Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 20, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the Heads of Government meeting in Madrid, with particular reference to monetary and social policy of the European Community in the light of the fourth report of the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service which was published yesterday." I raised under Standing Order No. 20 the matter of the agenda of the Heads of Government meeting last Thursday and was also able to set out, on the third Adjournment debate on that day, the parliamentary and procedural reasons why there should be a debate. Since then I have received no communication from the Government concerning a change of business this week which would have permitted a debate, nor have I received any adverse comment on the case that I made.
It is generally agreed that debates on EEC matters recommended by the Select Committee should be held as early as practicable and when the debates in the House can influence Ministers. That principle has been endorsed recently by the Leader of the House in a letter to the Select Committee.
The Committee made a recommendation for debate in respect of the Delors report on economic and monetary union as long ago as 10 May. We reported that
"this debate should be held in good time before the European Council on 26- 27 June, when the report is expected to be discussed by the Heads of Government."
Column 336Yesterday the Treasury and Civil Service Committee published its report on the Delors proposals, having heard evidence from the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Governor of the Bank of England. The final paragraph 40 reads :
"We greatly regret that the Government has not accepted the recommendation of the European Legislation Committee that there should be a debate on the Delors Committee's Report before the European Council meeting at Madrid on 26 and 27 June. If the Government attaches significance to arguments about the sovereignty of Parliament it ought not to be selective in its attachment to them. The House must have an early opportunity to debate the far-reaching proposals of the Delors Committee before Her Majesty's Government adopts a position on them at high-level European meetings." The only way in which the recommendations of those two Select Committees can be followed and a debate can be held is by making to you, Mr Speaker, this submission under Standing Order No. 20.
Mr. Speaker : The hon. Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) seeks leave to move the Adjournment of the House under Standing Order No. 20 for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,
"the Heads of Government meeting in Madrid, with particular reference to monetary and social policy of the European Community in the light of the fourth report of the Select Committee on the Treasury and Civil Service which was published yesterday." As the House knows, under Standing Order No. 20 I have to decide whether this application meets the criteria of the Standing Order and to announce my decision without giving reasons to the House. I have listened with care to what the hon. Member has said but I regret that the matter that he has raised does not meet the criteria of the Standing Order. I cannot therefore submit his application to the House.
Mr. Robin Cook (Livingston) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. On 5 May the Secretary of State for Health reported to the House that he had reached agreement with the BMA negotiators over the GPs' contract. He said at the time that that was a sign of agreement by the doctors to his proposals for the Health Service.
This morning, the BMA, meeting in full session, rejected the proposed changes to the GPs' contract. In the light of the earlier statement to the House that the Secretary of State had obtained the BMA's agreement, has there been any application made to you, Mr. Speaker, for a statement now that the contract has been rejected by the BMA?
This must be a matter of particular concern to the House, as it is evident to anyone watching the broadcast media that correspondents are being briefed that it is the intention of the Secretary of State for Health to impose the GPs' contract. Would it not be a courtesy for the House to hear first whether the Government intend to embark on such a confrontation with the Health Service?
Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You will have been told that at the beginning of last night's debate on the DNA testing scheme and changes in immigration rules I and other hon. Members raised a number of points of order about leaked documents from the head of the immigration and nationality department at the Home Office and about a letter from the Home Secretary to the Leader of the House saying that last night's debate was deliberately arranged by the Government so as to avoid, in the words of the leaked document,
"two separate rows about immigration issues in quick succession". The leaked documents also made it clear that, contrary to last Wednesday's statement by the Home Secretary that no decisions had been reached on the funding of the centrally organised DNA testing scheme, the Government had decided to increase entry clearance fees on 1 November.
Lastly, and most importantly, it was made clear in the leaked document and the letter that last night's debate was arranged by the Government deliberately to divert
Column 338attention--in the document's words--from the absence of any new provisions or promises being made by the Government for and to the people of Hong Kong.
Leaked documents are becoming more and more common, but this latest one is serious because it is clear that the Government intend to deny the House any opportunity of debating in principle or in detail whether charges for DNA testing should be introduced and by how much they should be increased--
Mr. Madden : The point of order is that the documents make it abundantly clear that, rather than announcing a centrally organised DNA testing scheme in a written reply, last Wednesday the Home Secretary--
Mr. Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman should pursue this matter in his Adjournment debate. I was not present when the points of order were raised yesterday, but I have heard about them. I remind the hon. Gentleman that the debate yesterday arose in the name of the Leader of the Opposition. It was not a Government motion.
Mr. Madden rose --
Mr. Secretary Hurd, supported by Secretary Sir Geoffrey Howe, Mr. Secretary Walker, Mr. Secretary King, Mr. Secretary Rifkind, Mr. John Wakeham, Mr. Tony Newton and Mr. Douglas Hogg, presented a Bill to amend the law relating to the entitlement of British citizens resident outside the United Kingdom to vote at parliamentary elections and elections to the European Parliament and to increase the maximum amount of candidates' election expenses at parliamentary by-elections : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed. [Bill 162.]
That the matter of the first year of the Valleys Programme, being a matter relating exclusively to Wales, be referred to the Welsh Grand Committee for its consideration.-- [Mr. Dorrell.]
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to extend the functions of the Horserace Betting Levy Board to include the sport of greyhound racing ; and to make consequential amendments to the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963.
My Bill is designed to end the ridiculously unfair anomaly that currently exists in Britain between the two premier betting sports of horse racing and greyhound racing. Both sports produce billions of pounds in turnover annually, yet they are treated totally differently by the bookmaking industry, particularly in respect of the mechanism which exists under statute to enable moneys to be collected by the industry, which I shall henceforth refer to as a levy.
The bookmaking industry pays over collected amounts produced from bets placed on horse racing, but it refuses to pass on equivalent moneys deducted from punters' winnings in betting shops on greyhound racing.
My Bill seeks to amend the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963 and the Horserace Betting Levy Act 1981 to make provision for a levy scheme for greyhound racing similar to that enjoyed for a number of years by horse racing. The measure would be totally self-financing, as off-course bookmakers would pay contributions out of the bets that they take on greyhound racing to the Horserace Betting Levy Board, which would distribute the proceeds to the sport. As a result, membership of the levy board would be increased to include two representatives from the greyhound industry.
The need for such a measure is clear when it is borne in mind that, while betting offices off-course deduct the same amount from winning bets on horse and dog racing, greyhound racing does not receive its share of the revenue from those deductions. Considering that in any one year a turnover of at least £1 billion is involved in off-course greyhound racing bets, the need for such a Bill is obvious. In practice, the bookmaking industry quietly deducts the extra 2p in the pound on winning bets, not explaining that, unlike horse racing, they keep the money on greyhound bets, a practice with which they have got away for many years. There is no rational argument for continuing with the present system, which is unfair and which borders on deceit of customers by the bookmaking fraternity.
The need for my Bill is clear in view of the level of support for the sport of greyhound racing. According to the 1989 edition of "Social Trends", greyhound racing as a spectator sport came second highest in attendance levels, being surpassed only by football. That survey showed that, in 1987, 4.8 million people attended greyhound racing events in the United Kingdom, compared with 1.38 million who attended rugby league events ; 2.5 million for rugby union ; 713,000 for test and county cricket ; and, more important, only 4.3 million for horse racing.
The need for such legislation is clear. Greyhound racing is popular but is greatly under-financed. That has led to the loss of 13 nationally registered stadiums in the last 10 years. But while those who have made millions of pounds out of the sport--I refer, of course, to the bookmakers- -get richer, the sport gets poorer. Standards of stadiums, their facilities for spectators and for racing greyhounds are getting worse.
Column 340The owners of greyhounds pay for the maintenance, training and racing of their dogs. Unlike in horse racing, their prize money does not run into thousands of pounds. It is, on average, between £14 and £26, but only if their dog comes first in the race. If they race during the day, the rate of off-course betting on those races can amount to hundreds of thousands of pounds.
At the heart of the problem is the fact that the greyhound racing industry is unable to get a fair price for its services from off-course bookmakers. Because bookmakers can exploit greyhound punters in that way, it makes sense for them to maximise their greyhound racing betting, thereby putting more pressure on the sport. Proof of that can be seen from the fact that between 1977 and 1988 the amount of off-course betting turnover on greyhound racing increased from 17.6 to 26.7 per cent., while betting on horses went down from 82 to 72 per cent. of the total.
The bookmakers argue that they do not pay the levy because most greyhound business is conducted at afternoon meetings. But that does not stop them taking bets from punters in their shops at evening racing. Nor does it stop them continuing to deduct 10p in the pound, rather than 8p, as they should be doing if they did not intend to pass on the money to the sport.
Nor do they argue with the claim that all racing is subject to National Greyhound Racing Club rules relating to stewardship, licensing, discipline and registration. That organisation continually calls for a levy for the sport of greyhound racing. In other words, they are willing to take the service but are unwilling to pay even the dues deducted for the sport.
The purpose of my Bill is to give justice to the sport of greyhound racing. The levy for the sport would not come from the bookmakers, who would merely pass it on, having taken it from the punters. That would be far preferable to allowing them simply to pocket it, as they are doing now. The money generated at current rates would mean at least £10 million per year to the sport and would enable stadiums to obtain loans to better the facilities for spectators, increase prize money in races to acceptable levels, fund necessary veterinary work, and improve security and the sport in general.
The greyhound racing industry, which is supported by millions of people, badly needs such help. Unlike the horse racing industry, it has no Jockey Club to invest, no Racecourse Association, advisory council, equine research centre, Racecourse Security Services or levy board to help it. A levy for greyhound racing would provide the necessary finance to improve the sport and protect the public who support it. The House has already agreed that horse racing needs such a levy. Surely, since it has more supporters than does horse racing, greyhound racing deserves the same treatment as horse racing. The bookmakers argue that the sport
"has no logical right to a levy and is not entitled to be subsidised by bookmakers."
The aim of this measure is to expose such statements for the nonsense that they are. The purpose of the Bill is to enshrine in law the sport of greyhound racing's undoubted moral right to a levy. Unless we approve this motion today, we shall allow the punters, spectators, owners and trainers of greyhounds to be further deceived, as they have been so cruelly and unjustly in the past.
Question put and agreed to.
Column 341Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Alan Meale, Mr. Don Dixon, Mr. Menzies Campbell, Mr. Tim Smith, Mr. A. E. P. Duffy, Mr. Richard Alexander, Mr. Frank Cook, Mr. Harry Greenway, Mr. William McKelvey, Mrs. Llin Golding, Mr. Martin Redmond, and Mr. George J. Buckley.
Mr. Alan Meale accordingly presented a Bill to extend the functions of the Horserace Betting Levy Board to include the sport of greyhound racing ; and to make consequential amendments to the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Act 1963 : And the same was read the First time ; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 7 July and to be printed. [Bill 163.]
Food Safety, Research and Health
Mr. Speaker : I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister. Fourteen hon. Members have so far expressed an interest in speaking in this debate. If their speeches are brief, most of them, I hope all, will be called.
That this House, noting Her Majesty's Government's failure to address the growing problem of food safety, deplores the decision to close the Institute of Food Research at Langford near Bristol with the corresponding loss of scientific expertise ; believes that this will further reduce Her Majesty's Government's ability to protect the health of the British people ; regrets that, two years after the Department of Health issued a consultative document on the control of food hygiene, regulations have still not been laid before Parliament ; expresses concern at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food's decision to reduce veterinarians in their employ by one quarter and at the national shortage of Environmental Health Officers which leaves many posts unfilled ; and calls upon Her Majesty's Government to introduce more effective safety and hygiene regulations, to increase the monitoring of food production and safety and to reverse its short sighted policy of cutting research and development work.
This is a timely debate which, in a sense, is proven by the number of hon. Members who wish to participate in it. It is also timely because, after 10 years of Conservative administration, we have a food poisoning outbreak of epidemic proportions. Only last week, we had the worst outbreak for years of botulism, which is a particular nasty and deadly toxin. Last Wednesday, the Government gave what can only be described as a bizarre response to this immensely serious problem. Their response was to close the Institute of Food Research at Bristol, which ranks among the premier meat research institutes in the world.
Mr. Robert Key (Salisbury) rose --
Mr. Key : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but surely he knows that that particular infection and toxin was not identified at Bristol, but at the public health laboratory service--the centre for applied microbiology and research at Porton Down--which has nothing to do with the closure of which he spoke.
Dr. Clark : I will treat the hon. Gentleman's intervention with the disdain that it deserves and ignore it as being absolutely irrelevant. The hon. Gentleman ought to think before he gets to his feet. No one suggested that botulism research was being done at Bristol--those were the hon. Gentleman's words--but I will return to that point in due course.
The act of closing the Bristol institute is typical of Government's response, which is illogical, short-sighted and plain stupid. We should not be surprised that we have these food poisoning epidemics. After all, we have a Government headed by a Prime Minister whose driving philosophy is the enterprise culture and the profit motive.
Column 343She has weakened food regulations and opposed modification of them, reduced the number of staff involved in safety monitoring and slashed research into food hygiene and quality. The ethos of her Administration can be summarised in the title of the White Paper that she produced, "Lifting the Burdens". She responded positively to that theme in her speech in Nottingham during the European election campaign.
The folly of that approach can be seen most clearly in connection with food. Experience worldwide has taught us that regulation and controls are vital if food safety standards are to be maintained. As recent elections have shown, the British people have not been fooled by the Tory policy. They recognise that that approach is a recipe for an epidemic of food poisoning and a lowering of standards. That is exactly what we have in Britain in 1989.
Dr. Clark : I have already given way once, after only 30 seconds, and that intervention wasted my time and that of the House. I know that Conservative Members object to my comments, but the facts speak for themselves. In February of this year, the National Consumer Council commissioned a poll on consumer perception of food safety. The results show that 40 per cent. of those questioned were not confident that they had sufficient information to ensure that the food that they bought was safe. Consumers have every justification for being suspicious. Basic food hygiene regulations have not kept pace with changes in food technology. Most of them were made in the days before microwave ovens, cook-chill and convenience food. The facilities for storing food in retail outlets just cannot cope. There are horrific stories. In one food manufacturing unit in Birmingham, the owner kept an air rifle to shoot the rats running about the establishment. That is true. Practically the whole of the Royal Air Force strike command in north-east Scotland was laid low after eating oysters. It transpired that these had been supplied not from the Soviet Union but from Japan, and were labelled in Japanese, so no one preparing the oysters could read the instructions. That emphasises the need for more sensible labelling.
Those are interesting, if not amusing anecdotes, but there is a serious aspect to the problem. In 1980, a mere--I use the word advisedly--10,318 cases of food poisoning were notified, while last year that had nearly trebled to over 28,000 cases.
Already this year, there have been 12,396 cases of food poisoning, while in the same period last year there were 7,930. I know that Tory Members deride statistics, but they are serious and, on occasion, represent deaths.
Column 344contains a helpful enzyme. They are extremely glad that my hon. Friend the Minister has given way and will allow us to retain green-top milk.
The House will recall that the Government's initial response to the salmonella crisis six months ago was to curtail research into salmonella at the Institute of Food Research in Bristol. The Governments folly on that occasion was astounding, but that is not the whole story. The Government were also caught unaware by botulism. They should not have been because the eminent microbiologist Professor Richard Lacey--[ Hon. Members :-- "Oh."] I should tell Conservative Members that Professor Lacey is an official adviser to the Government and to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. He actually predicted in his book, "Safe Shopping, Safe Cooking and Safe Eating" that botulism
"could return unless the catering industry addresses the problem." Professor Lacey was not being clairvoyant--he was reading the book, so to speak. Only last year, Europe's biggest botulism outbreak among cattle occurred in the United Kingdom. It was caused by a herd being fed a mixture containing chicken carcasses. Ironically, last year the Government ordered the Institute of Food Research to stop work on a project involving the feeding of chicken carcasses to cattle and the links with botulism. That is why there was no work at Bristol last week to detect the outbreaks of botulism. The Government actually stopped that work. They had learnt nothing--having stopped research into salmonella, they compounded their folly by doing the same with botulism.
What is the Government's response to the food crisis? Deep analysis reveals a twin approach. First, they believe that the interests of the public can be protected, in some perverse way, by cutting research and development and closing research establishments. Secondly, to compensate for the resulting huge gap in public health protection, the Government think that they have discovered a new panacea--irradiation. On both counts the Government are wrong. --During recent years research projects into food safety and hygience have been axed one after another. Recently the Government decided on further closures and cuts following the so-called Barnes review. The effect of the review is to cut by £30 million the money spent on research and development in agriculture and food. The latest example of that was the closure of the institute at Bristol. That was absolutely incomprehensible. Not only will many excellent projects disappear, but more than 100 scientists will lose their jobs. With those jobs will go the experience and expertise--[ Hon. Members :-- "No".] If that is not true, I hope that the Minister will say so and give us more information. My information is that only six out of more than 100 jobs at Bristol will be relocated. The Minister should deny that if I am wrong.
In an attempt to cover up their folly, the Government have given the impression that jobs and projects will be transferred. That is a travesty of the truth. Only six jobs will be transferred and of the 80-plus projects, many involving food safety and hygiene, not more than a
Column 345handful will be transferred. If I am wrong, I challenge the Minister to say which projects will be transferred. I am sure that there will not be more than a handful.
We shall lose vital work on meat hygiene. Neither the abattoir at the Bristol institute, which allows practical experiments, nor the highly praised food processing hall are being transferred. Work on refrigeration, which is vital to food hygiene and safety is being terminated. Not only expertise, but facilities which exist nowhere else in the United Kingdom are being lost.
In the long run, the main loser from the Government's obsession with cost- cutting will be the consumer. The closure has been forced by the Government's obsession. On 22 May 1989, the Minister announced, with great pleasure, that he had managed to save £379 million in agricultural spending last year.
Dr. Clark : When one compares that figure with the £111 million expected expenditure on research and development for this financial year, it places Government priorities in perspective. To put it another way, the Minister's annual savings last year would have kept the Bristol institute open for 100 years. That puts the Government's policies in perspective.
The Minister has completely misjudged the position on food irradiation. Does he know that one of the foremost members of his advisory committee on irradiated and novel foods, which produced the report on irradiation in 1986 on which he places so much store, has now changed his mind about the process and has said that it is "unnecessary" and doomed to commercial failure. To quote from a recent interview with Professor Philip James, in The Press and Journal Aberdeen :
"The real dilemma now is that people no longer have confidence that a Ministry of Agriculture linked to the producer and processor is going to safeguard the public interest. The public have been overwhelmed by the knowledge that certain companies have been using irradiation to salvage rotten food It is a sad reflection of how the Government and some food manufacturers don't appear to understand how to manage affairs of public interest in the fields of health and safety."
That is a damning indictment of the Ministry by one of its top advisers.
Professor Philip James is not the only person to express concern. Various organisations, including the National Farmers Union, which is dear to the Minister's heart, and the British Medical Association, which is not so dear to the Government's heart, and prominent food retailing companies such as the Co-op, Tesco and Marks and Spencer have also expressed concern about irradiation. People not only now demand to know whether their food is to be irradiated, but why it needs to be irradiated. That is the key question that the Government should answer.
The Labour party does not believe that irradiation is the answer to our food poisoning problems. It is no alternative to ensuring that cleaner food is on sale in the shops. Irradiation would be no incentive to ensure that high hygiene standards are maintained throughout the food chain. Irradiation will leave food more open to subsequent bacteriological contamination. There is no easy and effective method of detecting whether food has been irradiated or, even more importantly, reirradiated.
Column 346To return to the recent problem of botulism, perhaps the Minister will confirm that irradiation would have had no effect on wiping out that botulism as it is a toxin.
Another point about irradiation, which has been expressed clearly by Professor James, is that it could be used to make bad food clean. The Minister will be aware, for example, that there have been verified reports of seafood being imported into Britain, mainly from the far east, which has subsequently been found to be substandard. That food has then been exported to Holland, irradiated by Gammaster and then re-imported into Britain and sold illegally--the same food that had been found to be substandard. The incident occurred three years ago, but we have good reason to believe that the trade continues. I have in my possession a letter from Gammaster dated 10 May 1989, agreeing to supply irradiated seafood to Britain. The letter states :
"Our quality assurance include taking samples of each shipment of prawns before irradiation. The Dutch Food Inspectors also take samples before and after irradiation. I would like to emphasize that the irradiation of food products is not yet allowed in the United Kingdom".
However, the letter also suggests the name of the Dutch transport company which would arrange delivery of that food. A telex from the transport company--Allways Transport BV--the following day states : "in order to enable Gammaster to irradiate this consignment, it is necessary to arrange import of the goods temporarily (without paying duties or VAT of course). Before we can arrange this customs clearance we will have to present a health certificate' in acordance with the EEC shrimp decree'."
Several of my hon. Friends have tabled an early-day motion on this serious matter. As it is clear from the correspondence that the trade is well organised, I hope that the Minister will pursue the case. Unfortunately, when we passed similar correspondence to his predecessor three years ago, the Government refused to act. I hope that on this occasion the Minister will respond positively. I know that the Minister is alert to the problem because the research consultative committee residues sub-group of the Ministry of Agriculture revealed in its minutes last year that it was aware of the
"potential for some commodities to arrive in the UK which already have been subjected to irradiation."
I stress that that point was made by one of the Minister's own sub- committees last year.
It is because of such uncertainties that the Labour party opposes the introduction of food irradiation in Britain. It is like using gloss paint to cover rotten window frames.
To sum up, the Government's approach to protecting the nation's health from contaminated food has been abysmal. As we have seen in the past few months, they have adopted a crisis management approach. Indeed, it is hard to understand their actions in recent months. When confronted with a food poisoning epidemic what do they do? They cut the number of staff who monitor and control diseases ; they close a food research institute ; they introduce food irradiation, which nobody wants ; and as a final insult, they produce a leaflet putting the blame for food poisoning where it certainly does not belong--on the consumer. I hope that the House will join us in condemning the Government.
Column 3474.7 pm
commends the Government for implementing a comprehensive range of measures to maintain safety throughout the food chain and to improve the scientific knowledge on which these are based ; notes with approval the Agricultural and Food Research Council's decision to strengthen the work of its Institute of Food Research at the Norwich and Reading sites by expanding programmes on food safety and nutrition ; endorses the Government's policy of transferring responsibility for near market research and development to industry, enabling more Government funds to be channelled into strategic research ; congratulates the Government on the substantial increase in resources for research into food safety during the past ten years ; and expresses confidence in the Government's policies on food safety and research and development.'.
The speech of the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark) was fragmentary in the extreme and extremely fragile in its evidence. I shall demonstrate both those points.
As this is a general debate on food safety, I shall begin by setting out in framework the main elements of the Government's food safety policy. That is necessary because of the hon. Gentleman's spasmodic speech. Indeed, the main elements of our policy are consistent and thorough and are worth restating. I shall do that briefly because the Parliamentary Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Norfolk (Mr. Ryder), dealt with this at length in his speech in the food safety debate earlier this year, on 21 February, and because I have done so on many previous occasions. Furthermore, you, Mr. Speaker, have reminded us that this is a short debate. The essential elements are, first, a careful and thorough monitoring of the food supply so as to be certain that whatever we do is based on a factual assessment of the situation as a whole ; secondly, thorough surveillance to detect any trends that need analysis or policy action of one sort or another ; and, thirdly, continuous and in-depth assessment of the facts that emerge using the best possible scientific advice.
In view of the highly selective scientific examples given by the hon. Member for South Shields, I stress that we use the best possible scientific advice over a wide range, using many people.
Mr. Brian Wilson (Cunninghame, North) rose--