Amendment made: No. 4, in page 3, line 24 after 'practicable', insert
'and in not more than fourteen days '. — [Mr. Bowden.]
§ Mr. Adley
I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 3, line 26, leave out subsection (7).
860 This is the amendment which will take most time, though I hope it will not delay us for too long. We had a lengthy discussion on this point in Committee, but the position was not resolved to my satisfaction and I make no apology for raising it again.
The hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) has reminded us forcefully that we have a responsibility not to pass legislation which puts unreasonable burdens and handicaps on people. It might be a good idea if hon. Members occasionally visited courts and saw the results of our handiwork.
The proposal in the Bill to allow a single magistrate to be a court in the first instance for closing down food premises has caused universal concern and displeasure among the magistrates with whom I have discussed this matter in the last few days. One told me:To my mind, it is not a trial, in front of one justice.Another said:Such a clause would worry me immensely. I would feel very unhappy with the Bill as it stands.A third said, and this may be regarded as contentious:Such a suggestion smacks of rule by civil servant. It is too sweeping.A recently appointed justice said:It could mean that I alone will have to take a decision based on technical evidence of which I have little practical experience. This puts considerable pressure on me as a single magistrate.For magistrates' sake, I hope the House will agree to remove this subsection.
The object of the Bill is to protect the health of the public and I wish to illustrate how easy it is for that wish to be interpreted in different ways by different people. If we are to present a single magistrate, who may not be experienced in this subject, with the evidence of environmental health officers presenting their interpretation of what constitutes a health hazard, we could find ourselves giving too much power to people whose evidence is, to put it no higher, disputable.
In Committee I quoted the situation which had arisen at the Holiday Inn in Bristol—one of the hotels in the group with which I am connected. An environmental health officer claimed that an open 861 buffet, per se, constituted a health hazard. Since then a firm of public analysts has produced its ruling on the environmental health officer's ruling and it makes clear that there are many ways of interpreting what is a health hazard.
A letter from the analysts, Messrs. Moir and Palgrave of Southwark Street, London, says:During the last visit I asked for the covers to be removed completely from the buffet because there was no evidence that they were having any effect. The results in my opinion show that they can have none since in this case no hazard exists.Attached to that letter is a long technical report on the open buffet. It would be an abuse of the House's time to go right through this long document. However, I feel bound to make one or two references to comments in the document. I quote:Examination of the results from both sampling occasions shows no definite pattern which would indicate an increase in contamination following exposure during the lunch period.Under this clause, to which I object so strongly, we are faced with the situation that the environmental health officer—one among many in the country—may go to a single magistrate, present him with technical evidence, and ask him or her to adjudicate in a way that, as my hon. Friend has mentioned, could ruin the livelihood of the restauranteur or caterer concerned.
It turns out from the report thatthe inherent variance in the techniques of counting"—that is, counting bacteria—can be as high as 200 per cent.That is not a situation that allows us to believe that there is only one reading of the position, that it is black or white, right or wrong.
The final quotation from this public analyst bears directly on the point I am making. I quote from the report dated 30th April this year:In my opinion the desire to have food covered in the manner required at the Bristol 'Holiday Inn' is dangerous in that it is taking action where none is needed and diverting attention from areas where a real need may exist. Furthermore the type of cover specified is not effective since it is open on all sides and cannot prevent bacteria being blown in from the sides.I hope that the House will agree that I have made a reasonable case to show just how dangerous it is to think that 862 every environmental health officer knows the facts and that they are indisputable, and can seek permission from a single magistrate to close a restaurant. I do not believe that the Bristol Holiday Inn is the dirtiest restaurant in Bristol.
The company with which I am connected is fortunate. It is a large company. It can afford to take the best advice and to fight these cases. However, the small people who will be most affected by the Bill are not in that fortunate position.
I now turn to the question of precedents. In Committee the only real precedent that the Minister was able to cite was the 1955 Act. We had a brief discussion, and I explained then that throwing away dirty food was one thing, but closing down the restaurant was altogether different. I have done my best to find precedents of one justice sitting alone, bearing in mind that we are dealing not with private legislation or local authority legislation but legislation covering the whole of England and Wales.
The nearest and most recent precedent that I have been able to find is the Criminal Justice Administration Act 1914. The words that appear alongside Section 38 of that Act are these:One justice to be competent to exercise certain powers in respect of charges of drunkenness.Perhaps I may read the section. It is as follows:Notwithstanding any enactment to the contrary, it shall be sufficient for a court of summary jurisdiction to consist of one justice only when hearing, trying, adjudging, and determining a charge or information against any person of having been found drunk in any highway or other public place, whether a building or not, or on any licensed premises, under section twelve of the Licensing Act, 1872.That is not, I believe, a sufficiently close precedent to enable my hon. Friend to recommend to the House that the powers contained in his Bill, to close down premises and do away with a man's livelihood, should be given to an environmental health officer appearing before a single justice.
I have sought other forms of legislative precedent. It seems to me that the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974 is not altogether inappropriate as an Act with which to compare what my hon. Friend is doing in the Bill. Many bad meals are eaten in Britain and I am sure that 863 many people become ill as a result of dirty food. However, I think that few are actually seriously injured and even fewer are killed in Britain, day in and day out, year in and year out, through dirty food.
§ Mr. Adley
I entirely agree.
However, as to safety at work, four people will be killed today while working, and hundreds, perhaps thousands, will be injured. This will be repeated day in and day out, yet even in the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act there are neither powers totally to close down a premise nor powers for a single magistrate sitting alone to deal with a situation.
There is an interesting article in today's edition of The Times on this point. I should like to refer my hon. Friend to it. It deals with the powers of factory inspectors. Under the Act, the factory inspector is empowered to seize and render harmless any article or substance which, in the circumstances in which he finds it, the inspector believes will cause serious personal injury. He can issue an immediate notice to require the employer to take action to remedy the contravention within a specified time or issue a prohibition notice to stop a process which involves risk of serious personal injury.
However, all these powers are somewhat less harsh than the powers in this Bill—to which in principle I do not object. The point I am disputing is that related to this particular amendment. That is that a magistrates' court should be the proper place in which to hear the case and issue the emergency order.
I understand the need for urgent action. My hon. Friend knows perfectly well that I am a supporter of his Bill. But if speed conflicts with fairness or accuracy, we should support the latter.
§ 1.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I congratulate the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley) on the enormous amount of research and homework he has done in regard to the amendment.
Normally, of course, it is right, in order to protect the rights of the individual, that proceedings should be brought in the ordinary way before a 864 stipendiary in the magistrates' courts or before at least two justices. I must confess, however, that at first sight, looking at the Bill, I thought that the promoter was right in putting in subsection (7) and that the power should be exercised by a single justice. I thought that because we are dealing with an emergency order and some drastic step ought to be taken.
However, the only reason why proceedings are brought before a single justice to obtain a warrant or a summons is that one has to act with expedition. On looking at Clause 2, I note that:The court shall not consider an application under this section unless it is satisfied that at least three clear days' notice in writing of intention to make that application …has been given.There is ample time in which the authority can move. Therefore, it seems to me that there is no emergency reason, even though this is in connection with an emergency order, why we ought to restrict it to one single justice. I think that the amendment is right in leaving the matter to the ordinary course of court.
§ Sir Anthony Meyer (Flint, West)
In about three sentences, I should like to support the amendment so eloquently and persuasively moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley).
It is of great importance to ensure, in a matter such as this, where the livelihood of a very small enterprise may be at risk, that the responsibility for a decision whether a single lapse or a series of lapses should result in the closure of the enterprise altogether should be more widely spread than it would be if it fell entirely on one individual.
One has a nasty feeling that if one particular individual who is a magistrate and probably a member of the local community, perhaps living close by the restaurateur concerned, they meeting each other daily, is responsible for the decision to close down the restaurant, this could produce very unhappy strains within a society. There could be suspicions of ulterior motivation, that he had been got at, and so on.
It is of enormous importance that the responsibility should be spread more widely. If my hon. Friend the Member 865 for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) will accept that, I think that the amendment should be accepted so as to spread the responsibility more widely.
§ Mr. Bowden
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley). He has done considerable work on the Bill. I am sure that the amendment and the discussions that he has initiated have improved it. He has made it clear from the beginning that he fundamentally supported the Bill, and I know that he has worked in the spirit of improving it and ensuring that it keeps the right balance. He has made a powerful case.
Although we had a Division on this matter in Committee, it was a marginal decision. Having taken further advice and done some research since the Committee stage. I believe that the House should accept the amendment.
We should still keep in the back of our minds the fact that we are dealing with an emergency order. As the hon. and learned Member for Hackney. North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) pointed out, three days are involved. What concerned me, in view of representations from environmental health officers, is that there could have been difficulties over a weekend. But the case made is so strong —again, my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch—that I hope that the House will accept the amendment.
§ Mr. Deakins
The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) has decided that this amendment, which was resisted in Committee, should be accepted. I think that it would be helpful if I said, in a little more detail, exactly why we in the Department also feel that the hon. Member is right.
We originally included the subsection because it was in line with the precedents of the local Acts, in order to avoid any risk of delaying proceedings on an application for an emergency order because of the difficulty of finding a second justice to deal with the application. We regarded the provision for payment of compensation, which is an essential feature of the Bill, as a sufficient safeguard in the event of a full court later deciding that the emergency order had been made on insufficient grounds.
866 But on further consideration—we have given much further consideration to this point—it seems to us that the precedent of the local Acts does not provide strong grounds for denying the force of the argument of the hon. Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley). The first of those local Acts was the Manchester Corporation Act, which provided for the hearing of an application on an emergency order after a minimum period of notice of 24 hours.
In this context, there are obviously clear advantages in a provision allowing for the hearing of an application by a single justice, but in subsequent local Acts, the period of notice was increased to three days as the result of specific consideration in the House of Lords Committee. That provision has been followed in this Bill.
However no consideration appears to have been given to the implications that change from 24 hours to three days for the provision relating to hearing of the application. There is obviously a clear link between the two provisions, and in the context of a three-day period of notice the case for allowing one justice to hear the application is obviously not so strong. In practice, it is difficult to believe that the hearing of an application would be delayed simply for want of the attendance of a second justice. Under the magistrates courts legislation a court may consist of two or more justices.
For these reasons, we share the feeling of the hon. Member for Kemptown that this is a worthwhile amendment. I join him in congratulating his hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington on his research and on pressing the point.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ 1.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Bowden
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
I should like, first, to record my deep gratitude to a number of people for their help in ensuring that the Bill has reached this stage and now has a good chance of becoming law before the end of this year. Right at the top of my list of grateful thanks must be the Minister and his officials. Without their invaluable aid and guidance at every step, it is doubtful that the Bill would have reached this 867 stage. Their help with the wording, the technicalities and the formulation have been of such value that it would have been difficult for me to do it on my own.
I thank my co-sponsors for the active encouragement and help they have given me, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Shoreham (Mr. Luce), who is on the Opposition Front Bench. I thank my own chief environmental health officer in Brighton, whose guidance and help have been of great value to me and to members of the Committee and have played a major part in improving the Bill.
The Bill makes one important amendment to the Food and Drugs Act, 1955. It is an addition which will be a powerful weapon in the hands of environmental health officers. I have been immensely gratified by the massive support that I have received from individuals and organisations. Among those who have written to me are the Bakers Union, the sea and air port health authorities, the Consumers Association, the National Federation of Consumer Groups, the Association of Metropolitan Authorities, the Environmental Health Officers Association, the London Tourist Board and a substantial number of individual local authorities and EHOs.
The catering trade as a whole reaches high standards. I am sure that the vast majority of the members of the trade will welcome the Bill. Indeed, it will improve the reputation and the name of the trade, because it will give EHOs that additional weapon to move rapidly to deal with the tiny minority who think that they can get away with running a filthy restaurant or a filthy establishment without being dealt with speedily and effectively.
Perhaps one of the most important points of the Bill is that it will involve no additional work for members of the catering trade. Certainly, we shall not have to set up a massive new organisation of civil servants or local government officers to put it into operation. It will simply give the existing officials that additional weapon in their day-to-day work.
As the law stands, there are limits on what an EHO can do if he finds an establishment in a disgusting state. For 868 example, I have been told of a case in which an inspector found a great deal of filth on the floor of one establishment. He opened the refrigerator and a cockroach jumped out at him. There were verminous droppings on the floor and bottles of soda water and other cordials stacked on shelves with the tops rusted on—not because of water or moisture but because of the urine of mice and rats.
Having found a case of that sort, an EHO would certainly issue a large number of summonses, but it could be between six and 12 weeks before they were heard and the restaurant was closed. In the meantime, the proprietor would be entitled to continue operating and serving meals to totally innocent members of the public, thereby creating a real danger to health. One does not want to exaggerate, but in the worst cases there could be a danger to life.
The Bill will give the officer power to make it clear to the owner that he can get his emergency order in three days and thus ensure that, until the conditions are met or the case is heard again by the magistrates when the other summonses come forward, he cannot continue to operate that business. I am sure that the House will accept that the public must be protected against the tiny unscrupulous minority.
A number of local government Acts give protection and coverage in some areas. Those areas are fortunate, but they represent a minority of the country as a whole. Among the areas covered are the London boroughs, Manchester, Coventry, Derby, Port Talbot, Rhondda, Salford—and there are others. The Bill will put this protection on a national basis and thereby ensure that every part of the country is covered.
It is only fair to emphasise that if circumstances arose—I think it unlikely, but the possibility exists—where the powers in the Bill were misused and abused in a totally unfair way against the restaurateurs and establishments affected, substantial compensation could be claimed. The Bill incorporates that basic safeguard.
I turn now to the point on which we touched earlier in a different way regarding the level of fines. It could be argued —indeed, I support this argument—that the level of fines stipulated in the Bill is too low. But, in view of the advice and 869 guidance that I have had, great difficulties would be created if the level of fines were higher than is specified in the Bill. If I may sidetrack slightly, I hope that it will not be too long before the Government bring forward legislation which will enable fines for a whole range of offences in magistrates' courts to be substantially increased because they are not adequate, as inflation has overtaken the original figures.
Earlier I talked about the deterrent value of this measure. I did not make that up. I have a letter from the environmental health officer in my area, and he uses these words:It is certainly a great step forward and will be extremely helpful. The deterrent effect alone will be worth its weight in condemned food.The Bill provides a new vital safeguard to protect the public. I commend it to the House.
§ 1.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I did not have the privilege of taking part in the Committee stage of the Bill, but I have taken a great interest in its proceedings. This is clearly an extremely important measure.
From time to time there has been considerable criticism of unwholesome conditions in food premises—fortunately, a small minority. However, it is important for ourselves and for the tourist trade that this country should enjoy the greatest possible standards in the provision of food.
Section 13 of the Food and Drugs Act 1959 gives power to close grossly insanitary premises after a successful prosecution, and Section 14 prohibits the carrying on of a similar business after a successful prosecution. But, from my experience at the Bar, I recall how easy it was for people to evade the consequences of defalt. Unfortunately, legal proceedings often take a very long time. The business could go on and the insanitary conditions prevail until the conclusion of the legal proceedings. The law was of limited application. It was applicable only to premises where food was being consumed. There has been a tremendous growth of take-away food shops and stalls which sell food. The 1955 Act does not provide for prosecution in relation to those premises.
The artful owner of a business could easily evade the consequences of his de- 870 fault by transferring his business to another operator. He could carry on until the actual prosecution or await the local authority's decision, if he transferred the premises to someone else, regarding prosecution against that person.
The hon. Member for Brighton, Kemp-town (Mr. Bowden) has rendered a real service by promoting a Bill which remedies these obvious defects. I like his idea of two types of order—the closure order, requiring 14 days' notice, and the emergency order which will deal with a situation almost immediately. Moreover, I agree that there should be an order for compensation where the prosecution does not prove the alleged unsatisfactory conditions.
I agree that there should be a right of appeal against a closure order but not against an emergency order. We discussed the question of three days being allowed for an emergency order. Clearly, an emergency order would be made only in a case of extremely unsatisfactory conditions. In such a case steps should be taken to deal with the matter without the delay which might arise if an appeal were allowed.
I have one criticism, which I have made before, about the £400 maximum fine. I agree that courts are often too lenient. I think that £400 is too little as a penalty, especially in the case of an emergency order, which would arise only where premises were in an insanitary condition. In these days of inflation, £400 is very little to the people concerned and they would be able to carry on.
§ Mr. Bowden
I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman, with his great legal experience and knowledge, will be aware of the problem that I was up against regarding the level of the fine. If I had put in the Bill a sum in excess of £400, I should have come up against considerable difficulties with the Home Office because of the powers of magistrates' courts. I repeat—I am sure that the Minister will play his part—that the Government should bring forward legislation quickly to deal with the whole range of fines available to magistrates' courts. I suggest that fines should be substantially increased. I trust that, the Bill being an Act, it would be covered if such legislation were brought forward.
§ Mr. Weitzman
I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I was about to make that very point. I appreciate his difficulty of putting in a maximum fine of only £400. That is the general standard of maximum fines for other offences. I was about to add that I hope that at an early opportunity the Government will look at the various statutes which provide these maximum fines and try to upgrade them, because, due to inflation, in many cases they are not adequate.
I add my congratulations to the hon. Member on the valuable work he has done in introducing this Bill, and I congratulate him further on his having carried the Bill through the various stages. I hope that it will soon reach the statute book.
§ 1.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Adley
I wish to take this opportunity of thanking my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) for his kind words about me, and to make one or two points of a general nature.
I hope, as my hon. Friend does, that it will be only what he described as a tiny unscrupulous minority who find themselves confronted with the powers of this Bill. They certainly should be. It will be up to the courts and the magistrates to see that the application of the Bill does not go beyond that tiny unscrupulous minority.
As my hon. Friend knows, not everybody in the hotel and catering industry welcomes the Bill. In fact, a leading article in the Catering Times said last week that the Bill containssome fairly hair-raising sanctions against caterers and hoteliers.That is true. But, as I have said, these sanctions are directed at, and should be used only against, those who thoroughly deserve the imposition of such sanctions. It is for that reason that I support the Bill.
In Committee we debated a code of good conduct. The Minister is aware that in Section 13 of the 1955 Act there is a proposition that the Minister shall produce a code of good practice, but there was not a great deal of enthusiasm for this in Committee, although the Minister said that he would at some stage give consideration to it.
872 The Minister may be aware that his hon. Friend the Member for Norwood (Mr. Fraser), the Minister of State, Department of Prices and Consumer Protection, was speaking at the annual luncheon of the Hotel Catering and Institutional Management Association in London last week, and he called for a code of practice in the catering industry. He said:In principle I would welcome this and I am sure that my colleagues in other departments would agree. Standards in many places are high, but I am sure we would all agree that there is always room for improvements and for maintaining standards, even in the best establishments.That is not a precise statement of my views. I am concerned with a code of practice, in connection with the implementation of the Bill, so that environmental health officers, magistrates and caterers may have a guide. We have discussed the dangers of such a code being used as a Bible. I believe that it could be a protection as well as a weapon, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's views.
In Committee we also discussed the Fire Precautions Act. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown chided me for seeking to compare his Bill with the Fire Precautions Act, but I will not be swayed from my view that there is too close a parallel for total comfort in the method by which both pieces of legislation can and probably will be used by local authorities. I refer particularly to the wide variation in implementation. That is the reason I believe some form of code of practice would be helpful.
I should like again to quote from the Catering Times of 29th April. Somebody who is not unknown to my hon. Friend, Mr. John Cutress, who, I believe, is a prominent Brighton caterer, says:The real thing that concerns me is that the proposed new law on instant closures for hygiene offences will be applied with the same inconsistencies as the Fire Precautions Act. For instance, London and Glasgow are three times more stringent than anywhere else over this Act.There are other quotations that one could use, but the Catering Times itself says—
§ Mr. John Mendelson (Penistone)
When these gentlemen who write about hair-raising penalties—perhaps they have not got much hair, which is why their
873 hair is so easily raised by what many consider to be rather moderate penalties —talk about the danger of the application of the law being different in one part of the country compared with another, does the hon. Gentleman think that their aim is to achieve the strictest application of the law so that the whole country should be treated as strictly as it is in Glasgow, or does he think they have another aim in mind?
§ Mr. Adley
I can reply to the hon. Gentleman from my own experience. Under the Local Government Act changes in local authority boundaries have led to totally different interpretations of the law in regard to the same premises by different officers. There is the more common instance of the fish-shop owner, which I mentioned in Committee. When there is a new environmental health officer, he may see it as his job to show that he is on top of things, and possibly he will demand that the caterer should do things that he has never been asked to do before. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that this does happen. A number of such cases have been brought to my attention. I mentioned the company with which I am connected.
The hon. Gentleman may remember the question of rebated doors under the Fire Precautions Act. One authority says "You shall not have rebated doors" and another authority says "You must have rebated doors". What we need is a code of practice so that people know what they are expected to do, instead of finding six months later that they must do something different. It is not necessarily that Manchester is right and London is wrong or that Birmingham is right and Liverpool is wrong.
§ Mr. Bowden
I understand what is in the back of my hon. Friend's mind, but, with respect, I must remind him that the magistrates have to be convinced—to quote from the Bill—that the situation involves:imminent risk of danger to health".That is categorical. Surely it is unlikely that there would be a degree of variation of any great consequence between one part of the country and another.
§ Mr. Adley
I take my hon. Friend's point, but I do not believe he is as aware of the day-to-day situation as I
874 am. I mentioned the Bristol Holiday Inn. The environmental health officer believed that an open buffet was itself a danger to health. I do not know of a similar view being taken elsewhere, certainly not in London. The words in the Bill, "a danger to health", are open to totally different interpretations in different parts of the country.
My hon. Friend has many small hotels and boarding houses in his constituency. He must be aware that from Land's End to John o' Groats many small hotels and boarding houses are going out of business, and there are many examples of different interpretations of Government legislation passed with all-party support. I hope that my hon. Friend will accept that this applies to the Fire Precautions Act. People are anxious lest the same problems arise from this legislation. I hope that they will not. Nevertheless, even though I support the Bill, I cannot give a guarantee that no problems will arise from differences in interpretation.
There is a responsibility on us all to ensure that we do not pass legislation which has as its end product an objective that is different from that intended. I am sure that you would rule me out of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker, if I were to quote from the present Government's Rent Act legislation which has resulted in immigrants having to be housed at £600 a week at Gatwick—
§ Mr. Adley
As I said in Committee, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We have to do our best to see that our good intentions are combined with effective legislation. If the catering industry has suffered in the past, there are those who would say that it has only itself to blame. It is an industry which until recently, until the merger of the British Hotels Association and the Caterers Association, has not had an effective body to speak for it.
The BHRCA now does an extremely good and effective job in speaking out on behalf of its many thousands of members. However, there remain hundreds of thousands of people working in premises or owning and running premises who are not members of any trade body, trade union—call it what one will. Again, 875 I quote from the Catering Times—this is yesterday's edition—There has never been a time when the BHRCA has needed more members more urgently, and has needed to be seen to represent the entire hotel and catering industry more clearly.That is part of the leading article, which is headedFighting from a weak base.In my view, the need for some form of national hoteliers union, perhaps similar to the National Farmers Union, has never been more imperative, because, unless the trade is willing and able to ensure that it is protected from legislation contrary to its interests, perhaps it will be more than partly itself to blame for what happens in this place. However, as I say, I hope that my hon. Friend's Bill does not bring problems to those who do not deserve them.
I am sure that my hon. Friend is right when he describes his Bill as a deterrent. I understand that his environmental health officer in Brighton has stated that he hopes never to have to use the Bill. I am sure that that is the wish of us all. I am certain that it is the wish of the overwhelming majority of environmental health officers. Deterrence is a powerful weapon, as those of us who follow these matters well know.
Perhaps I may end by saying that, if I am ever fortunate enough to be able to introduce a Private Member's Bill. I shall wish to introduce one to bring in far more severe penalties on the importation of animals, because I regard that as the deterrent which we need to prevent the coming of the terrible disease of rabies to our shores.
§ 1.52 p.m.
§ Mr. Luce
I join hon. Members in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) on introducing an extremely valuable Bill and on the way in which he has handled it throughout Committee and Report, right up to this stage. I think it right also to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and Lymington (Mr. Adley), as other hon. Members have done, for, although his proposed amendments have been prolific, he has an undoubted wealth of experience in the catering and tourist trades which has been of great value throughout our consideration of the Bill. He has ap- 876 proached it in a most constructive way and, as we have responded as far as we could by accepting a number of his suggestions, it is entirely right to say that he has done a great deal to help to improve the Bill.
It is refreshing to be able to work on a Bill such as this. In the first place, it is unusual in that it has the support of the whole House. Perhaps I may add a word here to the Minister, whom I congratulate on his new appointment—I have not done so before—and I assure him that, if he approaches other tasks in the spirit in which he has approached this measure, it will augur extremely well for Parliament.
The Bill has other advantages of more general application. It is comprehensible, which is a rare characteristic of any legislation. It is designed not to complicate but to simplify, which also is a rare feature in legislation—I am not thinking here of any particular Government—and it adds teeth to the existing law.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown said, the Bill commands wide support among many organisations in this country. I shall not duplicate the list which my hon. Friend has already given, but we know that a large number of reputable and important organisations lend their support to it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown touched on this country's reputation in food hygiene, and I regard this as a most important matter. I am sure that we have a high reputation in other countries and among tourists, but there are a minority of people running food premises of one sort or another who have done a great deal to damage Britain's reputation in this respect. I shall not weary the House with statistics. but statistics are available to the Environmental Health Officers Association. It is not compulsory to give these statistics, but the figures show that there are a minority who do a great deal of damage to our reputation abroad.
As other hon. Members have said, the value of the Bill lies in the closing of a number of loopholes in the present law. The hon. and learned Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Mr. Weitzman) pointed to one of its important provisions in this respect in that 877 it enables premises to be closed, if need be, as opposed to mere disqualification of the caterer himself. If it is merely the caterer who is disqualified, someone else can come in to take his place and the premises may continue as before. That is the first loophole closed.
Second, the Bill makes the law more comprehensive in such a way as to cover —this is how I see it, and I hope that I am right—all places where food is served. For the first time, our food hygiene law will cover such places as corner stands, hot-dog stalls and—as a result of the new clause—certain kinds of ships carrying on business of this sort.
Third, the Bill will overcome the long delays which have hitherto taken place before conviction and closure of premises. The hon. Member for Pentlands (Mr. Penistone) referred to this in Committee, as other hon. Members have today. Clauses 1 and 2—the closure order and the emergency' order—will help to deal with that.
Fourth, the Bill will facilitate enforcement by environmental health officers. There has been a significant weakness here in the past, and their powers have been too limited.
The experience of a broad range of local authorities which have introduced their own Acts bears out the importance of the Bill. In Committee I cited the example of a restaurant in the area of the old Brent local authority. Before the Greater London Council brought in a Bill to strengthen its powers, the local authority tried time and again to take steps to close that restaurant. Only after two years, when the GLC finally secured its own powers—powers along the lines of my hon. Friend's Bill—was it able to take action and close the premises. That is a significant illustration of what the Bill can do in such rare but none the less important cases.
Almost every hon. Member has referred to the deterrent value of the Bill. I am certain that environmental health officers will be sparing in their attitude to it, that they will not rush in and seek to close vast numbers of premises, but they will none the less have this power in reserve, although, as I say, I am confident that they will use it with care.
878 I am sure that the prospect of having a closure order pinned on his premises, with all the attendant publicity in the area, will be a powerful deterrent to any owner whose standards are not good enough. The local authority in Manchester, for example, has this power, but in only a very few cases has the matter needed to be pursued through to conviction. The deterrent value of that power has itself done much to enhance standards of hygiene in that area.
The real beauty of the Bill—I say this with considerable feeling—is that it requires no extra expenditure, no increase in the number of environmental health officers and no increase in the size of the public service, while at the same time giving more teeth to the enforceability of the food hygiene regulations. The Bill allows the environmental health officer to do the job that he was always meant to do and for him to do it effectively. The effect of the Bill is to bolster reputable catering and food businesses and to deal with those small minority of people who drag down the country's reputation for good hygiene.
The message should go out to tourists in all countries that our intention is to provide the best possible standards for them. The message to consumers in this country should be that the Bill will minimise the risk to them of food poisoning. For those reasons my hon. Friend the Member for Kemptown has done us a great service.
§ 2.1 p.m.
§ Mr. Deakins
I must congratulate the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Mr. Bowden) on using his good fortune in securing a place in the Ballot to introduce a relatively simple and non-controversial measure, though one which could have an important effect on the wellbeing of a significant number of people. The Government support this Bill and we are glad that it made such swift progress in Committee that we are able to debate it today.
It may help the House if I briefly set out the background to the Bill. Hygiene in food premises is controlled by regulations made under the Food and Drugs Act 1955. Normally, advice from local authority environmental health officers, backed up where necessary by prosecution for breach of those regulations, is sufficient to protect the health 879 of customers. But in severe cases there can be a need to close the premises. Under the Act the courts have power to prohibit an operator of insanitary catering premises on conviction of breaking the regulations from carrying on a catering business at those premises.
There are, however, weaknesses in this power. First, the legal proceedings can be protracted and in the meantime the business can continue operating in an insanitary state, thus remaining a serious risk to the health of its customers. Secondly, the power relates only to premises where food is consumed and does not cover other food premises such as take away food shops or stalls. Thirdly, the operator can transfer the premises to someone else, who can continue the business without rectifying the faults until the local authority is able to mount another prosecution. The Bill seeks to remedy these weaknesses—Clause 1 dealing with full closure orders which would remain in force until necessary improvements are carried out, and Clause 2 with emergency orders.
The Bill will make general the powers granted to a number of local authorities —London boroughs, Manchester, Coventry, Derby, Afan, Rhondda and Salford —a total of 39 districts. My Department has reviewed the operation of these local powers and we are satisfied that they are working well. A number of highly insanitary premises have been closed, thus removing a serious risk to public health.
My attention has been drawn to a report in The Times headed,Court orders closure of restaurant",which describes how a restaurant in a fashionable part of London was ordered to close temporarily after allegations that cockroaches and mouse droppings had been found in the kitchen. The full case against the proprietors will not be heard until 22nd July, which is two months away. It is therefore right that the powers in local Acts should be extended to the rest of the country. The existence of the power to seek closure has acted as a strong inducement to operators of food premises to follow the advice of environmental health officers and rectify the faults found in their establishment.
The Government welcome the measure. We know that it receives general support from local authority associations, the 880 Environmental Health Officers' Association and from consumer interests. We see no grounds for opposition from the owners of reputable businesses, since only those premises which are a serious risk to public health are affected. The Bill also provides effective safeguards against hasty or ill-considered action by local authorities.
We do not envisage that there will be any increase in public or local authority expenditure or in local authority staff as a direct consequence of this Bill. The powers would make action by environmental health officers more effective. They would not necessitate the employment of additional officers. There is, of course, the possibility that a local authority may be required to pay compensation, but this provision is a necessary safeguard and follows broadly comparable provisions included in several sections of the Food and Drugs Act.
During the Committee stage I gave an undertaking that I would look at our existing codes of practice, issued under Section 13 of the Food and Drugs Act 1955 to see whether there were any gaps in these codes where we should issue guidance on matters not at present covered. I have done that, and the House will no doubt wish me to say something about this. The following codes of practice issued under Section 13 of the Act are at present current "Hygiene in the Retail Fish Trade", "The Hygienic Transport and Handling of Fish", "Poultry Dressing and Packing", "Hygiene in the Bakery Trade and Industry", "Hygiene in the Operation of Coin Operated Food Vending Machines", "Hygiene in the Meat Trades", "Hygiene in Micro Wave Cooking."
Some branches of the food industry produce their own excellent codes about trade practices. Each of the departmental codes has been produced to meet a known need which is not met by the trade advisory publicity. Each code in the series follows a similar format and aims to provide unequivocal recommendations about sound food hygiene practices that both the enforcing authorities and the trade concerned wholeheartedly support. The advice is given in simple but firm terms that every food handler should be able to understand and follow and is printed in easy-to-read type.
881 The two existing codes on the fish trade are now a little out of date in some respects and should be revised in the near future. They might, with advantage, be replaced by one code covering hygiene in the fish trades. My Department is considering whether new codes should be prepared to cover the distribution and retailing of foods for which chilled temperature storage is required and canned foods.
There is no code of practice issued under Section 13 of the Act which covers catering as such. The need for such a code is met by "Clean Catering" published by my Department in association with the Scottish, Northern Ireland and Welsh Departments. This is an 80-page handbook on hygiene in catering establishments which was first published in 1953, before the Act came into force. It has been republished several times. The current edition is the fourth and was published in 1972.
This handbook deals in detail with the location and surroundings of premises, the design and construction of premises and equipment, pest control and various aspects of food handling, storage and service. This handbook was well received from the outset and my Department has seen no need to replace it with a code of practice under the Act. Accordingly, although it has been substantially revised to bring the text up to date, "Clean Catering" is still in much the same format as the original edition and, though an official handbook, is not formally a code of practice issued under the Act.
§ Mr. Adley
I have seen the handbook to which the hon. Gentleman referred and I do not dispute that it is comprehensive. But we now have legislation. Will the Minister consider producing a short guidebook, not necessarily only for people who work in food premises, but for those who are responsible for building and operating the premises? Magistrates would also welcome some guidance. There are certain obvious things that are a health hazard and others that are not. Will he consider producing a document relating to the Bill?
§ Mr. Deakins
I am grateful for that intervention. "Clean Catering" is excellent guidance not merely for food handlers but for those who operate food 882 premises. It could perhaps be printed in one or two other languages used by those working in restaurants, but the cost might be prohibitive. I undertake to consider distribution of the pamphlet to make sure that it is getting into the hands of the people who need it—food handlers, restaurateurs, proprietors, and so on.
I agree that a maximum fine of £400 may seem rather low for a serious catering offence of the sort we are considering, but I do not think it right that such an alteration in the maximum fine which can be imposed in a magistrates' court should be made in comparatively minor legislation. If the £400 limit is to be increased—and there may well be a case for that—it should be done in general legislation and not in a rather piecemeal way. I undertake to convey to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary the views expressed on this matter so that he can take them into account.
Finally I should like to emphasise a point I made earlier, and repeat something I said in Committee. The Government believe that the main effect of the Bill would be to provide food inspectors with an additional deterrent argument when they are seeking to persuade operators of food businesses to improve their premises, stalls or floating restaurants. That has been the experience in those areas, including London, in which local Acts have provided similar powers. We do not foresee a wholesale purge in which large numbers of food businesses are closed down. I think it important to emphasise again that the Bill provides additional power to the courts—the food inspector cannot take arbitrary action on his own authority.
I again congratulate the hon. Gentleman, and for all the good reasons I have given, I ask the House to support the Bill.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.