HC Deb 17 July 1963 vol 681 cc669-74

Lords Amendment: In page 57, line 10, leave out from "shall" to "are" in line 16 and insert: until the repeal of that Act by virtue of section 63(1)(b) of this Act have effect subject to the amendments hereafter specified in this section; and the Bread Order 1953, the Bread (Amendment No. 2) Order 1956 and Article 4 of the Milk (Great Britain) Order 1962".

Mr. D. Price

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

It may be convenient to take with this Amendment the Amendment in line 29, because the first Amendment is consequential on the second.

These Amendments bring forward by 18 months the date on which pre-packed milk may be sold generally in one-third pints. At present, one-third pints are allowed for sale only for schoolchildren. The Amendments will allow this size to be sold generally, provided the container states the quantity, six months after the Bill is passed instead of two years as provided in the Fourth Schedule.

These Amendments were introduced following an undertaking which I gave to this House on Report. If I recall correctly, the point was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn). In view of certain Amendments which come later, the House will, I think, find it reasonable to bring forward the introduction to six months instead of two years, which we originally had in mind.

Mr. Darling

I personally opposed the idea of selling milk in one-third pint milk containers in Committee, but, having been defeated, I could see no reason for a two-year delay in carrying out the House's decision. I think that the Amendments, which again seem to be extraordinarily long and complicated for carrying out a very simple measure—no doubt that is something which we must accept in this Bill—so that the date is brought forward to allow only a six months' delay, are desirable.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords Amendments agreed to.

Lords Amendment: After Amendment last inserted, insert: (3A) The said section 7(1) shall not apply to a sale of pre-packed milk at a price of sixpence by means of a vending machine if—

  1. (a) the milk is pre-packed in a container marked with an indication of quantity by capacity measurement and a statement that it is not for sale otherwise than by that means; and
  2. (b) there is displayed to any prospective buyer, on or in the machine, an indication of the quantity by capacity measurement of the milk in each container offered or exposed for sale in the machine;
and it shall nut be a contravention of the said section 7(1) for any person to sell otherwise than by retail, or to have in his possession—
  1. (i) for sale at the price aforesaid by means of such a vending machine, or
  2. (ii) for sale otherwise than by retail, or
  3. (iii) for delivery on sale otherwise than by retail.
any milk pre-packed as aforesaid notwithstanding that it is pre-packed in a quantity not otherwise permitted by the said section 7(1).

Mr. D. Price

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment.

Again it might be convenient to take with this Amendment the two connected Amendments in page 59, lines 40 and 43.

The effect of these Amendments to Clauses 61 and 62 is to permit during the period from the passing of the Bill until the coming into force of the Schedule two years later the sale of pre-packed milk through vending machines at a price of 6d. in any quantity provided that the quantity sold is shown both on the containers and on the machines. A similar Amendment is proposed to Schedule 4, which we will be considering later.

10.15 p.m.

The House will be familiar with the case which has been made for exempting milk vending machines from the requirements of this existing law and of the Bill, namely, that milk must be pre-packed in specified quantities. Existing machines, over which all the interest has been aroused, take only a 6d. coin and the Government have accepted the case for amending the existing law—the Sale of Food (Weights and Measures) Act, 1926—to permit the machines to sell milk otherwise than in half pints at the price of 6d. Hon. Members who have followed the discussion will agree that this is the right thing to do in all the circumstances which have emerged.

Mr. Darling

Will the hon. Gentleman explain the point about the two years? Many of us understand it, but it is well to explain it for the sake of the record. There is a view in some quarters that although, by these Amendments, we are agreeing that the vending machines can provide 6d. worth of milk without a quantity being specified in the Bill, a time limit is still attached to this provision. It would be desirable for the record for the Parliamentary Secretary to clear up the point.

Mr. Price

As those of us know who followed the Bill closely, Schedule 4 does not come into force until two years after the passing of the Act. That is provided for in Clause 66. This applies generally to all the food Schedules. Therefore, if we did not make the provision which is now being moved, there would be a two-year gap, assuming that the House agrees to a subsequent Lords Amendment which will alter the Schedule to allow milk vending machines to operate at a price of 6d. otherwise than specified quantities. This is a tiding-over provision to cover the two years until Schedule 4 comes into effect.

Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North)

While not opposing the Amendment. I hope that the hon. Gentleman and the Board of Trade will keep a close watch on the amounts of milk which are sold in some of these machines, otherwise I envisage the development of a "racket" by which some clever folk provide only a very small quantity of milk for 6d.; and as long as they specify the quantity both on the machine and on the package which is bought for 6d., they will be within the law.

As vending machines, we are told by hon. Members opposite, are becoming most popular and all kinds of people now use them for milk, we should not allow those who sell the milk through vending machines to take advantage of this fact and to sell a quantity of milk by which they make an excessive profit from the housewife. Although I do not buy milk from these machines, I shall take the opportunity to see how much milk is sold to housewives by this means. There are some honest salesmen, but there are a number of dishonest people who will take the opportunity of selling only a small quantity for 6d. and making too much profit.

Sir Anthony Hurd (Newbury)

I should like, from this side of the House, to express satisfaction that the Government have decided that the Board of Trade should agree to a sensible way of allowing milk to be sold for 6d. from vending machines. We did our best with the President of the Board of Trade on several occasions, and so did The Times, in a leading article and various letters, and the Guardian. But it needed an adverse vote in another place to convince the Government that there is a commonsense way of dealing with this problem of existing machines, which supply milk to the public satisfaction at a cost of 6d. and are a great convenience to many people at bus stops, holiday places, and so on.

I do not imagine that anyone buys her regular supply of milk through these machines. I know that my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade saw himself as a kind of Sir Galahad protecting the interests of the consumer. But in this instance that was sheer nonsense because the Milk Marketing Board, which has sponsored the establishment of a great many of these machines, exists to sell milk and to satisfy the consumer. If these machines were not giving an honest deal to the consumer, people would not use them and the Milk Marketing Board would fail in its function.

I would draw the conclusion from this unhappy episode that my right hon. Friend should consult people who are in the business of satisfying the consumer before he makes new rules, and that he should not imagine that the Board of Trade is the sole body which will safeguard the interests of the consumer. There are many other people beside the Board of Trade who have their own business interests as well as the satisfaction of the public to look after. I welcome the decision of the Government to let the law take this course.

Mr. Edward Milne (Blyth)

The hon. Member for Newbury (Sir A. Hurd) was actually presenting a case for not having a Weights and Measures Bill at all. I should like the Parliamentary Secretary to consider two points. The first is the question of the quantity of milk in the containers, and the second is the question of the machines actually showing what that quantity is. I think that these two things are an indication of the strength of this Measure and of whether it shall continue to be an exercise in consumer protection.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

I want to take issue with the hon. Lady the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater) because she said that this was not protecting the consumer and that she was alarmed about the quantities falling off. I cannot agree with her, but nor can I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Sir A. Hurd), who said that very few people buy their regular supplies from these machines.

I believe that more and more housewives among married couples who have no children buy their regular milk supplies from these machines while they are out at work during the day. These machines are, therefore, of increasing importance, as I said upstairs in Standing Committee and privately elsewhere. In view of that, I would say to the hon. Lady that no housewife dealing daily with a machine will tolerate being cheated. If the quantity falls off in one machine, then she will quickly change to another.

In the town I have the honour to represent there is a considerable number of these machines already. I am sure that there are in her constituency as well. I believe them to be of great importance to the housewife and I welcome this Amendment. But I must ask my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to read at leisure his own extremely unhelpful speech in Committee. It is almost past belief that he could have said the sort of stuff he did and than come to the House tonight and recommend that we accept this Amendment. I welcome the Amendment, and I am glad that my hon. Friend has had to eat his words.

Mr. Darling

If I may have the leave of the House, I should like to say something on this. When this proposition came forward in Standing Committee, it was rather sprung on us, as the Parliamentary Secretary will remember, and apart from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater), who jumped in with her usual courage to say that she did not like it, we thought that we would hear his arguments for or against it. I agree with the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. J. Wells). Hav- ing heard the Parliamentary Secretary, I was absolutely convinced that the proposition ought to be accepted.

The sale of milk is especially important in factories and workshops, and I want to ask the Parliamentary Secretary a question on this point. I am under the impression that the Minister of Agriculture and the Milk Marketing Board have power, if they care to exercise it, to determine and state the quantity of milk that should be sold from vending machines for 6d. If there is any argument about some of these machines selling a quantity of milk that is very much below 6d. worth I hope that the powers, if they exist, will be used to ensure that people who use these machines get the right quantity for 6d.

If the Parliamentary Secretary can assure us on that point I do not think that there can be any further opposition to the proposal.

Question put and agreed to.