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17 Mar 2009 : Column 778

Points of Order

3.33 pm

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The Healthcare Commission has today produced a report about Stafford hospital that is very damning about standards of care there. Although the report was embargoed until tomorrow, all the reporting is happening today, which shows how widespread the interest in the subject is and its seriousness. Have you received any intimation yet that the Secretary of State for Health will come to the House to make an oral statement about the situation at the hospital?

Mr. Speaker: It is a very worrying time for the hon. Gentleman’s constituents. It is not a matter for the Chair, as he might understand, but the Secretary of State concerned will have heard his comments today in the Chamber.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. My constituents in Stone are also gravely affected by the Healthcare Commission report. Do you not agree that it is right that the Secretary of State should come to the House? I tabled a question asking him whether he will come to the House to make a statement and to explain the situation, in view of the fact that the Healthcare Commission has said that the hospital has been very badly let down and that there have been appalling standards in the hospital?

Mr. Speaker: I have a hospital in my constituency, which, of course, is devolved now, but I would be very worried indeed if such a report came about on that hospital. Thank God, that has not happened. The hon. Gentleman will understand my position. I can only say that the Secretary of State will have heard his words and those of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Kidney).

Matthew Taylor (Truro and St. Austell) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I should say that the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford (Mr. Prisk) is aware that I have sought to raise this point of order on behalf of a number of Members, and in the long-term interests of all of us in the House.

Mr. Speaker, you will be aware that you and successive Speakers have underlined the fact that MPs who take up local casework and local issues outside their constituencies break a very clear convention by which the House operates, but the Conservative party appears to be trying to get round the convention by appointing so-called shadow Ministers for groups of constituencies that they do not represent, on the basis that that somehow legitimises what they are doing. For example, the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford, operating as the shadow of the fictional Minister for Cornwall, is as a matter of course taking up local casework. I can supply your office with numerous examples. For instance, this month, while sorting out a local problem for a local arts organisation, I discovered that the shadow of the fictional Minister had also presumed to act on its behalf. In every case, the activity undertaken by him as the shadow of the imaginary Minister for Cornwall mirrors work of local MPs and is clearly done for party political purposes.
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He is using membership of this place to raise constituency issues as though he were, in effect, a shadow local Member of Parliament.

The hon. Gentleman refuses to deny allegations that he claims his travel costs for that party politicking from Commons allowances designed to support genuine shadow ministerial visits and that he uses his parliamentary office to support that party political activity. My question is simple: is that acceptable under the conventions governing us, and if so, should all the parties now feel free to appoint Members of Parliament as shadow Ministers for constituencies, so that they can act on local issues for party political advantage, and go over the heads of the local MP?

Alan Duncan (Rutland and Melton) (Con) rose—

Mr. Speaker: I must answer the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Truro and St. Austell (Matthew Taylor) before anyone else comes in. I understand that he forewarned the Member whom he complains about, who is here in the Chamber. I only wish that Members would not interfere in other constituencies. I also wish that these disputes were not brought to me, but as this dispute has been brought to me, I say this: I do not expect any hon. Member of this House to take up cases other than those in their own constituency. It is wrong. Each individual Member of Parliament jealously guards the fact that their constituency, its boundary and all those within it are there to be looked after by them. I am a constituency MP in my own right, and I would not like it if someone took up cases in my constituency. I am not telling anybody off; I am just saying that everybody in this country has a constituency MP, and they should go to that constituency MP. If someone comes to a Member of Parliament in another constituency, the case should be forwarded to the local MP. That is clear, and it is common sense. If the hon. Member for Rutland and Melton (Alan Duncan) has nothing to say, I think that we should stop the matter there. I think that I have said enough.

17 Mar 2009 : Column 780

Food Labelling Regulations (Amendment)

Motion for leave to introduce a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

3.38 pm

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): I beg to move,

Many Members from across the House have attempted to improve the law on food labelling, including my hon. Friends the Members for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) and for Brentwood and Ongar (Mr. Pickles), and the hon. Member for Warrington, South (Helen Southworth). This is my third attempt, and I keep going because there is widespread support for the idea that consumers should have clearer, more accurate and more honest information about the food that they buy.

My Bill has the support of Members across the House and is intended to deal with one particularly pernicious problem in relation to food labelling, which is that consumers buying meat and meat products are routinely misled as to the country of origin due to inadequate and even deceptive labelling. The European directive 2000/13/EC relating to the labelling of food makes it clear that

It goes on to state:

and that

The British rules on food labelling are set out in regulation 5 of the Food Labelling Regulations 1996, which were introduced prior to the European directive, but which cover much the same ground. This states that all food to which the regulations apply

One could be forgiven for thinking that the law was already quite clear and sufficient. Unfortunately, that is not the case and consumers continue to be misled.

On some foodstuffs no indication is given at all that the product is made with imported meat, such as the label on a Tesco chicken dinner in a range of children’s meals, which simply states “Produced in the UK”, when the chicken actually comes from Thailand. Sometimes a phrase will be used to imply country of origin—for example, the Birds Eye Great British Menu range, which on closer examination turns out to be made with imported meat. Sometimes the label will be deliberately vague, as in the case of Sainsbury’s roast chicken slices, which the label describes as “Produced from Brazilian or British Chicken”.

At present producers of imported meat can lawfully use the Union flag on packaging to imply that the product is British when it is not, and they do so. Marks and Spencer has been selling a corned beef sandwich as part of its “nation’s favourites” range with a Union flag that dominates the whole of the front of the label. In small letters on the back is the information that the beef
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comes from Brazil. To its credit, Marks and Spencer has now recognised that customers may have been misled and is taking steps to repackage the product. That still raises the question why Marks and Spencer used the Union flag in the first place. There is a widespread problem. Consumers are being misled.

The aim of the European directive—to ensure that the rules prohibit the use of information that would mislead the purchaser—is not being met. The aim of the UK’s own food labelling regulations, which call for place of origin labelling if failure to provide this might mislead a purchaser, is not being met. There is clear evidence that consumers want more information, and indeed consumers have a right to know. An ICM poll for the honest food campaign showed that 87 per cent. of consumers in the survey believe the Government should ensure that the country of origin is clearly shown on food products, and 89 per cent. believe that a product such as sausages or bacon labelled as “British” or “Produced in the UK” should mean that the sausages or bacon are from an animal reared in Britain.

The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said in January:

He added:

I agree, as does the Minister with responsibility for farming, the Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the right hon. Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Jane Kennedy), whom I am delighted to see in her place, and who is going down very well with farmers in my constituency. She recently appeared on the excellent programme on Channel 4, “Jamie Saves Our Bacon”, and told Jamie Oliver that misleading labelling was “a disgrace”, and I agree.

The right hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne, East and Wallsend (Mr. Brown), was an Agriculture Minister 10 years ago, and I am delighted to see him, too, in his place. He told the House in 1999:

There is long-standing cross-party support for my Bill.

On 31 October last year, just two days after my last Food Labelling Bill, the Food Standards Agency updated its food labelling guidance to include advice on country of origin labelling, which is welcome. The FSA acknowledges that

However, the FSA best practice guidance is not mandatory and the FSA merely describes its guidance as

Well, they may, or they may not, but it is clear that the new guidance has not prevented the abuses that I described a moment ago, which were found in the shops just last month. The FSA guidance recommends that Norwegian salmon smoked in Scotland should not be called “Scottish smoked salmon”, but that is not compulsory and the danger remains that consumers will be misled.

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Country of origin labelling will also benefit food safety. Retailers did their best to withdraw Irish pork products during December’s dioxin scare, but packaging for Irish pork processed anywhere in the UK does not have to state “made with Irish pork”, and it could still have been bought by unwary shoppers. Clear, mandatory country of origin food labelling would have stopped that happening.

There is no shortage of agreement that there is a problem; the question is what we do about it. My conclusion is that the time has come for honest food labelling to be made compulsory. Some people say that legislation on country of origin labelling would amount to a restriction on free trade, but that is simply to misunderstand what consumer choice is all about. It is very hard to see how providing consumers with clear and unambiguous information about where their food comes from could possibly be construed as protectionist.

More fully informed consumers do not protect particular market participants or hinder the operation of a marketplace—they make it work better. Some consumers wish precisely to make choices based on the origins of food. During the apartheid era, many people, finding apartheid abhorrent, understandably wished to avoid buying fruit from South Africa. Nowadays, people wish to know the origins of food to support, through their spending choices, high animal welfare standards or low food miles, for example.

There is widespread support from farmers to chefs to animal welfare bodies for better country of origin labelling. Compassion in World Farming believes that meat and products containing meat should be permitted to be labelled as British only if the animal from which the meat was derived was born, reared and slaughtered in Britain. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has said that transparent labelling is vital in assisting consumers to make informed choices. The honest food campaign is supported by leading chefs such as Clarissa Dickson Wright, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Prue Leith and Rick Stein. My Bill focuses on meat and meat products, because with them lies the biggest problem of consumers being misled. The British Pig Executive has described country of origin labelling as a “key area for improvement”.

There is some compulsory origin labelling already. A note from Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue, an international organisation representing some 80 consumer bodies, made the argument for my Bill rather well when it stated:

it could have added honey and olive oil to the list. It is time for clear country of origin labelling for all meat. It is simplistic to suggest that consumers will automatically buy British; the key point is that consumers should be able to make an informed choice. Some consumers might want to buy authentic Spanish chorizo or German Wurst because they like the taste. That is their choice.

In conclusion, we have been waiting for years for a workable voluntary scheme for country of origin food labelling. The time has come to accept that honest food labelling requires the force of law. That is what consumers have the right to expect, and that is what my Bill provides. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


17 Mar 2009 : Column 783

That Mr. Richard Bacon, Alistair Burt, Keith Hill, Miss Anne McIntosh, Angus Robertson, Mr. James Paice, Mr. Richard Benyon, Mr. David Ruffley, Nick Herbert, Angela Watkinson and Sir Nicholas Winterton present the Bill.

Mr. Richard Bacon accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 16 October and to be printed (Bill 75).

17 Mar 2009 : Column 784

Welfare Reform Bill

Consideration of Bill, as amended in Public Bill Committee

New Clause 1

Jobseeker’s allowance

‘Section 4 of the Jobseekers Act 1995 (c. 18) (amount payable by way of a jobseeker’s allowance) is amended as follows—

(a) in subsection (1), omit paragraph (a), and

(b) omit subsection (2).’.— (Lynne Jones.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.49 pm

Lynne Jones (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

New clause 8— Work related activity: payment of additional premium

‘(1) In the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 (c. 4), section 135 is amended as follows.

(2) After subsection (6) insert—

“(7) The applicable amount shall include an amount in respect of a work-related activity component if the claimant undertakes work-related activity as defined in section 2D(8)(c) of the Social Security Administration Act 1992 (c. 5).”’.

Amendment 42, in clause 1, page 1, line 8, after ‘benefit”’, insert ‘pilot’.

Amendment 43, page 1, line 9, at beginning insert ‘Pilot’.

Amendment 11, page 1, line 11, leave out ‘imposing on’ and insert ‘offering to’.

Amendment 36, page 1, line 12, after ‘circumstances’, insert

‘and where claimants have guaranteed and predictable access to good quality, affordable and flexible childcare which meets the needs of the parents and the child in the claimants’ household.’.

Amendment 12, page 1, line 12, leave out ‘a requirement’ and insert ‘an opportunity’.

Amendment 44, page 1, line 13, leave out ‘designed’ and insert ‘personally tailored’.

Amendment 13, page 2, line 1, leave out ‘require’ and insert ‘allow’.

Amendment 14, page 2, line 9, leave out from ‘scheme’ to end of line 12 on page 3.

Amendment 15, page 3, line 12, at end insert—

‘(11) Any work undertaken by a participant in a “work for your benefits” scheme shall be—

(a) paid at an hourly rate of no less than the full adult minimum wage; and

(b) paid at an hourly rate no less than that of directly employed staff undertaking the same role.’.

Amendment 45, page 3, line 12, at end insert—

‘(11) This section shall have no effect after 31 December 2013.

(12) Evaluation of these pilots shall have particular regard to—

(a) the impact on single parents,

(b) the impact on claimants identified as having health problems or disabilities,

(c) the impact on claimants identified as having low skills,

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