Food Hygiene Rating (Fee and Fixed Penalty Amount) Order (Northern Ireland) 2016

Executive Committee Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 10:30 am on 6th December 2016.

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Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin 10:30 am, 6th December 2016

I beg to move

That the draft Food Hygiene Rating (Fee and Fixed Penalty Amount) Order (Northern Ireland) 2016 be approved.

Subject to the Assembly’s approval, the order will outline the amount of fixed penalty to be applied for relevant non-display offences as set out in section 10 of the Food Hygiene Rating Act 2016. The order will also specify the fee associated with the request for rerating inspections as set out in section 4 of the Food Hygiene Rating Act 2016.

The aim of the Act is to enable consumers to make an informed choice when deciding where to purchase and, therefore, ultimately to improve hygiene standards. The Act had a positive response and received Royal Assent on 29 January 2016.

In summary, the key provisions of the Act are that it requires all food businesses within scope to display a valid food hygiene rating sticker; requires relevant employees within a food business, on request, to orally inform the person making the request of the establishment's food hygiene rating; requires all food businesses with an online food ordering facility to display a valid rating on said platform; introduces offences in relation to the non-display of a valid rating and provision of information about the rating; allows for fixed penalty notices to be applied for the non-display of valid rating offences; allows for the charging of a fee in relation to conducting a requested rerating visit; and specifies timescales within which requirements under the Act must be completed.

The order for which I seek Members' endorsement specifies the amount of the fixed penalty and the fee in relation to conducting a requested rerating visit. The advantages of introducing fixed penalty notices are twofold. In the first instance, they provide authorised officers with an additional enforcement tool. Secondly, they reduce the burden on the North of Ireland Courts Service by reducing the number of prosecutions taken. It therefore follows that the amount of fixed penalty notices applied must be at a sufficient level to deter people from committing the offence, but not so high that they would encourage offenders to aim for a more favourable outcome from a court hearing.

Where enforcement officers feel that a stronger penalty is more suitable, they retain the option of prosecuting the offender, who would then be liable to a fine of up to £1,000. A consultation on the draft order was carried out between March and June 2016, and the majority of respondents agreed with the amounts proposed.

Furthermore, at its meeting on 27 October 2016, the Health Committee agreed that it was content for my Department to make the proposed order, and it is with its support, Madam Principal Deputy Speaker, that I bring this draft order before you today. Subject to affirmative resolution, the order will become effective forthwith. I commend the draft order to the House.

Photo of Paula Bradley Paula Bradley DUP

On behalf of the Committee for Health, I am pleased to speak very briefly on this order, which sets out certain fees and penalties under the Food Hygiene Rating Act, as the Minister outlined.

When considering the Food Hygiene Rating Bill back in 2014-15, the previous Health Committee supported the overarching aim of the Bill to reduce the incidence of food-borne illness through the introduction of a mandatory food hygiene rating scheme. It was accepted that this would not only help businesses to achieve and maintain compliance with food hygiene law but allow consumers to make informed choices about where they wish to eat or shop for food.

The current Committee considered the policy proposal for this statutory rule at its meeting on 15 September and considered the statutory rule itself more recently at the meeting on 27 October. When considering the statutory rule before the Assembly today, the Committee noted the important safeguards for businesses in the Act to allow businesses to request a rerating of their premises and accepted that the fee of £150 set out in these regulations reflected the costs that would be incurred by district councils in conducting a rerating inspection. The Committee also noted, and had no objection to, the fixed penalty amount of £200 that would be payable by businesses when a fixed penalty notice is served.

The Committee further noted that the Examiner of Statutory Rules confirmed in her report, which was issued on 21 October 2016, that she has no issues to raise with regard to the technical aspect of the rule. At its meeting on 27 October 2016, the Committee agreed to recommend that the statutory rule be affirmed by the Assembly and therefore supports the motion today.

Photo of Catherine Seeley Catherine Seeley Sinn Féin

I thank the Minister for her comments. I welcome this order, which, as the Minister alluded to, enables consumers to make more informed choices. A recent survey demonstrated that 90% of consumers look at the rating of the premises compared with the 22% who look online. I also welcome the fact that this will allow for an authorised officer of a district council to issue a fixed penalty notice for offences relating to non-display of a valid food hygiene rating, as this will undoubtedly succeed in reducing the number of offences that have to be dealt with through the courts.

I also note the largely positive consultation responses. One concern noted was about the rerating fee following improvements. However, I believe that the positives far outweigh this, as the onus to openly display the rating and the opportunity for an upgraded rating will undoubtedly encourage businesses to make the necessary improvements. I also believe that it is beneficial that staff will be fully aware of their employer's rating, and having to verbally communicate this will also add to the desire to ensure a high rating. That is, of course, to the benefit of all our consumers. I ask the Minister to comment in her concluding remarks on the benefits of paying the fine early.

Photo of Michelle O'Neill Michelle O'Neill Sinn Féin

I thank the Members for their comments on the Act. It will lead to benefits for the public and for consumers. As we enter the festive period, it is estimated that 4·3 million meals will be eaten out. I encourage the public to make the most of the new transparency measures.

Question put and agreed to. Resolved:

That the draft Food Hygiene Rating (Fee and Fixed Penalty Amount) Order (Northern Ireland) 2016 be approved.