HC Deb 22 December 1965 vol 722 cc439-41W
Mr. Hector Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland what has been the outcome of consideration given to the recommendations of the Milne Committee; and if he will make a statement.

Mr. Ross

I informed the House on 17th December, 1964, of the Government's general acceptance of the findings of the Report and of the action already taken on some of the 14 recommendations made. Progress has been made with consideration of the remainder by my right hon. Friends the Minister of Health and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and myself, and the following position has been reached.

The veterinary staff of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had already been augmented before the Commitee reported. Where circumstances are thought to warrant it there is now medical participation in visits by veterinary inspectors of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to overseas establishments exporting meat to Great Britain. The adjustment of responsibility between the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food for the control of the fitness of meat on entry into England and Wales has been agreed. With regard to the question of an international meat inspectorate, we consider that we should await a report on meat and meat products which is being prepared by the Joint W.H.O./F.A.O. Codex Alimentarius Commission before giving further consideration to this suggestion.

We consider that the recommendations for the use of retail shops of detergents and sterilisers of proved bactericidal properties can best be met by agreeing with the interested parties a code of practice to be followed in the food industry; and that a further code on the hygienic handling of cold meats, including advice on the temperature at which they should be displayed, should be the first step towards more uniformly satisfactory conditions of sale in the retail trade. We propose to frame these codes in consultation with the interested parties. The Food Hygiene Advisory Council has examined, at our request, the education of food handlers in food hygiene. Recommendations from the Scottish Food Hygiene Council have been drawn to the attention of the appropriate organisations in Scotland, and the report of the Council in England and Wales will shortly be available.

A standing committee has been set up to keep under review any hazard to the public health which might arise from the microbial contamination of food sold or intended for sale for human consumption and to review processes to which food may be subjected.

Regarding the proposed re-examination of the Scottish bacteriological services, I have reached the view that the present organisation, under which laboratories are run by regional hospital boards, is the most suitable. However, in order to ensure that the service is available, and seen to be available, to all potential users, a sub-committee of the Standing Advisory Committee on Laboratory Services has been set up to achieve this end. The membership of this subcommittee comprises microbiologists, physicians, and public health experts.

Several recommendations of the Committee relate to legal requirements. We intend, when opportunity arises, to propose an amendment of the law to give medical officers of health the power to examine persons suspected to be carriers of certain infectious diseases. We have also considered whether a legal obligation should be placed upon food handlers to declare whether they have had certain diseases, including serious gastro-intestinal infection. We have concluded that it is not practicable to enforce a detailed requirement of this kind, but we endorse the intention of the recommendation and will continue to encourage voluntary pre-employment medical screening of food handlers. As recommended, we have reexamined the powers available to medical officers of health to close premises in which infection may exist and have come to the conclusion that no strengthening of the law need be proposed at present but the matter will be kept under review. Finally we have considered whether powers should be sought to compel the withdrawal of suspect food stocks already in distribution. Although the need for this will be kept under review, we have concluded that for the time being reliance can continue to be placed upon the trade to withhold stocks voluntarily if advised that a danger to health exists.