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Mr. Dismore: I can only assume from that that there is no intention on the part of the Conservative party to propose such a Bill in Scotland. Why should the Scots lose out? Are they to have less protection than those of us in England and Wales?
Mr. Stephen O'Brien: Last year, a Member of the Scottish Parliament proposed a similar Bill relating only to meat products. It was discussed at length and has made rather better progress than the original Bill has done here. I hope that, today, we can redress that imbalance with cross-border uniform regulation.
Mr. Dismore: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's clarification, as it would be nonsense if we had different provisions in different parts of the United Kingdom. In that context, I include Northern Ireland.
Much has been said about the legality of the Bill in the context of the EU. My hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda explained the issue fully. As a lawyer, I am aware that my hon. Friend made some important points. The hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar said that the Bill would comply with European legislation. He may be right, or my hon. Friend may be right. However, I am absolutely certain that the Bill in its current form will provide a recipe for making a lot of fat-cat lawyers a lot fatter in the law courts. It does not really matter who is right, because I can see that there will be a feeding frenzy for lawyers interpreting the Bill, both here and in the European Court of Justice. I will leave the detailed analysis of that to my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda.
In terms of our international trading obligations, I wish to refer to the general agreement on tariffs and trade and the relationship between ourselves and the rest of the world. My constituency is multicultural. People who live in Hendon have come from all over the world. We have food shops selling produce from all over the world that my constituents require for their recipes and cultural requirements. I ask the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar to consider the implications of the Bill for people using food products from the Indian subcontinent, for example, who may find great difficulty in complying with requirements.
(a) necessary to protect public morals;
(b) necessary to protect human, animal or plant life or health".
The Government have worked hard to try to deal with the matter in the interim through the publication of guidance notes, a copy of which I have here and from which I was going to quote at rather more length than I have time for. Perhaps I can make the point by referring only to paragraphs 10, 11, 12, 13, and 14. I do not intend to go through the notes in detail, but the point that arises from them relates to our earlier argument:
There is nothing to stop the voluntary labelling of products or to stop British producers putting a Union flag on British produce so that people can be assured that what they are buying is British. That is a far more sensible way of proceeding in the absence of international agreements. I have much sympathy with the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar in promoting the Bill, but he needs to keep a sense of proportion in that respect.
Brent Cross shopping centre, which is one of the country's largest premier shopping centres, is in my constituency. The British Retail Consortium has many members at Brent Cross and I consulted them on their views on the Bill, which were clear. They said:
There are universally set standards which everyone must adhere to . . . not different standards in different countries."
Mr. Dismore: I have had no discussions with the NFU about the Bill, but I take the hon. Gentleman's point. The NFU is of course on the side of producers; I am on the side of consumer and I am making points on behalf of the retail trade, which has a more direct relationship with the consumer than the farmer.
Mr. Dismore: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the information that I have just cited from the retail trade. I do not have the time to go through many of the arguments. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman and I can have a discussion over a cup of English teawhich, presumably has come from India; I am not sure how it would be labelledand I can go through the remainder of my evidence in more detail.
The point that the hon. Gentleman made earlier about the schemes that have been set up overseas is important. I have quite a lot of information about the labelling systems for French pigmeat and German poultry. The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, but what is important is that those schemes have been able to be produced within the existing legal framework of the EU, and there is no reason why we cannot do the same. It is interesting that French production is covered by what is called the pigmeat identity guaranteePIG for short. I am surprised that in such a francophone country, it is not called something that spells out as "COCHON", but there we have it.
I challenge the hon. Gentleman on a major point on behalf of my Jewish constituents. They have raised a number of issues, including how kosher labelling would be affected by the Bill. This goes back to the 25 per cent. rule. The Federation of Synagogues, which is based in my constituency, has written to ask me to ensure that nothing in the Bill would in any way undermine the use of the word "kosher". It is concerned about the 25 per cent. threshold.
This goes back to the discussion on nuts. Certain food products contain small amounts of ingredientsunder 2 per cent.that are not listed on the packaging. If those ingredients are non-kosher, they can render the entire product non-kosher and unsuitable for consumption by orthodox Jews. The federation would be interested in ensuring that food labelling lists all ingredients and their percentages.
The federation is also concerned about the potential impact of the parts of the Bill that relate to animal welfare standards on shechita, the method of slaughter of meat for the Jewish community. It says that there is often much misunderstanding about that. Conventional slaughter can often create far more problems for animal welfare than shechita, for which a Jewish slaughterer needs six years training. The federation is concerned that the Bill could undermine the whole market for shechita products.
The most important issue that I raise on behalf of the Jewish community is the impact in relation to Israel. I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is awareif he has been studying Hansard, he will be, because the matter has
According to the declaration of principles signed in 1993 by the Government of Israel and the Palestinian National Authority, and witnessed by the United States and the Russian Federation, the status of settlements is an issue that remains to be dealt with and considered in later negotiations. Until then, it was agreed by the EU directive of customs that goods produced there will be treated as all other Israeli goods.
The issue of rules of origin for a narrow group of Israeli products manufactured in various parts of the country is under discussion continually between the EU, Israel and the Palestinian National Authority. Pending a restart of the status negotiationsobviously, one hopes that there will be a successful resolutionthe Bill could open a major can of worms, in that there are elements within the Palestinian National Authority who would not like products to be labelled as produce of Israel, but who demand that they be labelled produce of the occupied territories.
If the Bill were to go through, it could have a major impact on the situation in the middle east. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, who is a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel, has not thought through the implications of the measure. I think that he should reflect on the perhaps unintended, but worldwide implications of his proposals.
I would like to raise a series of detailed questions. However, there is not time to do that in detail, although I ask the hon. Gentleman to let me know, perhaps afterwards, why the Bill does not apply to regulations 26, 27 and 28 of the Food Labelling Regulations 1996, nor to regulation 29, which deals with items from vending machines. It is probably more appropriate that it should apply to regulations 26, 27 and 28.
The Bill would require labels to refer to production standards that are lower than those in this country. What is the position regarding production standards that are different from ours and in which some elements may be lower and others higher? Why is clause 4(1) conjunctive rather than disjunctive? To return to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda, conforming with paragraphs (a) to (e) of that measure would necessitate so much labelling and packaging that it would undermine some food producers' financial viability. Clause 4(2) refers to commercial documents. Does that include those in electronic format? I ask because much trade is carried out using computers rather than paper transactions.
I have a huge amount of information about the Bill and many questions to ask the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar, who has made some important points, but I know that the Minister wants to reply to the debate, so I hope that I will be able to put my points to the hon. Gentleman in more detail in Committee or on Report.