Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Pickles: My hon. Friend is right. The Bill is about quality and quality assurance. It is about ensuring that customers are not misled into purchasing what they think is local bacon, because it is called "Wiltshire cure", only to find that it is more likely to have come from

2 Nov 2001 : Column 1124

Czechoslovakia or Poland. I am happy for people to purchase Czechoslovakian or Polish bacon; I have no problem with that—but I want people to be able to know that they are purchasing bacon that has been produced in conformity with the quality assurance and the standards of the United Kingdom.

Mr. Bryant: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Pickles: Of course. The hon. Gentleman has a free pass, so far as I am concerned. Any time he wants to come in, he is most welcome.

Mr. Bryant: The good thing about free passes is that as they are free, one does not feel one needs to use them all the time, just to get good value.

I was just wondering whether the hon. Gentleman was aware that Czechoslovakia is now the Czech Republic. It is not one country any more.

Mr. Pickles: The hon. Gentleman is, of course, most helpful—and absolutely right. I was not speaking in a strictly geographical sense. I am very much aware that there is the Czech Republic and the other part of what was Czechoslovakia, and all the other places in eastern Europe. The point that I was making is that the Bill is about ensuring that standards of husbandry can be assured.

The figures that I read out from the Deloitte & Touche report do not entirely take into account the full effects of classical swine fever and foot and mouth. I am afraid that if we have a similar agriculture debate this time next year, the situation is likely to look even grimmer. I hope I have said enough to show that the estimated cumulative loss to the UK pig industry between 1998 and the end of 1999 was about £340 million.

The importance of the pig industry should never be underestimated. As the distinguished journalist Digby Scott—the winner of this year's David Black award—said when receiving his award at an event on Wednesday attended by several hon. Members:

The effect of foot and mouth disease in my constituency completely convinced me of that. I was surprised that so many rural businesses and so much diversification of farmland depended ultimately on cattle and pig production.

The foot and mouth restrictions did not only affect a tiny farming community: they went deep into the countryside and deep into the suburbs. The hon. Member for Falmouth and Camborne and I attended a meeting about waterways where we were told about the effects of foot and mouth disease on our inland waterways and about the impact on tourism. We must not underestimate the importance of basic farming production for the infrastructure and social cohesion of the countryside and the general community.

Although I have slightly more time than I anticipated as the first Bill we were to have debated was withdrawn, I think I am in danger of being rather self-indulgent in terms of time, so I shall turn quickly to the clauses. The

2 Nov 2001 : Column 1125

purpose of clause 2 is to ensure that food labels carry particulars of the country or countries of origin of each of the major ingredients of the food.

Clause 3 is concerned with production standards. The intention is that where food production standards are lower than those that apply in England and Wales reference must be made to that on the label.

Clause 4 is similar to provisions in the Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury, but I draw hon. Members' attention to subsection (1) which sets out rules on packaging, and anticipates the growth of web-based and bar-code information systems. The hon. Member for Brent, North expressed deep concern about notes, and paragraph (e) would address that problem. It would ensure that consumers can obtain information on a specific product, either through the web or from bar codes. Hon. Members will be familiar with the little price guns that we see in Safeway, Waitrose or Sainsbury; they contain much more information than merely the price and the product name.

The hon. Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore) who was in his place, but is now on the Treasury Bench—

Mr. David Drew (Stroud): He is never still.

Mr. Pickles: Indeed. The hon. Member for Hendon will like my next point. It is possible to take one of those guns, point it at a packet of Walkers crisps and find out which field the potatoes were picked from. That is obviously of some importance with regard to pesticide controls and the like. Within a very short time it will be possible for people to use such programmed systems, so that someone who has a nut allergy or does not want to buy products from a certain country or wants to obtain particular products will be able to use those guns in supermarkets. They will be an enormous help—

Mr. Stephen O'Brien rose

Mr. Pickles: My hon. Friend is about to enlighten us. I cannot wait.

Mr. O'Brien: The technology exists; indeed it existed 18 months ago. The hon. Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew) has also done a great deal of work in this area, and he and I have talked to some of the corporate entities who are at the leading edge. There is already a link between everything in my hon. Friend's Bill, the animal welfare standards and the food safety regime: computer programmes can help to identify a product on the supermarket shelf—however it has been treated and presented—back to the field, the animal or the farm whence it came. For instance, will explain exactly where a piece of beef came from—[Laughter.] is a particularly good site—I recommend it strongly. It is a good example. I intervened because my hon. Friend is right and I endorse his point that the Bill offers an opportunity to enhance and bring together the various strands to deliver benefits to producers and consumers alike.

Mr. Pickles: I am most grateful to my hon. Friend. I had heard that he was a great devotee of the website—I was delighted to discover that it was about meatballs—[Laughter.] Perhaps we should gently draw a veil over that point.

2 Nov 2001 : Column 1126

The proposals will bring honesty into labelling. They attempt to build on EU legislation, and will offer help to the farming industry without asking for subsidy or unfair advantage. The Bill will empower the consumer to make informed purchasing choices and gives strength to measures that the House has previously adopted with enthusiasm.

I commend the Bill to the House.

10.27 am

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): I am delighted to speak on the Bill. I compliment the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles) on his tenacity in holding the House captivated for the past 50 minutes. I congratulate him on his good fortune in securing such a significant place in the private Members' ballot. I am glad that he has let the rest of the House into his secret. I shall make sure that I enter my house number in the ballot next year in order to secure similar good fortune.

I begin by looking at the issue of nuts—a cause of great concern in relation to food labelling regulations. Nuts are the most prevalent of the allergens in food that can cause significant trauma to people. For many, many years a sizeable lobby has pressed for better legislation to ensure that the labelling of food products is simple and clear.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's remarks about transparency and honesty in labelling. That is of fundamental importance. I am sure that if the hon. Gentleman had known of them, he would have been extremely supportive of the questions that I put earlier this year to the former Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food asking what steps he was taking to ensure standardisation of food labels so that universally recognised symbols could be adopted for descriptions of foods that, first, contain nuts; secondly, and equally important, do not contain nuts and verifiably have not done so in any part of their processing; and, thirdly, might contain traces of nuts. That is the clarity and honesty in food labelling for which many people have been calling.

Earlier this year, I received from my constituents the Doran family correspondence that says:

I could quote much more extensively from correspondence from the Dorans and others.

Next Section

IndexHome Page