Motion to Approve General Principles of the Food Hygiene Bill

 

Mark introduced the Health and Social Care Committee’s feedback from stage 1 of the Food Hygiene Rating (Wales) Bill on Tuesday 16th October.

 

Dydd Mawrth, 16 Hydref 2012
Tuesday, 16 October 2012

 
Mark Drakeford: Fel cadeirydd y Pwyllgor Iechyd a Gofal Cymdeithasol, rwy’n falch o gyfrannu at ddadl Cyfnod 1 heddiw ar y Bil Sgorio Hylendid Bwyd (Cymru). Hoffwn ddiolch i aelodau’r pwyllgor am y gwaith y maent wedi ei wneud wrth ystyried y Bil.  Hoffwn estyn diolch ar ran y Pwyllgor i bawb a roddodd dystiolaeth, yn ysgrifenedig ac ar lafar. Mae eu cyfraniadau wedi helpu i lywio’r casgliadau a’r argymhellion yn ein hadroddiad. Hoffwn ddiolch i’r Gweinidog a’i swyddogion am roi tystiolaeth inni ac am y wybodaeth ysgrifenedig ychwanegol a ddarparodd pan oedd ei hangen arnom.

 
[As Chair of the Health and Social Care Committee, I am pleased to contribute to this Stage 1 debate on the Food Hygiene Rating (Wales) Bill. I would like to thank the members of the committee for their work in considering the Bill. I would like to extend the committee’s thanks to those who gave evidence, both written and oral. Their contributions have helped to inform the conclusions and recommendations in our report. I would also like to thank the Minister and her officials for providing us with evidence and with additional written information when we have required it]

 

 
Ynglŷn ag egwyddorion cyffredinol y Bil a’r angen am ddeddfwriaeth, mae cefnogaeth eang i egwyddor gyffredinol y Bil. Roedd nifer o’r tystion o’r farn fod angen deddfu er mwyn sicrhau bod pob busnes sy’n cael ei gynnwys yng nghwmpas y Bil hwn yn arddangos ei sgôr hylendid bwyd. Rydym ni, fel pwyllgor, yn rhannu’r farn hon, gan ein bod yn cydnabod, o dan y cynllun gwirfoddol, nad yw nifer o fusnesau sydd â sgoriau isel yn eu harddangos. Rydym yn credu y bydd cyflwyno cynllun gorfodol yn sicrhau y gall defnyddwyr wneud dewisiadau gwybodus ynglŷn â lle maent yn prynu bwyd. Y peth pwysicaf yw ein bod ni, fel pwyllgor, wedi cytuno ag egwyddorion cyffredinol y Bil. Fodd bynnag, wedi dweud hynny, mae gennym farn ynghylch adrannau penodol yn y Bil, ac rwyf am droi at y rheini yn awr.

 
 [Regarding the general principles of the Bill and the need for legislation, there is widespread support for the general principle of the Bill. Many witnesses were of the view that legislation is necessary to ensure that the display of food hygiene ratings is universal across all businesses included within the scope of the Bill. As a committee, we share this view as we recognise that, under the voluntary scheme, many low-scoring businesses are not displaying their ratings. We believe that the introduction of a mandatory scheme will ensure that consumers are able to make informed choices about where to purchase food from. Therefore, the most important thing is that we, as a committee, have agreed with the general principles of the Bill. However, having said this, we have views on specific sections of the Bill, and I wish to turn to these now.]
 

 
In doing so, I will concentrate on those aspects of the Bill that were either a matter of controversy among witnesses appearing before us or in the discussion that we, as a committee, then went on to engage in.

 
Section 2 sets out definitions of food businesses, food business establishments and food authorities for the purposes of the Bill. Some witnesses raised concerns about the need for consistency in the application of the scheme across Wales, but we heard sufficient evidence to assure us that there are sufficient safeguards in place to ensure consistency, provided these are thoroughly implemented in practice. We were also content with definitions set out in this part of the Bill and provisions to give powers to Welsh Ministers to amend the definition of a food business establishment and food authority through regulations. The Minister made us aware that she plans to consult thoroughly on the types of food businesses that may be exempt from the food hygiene rating scheme. We spent quite some time looking at this matter, and we look forward to the results of the consultation.

 

 
Sections 3 and 4 of the Bill deal with procedures and rating criteria. We noted the concerns of witnesses about the level of public understanding of the food hygiene rating criteria, but were comforted by the evidence we received through the public engagement that the committee undertook that, by and large, the public already understands the purpose of the Bill and the broad means by which information will be conveyed. There will be a duty on the Food Standards Agency to go on promoting understanding and awareness and we are satisfied that it will undertake these duties effectively.

 

 
Section 5 of the Bill deals with a food operator’s right to appeal to the food authority against a food hygiene rating given to that establishment. We heard what witnesses said about timescales for appeals, but we believe that the existing timescales are a sensible starting point. It was good to hear from the Minister this afternoon that she will take action to make it possible to amend the timescales and introduce flexibility should that become necessary in future without having to amend the primary legislation. You have heard that we received evidence from a number of witnesses about the appeals process and that there were calls for it to be conducted more independently than was originally envisaged in the Bill. Again, the Minister has dealt with that this afternoon and we look forward to seeing where her considerations will lead at the next stage. Certainly, we were convinced that there are ways in which the appeal mechanism could be strengthened and that that would add to confidence in the operation of the scheme.

 

 
Section 6 deals with publication and display arrangements. Some witnesses felt that the publication of food hygiene ratings needed to go beyond the publication of ratings on the FSA website. We heard of and saw full inspection reports that are routinely published by some English local authorities. In our minds, we were convinced that an end point in this whole process would be one in which members of the public had easy and direct access as a matter of routine to those reports. We welcome the Minister’s suggestion, as we have heard today, that she will ensure that those inspection reports are made available on request rather than having to go through the freedom of information process. However, when it becomes possible, we would prefer to see reports more routinely published.

 
Sections 7 and 8 relate to informing the public about food hygiene ratings. We discussed at length the views of some witnesses that the food hygiene ratings should be included on food businesses’ promotional material, but we concluded that it would not be a sensible course of action at this time. However, we believe that businesses could easily include that information on their promotional websites, and we welcome the Minister’s commitment to us, and which was repeated here this afternoon, that food business establishments will be required to place a statement on their website regarding their food hygiene ratings and that this will be backed up by a hyperlink directing customers to the relevant page on the FSA website.
We were also grateful in committee for the Minister’s endorsement of our view that there should be a requirement on businesses selling food at different locations or events to display their food hygiene rating stickers that had been obtained at the point of sale and where their premises are registered. Such businesses may include those selling food at farmers’ markets or mobile catering companies.

 
We were broadly assured by the financial implication information that we received, but I will not dwell any further on that.

 
Those points cover the main issues that were raised with us by witnesses in oral and written evidence, and they summarise the consideration that we gave to these issues as a committee. In the event that the Assembly gives its agreement to the general principles of the Bill today, we look forward to seeing how the discussions that we have had, and the Minister’s reply to them, bring forward appropriate amendments at Stage 2. Diolch yn fawr.