HL Deb 13 February 1961 vol 228 cc599-605

2.35 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty The Queen to signify to the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Weights and Measures Bill, has consented to place Her Majesty's interest, so far as it is concerned on behalf of the Crown, at the disposal of Parliament for the purpose of the Bill. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a third time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3ª.—(The Earl of Dundee.)

On Question, Bill read 3ª.

Fifth Schedule [Foods]:


My Lords, I think it is our usual practice that when Amendments are down on Third Reading that Reading is devoted to the Amendments, and any general remarks which your Lordships might wish to make come on the Question, That the Bill do now pass. With your Lordships' permission, the four Amendments standing in my name can be taken together because their combined effect is to fulfil the undertaking given on the Report stage to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that peeled vegetables, particularly potatoes, and peeled fruit, should be included in Part VII of the Fifth Schedule to the Bill. I beg to move.

Amendments moved— Page 66, line 49, leave out (" cut up into pieces") and insert (" divided into pieces or have had part thereof removed or both.")

Page 67, line 1, leave out (" of those pieces which have ") and insert ("part of any of those fruits or vegetables which has ")

Page 70, leave out line 48 and insert (" being fruits or vegetables—")

Page 71, line 2, leave out from (" fruits ") to (" not ") in line 4 and insert (" or vegetables in such a state which have been divided into pieces or have had part thereof removed or both, any part of any of those fruits or vegetables which has ").—(The Earl of Dundee.)


My Lords, is it your Lordships' pleasure that the Amendments be taken en bloc?

On Question, Amendments agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move that the privilege Amendment be agreed to.

Moved, That the privilege Amendment be agreed to.—(The Earl of Dundee.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.


My Lords. I beg to move that the Bill do now pass. As we are all anxious to get on to more controversial Business, I shall mention only one or two of the points about which your Lordships particularly wanted a little more information before this Bill goes to another place. The noble Lord, Lord Latham, on both the Committee and the Report stages, moved what I thought was a very reasonable Amendment providing that when coal is being sent on a lorry for delivery to more than one customer it shall be made up in containers. As the noble Earl pointed out, a great many local authorities, have by-laws to this effect. We could not accept the Amendment since it would have interfered with existing arrangements in mining districts between the National Coal Board and the miners. But when the noble Lord asked if we could not make his proposal the general law and find some way of exempting the miners, I said I would consider this; and we have not stopped considering it. We have found, however, that some of the local authorities which have this by-law have lately been relaxing it in order to permit the use of new delivery vehicles called "autobaggers" which, I understand, save a great deal of labour. I think we shall have to look into that a little further before coming to any decision.

The noble Lord, Lord Latham, was also concerned, as was my noble friend Lord Jessel, to provide that compensation payable to displaced local officials who lose their jobs as a result of this Bill should be paid by the authority which gains the weights and measures function, and not by the authority which loses that function, as would happen under Clause 41 as it stands at present. Her Majesty's Government certainly appreciate the arguments in favour of making the gaining authority responsible for paving compensation. We believe that the right decision would be to assimilate practice under this Bill to the practice which now obtains under other Statutes affecting local authorities, such as the Local Government Act, 1958, and an Amendment giving effect to this will be introduced by the Government in another place.

A great many of your Lordships were anxious that more protection should be given to the public against deceptive containers, and debates took place on Amendments moved by the noble Viscount the Leader of the Opposition in which many of your Lordships took part. I think we all realised the difficulty of distinguishing between containers which are made large and heavy for the purpose of deceiving the consumer and those which are made heavy for some good technical or æsthetic reason. We are considering whether, as some of your Lordships suggested in those debates and in the light of your Lordships' debates on this point in general, it would be possible to strengthen those parts of Clause 25 which affect this question, if that can be done without creating confusion.

I feel that I ought to again assure the noble Earl, Lord Buckinghamshire, that we have not forgotten the representations which he made about retaining the Hoppus foot measure and also the "cord" and "standard" measure of timber which he was afraid might be made illegal by this Bill—although I do not think the Hoppus measure would really be affected. The Board of Trade are considering, together with the timber trade, whether these measures are, in fact, affected by the Bill and, if so, what action ought to be taken.

Another point which was left undecided was that of the obligation on the part of a retail trader to check the quantity of goods for which he had got warranty. At present he has to do that only if the warranty comes from abroad. Under the Bill he will have to do it even if the warranty is provided by a home wholesaler. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, thought this was a little hard on the retailer, and we had a very full discussion on that. Perhaps the present provisions of the Bill are a little too exacting, and we will consider that in another place. Possibly it would be preferable not to require the retailer to check the quantity if he has good reason to believe that the warranty he has received from the home producer is accurate, but to require him to check it only if he does not have good reason to think that the warranty is correct.

On tobacco, Her Majesty's Government undertook to reconsider the difficulties which might arise from applying Part VI of the Eighth Schedule to soft foil packets of tobacco, and the possibility that this might result in increasing the price. This question was raised rather too late for your Lordships to see it through, and I understand that the trade have asked my right honourable friend to receive a deputation on the subject. All I can say now is that Her Majesty's Government appreciate the arguments which were put forward on this point by the noble Lords, Lord Sinclair of Cleeve and Lord Ampthill.

One piece of information which I was unable to give your Lordships, although it was persistently demanded, was official figures showing the quantities of vodka and "Bloody Mary's" which are drunk in this country. Some of your Lordships were rather indignant that Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, who levy the duty on spirits, were not able to give us this information. I have looked into it, my Lords, and I find that vodka and gin—that is to say, vodka made in Britain and gin made in Britain —and also some liqueurs, are all made from the same raw spirit and it is on this raw spirit that Her Majesty's Excise levy Excise Duty. They do not know how much of this raw material ultimately goes down people's throats in the form of vodka, how much in the form of gin and how much in the form of other interesting concoctions.

My Lords, my advice, which your Lordships did not see your way to accept, was that since this Part of the Bill does not come into operation for three years, the most sensible course might perhaps be to wait until we had got this information, and that it would then be a simple matter to bring in vodka by an Affirmative Resolution under Clause 22 of the Bill, which will have to be done in the case of a good many other commodities. But your Lordships in all parts of the House were determined, evidence or no evidence, that "Bloody Mary" should be dealt with by this Bill—like the trial at the end of Alice in Wonderland: sentence first, conviction next, and evidence last of all. If your Lordships are right, as I think you probably are, we shall then be saved the trouble of introducing an Affirmative Resolution in 1964. On the other hand, if the evidence should show that consumption is not sufficient to justify the inclusion of vodka in the Bill it will then be just as easy to remove it by an Affirmative Resolution under Clause 22 as it would have been to insert it under converse circumstances. Meanwhile, so far as I am concerned, I am delighted that vodka should stay in the Bill, and I see no reason at all why this interesting legislative achievement on the part of your Lordships should be interfered with by another place.

I know that there are a number of other points, on some of which I am in communication with some of your Lordships, to which you would like further attention to be given; and I will certainly do my best to see that your Lordships' views are fully considered by the Government when the Bill is before another place. I have said nothing at all, for reasons of time, about the immeasurably wider field in which our prolonged deliberations on this Bill have ended in final, and I hope fruitful, conclusions. The Bill is a much better Bill now than it was when it was first introduced, and I am truly grateful to your Lordships in all parts of the House for the careful thought and the heavy labours on your Lordships' part which have led to this result. I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.— (The Earl of Dundee.)

2.45 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to express what I am sure will be the feeling, of all Members of the House: our thanks and appreciation for the detailed and thorough consideration which has been given to the matters which the noble Earl was good enough to promise would be given consideration or on which he gave certain assurances. I am sure we are all pleased to know that "Bloody Mary" has survived the tergiversations of the inquiry and considerations of this House; and I suppose that Russia can regard the position concerning vodka as the second achievement this week-end.

This is an important measure, as the noble Earl has said. It is a step forward, an appreciable step forward, towards consumer protection, for which there is a great need. The Bill leaves this House, as the noble Earl has also said much improved as a result of the activities not only of the Members of the Opposition but of noble Lords generally. It would, of course, have been a better Bill if more of our Amendments had been accepted, but they can be dealt with in another place. I apprehend that the question of delivery of small parcels of coal will be dealt with by the miner representatives to be found in the other place. We shall, perhaps, have success there in some respects in which we have failed in this House.

The Bill was for those concerned with it pretty considerable labour, and I aim sure that everyone would wish to join with me in paying a tribute to the urbane, co-operative and friendly way, and helpful way, in which the noble Earl conducted the Bill through your Lordships' House. He kept his tone; he kept a friendly tone, an easy temper, and realised—indeed, he often conceded —points made by us, though he was unable to embody them in Amendments. We greatly appreciate that. I recall that after my noble friend Lord Stonham and I had been, shall I say, closeted with the noble Earl for some five hours I said to an Officer of your Lordships' House, who must of course remain anonymous, "Who is the fellow who discovered weights and measures?" Promptly he said, "Crœsus", Which I thought was not inappropriate. However, I will not seek to draw a moral or to adorn a tale there.

May I also join in this tribute the noble Lord, Lord St. Oswald? I think it was perhaps the first major measure with which he was concerned, and he carried a share of the responsibility, which was some ordeal. If I may say so with respect and all friendliness, he did not take his jumps too well at the start. As a matter of fact, he did not seem to be riding his own horse. But he rapidly improved on his own mount, and jumped Amendment after Amendment—and there are more ways than one of interpreting the word "jumped" in that connection. He brushed some of his fences; he was a little timorous; but he got over, if sometimes only just. However, we should like to express our felicitations to him.

There were, of course, inevitably, in the course of discussion of the Bill certain harsh words of criticism of certain Government Departments, notably of the Board of Trade and its officers. That is, of course, part of democracy: there is no ill-feeling. I am sure that we all appreciate the immense labour that must have gone into the drafting of this Bill and the very heavy task the draftsman had not only in drafting it but in fitting in some of the Amendments which were moved and accepted. On the whole, I am sure we all feel that we have done something in the interests of the public in being associated with this fundamentally comprehensive measure for the protection of the consumer.

On Question, Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.

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