HC Deb 09 July 1956 vol 556 cc162-6

10.19 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Derek Walker-Smith)

I beg to move, That the Draft Sale of Food (Weights and Measures: Bacon and Ham) Regulations, 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 26th June, be approved. The basic purpose of these Regulations is to continue the principle of proper protection for consumers and to adapt the precise method so as not to place any obstacle in the way of progressive contemporary techniques of pre-packing and self-service stores.

The implementation of that purpose involves an Amendment of the Sale of Food (Weights and Measures) Act, 1926. Section 4 and the First Schedule to that Act, which are what these Regulations amend, have three main effects. First, they require a number of articles of food to be sold by net weight only, and other articles, which include bacon and ham, to be sold either by net weight or by gross weight, provided that the weight of the wrapper or container does not exceed a specified maximum.

The second main effect is to require certain pre-packed articles, again including bacon and ham, to be sold in certain specified quantities only—that is to say, in two ounces and multiples of two ounces up to eight ounces, ¼ lb. and multiples thereof up to 2 lb., and so on.

The third main effect is that in the case of pre-packed bacon and ham the wrapper must bear a true statement of the minimum net weight of the contents, or of the contents plus the wrapper where this is permitted. Strangely enough, the requirement as to pre-packing in specified quantities does not apply to butchers' meat because, by one of those esoteric distinctions with which our Statute Book is laden, pork is expressly included in the definition of butchers meat and bacon and ham are expressly excluded.

The reason for the change which we are proposing to make by these Regulations really derives from very strong representations which have been made on a very wide front by trading organisations, and particularly those concerned with the development of self-service trade. They have claimed that pre-packing of bacon and ham in specified weights only hinders the development of the trade because it is difficult and unhygienic to cut joints and whole rashers exactly into such amounts. We are satisfied after various and extended consultations that a good case has been made out for amending the law.

Coming to the effect of these Regulations, the broad purpose is to remove the inflexibility regarding these specified quantities, but to maintain the rest of the consumer protection. The basic purpose of removing the requirement as to specified quantities only is achieved by Regulation 1 which removes bacon and ham from the First Schedule to the Act of 1926 and thereby makes it unnecessary for those commodities to be pre-packed in these specified weights only. But to remove them from the Schedule would of itself not only have removed the requirement that they should be pre-packed only in specified quantities but would also have removed the requirement for selling by net weight. We do not want to do that, and so Regulation 1 (a) requires bacon and ham to be sold by net weight only, subject to the same provisions in regard to gross weight as already exist, as I have indicated in Section 4 of the Act of 1926.

Regulations 1 (b) and 1 (c) afford consumer protection respectively for pre-packed bacon and ham and non-pre-packed bacon and ham in this way. Regulation 1 (b) requires all pre-packed bacon and ham to be marked with an indication of net weight or, where sale by gross weight is permitted, by gross weight.

Regulation 1 (c) requires non-pre-packed bacon and ham to be delivered with a statement of such weight unless the article is weighed in the presence of the purchaser and forthwith delivered to him. These Regulations embody a desired improvement.

10.24 p.m.

Mr. A. J. Champion (Derbyshire, South-East)

We regard this amendment to the conditions under which these articles are sold as very sensible. We welcome the Regulations and I would only like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade whether he has consulted consumer interests as well as retailer interests in this matter. It seems to me that under the Act of 1926 it is obligatory upon him, before laying the Regulations, to consult not only retailer interests but also consumer interests.

I would like to know what organisations he has consulted in this connection to find out what is their attitude to this matter. I believe that every consumer would regard these Regulations as reasonable, but I should like to be assured that the hon. and learned Gentleman has taken the necessary steps to make inquiries.

10.25 p.m.

Mr. Peter Remnant (Wokingham)

May I, as one of the many who represented this matter to my hon. Friend, express my appreciation to him and to his Department for the way in which they have met the case?

I can assure the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) that when the inquiry was first put to me by a packer, I personally took the trouble to consult the housewives in the area served by him, and I found that what they took a particular dislike to was having the small bits of bacon and ham put into the pack in order to make it up to the stipulated weight. I am quite certain that the alteration of the law will meet with the approval of both housewife and packer, and I thank my hon. Friend for what he has done.

10.26 p.m.

Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

It would be churlish to allow this matter to pass without thanking the Parliamentary Secretary for having done what I know has been the great deal of work involved here. I am sure that all trading organisations concerned, not just the co-operative society for which I speak, did not anticipate how complicated this business was going to become; we thought it was a very simple matter. It did cast a lot of work, I know, upon the hon. Gentleman and his Department.

We now have rather complicated Regulations to put a simple matter right. I hope this will stimulate the hon. Gentleman's Department to produce the new weights and measures legislation which will get rid of complications of this kind. We do thank the Parliamentary Secretary and his Department for doing what we asked, and for doing it so well.

10.27 p.m.

Mr. Walker-Smith

I am very grateful for what my hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (Mr. Remnant) and hon. Gentlemen opposite have said with regard to the Regulations as a whole. As regards consultations, Section 9 of the Sale of Food (Weights and Measures) Act, 1926, provided that: The Board of Trade, after consultation with the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and such interests as appear to them to be concerned, may make regulations … We have had consultations over a wide range, including not only trading organisations but enforcing authorities, local authorities and so on. I would not suggest to the hon. Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Champion) that they were all quite as unanimous about the merit of these proposals as hon. Members in the House have been good enough to be tonight: but, without going into the detail of it, I would say that, on balance, the effect of the consultations fully justified our conviction that the case is made out for the Amendment of the law in this sense.

Resolved, That the Draft Sale of Food (Weights and Measures: Bacon and Ham) Regulations, 1956, a copy of which was laid before this House on 26th June, be approved.

  1. ADJOURNMENT 17 words
Forward to