HC Deb 28 April 1936 vol 311 cc739-41

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Weights and Measures Acts, 1878 to 1926, by making provision with respect to the sale of coal in Scotland. The House will be aware that the sale of coal in England is governed by the Weights and Measures Act, 1889, Part II, but that particular part of the Weights and Measures Act does not apply to Scotland. The larger cities in Scotland have local Acts based on the Act of 1889, but the rest of Scotland is governed by the Burgh police (Scotland) Act, 1892, Sections 417 to 430, which are applied to counties by the Local Government (Scotland) Act, 1908. In the main, these sections have been found to be unworkable so far as Scotland is concerned. As an instance of the difficulties we have experienced in Scotland in dealing with the control of the sale of coal, one of the county inspectors of weights and measures observed a lorry laden with bags of coal offered for sale, all of which appeared to be very light. He informed the salesman that he wanted the bags reweighed, but the salesman refused and drove off. No penalty could be enforced for obstruction or refusal to weigh. I submit that in the interests of honest salesmen of coal, and for the protection of buyers of small quantities of coal, this ought not to be allowed.

The chief defect of the provisions of the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act is that no authority is given for an inspector to weigh bags of coal which are exposed for sale or are in course of delivery. Bags of coal may only be weighed at the time of delivery, and under Section 420 of the Burgh Police (Scotland) Act, which authorises this procedure, there is, unfortunately, no penalty for short weight. Section 425 imposes penalties for fraudulent weighing, but, owing to the obscure wording and the fact that the onus of proving fraud is on the prosecution, it has been found extremely difficult, if not impossible, up to the present time, to obtain a conviction. The chief advantages of the sale of coal provisions in the Weights and Measures Act, 1889, are, first, that the weight of bags of coal can be checked wherever exposed for sale or when in course of delivery; secondly, that there is a penalty for short weight as well as for fraud; and, thirdly—and this is the most important point—power is given to the local authority to make by-laws, subject to the approval of the Board of Trade, regulating the sale of coal either in bags or in carts. Under these by-laws, which, I understand, are in operation in the cities and counties of England, it is competent to say that quantities 2 cwt. or less shall be sold in 2 cwt., one cwt., or half cwt. bags.

In Scotland to-day, in at least two of our cities, they have a method of selling coal in what are known as "metts" and "half-metts." In other words, instead of being sold in 2 cwt., 1 cwt. or, ½ cwt. bags, it may be sold in 1½ cwt. and cwt. bags. That is quite legal and quite in order, but if someone from either of these cities goes into the surrounding county, where the method of sale is by 1 cwt. and ½ cwt. bags, it is quite easy to misrepresent to the purchaser the weight of the bag of coal that is being sold, so that people think they are buying a 1 cwt. bag when the bag only contains a cwt. For these reasons I ask that, by the extension of the Weights and Measures Act, 1889, Part II, to Scotland, the same powers should be given in Scotland that are already given under that Act in England. In other words, the Bill which I am asking leave to bring in seeks to apply to Scotland Part II of the Weights and Measures Act, 1839, which deals with the sale of coal. It is supported and desired by the local authorities of Scotland, and I have no reason to suppose that it will be objected to by any Government Department. It is supported by Scottish Members of Parliament irrespective of party, and its effect would be to give to the local authorities in Scotland power to make by-laws to regulate the sale of coal in the interests of the community, and particularly of the poorer section of the community who buy their coal in small quantities. In doing this, it will also safeguard the honest vendor of coal.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Westwood, Mr. Watson, Mr. Pethick-Lawrence, Mr. Guy, Mr. Thomas Henderson, Mr. Hunter, Mr. Henderson Stewart, and Mr. Erskine Hill.