HC Deb 12 February 1973 vol 850 cc975-6
22. Mr. David Watkins

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he has received a letter from the Chairman of the North East Region of Consumer Groups on the subject of drained weight; and what reply he has sent.

Mr. Emery

Yes. In the reply which I sent I explained the considerable problems involved in the loss of moisture by different fruits and why it is not possible to act quickly on the Consumer Groups' request for a drained weight marking on canned goods.

Mr. Watkins

Notwithstanding the stone-walling nature of the letter, which is equalled only by the stone-walling nature of that answer, may I ask the Minister to give urgent consideration to the introduction of legislation requiring the drained weight of foods packed in liquids to be displayed on the cans?

Mr. Emery

Anyone who describes my reply as "stone-walling" does not understand the problem involved. The hon. Gentleman obviously does not realise that much of the tinned fruit which is consumed here is imported. Any regulations imposed might have a deleterious effect on the consumer.

Miss Fookes

Would my hon. Friend agree that this might well be a problem which could be resolved by the Director General of Fair Trading who will come into being under the Fair Trading Bill? Will my hon. Friend also take note of my experience recently when I bought a dubious brand of grapefruit only to find that the so-called segments were tiny pieces and that most of the contents of the can was juice? The fact that I bought it in the line of duty at a Conservative bazaar did not lessen my annoyance.

Mr. Emery

My hon. Friend will realise that the source of her purchase has nothing to do with the answer which I give to her. We realise that there is a problem. No one is suggesting other than that. The Government are looking at this. As I said in my letter, it is not a matter of stone-walling. We are concerned to ensure that we overcome the problem if we can. My hon. Friend is right that the Director General will be able to deal with this matter, when he is in office, after the Fair Trading Bill has become law.

Mr. Alan Williams

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that in the report by the North East Region of Consumer Groups liquid content as high as 67 per cent. is shown for some canned fruits and as high as 57 per cent. for some canned vegetables? How will the Government ensure that canners do not evade the freeze in the next few months simply by further increasing, if possible, the liquid content in canned goods?

Mr. Emery

It is not only the North East Region of Consumer Groups which has been in touch with the Ministry. A number of other consumer groups are concerned. This is a real problem. We are not trying in any way to sidestep it. The belief that it can be cured quickly and easily stems from a misunderstanding of the depth of the problem.