Previous Section Index Home Page

An increasing number of manufacturers are using traffic lights in response to customer demand for simple information. It is very clear from their public statements about labelling that they see a benefit in the marketplace from listening and responding to customers' requirements.

The traffic light system came under fire from some sources when it was first being considered because of fears that it would mislead customers rather than allow them to distinguish between products, but as the system matures, many manufacturers are using clear, simple labelling to address the fat, sugar and salt content of their food, knowing that customers are finding it easy to make a choice based on quantifiable and easily comparable information.

There is also a clear awareness that customers want to be able to control the contents of what they eat, and that giving them the information is essential to allow them to do that. If retailers want customers to buy their goods, they have to give customers what they want. McCain, for example, has redesigned its packaging to include both the FSA traffic light and the GDA, as recently recommended, saying:

4 Nov 2009 : Column 871

The company is working to ensure that its products meet customers' needs. Sainsbury's uses the multiple traffic lights as a tool for redevelopment of its products, with whole categories reformulated to reduce the number of red traffic lights on the front of packs-giving customers what customers want. Marks & Spencer are promoting its improvements to its recipes with banners across the shops, announcing on its website that

It is saying that because that is what its customers want.

Yo Sushi, East Midlands Trains, National Express, Virgin Trains and are all using the FSA traffic light labelling system. The news might look good for customers, with such a wide range of suppliers responding to the need for a simple front-of-package labelling, but, unfortunately, we still have a long way to go before customers-busy people, shopping in a busy environment-can make quick decisions about what is best for them.

The Which? "Hungry for change" healthier choices progress report 2009 comments that

It continues:

It is really crucial that we get this right.

Experts reckon that about a quarter of all cancer deaths are caused by unhealthy diets and obesity. Strokes could drop by 13 per cent. if people reduced their daily salt intake by 3 grams. Heart disease is the UK's biggest killer, accounting for more than 200,000 deaths every year. Poor diets contribute significantly to the onset of heart disease, with diets that are high in fat, salt and sugar and low in fruit and vegetables accounting for 30 per cent. of all coronary heart disease deaths.

The British Heart Foundation has a very good example that supports the necessity to provide dietary information at point of sale. It reports that the snacks most often found in vending machines in leisure centres have an average caloric content of 203; it would take a seven-year-old 88 minutes of swimming in the leisure centre pool to burn off that many calories. It has been estimated that 20,000 premature deaths each year could be avoided by reducing daily salt intake to 6 grams; 3,500 more by reduction of fat in foods; and a further 3,500 by reduction
4 Nov 2009 : Column 872
of sugar to the recommended guideline daily amounts. So it is not surprising that people want to be in control of what they eat.

Over the summer, I carried out an extensive consultation with my constituents on the issue of front-of-package labelling and what they wanted to see. Overwhelmingly, people wanted simple at-a-glance information that was standard across all manufacturers so that they could choose easily between products-wherever and whatever they were buying.

The FSA has identified the single simple system that is best understood by consumers and it has some really heavyweight backers. The British Medical Association says that

The British Heart Foundation supports the FSA's approach to front-of-package signpost labelling as it offers instant help to customers at the point of sale. The British Dietetic Association says that

Diabetes UK says that

The National Heart Forum says:

The Royal College of General Practitioners

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the Royal College of Physicians, the UK Public Health Association, the National Consumer Council, Netmums, the National Federation of Women's Institutes, the Stroke Association and Which?, together with huge numbers of our constituents, want simple uniform nutritional labelling on the front of packaged foods.

We in the House should do everything in our power to make it happen.

Question put and agreed to.


That Helen Southworth, Shona McIsaac, Mrs. Janet Dean, Joan Walley, Mr. Ian Cawsey, Christine Russell, Mr. Mike Hall, Ms Sally Keeble, Charlotte Atkins, Mr. Kevin Barron, Ann Coffey and Derek Twigg present the Bill.

Helen Southworth accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time tomorrow and to be printed (Bill 158).

4 Nov 2009 : Column 873

Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill

[Relevant d ocuments: Report of the Joint Committee on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill, Session 2007-08, on the Draft Constitutional Renewal Bill, HC 551-I and-II, and the Government response, Cm 7690. Tenth Report from the Public Administration Select Committee, Session 2007-08, on Constitutional Renewal: Draft Bill and White Paper, HC 499, and the Government response, Cm 7688. The letter from the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Human Rights to the Secretary of State for Justice dated 26 October 2009. ]

[2nd Allotted Day]

Further considered in Committee

[Sir Michael Lord in the Chair]

Clause 33

Time limit for human rights actions against Northern Ireland Ministers etc

1.22 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Mr. Michael Wills): I beg to move amendment 90, page 16, line 28, leave out lines 28 to 30 and insert-

'(2F) In subsection (2D) "rule" has the same meaning as it has in section 7(5) of the Human Rights Act 1998.".'.

The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Michael Lord): I remind the Committee that with this we are considering the following: Government amendment 91.

Government new clause 43- Time limit for human rights actions against Scottish Ministers etc.

Mr. Wills: May I say what a pleasure it is be here, Sir Michael, and to speak to amendments 90 and 91 and new clause 43 in the name of my right hon. Friend the Justice Secretary?

Clause 33 deals with human rights claims brought against Northern Ireland Ministers and Departments. Clause 34 deals with claims brought against Welsh Ministers. The original clauses 33 and 34 define the rules that could impose a stricter limit of less than a year by reference to section 7(9) of the Human Rights Act 1998. However, after further discussion with the devolved Administrations and further consideration of the issue, we now think that it would be better to adopt a different approach to the definition and to link the meaning of "rule" more directly to section 7(5). That will make it clear that the rules under which a case can be brought will be identical as between the two regimes, and there is a direct reference to the specific provision in the Human Rights Act that gives rise to the time limit.

We have therefore tabled amendments 90 and 91 to clauses 33 and 34 to provide that "rule" should have the same meaning as is given to the same word in section 7(5) of the Human Rights Act, thereby providing a link with the rules, which, for the purpose of that section, also impose a stricter time limit, and ensuring that the relevant time limits under the Human Rights Act and the devolution settlements keep pace with each other.

4 Nov 2009 : Column 874

New clause 43 deals with human rights claims brought against Scottish Ministers. I will now explain why that did not form part of the Bill. As Members will be aware, the provision arises out of the consequences of the House of Lords judgment in the Somerville case, which were more pressing in Scotland as Scottish Ministers are responsible for prisons-unlike Ministers in other devolved Administrations. Unlike other jurisdictions in the UK, there is no time limit in judicial review proceedings to act as an alternative, shorter, time limit to the one year. The Somerville case prompted a large number of claims concerning the segregation of prisoners in Scotland, so it was important to achieve clarity on the matter as rapidly as possible.

As part of the agreement reached, after full discussion, with the Scottish Executive, an order was approved by this Parliament before the recess under section 30(2) of the Scotland Act 1998 to provide the Scottish Parliament with the competence to amend the Scotland Act to insert a one-year time bar for claims against Scottish Ministers. That was subject to the same power to extend the time limit in the interests of fairness and to any rule that might impose a shorter time limit. It was agreed that once the Scottish Parliament had amended the Scotland Act, the provisions of that legislation would be remade in UK legislation and the previous position on legislative competence would be restored to provide for a consistent approach across the United Kingdom.

When the order under section 30 of the Scotland Act was debated, there was cross-party agreement that that was a necessary measure. The views of the Calman commission were formally sought in advance, and it agreed with our approach. It should also be noted that the section 30(2) order, which was the first piece of the legislative solution, was passed unopposed in both the UK and Scottish Parliaments. Emergency legislation was passed in the Scottish Parliament, but it did not receive Royal Assent until 23 July, after the Bill had been introduced. It therefore was not possible to include provision for Scotland on the Bill's introduction.

New clause 43 imports the provision made in the Act of the Scottish Parliament, which inserted a one-year time limit to convention-based claims brought against Scottish Ministers under the Scotland Act. It also extends that provision to such claims brought anywhere in the United Kingdom, ensuring that the protection afforded in all three clauses is United Kingdom-wide. As in the amended clauses 33 and 34, the time limit is subject to a power available to the courts to extend it on equitable grounds, and it is subject to any rule imposing a stricter time limit in the proceedings in question. As in clauses 33 and 34, the Scottish amendment provides that that "rule" should have the same meaning as is given to the same word in section 7(5) of the Human Rights Act.

The amendment dealing with claims against Scottish Ministers will, in line with the terms of the agreement made with Scottish Ministers, preserve the effect of the provisions of the Act of the Scottish Parliament, but repeal that Act and the provision that gave the Scottish Parliament the power to make it, thereby restoring the previous position on legislative competence and maintaining a consistent approach across the United Kingdom.

The amendments are part of an important package of measures to bring actions against the devolved Administrations under the devolution Acts broadly in
4 Nov 2009 : Column 875
line with the time limit set out in the Human Rights Act. I hope therefore that the Committee will accept amendments 90 and 91 and new clause 43.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): I support Government new clause 43 and hope that this is the end of a protracted and difficult saga for Scottish Ministers in respect of human rights legislation.

The Minister's account of the history of the saga is right: it is based on the House of Lords judgment back in 2007, commonly referred to as the Somerville case, which meant that there was no one-year time bar for human rights claims against Scottish Ministers under the Scotland Act. The judgment resulted in a number of claims for compensation and legal fees against Scottish Ministers, who were frustrated that they could not legislate to reverse the position, given that the Scotland Act was reserved to this House.

The Scottish public faced the prospect of millions upon millions of pounds going into the pockets of Scottish criminals and convicts instead of into front-line services and improving the Scottish prison stock. The judgment would probably have meant that 20,000 prisoners previously thought to have been time-barred would have been eligible to claim under the anomaly. Therefore, it was important to put the matter right.

Unfortunately, progress was not as speedy as the Minister suggests: it took many lengthy negotiations and protracted conversations before we got to the happy stage where we could get the legislation through. The Minister is again right that an order was passed in the House that allowed the Scottish Parliament to legislate on the Scotland Act. As soon as that was decreed, the Scottish Parliament moved quickly to enact emergency legislation.

Mr. David Heath (Somerton and Frome) (LD): The order passed in this House enabled the Scottish Parliament to pass amendments to the Scotland Act to introduce a bar of one year or less. Will the hon. Gentleman advise the Committee on whether the Scottish Parliament has in fact legislated for a bar of one year, or for a bar of less than a year?

Pete Wishart: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. In fact, the House passed an order through delegated legislation that allowed the Scottish Parliament, under section 100 of the Scotland Act, competence to legislate on the issue. Following that, the Scottish Parliament enacted emergency legislation, which amended the Scotland Act by imposing a one-year ban. As the Minister has said, on 23 July the legislation received Royal Assent as the Convention Rights Proceedings (Amendment) (Scotland) Act 2009. Under the Act, the one-year time limit will apply to all proceedings raised on or after 2 November this year. The amendment supersedes all current legislation passed by both the House of Commons and the Scottish Parliament, and it has parity across the United Kingdom.

I also welcome the other Government amendments, which will introduce parity across all the devolved institutions throughout the United Kingdom. My only hope is that, now that we have reached the happy stage at which everything seems to have been resolved, we shall see an end to this whole sorry saga.

Next Section Index Home Page