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Mr. Kinnock : I begin this debate with what I believe to be feelings that are common to both sides of the House. First, there is no hon. Member on either side who does not consider that the rise in the numbers of people affected by food poisoning is serious and, in some cases, tragic. Secondly, there can be few, if any, in the House who do not believe that a modern Government in a complex society have a duty of care for the health and welfare of the citizenry. Thirdly, there is no hon. Member who does not believe that consumers have a responsibility to themselves and to others to be fastidious in their personal habits, especially in the handling and preparation of food. Fourthly, there cannot be any hon. Member who believes that the British people are over-reacting to the problems that have come to their attention, and indeed been experienced by several hundred thousand or even millions of them.
Whatever the headlines say, the British people have not been hysterical. But they have been quizzical. They have watched the comings and goings in the Government ; they have heard the inconsistent statements ; they have seen complacency become confusion and contradiction and, in the words of Mr. Simon Gourlay, cock-up. The British people ask, just what do the Government think they are playing at?
It is not that the British people believe that Government could or should do everything to make life perfect in every sphere of human interest and activity. But they do believe that there are areas of human affairs in which the Government must set and maintain standards of protection, and one of those most important areas is obviously food hygiene. They believe that the Government have been negligent and, in the most confused way, are trying to cover up.
Mr. Jerry Hayes (Harlow) rose--
Mr. Kinnock : I will give way to the hon. Gentleman shortly.
Column 853They believe that the Government have been trying to protect producers more than they have been fulfilling their duty to protect consumers. The British people believe that the Government should be anticipating, planning and providing for change, instead of standing aside and intervening only when great alarm is sounded.
Mr. Hayes : The right hon. Gentleman accuses the Government of being negligent. He must be aware that the Opposition spokesman on agriculture, the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark), wrote an article three months ago in Tribune in which he described the issue as
"a huge field we have neglected."
Considering that this is the second debate on the subject that the Labour party has initiated in 10 years, who is being negligent?
Mr. Kinnock : If the hon. Gentleman will show the same eagerness for effective action as that which unifies completely Opposition hon. Members, I will welcome the comments that he makes. I recall him professing great confidence the week before last that all would now be all right. I saw him interviewed and reported in the newspapers saying, "It is all right now. The Prime Minister is coming in." The British people want a consistent and cogent food policy from the Government. That must be right. That is why we say that the Government should now discharge that duty of care by seeing that research is not restrained by lack of funds, up to and past the point where the product of research is applied in the market place. The Government should ensure that resources are adequate to provide the 430 environmental health officers who are now needed to fill the gaps of much- needed qualified people. The Government should commit themselves to providing the education, the information and the health services necessary for the promotion of good health, including food hygiene, dietary advice and the prevention of ill health. They should now establish an independent food standards agency with tough regulatory powers to restore public confidence, to provide better standards of production and to give information and advice to consumers on all aspects of food policy and food hygiene. To discharge their duty of care in this modern society, the Government should introduce modern comprehensive food hygiene legislation to protect the interests of the consumers, to raise the standards of producers and sellers and to assist in universalising the best standards that are achieved by producers and sellers.
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that British firms lead the world in cook-chill foods [Interruption.] --and is he further aware that they have dismissed his proposals as naive, imprecise, inadequate and unenforceable? Does that not just about sum up the leadership of the Labour party?
Mr. Kinnock : I take that intervention in the spirit in which I am sure it was intended. It must be said, however, that if we lead the world in cook-chill food, and we are watching an enormous increase--a doubling over six years--in listeriosis, and if our regulations are so inadequate as to enable any observer to go to stores large and small and
Column 854pick up from the shelves inadequately and improperly stored goods, then obviously we do not have much of a lead in handling cook-chill foods.
In asking the Government to set their hand to a programme of comprehensive and up-to-date legislation, I am conscious of the fact that the Government can plead that they do not have the legislative time. I give them the undertaking that if they go ahead with introducing effective legislation, we will assist them. More than that, they could provide themselves with oodles of time in this Session by scrapping the Water Bill that nobody wants.
Everyone outside the Government can see the need for action on food hygiene. For 10 years the Government have presided over a large and accelerating increase in food poisoning. The number of cases of listeriosis has more than doubled, from 115 in 1983 to 259 in 1987. Officials forecast that the figure for 1988 will be more than 300. In the six years from 1982 to 1987 inclusive, the central public health laboratory registered a six- fold increase in the number of identified cases of salmonella enteritidis. In 1988, the number had doubled again, to 13,000 people, to make it 12 times the 1982 figure. That trend must be reversed, and reversed quickly. But the Government will not do it by allowing a national shortage of environmental health officers. They will not reverse the rise in food poisoning cases by continuing to cut research into agriculture and food. They will not improve food hygiene by demoting the subject, as they have done, with their centrally-imposed core curriculum in the schools that virtually wipes out food hygiene as a subject for teaching.
Each of those actions in respect of all of those matters has been a product of Government policy to cut and to centralise. None of those actions is accidental. None of those actions is the product of carelessness. They are the result of the Government's conviction that there should be less funding for local government, less funding for higher education and research, less discretion and less breadth in education in the schools.
Nobody can call that non-intervention. It is Government interference of the most destructive and deliberate kind, and it contrasts starkly with their refusal to intervene properly to protect consumers. In that they have been at their most zealous in non-intervention, obeying to the letter the creed of today's Conservatism that business is not to be regulated, even when it is clear that, left to themselves, there are interests in the market who will exploit the consumer and cut corners on safety.
Mr. Michael Shersby (Uxbridge) : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that during the 10-year period to which he refers the Opposition did not allocate a single day to a debate on food? Is that because they were content with the Government's policies, or because they had no interest in the subject?
Mr. Kinnock : This is the second such debate in three weeks. If the hon. Gentleman, with his power on the Back Benches, will give me an undertaking that the Government will respond to the public demand that is articulated by this side of the House, we shall debate the subject every week. Perhaps the Prime Minister will even turn up for one of them.
The Government observe their creed of non-interference in respect of consumer protection, and convincing evidence of that is provided by no less an
Column 855authority than the head of MAFF's standards (food, fertilisers and feeding stuffs) division. In a candid address, to the Institution of Environmental Health Officers last September, Mr. Charles Cockbill, explaining the Government's view, said :
"The concept of consumer protection has to be balanced against business considerations."
Mr. Cockbill was doing no more than his duty as a civil servant, and made clear to his audience of environmental health officers why they, and the public, cannot look to the Government for tighter regulations. Mr. Cockbill reported, for example, that the Government vetoed a proposal to refuse to license food premises where standards of food hygiene or design are not met, because
"Such a concept of prior licensing approval runs contrary to the policies of the Government on deregulation and lifting the burdens on business, and it is therefore not possible to pursue the original idea."
Mr. Cockbill added that, for the same reason, there was difficulty in imposing a duty of due diligence on food retailers, because "retailers and especially the multiple retailers can claim with some justification that the change will increase their costs substantially. And with such a claim comes a conflict with the Government's policy on lifting burdens on business."
Mr. Cockbill cannot be blamed for those policies and was merely explaining the Government's view. The content and tone of his full speech shows that to be so--it completely exposes the Government, who are reviewing food legislation with the objective of introducing more relaxed regulations, not tighter standards to protect the consumers. His speech exposed the Government as not being positively against consumer protection, provided that it can be achieved at nil cost to the producer or seller.
The Secretary of State for Health knows that it is Government policy to lift the burdens on producers, no matter what burdens are placed on the shoulders of the consumers--for the right hon. and learned Gentleman, in his former post as Paymaster General, was responsible for that policy. It was he who, in May 1986, presented to the House his White Paper "Building Businesses, Not Barriers", which presented a glowing report of the progress that the right hon. and learned Gentleman said had been achieved in lifting the burdens from business. As the Secretary of State must be proud of that magnum opus, I am sure that he will recall the entries that appeared under the heading "Ministry of Agriculture". The first measure was the abolition of the eggs authority, so that
"costs to egg producers will be reduced."
The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Kenneth Clarke) : Would a Labour Government reintroduce it?
Mr. Kinnock : I shall give the right hon. and learned Gentleman an answer to his question shortly.
Three years after that White Paper--just a couple of weeks ago--Mr. Keith Pulman of the Egg Producers Association offered a plaintive postscript. Mr. Pulman, who is a man of considerable experience, stated :
"I think those who were responsible"--
for the disbanding of the authority
"have a lot to answer for. If we still had a properly funded authority with research facilities, the whole business could have been dealt with fully and professionally."
The Secretary of State asked me whether Labour will restore the eggs authority. We might not call it that, but call it the Kenneth Clarke Memorial Institute. We shall certainly have a properly funded, professionally staffed
Column 856research body--especially in an area where, because of their failures, the Government have had to sign a cheque for £20 million. When Mr. Pulman asks for
"a properly funded authority with research facilities"
he must surely realise that he is asking the impossible of the present Government.
The Secretary of State may recall the second measure in his White Paper under the heading "Ministry of Agriculture", where he commented on a subject that has become very topical in the past fortnight : "The restrictions on the sale of untreated (that is, unpasteurised) green top' milk which were introduced in 1985 caused difficulty for farmhouse caterers."
He proudly announced :
"Following representations from the industry the regulations have been amended."
That was in 1986. Two weeks ago, the arrangements were changed again, when the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food banned the sale of all green top milk. Small wonder that even the Prime Minister commented :
"there appears to be some confusion."--[ Official Report, 14 February 1989 ; Vol. 147, c. 146].
Mr. Barry Field (Isle of Wight) : Every morning in the Tea Room, the hon. Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) orders five boiled eggs. If the situation is as dangerous as it has been portrayed throughout the controversy about salmonella, why has the hon. Member for Stockton, North not stopped eating boiled eggs?
Mr. Kinnock : I hope that it will be realised that I am not bound by this answer. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, North (Mr. Cook) is known as a man of many parts--not least among them being his ability to juggle eggs. It becomes really exciting when he has not even boiled them-- much like the food policy of Her Majesty's Government.
Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Lancaster) : Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a great many of my constituents like drinking green top milk and have no wish to see it withdrawn? They prefer to make their own decisions. Incidentally, cheese made from unpasteurised, green top milk is no more liable to cause disease than any other.
Mr. Kinnock : I appreciate both points, and certainly there is some contention surrounding the subject of green top milk, both in respect of personal taste and scientific evidence. However, as Professor Livsey has testified--
Mr. Kenneth Clarke : The right hon. Gentleman means Professor Lacey.
Mr. Kinnock : I apologise. I should only have to look at the hon. Lady who has just intervened to think of lace. As she will know, there is less contention over the use of unpasteurised milk in cheeses. It is to be hoped that the Government can be more coherent on that subject. The hon. Lady will recall a dramatic weekend, not very long ago, when not only did the Ministry say one thing one day, and something else the next, but along came the helpful Secretary of State for Health to say something entirely different again.
Mr. Paul Marland (Gloucestershire, West) : The right hon. Gentleman's slip concerning Professor Lacey was his second error so far. He said that the Government have signed a cheque for £20 million, but they have not. The Government have signed a cheque for only £3 million.
Column 857Many people outside the House are anxious to hear the truth, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will concentrate on getting his facts right, for which we shall all be most grateful.
Mr. Kinnock : The hon. Gentleman and I had the distinction of fighting each other in 1970 at our first parliamentary contest. When, during that election, he was asked how, as a working farmer, he managed to get three weeks off to fight an election, he said that he had left his hands in charge. That provoked my uncle Cliff into saying, "It's no good him looking for the sympathy vote." However, I am more than happy to correct the record. The figure is not £20 million. I am more than happy to receive that information from the hon. Gentleman, whom I shall cherish in my memory for many reasons, not the least of which is that in the late affair of the Under-Secretary of State for Health he played the part of Stalin to her Trotsky.
The Prime Minister said that it appeared that there was some confusion. So there is. But there can be no confusion about the fact that the present cause for consumers' concern is rooted in the conditions resulting in large part from the attitude and actions of the Government, who so favour producers and sellers and so neglect the interests of consumers.
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : Will the right hon. Gentleman given way.
Mr. Kinnock : No, I am anxious to get on.
That neglect is not confined to food. Indeed, it intensifies when we address the subject of water privatisation. The Government will insist that privatisation will bring new regulations to safeguard the consumer. They will insist that massive increases in charges are justified by the need to fund investment in the improvement of water treatment and supply. But that is not the true purpose. That is obvious to everyone. But perhaps it was put most graphically by The Daily Telegraph, which says :
"Mr. Howard's declarations that the consumer will have to foot the environmental bill are providing the reassurance industry leaders want to increase the investment attractions."
The message is obvious. The water price explosion, fostered by the Government, is not to raise standards but to raise profits. That is also why they have been so resistant to accepting the EC directives and regulations on the subject. The reason for their delays and evasions is obvious. To comply with those regulations will cost a great deal of money. As The Times put it :
"It is going to be hard to combine this with selling shares to millions of consumers."
Perhaps the most direct and authoritative comment on the implications of what the Government are doing comes from an expert in private water supply, Mr. Michael Swallow, the director of the Water Companies Association. Explaining the week before last why the private water companies felt it necessary to make huge increases in charges before privatisation, he said :
"At the moment we operate under profit control, which puts the customer first. This very simple form of regulation goes back to the middle of the last century and it has been very effective. The Government's proposals will put the companies under price control, which puts the shareholders first."
Mr. Robin Squire (Hornchurch) : The right hon. Gentleman has now reached the important subject of water safety, about which he spoke at the weekend. Far from the Government not providing investment, as I understand it investment in water sewerage controls is at its highest ever point, and the Select Committee on the Environment said that the major fall in investment of 50 per cent. took place under the previous Labour Government.
Mr. Kinnock : I respect the hon. Gentleman, not least because of his strong support for freedom of information. The information that he is seeking is available if he looks at the consistent record, year on year, of investment in the water industry and sewerage. He will find that after a dip under the previous Labour Government investment rose and continued to rise, so much so that if this Government had sustained that trend they would have spent a great deal more money in the development of our water supplies.
It also has to be said that such expenditure is necessary since the Government have been in power for 10 years and must be the first Government this century to mark a decade in office by an increase in rodent infestation in the major cities. I noticed on Sunday that The Sunday Telegraph reported a rise in rat infestation in nowhere other than the Prime Minister's constituency. The rat officer--there is a job for him in the Government Whips Office--in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph said that the rats are becoming very cunning ; they have a nibble at the poison and then see if it goes bad in a day. I thought when I read that that was basically the strategy that guides the Government publicity policy.
Putting the shareholders first, as Mr. Swallow so aptly and accurately put it, is another canon of the Government's creed. If the Secretary of State for the Environment is the shareholders' chum, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food takes the prize as the producers' friend at court. In 1987 his Ministry found salmonella infection at 21 of the animal feedstuff processing plants which supply Britain's poultry industry--one quarter of the total. In 1988, the Ministry found salmonella at 17 plants, some of them the very same plants which had been found to be infested a year before. None of those plants was prosecuted. None of the feedstuff was impounded. Incredibly, it was not until a few weeks ago that the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food halted processing at plants where salmonella had been found and stopped the sale of eggs from farms where flocks were infected.
The Minister told the Select Committee a fortnight ago that he had not dared to impose such a ban before for fear that the egg producers would stop telling him when their flocks were infected. If he knows that there is such resistance, why does he not promise 100 per cent. compensation for the killing of animals infected by bovine spongiform encephalopathy, since that would not only protect producers but is an essential protection for consumers?
It is not that the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food is reluctant to help producers. The first people outside the Government who were told of the evidence linking salmonella with eggs were the egg producers. They were told on 13 June 1988, almost two months before the public were told at 4 pm on the Friday afternoon of
Column 859August Bank holiday weekend. I bet that Mr. Bernard Ingham was not handling that particular piece of publicity--or perhaps he was. Even when a salmonella outbreak hit the other place in May, Mr. Speaker, as you will recall, the producers' representatives were told the contents of the ministerial statement on the outbreak a day earlier than either House of Parliament. The reason for that prior warning, as given in the minutes of that meeting, was that it was "to reassure the industry representatives".
That concern to calm the industry's anxiety is touching. It is a pity that it was not matched by an equal measure of concern for consumers. Whether they be common or noble, they all have an interest at stake.
It would not be fair to suggest that the public were entirely forgotten at that meeting in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. On the contrary, the meeting ended with Government officials and egg producers agreeing on what they called a common "defensive briefing statement". It was not the job of the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food or of the Department of Health to help egg producers draft a defensive statement ; it was the job of both Departments to make sure that egg producers were responsive to the need for action to remove the threat to public health. But to this date--we may hear differently this afternoon--neither Department has made compulsory the egg industry's voluntary code of practice. Perhaps that is because the Prime Minister would consider such controls to be what she calls "bureaucratic" and as "imposing unnecessary burdens on the industry"
--to use the phrases that she used in her specious letter to me yesterday.
Perhaps that attitude also explains the reluctance of the Government to respond properly to the growing evidence of the link between listeriosis and the increased sale of cook-chill convenience foods. I touched upon this in answer to an intervention earlier on. It has to be brought to the attention of the House that it is in this matter that the Secretary of State for Health is at his most languid. A fortnight ago he assured listeners to the "Today" programme :
"Most of those infected by salmonella have an upset stomach. They are not actually ill."
Coming from the Secretary of State for Health, that is a fairly novel revision of the boundary line between sickness and health. I just hope that it does not spread to the opted-out hospitals. Last week the languor grew deeper. The Secretary of State informed Jimmy Young's listeners that listeria was not as frightening as it sounded. He said this about bacteria that have contributed to the death of 100 people in the last two years. In case that knowledge does not make the Secretary of State change his attitude, I draw his attention to a letter from a mother who lost her second child in the 28th week of her pregnancy because of listeriosis. The writer is a lucid and calm woman. I shall provide the Secretary of State with a copy of the letter, although, for obvious reasons, I am not disclosing the writer's identity. She wrote :
"In the last month since my child's death I have had to cope not only with the grief from the loss of my baby, but also with feeling alternately guilty and like a helpless victim. I feel guilty because he died as a result of contaminated food eaten by me. I feel like a victim because I did not have the necessary information on the risks of listeriosis in time to safeguard my unborn child.
Firstly, it seems unacceptable to us"--
Column 860that is, her and her husband--
"that we were not given any warning about the danger of listeriosis even though the Government has known about the increase in the number of diagnosed cases for well over a year.
Secondly, the advice issued by the Government on the 10th February focussing as it did on soft cheeses, seems partial to the extent of being misleading.
Thirdly, it is infuriating to witness Government Ministers contradicting one another on such a serious public health issue. The danger now is that public confusion' will be presented as an over-reaction and Government advice will be confined to reducing anxiety rather than presenting facts and issuing clear guidelines." I believe that every hon. Member must share that concern and I would like the genuine reassurance of the Secretary of State in the course of this afternoon. I quote the letter in order to ensure that the Secretary of State, himself a loving father, will never again even begin to say that listeria is not as frightening as it sounds. That is not the way to put the issue into perspective.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke : Will the right hon. Gentleman concede that in the Jimmy Young interview--a typescript of which I have in front of me--I frequently referred to the danger of listeria to expectant mothers, which was indeed the burden of the advice that we had given? Secondly, can he give a single instance of any two Ministers having contradicted each other on the risk of listeria to expectant mothers or any other sector of the population?
Mr. Kinnock : I am not suggesting contradiction in the advice given on listeria, but, since the Secretary of State is so vigilant now, perhaps he could get his right hon. Friend to tell him, or to tell me, why it was that salmonella was connected with eggs in June and the public received a general announcement at the end of August, but it was December before the Ministry of Agriculture or the Ministry of Health drew specific attention to the risk to young children and old people of salmonella enteritidis.
So far as listeria is concerned, yes, the Secretary of State did draw attention to the danger to expectant mothers. What we are asking for, and what the mother who wrote to me asks for, is effective action and proper information to ensure against all the food possibly contaminated with listeria. That is the comprehensive action that is now required. I put it to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State for Health that a correction of his attitude and an updating of regulations and legislation are necessary as the real reassurance that I know that, as an individual and as a Minister, he would love to be able to give to people in the country, whether expectant mothers or not. I hope that he will do that.
The danger of listeria is well known, and yet every day, as I indicated earlier, 400,000 cook-chill convenience meals are sold without specific regulations to control the temperature at which they are displayed, the length of time for which they are on display or labelling advising consumers when they are safe to eat. The Government are still attempting to control modern food technology and retailing techniques with food regulations that are merely a consolidation of basic laws passed in the 1930s.
In addition, in their perplexity, the Government have now come up with a campaign "to urge wives", as the blurb says--as if females who are not married do not do any cooking--to return to the "rules of hygiene and good housekeeping" of yesteryear. But the solution is not to advise consumers to return to the shopping habits of the
Column 8611930s in order to conform with the laws of that time ; it is to modernise, strengthen and enforce the law on consumer protection. In any case, I am sure that if Ministers needed advice on shopping and cooking, they could get it from their resident modern housewife, the Prime Minister. As she reminds us, she has extensive experience in this field. In addition, of course, she has had a more than passing acquaintance with the retail food industry ever since childhood. To her credit, as she also reminds us from time to time, she was previously a food scientist. When we add to all that the fact that she has now, according to the newspapers, taken charge of the Government's food policy, I wonder why she has not taken the opportunity to debate this particular topic on any day this week. It has to be said that the announcement that she had taken charge somewhat underwhelmed her right hon. and hon. Friends. I saw a report in The Independent that one of the Cabinet Ministers supposed to be a member of the ad hoc committee denied knowledge of its existence. And from The Times we heard the story of the Back Bencher, necessarily anonymous, who said :
"We have seen it all before. It's Maggie steps in' yet again." -- [Interruption.] No, it was not the hon. Member for Harlow (Mr. Hayes). The hon. Member has gone. I suspected that it might be him, with the originality and exuberance for which he is so well known. It is true that there is a certain aura of "Maggie steps in again", because this is another cause of great public concern on which the Prime Minister alights, as if by her very presence she can transform conditions, like some hyperactive fairy queen. At least we know who is the Titania of this Government. What we have yet to discover, as we look across the Chamber this afternoon, is which of the two Cabinet Ministers is Oberon and which will get the ass's head. Perhaps it will be both, because they are both main agents of policies which, the longer the Government press them, the greater the unpopularity they attract.
That is certainly true of electricity privatisation, the poll tax and the privatisation proposals for the NHS which she has imposed upon the Secretary of State for Health, to which there is huge majority opposition. It is certainly true of the privatisation of water, to which in every opinion poll 70 per cent. are opposed. It is also true in the case of food policy on which 70 per cent. say that the Government are doing too much to protect the industry and too little to protect the consumer, while 90 per cent. feel that the Government should introduce more controls on how food is produced--I swear that those polls with the 90 per cent. majority were not taken in Albania.
The feelings of the British people on all these issues are well known, widely recorded and very obvious. The Government, in persisting in these policies that are so profoundly against the interests of the nation, are not showing toughness ; they are showing obedience to vested interests. The Government are not showing strength, but arrogance. Such arrogance breeds incompetence and such arrogance is incompatible with democracy in government. The British people understand that. As a result, they do not trust the Government and the consequences of that will be that they will punish the Government.
Column 8624.49 pm
The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Kenneth Clarke) : I beg to move, to leave out from "House" to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof :
"expresses complete confidence in the Government's policies for protecting the safety and quality of the nation's food and water supplies.".
My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister is at the memorial service for the victims of the crash on the M1.
I find this an extraodinary debate. It began on a tone with which we could all identify and, as Secretary of State for Health, I can agree with the right hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Kinnock) that we are dealing with a serious issue which has had tragic consequences for some people and one about which the public wish to be reassured, both in terms of the advice given and the action being taken to deal with what is obviously a worrying new risk in the food chain.
What I find extraordinary is that the Leader of the Opposition should choose to make a speech--I think it is his first major speech since the general election, apart from in the debate on the Queen's Speech--in a Supply day debate on a subject in which, as several of my hon. Friends have pointed out, his party has taken precious little interest for many years. Of course, we are talking about recent events, but I must say that as the worrying events have unfolded--and we have had two particular new features of food poisoning which have been identified steadily over the past 12 months--the Labour party has not taken any great interest, until today.
One feature of the background is the worrying increase in the incidence of one type of salmonella and of listeriosis, which may be connected with food throughout the developed world-- [Interruption.] There has been a steadily unfolding amount of evidence over the past 12 months. By the middle of last year, there was concern about salmonella enteritidis phage type 4 in eggs in particular. In July last year, the Government took what I would have thought would be the worrying and significant step of warning people in the National Health Service to use liquid pasteurised egg and not raw egg products. The Opposition did not react to that and took it as a minor matter. [Interruption.] On 26 August last year, the Government took a step that had to be considered carefully because the evidence was still unfolding. We took the fairly startling step of advising the public to avoid eating raw eggs and we gave a public health warning. Again, there was no reaction from the Labour party. [Interruption.]
By November last year, the evidence was becoming clearer that lightly cooked eggs, as well as raw egg, might be involved in this outbreak and on 21 November 1988 yet another public health warning was given, bringing the matter up to date. Again, it produced no reaction. By that time, television programmes such as "Watchdog" and the "Food and Drink Programme" were often following what we had said. Good Housekeeping magazine was giving advice to housewives based on what the Government were saying. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food was having a difficult time with some people in the egg industry because he was explaining that a code of practice would have to be introduced and action would have to be taken. Yet no interest was taken by the Labour party.
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) : Will the Secretary of State give way?