§ 3.8 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, I am grateful to the Opposition for having asked that the Second Reading of this Bill should be postponed until to-day, instead of being taken last week. on the ground !that they needed more time to study it, because I think that that is a need of which a good many of your Lordships, certainly including myself, must also have been conscious, if indeed it is even yet satisfied. A Bill whose first purpose is to modernise and simplify a vast quantity of confused, and sometimes contradictory legislation, which goes back, as your Lordships will see from the list of Acts to be repealed in the Tenth Schedule, as far as 1796; and whose next object is to give effect to some recommendations of the Departmental Committee which reported in 1951 after deliberating for three long years on the subject; and which has been drafted in the light of inquiries addressed to more than 2,000 housewives by the Social Survey Division of the Central Office of Information, cannot be learnt and understood quickly. I am deeply conscious of my own inadequacy in trying to explain the Bill even in a very short and fragmentary way. I would so much rather move the Second Reading of this Bill in the simple words of the Decree issued by King Edgar, who united the English Heptarchy in the 10th century, and which your Lordships will find in Stubb's Charter:And let one money pass throughout the King's Dominion and that let no man refuse, and let one measure and one weight pass such as is observed at Winchester.742 My Lords, that seems to me to be the most admirable plan, if only we could get rid of places like Eton and Harrow, which came on the scene much later and which have never quite succeeded in catching up.
But, my Lords, the worst confusion, I think, was caused by the French revolutionaries in the 1790's, who thought it very wrong that weights and measures should be arbitrarily imposed by kings according to some standard which might perhaps have originated with the length of a large man's foot or of a small man's thumb joint, and they decided that the rational system of weights and measures must be based on the realities of nature. So they established a new unit of measure called the metre, which was exactly one forty-millionth part of the earth's circumference; or if you prefer it, one ten-millionth part of the earth's quadrant. But, of course, they measured the earth's circumference wrongly, and the standard metre now is not one ten-millionth part of the earth's quadrant: it is a metal rod which is kept at Sèvres, near Paris. It shrinks a little when it gets cold, it expands a little when it gets warm, and it loses a few molecules every now and then. The troublesome thing is that the British Standard imperial yard, which is kept in the Board of Trade, is made of a different metal which expands and contracts in a slightly different way, and which loses molecules somewhat faster.
So, my Lords, it has now been decided that the length of the metre and of the yard must be properly settled, both absolutely and in relation to each other, and in Clause 1 of this Bill, on the first page, line 12, it is provided that…the yard shall be 0.9144 metre exactly.That still leaves us with the question: How long is a metre? That question has been answered by the International Conference on Weights and Measures, which has lately agreed that the metre shall be exactly 1,650,763.73 orange-red Krypton wavelengths. My Lords, I wish that I had had the pleasure of meeting 1,650,763.73 orange-red Krypton wavelengths. I must remember to ask my noble friend who is Minister for Science to introduce me to one some day. But I am told on the best scientific authority that these orange-red wavelengths are 743 the most unchanging things in the whole universe. So, if this Bill goes through, the metre and the yard will then be:…constant as the northern star,Of whose true-fix'd and resting qualityThere is no fellow in the firmament.Having settled the fundamental unit of length in line 12, the Bill goes on to deal with the unit of weight, and line 13 provides that:…the pound shall be 0.453 592 37 kilogram exactly".My Lords, as a kilogram is supposed to be the weight of 1,000 cubic centimetres of water at a temperature of, I think, 4 degrees centigrade, and as a centimetre is one-hundredth part of a metre, your Lordships might very reasonably infer that the weight of the kilogram will also be governed by the beautiful precision of the Krypton wavelength; but I am afraid that this does not appear to be so. The International Conference on Weights and Measures does not seem to have defined the kilogram in terms either of any measure like the centimetre or of any element like water; and the only standard weight is a lump of metal, which may have been designed by Napoleon, and which is certainly kept now at the International Bureau of Weights and Measures at Sevres. What happens when it loses molecules, I am afraid I do not know, but I am assured that it is very carefully kept in a velvet-lined box, that it is taken out only once in every 20 years, and that the greatest care is always taken not to rub it.
The first three Parts of this Bill—that is, from Clause 1 to Clause 21—together with the first four Schedules to the Bill on pages 52 to 60, define the units of the imperial and metric systems, arranging for the disappearance of some units which are either obsolete or obsolescent; and they give power to the Board of Trade to ensure that the legal weight and measure standards, and the equipment for testing them, shall be properly preserved and inspected by the Board itself or by the local authorities. Clauses 7 and 8 establish an Advisory Commission of nine members, to which the Government attach some importance, because we think that it will make it much easier in future to keep the law about weights and measures in conformity with rapidly changing develop- 744 ments in trade (which is changing its customs and habits very quickly indeed) and will avoid the confusion and contradiction which has so often arisen in the past. I think that will be much more easily done if there is this permanent Commission, whose task it is to give advice on these highly technical matters.
Of the nine members of the Commission, one is to be appointed on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor, two on the recommendation of the Minister for Science, one on the recommendation of the Director of the National Physical Laboratory, one on the recommendation of the Astronomer Royal, one on the recommendation of the President of the Royal Society, and three from among persons appearing to the Board to have good knowledge of industry or commerce; and, although they do not get salaries, arrangements are made that they can be paid fees and expenses. Their job will be to give advice to the Board of Trade, and their recommendations can be implemented by the Board of Trade by Order—that is, by statutory instrument, which has to be approved by both Houses of Parliament.
There is one exception to that, which your Lordships will see near the bottom of page 8. The Commission can consider and advise on the question of whether we should abandon the imperial system altogether and adopt the metric system, like most other countries in the world. But if it makes that recommendation, it cannot be done by Order; there will have to be new legislation. I know that there are some of your Lordships who are anxious to discover whether the Bill will make it more difficult for the United Kingdom to adopt the metric system. The Departmental Committee to which I have already referred, known as the Hodgson Committee, were in favour of the metric system, but they recommended that the right moment for Britain to adopt it would be when it was also adopted by the United States and Canada. So far, neither the United States nor Canada has shown any immediate disposition to do so and, on the whole, it is probably not to our advantage to make this change until such time as we can do it in conjunction with Canada and the United States. Of course, it has been legal to carry out transactions based on the metric system 745 in the United Kingdom since 1864, and it will continue to be legal to do so under this Bill.
The Bill, in prescribing weights and measures which must be stated on various classes of goods, prescribes that in some cases, such as packaged goods, the measurements shall be put down in writing, and it is unavoidable that they should be put down in pounds and ounces—in imperial units. There is no reason why the metric equivalent should not be given; but the statutory requirement is that weights should be put down in British imperial units—pounds and ounces. On the other hand, the Bill simplifies both the metric and the imperial systems to a great extent, and, as I have already told your Lordships, it re-defines imperial units in terms of metric units. I would therefore say that when the time comes, if it ever comes—I do not know whether it will or not—for Great Britain to make this change, it will be a good deal easier to make the change from the system that will be established by this Bill than from the existing mass of muddled and heterogeneous legislation which we have now.
Part IV of the Bill—that is to say, Clauses 22 to 34 and the Schedules numbered 5 to 9, which all go together—gives protection to consumers of goods which are sold by quantity. This Bill is not concerned with quality, but only with weights and measures. It may well be that a great deal more protection with regard to quality is needed by consumers; the question of how much protection in addition to existing legislation, such as the Merchandise Marks Act, should be given with regard to the quality of goods which consumers buy is now being considered by another Board of Trade Committee under the Chairmanship of Mr. Edward Molony. But that is not within the scope of this Bill. Part IV of the Bill and these five Schedules numbered 5 to 9 cover goods which are normally sold by weight or by measure, and they make it compulsory that all the goods described in these live Schedules shall be sold by weight or by measure. In some cases it is laid down that they can be sold only in certain specified quantities, but in all cases it is required that the customer shall be properly informed of the quantity which he is buying.
746 One problem which had to be considered on this part of the Bill was that raised by the sale of pre-packaged goods, which practice has been rapidly increasing for a long time. Very often pre-packaged goods, such as soap, lose weight between the time they are packed and the time they are sold, and the Government considered a number of alternative ways of dealing with that problem. Some people suggested that the package should be marked with the weight at the time when it was packed, and others that certain legal deficiencies should be allowed. Both of these suggestions were rejected because we felt that they really would not give adequate protection to the consumer, and that the only way of giving proper protection to the consumer was to have the packages marked with the weight at the time they were sold. Of course, that imposes certain difficulties on tradesmen. You cannot expect them to open packages every now and again to see how much weight the soap has lost, and what will probably happen, as a rule, is that the packer, when he marks the weight, will make a reasonable allowance for the probable loss of weight between the time when the soap is packed and the time when it is sold to the consumer.
Of course, if a shopkeeper keeps his soap for four or five years so that it loses much more weight than it is supposed to, that is his look-out. But there is a defence allowed against being charged with an offence under Clause 25, which establishes the law about the marking of packaged goods, in a clause which comes soon after. In Clause 27, at the top of page 28, it is provided that:…it shall be a defence for the person charged to prove that the deficiency arose after the pre-packing of the goods and the marking of the container, or…after the preparation of the goods for delivery and the completion of the document, and was attributable wholly to factors for which reasonable allowance was made in stating the quantity of the goods on the container or document.I am sure that the local authority inspectors, who are usually on very good terms with the tradesmen, would not be likely to be unreasonable about a matter of that kind.
Various intervals of time are allowed before various parts of this Bill become law; and in the case of Part IV, it does not become effective for a period of two years, which some of your Lordships may 747 perhaps think seems a very long time. But if your Lordships will look through the list of goods enumerated in the five Schedules numbered 5 to 9—the numerous range of foodstuffs in the Fifth Schedule, the sand, the ballast and the solid fuel in the next three, and all the miscellaneous goods other than foodstuffs in the Eighth Schedule—I think your Lordships will agree that it is reasonable to give this time to manufacturers and traders to adapt their methods to new requirements, and that two years is not an unreasonably long interval.
There is an even longer interval which is prescribed in the Fifth Schedule in respect of intoxicating liquors. Here it is provided that new laws about the sale of quantities of intoxicating liquors should not come into effect for a period of three years. The reason for that is that it is expected that local authority inspectors will take a long time to test all the different measures of drink which are used in all the public houses in every part of Great Britain. I have no doubt that they will have a very busy time.
Referring to this Bill in the debate on the Address in another place, my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade said that he hoped to go down in history as the man who had fixed the size of a double Scotch. I hope that my right honourable friend will not object to my saying that I think that this is a most presumptuous ambition on his part. The depreciation of the lira by the Italians and of the livre by the French is nothing compared with the depreciation of the true measure of Scotch whisky by the English—and it has been going on and on for a long time. Before the war, in many London restaurants a small whisky was still just visible and a double might perhaps have afforded some momentary satisfaction to an Englishman in a hurry. Now, since the war, the double Scotch is about the size of the small Scotch before the war and a single Scotch now is nothing more than a dirty glass. I do not know how much they pay the scullery maid for cleaning it, but they charge you 4s. 6d. for looking at it—or, if you are a prudent man, they charge your host 4s. 6d. for inviting you to look at it.
What my right honourable friend has done is to permit three different kinds 748 of measure for the same quantity of whisky, gin or rum—a multiple of a quarter of a gill or one-fifth of a gill or one-sixth of a gill. A restaurant or bar has to put up a notice to say which one they are using. A small whisky in Scotland is still a quarter of a gill and a double whisky is half a gill. The reason is that the magistrates will not give a licence unless the licensee undertakes to give full measure. I understand that in the North of England a Scotch is one-fifth of a gill and in London it is only one-sixth of a gill. So what my right honourable friend has done is to accept these differences in measure. He is establishing three classes of double Scotch—first-class in Scotland, second-class in the North of England and third-class in London. After this Bill takes effect, if anyone goes to a London restaurant and orders a double Scotch, he will know that he is entitled to one-third of a gill, which is only two-thirds of what he will get in Scotland and five-sixths of what he will get in York. But at least it probably will be a good deal more than he is getting now.
§ LORD MORRISON OF LAMBETH
My Lords, why are these statutory distinctions being made between various parts of the country? Why is it that London always gets the worst of it, whether it is the price of coal or the price of whisky? Why are the Government so against London?
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, it is not legally split up among different parts of the country. I understand that the practice among licensed sellers of drink in London and Southern England is to take one-sixth of a gill as their measure, that it is the prevailing practice in the North to take one-fifth and in Scotland to take one-quarter of a gill. It may perhaps be regarded as a defect in this Bill that it recognises to some extent different classes of measure. But I hope that people who go to a restaurant or bar where one-sixth of a gill is permitted will carefully compare prices and will refuse to pay more than two-thirds of the price which they would have to pay for a single Scotch in Scotland.
The penalties which are laid down for breaches of these provisions are in Clause 53. Under subsection (1), a number of offences are listed for which the penalty 749 is a fine not exceeding £20. Under subsection (2), people who are guilty of an offence under any other provision of the Act will be liable, on a second or third conviction, to fines up to £250, or imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or to both. I think that on Second Reading it is enough to say that the lighter penalties in the first subsection are intended to apply to breaches of the law which are due to negligence without any intention to deceive, whilst the heavier penalties in the second subsection are intended to cover more serious offences in which deliberate fraud can be proved. The grounds of defence against these charges (I have already mentioned one in Clause 27) are all contained in Clauses 26 to 29. They are based on the existing law and they cover such matters as warranty, mistake, accident, inconsiderable deficiency, averaging and default of a third party. Although the new law may give some extra trouble and difficulty to tradesmen, I am sure that it should be better from their point of view than the present state of the law, when it is often so difficult to know whether you are committing an offence or not.
This Bill is certainly a voluminous one and I have no doubt that some of your Lordships may feel that the subject is a little tedious. But I hope it is not without its fascination, because weights and measures have always been one of the primary functions of all Governments since the beginning of civilisation, whatever the kind of society—classical, mediaeval, democratic, communist, capitalist or individualist. It has always been one of the primary functions of every Government to maintain and enforce a uniform recognised system of weights and measures. Very Often that is of greater importance to society than some of the more advanced kinds of social legislation which we find so much more interesting. There is no doubt that the reform of our law is long overdue and I hope that by the time this Bill reaches the Statute Book it will be generally acknowledged as a measure which gives effective protection to the consumer (provided, of course, that he is willing to take advantage of it) without imposing undue hardship or restraint upon the tradesman, and that it will also be an addition of some value to the general convenience of 750 the public. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Earl of Dundee.)
§ 3.39 p.m.
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS- BOROUGH
My Lords, we are obliged to the noble Earl for his careful and sometimes witty speech on this prosaic Bill which we are considering to-day. Prosaic as a Bill of this kind has to be, it nevertheless covers la series of questions which are always near To the hearts of housewives and people engaged in distributing and productive businesses, and therefore It is exceedingly important. I was interested in what the noble Earl said about delay, but I hope that there will not be too much delay. My noble friend Lord Attlee was Prime Minister in 1948 when, after receiving so many representations about the need not only for consolidating and amending the law but also for looking after the interests of the consumers in general, the Labour Government appointed the Hodgson Committee, in December of that year. Here we are in November, 1960, and this is really the first practical Parliamentary step which has been taken since to deal with this matter.
The noble Earl, as I say, was quite humorous at times, and particularly with regard to the orange-red wavelengths that are practically the nearest thing to being unchangeable that one can find in the world. Well, with this period of nine years since the Hodgson Committee reported, the delay by the Tory Government in dealing with it is conspicuously proving to me that they are as unchanging as the orange-red wavelengths. We could go into Parliamentary history and prove again and again that when a Tory Government are in office for long periods with a big majority they do not stir themselves, and so the need for these necessary reforms goes on from year to year: they are delayed and delayed.
The other thing I would say with regard to the noble Earl's speech is this. I am glad that he shares our gratitude that the Second Reading of the Bill was postponed for a few days. He has, of course, at his instant command a staff of gentlemanly minions who can tell him all about the Bill and instruct him 751 in the history of what led up to it, and everything else. We on this side of the House are deprived of this special assistance. Nevertheless, we have been grateful for the delay and have tried to learn a few things about this matter. But I must say that, whilst what we have to say to-day must be in a minor tone, and though we may not say much about the Bill, we must come down to an examination of each clause in Committee, and with better knowledge of what the consumers' organisations and the training organisations are really thinking about it.
Whether we shall be ready to deal effectively with the Bill in Committee on December 6, I do not know. I had a good deal of information, I am thankful to say, yesterday for the first time from the Consumers' Council. I think they are an excellent body and they have given us some valuable information upon the points in the Bill that are of real interest to the consumer. But we have not yet received from the people with whom we are trying to get into contact any real details about how much any clause or subsection of this Bill is going to affect them in their business, and whether they are going to be able to do it economically or not. In fairness, when a Bill of this technical character comes to your Lordships' House, these people have the right to be heard, as well as the consumers. But whether we shall be ready to do this effectively or not on December 6, I give the House warning (and I might say this particularly to the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, who I understand will be connected with the passage of the Bill through the House) that it is possible we may have to ask for another delay, though not because we on this side of the House want to hold up in any way the operation of the reforms which will finally be included in the Act when it is passed.
I would say one other thing that I should like the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to keep in mind when dealing with this Bill. I suppose the answer to what I am going to ask may be that it is not within the scope of the Bill; that is a short answer and stops a lot of discussion, but it does not remove a 752 grievance. We shall have a Bill dealing with certain offences which will be made statutory and which will be punishable. But always there are offences at the different stages of distribution which apparently do not come within the law at all, and there are some extraordinary anomalies. For example, your Lordships know of my lifetime's connection with the co-operative societies. What greater absurdity can there be than for a cooperative society, with great experience over 50 or 60 years in the baking of bread, to be brought before a court and solemnly found guilty of selling a loaf overweight? It is a crime to sell a loaf overweight. That seems to me to be completely mad. My experience is that when it comes to dealing with a commodity which will be covered by weights and measures Statutes, there is nothing, seemingly, to give any redress to the final consumer or the last stage of distribution in regard to certain classes of weights and measures.
Take, for example, the dispatch of a 10-ton truck of coal from a pit by rail or by road, which arrives with a clear weight on it but, maybe, 2 cwt., 4 cwt. or 6 cwt. (and I had one case quoted to me of 11 cwt.) short on one wagon. You take the ordinary commercial action and you ask the railway company if they are going to recoup you for the loss of this 11 cwt. But they say they have no liability. You then refer to the pit, and the pit company, or the pit management, in modern circumstances, say that they have no liability. So the poor distributor at the other end has to sell his coal almost at a loss, and certainly without much margin for profit; because half a ton of coal lost like that on a truck could mean a loss of anything, according to the class of coal, from ordinary second-class house coal up to the finest anthracite, from, say, £2 to £5. Nobody seems to know how that difficulty can be redressed. Is the general scope of this Bill incapable of dealing with the proper procedure in such cases as that? Should the people who send the truck which arrives short-weight be prosecuted? Or, if the railway company dispute it, should the people who dispatch it from the pit be held responsible? So far I have not been able to find anything in the Bill, and I cannot honestly say to the noble and learned Viscount that I have been able to find any words in the Title of the Bill, which 753 would enable that matter to be rectified. Would be please give some consideration to that point?.
This difficulty applies equally to many other things. You can send off a churn of milk from the farm to the collecting dairy, strictly measured, and the churn is marked at the dairy with its own measurement of the quantity sent; but next morning you may get a card saying that there is a shortage of half a gallon or a gallon—and I have sometimes had it said that there is a 2-gallon shortage in a 10-gallon churn. Who takes responsibility for that? The farmer always pays. Who is the guilty party? It does not seem to me that there is anything in this Bill which would correct any of these particular things. I wanted to get those individual observations of my own off my chest, and. I hope that they will be considered in general.
As regards the procedure which has been adopted in getting the Bill here, I ask myself: why the delay in bringing about these useful reforms? As I understand it from the inquiries I have made, the Government received the Hodgson Report in October, 1951; they did not do anything very much for a time, and then they went on for about six years before they produced, for the trade to consider, some draft regulations. For six years nothing seemed to be done about it. Yet during the whole of those six years regulations could have been made and submitted, and, surely, passed through and made operative, which would have removed some of the inequalities that needed to be removed, according to the Hodgson Report. That delay needs a lot of explaining, and perhaps the noble Earl, when he replies, will say a word or two as to the cause.
I will not say too much about the position between 1957 and 1960, because I have been asking for some little time before we come to consideration of the Bill in Committee, and similar problems may have been operative in the trade. I have had some experience of negotiating trademarks with different Government Departments, and I am bound to say that if draft regulations were issued to the trade for consideration in 1957, it may well have been a good twelve months before all the points were ironed out and recognised. But three years! Then when did the Government suddenly decide that 754 they could not go on dealing with the matter by regulation? When did they decide that only a comprehensive Bill would meet the situation? Perhaps we could have a little explanation of that. I am glad to see that the noble Earl is having consultations on the matter in order to assist us.
As the noble Earl has said, this Bill, published nine years after the Report of the Hodgson Committee was made available, both consolidates and amends the law—and the law certainly needs consolidating. In thinking of all the back measures that have to be consolidated, one cannot help but think of the feeling there always has been in the British mind—and I, dare say, in the best minds in other countries as well—during all the centuries, that one of the greatest things humanity expects is full and good measure. I am a Past Master of the Worshipful Company of Bakers who used to have the authority for what was called the Assize of Bread from somewhere in the twelfth century onwards, until it became the statutory duty of the Government to take it over. Now we are consolidating laws much more modern than that but having a more mixed origin, not all of them from Statutes but some from Municipal Acts and municipal regulations. The whole practice needed serious overhaul, and for that purpose I am glad that the Bill has been brought in.
The part of the Bill which most directly affects the individual consumer, the housewife, who has to do the shopping, is undoubtedly the part which governs the sale of food by weight or measure. The details of the proposals are, as has been indicated by the noble Earl, to be found in the Fifth Schedule. The Consumers' Council consider that the Bill's provisions in this respect are inadequate. The aim of the Bill is to ensure that the consumer is given information as to the quantity of most foodstuffs offered for sale, so that he can judge what is the best value for his money. In the Council's view the basic information without which the consumer cannot possibly judge value for money is, at any rate, in the case of solid foodstuffs, the price per pound. If the housewife cannot measure by the pound or fraction of a pound what she is getting for X 755 quantity of money, she is not able to judge the value.
So it is pointed out that a consumer cannot judge the best value between a piece of cellophane-wrapped Stilton cheese at 2s. in one supermarket, and a similar-sized piece at 2s. 3d. in another supermarket, because in neither case is she sold Stilton cheese by weight. It seems an extraordinary thing—and the noble Earl will correct me if I am wrong—that there are only two classes of cheese which are going to be governed by weight. I think they are Cheddar and Cheshire. Why is there this subtle distinction? I think the housewife should know why all the other cheeses can be wrapped and sold without any weight being shown, while Cheddar and Cheshire have to be sold by weight. There is something very "crumby" about that, if we are talking about cheese—something very "crumby" indeed.
Now take the way in which it is proposed to deal with fruit. If you have a packet of six apples, they may be offered at precisely the same price in two different shops. But the size of the apples may be very different in the two shops, because they are not sold by weight, as they generally are over the counter by use of the scale in the ordinary fruiterer's and greengrocery store. The housewife has no means of judging what is the true weight and, therefore, what is the true economy of her comparative purchases. We think that the Consumers' Council are right on that point, and that it wants looking at.
I am not going to deal with the Bill clause by clause, because I think we must leave most of these things to come by way of Amendment in Committee from the Consumers' Council or the traders concerned. But if you take the kind of sample which has been suggested, in the case of fruit which is packed in a special pack apparently allowance should be made for what should be the maximum weight of the covering involved in selling the pack. In the notes which have been sent to us, there is quoted the punnet, in which strawberries are packed. Here, up to 1¾oz. can be allowed for the covering, so that if the customer thinks she is buying, say, a pound of strawberries, she is, in fact, 756 buying a pound of strawberries in the large-sized punnet, less 1¾ oz. That is nearly one-eighth of a pound. That is a very interesting thing, I am sure, for the housewife. If you consider the other statement, that even the very large-sized punnet weighs as much as 1¾ oz.—
My Lords, can the noble Viscount tell us where to find this rather extraordinary provision?
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS- BOROUGH
I will when we put our Amendments on Committee. I am too busy at the moment to search through this enormous Bill, but it is certainly there.
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS- BOROUGH
Thank you. This is just an example of how much anybody who has looked into the housewife's case feels that representations must be made, as the Consumers' Council are now doing. I am not aware whether the noble Earl has yet received a copy of these criticisms from the Consumers' Council. If he has, I might be able to cut short some of the examples. But certainly there are others as well as the ones I have already mentioned.
Take meat for example: all kinds of different practices are going on. One of the most notable things at the present time is the extent to which pre-packed meat is being made up for sale, especially in the self-service stores and large supermarkets. It would be very helpful with regard to meat and the representations which the Consumers' Council have made to me if the Government would define "sale by weight" and explain whether they wish sales of meat to be transacted in a different way from the sales of fish, poultry, cheese and fruit, because for the moment I am quite confused in my mind as to whether they want to do that or not. It is true that in the case of fish, poultry and sausages the Consumers' Council consider that the exemptions granted are much too wide; for poultry less than 2¼ lb. undrawn, or 1½ lb. drawn, are exempted. Why should they be exempted? I do not know. This would include many of the broilers sold to-day. I will not bother any more about that in detail now.
757 Then we come to bread. Bread is still, thank God!, a staple article of diet, although I am told all the time that I ought not to eat any. I eat a little. I am told not to have anything which has too much starch. Nevertheless, bread is the fundamental food of the people and it is very important as to how it is dealt with. In these days, there are none of the kinds of practice, or practically none, that I knew as a boy. I used to watch, fascinated, to see the baker at work and the way the bread was made. I often used to watch my grandmother, with whom I lived, making her own bread at home. What a change has taken place! It does not matter now at what stage of breadmaking you start your examination, the components of the bread are never really touched by hand. It is all done by machine—the mixing, the stirring, and the fixing of the length of time for mixing and stirring. Then, when it is near the proper quality to be called dough and ready for the oven, it goes into automatic dividers. Any little change in the different practices, in the time given to mixing and so on, affects how each piece that comes out of the divider will weigh when it goes into a loaf in the oven.
It is no use thinking that bakers themselves are not without considerable difficulty in this matter of the sale of bread; they are in considerable difficulty. I have in mind the result of what I think was good legislation—the abolition of night baking. It means that the bakers on the whole have to allow an appreciable amount extra per loaf, because they have to bake the day before, and the extent to which wastage goes on has to be carefully measured. It is strange that in such circumstances as that a society should be prosecuted for giving over-weight. To me it does not make sense. I cannot see anything in this Bill which is going to make it impossible for equally stupid exponents of the law to take action; it might be repeated under this Bill. We certainly cannot go back to manual work of the kind we had before. These things must be done by machine, and if it is to be necessary for those who produce by machine to allow extra because the State says that in the interests of the worker you must not have night baking and the weight varies according to the atmosphere the bread meets, then while traders may still be 758 liable for selling a loaf under-weight they ought not to be subject to summons for selling a loaf which is over-weight. What I am saying will, I am sure, commend itself to your Lordships as showing the necessity, when we go into Committee, of taking great care about these matters.
I suppose we all felt rather tickled about the noble Earl and his alcoholic drinks. He did not tell us—he assumed we already knew—that he was one of the good Winchester boys. I rather suspected it directly he made his comments about Harrow, and looking it up I found that he was a Winchester boy. I do not think he can claim much out of that in respect of weights and measures, although he tied it up with a very ancient happening concerning King Edgar. But when we come to talk about different measures of alcoholic drink, and whisky especially, we ought not to let a practice go on by which any Britisher has to pay an extra price in this country for a quantity of drink smaller than that supplied in Scotland. I know you have to be overgenerous if you are to keep the spirit of Saturday night in Glasgow, and the purchasing of the correct quantity of whisky to go into the "dinny", and I think that in common-sense we should have a measurement in London uniform with that in Glasgow, so that we all know what we are buying and what we have the right to expect for the money we pay for it. So do not offer us any more vain excuses. I think that is a Biblical term. I pray for the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, that in this connection no vain excuses will be offered. You must make a law with regard to this measurement of drink uniform throughout the country.
There are certain other things I should like to say but I do not want to take any more of your Lordships' time. But I cannot go away without saying that we shall have to look carefully at packed cereals, packed detergents, packed this and packed that, with packets which are double the size of the volume of the real contents, packets which, through the unholy type of advertisement on television, are made especially attractive to the youngsters in the family but in which the housewife receives about half the weight she is really entitled to for what she pays. That may happen in a case where actual weight quantity is not 759 studied or measured. All that will have to be looked at carefully in Committee.
In the meantime, we are glad that the giant Tory majority has at last risen out of its sleep and brought this Bill before Parliament. You have nine years to catch up; and now you are actually in the toils of the struggle I hope you will bring conditions more to a state which will give real justice to all the consumers and to the traders who have to handle the goods, and not have the kind of fatuity which has been going on in this sphere up to now.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, I should like to give my support to this Bill which is, broadly speaking, based on the recommendations of the Hodgson Committee whose objective was to bring weights and measures legislation into line with existing requirements. As the noble Viscount who leads the Opposition has pointed out, this Committee was appointed in 1948 by the Labour Government, and it reported to a Labour Government in December, 1950. Now we have this Bill sponsored by a Conservative Government, and I feel that this piece of legislation should not be considered in any Party spirit.
There are a few points in the Bill which I would ask Her Majesty's Government to reconsider. First, I should like to draw your Lordships' attention to what I call the penalty clauses, which appear to me to come down rather heavily on what may be the innocent party. I take as an example Clause 10 (4). Here, after the word "who" I should prefer to be inserted the words "wilfully and knowingly". That, I think, would be in line with existing legislation. To give another example, Clause 12 (3) makes it an offence for a shopkeeper to use equipment where the certificate to the manufacturer authorising its use has been revoked. It is more than possible that a shopkeeper might continue to use such equipment quite innocently. Here again, I would prefer to see inserted the words "wilfully and knowingly". I think if your Lordships look at the Bill you will find that there are several similar examples of this kind of thing.
The most important thing about weighing and measuring equipment is that it should be accurate, and that it should be kept accurate. I remember some year 760 ago arriving rather early to catch an aeroplane at Bombay airport. I amused myself by weighing myself on four separate weighing machines, and I found that they differed considerably. I should add that I tried unsuccessfully to get my baggage weighed on the machine most favourable to myself. Clause 44 in this Bill deals with the maintenance and adjustment of weighing and measuring equipment. I must say that I object to it in its present form. If your Lordships will look at the clause, the first part appears to give local authorities powers to maintain weighing and measuring equipment. This is directly contrary to the recommendations of the Hodgson Committee. With your Lordships' permission, I would quote paragraph 158 of that Report. It says:If a local authority represents that it is desirable, the Board of Trade may authorise inspectors to adjust weights and measures which are found to be inaccurate. Although some local authorities have said that there are circumstances in which it is desirable that inspectors should continue to have this power, we consider it to be wrong in principle that an inspector should adjust the equipment that he is later to certify as being correct and that it is in any case work which is not appropriate to the inspectorate. The power to adjust does not extend to weighing and measuring machines, for the servicing of which traders have to make their own arrangements. We therefore recommend that after a period of two years no inspector should have the power to adjust weights and measures.So far as I can see, the Government seem to have disregarded that recommendation entirely.
May I sum up my objections to Clause 44? First, it appears to me to authorise State or municipal trading where there is no need for it. Secondly, it is wrong in principle that local authorities should have power Ito approve equipment which their staff have repaired or adjusted. Thirdly, weighing and other equipment covered by this Bill is developing technically at a rapid rate, and local authorities have no facilities for keeping abreast of these developments. Finally, I suggest that the present arrangements for servicing and repairing equipment covered by this Bill are perfectly adequate and are available everywhere throughout the country. I sincerely hope that Her Majesty's Government will have another look at this clause and will follow the recommendation of the Hodgson Committee; otherwise it may be that, 761 on the Committee stage of the Bill, I shall feel compelled to put down an Amendment.
§ 4.17 p.m.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I, too, should like to add my congratulations to those of the various speakers who have congratulated the noble Earl on the most lucid and amusing way in which he commended this Bill to your Lordships' House. The highlight of his speech was obviously reached at the stage when his enthusiasm for his native country's drink moved him to an even higher pitch of eloquence and wit than he had achieved at an earlier stage; and the bonnets of Bonnie Dundee were tossed into the air. I hope that he will take to heart what my noble Leader said as to the importance of protecting to some extent the interests of the Sassenachs when they are consuming this Highland drink.
It seems to me, that, from the point of view of most of us, important as this question of actual weights and measures is—and one must agree with everything that has been said about that—to the ordinary person that part of this Bill which deals with consumer protection is obviously much the most interesting. It might have been a housewives' charter. I think it is a great pity that it falls so far short of that. Now that we have the advantage, of, in a sense, representatives of the housewife in this House, I think it is a great pity that this afternoon these matters should have to be dealt with entirely by my sex. Possibly we may succeed—I will not say in guiding, but rather in enticing the noble Baroness whom I see opposite to take part in the discussion before it comes to an end.
My Lords, this is a long overdue Bill. The noble Earl himself felt a little apologetic about it on that ground. It should have been before Parliament long ago and, now that it has come, I submit that it is altogether lacking, particularly in this area of consumers' protection. I should not like to go so far as to say that after the mountains have been in labour for so long only a ridiculous mouse had been born, because parts of the Bill are obviously of considerable importance. But one might change the metaphor and go back to the well-known curate's egg. I submit that this Bill is very like the curate's egg, in that, while 762 parts of it are excellent, other parts are greatly lacking in wholesomeness.
My noble Leader has referred to the feeling of the consumers' organisations about this Bill. I suppose they are better placed than anybody else for judging the usefulness of its contents, and I should like to pay a tribute to the remarkable work which has been clone by these organisations, the Consumers' Council and the Consumers' Association, during the years since the end of the war, in organising consumers and giving them really accurate information to protect them against the somewhat reprehensible practices of salesmen. I certainly should not like to say that all salesmen, either wholesale or retail, are pursuers of sharp practices, but undoubtedly there is a great deal too much of that sort of thing going on; and modern methods of retailing, and especially those which have developed so rapidly during these last years, as my noble Leader pointed out, very much lend themselves to sharp practices of this kind.
There has been a tremendous growth in the packaging of articles, since the Hodgson Committee Report was published in 1951; and the self-service shops, which in my view are a tremendous advantage to the customer, accentuate this process all the more. That is undoubtedly a very great temptation to the less scrupulous type of retailer, and it is against his little tricks that the housewife needs the protection which this Bill goes only a partial way to giving her. It seems to me that the whole history of this business since the Hodgson Committee reported has been marked by a really reprehensible timidity.
My noble Leader drew attention to the long period during which nothing whatever was done by the Government; how the Board of Trade (which, as is clear enough from the Hodgson Report, had considerable powers under existing legislation to take action) produced, after some six years, some draft regulations which were circulated but evidently did not altogether please the wholesalers and the interests on that side, and were accordingly modified in such a way as to take most, if not all, of the sting out of them. Even so, they were apparently so much disliked that they were dropped altogether. Then there was a curious incident when apparently the Government asked their information officers to 763 advice them on the situation—a matter over which a veil of secrecy has been drawn and on which one would like to have a little more information.
Finally, after all this time, we get the Bill which is before your Lordships' House at the present time. This is a Bill which goes a certain distance and then, having done so, draws back in the most timid and absurd way. Because almost every obligation which is laid down in the terms of the Bill is immediately followed by a set of wholesale exclusions, the result of which is to remove a great deal of the value of the consumer part of the Bill, as I have indicated already. It would be possible to go into this kind of thing in a good deal of detail. My noble Leader has already mentioned some of the matters which, I think, are very much open to criticism. Is it not quite ludicrous that the housewife should be protected in respect of only two particular types of cheese—Cheshire and Cheddar type—as if the kinds of cheese which are particularly sold in cellophane packages—Stilton, Blue Danish and other cheeses of that kind—were not the ones in respect of which housewives have been continually swindled? I should have thought it is just there that they need protection, and I cannot see any earthly reason why protection given in respect of Cheshire and Cheddar type cheese should not be extended to all cheeses. The exclusion of other cheeses seems quite ludicrous, and I should be very interested to know what the Government have to say in defence of it.
My noble Leader has dealt with the subject of bread. In regard to fresh fruit and vegetables, the position under the Bill as it stands is not at all satisfactory, because protection is given in such a very limited class of vegetables. Conspicuous omissions include artichokes, mushrooms, rhubarb, grapes, mulberries and damsons, all of which were, I understand, included in the draft regulations which were issued by the Board of Trade in 1957. So far as I know, no kind of explanation has, so far at any rate, been adduced, to explain why there should be these omissions. Then there is this really ridiculous reservation in respect of packaging where, as my noble Leader pointed out, a tolerance of something like up to 12½ 764 per cent. is allowed on the weights given. As he said, that may come to a very substantial figure. To take a rather extreme case, when strawberries are at their scarcest and are selling for as much as 10s. per lb., the punnet in which they are sold might easily be charged for up to an amount of Is. ld. as a result of this 12½ per cent. tolerance allowed in the Bill. I am quite sure all your Lordships will feel that that is quite ridiculous.
The provisions in regard to dried fruits also give rise to criticism. The arrangements here are not at all satisfactory owing to the fact that no rule is laid down about selling them in particularised weights. While some commodities have been dealt with in the Bill on the basis of particularised weights, whether ¼lb., ½lb. or 1 lb., in connection with dried fruits that very reasonable and sensible pattern is not followed. I am told by people who buy raisins, for example, that a packet which looks just like a 1 lb. packet but which, in fact, contains sometimes only 12 or 14 oz. is frequently handed out as a 1 lb. packet and paid for by the housewife on that basis. There is nothing in this Bill which will prevent that taking place after the Bill becomes law. I suggest that that is a very obvious weakness of the Bill and symptomatic of its general failure to go as far as it should in protecting the interests of consumers. So that there are in this Bill some very large gaps which I hope we shall be able to fill in at the Committee stage.
There are other respects in which this Bill is quite ridiculously woolly. Is it not asking for trouble in magistrates' courts—and many of your Lordships sit in those courts either frequently or from time to time—to have such expressions as "Cheddar-type cheese"? How are the courts to deal with the interpretation of such expressions? Obviously, that is going to give rise to all kinds of difficulties. There are in this Bill further examples of similarly, loose, woolly expressions. I find it very difficult to understand how the Parliamentary draftsman could have put into a Bill which is to become a Statute administered in magistrates' courts all up and down the land loose and vague expressions of this kind. I could advance a number of other criticisms of detail in respect of a number of aspects of this 765 Bill, but I think I have said enough to show that, while in many ways it meets a long-felt want and is in many ways a very useful measure, there are a number of other respects in which it requires a good deal of tightening up. I. hope your Lordships will be able to see that that takes place when we come to the Committee stage.
§ 4.31 p.m.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
My Lords, I rise to give my general support to this Bill which think will be of great value. In doing so, I must declare an interest, in that I am a director of a tobacco company engaged in the manufacture of tobacco and cigarettes, and for most of the last 25 years I have been closely engaged on the factory side. Therefore my approach to this Bill is from that angle rather than from others. Correct weights, of course, are of great importance both to the consumer and to the manufacturer of tobacco goods, and have became ever more so as successive Chancellors of the Exchequer have raised the duty to even more astronomical heights. It may interest your Lordships to know that in the main tobacco factory with which I am connected, where we employ some 900 people, we have in all 226 scales, of which 137 are engaged in weighing the finished product as it goes out to the customer, and the remaining 89 are for internal use. These scales have to weigh something like 150 tons of tobacco a month.
A typical cigarette factory, employing 1,500 people, will have about 50 scales, mostly for internal use. To-day all cigarette-making machines have automatic weighers attached to them. In addition, there are a number of scales in our bonded warehouses and a large number of immensely delicate balances in our laboratories; and I believe that that is true not only of my own company but of the industry as a whole. I think I have said enough to demonstrate that everything to do with weight is of great interest and concern to the tobacco industry and, of course, to its customers.
The maintenance and adjustment of all this weighing apparatus requires constant and highly skilled attention which, in my experience, has always been adequately provided by the manufacturers of the apparatus. I am not sure whether that part of Clause 44 which permits 766 local authorities to set up maintenance units is really necessary or desirable. Tobacco (and by this word I mean tobacco as opposed to cigarettes) in the smaller, packing is normally sold as subject to loss by evaporation. Every half-ounce or ounce packed has its weight printed on it and is sold subject to loss by evaporation. Your Lordships will be aware that tobacco of all sorts is highly hygroscopic in nature, as, indeed, are many other products sold mainly in small quantities. I think that Clause 27 (2) covers the situation. I hope so, because once hygroscopic goods like tobacco leave the manufacturer's premises it is difficult, or well nigh impossible, for the manufacturer to control the conditions under which they are kept in thousands of retail and wholesale outlets throughout the country. One man may have an excellent stockroom; another man may put it over his boiler; another man may put it in a damp cellar, and all sorts of things can happen, whatever precautions the manufacturers take for checking these people's stocks and making sure that their goods are all right.
Another difficulty which confronts the tobacco industry arises from the fact that the incidence of duty, more often than not, makes it impracticable to sell tobacco (again I refer to tobacco as opposed to cigarettes) in half-ounces, 1/32nd of a pound. In order to get a viable selling price—I mean a price which does not involve decimals of a penny and that sort of thing—it is necessary to put tobacco out for sale at 1/34th or 1/36th of a pound, which weight, of course, is stamped on the packet; and at the time of duty change great difficulty is caused in factories. The Bill makes no provision for a range of "stampable" weights, such as 1/34th and 1/36th, which are really essential in the factories if they are to avoid the need to use a multiplicity of small weights.
§ LORD AMPTHILL
"Stampable" weights. What it means is this. When one is weighing 1/34th and 1/36th of a pound in scales one wants to put a weight on the scales of 1/34th or 1/36th of a pound, which must he stamped as such instead of 1/32nd.
767 To turn now to the Fifth Schedule, Part VI, which deals with that enjoyable subject intoxicating liquor, I much enjoyed the noble Earl's remarks on this subject, and I gathered from him that his drink is whisky. My own, because I am a naval type, is of course gin. I do not know whether gin in Scotland is sold by the quarter gill or one-sixth gill or what the territorial distribution of gills is for gin. All I recognise at sight is naval gin; I can tell whether a publican is serving that or not, without any elaborate measures. However, I saw a letter in one of the newspapers the writer of which pointed out that sherry was not included in the stipulation. He complained that he usually got a ridiculously small tot of sherry; and I must say that I have noticed this myself. I do not think that the Bill can do anything about it, but I thought I would just mention it.
Finally, on the First Schedule, it is sad in some ways to note that our imperial standards seem to have "had it", and henceforth the basic standards become kilograms and metres and so forth. But I think that, on the whole, this is a good thing, because when the time comes—as it will in years to come—it will make it all that much easier to change over to the metric system. My pocket book of engineering formulae, which I acquired in 1926, gives the same comparisons between the yard and metre and between the kilogram and pound as are given in the Bill. So I do not believe that this change of reference standards is really going to cause any of us inconvenience—not even to precision engineers. I am sure that the immediate abolition of the rod, pole or perch, and in five years' time the bushel, peck and pennyweight, will be a source of great comfort to present and future generations of schoolboys and will save parents some awkward questions which I, for one, could not answer. My Lords, I welcome this Bill.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I think it is significant that almost the entire debate has been in the absence of any discussion on general principles. I believe that that is because, as the noble Lord. Lord Jessel pointed out, this Bill was, as it were, conceived by the Labour Party 768 and was brought to fruition by the Conservative Party. Indeed, there can be no difference of opinion between us on any measures introduced to protect the consumer from fraud or exploitation. Nevertheless, I think that, in our examination of this Bill, we should be guided by certain criteria with respect to every proposal that is made. First of all, we should satisfy ourselves that the proposed changes do in fact benefit the consumer; secondly, that they are possible of compliance by producers and distributors; and, thirdly, that they do not unnecessarily inflict damage on particular industries. In my view, my Lords, many of the proposals in this Bill do not satisfy those two first criteria; and there are some, indeed, which do not satisfy any of them.
Then has been great expertise displayed in this debate on the subject of Scotch whisky, but I am bound to say that in some clauses of the Bill there is revealed an almost entire absence of any kind of practical knowledge whatsoever. Obviously, many of these points will be discussed in Committee, but I will give one or two examples of the kind of thing I have in mind. In Part II of the Fifth Schedule, it insists that when, at the request of the purchaser, any fish or poultry…are subjected…to any process involving loss of weight and the material removed is not delivered with those goods.…,the retailer must make a written statement both of the original weight and of the net weight delivered. I am sure that your Lordships will agree with me that that proviso could only have been dreamed up by an unmarried civil servant with no knowledge whatsoever of the retail trade.
Imagine the housewife going into the fishmonger to order soles. She asks Mr. Jones, the fishmonger, if he will kindly fillet them. That, of course, is a skilled service which he has been accustomed to giving for nothing. If we allow this provision to remain in this Bill, he will say, "No, Madam, I am not allowed by the Bill to fillet them; or, if I do, I must take the bones out, and the other muck, stick it on top of the fillets, wrap it all up in that way and send you home with it like that. If I do not do that, I must weigh the soles 769 first and then weigh them again afterwards, and give you both weights". My Lords, the housewife could not possibly benefit from any such provision as that. It would mean that the consumer would suffer, either by losing the service which she at present enjoys or by paying extra for it, because the fishmonger would say, "Filleted fish is a different price, and you must pay more for it."
Exactly the same applies to poultry: the same provision is in the Bill. At the moment, if a housewife buys a chicken or turkey, the poulterer will draw it for nothing. She is satisfied to know the correct weight and the price before it is drawn. Under the Bill, he has to wrap it up after drawing it, entrails and all, and he will have to do that to avoid the necessity of weighing it twice and giving both the pre-eviscerated weight and the net weight afterwards. My Lords, that kind of provision—and I have quoted the exact words—does not help the customer, and does not help this Bill. The same, equally absurd proviso applies to meat. When the ladies of the house order the Sunday joint, many of them see it, and they see it put on the scale. Then they ask the butcher if he will bone it and roll it. They are not a bit concerned with the weight of the bones he will take out. They are thinking, "Will it last till Tuesday for shepherd's pie?" But in this Bill the butcher is solemnly ordered that if he removes anything he must weigh the meat before it is removed and then he must weigh it again afterwards, and must quote both weights on the ticket: otherwise, he will be liable on a first offence to a fine of up to £100, and on a second offence to as much as three months' imprisonment. My Lords, we should be laughed to the other side of the country if we allowed this Bill to go to another place with these provisions in it—and deservedly so.
I have quoted only two examples of proposals which are not merely utterly worthless to the consumer but will cause hardship by lengthening the shopping queues—and they are already long enough, in many cases, at week-ends—by reducing the services now enjoyed, or by adding to their cost and I trust that we shall be supported by the Benches opposite when we seek to remove these provisions from the Bill. I also trust 770 that we shall get a reasonable response from the Front Bench opposite when we try to find out simple little things like why it is compulsory to mark the number on a container of six tomatoes when they are clearly visible, whereas there is no need to print the number on a similar package which is used for eggs. That is the kind of question which I think we ought to ask, and to which I think we ought to receive answers; and doubtless we shall get these and many similar points cleared up before the Bill goes elsewhere.
I want now to deal with a very much more important clause, from which, as I see it, the consumer will get no benefit, while the producer will find it impossible to comply with the regulations. The noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, told us in a very interesting way about the tobacco industry, and he mentioned his hope that Clause 27 would cover the difficulty in that industry of loss of weight after the tobacco leaves the packing warehouse and goes into a retailer's shop, comes under varying conditions and is kept for a different length of time. I am afraid I have to say that I do not think that the tobacco industry will be covered at all. However, there the loss of weight is not very considerable, although an offence will be committed; and there the tobacco (as it were, a dead, inanimate, dry thing) has not such a great deal of moisture in it compared with other things. Moreover, it is sold, if not as cigarettes, as packed tobacco, with a heavy foil paper around it which is expressly designed to prevent evaporation and loss of moisture.
Compare that, my Lords, With Part VII of the Fifth Schedule, which deals with fruits and vegetables. As we are all aware, apart from tariffs and the Horticulture Act (the passing of which, incidentally, acknowledged their desperate situation), horticulturists receive no Government help at all. Nobody is subsidised to eat horticultural products, and our horticulturists are handicapped by an archaic and costly system of distribution which frequently condemns them to receive for their produce one-tenth of the price the housewife pays. Only yesterday I saw that the figures for last year in respect of horticultural products are now down to 9 per cent. 771 of the total value of agricultural output, compared with 14 per cent. ten years ago. They are even well below pre-war.
In my view, the only, and recent, gleam of hope for horticulturists has come through the remarkable development of the pre-packing of vegetables and fruit. From a tiny experiment six years ago, it has grown until, this year, the number of packs exceeds 300 millions. It is an ideal system of distribution for horticulture, because the produce can be sold against sample, and the wholesale markets and the costs of handling are eliminated. The vegetables go straight from the producer or from the packing house to the retailer, and the goods can be handled by supermarkets and self-service stores, which are increasing at the rate of 90 a month. At small extra cost, the consumer thus obtains fresh—certainly fresher—graded, produce free from waste; and it is often ready for the saucepan. I think it is no exaggeration to say that further rapid development of vegetable pre-packing can rescue horticulture from its present desperately depressing condition. It is equally true that, unless the Bill's present proposals regarding the pre-packing of vegetables and fruits are altered, that development will be seriously handicapped, if not made impossible.
The very reason for that is that vegetables consist of from 75 per cent. to 90 per cent. of water, and thus, almost alone among goods affected by the Bill, not only will fruit and vegetables lose weight relatively quickly, but their living nature precludes any method of pre-packing to prevent it. Presumably because he admits their high water content, the Minister, as my noble friend Lord Chorley mentioned, has exempted mushrooms from the provisions of the Bill; but he has also exempted cabbage, cauliflower, lettuce and celery. Except in slight degree, the same difficulty arises with sprouts, spinach, spring greens, kale and almost every fruit and vegetable mentioned in Part VII of the Fifth Schedule which will now be subject to the regulations.
For example, I can give the results of actual tests on various vegetables showing the amount of evaporation in 48 hours after packing when wrapped in polythene 772 packages. Brussels sprouts consist of 80 per cent, water. After two days in cotton netting, they lost 8 per cent. that is, 1¼ oz. in the pound. Spinach has a moisture content of 85 per cent., and it loses 7 per cent.—1 oz.—in 48 hours after being packed. Peas in the pod packed in 1 lb. packets of transparent film also lose 1 oz. out of every 16 oz. after two days. There is a 1¼ oz. loss out of every pound with blackberries in 48 hours. Those examples are from the time of Dackine until 48 hours later.
Clause 25 makes it clear that if goods are found to be deficient in weight, all the persons concerned—retailer, wholesaler, packer or producer—will have been guilty of an offence; and if the offence is committed twice, there is a penalty of three months' imprisonment. The retailer will usually have a defence because, where packs are marked with an indication of quantity, the packer will clearly be liable. Where the Bill does not order the packs to be marked with the weight, the retailer will require an invoice which states the weight of each package, which he will then be able to use as a warranty. So whether or not the packs are marked with the weight, the packer will be liable if they are under-weight. As the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, pointed out, the unfortunate packer has no control whatever over the net weight of the pack once it leaves his hands—none at all. He can, of course, pack over-weight and charge extra for it.
Indeed, the Bill envisages this, because it allows, as a defence against the charge of excessive weight, the plea that they were packaged overweight in order to allow for evaporation. That, of course, may solve the problem which my noble Leader raised when he complained that a co-operative society had been prosecuted because their bread weighed more than 14 oz. net weight. If this Bill becomes law, they will be able to plead that that is not an offence, because they made the goods overweight in order to allow for subsequent evaporation.
But, my Lords, supposing the packer, as he may well decide to do, packs sufficient to allow for 24 hours' evaporation. He does not know the length of the journey, or whether the goods will be sold two days or three days afterwards; but suppose the goods are packed to allow for evaporation during the next 773 24 hours, and he charges for that accordingly. The actual weight at the time the customer calls for the goods will depend on the temperature in the retail store, how long the retailer has had the goods, and many other factors. In some cases, for instance, a particular variety or strain of produce has a different water content from others. All these factors are quite beyond the packer's control. He cannot be expected to have foreknowledge of conditions prevailing during distribution, yet his only allowable defence is that he took reasonable precautions.
My Lords, what precautions are reasonable? That is another of the vital questions which have to be answered, as suggested by my noble Leader. The packer could not even prove that he had packed overweight, because inspection is not at his end but at the retail end. Meanwhile, through this evaporation and loss of weight, which becomes a grievous offence under the Bill as it now stands, the housewife in fact has lost nothing. If she buys her pack on Tuesday at 16 oz. or on Wednesday at 14¾ oz., it is still the same quantity of produce. If the packer supplied a porous polythene cover and overnight the retailer dipped unsold packets in a tank of water, he would be satisfying the regulations but would not be fair to the housewife or doing the produce any good.
I would remind your Lordships that the Bill expressly states that the quantity found in a pack at any time will be deemed to be the weight as packed. The Bill also says that it will be a defence to say that the goods were in the same state as when purchased. They are both manifest absurdities, because the pack cannot possibly be in the same state 48 hours after it was first packed; there must be a drying-out of anything from 8 to 10 per cent. of the contents. Packers are thus placed in art unfair and intolerable position, and in order to protect themselves against penalties, which, as I pointed out, are exceptionally severe under Clause 25, they will have to pack excessively overweight and the extra cost will go to the retailer, and from him to the housewife, who will be paying a lot more for precisely nothing, or, more strictly, for water which has evaporated, she knows not where.
My Lords, the only way of protecting the housewife and doing justice to the 774 packers at the same time is for the Board of Trade, in the regulations made under this Bill when it becomes an Act, to permit quantity marketing for fruit and vegetables of net weight when packed or, as the noble Lord, Lord Ampthill, mentioned in the case of tobacco, net weight, sold subject to evaporation. This would permit enforcement of the regulations in the simplest and cheapest way at the smallest number of inspection points—namely, at the packing end—just as I believe tobacco is weighed at the manufacturer's warehouse and not, at the present time, at the retailer's. This would protect the housewife against all the moisture loss, which is no loss at all if the produce is still in fresh and good condition.
I hope the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, when he comes to reply, will be able to give a favourable reply to this point this evening. If not, I hope that favourable consideration will be given to the Amendments we introduce; otherwise, the particular provisions will strike a very hard and damaging blow at the horticultural industry, which I am sure is not intended. But, as I said, it seems to me that the Amendments which will have to be introduced to this clause will be quite numerous, largely because it appears to have been framed without any real practical knowledge of the subject. For example, we see that bunched carrots, the young sweet ones, are exempt from the provisions of the Bill, but not bunched beets or bunched turnips, which are equally sold on the market when young, in the same way. Mature carrots, beets, turnips and swedes are all to be regarded as countable, but normally they are all sold by weight. Every housewife knows that you get long carrots and short ones. No one has sold those things by count, and if the Bill permits them to be countable produce, there will be no protection for the housewife because she will not be able to insist that they should be sold by weight.
In fact, in the whole series of so-called countable produce in the Bill, only peaches, nectarines and bananas are normally counted. Every other commodity mentioned is sold by weight. And that is how it should be sold, if we are going to assist and protect the housewife. 775 There are all sorts of absurdities in this matter. Apparently nuts are in and coconuts are out; plums are in and damsons are out. All these are among the things that we shall have to deal with when the Bill comes to the Committee stage. I, for one, hope that the Government will give heed to the plea of my noble Leader that we should have more time between now and the Committee stage, because there does not appear to be reasonable time for us—or, indeed, for the Government—to examine fully the many points that will have to be considered. And I hope that a later date can be agreed. I am sure that this is a necessary, long overdue and worthwhile measure. On this side of the House, we shall strive to make it a clearer, juster and more workable measure before it goes to another place.
§ 5.2 p.m.
THE MARQUESS OF AILSA
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I welcome the Bill, but in common with the majority of noble Lords who have spoken, and especially with the last speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, I have misgivings about its practicability in dealing with the problems that it tries to solve. I share the noble Lord's views in regard to poultry, whether eviscerated or uneviscerated, in Part II. It seems to me that the only question is: upon which weight does the poor housewife pay?
I also agree with what the noble Lord said on the question of countable goods. So far as I am aware, at the present moment all the produce mentioned is sold by weight, including bananas, peaches and nectarines. They can be sold by number, but the price paid is against the weight. Surely it should not be left to the choice, either of the purchaser or, especially, of the seller, as to which system he is going to choose. The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, mentioned good apples being sold at so much a pound and half-a-dozen rotten ones being sold for sixpence. The poor housewife has no knowledge of what she is buying. She wants a weight-number relationship, and to pay at so much a pound.
The only point that I want to bring to the notice of your Lordships is the Seventh Schedule, Part I, which covers solid fuel derived from coal and wood 776 fuel. It is with the last that I wish to deal. I see that under the provisions of this Schedule both coal and wood are to be sold by weight, with the exception that in Scotland solid fuel for delivery may be sold by the half cubic yard or multiples thereof. How we are to measure a half cubic yard, I do not know. For a number of years I have dealt with the question of selling wood fuel, and through necessity, in fairness to both sides, it has been sold by the load, which is a volume measure, usually done by eye. The original basic measure was the load on a 15 cwt. truck, but I have put loaded 15 cwt. vehicles over the weighbridge and found that the differences in weight may be anything from 15 to 25 cwt. for the same volume of load. If we comply with the regulations laid down in the Bill and sell wood by weight, at certain times it will be greatly to the advantage of the sellers and the housewife will receive considerably less than the volume she would have received under the load system.
I think that it is practically impossible to measure a half cubic yard, especially if you try to estimate or calculate what a 10-ton load would be. It is different with regulations for measuring commodities which have to be a level load, but with logs you can put on as many as you like and they do not fall off. I think that a great deal more thought will be necessary to find a fair method of dealing with this kind of fuel. I understand that the weight of coal or coke does not alter so greatly, but coke has to be kept fairly dry and it is an offence to dampen coke. We have just come through an exceedingly wet autumn and coke may be damped, and not by intent. Both coal and coke being delivered in wet weather are bound to have a percentage of water. That is another problem which will have to be gone into, in trying to make this Bill work as we want it to work and provide the safeguards which it is intended to provide. It seems to me that so far the Bill leaves rather large loopholes.
§ 5.7 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, it is just three weeks short of ten years since this Committee reported and at last we have the Second Reading of this Bill. It is true that the Second Reading was postponed for one week, to the noble Earl's satisfaction and to ours, but, making 777 every possible allowance for the complexity of the Bill and the large number of consultations that were necessary (and I agree that they were), I really cannot think that it required ten years to prepare a measure of this kind. A number of my noble friends have made this point and I am repeating it, not merely because of: the delay in remedying what is an admitted evil from the point of view of the consumer, but because of the Committee itself.
I have had occasion to say this on a number of instances. We set up Committees, ask responsible people to serve on them and they give of their time—this Committee spent two years on their work—then their. Report is put on the shelf and remains on the shelf for years. It is not as if this Report was not worthy of being dealt with. It has been dealt with—but there, has been unwarrantable delay. The noble Earl did not attempt to explain why this delay had occurred, nor did he thank the Committee for their services. I do not know whether they still survive, bat up to this moment, so far as I know, nobody has had an opportunity of even thanking them for producing this voluminous, important, valuable, and out-of-date, Report. Therefore, I should like to express my thanks and appreciation to this Committee for the valuable work they have done. Evidently the Government did not think that there was any urgency about this matter. Yet why are they pressing us to get this Bill through before Christmas? If it was as urgent as all that, surely they would gave treated it as a matter of much greater urgency.
I do not propose to cover the ground which has been so fully covered by many speakers—indeed, by practically every speaker—in criticising various aspects of the Bill, but it must be obvious to the Government that this is a Bill which will require an immense amount of detailed examination if it is to comply with the test put forward by my noble friend Lord Stonham, and with which I agree—although, with respect, I thought he was laying rather greater emphasis on the difficulties of the producer than on those of the consumer, particularly in the field of fruit, vegetables, fish and meat, where I think the consumer for many years has been the greater victim.
778 However, he and other noble Lords have put forward many points which will require the most careful consideration, and I would add my plea to that of my noble Leader that more time should be given for the examination of this Bill. It is not a Bill which ought to be rushed, if we are to do a job of which we can feel proud and which will give us satisfaction; and if we are to be true to ourselves we must have the necessary time to do the job before we send the Bill to another place. The noble Earl knows that in this House there is no such thing as holding up matters unduly, and we will all do our best to get through this measure as expeditiously as possible. But I would beg of him to give us more time in which to prepare Amendments and to carry out such consultations as we desire before the Committee stage.
I have found the Bill rather difficult in a great many instances, and although I have read it several times, I still find it impossible to say for sure whether it applies to certain transactions which should like to put to the noble Earl. Most noble Lords who have spoken today have done so from a certain amount of personal experience, and I want to speak from the experience of one who is a fairly large buyer of grain: I buy something like nine or ten tons of grain of various kinds per week. I have been the victim of not knowing at all what I am getting. I know very well what I am paying, so much a ton, but I have never been certain of the weight that I have got for it. There are so many different practices of the trade that one has to spend almost a lifetime in getting to know them.
For instance, If you buy flaked maize you buy that gross and the bag is included in the weight; but if you buy whole maize you are supposed to buy that net weight. With barley it is net weight, but with other commodities it is gross weight. Then there are some commodities that arrive in 100 lb. bags; some arrive in 21¼ cwt. bags, some in 2 cwt. bags and some in 1 cwt. bags. There is no uniformity about it at all. Quite often it happens that the purchaser is not told that his bags are 100 lb. bags and, if he is not alive to it, he is charged for 1 cwt. bags. I want to ask the noble Earl whether these transactions are 779 covered by the Bill. I am not clear about it. I can understand that possibly they are covered if the purchaser buys, say, barley for feeding of poultry or pigs. But if he buys barley for the purpose of mixing it with other commodities, would that be regarded as manufacturing, and would it, therefore, be excluded? I mention that by way of illustration of some of the difficulties II have found in understanding the Bill and as a further justification for more delay before the Committee stage.
I noticed that the noble Earl made no reference at all to Parts V and VI of the Bill, which are important Parts—namely, those which deal with the question of the local authorities who will administer the Bill and with the inspectors who are going to carry out the administration. I imagine that some of those provisions will be controversial. What is the appropriate authority for administering this Bill? Is it to be the urban districts, but not rural districts even of the same population and importance? In many cases the rural district might be just as capable of carrying out the administration as an urban district. But is either of them sufficiently large? These are questions we should like to go into in considerable detail before this Bill is passed, in order that we may be satisfied that we have the right authorities carrying out the provisions of the Bill.
I do not want to take up any further time. My main purpose in rising was to put the question that I have just asked of the noble Earl, as to whether he can explain if the Bill covers transactions of the kind I have mentioned, and to ask him to consider seriously the question of postponing the date of the Committee stage so as to give all sections of the House ample opportunity of putting down Amendments.
§ 5.18 p.m.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I welcome this Bill, but I would agree with the summarisation of the Economist, dated November 12, in an excellent article called "Fortifying the Consumer", that the Bill, although welcome, is dilatory and inadequate. I have taken the trouble to consult my local grocer—or, rather, he consulted me—on certain aspects of 780 this Bill, and I should like to quote some figures. I hope that the shortcomings here will be remedied by this Bill.
There are, as your Lordships doubtless know, two washing powders known as "Daz" and "Tide", both of which are manufactured by the same company.
§ LORD AUCKLAND
The 9-ounce packet and the 10-ounce packet are the same price, and so far as one can tell, despite the advertisements on Independent Television, the ingredients are practically the same. On the occasions on which I have indulged in washing dishes with these commodities I have not found that the one does it better than the other, so I cannot see that this price divergence is either necessary or, indeed, satisfactory. Formerly, certain types of soap were sold in 1 lb. slabs; but they are now sold in cubes, packaged up and weighing 14 ounces. But the price is the same.
With regard to tinned fruits, plums, peaches and so on, which have already been mentioned this afternoon, there are, I think, three grades. In the lower grades the weight also includes the syrup, which is largely the content material of the tin. It seems to me that one of the great shortcomings of this Bill is that it makes no recommendation that the weight of the commodity is to be shown prominently on the article. So often one sees in tiny writing, "net weight 10 oz." but the average housewife has not time to look at the bottom left-hand corner for the weight of the commodity. She wants to know what it is, and she should be able to see it in a prominent place.
The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, gave a very interesting and informative treatise on pre-packaging. I am no scientist, but I certainly concur with his views, having had some experience of shopping myself. I share his concern if the contents of this Bill relating to pre-packaging become law, because obviously in certain areas where there are a number of nurseries, greenhouses and so on, carrots, for example, which are pre-packed, may well get to the shop sooner in an area like Norwich than in an area like Liverpool, where there may 781 be far fewer nurseries and where, therefore, they will take longer to get to the shops and be sold to the public.
This Bill is primarily for the housewife; it has been described as the "housewife's charter". Certainly the housewife will welcome it. We all welcome it. But these shortcomings must be remedied. Getting back for a moment to detergents, one often sees in the shops a 2 lb. "monster" pack which may cost well less than double the 1 lb. pack, but I am informed that the packaging of these goods is such that the package may not contain 2 lb. because of the design of the lid. I examined packages of this kind, and I agree with this view. The noble Earl, in his precise introduction of this Bill, mentioned the fact that quite often detergents lose weight. This is true, as I found the other day. My wife bought two 1 lb. packets of detergent. When we weighed them, one packet was of the correct weight, and the other weighed about 2 oz. less. What had happened was that, presumably at the manufacturers' end, the packet had not been properly filled and checked. These mistakes can happen, and it is no good always blaming the manufacturer. He is as human as any of us. Fortunately, this particular grocer, having checked the weight of these packets, discovered this error. Others may not have done so, and the housewife, had she discovered it, would probably have gone indignantly back to the grocer saying that she had been "fiddled", when in fact it was not the grocer's fault. I think this Bill will do a good deal to help the small shopkeeper.
There is one pant of the Bill which I do not quite understand, and that is in the actual checking of these weights and measures. It seems to me that it may well be necessary now, particularly for the small grocer, to have his scales checked more frequently since inspections will presumably be more rigid. That may not be a bad thing, but it may well be costly to a small man. As I say, I welcome the Bill in principle, but I agree with the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition that it has taken a very long time to reach the Statute Book. I have read the Hodgson Report and, in part at least, it seems to me to be a good Report. It is a pity that it has 782 been so long before it has been brought to book. I hope Her Majesty's Government will read this article in the Economist dated November 12, because it seems to me to set out most clearly the defects of an otherwise welcome Bill.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ LORD LATHAM
My Lords, this Bill has this afternoon been described as prosaic and dull. It is the case that it is not exhilarating, but it is an important Bill which, as noble Lords on this side have indicated, could have been a much more important Bill if it had become, as my noble friend, Lord Chorley, suggested, a housewives' charter. As usual, the noble Earl, Lord Dundee, introduced the Bill with a clear exposition of its main features, and with an interesting and entertaining foray into history, savoured with the expectation of an adequate double Scotch. In my speech I will not concern myself with the establishment of new units, whether of weight, length or quantity, but only with examining the Bill to see how far the consumer is protected so that he or she gets what they pay for.
My noble Leader, in the course of his speech, drew attention to certain manifest defects and absences in the Bill, in the course of which he referred to the sale of punnets of strawberries as being 1 lb. of strawberries when the container weighed l¾ oz. In connection with the sale of strawberries in punnets, there is another pretty little exercise, which is referred to by the Hodgson Committee at page 95, paragraph 335. The Report says:On the other hand, in the absence of any Weights and Measures control, the purchaser has no protection from the unscrupulous wholesaler or retailer who, while offering for sale '1 lb. Punnets', has, for example, removed some of the contents so as to make up seven punnets out of six as originally packed; for it is doubtful whether the delivery of short weight in containers to which a misleading descriptive prefix of weight may or may not be given can be satisfactorily dealt with under any general short weight provision.I gather that no such protective provision is embodied in the Bill before us. The noble Lord, Lord Jesse, in the course of one or two other comments. made suggestions to amend certain penalty clauses. None of us would wish to do injustice, but I hope, if any Amendment of these clauses is entered 783 upon, that the Amendment will not provide a way out for the alleged delinquent and permit the avoidance of well-deserved punishment.
This Bill follows a Report which has been referred to by most speakers this afternoon and which was issued ten years ago. Since that time a lady named Miss Elaine Burton, who was until last year a Member of another place, has carried on a persistent propaganda for amendment of the law for the purpose of protecting the purchasing public; and while she will not be, I judge, satisfied that this Bill meets the needs and requirements of the matter, she will nevertheless, I am sure, be pleased to note that after nine years of endeavour and work—not alone, of course, but she was the spearhead of it—this Bill has been introduced by the Government. It was interesting and encouraging to observe last week that Miss Burton is still active in this matter, for she was recently giving a television exposition of the need for protecting the housewife.
This Bill is welcome, and it will be welcomed, of course, by the public and by the local authorities, in particular, who have the duty of administering weights and measures law. But it is quite clear that it does not go far enough. It leaves many loopholes for deception and for fraud. It is the case, as one would expect, that the Bill embodies many of the recommendations of the Hodgson Committee; but some important ones, very important ones, are not included in the Bill. Indeed, some parts of the Bill are quite definitely retrogressive, for they remove certain existing restraints and protections which the public enjoy at the present time. I shall refer to these deficiencies a little later. As my noble Leader and my noble friend Lord Silk in indicated, we shall seek, in the time allowed, which it is to be hoped will be extended, to strengthen the Bill in Committee. When passed, and, as I hope, improved, this Bill will form part of the great and growing body of law by which society protects and guards its members from the anti-social excesses of free enterprise. It is, I think, fair to say—and one can almost go on to state that one could find ample justification for the statement in history—that, but for society restraining certain of its active members, free enterprise, or capitalism as we know it, 784 would have destroyed itself in the jungle of competitive savagery.
The Hodgson Committee, one must remember, inquired into the conditions of sale as they were ten years ago. Theirs was an admirable Report, but it could not take account of the very great changes which have taken place since the Report was presented in December, 1950. Especially is this the case in regard to the retail trades. New methods and techniques of sales have become accepted. We have the supermarkets we have self-service; we have an immense, widespread development of processing, especially of foods, and of packaging, which, from the hygienic point of view, is all to the good. It avoids the handling of foods and it protects foods against contamination and against insects. Packaging, of course, is paid for by the consumer, either in the price or in the quantity, which is the same thing, except that the latter process is less apparent. It is a question, I think, as to whether we are not going too far with packaging. It may well be that there are indications which justify the view that the article itself is becoming secondary almost to the packaging of it and the product is often sold not by reference to its own merits but very frequently, especially in self-service stores, because of the ornate and attractive packaging in which it is.
In these changed conditions of sale and retailing the Bill should have gone, as I have said, further than it has done. That is our criticism. Having waited so many years, the Government should have made a real job of it and brought the protective restraints up to date, providing for the housewife, when she goes purchasing, that security which she is entitled to have. It is, however, fair to acknowledge that there are some very useful new provisions in the Bill. Reference has already been made to the fact that for the first time the quantity of spirits sold by retail will be in specified quantities which will be made known to the buyer. I like the word "buyer". However, none of us will be able to say in future that we do not know how much we have taken. Wood fuel and manufactured fuels for the first time will come under the same form of control as coal. Having regard to the increasing number of manufactured 785 fuels and their increasing use, this is a wise and desirable provision.
As regards soaps and detergents to which the noble Lord, Lord Auckland, referred, as he will know, these articles will be sold by weight or measure and the quantity will be marked on the container. At the present time the giving of short weight and measure except as regards coal and foodstuffs rests not upon the law of weights and measures but upon the Merchandise Marks Act. Therefore recourse has to be had to that Act if any steps are to be taken. However, under the present Bill the giving of short weight or measure in any goods will now be an offence, whereas hitherto this applied only to foodstuffs and coal.
Your Lordships may be interested to hear the details of a recent case in which proceedings were taken under the Merchandise Marks Act in respect of short measure. An inspector employed by one of the weights and measures authorities found on a retailer's premises that a number of lengths of clothes-line marked as approximately 12 yards were, on the average, 2½ feet short of measure and that others introduced to the retailer as "twelves", but unmarked, were, on the average, over 4½ feet short. It was found on inquiry that the manufacturer had allowed 96 yards for eight lengths but that the lengths were not measured, and that it was not unknown for an operative to be left with several yards unused when the lengths were cut. The manufacturer was convicted on six summonses, but those proceedings had to be taken under the Merchandise Marks Act.
Now I come to certain aspects where the Bill fails to meet the need. Take, for instance, the question of wool. There was a recommendation of the Hodgson Committee that all knitting wool, including rug, mending, embroidery, tapestry and crewel wools should be sold by net weight only and should bear an indication of minimum net weight based on a standard moisture regain. This recommendation has not been implemented, notwithstanding that the Committee reported that they had received representations from many women's organisations and local authorities asking that this provision should be made. I, and I am sure your Lordships, will be glad to know from the noble Earl who is to reply why the Government have not accepted that recommendation.
786 Then there is the fact that the Bill fails to extend the requirement that pre-packed goods should be sold only in specified and well-understood quantities. On the contrary, the requirement is contracted. This requirement, which has worked well and, I understand, afforded great protection to the purchaser for over 30 years, ought in the view of those more concerned with this matter to have been applied to a much greater range of articles. On the contrary, the application of the requirement to some of the kinds of articles to which it hitherto applied is proposed by the Bill to be discontinued, and it will apply to a very limited range. I shall be glad, and I am sure my noble friends will be glad, if the noble Earl can say why the Government have included this retrogressive provision.
Let me give an example. I understand that although coffee, including coffee beans and ground coffee, and tea must be pre-packed in prescribed quantities, no such requirement is made for the powdered extracts of coffee and tea, such as Maxwell House instant coffee, Nescafe and Nestea. Although the containers of these articles will need to be marked with a statement of weight, it is in the interests of the housewife that the weights pre-packed by the various manufacturers should be uniform. I should be glad if the noble Earl can enlighten the House with regard to that matter.
I come now to the question of the departure from the principle of sale by net weight. The provisions of the Bill in this regard indicate a departure on a considerable scale from the principle of sale by net weight by permitting a great variety of goods to be sold by gross weight—that is, by including in the declared or purported weight the weight of the wrapper or container. Among the articles proposed to be permitted in future to be sold by gross weight is butcher's meat, which for many years has been required to be sold only by net weight. The Hodgson Committee were strongly opposed to any considerable extension of the sale by gross weight. They took the view that no justification existed for permitting the sale by gross weight except perhaps in a minority of cases, for hygienic and 787 other reasons, where the article is weighed for sale in the presence of the purchaser. I shall be glad if the noble Earl can explain why there is this retraction from accepted principle and proposed action contrary to the firm and energetic representations of the Hodgson Committee to be found at paragraphs 250, 251 and 252 of their Report.
Then I come to the question of the powers of the Board of Trade in the control and direction of local weights and measures authorities, Clauses 40 to 48. These clauses contain far-reaching powers, including power for the Board to make regulations concerning the manner and performance by the local weights and measures authorities of their functions under the Act. If such powers are to be granted—I am not now suggesting that they should not be granted—then it seems only fair that there should be prior consultations through local authority associations, with a view to the regulations being of a character which can be properly complied with by the weights and measures authorities. Perhaps the noble Earl can give some assurance in this regard because these regulations, as I understand it, can be challenged only by a Negative Resolution. Clause 55, dealing with the regulation-making powers of the Board of Trade, requires consultation with interested persons and bodies prior to the making of the Orders to which it refers, but it is not clear that there needs to be any specific consultation with local authorities; and I ask the noble Earl whether he will look into that matter. I cannot think that other persons and bodies would be consulted and not the bodies responsible for the administration of the Act.
Then we come to Clause 52 Prosecution of Offences—and there, in subsection (1) oddly enough, there is a provision which gives the right to institute proceedings to a chief officer of police, in addition to the local weights and measures authority. I do not know why this new obligation should be cast upon the police who are already over-fully employed. We are in short supply of policemen and, so far as I understand it, it never has been their job. I should have thought that the persons responsible for the administration of the Act were the proper persons to take proceedings or to arrange for persons to take proceedings on their 788 behalf. Perhaps the noble Earl will explain why that provision has been made.
Next we come to administration. Nothing has been said this afternoon about the staff. That is important, of course, and the Hodgson Committee strongly emphasised that the whole success of the application of the law will be endangered unless there is an adequate staff of inspectors, qualified persons. It will be necessary to deal not only with the extended duties and responsibilities of the weights and measures authorities but also to provide for the staffing of the new authorities which will be brought into existence. I understand there is a danger that there may be a great shortage of inspectors who are qualified to carry out the large duties of the Bill. In addition, 54 new authorities are contemplated under Clause 35 (4) of the Bill.
The Committee recommended—and I believe Her Majesty's Government have accepted this recommendation—that the minimum number of qualified inspectors should be three for each weights and measures authority. That means that some 162 additional inspectors will be necessary. It is true that some 34 existing authorities will or may under the Bill, and subject to the decision of the Board of Trade, cease to be the authority for weights and measures, but the 34 in question have each a population of under 60,000. If I may say so with respect to them, they are relatively small authorities and it is not thought that the transfer of their staff to the county council would relieve the shortage which is expected to arise otherwise.
I would, in conclusion, say a word or two with regard to the authorities who are to administer the Weights and Measures Act. The Committee were very firm that the authority should be the local authority and not the central Government—from which view, I hope, none of us would wish to dissent. But the Committee also went on to say that the authorities must be large enough to support an efficient administration based upon a minimum of three with, of course, other supporting staff—clerical staff and the like, and staff to work Certain of the equipment; and it is envisaged that if the proposals which were indicated were carried out, the number of weights and measures authorities, which at December, 1950, was 258, would be reduced ultimately to 140.
789 The Bill proposes that county councils and county boroughs shall be, as it were, the authorities for weights and measures, with the proviso that non-county boroughs and urban district councils with a population of over 60,000 can be authorities, not under delegation from the county council but by direct conferment of powers; and, as I have indicated, it is estimated that under that provision there will be some 54 new authorities and that 34 county district authorities will cease, so that the net Increase in England and Wales will be 20. In the White Paper issued by Her Majesty's Government in 1957 dealing with the functions of county councils and county district councils, it was stated that the Government took the view that county councils should be the authorities for weights and measures. That appears at paragraph 13 of the Report (Cmd. 161), and in the Schedule to the Report, page 8, there is a reference in regard to weights and measures to automatic right to delegation—not conferment, which is something very different—for non-county boroughs and urban districts of 60,000population or more.
I do not want to get into any difficulties with local authorities who are friends of mine by appearing to prefer one type of authority to another, but I doubt whether under conferment the small authorities would really have the ability to administer the controls and inspections which will be necessary if we are to get the right kind of results from the proposals of the Bill. What is important, I suggest, is that the powers should be efficiently and effectually exercised, and there will be a lot of expensive equipment to purchase. There could, of course, be quite a lot of duplication and overlapping; and I should like the Government to consider whether the view they took and stated in their own Report in 1957 is not a better one than the proposals in the Bill.
The Hodgson Committee emphasised the need, from which I do not dissent, of the service being local—meaning local as between local authorities and the central Government. But locality in regard to a service of this kind is not so important as it is in connection with other local government services. This is a technical service; it is a scientific service; it is a mathematical ascertainment service, as it were. There are no matters 790 of social amenity involved in the administration of this service. We need highly-trained and specialised officers, but there are no day-to-day activities which bring inspectors of this service into close touch with the generality of the ratepayers and citizens of a local authority.
Moreover, as we all know, there is an increasing multiplication—one might almost say a proliferation—of branches of large undertakings; and there are the mergers and take-overs, which of course result in all the branches of these enlarged undertakings working under the same régime and being susceptible to the same inspection. In those circumstances, I would urge the Government to reconsider, if they are unable to accept the doctrine that county councils and county boroughs should alone be the authority for this service, whether the power should not be delegated rather than conferred upon the non-borough councils, the non-county borough councils and urban district councils of a population of over, say, 60,000, or maybe a larger figure. As a matter of fact, at one time when discussions were going on over the functions of the various units of local government, the figure of 75,000 was in the mind of the Government, and I think at one time 100,000 was in the mind of the Government. However, there is this point to be made, whatever may be the set-up which may be determined now, how it will fit in with the proposals which may emerge from the work of the peripatetic Commissions which are inquiring into the structure of local government is a matter for speculation as we may please, and there perhaps the matter is best left.
It is not without significance that no change is to be made as regards the County of London at present: the London County Council will remain the authority for weights and measures subject to 3n order being made by the Board of Trade as they may think appropriate. As I said at the commencement, my Lords, this Bill is long overdue—that has been said by almost every speaker. It contains many useful provisions; but it is defective in many important respects. We on this side of your Lordships' House will seek to amend the Bill in Committee, no doubt with the support of noble Lords on the other side. But all would wish, I think, to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, all the speeches which your Lordships have made in this debate, which have all been extremely interesting, I think, although analytical in detail, have, like the speech to which we have just listened from the noble Lord, Lord Latham, been in support of the principles of the Bill. I think that all the criticisms put forward have been raised with the purpose of improving the Bill and not of opposing it. Indeed, all your Lordships agree, as the noble Lord has just said on sitting down, that the Bill is long overdue and that the Second Reading should be supported.
It is always a little difficult in a Second Reading debate to know how useful it will be, and how much it will help your Lordships, to reply to all the great mass of Committee points which are raised. If the data and the circumstantial facts surrounding a question are clear and well understood, one may be able to save a great deal of time by answering it straight away. On the other hand, if the data and the circumstantial considerations which have prompted the question are not fully understood (and they cannot always be understood at short notice) one may only waste time without arriving at any satisfactory conclusion. But I will, of course, most certainly examine every question which your Lordships have asked in this debate and every point that has been put, all of which, if I may say so, have interested me very much, although I shall not be able to reply to all of them now.
The noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, spoke first for the Party opposite. Before this debate began I said to some of my noble friends that did not yet know what the chief criticisms of this Bill would eventually be. I thought there were three possible sources: one, the consumers; two, the traders; and, three, the local authorities. I think it seems that the consumers have probably got in first, which, after all, is right, because the Bill is primarily intended for the protection of the consumers. As the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, conjectured, I have not yet seen the document from the consumers' organisation on which he based a great many of his remarks and I cannot judge at short notice how many of them are points which we might con- 792 ceivably consider and how many of them are based, perhaps, on some misapprehension. They are all of a nature which I think had better be left to a later stage.
What interested me a little more immediately was the noble Viscount's own problems which he raised about both over-weight and under-weight goods. Particularly, I think, he was concerned about deliveries of coal and milk which had not been of the right weight. I thought that what he said illustrated the difficulties of enforcement which sometimes arise. I do not know whether he considers that the provisions of Part V of the Seventh Schedule to the Bill will help a great deal. I hope that they may do so in regard to the carriage of solid fuel by rail. As for milk, wholesale sales are covered by Part V of the Fifth Schedule. Clause 24 will require statements of quantity to reach the wholesale buyer at or before the delivery of milk; while Clause 25 makes the giving of short weight or measure an offence. It also makes any form of misrepresentation as to weight or measure an offence. I know that there are always difficulties of enforcement, but we at least desire to protect the interests of farmers as well as of other people who are liable to suffer from being given short weight.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Latham, who wound up. said a good deal about the position of local authorities, and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, also suggested that I might perhaps have said a little more about administration. The only thing I mentioned about administration was the penalties. I did not go into the question of local authorities; and, although your Lordships probably would not want me to do so at great length, I will, if you will allow me, say a word about this aspect, since two noble Lords opposite have both devoted some part of their speeches to it.
Traditionally, weights and measures enforcement has been a matter for local authorities, and the principle of local administration in this field is important, both because of the value of local knowledge to those concerned with enforcement and because consumers are, on the whole, better protected if they are able to appeal to local offices for help when they are in difficulty. Now, as the noble Lord, Lord Latham, said, there is a lower limit to the size of the unit which 793 can administer weights and measures legislation effectively and economically. The Hodgson Committee considered that the lower limit was reached when the local authority's weights and measures department fell below three inspectors and supporting staff. The size of a local authority's weights and measures department will vary considerably, depending, as it roust do, on the amount and type of manufacturing, packing and distribution activities which are carried on in its area. The Government accept the Committee's view on this in principle, but we do not think that the right of a local authority to exercise the weights and measures function for itself can be determined on the basis of the number of people it is prepared to employ.
There has not been any suggestion that the counties and county boroughs should not be required to exercise the function, although they must be able to work in combination, as some Scottish counties do already. There may be some difficulty over the selection of non-county boroughs and urban districts. The non-county boroughs who at present exercise the function got it on the basis of their population, and certain other factors, a long time ago, in the last century; and one of the boroughs still exercising the function has a population of only 12,000.
On the other hand, there are a large number of boroughs and urban districts (to which Lord Latham referred) which have large populations but which are not at present allowed to look after their own weights and measures enforcement. As was foreshadowed in the White Paper of 1957, the Bill will enable the non-county boroughs and urban districts with populations of over 60,000 to be responsible for weights and measures if they so wish, and there is provision for the function to be extended to smaller authorities by Order in special circumstances.
§ LORD LATHAM
Will the noble Earl forgive my interrupting him? May I make it clear that the proposal of the Government is that the power should be conferred on authorities with a population of 60,000 up wards. In the White Paper it was not a conferment of powers: it was a delegation of powers, which is a very different thing.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
I am much obliged to the noble Lord for making that distinction; but, in the light of discussions with the associations representing local authorities in connection with the White Paper, this appeared to be the most practical and generally acceptable solution of what always is a difficult problem.
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS- BOROUGH
Could I ask whether in fact there are any county boroughs with a population of less than 60,000, and will they be automatically disqualified under the Bill as regards administration? And, if so, what will be the attitude of boroughs of just under 60,000 who might want to undertake the powers but who will be denied them? If it is a question of size and general economy, and of avoiding overlapping, I think you should go rather more on population than on, so to speak, the professional status.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
Yes, my Lords, I do not know what will be the attitude of any who are denied the powers: that we must wait and see. I am afraid that I cannot answer offhand the statistical question as to how many boroughs there are with a population of less than 60,000.The authorities on whom the Bill confers the weights and measures functions can, under Clause 38, combine with other non-county boroughs—or, indeed, a county—and we hope that they will do so or, alternatively, will cede the functions under Clause 35. Those are long-established, special features of weights and measures administration, the opportunity to combine and the right of cession, and in Scotland several counties have already combined to exercise this function.
My Lords, I should like, as quickly as I can, to deal with two points which my noble friend Lord Jessel asked in his very short but interesting speech. He was a little concerned about the penalties. He mentioned particularly penalties for offences against subsection (4) of Clause 10 and subsection (3) of Clause 12. He will, of course, have noticed from Clause 53 that offences under both these subsections are in the first list of offences for which the maximum penalty is only £20. They are not subject to the heavier penalties. I do not know whether the noble Lord thinks that a 795 trader who uses in his trade an unlawful unit of measurement or an illegal weight or measure should escape penalty simply by pleading that he did not know what units or weights were lawful. But, as regards Clause 12 (3), the Bill prescribes an offence only if the person in question knows that this certificate or authorisation has been revoked. I will look into this point, but it seems to me that the power to prosecute ought to be there if the trader is using an unlawful unit of measurement, even if he may be in ignorance of the law.
Then the noble Lord had a point on Clause 44. On this point, the Bill follows the Hodgson Committee proposal, that inspectors individually should no longer adjust weights and measures. The noble Lord thought it undesirable that they should do so themselves: but the Government did not feel that this principle necessitated objections to the local authority, as such, giving this service if it wants to. It is very helpful to the small trader if he can get a minor adjustment made to some simple equipment, provided that it is not actually done by the inspectors themselves. The trader could call in a technician employed by the local authority, rather than send the equipment a long distance away for adjustment; and I think the Board of Trade inspection will probably help to see that local authorities do not go too far.
The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, wanted to know why we were keeping secret the results of a social survey carried out by the Social Survey Division of the Central Office of Information. I think it has already been placed in the Library of the House of Commons, and I will arrange for copies of the Report to be put in your Lordships' Library as soon as they can be made, available.
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS- BOROUGH
Perhaps I ought to have said that I have had an opportunity of seeing the copy that was placed in the House of Commons Library. I could myself well understand why it was not published. I think one ought to ask the question of the Social Survey Division of the Central Information Office: Was your journey really necessary? Because they provided us with nothing.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
I am obliged to the noble Viscount; but he has the advantage over me, because I have not had the opportunity of seeing the Report of this social survey.
The noble Lords, Lord Stonham and Lord Chorley, were a little worried about the requirements concerning packed fruits and other substances which lose weight very quickly. That is, as I said, one of the main problems we have had to face. In one or two cases evaporation is liable to be particularly unpredictable. The existing law avoids the problem by exempting fruit and vegetables from the general requirement that packed foodstuffs should be marked with their weight. The solution we have adopted in this Bill is to require the retailer to make the weight of the punnet with the fruit known to the consumer whenever the producer has not been able to mark the weight on the punnet. A similar provision will apply to sausages (I do not think the noble Lord mentioned sausages; perhaps he did) unless the packer marks the weight on the package or the paper band. The packer will be required to mark the weight at the time of sale on the container if the container itself exceeds the weight laid down for that type of container under the Bill
I think the fruits and vegetables which the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, mentioned need not, under the provisions on page 66 of the Bill, be marked by the packers with their weight; they may merely be weighed by the retailer providing the weight of the packet is not excessive.
§ LORD STONHAM
Will the noble Earl allow me to interrupt him? It really does not matter whether the pre-packed fruit and vegetables are marked with the quantity or not. The retailer will require the packer to supply an invoice stating the weights even with unmarked packages. But if 10 or 15 per cent. of the weight is lost before the package is sold, the packer, and not the retailer, will be liable for selling underweight. That is the great problem.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
It is the ultimate consumer who is concerned with the weight, not the retailer. Surely, if the retailer is allowed to mark the weight when he gets the packet, then he is in no danger of being accused of having given short weight, when the real cause 797 of the short weight is from rapid evaporation. I think he is covered by the provisions of Clause 27 which I mentioned to your Lordships earlier.
The only other point I have is that which I think one of the noble Lords behind me raised, as to whether a glass of sherry could not be brought within the provisions of this Bill, as well as other kinds of drink. It can, my Lords, by Order, and that is the kind of thing which may be done later.
My Lords, some of your Lordships have asked me whether more time can be given for the consideration and discussion of this Bill. The timetable, of course, is not a matter for me but is a matter for the noble Viscount the Leader of the House and the usual channels to discuss with many of your Lordships, particularly noble Lords opposite. I do not think it is possible yet—perhaps not for the next few days—to foresee how many Amendments your Lordships will decide to put down or how much time we shall need. All I can say is that we appreciate your Lordships' desire to discuss this Bill thoroughly and to approve it, and we are grateful to your Lordships for wanting to do that.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I hope there is no misunderstanding about this. It is not so much a question of how much time should be devoted to the Committee stage. That, of course, will depend on the number of Amendments and the amount of time we wish to devote to the discussion of those Amendments. What my noble friends and I were rather concerned about was when the Committee stage should take place. We felt that the time between now and the Committee stage was too short to enable us to study this Bill in the detail required and to have the necessary discussions so that we can prepare and put down the necessary Amendments. We should have liked rather more time than I think the fortnight which elapses from now until the time it is proposed to take the Committee stage.
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
That is, of course, entirely a matter for the usual channels. I can only say that I am sure we all appreciate your Lordships' desire to help and discuss the Bill properly.
EARL ST. ALDWYN
My Lords, we shall, of course, be willing to do anything we can to help, but I would point 798 out that there will have been five weeks between First Reading and Committee stage, which is a not inconsiderable amount of time. I appreciate that there is only a fortnight between Second Reading and Committee, but from the point of view of those who wish to consider the Bill, they will in fact have had five weeks in which to do so.
§ LORD WOLVERTON
My Lords, may I say that I was approached only two days ago, in my own area, by a man who has had considerable experience of this matter, and he wanted me to consider moving some Amendments to this Bill. That takes time. I want to discuss any Amendments with my noble friends here before I put them down. I know that the Bill is starting in this House and that this is the usual time to give, about a fortnight; but generally the Bill stays in another place for a long time and is started there. This Bill is starting here and we have only just started discussing possible Amendments, so I do not know whether the Government can give us a little longer.
§ LORD LATHAM
Do I understand that the noble Earl does not propose to answer the question, which I suggest is important, which I put to him?
§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
I am very sorry. I did say that any questions which I did not answer I would, of course, examine very closely and, if necessary, I will certainly write to the noble Lord about it. I have taken up a good deal of your Lordships' time in replying to what I think are all Committee points which could be raised at a later stage. The last thing I want to do is to appear to be guilty of any kind of discourtesy in not answering questions. I have done my best with those to which I thought I could usefully give an immediate answer, and any others I have not answered I will deal with either by correspondence or, if that is not practicable, at the Committee stage.
§ LORD LATHAM
I am much obliged. I certainly would not for one moment suggest that the noble Earl is guilty of discourtesy.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.