§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD of TRADE (Sir W. Mitchell-Thomson)
I beg to move "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is another small Measure to which I hope the House will agree. It is a small but necessary reform, and one very much overdue, from the legislative point of view. It is founded on the Report of the Select Committee on Short Weight, which reported in 1914. That Committee was under the chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Moray and Nairn (Sir A. Williamson), and they found, after an investigation of the conditions under which trading was carried on, that one of the most conspicuous examples of trading, which was not entirely satisfactory from the consumers' point of view, was the sale of tea by gross weight. The sale of packet teas bad been enormously increased in the years before 1914, and the competition between the different members of the trade had led, on the one hand, to the cutting of prices and, on the other hand, in many instances, to the reduction of the quantity of tea actually contained in the packet, so that when a person bought, he might not in fact be buying, as he thought he was buying, a pound of tea. It is in order to try and remedy this defect that this Bill is introduced.
I want to say that, in introducing this Bill, I am not casting any reflection upon the grocery trade as a whole. The grocery 1379 trade during the War conducted their business in an extraordinarily fair manner. Actually, however, as the statute law stands a man who sells tea by gross weight is not committing any offence unless he actually leads the purchaser to believe that he is in fact receiving net weight when he is receiving gross weight. Unless he does that he is committing no offence according to the Statute. But he is committing an offence against an Order issued by the Food Controller in 1917. That Order provides, as this Bill provides, that tea shall only be sold by net weight and that when any statement is made on the package of tea as to the weight in that packet, that statement shall be a true statement of the actual net weight contained in the packet. I hope and believe that the Bill will prove non-controversial. The experience gained in the administration of the Order goes to show that it is one which is not objected to by the trade as a whole and that it operates substantially for the protection of the public.