Orders of the Day — Food Hygiene

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 29th November 1960.

Alert me about debates like this

10.23 p.m.

Photo of Sir Barnett Stross Sir Barnett Stross , Stoke-on-Trent Central

I beg to move, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that the Food Hygiene (General) Regulations, 1960 (S.I., 1960, No. 1601), dated 1st September, 1960, a copy of which was laid before this House on 12th September, in the last Session of Parliament, be annulled.

Photo of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster Sir Harry Hylton-Foster , Cities of London and Westminster

Before the hon. Member proceeds, I think that it might be helpful to the House if I said a word about order in the debate. The Statutory Instrument to which this Motion relates consolidates, amends and extends the existing Regulations. Should the Motion succeed, what would be prevented would be the consolidation, the amendment and the extension, but the Regulations which the Instrument seeks to consolidate would stand in their present form. It follows that it would be out of order on this Motion to discuss the detail of these Regulations in so far as, if the Motion succeeded, they would remain as they are.

Photo of Sir Barnett Stross Sir Barnett Stross , Stoke-on-Trent Central

I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker, for guiding me, although I feel that it would be unlikely that I should be out of order, as I recognise that this is by no means the first time that the Regulations have come before us. Indeed, I remember that when we were in Committee in 1954, the word "regulations" with reference to this legislation came before us for the first time, and the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who was then the Parliamentary Secretary concerned, admitted that they were draft Regulations, and we were able to extort from him the information that the draft; Regulations to which he referred then in October, 1954, were already the third draft.

There have been other drafts, and these Regulations now before us seek to consolidate and amend the Food Hygiene Regulations of 1955–57, and to extend the Regulations to … food businesses carried on from home-going ships and moored vessels. There are certain other specific changes, such as the extension of the definition of the handling of food, which now shall include the cleansing of food utensils and equipment, the relaxation in certain respects of Regulation 25 of the 1955 Regulations, and so on. These are all available and in the hands, I am sure, of hon. and right hon. Gentlemen, and it would therefore be a mistake for me to read them word for word.

The whole purpose of the Regulations is to carry out as fully as possible and in an up-to-date fashion the intention of the original Act and, having studied the Regulations, we on this side ask ourselves three questions. First, will their consolidation and extension carry out the provisions that all of us, or nearly all of us, had in mind when considering the Measure in Committee, and which we have had in mind time after time since, and now again this evening?

What problem do the Regulations seek to resolve? What has been going on in the intervening years to bring about consolidation and extension of the Regulations which are before us? The third and most important question of all is, will they truly solve the problem which is very simply stated as food poisoning, and Clive the kind of protection we must together, on both sides of the House, offer to our fellow citizens?

The problem of food poisoning that these Regulations must protect us against was raised for the first time, I think, by my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton), who moved a Motion as early as 2nd February, 1951, which I had the honour to second. We considered what sort of Regulations we had in mind even at that time. We considered their cost. We noted that, in those days, the number of people affected by food poisoning was given as 11,000, and the number of incidents as 2,400. There were fifty-eight deaths from food poisoning alone, not counting dysentery, typhoid and paratyphoid as food poisoning.

That was felt by every one in all parties to be a most serious situation, and, following that Motion, when my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) was Parliamentary Secretary, we moved on slowly but surely towards legislation, and these consolidated Regulations seem to be almost the last stage.

Although we have had Regulation after Regulation, we have always been demanding more radical and better regulations and extensions of them. We have done that for two reasons. First, the incidence of food poisoning has steeply increased since we first debated the matter. Almost every year there have been one or two remissions, and then it has again become more serious. It is because of that that we have Regulations like these now before us, which not only consolidate but extend the earlier provisions.

Both in their original form and in their extension all the Regulations are bent towards one thing. It is the incidence of salmonella poisoning. We know that we have than in mind, because in all outbreaks, 94 per cent. are salmonella food poisoning cases, and one salmonella type alone—mouse typhoid—is responsible for 71 per cent. of cases.

We know more now than we knew before. That is why the Regulations are extended and brought more up to date—or at least, that has been attempted. We know today rather more as to how the disease is spread, and, therefore, the cause of the suffering inflicted upon so many innocent people. We know that the principal agents are meat, poultry, and both imported and home-produced eggs; and we know, too, that the reason we have had to consider extension of the Regulations, as compared with earlier ones, is the amount of infection in animals.

What is most frightening—the Lady Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food will be most interested in this—is to know that the prime cause of poisoning is more frequent in its outbreaks in hospital establishments than in other similar catering establishments. This is surprising, disturbing, and has been raised again and again, and I hope that the hon. Lady will be able to give some indication as to what it may be that these Regulations will solve in this direction.

Having made it clear that it is for prevention of poisoning that the Regulations are put into our hands and are to be issued, we then ask, "Will these Regulations, as they now stand before us in their new form, be any better able to prevent the spread of this infection or to prevent infection from occurring?" We answer, after careful scrutiny of the Regulations, "No, we do not think they will." This is not to say that, so far as they go, we are against these Regulations, except in one particular in Regulation 11 where there is a ridiculous absurdity, which I shall point out in a few moments.

Of course, Regulations help. Every time we had Regulations they have probably helped, but they have never stemmed the tide of the increased infection, either in the number of incidents or the number of people who are affected. As long ago as October, 1954, my right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) moved that there should be medical examination and compensation of food handlers who were infected either with salmonella or another similar disease, in order that they should be taken out from the industry.

Knowing that this is the way infection spreads, let us look at Regulation 11. It is worth reading. We find that the obligation is placed upon food handlers that, if they know they are so suffering, they must go to their employer and notify him, and the employer must then notify the medical officer of health. This, I would point out to the hon. Lady, is a strange absurdity, because it is asking much too much from the individual worker to find out for himself what he is suffering from, whether salmonella, or dysentery, typhoid—

Photo of Sir William Anstruther-Gray Sir William Anstruther-Gray , Berwickshire and East Lothian

I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Member, but I am afraid that, in what he is now saying, he is going beyond Mr. Speaker's Ruling of ten minutes ago.

Photo of Sir Barnett Stross Sir Barnett Stross , Stoke-on-Trent Central

I am grateful for your advice, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, and I will gladly be guided by what you say. I think, however, that I have made a specific point, and I am glad I had time to make it, thanks to your courtesy and kindness, namely, that to expect food handlers alone to know what is the matter with them and to report themselves, rather than to have them examined and to take them out of the industry and compensate them, is wrong. I will leave that point there.

Photo of Mr Frederick Willey Mr Frederick Willey , Sunderland North

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. It might help the House if you could clarify this point, which is a real difficulty on a Prayer such as this. We are all much obliged for the Ruling that Mr. Speaker gave with great clarity, but there arises from that Ruling a point which troubles me and, I think, my hon. Friend also.

We are dealing with the extensions made in these Regulations to the earlier Regulations. In praying against them, surely we are in order to argue that the extensions so made are inadequate, or alternatively that the purpose of the Regulations will not be met because extensions which ought to be made under Regulation 11 are not, in fact, made?

Photo of Sir Barnett Stross Sir Barnett Stross , Stoke-on-Trent Central

Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May I ask you for advice again? Regulation 11 (3) to which I was referring says: For the purposes of the last foregoing paragraph a food business which is carried on from a ship shall be deemed to be situated in the district or port health district in which the ship is for the time being moored. That is one of the extensions. I should like to limit myself to speak about people who are responsible for outbreaks of food poisoning on ships. This is an extension for the first time. If I am now in order I should like to speak for a little longer.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health is in a great Ministry which is responsible for preserving the health of the community and for attempting to cure people should they fall sick. She will understand that it is not difficult to examine people, whether they be on ships or on other installations, and ascertain whether there is an outbreak of disease and whether people are infected and are liable or likely to infect other people on the ship.

I move to my next point. These Regulations refer to the cleanliness of utensils. This is one of the extensions with which we are dealing. Why is that? The answer is that it is not only human beings who are carriers of diseases like salmonella. Utensils can be polluted and can cause infection with this disease. In the same way, human beings can become infected by cats and dogs which pollute utensils and, therefore, utensils must be carefully cleansed. We know that mice may contaminate utensils as well as food.

Mouse typhoid, which is one type of salmonella, is responsible for 71 per cent. of all the cases which come to our notice, and when we consider that the number of cases has doubled since 1954, when we last discussed this subject, it is apparent that we have to do not only what is set down in these Regulations, not only to keep clean and wear clean overalls, but to ensure that one or two other precautions are properly observed. We are not to expect people on ships or other installations—I have mentioned ships so that I can keep in order—to diagnose their own disease and have themselves reported before they are removed from their occupation.

The hon. Lady will be aware that there are many food handlers in this industry. The right hon. Gentleman who was Parliamentary Secretary all those years ago, in refusing our pleas, said that there were too many. The number was 180,000. But we said that the Government could at least start with the new people coming into the industry and that they should be examined to ensure that they would not carry disease that would kill—and over 400 have died in the last ten years among cases of which we are certain. When we pleaded with the Minister he said that he could not accept even that.

I have been taken a little by surprise and I have had to narrow my argument. If I appear to have strayed from time to time beyond the rules of order, I am sorry. As long as it is understood that we on this side of the House are praying against these Regulations, their consolidation and extension because they are not good enough to solve the problem, I will have got my point across. They never will solve the problem. These are about the sixth or seventh set of Regulations which have been in draft or presented to us. They will do no more than the others, and it is because they are not good enough that I have moved the Motion.

10.41 p.m.

Photo of Mr Alfred Broughton Mr Alfred Broughton , Batley and Morley

The hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, who is to reply for the Government, will understand that although my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) has moved the Motion praying that these Regulations should be annulled, we do not wish to have them annulled. This is the only method under our Parliamentary procedure whereby Regulations can be discussed and criticised.

I should like to support my hon. Friend when he says that we are far from satisfied with these Regulations. My hon. Friend was good enough to refer to a debate which we had in the House as long ago as February, 1951. That was the occasion when the clean handling of food, and food hygiene, were debated. I had been fortunate enough to have my name drawn in the Ballot for Private Members' Motions. I think that that debate was useful and successful. Its success was due to the many hon. and right hon. Members who made useful contributions to it.

I had asked on that occasion that the Government should legislate for clean premises in which food is prepared, served and consumed. I had asked that the Government should insist upon a high standard of cleanliness in the handling of food. I had also asked the Government to encourage education in hygiene. After waiting some considerable time, legislation came before the House and the Food Hygiene Act was passed. It is as a result of that Act that Regulations have been made by the Minister and that we are today considering his latest Regulations, which are a consolidation and an extension of the previous ones made under that Act.

I am very sorry that whilst these Regulations have been extended to cover ships they have not been extended considerably further. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will share my disappointment that the Regulations have not gone further. It may well be—and I hope that she will tell us this—that the Government wish to proceed in stages, going step by step, and that when these Regulations have been put into force and are working satisfactorily the Government will come forward with further Regulations to take as a step nearer our goal of having safe and clean food.

I am sorry that the Regulations do not in any way encourage education in hygiene. It is an important subject. Unfortunately, it is a subject about which I cannot speak in this debate because we are strictly limited by Mr. Speaker's Ruling, but I hope that the hon. Lady will bear that point in mind and will tell us that this is just one further step towards having really clean, wholesome food for the people of this country.

10.45 p.m.

Photo of Mr Frederick Willey Mr Frederick Willey , Sunderland North

I wish to ask the hon. Lady one or two questions, and I think therefore that it would be helpful if I intervened now rather than after her reply to the debate. I have no wish to stray from Mr. Speaker's Ruling, and I hope that I shall be corrected if I do. As I understand it, we are confined to discussing these Regulations as though they were amending Regulations extending the provisions of the earlier Regulations.

I want to raise two substantial points in support of my hon. Friends who, with some dialectical skill and courtesy, have complained about the extent to which the Regulations have been improved. As the Regulations reveal, and as the Act provided, the hon. Lady and the Government are under an obligation to consult such organisations as appear to them representative of the interests substantially affected by the Regulations, and also to consult the Food Hygiene Advisory Council.

What consultations has the hon. Lady had, and what have these representative bodies said to her? Also, what discussions has the hon. Lady had with the Advisory Council, and what recommendations has it made to her? These are very fair questions to ask in a debate such as this, because, as my hon. Friends would remind me, considerable attention was paid to the Advisory Council when we discussed the Bill in Committee.

Having set up such an Advisory Council—and I am sure that the hon. Lady will agree that it is a very helpful body—one of the difficulties is to know what matters are discussed within that Council, and what recommendations it makes to the Government. The only opportunity that we have of debating these matters is when we get Regulations such as these extending the provisions. I should like to know what recommendations it made, because my hon. Friends have raised points which I presume have been discussed by the Advisory Council and which have been the subject of representations. We want to satisfy ourselves that the Government have endeavoured to do all that they can properly do to promote food hygiene. I readily admit that it is easy to make proposals to the Government. It is sometimes much more difficult to implement them.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) made the point that the figures for food poisoning are disturbingly high. This means that there is an obligation on the Government to satisfy everybody that everything that can possibly be done is being done to ensure the provision of clean food.

Having set up such a consultative machinery, it is difficult to find out what has been discussed, and why the Government have not taken steps which it would appear desirable that they should take. I do not want to touch upon some of the points made by my hon. Friend, because there may be, for all I know, difficulties in implementing his suggestions. We did not feel so at the time these matters were discussed when the Bill went through its Committee stage, but I think that one of the obligations upon the Government is to make it patent that they are trying to do all they can and not—I say this with some vigour—to hide in the consultative processes, as the Department represented by the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who is sitting besides the hon. Lady, should know very well. What we want today is vigorous action.

Having said that, I would pay a very real tribute to those in the Department who are concerned particularly with this problem. I should like to see them provided with more money, because I do not think that any Statutory Instrument such as the present one, however desirable it may be, will be effective unless we are prepared to back it by spending public money on propaganda and education.

With regard to these Regulations, I hope that it is generally recognised that one cannot effectively legislate for clean food. One has to have the right climate. My hon. Friend raised the question of employees in the food trade. It is very difficult to get a proper responsibility on the part of those engaged in the food trade unless there is an understanding of the importance of clean food and food hygiene. It is the same with regard to the general public. We have made some progress in shops and stores which would have been very difficult to attain even a few years ago, but this depends largely upon the acceptance by the general public of the relevance of such a provision as this.

Being anxious not even to appear to be going beyond Mr. Speaker's Ruling, I would just say three things to the hon. Lady. First, I hope she accepts the obligation that, when we provide such machinery to enable the Department to be better advised, not only Should full advantage be taken of it but full disclosure should be made as far as possible of the effectiveness of the advice, even if it should embarrass the Department. When, in particular, voluntary bodies are called in aid, I do not think their aid should be blunted because they are called in to discuss matters with the Department. I hope, on the contrary, that there will be a drive from the Department to encourage more voluntary work, and that, in turn, will involve more work for the Department.

Secondly, I think that my hon. Friends are justified in being disappointed at the extent of the extensions in the Statutory Instrument. After all, we are referring to Regulations made in 1955–57. That is three years and more ago, and I know that may be nothing to some Departments, but when apparently the figures for food poisoning are running up, I think that there is particular obligation to do rather more than this.

Thirdly, quite apart from the provision of Regulations, I would say that to make such Regulations as these effective there is a real need to do what we can to inculcate a spirit of responsibility and an awareness of the harm that food poisoning can cause and also to stress the steps that can often be fairly easily taken effectively to avoid it. It is in that spirit that I support my hon. Friends.

10.55 p.m.

Photo of Miss Edith Pitt Miss Edith Pitt , Birmingham, Edgbaston

In view of your Ruling at the beginning of the debate, Mr. Speaker, I think that I shall be precluded by the rules of order from replying to some of the points which hon. Members opposite have successfully introduced. The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) has been less benign and less congratulatory than he was on a previous occasion, because I noticed that that was the way he began his remarks in the debate on the original 1955 Regulations, which were generally welcomed by the whole House. These Regulations consolidate, with amendments, those Food Hygiene Regulations of 1955 to 1957.

These Regulations are made jointly by my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, who has primary responsibility, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and I should like to say how glad I am in this discussion to have the support of my hon. Friend the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

Except in their application to ships, the Regulations came into force on 1st October, this year. They apply for the first time to the handling and service of food on board certain ships, as well as on premises and from vehicles and stalls. The opportunity has been taken to extend the scope of the Regulations to cover the service and handling of food on board certain types of ships, as provided for in Section 13 of the Food and Drugs Act, 1955.

Photo of Sir Barnett Stross Sir Barnett Stross , Stoke-on-Trent Central

I understand that we are in order in discussing this extension to ships and vessels which are moored or moving out of port. Those ships contain people who must prepare food and many people who may be subject to food poisoning. Does the hon. Lady remember that in 1950 her Ministry was responsible for considerable propaganda on clean food, and spent a great deal of money and produced a film which was seen by ¾ million people? Is there any intention that food handlers on those ships—and I must speak only of those at the moment—will be offered the same very important advantages of education so that we can get the kind of co-operation from them that we want?

Photo of Miss Edith Pitt Miss Edith Pitt , Birmingham, Edgbaston

I shall have something to say about education in a moment, but in the meantime perhaps I can answer the hon. Member by saying that there is quite a lot of education about food handling, largely organised by the Food Hygiene Advisory Council, or by voluntary organisations.

I was saying that ships were not included in the original Regulations, as we thought that a separate Instrument might be needed to deal with their special problems; but in practice we found that the provisions relating to premises were in terms broad enough to be applied to ships, with relatively minor qualifications.

The requirements relating to ships will not come into operation until 1st November, 1961, in order to give time for any matters affecting the structure of ships subject to survey under the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, to be dealt with at the time of the next annual survey. The 1955 Regulations contained requirements relating to the construction, condition and maintenance of food premises, vehicles, stalls and food equipment and to cleanly practices in handling food. In addition to extending the scope of those provisions to ships, the 1960 Regulations embody a number of amendments, none affecting the main substance, to take account of experience gained during the four years and more during which the earlier Regulations have been in operation.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North asked me what consultations had taken place about these Regulations. Proposals for amending the Regulations were first circulated to local authority associations, trade associations, and other interested bodies, as required by Section 123 (6) of the Act, in 1957. The suggestions made by these bodies were all carefully considered and amended proposals were then referred to the Food Hygiene Advisory Council in accordance with Section 82 of the Act.

The Council which had made a number of most helpful suggestions when it considered the original Regulations, suggested on this occasion that it would be for the general convenience if the 1955 Regulations and subsequent Regulations could be embodied in a single document. In other words, the idea of consolidation emanated from the Council, which the hon. Gentleman has so rightly praised.

The Ministers accepted this recommendation, and proposals for consolidating the Regulations were circulated to interested bodies in April, 1959, and subsequently submitted to the Council. A further round of consultations took place in 1960 about the proposals to extend the scope of the Regulations to ships.

As a result of this long process of consultation, the Regulations, though they have been criticised in detail, are broadly acceptable to local authorities and trade interests alike. Their main provisions, have, of course, already been put to the test of more than four years' practical working. The Food Hygiene Advisory Council has played a valuable part in the formulation of the Regulations, and I also would like to put on record my appreciation of their work.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) asked me whether these Regulations would be any better than the original Regulations. The bringing into operation of the 1955 Regulations has undoubtedly done much to raise the standard of food hygiene. In themselves they have proved an effective instrument for enforcing satisfactory basic standards, and during the past five years nearly all their substantive provisions have been the subject of successful prosecutions.

The main emphasis, however, by the enforcing authorities has naturally been on education rather than on legal proceedings, for the full purposes of the Regulations will not be achieved until every food handler, and every customer too, is so well aware of the importance of good hygiene that correct practices become a matter of course. This is a matter which the hon. Member for Sunderland, North, stressed.

Photo of Sir Barnett Stross Sir Barnett Stross , Stoke-on-Trent Central

If that be the case, haw do we explain to ourselves the fact that in 1957—I speak from memory—about 14,700 people were affected by food poisoning, and in the following year about 17,500 were affected, which is a very steep increase?

Photo of Miss Edith Pitt Miss Edith Pitt , Birmingham, Edgbaston

I am not sure whether I am strictly in order, but since that statement has been made repeatedly, I am glad of the opportunity of stating briefly that although it is true that there has been an upward tendency in notifications, this may perhaps be the result of a great deal more publicity and far more intensified effort to find out where the cases are, so perhaps this is less real than the hon. Member imagines.

The hon. Member for Batley and Morley (Dr. Broughton) touched on education very lightly so as to keep within the rules of order. I hope that I, too, will be in order when I say that a great deal of the work of the local authorities is by way of education rather than the application of legal sanctions, and the Central Council for Health Education and other voluntary bodies give very valuable assistance.

The food industries, for their part, recognise that good hygiene is also good business and have, in general, been most co-operative in bringing home to their employees the importance of cleanly practices. The Ministry takes every opportunity of supporting and encouraging local public health departments in this work, in particular by making available posters, films, photographs and other material for use in local food hygiene exhibitions, and by personal lectures to trade and public bodies.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central made a particular point about food poisoning in hospitals, which he thought were especially vulnerable. People in hospitals are already in a state of extra susceptibility, but there is also more ready notification from hospitals and much is going on in relation to the special training of all hospital staff, catering and nursing, in food hygiene and towards the redesigning of hospital catering facilities.

Photo of Sir Barnett Stross Sir Barnett Stross , Stoke-on-Trent Central

If we can set an example it is in the hospitals. Cannot at least the hospitals initiate the examination of food handlers for this purpose?

Photo of Miss Edith Pitt Miss Edith Pitt , Birmingham, Edgbaston

It would require an examination at very frequent intervals. I have not the medical knowledge to match that of the hon. Member, but I understand that someone can be declared free of all possible risk of infection one week and be in an infectious state the next. As a practical proposition, it is questionable.

The amendments embodied in the present Instrument reflect the practical experience gained in the operation of the original Regulations. With continuing developments in food technology, further amendments of the Regulations will no doubt prove desirable from time to time, and they can readily be effected after consultation with the interested bodies. Meanwhile, the current Regulations should prove an effective Instrument for continuing and consolidating the progress achieved since 1955 in this important aspect of modern living.

The hon. Member for Sunderland, North concluded by asking us to try to make it patent to all that we are doing all that we can in this matter. I believe that we are doing all that is practicable. That we shall find it possible still further to improve, as we are doing today, is a real possibility, but I am satisfied that the steps which can be taken and operated are contained in these Regulations.

Photo of Mr Frederick Willey Mr Frederick Willey , Sunderland North

Will the hon. Lady consider a possibility which came to me while she was speaking—that of using her Department's Report for setting out at greater length what steps are being taken and giving the sort of information for which my hon. Friends have asked tonight?

Photo of Miss Edith Pitt Miss Edith Pitt , Birmingham, Edgbaston

I will certainly consider that possibility.

Question put and negatived.