HC Deb 26 June 1962 vol 661 cc942-4
30. Mr. Shepherd

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will introduce legislation to protect the consumer from short weight in smokeless fuels due to undersizing and excessive moisture, as recommended by the Consumer Advisory Council of the British Standards Institution.

Mr. N. Macpherson

My right hon. Friend is bearing this matter in mind in connection with the weights and measures legislation which the Government intend to introduce as soon as Parliamentary time permits.

Mr. Shepherd

In view of the fact that these moisture contents are extremely high and cause a serious loss to the consumer, is there anything which my hon. Friend's Department can do, in conjunction with the Ministry of Power, to put an end to this abuse?

Mr. Macpherson

My information is that the moisture contents are not particularly high. The B.S.I. specification for open fire gas coke is between 9 per cent, and 12 per cent. at the point of production. When complaints have been made it has been generally found that that percentage has not been exceeded.

Mr. Darling

In view of the fact that we are never likely to get any weights and measures legislation from this Government, will the Minister bear in mind that what is needed here are standards, designations and specifications, which would hardly come within the provisions of weights and measures legislation, but which should come under his Department?

Mr. Macpherson

The hon. Member is quite right, in that part of this subject deals with quality rather than quantity, but I do not accept his premise.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Although B.S.I. specifications are laid down at the point of production, is it not true that this coke can sometimes lie about in merchants' yards and absorb a large quantity of moisture so that, at the point of sale, it has a moisture content very much higher than the 12 per cent. mentioned in the B.S.I. standard?

Mr. Macpherson

I am informed that once it has been quenched at the works coke absorbs substantial amounts of water only when it is stored in small quantities, and particularly when it is exposed to rain or snow.[Laughter.] I get this information from my right hon. Friend the Minister of Power. A provision was contained in the Weights and Measures Bill making it an offence for anyone to damp solid fuel with intent to deceive or defraud. It would be an extremely expensive business to provide covered protection for all solid fuels stored outside.

Mrs. Slater

After that very profound statement, would not the hon. Member also bear in mind the fact that more and more local authorities are introducing smokeless zones and that, therefore, more and more people have to buy smokeless fuels? The cost of these fuels is already high. Is it not therefore essential that when people buy them they should at least know what weights they are buying? Should not the Government do something urgently at least to deal with this aspect of weights and measures legislation rather than to keep fobbing us off with a statement that we may have a Weights and Measures Bill this year, next year, some time, never?

Mr. Macpherson

We have to have regard to what is practical both as regards time and as regards the possible content of legislation.

Mr. Callaghan

Cannot the Minister go further? Has not he read the report which was circulated to all hon. Members last week on this subject showing the great variety in the value which the consumer gets for what he purchases? Has he no remedy when the moisture content might deprive him of between 10 per cent. and 20 per cent. of what he has paid for? Cannot the Government take action in advance of their ill-fated Weights and Measures Bill?

Mr. Macpherson

It is not true to say that the consumer has no protection in any part of the country. There are a number of local Acts which cover the matter on the lines of the provision which was included in the Weights and Measures Bill.