually and in time I believe that it will become more widely accepted. With familiarity more people will opt for safety from the incapacitating and painful tummy upsets which they might otherwise have to experience.
789 The World Health Organisation has emphasised the safety of irradiation: 35 countries have permitted it, including the United States and three members of the EC. In about 20 of those countries it is already being practised. I suggest that the introduction, after the enabling power has been taken, should be carefully prepared. For example, there must be a list of specified foods and only those can be irradiated. There should be clear instructions for handling and sorting.
I was not on the sub-committee so I do not know what will be in the report to which my noble friend Lord Middleton referred earlier this evening. But I agree with him that only a few items need to be designated in the introduction and the early years of irradiation, with herbs and spices being the obvious first candidates.
More generally, the Bill gives the Government wide powers to make regulations. I have commented on the irradiation point because it is something in which I have been involved in your Lordships' House during the past months. The Government have already indicated that their intentions are to enable irradiation to be allowed. I have the impression that the food and farming industries are concerned that little is yet known about the Government's intentions in other areas. I hope that the intentions will be announced in plenty of time. My noble friend indicated that there was a consultative document on one subject which was being issued today. However, as the Bill proceeds I trust that it will be announced what subjects will be covered by the regulations and what the Government's intentions are in order to allow enough time for consultation with those most concerned.
The Bill brings together the law in England and Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as United Kingdom legislation. This is sensible from the point of view of clarity and for the convenience and organisation of the industries concerned and the monitoring agencies.
The food which we eat is broadly the same throughout the United Kingdom although there are perhaps the exceptions of haggis and one or two national dishes like that. I say in passing that haggis has been a favourite of mine since I was a small boy. It clearly makes sense not to have boundaries where monitoring, inspection and legislation are concerned.
Clause 4 sets out the functions of the various Ministers. I do not expect an answer today but I draw attention to the fact that this may be complicated. Your Lordships will know the formula that in legislation the term "Secretary of State" appearing in the singular covers any Secretary of State so that any Secretary of State can step in and do what is in the Act of Parliament concerned.
However, historically the Minister of Agriculture remains "Minister". That clearly needed some attention. Then there are the present responsibilities. The Secretary of State for Scotland is responsible for agriculture and fisheries; he is the Minister for them in Scotland. But I do not think he is the Minister for food. Perhaps my noble friend can tell us this when she replies.
790 The Department of Health and the Secretary of State for Health are responsible for health in England. Everything that the Department of Health does in England is done by the Home and Health Department of the Scottish Office in Scotland. Their responsibilities are quite separate. Thus I think that as the Bill proceeds we shall need clarification of whether Ministers will be acting in their own areas of responsibility, geographically and functionally, and whether they will act jointly at other times.
I give the Bill a welcome, as I said at the beginning, and I hope that some of these points will be answered, if not today then at a later stage.
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ Lord Hives
My Lords, I come fairly well down the list of speakers and inevitably some of my points will have been made. I hope that with its usual generosity the House will excuse me if I make the same points again.
Public confidence in the food we eat is of paramount importance. I therefore welcome wholeheartedly the introduction by the Government of the new Food Safety Bill. It will reassure the public for them to see that the Government take the whole food safety issue as seriously as they do. In her comprehensive introduction to this Second Reading debate, my noble friend demonstrated not only the scope of the Bill and the subsequent regulations but also the considerable flexibility which has been built into it. This will allow the Government and the enforcement authorities to protect the public better and to clamp down hard on the few who do not do the job properly and endanger public health.
In the White Paper Food Safety—Protecting the Consumer the Government set out the current arrangements and identified the areas where change was necessary. Now with this Bill they will strengthen and update existing procedures, demonstrating a commitment to the highest possible standards of consumer practice.
The public needs to have confidence in the systems designed to protect them. They need to know that action is taken when justified by the facts, not mere emotion. Of course there is considerable media interest in food safety issues, but if one believed everything written in newspapers none of us would be able to eat any of the things which form part of our normal diet. The reality is very different. Our food is not only safer than it was in days gone by; it is also fresher, of higher quality and in many cases tastier. I wonder how many noble Lords would care to swap their diet today with that of the 1950s and 1960s. It is not the Government's job to tell people what to eat. It is however important that our producers satisfy consumer demand.
In the same way as the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, I remind noble Lords also that if they went down to Earls Court today to the Royal Smithfield Show they would see the best of all our meat-producing livestock. If we compare them with the animals with which I started, say, 50 years ago, we would see that they are smaller, leaner and entirely different in conformation, all because of the response to 791 consumer demand. Consumer demand has entirely altered the shape of the animals today.
Thanks to our farmers we live in a world of plenty. Shortage has turned to surplus. Where once there was a demand to produce more, now we are accused of producing too much. In these circumstances many people may start to question the contribution of farmers to society. However, to increase production is the easy part; to slow it down or to cease is far more difficult as we are now finding out. The critics of farmers are wholly wrong to suggest that they do not care about food quality and safety. They are now well aware of the need to maintain consumer confidence in their products. Farmers and the rest of the food industry must work together to restore the confidence of shoppers in their products.
This country is one of the world leaders when it comes to the quality and indeed the wholesomeness and safety of food produced on our farms. However more has to be done. As consumers' expectations rise, farmers and the food industry have to take them into their confidence as well as satisfy their demand for healthy, wholesome food. That is why farmers and the food industry will welcome the Food Safety Bill. For those who do the job properly this Bill will help protect them from unfair criticism. But it will increase the controls and, most importantly, the penalties on those who break the rules and in so doing endanger the health of their customers.
Many of the farmers I know are concerned that they are misunderstood by the media and blamed unfairly for food contamination. However, I must urge producers not to fall into the trap of complacency. There are areas where we can do more to protect the consumer and restore confidence in our products. As producers at the start of the food chain, we must be seen to do so.
I am delighted that the Government are taking the steps outlined in the Bill to provide a revised framework for food law in the 1990s. This Bill will enable legislators and enforcement officers to cope with modern production methods and the new techniques being used by the food industry. It will also enable Ministers to respond to changes in European Community food law. But above all it will help restore consumer confidence.
Ministers have to put food safety first. We must not forget how much our industry has changed in recent years. No longer is the food industry made up of the local concerns which were the norm in earlier decades, where individuals served their local communities. It is now in many respects a multinational industry. Many companies, even quite small ones, send their products all over the world. Food law and its enforcement have to encompass this wider horizon and the length of the distribution chain.
I am delighted to see that the Bill takes account of the needs of the food industry in at least three ways. It will enable the Government to ensure that national and local enforcement authorities work closely together to maximise protection for the consumer. It will encourage the setting of uniform standards for food safety enforcement so that every 792 local authority requires the same conditions in similar factories around the country. Further, the Bill will ensure that we do not impose an unnecessary burden on our food industry. We must remember that our food manufacturers need to compete in the 1990s with their counterparts in the Community and elsewhere.
This is a far-reaching and flexible Bill. It deals firmly with the problems faced by the food industry. It enhances consumer protection, but above all it builds on and strengthens a food safety regime which is already among the best in the world.
§ 6.25 p.m.
§ Lord Rea
My Lords, I welcome certainly the stated intentions of the Bill. However, I think it is worth looking at the underlying reasons why today in an affluent society when so much is understood about man and his environment, we have this problem of an increasing incidence of food-transmitted disease, as many noble Lords have pointed out.
The major epidemic food and water borne diseases of the past such as typhoid, paratyphoid, cholera and dysentery have been largely eliminated. That is because of our effective and plentiful clean water supply and sewerage systems built up carefully within the public sector over the past century. However, because of under-investment the sewerage and water industries are only just holding their own, and I fear that we shall have to pay heavily for their modernisation. Individual consumers will pay for that when the water industry is in the private sector. That is in addition to the gift taxpayers are giving to shareholders in the current sell-off of the water industry. Incidentally, as my noble friend Lord Irvine of Lairg, said, the Bill does not cover water safety as I feel it should, despite the recent problems of cryptosporidium in Oxford and aluminium in Cornwall.
Our present problems of food poisoning and adulteration of food and drink whether this is accidental or on purpose, arise from the intensification of food production, processing and distribution which are the result of the industrial society in which we live. That society is built on maximising profit and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, pointed out, convenience.
As my noble friend Lord Irvine of Lairg said, problems arise at every stage from animal rearing to slaughter and in preparation, processing, packaging and storage, both before and after distribution. The British Veterinary Association stated in a paper circulated for discussion by its council:Unfortunately the diseases of intensivism are sometimes more difficult to detect and control".I am sure the Bill is an improvement on its complex predecessors. Like my noble friend, I suggest however that it concentrates too much on the later stages of the food chain and not enough on the early stages, particularly on the farm. I shall repeat a remark which is now famous:Most of the egg production in this country is infected with salmonella".I cannot quite recollect who said that originally. It may not be strictly true. I believe that much debate 793 turns on two words "much" or "most" and "infected" or "affected". I am not sure which words were intended to be used in the remark when it was first made.
Can Clause 20, which enables the enforcement authority to bypass an immediate offender in order to prosecute the real offender be used in the case of salmonella in eggs? Who is the so-called real offender? Is it the retailer, the egg wholesaler, the poultry farmer or the feedstuff producer? The document of the British Veterinary Association to which I have already referred states:It is regular practice to recycle slaughterhouse waste back into livestock production via feed, after rendering or other processing. Even chicken house wastes (including droppings) can be incorporated into cattle feed to provide a cheap source of nitrogen. The scientific question is whether the risk of transmission of disease-causing organisms by this route can be eliminated in the feed mill…The recycling of waste food as animal feed must continue to be closely controlled".I can see no clause in this Bill to cover this recommendation from the British Veterinary Association. I hope that the noble Baroness who is to reply can say whether there is other legislation that covers this important area. If so, why is it not incorporated in this Bill? I believe, for instance, that there is an order called the Protein Feedstuffs Processing Order. I do not see it among the list of orders or previous legislation incorporated in the Bill.
With regard to meat inspection, there are apparently two standards, with a higher level —among other things, requiring veterinary supervision —for meat that is for export to the EC. Three is a lower standard for meat that is to be consumed in the United Kingdom. This is surely an unsatisfactory situation. I gather that the Minister himself feels that the higher standard should, and will, apply to all meat plants. Is this so? I cannot see it in the Bill. Clause 17, concerning the enforcement of community provisions, does not really cover the problem.
Other noble Lords have commented on the need for licensing of premises, not merely registration. I hope that the accent on registration rather than licensing is not solely one of economy, or because of a lack of trained staff to inspect licensed premises. The cost of the licence could, at least in part, cover the cost of any additional staff and training that is necessary to upgrade registration to licensing.
I very much welcome the section on the financial effects of the Bill. If £30 million is spent on the salaries of trained inspectors —I am not sure what their salaries are, but let us say that they are £15,000 per annum —that could result in 2,000 extra staff. But new staff will need to be trained, and there are other administrative expenses. I should be grateful for slightly more detail from the noble Baroness as to how this £30 million is going to be spent.
Like many other noble Lords, and a long list of highly-reputable consumer organisations, I am sorry that the Bill contains no specific references to irradiation, and leaves that aspect to subsequent regulation. I do not feel that that gives Parliament adequate control in a matter which is of great public concern. I wonder whether the noble Baroness can 794 say how near we are to developing an easily-applied test to check whether food has been irradiated? The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, mentioned that point; but it would be nice to know how near we are to having a test readily available.
Last but not least, I am sorry that the Bill does not mention the nutritional quality of food at all. Ultimately that is very much a part of safety. There is increasing evidence that chronic diseases, particularly atheroscelerosis and coronary heart disease, depend on diet. It is of vital importance for consumers to know the content of what they are eating.
I know that the question of food labelling for nutritional content has very much a European dimension. However, I feel that this country has an important part to play in achieving a code that is meaningful for heart disease prevention. This is where we could, and should, play a stronger lead role in Europe. To include satisfactory labelling in United Kingdom legislation, which would reduce blood cholesterol and hence coronary heart disease, would help to pull Europe in the right direction. We have a useful framework in this Bill. I am sure with the amendments that I hope will be agreed in this House, the Bill is going to leave this House in even better shape.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, I have to declare an interest because I am advised with regard to this Bill by the Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate and Confectionary Alliance, which I regularly advise myself. I am also advised by the Food and Drink Federation. Before I go on, I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, that the Food and Drink Federation does not only represent the large companies. Its membership consists of other trade associations like the Biscuit, Cake, Chocolate and Confectionary Alliance, which has a wide-ranging membership. Indeed on its council it has at least four small companies. Therefore, it is not right to say that the FDF represents only the large companies.
Those representative bodies in the food manufacturing industry entirely support the objectives of the Food Safety Bill, as so ably explained to us by my noble friend the Minister of State for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. On various occasions I have suggested that the title of that Ministry should be changed to the Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries. Food is obviously so much more important, particularly when we have a Bill such as this. The food manufacturing industry trade associations support the intention to give added powers to enforcement authorities, and to give added resources to local authorities to ensure that, as far as practicable, food eaten by the public is wholly safe. I believe that this Bill goes a long way to achieving those objectives.
There were just two points raised by noble Lords that I should like to mention before I get to the main part of my speech. One is irradiation. My noble friends Lord Middleton and Lord Campbell of Croy explained that matter so well and so fully that I feel that all that needs to be said has been said. However, 795 I hope that the great British public is not conned into thinking that this is some hideous new scientific device that is all about atomic warfare, and not about people. When it comes through I hope that we shall find a rational viewpoint as well.
The other point that I hope that my noble friend who is to reply will be able to pick up is that raised by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, about whether Clause 2(2) will mean that all charity fund-raising events will have to stop providing small eats at the end of their parties. I often find when I go to such events that it is about the only food that I get. Therefore if that is a problem, I hope that we take strong steps to make it practicable for organisations of that sort to go on feeding people, because in my experience they certainly do not poison one.
There are in fact three aspects of the Bill that give me cause for concern. Some of them have been mentioned by other noble Lords, and I shall endeavour to be quick in raising them. One, which was perhaps not raised is that there is a lack of clarity in certain important clauses. That is the first point. The second point is the extreme use —and many people have talked about this —of order-making powers given to the Minister. The third point has also been mentioned, but not perhaps in this particular way. I have doubts about the speed with which the trading standards officers and environmental health officers can receive the necessary extra training in all aspects of food technology in order to perform their new tasks effectively and fairly under the Bill.
The clarity of clauses is a matter for probing at a later stage of the Bill. However, by way of example, the definition of "injury" in Clause 7(3) gives grounds for concern. I shall be seeking clarification of that as well as, for other reasons, the definition of "food source" in Clause 1(3). Those two points need clarification.
Turning now to order-making powers, I must say at the outset that I accept the fact that, in seeking to ensure safety of a product for which there are many, varied and ever-changing methods of creation and processing, the Government must have many powers to alter legislation quickly to meet changes in any threats to food safety. I also noted that my noble friend the Minister of State undertook to consult in framing the necessary regulations. I welcome that.
However, there are in the Bill order-making powers for a variety of different kinds of regulations, some of which potentially require much greater urgency than others. Furthermore, as the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, said, we are told in Clause 48(2) that all orders under the Act should be subject to the negative procedure. If we look at Clause 2(1)(b) we find that the providers of food can be completely sewn up by regulations. As I read Clause 2(1)(b), the Minister could, by regulation, provide for him to sue a consumer for not cooking his or her food properly. The Government might make a great deal of money that way, especially if they took note of what was said by my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes and particularly by the noble Lord, Lord Walston. However, to be serious, I suggest to noble Lords that 796 catch-all regulation powers such as Clause 2(1)(b) and powers which may have serious financial implications but which do not require urgent introduction, such as those under Clause 19(b), should be handled by the affirmative procedure.
Mentioning possible financial implications reminds me that there are various provisions in the Bill, or possibly regulations introduced under the terms of the Bill, which could cost food producers and/or retailers a great deal of money. Tightening of the licensing provision, which the Consumers' Association favours, is one such possible example. If that happens, it must be understood that the cost of such provisions will inevitably be passed on to the consumer. I should have said to the noble Lord, Lord Rea, if he had stayed to listen to my speech as I think the rules require, that in passing the costs on to the consumer manufacturers are not necessarily maximising profit or even aiming to maximise profit. They are just aiming to make a profit in order to survive and invest in their business. Using emotive phrases such as "maximising profit" reveals a lack of trust of manufacturers or businessmen generally which sadly reflects itself on the Benches opposite.
I know why the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, is absent, but I am sorry that he is not here to listen to what I have to say. I was surprised when I heard his speech. I have always been a little surprised that he is on the Benches opposite because I thought that he had too much common sense for that. There are other noble Lords, one of whom I can see, whom I would also categorise as having too much common sense to be on the Benches opposite, but that is another subject. The noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, forgets that food processors are much disciplined by the need to have an exemplary reputation for safe food production. If they do not have such a reputation, they will not survive in business. They do not require a great number of little men watching them to see whether they are following the processes which this Act of Parliament or any other will impose upon them. When we come to the Committee stage, it will be important for noble Lords on the Benches opposite to forget their past prejudices and move into the modern world.
I turn now to my third matter of concern; namely whether in the short term food authorities will be able to deploy such well trained food technologists to implement the provisions of the Bill effectively and fairly. It is vital that the enforcement officers understand what to look into in inspecting all kinds of premises from large processing factories to small shops or restaurants. Not only is that necesary for ensuring food safety, but also for gaining the confidence of all types of people involved in the food business. Industry itself has had difficulty in recruiting sufficient food technologists over many years. If some jolly good ones are provided in the inspection service, industry may well poach them in order to build up its own strength to meet the Bill's requirements. Suffice it to say, I expect that the Government will have to consider allocating much more than the £30 million referred to in the explanatory memorandum in order to ensure that the Bill is properly effective.
797 Having indicated the areas into which I shall probe at later stages of the Bill, I should like nonetheless to wish it and my noble friend the Minister of State well in the process.
§ 6.46 p.m.
§ Lord Auckland
My Lords, food is something that is consumed by all of us from the cradle to the grave and this is therefore a Bill of the utmost importance. I shall not go into the protection side of it because, frankly, not being a scientist, I do not understand it.
However, I want to deal with one or two basic issues in the Bill, starting with the definition in Clause 1 which states that:'business' includes the undertaking of a canteen, club, school, hospital or institution".There appears to be no mention of a restaurant or hotel in Clause 1. I do not have to declare an interest because I have no financial involvement in hotels, although members of my family are engaged in the hotel and catering industry, both literally in hotels and in what is known as the pub trade. Presumably all those establishments will be subjected, and quite rightly so, to the provisions of the Bill.
I have suffered from food poisoning, not in this House, but in the Army. During my national service I was poisoned by, of all things, verdigris, and by blown salmon and porridge which had gone off. Suffice it to say, I was on my back for three weeks, so I know what food poisoning is like. That was 43 years ago and it was not then called salmonella or listeria. So far as I know, it was just termed "food poisoning". Much progress with food technology has since been made, but at that time fast foods were not so much in existence as they are now. It is clearly fast foods which are the most dangerous so far as concerns infection.
I am particularly interested in Clause 23, which relates to the training of those who will have to operate the Bill, whether they be environmental health officers or other officials whatever title they may have. I should like to ask my noble friend the Minister whether she is satisfied that there are enough such people and whether their skills are sufficient to cope with the requirements of the Bill. I hope that the answer will be in the affirmative, because the main thrust of the Bill is enforcement, whether at local authority level, in a hospital or canteen or elsewhere.
Much of course comes down to common sense. The Which? report of March 1989 mentions the disturbing increase in the number of recorded cases of food poisoning: in 1987 there were 30,000; in 1988 there were 41,000. It would be interesting to have those figures broken down to find out how many of those poisoning cases took place in the home and whether they were caused by microwaves; or whether they took place in restaurants, or indeed wine bars or cafés.
One area which has always frightened me is that of the delicatessen where there are exposed various types of salad consisting of potatoes and such things. Particularly during the summer —and we had a very hot summer this year —who knows how much listeria 798 or whatever is conveyed in such food? I very much hope that the Bill will take a long, hard look at premises of that kind. I believe that delicatessen food is one of the main sources of food poisoning.
I welcome very much, as I am sure does the whole House, the position on Crown immunity, particularly as regards hospitals. However, there are disturbing implications in some of our very large hospitals because the kitchens may be very old and certain food storage areas may leave much to be desired. Ventilation may be bad. One does not know how the food is stored in the refrigerators and whether guidelines are kept. I hope that, when this Bill becomes law, attention will be devoted in particular to long-stay hospitals, where, unlike general hospitals, there are patients who stay for many years. It is very important that both staff and patients are fed not only properly but safely.
This is a Bill to be welcomed. It has been needed for a very long time. My only concern is whether there are enough environmental health officers and others to enforce it. In the meantime it certainly merits a Second Reading.
§ 6.53 p.m.
§ Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover
My Lords, first I must apologise for the fact that I was not able to be present for the earlier part of this debate. I was making what I hope has been a contribution to food safety by opening a new supermarket at Whitley Bay and visiting a number of stores in the Newcastle area. I was therefore unable to be present until a short time ago.
I should also declare an interest, in that I am chairman of the country's largest food retailer, J. Sainsbury plc. Having been in the food trade for nearly 40 years I have seen great change and over many years have studied the problems of food distribution and food processing both in this country and overseas. I may add that I visit well over 100 food stores every year. I must therefore assure the House that my belief is that the standards of food safety and overall food hygiene in this country are higher than they have ever been and compare most favourably with the standards to be found abroad, including in the United States, where our company now also trades. I agreed with the Minister of Agriculture when, at a recent conference, he said that Britain's food has never been safer than it is today.
Having said that, I should like to make three points. First, it is right that the Government recognise that there has been a serious increase in the number of cases of food poisoning, which is a phenomenon to be found in all those countries which have meaningful statistics to compare. Secondly, it is a fact that changing consumer tastes and requirements in convenience foods present new hazards if the highest standards of food hygiene are not maintained. Thirdly, it must be right and in the national interest that food standards are further raised and that practical steps are taken which reduce the risks of food poisoning occurring. For those and indeed other reasons I welcome the Bill that is before us today. I believe that it will strengthen existing 799 food law and help ensure the adoption of what is already best practice in the industry. In my view it is a practical measure that is in the interests of the consumer.
As has often been said, the issue of food safety is an emotive one and has caused the media to create unnecessary alarm by exaggerated and inaccurate reports. Those with the most alarmist views are given the greatest coverage. The considered judgment of responsible scientists makes a less good and a less sensational story and their views often go unreported.
If food safety issues are emotive, so too is the subject of food irradiation. I believe that it is right for it to be permitted, subject of course to the most rigorous regulation and control. That is for the simple reason that the great weight of international scientific opinion believes it to be safe. Many governments in the world have been persuaded by that opinion and also believe that it is a technique which, if properly used, can reduce the risk of food contamination for some products more effectively than can alternative means.
I also believe that the consumer rules. The Government may permit food irradiation but whether or not any food is irradiated depends ultimately on the consumer. The consumer should have the right of choice, given current scientific opinion. But no food manufacturer and no retailer will sell irradiated food unless he or she finds that there is consumer demand and consumer advantage. I can very well understand that many people will not wish any food that they buy to be irradiated. It must be right that irradiated food is always clearly labelled. However, I believe that we should not deny that opportunity to those who wish at some time in the future to buy food that they believe is safer because it is irradiated.
A recent survey in Which? magazine was, to my mind, surprising, in that it reported that as many as 13 per cent. of those questioned would today prefer to buy irradiated food to food treated with preservatives. If that is the case, I suggest that the 87 per cent. of consumers who object should not prevent others making that choice. In short, therefore, I suggest that the Government's decision to legalise the irradiation of food is right. Consumers should be given the right to make their own decision on this matter.
I should like to refer briefly to Clause 19. I think that the intention to require registration of all food premises is both practical and the right thing to do. It is also right that the Government should make provision for licensing for what have been described as "sensitive areas". However, while wholly supporting the Government's intentions, I am concerned with the drafting of Clause 19. To my very untutored eye it appears to give the government of the day power to require licensing of any food premises. That is a power which at some future time might be thoroughly misused. I ask why the Goverment's intentions cannot be encapsulated in the legislation so that the power to require licensing applies more specifically and only to what Ministers 800 have described as "sensitive areas". The clause should be so drafted that it can cover both existing and as yet undiscovered technology which, as in the case of irradiation, there are good reasons to regard as sensitive.
I now turn to the fact that the Bill makes each link in the food chain responsible for matters within its sphere. As has been said, it removes the automatic assurance through a warranty. However, in a sense, that change consolidates the best practices of leading retailers. It will place a heavier potential responsibility on all retailers than exists under current legislation. Overall it should make more likely an improvement of standards.
However, the requirement upon retailers and manufacturers of due diligence will be applied consistently only if it is monitored and judged against a code of practice. This should be developed jointly by the Ministry, enforcement officers and the food trade. Without such a code there will be duplication of effort. There will be a waste of time and a waste of resources and there will be unnecessary and additional costs. It is very much in the interests of both the food trade and enforcement officers that an agreed code of practice is developed.
On enforcement, all, I am sure, will agree that there should be the same standards of enforcement throughout the country. Much depends on the abilities of the environmental health officers and trading standards officers, who will face a considerable increase in their responsiblities. A number of noble Lords have spoken about their training. I believe that there is a great deal to be done to improve that training to take account of this increased responsibility.
I should like to make a suggestion which I hope the authorities may consider helpful. It is that environmental health officers and trading standards officers in training —who already have a placement (in the case of environmental health officers, for a year) with a local authority—should also have a period with a food manufacturer or a food retailer. At present they visit commercial food operations and environmental health officers spend a short period at a slaughterhouse. But I question whether, in the light of this Bill, that is enough. A period working with a food manufacturer or a food retailer would give them greater knowledge and insight into some of the problems of the industry. However, the food industry is large and diverse and exposure to one part of it is only a modest step in the right direction with regard to providing adequate training and experience.
I believe also that organisation of enforcement needs to be addressed. There really should be greater co-operation between local authority trading standards departments and local authority environmental health departments. Many of their functions overlap. I trust that the recently announced Audit Commission study of environmental health departments will enable examples of best practice within local authorities to be identified and subsequently adopted by all local authorities.
I should also draw your Lordships' attention to what is known as the home authority arrangement, 801 whereby a company's head office local authority acts on behalf of all other local authorities in handling the major issues of principle relating to trading standards. This system was set up by the local authority co-ordinating body on trading standards. It has played a valuable role in establishing national standards. I suggest that there is a good case for extending it further to cover environmental health matters.
In my experience, the system helps to foster a co-operative working relationship between a company and its enforcement authority. It provides benefits for them both and, more generally, it is an efficient use of scarce resources.
I welcome the provision of Clause 39 for the Minister to issue directives and recommended codes of practice. The Government have been criticised in the past for their lack of an active role in enforcement. This measure will go some way to counter that criticism.
Finally, perhaps I may comment on the scientific advice on food matters that is available to the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (in parenthesis, I agree with the noble Lord who suggested that the order of those responsibilities should be reversed). I should like to contrast that with the professional scientific advice available to the Minister on agriculture and available to the Minister of Health on medical matters. On food, I understand that there is one Grade 3 chief scientist, whereas on agriculture, including horticulture and animal health, there are five Grade 3 officers. The department's chief scientific adviser is Grade 2, while at the Department of Health the chief medical adviser is Grade 1 A. I do not claim any expertise on Civil Service grades and I certainly have no reason and no wish to criticise the professional competence of the scientific officers at MAFF. However, I believe at this time of national concern about food safety and at a time of much technical change in the industry, that the Minister should have in his department the best possible scientific advice available, especially on food microbiology.
Should there not be a chief food officer of the same grade as the chief medical officer who not only can ensure the best possible advice for the Minister, but can be seen by the public as a leading expert on food matters and a voice to whom they should listen?
I am sure noble Lords will appreciate that there is much more that I could say on the issue of food safety and the contents of the Food Safety Bill, but not this evening. The Bill gives rise to a number of more technical issues that I believe are more appropriately addressed in Committee.
In conclusion, perhaps I may say again that the Bill is greatly to be welcomed and has my full support.
§ 7.5 p.m.
§ Lord Borthwick
My Lords, I should like to thank the Minister of State for a very fine effort. I believe that the Bill will be a huge success. It looks very good. However, there is one point that I make. The Bill starts off very well and there is then a gap. The gap comes after the birth of the animal, its death and its subsequent consumption. That is where we 802 begin to have trouble. On its way to the table the meat goes to the slaughterhouse. In this country I do not think that we take enough care in slaughterhouses. I have seen slaughterhouses the meat from which I would certainly not like to eat. The argument applies abroad, but I have seen such conditions at home. I believe that they bear looking at a little more closely.
I have referred to slaugher, but we need to hang the meat to get decent beef. Since we have stopped hanging beef for 21 days we have had to sharpen our teeth to get into it. It is not so easy now. That should be looked into because we are spoiling very fine beef. It is not hung properly. The result is that one cannot cook it properly and one does not get first-class quality from what has been killed.
That was all that I meant to say. However, I have since heard one or two matters upon which I wish to comment. We have talked a lot about food control. We say that we are the best country in the world on that matter. We may be; I do not know. In about 1910 in Saxony —from where my friends came at that time —the food officers went round the various houses in the villages. They had power to go into any cupboard or larder and to look round and say, "That bottle has been hanging there too long. Do something about it". They had power to control what could be epidemics in the area. We have never had that control. Candidly, I do not think that we want it. I was in Germany for about 10 years. I never saw such control. But the control to which I have referred was in Saxony. I was in Westphalia and other parts of Germany, so perhaps I would not have seen it.
On microwave ovens, I have learnt that they heat from the inside, whereas coal heats from the outside. That is all I know about that.
I do not remember what these hygiene officers were called. I do not remember the name for them. Perhaps they were called Gesundheitspolizei.
I think we are a little more careful than we were in those days. I am all for a separate Abteilung, with properly trained people who can check our food from the various sources, from birth to slaughter. Veterinary people are now inspecting animals from birth to slaughter and that must be kept up. However, we lack inspection between slaughter and consumption where the trouble lies. I am glad to hear that the Bill will cover a great deal of that and I wish it the best of luck.
§ 7.10. p.m.
The Viscount of Falkland
My Lords, we on these Benches also welcome the Bill and congratulate the Government on much of its contents. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, on the clear and concise way in which she presented the main contents of the Bill. I hope that I can be equally concise and clear in bringing your Lordships' attention to some of the weaknesses that we have identified. We do so in a spirit of co-operation rather than in one of carping criticism. The debate has shown that noble Lords on all sides of the House wish to achieve the same result, although we have slightly different ways of approaching it and perhaps 803 a different pace. We wish to achieve safe, wholesome, varied food for all. I believe that only differences in emphasis and certain misgivings will emerge most clearly in Committee.
Dramatic changes have taken place in this country not only as regards food but in general social terms. That applies particularly since the 1950s and the Food and Drug Act 1955 upon which most of the present legislation is based. In her eloquent speech the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, referred to some of the deep changes which have taken place and I agree with most of her comments. Most of today's newspapers contain reports of a food survey, the results of which were released yesterday. It stated that the nutritional value of food taken into the home is 9 per cent. less than that recommended in terms of energy intake.
One can visit an excellent supermarket in Nine Elms —just down the road —which comes under the responsibility of the noble Lord opposite. It is so palatial and well-organised that one can clearly watch what people are doing, as I did in my basic research. Most people put into their basket not basic ingredients but prepared food. The reason is the amount of change that has taken place. We cannot change them but, regrettably, there is less family life; less eating around the table in large numbers. Many women now work, and the pressure on a working husband and wife to prepare family meals from basic ingredients is too great so they tend to buy convenience foods. I agree that by and large such food is of excellent quality and that there is plenty of variety.
Restaurants and fast-food outlets have improved immeasurably during the past 10 years. Also during that time the general affluence of the population has increased. I fear that television may have contributed to the change in eating habits. There has been a tendency to take a tray in front of the television and eat a fast-food meal which may not be of high nutritional value rather than to sit down with the family at the table. Some noble Lords tell me that the trend may be reversed after the forthcoming broadcasting legislation but I remain to be convinced.
Against that background of change is the greater interest in and awareness of diet and health. We heard the most interesting speech by the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin. A growing number of people are interested in improving their quality of life by looking closer at what they eat and at the way in which their diets should be balanced. That is important and depends on education. To some extent I agree with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy. She said that we can have all those things if we want them but that they will cost money and somebody must pay. At the end of the day I agree with her but at present, whether they mean it or not, too many people say, "We do not care about all the fancy things that you educated people are talking about. We care about the cost of our food". I do not believe that that is right but it is an observation which must be investigated. People must be educated and persuaded that the safety of food and its quality must be paid for. I believe that if the 804 issue is tackled sensibly and creatively the cost need not be too burdensome on the consumer. That is what the Bill and our criticisms are about.
We support the new enforcement role for environmental health officers and the £30 million being made available to local authorities. However, what assurances do we have that local authorities will use the money for the purposes for which it is intended? There is no way in which one can read that into the Bill and I have heard no comment about it. Naturally, one is sceptical about the way in which money is syphoned off for other purposes. However, I may be too cynical in my comments.
How will last year's 400-odd unfilled vacancies for environmental officers be filled? What education or further education will be required for the existing officers to carry out their duties under the Bill? There is a great deal of power to legislate through regulation. That was admirably discussed by the noble Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg. One wonders whether the input which goes into decision-making before legislation comes before Parliament is such that the ability of a food directorate within the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and input from the Department of Health will be enough. Is it not now time that we thought seriously about the the setting up of a wholly independent body such as a food standards agency along the lines suggested by my noble friend Lord Ezra? The noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, said that she had also given the idea some credence but had now changed her view. She believes that the present structure is sufficient but I wonder whether there is not a little unease about the situation.
We on these Benches are greatly concerned about pesticides, and that is not covered in the Bill. The whole nation is concerned about pesticides and there is a need for more checks on their effects and perhaps a ban on aerial spraying. We are also concerned about labelling. We start from the premise that as much information as possible should be made available to the consumer. As far as possible he has the right to know exactly what he is buying in the supermarket and in as simple and direct a way as possible. Present standards are well behind those needed properly to inform the public at large. The "use by" date is of more use than the "sell by" date and that change will be most welcome.
As regards explanations, even in excellent retail outlets such as those that come under the responsibility of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, confusion arises. When I visited one of his stores I was confused about the foods which are popularly known by the term "cook and chill" or "chill and cook". There was also confusion in the mind of the person I spoke to. I am not clear about whether one can put some products back into the freezer, whether one must eat them within 20 days. On some products there is an explanation and one some there is not. there is an explanation and on some there is not. Products of the label of the noble Lord's organisation are very explicit on that point. I am concerned about other products where the information is not so explicit.
As regards licensing and registration —and I do not know whether I speak entirely on behalf of my 805 colleagues on these Benches on this matter—I prefer registration to licensing because, wherever possible, registration is more flexible and licensing smacks of bureaucracy because it is so cumbersome. Obviously, there are areas where that already exists; for example, in slaughterhouses and so on. With the development of irradiation and so on, licensing may well be necessary. However, I should have thought that in most areas, if the inspectorate is up to the job and on its toes, it should be able to deal with the registration of businesses and do that as quickly as possible to make sure that the proper standards are maintained. Therefore, I believe that registration is very welcome; licensing is welcome where it is absolutely necessary; and one hopes that registration does not have to move to licensing as that will produce unhappy results in cumbersome handling of procedures.
We are very keen on training of all kinds, especially for food handlers in the area of hygiene. Again, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Carnegy of Lour. The question of costs is involved and I am concerned that in the Bill, even with the provision of the £30 million, there will perhaps not be sufficient money. How much money will be needed and where will that money come from? I was very interested in the remark of the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, about environmental health officers visiting food processing factories. That is an excellent idea but I wonder who will pay for that. I believe that there should be considerable input into that cost structure by the manufacturers. Of course there would be an enormous advantage in speeding up communications.
We like the fact that the doctrine of due diligence is to replace statutory warranties. However, I agree, as other noble Lords have said, that guidance is needed on that. That matter will probably come before your Lordships' House in due course. Codes of practice are clearly vital in that area.
I turn briefly to irradiation because that is something about which my colleagues feel very strongly, as do I. Like the noble Lord opposite, I do not have an 0-level but I believe that irradiation is known as soft nuclear technology. That sounds very frightening. We believe that it is too early to greet the process with the even guarded enthusiasm which some of your Lordships have shown this evening. Are we not in danger of assuming that this process is safe merely because there has not been evidence to show that it is unsafe? I believe that even scientists are at odds about the effects of irradiation. There was an exchange in your Lordships' House about the fact that the public understandably confuse irradiation with radiation. We know that the process reduces nutritional value by destroying some 30 per cent. of vitamins. Most viruses such as hepatitis, a disease which I have had, and salmonella, from which I have also suffered, so that I have been unlucky in that regard, are resistant to it. Surely in this area we must proceed with some caution and not welcome it too eagerly. I believe, as perhaps does the public, that it is too early to approve. I take the point that in some areas —for example, spices —it is preferable to other forms of additive in order to kill pests and so on.
806 We welcome the Second Reading of this Bill and look forward to lively debates in Committee. I hope that, at the end, we shall produce a better Bill to the benefit of everybody.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, in winding up the debate for the official Opposition I am, as noble Lords will be well aware, very much the third choice speaker. However, I assure the House that when we come to Committee stage my place will be taken by my noble friend Lord Carter and, with the help of my noble friend Lord Gallacher, he will bring his expertise to bear on these very serious matters.
Being a lay person I have one great advantage; that is, when I say that the consumer is paramount I actually mean it. When I refer to consumer sovereignty there is no comma and the word "but" and then reference to producers. Perhaps I may say that I am disappointed, although not surprised, that in this debate —and I believe that I have listened to every speech —the majority of noble Lords have represented the producer interest. I am not surprised but I do not believe that that should be the case.
In that connection I say a few words about the department of the noble Baroness. The noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, said that she was no longer convinced that MAFF represents the producer interest. I have been at Whitehall for over 25 years on and off and it is commonplace in Whitehall that if there is one department which is a front organisation for the producers, notably the farmers, it is the department of the noble Baroness.
I am always ready to welcome change and if there has been a conversion on the part of MAFF to consumer protection, nothing would please me or others interested in this matter more. Therefore, I am willing to suspend disbelief but only to place MAFF on probation. It must be subject to continual critical scrutiny when it comes to actual cases of consumer protection, especially when those cases conflict with producer interest.
In that connection I should like reassurance about the independence of the consumer panel and its membership. I do not wish to discover that on all sorts of grounds the producers have dominated the panel.
One other acerbic contribution I must make refers to the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, in his criticism of my noble friend Lord Rea. It is not for me to give the noble Lord a lesson in elementary economics but he did make a remark on profit maximisation. He should know that the economic theory on which all of his party's economic policies are currently based contains as fundamental propositions, first, that firms maximise profits and, secondly, that it is right that they should do so.
§ Lord Mottistone
My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord might accept the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Rea, who sadly is still not here although he has been back to the Chamber, used that phrase in a derogatory fashion. He did not say that it is right that it should be so but that it is wrong that it should be so. It was that which I was picking up rather than a technical phrase.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I cannot comment on that. I merely say that if the noble Lord does not like the use of the expression "profit maximisation" he should complain to Professor Walters, to Professor Friedman or to the apparatchiks of the Institute of Economic Affairs and similar bodies or complain to his right honourable friend the Prime Minister, because they are the people who believe in it. He should not criticise us for that.
Let us look at the principles on which a Bill of this sort is and should be based. Those principles seem to me to be: first —and again I remind your Lordships that I said it —that the production and distribution of food in this country is and will continue to be the overwhelming responsibility of the private sector. That will be done via the market mechanism. However, the necessity for a Bill of this kind is that one cannot be certain that an unregulated private sector will do the job properly. That is why there is the Bill and the regulations. We have here an example par excellence of the market mechanism but within an appropriate regulatory framework.
If one asks why there is a need for regulation, it seems to me overwhelmingly that that need is to do with information and the fact that the market left to itself will not provide sufficient understandable information to consumers.
The second reason we require as a matter of principle this form of regulation —and indeed why we welcome it —is that competition needs to be fair. The worry here is that the unregulated market left to itself will demonstrate —if your Lordships will forgive the invention of this —the proposition that bad food will drive out good. Essentially the need to have the agencies that the Government quite rightly wish to have in this Bill is in order to give those producers who have higher standards and want to compete on fair terms a level playing field on which to compete.
The remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, on reputation were, I believe, important. Reputation does matter, but when one gets what might be regarded as a failure in this area all food producers suffer. It cannot be assumed that one's reputation will act as a total protection. There is an adverse spin-off of what might be called the less than satisfactory producers and distributors. That again is why we need regulation.
I shall say a few final words on consumer protection. I accept that compensation is relevant. The overwhelming majority of consumers would rather not suffer; they would prefer to be protected than to suffer and be compensated. I too was one of those who suffered from the salmonella outbreak in your Lordships' House. I have to say to noble Lords who did not that it is not an experience I would recommend to anybody whatever. It so happens —and I have never raised this before —that the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, made no effort to compensate me, or other noble Lords, with a free meal. Even if he had made that offer I should still rather he offered to guarantee that it did not happen again. That is why, although I do not object to compensation as being relevant in this matter, I regard it as much less important than effective protection and regulation.
808 I agree very much with those noble Lords who think that regulation has to apply to the whole food chain. We cannot arbitrarily cut it off at any point. In that connection, when we come to the definition of food businesses, which are mentioned in the Bill, it is not clear to me that as a concept they include farms. I should like an answer as to whether "food businesses" includes farms per se, without further ado. If not, it ought to.
I shall say a few words on irradiation. Like other noble Lords, although I have what used to be called a General School Certificate in various sciences, I make no pretence of being a scientist, but I do have the sense to ask scientists for their views. The point that the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, made is correct: the scientific community is divided on this. I was surprised that one or two noble Lords appeared to think that the position was clear-cut.
I await with great interest the report of Sub-committee D, of which I used to be a member. We do not fully understand the microbiological consequences of food irradiation. My view echoes what the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland said; we should proceed cautiously. In particular, apart from awaiting with interest the report of the committee, I believe movement on this matter is occuring in Brussels and I should have thought Her Majesty's Government would be well advised to wait and see what happens in Brussels before jumping into any final decisions on these matters.
In that connection I have to say —and I am sorry to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury of Preston Candover, though that will not affect my propensity to buy in his stores —one cannot simply leave this to consumer choice. If there are scientific doubts —and I underline the word "if" —enterprises with a public responsibility ought at least to think carefully before proceeding down the path of irradiation.
I am trying to be open minded. I am not anti-science; I am not anti anything in this sense, but I believe in being cautious. More generally, however, in this area of food and what is sometimes called technical progress, as someone who likes nutritious, wholesome food, I feel more inclined to refer to it as technical regress. It leads to the paradox that, if it is true that Britain's food has never been safer than it is today, how does one explain the fact that we have never before had outbreaks of food related illnesses on this scale? There may be other explanations, but that certainly needs examining.
On the question of an independent body, I agree with those noble Lords and all the serious consumer organisations who believe that there ought to be an independent regulatory body. It is a pity that the Government did not go along those lines.
I wish to make two remarks concerning training. There clearly must be proper training for the environmental health officers and related people. I am very struck that the Royal Society of Chemistry, for example, is one of the bodies which has pressed on me and other noble Lords the importance of this field. I am also at least as much concerned with training of those who handle food. As I understand the Bill —and I hope I will be contradicted —the 809 training element of food handlers at all stages is not mandatory. There ought to be training but there will be no compulsory training.
I should have thought on general grounds, first, that we ought to move towards mandatory training in this field. Secondly, the relevant body, the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, could with the industry start to move in the direction of drawing up appropriate training standards and then proceeding to ensure that they happen in practice. Clearly it would not be possible, given the enormous number of people in the industry at this time, to make training a legal requirement now, but surely a rational government should move in that direction in the longer term.
Wearing my education hat I am a little disappointed —and I am very much with the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, and the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland —that not enough is said in this Bill, first, about the importance of good nutrition. Secondly, there are no references in the Bill that I can see about health education. It seems to me —and other noble Lords have made this point —that it is absurd to emphasise hygiene and careful food handling only up to the point that the stuff gets to the household, because a great many problems start in the household. We do not want another debate about the national curriculum, but it would be a great pity if the school curriculum did not include appropriate health nutritional education in an effective form. The dangers of food is not the biggest health hazard —it cannot compete with tobacco in the damage it does to people —but it is not a trivial matter and I hope that that is fully recognised by the Government.
I have one or two other queries before concluding. They concern an area where the Bill really disappointed me. The Explanatory and Financial Memorandum "Part I: Preliminary" states: "Clause 1 defines 'food' ". I looked at Clause 1 because I wanted to know how food was defined. I am willing to sit down immediately if noble Lords will point me to the right part but I cannot see any definition of "food" in Clause 1.
I am particularly interested in the fact that "food" appears in inverted commas. I should have thought that the producers would be absolutely furious that food is not allowed to appear as an ordinary word but has to appear in inverted commas as if there is something bizarre about it. However, it is not remotely defined at all. I should have thought a legal definition of food would be of value. It is of particular interest to me because of my health interests to distinguish between what is a food and what is a medicine. There is a need to do that.
At the present time we find a number of spurious operators who, in order to get around the Medicines Act, sell something as a food but then have a great deal of covering literature provided implying that it acts as a medicine. We have some difficulty, when dealing with that appalling behaviour, in defining a medicine because medicines are no longer defined by what they are but by what they do. It would also be a help if the Bill were to be amended —the Government having said that Clause 1 defines "food" —so that the Bill actually does that.
810 A noble Lord has said that the Bill is not party political, and I apologise for not remembering his name. I certainly do not see it as such. However, I have fallen into this trap before on other Bills. The Minister rises to say that all amendments are welcome and that we all have to be constructive. Yet at the moment we try to pass a constructive amendment one of two things happen. For example, the Government will not accept a particular amendment or it is forced on them in the other place.
Nonetheless my noble friends and I will try to amend the Bill in order to improve it. There is one part that is political and it was referred to by my noble friend Lord Gallacher; namely, the difference between the negative procedure and the positive procedure. I believe that to adopt the negative procedure for regulations is unsatisfactory. Perhaps it is not a political point because I have often heard noble Lords say from the other side of the House that they do not like the procedure, and one or two of them today have said so.
We shall certainly press on the Government the need to look again at the procedure. 1: have done the best I can as a lay person. However, I believe I omitted to say that in broad terms we welcome the Bill. In saying that, there are matters that could be improved. My noble friends and I and, I am sure, noble Lords opposite, will do all we can to make quite a good Bill into a very good one.
§ 7.42 p.m.
§ Baroness Hooper
My Lords, as my noble friend Lady Trumpington said in opening this Second Reading debate, this Bill is a joint initiative between MAFF and the Department of Health. Therefore, in winding up I shall make every effort to respond to the many and varied questions and issues that have been raised concerning both my noble friend's Ministry and the Department of Health. I shall also deal with matters relating to the territorial departments.
Perhaps I may begin by clarifying to the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, the fact that Northern Ireland is not covered by the Bill. In opening, my noble friend said that the Bill would cover Great Britain, that parallel legislation would be made in Northern Ireland by Order in Council, and that in Scotland —and I can reassure the noble Lord on this point —wide consultation took place.
To my noble friend Lady Carnegy of Lour I can say that, in moving to Great Britain legislation, extensive consultation was carried out in Scotland. A wide variety of Scottish organisations was consulted from within the food industry, enforcement authorities and consumer interests. Responses largely reflected those we received in England and Wales. The Secretary of State for Scotland will still be able to act in his own right where warranted, and to make regulations. Enforcement will remain the responsibility of local authority, island and district councils. Both food and agriculture and health officials of the Scottish Office conducted the consultation exercise in Scotland and participated fully in preparations for the Bill.
811 It is gratifying that there has been a general welcome for the Bill from all sides of the House. The noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, said that the Bill was non-party political. That is welcome. There was the seal of approval from my noble friend, the former chairman of the National Consumer Council, and that is also welcome. I was therefore rather disappointed that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, suggested that the consumers' point of view had not been adequately covered in the course of this debate. However, I am glad that he did not criticise the provisions of the Bill in that respect.
While on the question of consumer interests, the noble Lord raised the matter of the independence of the consumer panel: consumer interests will be entirely independently served. There will be nine consumer members nominated by consumer organisations. They will be nominated because they are ordinary consumers who can discuss the issues meaningfully. Agriculture departments and Department of Health officials will be in attendance. The chairman will of course be my honourable friend the Minister for Food.
§ Lord Peston
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for allowing me to intervene. There is a point that I meant to raise which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, also mentioned. Will this body have all the information that it wants in doing its job?
§ Baroness Hooper
My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord on that point. It is certainly our intention and that was the objective in setting up this body.
I shall perhaps not be criticised for having come to the conclusion, as a result of this debate, that the subject exercising the minds of most of your Lordships is irradiation. A large number of your Lordships starting with the noble Lord, Lord Gallacher, raised various particular issues. The noble Lord suggested that the problems should be frankly recognised. They are. I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Middleton for illuminating this perhaps complex subject from his specialised knowledge.
The regulations that we propose will provide a full and detailed control mechanism, but the detail is appropriate to specific regulations and not to this general Bill. There will be full consultation on all aspects of the introduction of food irradiation at the appropriate time. But that time is not today. At the moment I shall simply say that whatever confusion there may be among the lay public about irradiation, the safety and wholesomeness of the process has been confirmed by one independent scientific committee after another.
In taking steps to introduce irradiation the Government are following a recommendation from the World Health Organisation, which is concerned about the increasing incidence of food-borne disease and wishes to see food irradiation introduced to combat it. In addition to the World Health Organisation we have the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Institute of Food Science and Technology, the British Nutrition Foundation and all the independent scientific committees, all of 812 which have reviewed the four decades of research on the subject and support irradiation.
My noble friend Lord Lyell referred to fears about radioactivity. We should be quite clear about that. All food is slightly radioactive. It contains naturally occurring radionuclides. The infinitesimal extra radioactivity induced by this process is too small even to be measured. Scientists have calculated that it is a hundred thousand-fold smaller than the amount found naturally in food.
With respect to the EC directive, the Government's proposals on irradiation are being brought forward against the background of the proposed directive, but we do not necessarily have to wait for it to be adopted before implementing legislation in the United Kingdom. However, we are playing a full part in the current discussions on the proposed directive with the aim of ensuring that what is ultimately agreed is a harmonised regime that provides the additional safety assurance that consumers require within a tight control system.
The noble Lord, Lord Rea, asked how close we are to an easily applied test for irradiation. That is difficult to forecast. How soon a test is devised depends on several methods that show promise. But we need to be satisfied that the results are reproducible in all circumstances and that the methods themselves can be applied by all laboratories. We are funding continued research because we accept that a test would be a useful supplement to the licensing controls that we are proposing.
In summary, we believe that irradiation is here to stay but that it must be properly controlled. The Food Safety Bill will therefore be used to bring in a full licensing system for irradiation facilities, which will be under central government control. There will be detailed inspection by specialists before plants can operate and licences will impose precise conditions. But, most importantly, we support the consumer's right to choose whether or not to buy irradiated food. I wish to emphasise that there will therefore be a requirement for full and clear labelling of irradiated food.
Several noble Lords expressed concern about registration under the Bill. It may be useful if I explain that we propose a simple registration scheme. Food businesses will be asked to supply only a few brief details, such as their address, the proprietor's name and the number of staff employed. We envisage prescribing the registration form in the regulations. There will be no charge for registration, and with the simple kinds of procedure we have in mind, we would envisage covering all commercial and permanent food businesses.
As noble Lords will know, the aim of registration is to enable local authorities to target their resources more effectively. In some areas, the turnover of food businesses is very high indeed. Once we have a registration scheme in place, local authorities will know which businesses have changed hands and which new ones have opened. They will be able to inspect any that seem to them to constitute a high risk. I should like to reassure noble Lords who are anxious on this score that the registration scheme 813 will be a simple, free-standing requirement. As with all the regulations made under food legislation, we shall be consulting interested parties in full on the details of the regulations before they are finalised. This will give interested parties plenty of time to let us know their views on the scope and purpose of the registration scheme. We believe that the costs to business will be minimal. However, there may be charges for licensing. An example might be the irradiation plants to which I referred. Our detailed proposals will be set out in regulations. These will be preceded by consultation.
There will of course be enforcement procedures. The Bill contains sufficient powers to achieve the prompt closure of premises which put public health at risk. If a business is found to be insanitary, enforcement officers will have strong powers to serve improvement and prohibition notices on the proprietor. They will be able to close the premises down on the spot if they present a grave danger to health, and they will be able to apply to a court to have the proprietor prohibited from carrying on a good business elsewhere.
As my noble friend has said, the Bill contains powers which will enable us to require food businesses to be licensed. The licensing powers in the Bill would be used where a category of food business posed a particular risk to health which meant that tighter controls were necesssary. We intend to use this enabling power to license businesses producing irradiated food. However, the power will enable us to extend the licensing requirement to other types of business if this becomes necessary in the future.
On the question of enforcement, I am happy to reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Stedman, that we intend to keep broadly the same division of responsibilities between local authorities as exist now. However, the flexibility in the Bill will allow us to make changes if that seems necessary in the future. There have been some cases where we would have liked more flexibility under the present Act. For example, environmental health officers cannot use Section 1 of the present Act. This might have been helpful to them in dealing with the recent botulism outbreak.
Several noble Lords were concerned about the financial aspects of the Bill. We have recognised that local authorities will need extra staff to carry out their new duties effectively. We believe that this is likely to cost about £30 million from 1991–92 onwards. This will be taken into account in next year's revenue support grant settlement. It represents a good response on behalf of the Government. There will also be a cost in terms of Civil Service manpower, but we do not believe that any overall increase will be necessary. The intention is to reflect in the revenue support grant settlement the additional costs arising from new tasks and duties to be created by the Bill, including setting up the register of food premises and carrying out more frequent inspections. The details will be set out in regulations. However, we have noted the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, concerning the training of enforcement officers.
814 The £30 million cost has been calculated, after consultation, on the best information available. There is therefore no reason to think that it is in any way an underestimate. I have been asked whether there is any way of ensuring that the £30 million is not used for other purposes. Clause 6(2) imposes a duty on local authorities to enforce the provisions of the Bill. To do this, they will have to make appropriate financial provision. Furthermore, our powers in Clause 39 to issue and if necessary to enforce codes of practice will ensure that local authorities carry out enforcement work to the required standard.
I can tell my noble friend Lady Carnegy that Scottish local authorities are accounted for in the £30 million estimate. After consultation with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities, estimates suggest that a figure of £3 million may be needed in Scotland. This will be taken into account next year when the revenue support grant is negotiated by the Scottish Office.
Most, if not all, noble Lords referred to training—in particular, hygiene training for food handlers. One of the main aims of the Bill is to ensure that good hygiene standards are maintained, thus reducing the risk of unsafe food being put on sale for public consumption. We believe that ensuring that those who handle food receive proper training in food hygiene is an important step on the way to achieving that aim. However, our proposals raise a number of complex issues. We feel it is essential to seek the views of the food industry, enforcement agencies, consumer organisations and other interested parties before deciding on the details of the requirements. That is why my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health today published a consultation document which discusses the issues involved.
As we said in the White Paper earlier this year, many of those who handle food already receive hygiene training through courses organised by the food industry, local authorities and other bodies. One of our main aims will be to produce regulations which take account of the excellent training provision which already exists in many parts of the industry. The Bill also enables local authorities to run food hygiene courses and to charge for them in order to supplement the training provision in their areas. This is not intended to allow local authorities to monopolise training, but to give statutory backing to the existing practice and to increase the options available to employers. We believe that businesses should be able to choose from a wide range of options the type of training which is best for them.
The regulations on training will be enforced by environmental health officers who, when they are inspecting the premises, will be able to check that staff in a business have been trained. The regulations may therefore require a business to show some documentary evidence that staff have been trained. This evidence might take a number of forms, such as certificates or other records of training. They are discussed in the consultation document. We hope that all those consulted will give our proposals their fullest consideration. The closing date for replies is 815 30th June 1990. This allows more than six months for consultation. We look forward to a full and constructive response.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, asked about compulsory training for food handlers. The Government's firm intention is to make some kind of training compulsory for most food handlers, especially those working in high risk areas. The consultation paper deals with that. I agree with the noble Lord that training will have to be phased in.
My noble friends Lord Mottistone and Lord Sainsbury mentioned the training of enforcement officers. The training for environmental health officers gives them a thorough grounding in matters of health and hygiene. Most of the inspections they carry out are in retail premises, restaurants and other catering establishments. I am confident that their existing training equips them well for this work. However, in some areas they need more specialised knowledge, especially when dealing with high technology processes. In Schedule 1, paragraph 4, the Bill provides enabling powers to give such officers access to the opinion of experts on such processes. Those experts will give a view on the safety of the process being used.
The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, suggested that a trading standards officer should be seconded to MAFF's safety directorate. MAFF officials already have frequent and helpful contact with TSOs, but the idea of a secondment is interesting and one which I know my noble friend, Lady Trumpington, will wish to consider further. Therefore the detailed letter which the noble Lord, Lord Ezra, promised will be most welcome.
I also welcome the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Sainsbury that EHOs might usefully spend a period of training within the food industry. If he is pledging the participation of his company in this respect, we shall certainly take up the matter with the EHOs' training board.
The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, echoed I think by the noble Viscount, Lord Falkland, called for a good agency to be set up along the lines of the Office of Fair Trading. There have been suggestions in this respect and we have therefore considered this type of agency. However, the parallel is not in fact all that clear. We believe that it is right and necessary for action to protect consumers to be taken by Ministers who are answerable in Parliament, especially in this important area of food safety. Therefore, like my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, I find myself at something of a loss to see exactly what such a body would do which is not already covered by the responsibilities of Ministers or by the activities of local authority enforcement under the provisions of the Bill.
Many noble Lords raised the question of practices on farms in relation to feedingstuffs. The reason the Bill specifically excludes feedingstuffs is that they are already covered by the Agriculture Act 1970 and by an extensive body of European Community regulations. Therefore, I should like to clarify the position to the noble Lord, Lord Peston. For the above reason the expression "food businesses" in 816 the Bill does not cover farms —except, of course, farm shops.
I turn now to a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Rea, in relation to slaughterhouses. This is not primarily a matter for the Bill because we have the powers we need elsewhere. However, my right honourable friend the former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said that we must move towards a system under which all our plants are subject to the same conditions and supervision arrangements. Not only will this reassure consumers; it will also ensure that we are able to take full advantage of the opportunities which will arise in the single market after 1992. Therefore we shall be moving to a single set of rules for all meat plants in the United Kingdom. The European Commission has not yet made formal proposals for red meat or meat products, but it is clear in its view that a single standard in those areas is necessary. As regards poultry meat, European Community standards apply to all licensed poultry plants whether or not they produce meat for export.
The noble Lord, Lord Ezra, raised the question of exemption of primary agricultural products from product liability. He asked why we do not end the present exemption in this respect. The exemption is specifically permitted under the European Community directive on product liability and has been taken up by most member states. Therefore there would be distortion of competition to the prejudice of the United Kingdom if we were to change our stance. It should also be understood that the exemption applies only to agricultural produce in its raw state and not to that which has been processed in any way. Moreover, it will be difficult to enforce product liability in a way which is fair and effective. Food is very prone to defects which can develop when it is quite beyond the control of the original producer.
As regards compensation for consumers made ill by unsafe food, I am all in favour of this proposal. However, it is not necessary to change the law in order to achieve that aim. In fact there are many avenues of possible redress already available.
It has been suggested that the Bill is full of enabling powers but that it contains little detail. Our aim is to be worked out in regulations: in other words, a flexible approach which allows the law to be adapted flexible approach which allows the law to be adapted as circumstances change. That approach has stood the test of time well and I believe that it is in the best interests of consumers. In this respect the codes of recommended practice for local authorities will be drawn up by an implementation advisory committee involving the main government departments concerned and local authority representatives. We intend that codes could eventually be drawn up to cover such matters as the frequency of inspection appropriate for different types of food premises and the rates of sampling per head of population.
The codes of practice are intended for the guidance of food authorities to help bring about more even enforcement standards, rather than for the courts or for the industry as some noble Lords may have assumed. Of course we do not intend to allow work on the codes of practice to delay the introduction of 817 the Bill's provisions; but we also need to take account of the Audit Commission's study on the enforcement of food law.
On the vexed question of annulment procedure for regulations, which is a matter that is frequently raised in our discussions on legislation in this House, I should say that the procedure is already the norm in existing food legislation. It is also our normal practice to undertake public consultation on the regulations before presenting them to Parliament. This is provided for in Clause 26(1) of the Bill. Moreover, on deciding upon this approach we have had regard to the first special report by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments in relation to the affirmative resolution procedure. The report which was published in 1973 dealt with the possibility of rationalising the numerous kinds of parliamentary control for statutory instruments currently in existence and outlined where the affirmative resolution procedure was normally appropriate. The report also said that the most sensible approach is that the negative procedure should generally be selected unless the power is of a type which would normally require the affirmative procedure, or unless it is of the type over which Parliament has generally been content to relinquish any further control.
In this connection perhaps I may turn once again to Scotland. The Secretary of State for Scotland exercises responsibility for food safety and milk matters in Scotland as he does for agriculture and health. Regulations will normally be made jointly with other Ministers under the Bill, but provision exists for the Secretary of State to make regulations or orders when necessary specifically for Scotland, although we anticipate that this will be the exception.
Many interesting points were raised this evening but I feel that time is running out. However, I wish to refer specifically to a point raised by my noble friend Lord Lyell in relation to the famous case of Donaghue v. Stevenson. I can reassure him that Clause 8 will cover the sale of food not complying with food safety requirements. It will deal with cases of extraneous matter in food making the food unsafe, or otherwise unacceptable. This was of course the subject at issue in the stated case.
That leads me to the point raised by the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, on a matter of considerable importance to numerous charities. If food is sold, and causes food poisoning, it is covered by the law now. We shall not be changing the position of charities in that respect. It is, and will remain, an offence for anyone to sell unfit food, but under the Bill we say the registration, for example, will cover commercial and permanent food businesses. That will not apply to most charities or voluntary organisations.
It was suggested by the noble Earl, Lord Baldwin, that the Bill is too narrow and covers only food safety and not nutrition and other important matters. The Government are keenly aware of the need for the public to have sound dietary advice and information. The Chief Medical Officer's Committee on the Medical Aspects of Food Policy provides scientific advice on nutrition, diet and health. We are committed to translating that advice into nutrition 818 education for health professionals and the public, but we believe that that is a matter for advice and not legislation.
As my noble friend Lord Hives said, it is not the Government's business to tell people what to eat but to ensure that a good supply of safe food is available. On that note I conclude by asking the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.