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Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his opening remarks. No hon. Member doubts the enormous and fast-increasing importance of the environmental problems arising from an expanding population, growing economic activity and shrinking space. It is one of the consequences of the high rate of growth and prosperity in the past 10 years. Nobody is more conscious of the importance of these matters than my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister.
Mr. Alun Michael (Cardiff, South and Penarth) : Will the Leader of the House take cognisance of the many representations, as reflected by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell), for a proper debate on the Health Service in Wales? Will he note that there is disappointment that there was no statement on the Health Service in Wales today and that we are still waiting for the documents promised by the Secretary of State for Wales at the Dispatch Box on 1 March? Can he add his weight to that of his predecessor in calling for those matters to be put right? Can he persuade the Secretary of State for Wales that he has not been reshuffled to a Department of empty packaging? Will he make plenty of time in the next Session for a debate on all the matters on which content is outstanding in Wales, including those in early-day motion 879,
[That this House calls on the Government to accept the verdict of the electors of the Vale of Glamorgan who rejected the Government's plans to undermine the National Health Service ; calls on the Government to accept that most people want more money to be spent on the Health Service and now realise that Britain is spending a smaller proportion of national income on health than most other advanced countries ; notes the widespread anger that has been caused by the introduction of eyesight and dental test charges and the proposition that doctors should be turned into accountants ; and consequently calls on the Government to withdraw the Health Service White Paper and the nine consultative documents published for England.] early -day motion 1183,
[That this House calls on the Secretary of State for Wales to make public his plans for the future of the Health Service in Wales in the light of the Health Service Review ; renews its plea to him to publish the documents promised to the House on 1st March and to honour his promise to the House that, before the White Paper on Health is implemented there will be plenty of time for dialogue and suggestions ; regrets that documents for Wales were not published at the same time as those published for England ; expresses the fear that, despite careful attempts to appear more reasonable than the Secretary of State for Health the Secretary of State for Wales intends to promote policies which will be equally damaging to the Health Service in Wales as those being pursued for England ; reminds him that the Prime Minister's approach to the Health Service has been decisively rejected by the voters of South Glamorgan and North Wales and by the people of Wales as a whole ; stresses that cups of tea and soft words are no substitute for clear proposals and open debate on the future of the best- loved public service in Wales ; and calls on the Secretary of State to come clean on his intentions.]
early-day motion 1001,
[That this House notes that on 1st March, the Secretary of State for Wales told the House that before the White Paper on Health was implemented there would be plenty of time for dialogue and suggestions and expressed the specific
Column 1185hope that the White Paper would be debated in the Welsh Grand Committee when he would be interested to hear the views of honourable Members ; notes that he has taken specific steps to avoid any such debate when the Welsh Grand Committee meets on 28th June ; and, while welcoming the opportunity to contrast the very real needs of Valleys communities with the failure of the so-called Valleys Initiative, nevertheless deplores the unwillingness of the Secretary of State to either explain or debate his intentions regarding the future of the health service in Wales.]
and early-day motion 1182,
[That this House notes the decision of the Secretary of State for Wales, after 10 months deliberation, to give heavily-qualified approval to the strategic plan put forward by the South Glamorgan Health Authority ; emphasises the implied rejection of the proposal to close Sully Hospital ; remarks that authoritative local sources had already predicted that Sully Hospital would be reprieved ; now calls on the Health Authority to issue an immediate statement guaranteeing the long-term future of Sully Hospital on the basis of its present services plus an expanded service of therapeutic and remedial work as well as providing the site for the neighbourhood hospital to serve the eastern part of the Vale of Glamorgan ; and notes that Sully Hospital is ideally suited to fill these roles and that such a decision will win applause from specialists, doctors, nurses and all other employees as well as from patients and the public who have campaigned for the future of Sully Hospital as well as fitting in with the Secretary of State's findings and providing the best way forward for the Health Service in South Glamorgan.] which are on health ; on those that are on local services in Wales, which are early-day motion 1246,
[That this House notes that the July statement on Welsh local government finance failed to provide local authorities in South Glamorgan with adequate information about the intentions of the Secretary of State for Wales or to offer adequate guidance to local authorities to assist in their financial planning ; notes that the introduction of a unified business rate, far from bringing benefits, will involve a sharp increase in costs to businesses in Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan ; notes that the Government intends to pretend that this is now a part of national taxation ; notes that while more money will be raised through a unified business rate in South Glamorgan, less money will be returned to the local authorities on the Government's present policy ; further notes that the introduction of poll tax at the same time provides a regressive tax which hurts most those who earn least as well as introducing great uncertainty ; doubts whether the Government's safety-netted figure of £195 for Cardiff is an adequate calculation, as it ignores the costs of inflation, evasion and poll tax administration ; and calls on the Government to provide more information and more money for the local authorities, residents and businesses of South Glamorgan, Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan.]
early-day motion 1244,
[That this House notes that the purpose of the July Statement on Welsh local government finance each year is to give information about the intentions of the Secretary of State for Wales, to offer some guidance to local authorities to assist in their financial planning, and to allow informed debate to take place ; believes that the 1989 statement needs to be particularly clear and informative as it comes at a time
Column 1186of upheaval ; notes with alarm that this year's statement proved anecdotal and uninformative ; calls on the Secretary of State for Wales to recognise that his selection of £175 as the standard assessment figure for Wales is meaningless because the figure ignores the costs of inflation, evasion and poll tax administration and as the figure is based on his own calculations and assumptions, the basis of which he has not published ; further calls on him to recognise that he depends on a Welsh Office view of savings to be made by local authorities without indicating how these savings are to be achieved ; points out that his expenditure assumption fails to take into account true increases in inflation during the year ; points out that local authorities need a proper basis on which to plan their finances ; and appeals to the Secretary of State to celebrate his relief at surviving in office by issuing a genuine statement on local government finances which will give full and clear information to honourable Members, local authorities and the general public.]
and early-day motion 1232,
[That this House deplores the Government's plans to introduce the poll tax in Wales, despite its overwhelming rejection by the Welsh people ; condemns the wholly inadequate rebate system ; notes that the poorest communities in Wales will suffer, and regrets that the opportunity to give detailed information on the effects of the tax on Wales, to honourable Members on the floor of the House was not taken by the Government.]
and on those on the many other Government failures in Wales, which are early-day motion 1033,
[That this House notes the distinction drawn by the Secretary of State for Wales and his predecessor between the Valleys Initiative which was launched by one of them and the Valleys Programme which was launched by the other ; is saddened to see the public conflict between two former Cabinet colleagues about who was responsible for what ; regrets the refusal of the Secretary of State for Wales to answer simple questions asking for a list of projects and costs funded, respectively, under the Initiative and the Programme ; finds the excuse of cost unconvincing when the Prime Minister was willing to fill 34 columns of Hansard and waste £4,600 of taxpayers' money to answer a question seeking a list of her so-called achievements since 1979 and when her Government has done so much damage to Valleys communities during the same period ; and is forced to conclude that the Secretary of State has no real answers and to concur with the judgement of Lord Crickhowell that the Valleys Programme contains nothing new.]
early-day motion 1034,
[That this House notes with alarm and regret the refusal of the Secretary of State for the Environment to accept his share of responsibility for the plight of elderly people who face the effects of cold in winter ; calls on him and the Secretary of State for Wales to offer adequate funds for home insulation work to make up for the decimation of numbers employed on insulation work as a result of changes in Government training schemes and thus restore hope that such suffering will be ended.]
early-day motion 1057,
[That this House notes the proposals for a management buy-out of the West Wales Region of the Welsh Development Agency and the subsequent denial by the Welsh Development Agency in Cardiff ; notes that the suspended officers at the Welsh Development Agency's Carmarthen office first approached senior officers at the Welsh Development Agency last year and undertook six months of numerous meetings and discussions on the
Column 1187proposal and asks the Welsh Development Agency whether it acquiesced or encouraged the proposals and further asks if similar proposals are being considered or being developed in other regional offices of the Agency ; notes the Secretary of State for Wales's denial, both in the Welsh Affairs Select Committee and in reply to a written Question from the honourable Member for Carmarthen, of plans to privatise the Welsh Development Agency in whole or in part ; regrets that the Secretary of State allowed the discussions on the management buy-out to reach such an advanced stage ; asks the Prime Minister to set up an external inquiry into the origin of the proposal, including the involvement of the Welsh Development Agency centrally and the Secretary of State in discussions ; and reaffirms the total commitment of this House to a publicly accountable Welsh Development Agency playing a vital role in economic development in Wales.]
early-day motion 1091,
[That this House is appalled and concerned by the substantial and widening gap between the rich and the poor in England and Wales confirmed in the recently published Office of Population Censuses and Surveys studies ; notes that the highest death rates are in Wales and the North ; and believes that the Government should urgently take action to alleviate unemployment, poverty and poor housing all of which are established as major contributors to mortality rates in these areas.]
early-day motion 1224,
[That this House deplores the failure of the Secretary of State for Transport to make a statement about the inspector's report following the inquiry held at Bristol in February and March 1989 to consider objections to the Government's proposal to double toll charges on the Severn Bridge despite the fact that he has been sitting on the report for a number of weeks ; and believes that the Government proposal to implement the increases in September 1989 should not take effect and that there should be a full debate on the matter in the House of Commons.]
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I am afraid that the immense talents of my Parliamentary Private Secretary were not quite able to match the speed reading technique adopted by the hon. Gentleman. I appreciate the continuing interest in the prospect of a discussion on the particular aspects of the Health Service in Wales. I have seen the previous exchanges about it and I shall discuss the matter with my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales. Nothing that the hon. Gentleman has said diminishes the importance of the fact that the Government are spending record amounts on the National Health Service, which is treating more patients than ever before. That will be taken into account in Wales, as in the rest of the kingdom.
Mr. John Bowis (Battersea) : If my right hon. and learned Friend had come with me this morning to Battersea dogs' home, he would have heard a better class of barking than we have heard from the Opposition. More importantly, he would also have been able to witness the launch of a voluntary dog registration scheme which involves the painless implanting of a chip to enable dogs and their owners to be restored to each other. Can that
Column 1188subject be debated at an early date so that we can consider how Parliament might build on that voluntary experiment?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I share my hon. Friend's interest in this topic. In my constituency, there is also a home for animals abandoned by their owners, which is run by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. However, I have not yet been driven to the conclusion that my hon. Friend's suggestion is an urgent topic for consideration on the Floor of the House.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) : In a non-controversial way, may I ask the new Leader of the House whether arrangements can be made for an early debate on the power and patronage of the Prime Minister? Will he bear in mind that when Conservative activists were being interviewed on a radio broadcast this morning, some of them said that the Prime Minister was acting more like a dictator than anyone else they knew who had occupied that office? I hope that such a debate can be held and in it, will it be possible for the Home Secretary to participate, as well as the Leader of the House, and for them to give us their views?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : As the hon. Gentleman, unusually, finds it possible to raise such interesting topics in what he calls a spirit of non- controversiality, perhaps he can invite the leaders of his party to consider initiating a debate on that matter in Opposition time.
Mr. Tony Marlow (Northampton, North) : In view of the priority that the Prime Minister earlier today quite rightly attaches to the sovereignty of this House in European issues, could my right hon. and learned Friend ensure that we have these debates in more prime time than we had on Tuesday night, when important issues were being debated at 1 am? It is one thing to be rolled over by the Commission in policy areas where it was never dreamt that it had any competence ; it is another thing for these things to be finessed through in the early hours of the morning when there are hardly any hon. Members here and there is no press here and the great British public are quite unlikely to know what is being done on their behalf in a totally undemocratic way.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend has raised a point that has been raised many times on both sides of the House. The matter is now being considered by the Procedure Committee under the distinguished chairmanship of my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Sir P. Emery), and I have no doubt that my hon. Friend's question will be properly considered.
[That this House condemns the statement made by the Secretary of State for Social Security that the elderly population as a rule is now healthier and more independent than ever before ; believes that such statements are designed to disguise the reality that many pensioners are living below the poverty line as a direct result of Government policy to abolish the earnings link under the Social Security Act 1980 and that the Government has further eroded the value of pensions by making pensioners responsible for 20 per cent. of their rates ; and calls on the Secretary of State to take
Column 1189immediate action to uprate the state retirement pension to the level it would have been had the earnings link not been abolished.] Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman arrange for an early debate on the matter before we go through our annual weeping and wailing about the plight of pensioners during the winter? The right hon. and learned Gentleman will be aware of the great hardship that is being suffered by thousands of pensioners in Britain. Does he agree that the House would be justified in having an early debate on the matter?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : The hon. Gentleman refers to a topic that the House has discussed on many occasions and to which it will no doubt return. It is worth impressing on the hon. Gentleman, however, that during the seven years from 1979 to 1986, pensioners' total average net income increased in real terms by 23 per cent. That is a very important achievement which should be taken into account.
Dr. Alan Glyn (Windsor and Maidenhead) : In view of the Home Secretary's recent statement on the Hetherington report on war crimes, will the Leader of the House use his influence to get the matter cleared up as rapidly as possible in the interest of justice?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I understand that one of the matters referred to in the report is the need for the question to be considered expeditiously, and I shall bear that in mind in considering how soon the House should have a debate.
Mr. Tony Banks : From the warm reception that the Leader of the House received from Conservative Members this afternoon, it is clear that he has not passed his political sell-by date. I hope that the Prime Minister noted that reception, because if anyone should be feeling embarrassed, isolated and awkward this afternoon, it is her. Although business questions are not quite as good as foreign jollies, I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman will enjoy the occasion. We ask fairly futile questions ; he gives us responses which are no doubt even more futile ; and the world goes on much the same.
May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 1248 dealing with congratulations to President Arup Moi, who I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows?
[That this house extends its warmest congratulations to President Daniel Arap Moi of Kenya for the significant and courageous decision to destroy 2,400 elephant tusks confiscated from poachers ; calls upon Her Majesty's Government to compensate the Kenyan Government for the $3 million forgone through the destruction of the ivory ; commends the Kenyan example to other countries and in particular Hong Kong ; and recommends that the EEC establishes a fund sufficient to compensate all those African countries willing to destroy ivory stocks.]
The early-day motion congratulates Kenya on incinerating $3 million-worth of ivory taken from ivory poachers.
May we please have an early debate on animal conservation--in particular on elephants, whales and sharks?
Column 1190the early-day motion to which the hon. Gentleman referred, and I share his respect for the actions taken by President Moi. The whole House feels a deep sense of concern for the future of
wildlife--particularly elephants, but also the other species that the hon. Gentleman mentioned. I am sure that the House will find opportunities of considering the matter further.
Mr. Peter Thurnham (Bolton, North-East) : So that the taxpayer can get value for his money, will my right hon. and learned Friend arrange a debate on the Short money and the way in which the Opposition parties are funded? Is he aware that the Labour party has produced a report condemning Labour MPs for junketing abroad while the House is sitting? Should he not arrange for a copy of that report to be given to the Leader of the Opposition?
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : May we have a debate on the reshuffle? Most people think that it is minor, not Major, and that we have the same old pack of awful policies. They cannot see Howe it does any credit to the Tories and with all the traffic congestion, it is still a case of no Parkin', son. As the Prime Minister has double-crossed and over-Hurd, is not the best policy for the electorate to place a single cross on a ballot paper for their Labour candidate.
Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury) : Will my right hon. and learned Friend consider offering to the Opposition a half-day debate if they undertake to use it to explain to the House their policies for the reform of domestic rates? Is he aware that the debate they initiated earlier in the week was a total farce as they were unable to explain to the House how they intend to reform the domestic rating system? They said--to use their words--that their policy still needs "sophisticating". We hope that they will use the summer recess to "sophisticate" their policy for reform of the domestic rates. Until they manage to do so, it does not lie in their mouth to criticise our proposals for the community charge.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend's point is of the utmost importance. I doubt the Opposition's ability to achieve any sophistication, in that respect or any other. I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will take every opportunity of driving home to the electorate through the recess the massively higher burden that would be involved in any of the Opposition's alternatives.
Mr. Harry Barnes (Derbyshire, North-East) : During the recess, will the Leader of the House study the state of the franchise? In 75 constituencies over the past year, it has declined by over 1,000. The Prime Minister puts that down, possibly, to the postal strike of 1988. But there was no postal strike in Scotland between the 1987 and 1988 register. Some hon. Members think that there should be a debate on the impact of the poll tax on the electoral register. It seems to be fiddling the franchise in Finchley and a number of other constituencies.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : One of the factors that the hon. Gentleman should bear in mind is that, in the context of his question, there is no sense in referring to the community charge under the misleading title of poll tax.
Mr. Bill Walker (Tayside, North) : I welcome my right hon. and learned Friend to his new position. May we have an early debate on the duties and responsibilities of hon. Members, including Select Committees? If so, could we not look forward to the opportunity of explaining that Conservative Members welcome the opportunity to work for the Prime Minister in whatever job we do, whether as Back Benchers or Ministers? We do not expect former Secretaries of State for Defence, whether they are from Leeds or Ayr, to serve on Select Committees if they do not wish to.
Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde) : My right hon. and learned Friend will be aware that hon. Members can see television programmes from the existing land-based channels. During the recess, will he give thought to providing the terrestrial facility because satellite television may bring to us programmes which will expose the inadequacies of the Opposition and their policies, and I would not like to miss the opportunity of seeing them?
[That this House notes that no Labour honourable Member including his Deputy and the entire Shadow Cabinet and Parliamentary Labour Party have publicly supported the Leader of the Opposition in his common-sense remark to the leadership of the National Union of Railwaymen.]
Does he think that we should have a debate on the motion, which reminds the House that not a single Labour Member--including the shadow Secretary of State for Transport and the deputy leader of the party--has publicly supported the Leader of the Opposition's common-sense remark to the leadership of the NUR? Does he think that it would be a good wheeze suddenly to arrange a debate for either today or tomorrow so that the Leader of the Opposition has to return from wherever he has gone for his early holiday?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : I do not think that we need a debate to follow through the implications of what my hon. Friend has said. We all welcome the observations attributed to the Leader of the Opposition in urging a sense of reality upon the NUR. We must all hope that Opposition Members will take an early opportunity universally and unanimously to follow their leader's example and urge the NUR to follow the advice of many in its own leadership and bring the strikes to a halt as soon as possible.
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay) : How nice it will be for those of us who have long admired my right hon. and learned Friend's achievements-- not least his greatest achievement in removing exchange controls--to have him back in the House at a time when we will be discussing the fiscal relationship between our country and Europe. Will he find time early in the new Session to debate alternative monetary structures so that we can consider the free market alternatives to EMS, the ecu and central banking? Those alternatives include the liberalisation of legal tender so that European currencies can be exchanged freely within European countries and the denationalisation of central banks so that we can develop a free market in currencies as an alternative to EMS, the ecu and so on.
Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend wishes a pretty comprehensive agenda on the House. I do not think that I can follow her quite as far down the road that she has taken us this afternoon. However, my hon. Friend was right to draw attention to the fact that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I achieved a very fair conclusion at the Madrid summit to the effect that the suggestions made in the Delors report are by no means the only way of approaching the matter.
Mr. Roger Knapman (Stroud) : Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that Government Back Benchers achieved a rare but nevertheless welcome victory in the vote following the ten-minute Bill procedure yesterday? Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that those engaged in providing essential public services should not strike either on a full- time or a part-time basis while tribunals or arbitration procedures are available to them? Is it not time that we had a debate on that issue and time that we protected the public during industrial disputes?
Sir Geoffrey Howe : My hon. Friend is entirely right to draw attention to the importance of being ready continually to examine and re- examine the best way of trying to protect the public from the undoubtedly massive inconvenience of strikes and industrial disruptions to essential services.
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. John Gummer) : The Government have today published a White Paper "Food Safety--Protecting the Consumer". Copies have been placed in the Vote Office and in the Libraries of both Houses.
Consumers expect that the food they buy should be safe--and they are perfectly right to do so. All those who provide food--whether it be the farmer, the manufacturer, the caterer or the retailer--have a clear interest in the consumer's confidence. There is therefore no conflict between responsible producers of food and the Government's determination to set high--indeed, the highest practicable--standards of consumer protection. Those standards must be comprehensive, independent, up to date, and properly explained.
Already there exist wide-ranging laws which apply at every stage in the food chain. These are based, and action is taken, on the best available expertise and advice. The White Paper shows how comprehensive is the network of advisory committees on which the Government rely for independent, objective advice. Those committees, as well as advising Government, publish their reports and their findings.
There continue to be rapid developments and changes in food technology, in the range of products marketed, and also in consumer preferences. Great benefits are gained from this progress in terms of choice, convenience and value for money, but it means that our food legislation must keep pace so that consumers continue to be safeguarded. Therefore, after consultation with all interests, such as manufacturers and retailers, including enforcement and consumer bodies, the Government now intend to introduce legislative changes at the earliest possible opportunity.
The White Paper sets out the main changes proposed. These will include tighter controls on unfit food and food which is not of the nature, substance or quality demanded. These controls will apply to food before it is put on sale and allow suspect food to be withheld while investigations take place. The legislation will provide powers to adapt the law to cover new technical developments such as food irradiation, to ensure that the process is properly controlled. Powers will be strengthened to control contaminants and residues, including those which might arise from bad practices on farms or in manufacture. Ministers will have powers to make emergency control orders to deal with potentially serious problems, such as accidental contamination. Ministers will also be able to set training requirements for those who handle food commercially, building on existing good practice and thereby increasing the numbers of people trained by the food industry, local authorities and others. To be effective, the rules and standards laid down must be applied. Most enforcement is carried out by local authorities. In a previous job, I found their work in that respect to be of particular importance. They have long experience and have developed considerable expertise in food safety, and the Government intend that that expertise should continue to be used in full. The registration of all food premises, for which the proposed new legislation will provide, will help local authorities to identify premises. Also, new enforcement measures will strengthen the
Column 1194existing system so that, for example, local authorities will be able to take action to have whole batches of unfit food condemned. At the moment, a local authority has power only to condemn the particular part of the food that has been found to be dangerous. No matter how comprehensive and rigorous are the controls on food production and marketing, consumers themselves have a part to play. They have the responsibility for good kitchen hygiene, proper cooking, and reading and following instructions on the care, storage and cooking of food.
The proposals in the White Paper demonstrate the Government's commitment to food safety. We are always ready to consider adaptation when needed. We believe that our proposed legislation will provide the right framework for protecting consumers now and in the future.
Dr. David Clark (South Shields) : I had hoped that the advent of a new Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food would signal a new and safer approach to food in Britain. Sadly, having heard the Minister's statement and, more importantly, read his White Paper, my hopes have been dashed. The Minister's statement and his White Paper contain a mere seven proposals--no more--and they reek of complacency. The White Paper, which was heralded in advance by multitudinous press briefings as a new approach to food hygiene, has turned out to be little more than media hype. Very little in the Minister's proposals would have helped to prevent recent food poisoning incidents. Opposition Members welcome the proposals for training staff in handling food, but will the requirements be statutory? That question is absolutely vital. Similarly, we welcome the proposal for the registration of commercial food premises, but those powers are useless unless local authorities have the resources with which to carry out that function. Plainly, at the moment they do not have the resources, either financially or in terms of personnel.
In the statement today and in the White Paper, the Minister says nothing about meat products. It has been suggested that the proposed legislation will follow the line of the American legislation and will not cover meat and meat products. Will the Minister enlighten us about the position?
Apart from those measures, little in the Bill will help to combat the contamination of our food. There is clearly a commitment to force irradiation of food on to the people of Britain, but that will do little to tackle the real problem. There is no need for irradiation if food is good and wholesome. We need irradiation only when food is not good and wholesome.
The Minister's statement and the White Paper are the result of five years' consultation. I doubt whether in the history of government such a long consultation has produced so little. The very first line in the first chapter of the White Paper states :
"The variety and quality of our food have never been better." [ Hon. Members :-- "Quite right."] Despite the shouts of Conservative Members, that statement is not only grossly irresponsible but highly inaccurate. It is also an insult to the many thousands of people who have suffered from food poisoning. Where have Conservative Members been for the past few years? Do they not know that food poisoning incidents have trebled in the seven years up to
Column 11951988? Have they forgotten the salmonella and eggs saga last autumn? Have they forgotten the listeria in cheese
Mr. Speaker : Order. I apologise to the hon. Member on the Front bench for interrupting him but he must address his question to the Minister and not to Back Benchers. He is seeking answers to a ministerial statement.
Dr. Clark : By "they", I meant the Government collectively. I was not intending to address Back Benchers. I will, however, now address my remarks to the Minister. As the White Paper is under the name of the previous Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and various right hon. Members on the Front Bench today, I felt that it was right to refer to them as "they" and not to address the Minister who made the statement on the White Paper, as he was not a signatory to it. You may understand now, Mr. Speaker, why I did so.
Are the Government and the Minister not aware that in the past few months we have had the worst outbreak of anthrax for years? Do they not know that the current salmonella outbreak in north Wales and the north-west has tragically resulted in three deaths? If the Government had acted more quickly and more responsibly, the severity of the outbreak could have been avoided.
I take issue with the Minister's concluding words when he said : "The proposals in the White Paper demonstrate the Goverment's commitment to food safety."
I am afraid that they do, and I am afraid that they will be found to be inadequate.
Mr. Gummer : I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman fell below his usual standards in addressing the House. Having made a number of untrue and general allegations, he produced not one example of what he would like to have added to the White Paper. The hon. Gentleman has a long record of stirring up anxiety and worry and refusing to give credit for the major changes that the Government have brought. The public will judge him on this as they judged him on the issue of the Chernobyl lamb, when he was seen to be wrong almost every time he spoke in the House.
The hon. Gentleman did not mention, for example, the major change in the legal onus upon those who provide food. No longer will they be able to rely upon the fact that they have a warranty from someone else. They will have to have due diligence in finding out whether the food that they offer for sale is of a standard suitable for the public. He did not mention, for example, that the new system will enable batches of food to be condemned not only when placed on sale to the public, but when in warehouses or landed in the docks. The hon. Gentleman did not mention, for example, that the registration of premises will mean that local environmental health officers and trading standards officers will know precisely which premises they should be inspecting and where they have to ensure that the standards are upheld.
The hon. Gentleman tried to suggest that the document did not cover meat products. I believe that he picked that up from his hon. Friend the shadow Health Secretary, who did not just try to suggest it, but said that he thought that it did not cover meat products. Nothing in the document suggests that it does not cover meat products. It does cover
Column 1196meat products and no one reading it could possibly imagine otherwise. What it has to do with the United States I do not know. The hon. Gentleman clearly does not understand irradiation, because he says that we need irradiation only when food is not good or wholesome. If food is not good or is unwholesome, irradiation will not cover up its badness, its taste or its smell, and it would be the last thing to use on unwholesome food.
The hon. Gentleman did not say that we are taking on board some of the toughest possible systems for protecting the public, first, by allowing irradiation, which in some circumstances improves on present safety techniques. I do not know how the hon. Gentleman deals with his own cooking arrangements, but if he uses herbs of any kind he must know that the mechanisms now used to ensure that certain imported herbs and spices are without contamination are methods which we do not want to see used, but they are the only methods unless we have irradiation. Irradiation will be centrally controlled, the premises upon which it can be carried out will have to be licensed, and everything that is irradiated will have to carry a clear statement that it has been irradiated.
The hon. Gentleman would do better if he were willing to support the Government's considerable changes and help by distinguishing between when, perfectly properly, true dangers, difficulties and anxieties should be expressed, about which people should be warned, and when people are trying to make money by stirring up anxieties unnecessarily.
Mr. Michael Jopling (Westmorland and Lonsdale) : Is my right hon. Friend aware that he is perfectly right to draw our attention to the negative irresponsibility of the hon. Member for South Shields (Dr. Clark)? His proposals will be welcomed by most consumers, but will he work hard on a difficulty which emerges from the proposals? There is a loophole, because imported food does not meet the standards for food produced in this country. Will he do all that he can in Europe to ensure that standards in other European countries are as good as ours?