§ Order of the Day for the House to be again in Committee read.
§ Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(Lord Derwent.)
§ House in Committee accordingly.
§ [The LORD AIREDALE in the Chair.]
§ Clause 24 [Short weight, etc.]:
§ 6.29 p.m.
§ LORD FARINGDON moved, in subsection (2), after "other act" to insert "or uses or is party to the use of any 493 device". The noble Lord said: It may have occurred to some of your Lordships to wonder exactly what kind of device I had in mind when I put down this Amendment. The kind of device I had in mind—and this is an example—is the package which would appear to be very much larger than the actual goods that it contains. Noble Lords may well suppose that this kind of case would be covered by the phrase already in the Bill, "an act calculated to mislead", but I must confess that not only I but some of my friends have doubts as to whether the act would in fact cover this particular piece of duplicity.
§ It seems to me that an act would be something more personal, a relationship between buyer and seller; and the act of handing over a deceptive carton might not come within the purview of the phrase, "an act calculated to mislead". Obviously this is a complicated point, which I suppose will never be decided until it has arisen in the courts after the Bill has become an Act. But I suggest that it would be safer and surer to adopt the words which I put forward as well as those which are already in the Bill. I beg to move.
Page 26, line 34, after ("act") insert "or uses or is party to the use of any device".—(Lord Farinqdon.)
I think that the wording of the clause as it now stands may have a wider interpretation than the noble Lord who moved the Amendment thinks. I would put a hypothetical case to my noble friend, wondering whether or not the wording at this point of the clause is a trifle ambiguous. The present words are:… calculated to mislead a person buying or selling the goods as to the quantity thereof…It is the normal practice in a fruit shop to serve oranges at, say, seven for 1s. The usual device is to have the large oranges in front and the small ones behind. The buyer is not being deceived as to the number he is buying, because he knows that he is going to get seven oranges; but he can be deceived as to the total quantity, because the seven oranges he gets are going to weigh appreciably less than the seven he sees in front of him. I am perfectly certain that the clause does hot intend to make 494 that sort of action, which I should have thought was covered by the maxim, caveat emptor, illegal; but as drafted it might conceivably do so, and that ties up with the noble Lord's Amendment, because that would be a "device". For that reason, at this stage I put forward this particular argument.
§ BARONESS BURTON OF COVENTRY
I was most interested in the argument put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke. If it were possible to find a form of words which could prevent customers from being given smaller merchandise than that displayed in the front it would be a great boon to all shoppers. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, will have a suggestion here, but it would be very welcome. I rise to support the Amendment. This clause is an important one. The question of short weight causes more anxiety and annoyance than any other. I should have thought that the clause as drafted would at first sight imply that it is made an offence to make a misrepresentation about weight at all. Where I find a difficulty—and I am now seeking information, not being legally qualified on the question of definitions—is that I am not sure whether this adequately covers what is intended.
The words in the clause, "or does any other act calculated to mislead", I have been advised, do need additional qualification. The word "misrepresentation" earlier on seems to be qualified by, "either by word of mouth or otherwise as to the quantity", but there is no qualification of the words, "act calculated to mislead". I am told that these are not sufficient to cover the use of a device, as in the case of deceptive packaging put forward by my noble friend Lord Faringdon.
I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, if it is not true that the Amendment we are putting forward ensures that the shopkeeper or shop assistant who handed a deceptive package across the counter to the customer would be committing an "act calculated to mislead". The people who have talked to me are under the impression that the clause as worded would not make that an offence. I should therefore be grateful if the noble Lord could clear up for me this important point of definition.
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, BOARD OF TRADE (LORD DERWENT)
This is a matter of legal interpretation. May I first reply to my noble friend Lord Hawke, who suggested that people could be deceived by having all the best goods put in front and the others at the back? It is perfectly true that where goods are sold by number this is liable to happen. I can think of no conceivable regulation which can stop it. This matter was looked at by the Hodgson Committee and during the preparation of this Bill, but no solution was put forward to do away with it, and I do not think that one can be devised in an Act of Parliament.
I am afraid that I did not make myself clear. I do not want the noble Lord to deal with it, to make it illegal, because I think it is impossible. My point was that as the clause is drafted at the present moment, the person we have in mind might be liable to prosecution, and I think that that would be unsatisfactory. May I suggest that instead of the words "quantity thereof", we put "weight thereof" or "number thereof"? I believe that that would clear up the matter.
§ LORD DERWENT
With great respect, I do not think that it would clear up the matter at all, because weight and number are quantity. Other people cleverer than I am have tried to find a solution, and no one has succeeded. With regard to the Amendment, subsection (2), to which the Amendment relates, provides broadly that it is an offence for anyone to do anything calculated to mislead anyone about the quantity of goods sold or offered for sale. The Amendment seeks to specify that the use of a device calculated to mislead about quantity is an offence. I am advised that the use of a device for this purpose is clearly an act which is made an offence by the subsection as it now stands so that the Amendment is unnecessary.
I would add that a similar Amendment was moved in another place, and my right honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary took careful advice on this point from the Board of Trade legal advisers, and assured the House at the time that the clause as drafted could catch the retailer as well as the packer or manufacturer, and that the words "party to the use of a device" were covered by the clause. I did not accept 496 that as necessarily true, so I took the matter up again having read what was said in the other place, and I am assured by our legal advisers that there is no possible shadow of doubt. I am not a lawyer, but I am afraid I cannot go further than that.
§ LORD STONHAM
I am sorry to hear the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, say that he had not once, but twice, taken the best possible legal advice available—
§ LORD STONHAM
Took it once by proxy, and once in actuality. He then said that, having taken the best available legal advice on the subject, he came to a full stop and nothing could be done. I think that in these matters, when we seek legal advice, it is always a good and salutary thing to bear in mind Mr. Bumble's dictum about the law and about legal advice and look at this thing in a practical way.
The noble Lord has somewhat contradicted his legal advisers, because in relation to the example given by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, which was count, there is no possible legal way, apparently, of preventing a fraud—and that is what it amounts to—when things are being sold by count. This clause is for the prevention of fraud, and I should have thought that the answer the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, would give would be that the case quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, is in fact a fraud, and that it would be covered by the clause. But he has not said that, and therefore his legal advisers have apparently indicated that it would not be covered, and the greengrocer can do this thing with impunity, despite this Bill, and get away with it. I should have thought that that was precisely the case which would be covered by our particular Amendment, because it is the use of a device, the device being to stick the big oranges in front or the big strawberries on top and the little ones at the back and at the bottom. That is a device for the purpose of deceiving or defrauding the customer.
But let us get away from mere count, since we are also thinking of measures, and take the example of the stallholder in a market place who talks of full-size blankets, full-size sheets and full-size 497 table cloths, as they do. They hold up a sheet. You cannot measure it with your eye and you think it is the proper size for a single bed or a double bed and are deceived in that way by the description "full-size", when often these sheets are not full-size at all. That is a device calculated to mislead, and I do not think it is covered by the subsection as it now stands. Personally, I think that if we were to consider this matter further we could find dozens of similar examples—not just of packaging, but of verbal statements or other devices which are used to deceive the buyer.
There was one point which the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, seemed to ignore altogether arid which was put by my noble friend Lord Faringdon—namely, the point about the salesman or shopkeeper who hands over a package which is only partly filled, but which has been pre-packed, and he himself has not packed it, and who would have a possible defence—it might be a good defence—that he did not know that it was only partly filled and therefore was a misleading package. In those circumstances, as I see it, under the clause as it now stands, there would be no recourse back to the packer, who had obviously deliberately attempted to deceive by using the device of only partly filling the container. All those things, as I see it—and examples have been quoted on both sides of the Committee—are not covered by the subsection as it now stands, and would, I submit, be covered if this Amendment were accepted. I would therefore ask the noble Lord to assure us that he will go back to both his legal and his lay advisers on this point so that we may come back and find a different answer next time.
§ LORD DERWENT
The noble Lord, Lord Stonham, seems to have departed very much from the original Amendment and the case put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Faringdon. All I have said is that I am advised that this Amendment adds nothing to the clause, and anything that adds nothing to a clause is bad drafting if you add it. As regards the various points raised by the noble Lord, there are other methods in the clause by which prosecutions can be made. It is no good taking one case and saying, "Can you 498 do this?", and another case and saying, "Can you do that?". The noble Lord referred to the case of undersize sheets being passed off as full-size. That is the offence of supplying a false trade description as to quantity and a prosecution would lie. But that is a different matter from that covered by the Amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Faringdon, and the noble Baroness wanted to make certain that this clause applied throughout, down to the retailer, and the answer to that is, "Yes, it does".
I hope that my noble friend when consulting his legal advisers will also raise this question of the exact wording in quantity. I differ from the other side of the Committee, because I do not want it to be possible to have prosecutions for this universal device, or whatever you call it, of the smaller things being kept at the back, because obviously the inspectors would be overwhelmed by such matters. I am still inclined to think that where you are dealing in measurement and number it would be safer to put in line 35 "as to the measurement or number" rather than "quantity".
§ LORD DERWENT
I see what the noble Lord means, but it really is not possible. The noble Lord is asking that where a trader is selling by number, whether bananas or oranges, it shall be an offence if he in fact says that all the oranges are of the same size. I know the noble Lord does not want to go so far as that; but if you are going to draft anything, that is what you have to do. It is no good my going back to my legal or lay advisers on that point. When things are sold by number and there is deliberate misrepresentation, when a case might apply—if you had enormous bananas in front and tiny ones behind—that is a different matter. But to draft anything to cover what is not an actual misrepresentation, because they are rather bigger in front than behind, is not possible.
My noble friend and I are 100 per cent. in agreement, and I am merely trying to save his Bill from doing something that he does not want it to do. Will he consult his legal advisers?
§ LORD LATHAM
Would the noble Lord agree that the action would fall within the doctrine of "holding out"?
This has been a lively discussion, very largely, it seems to me, beside the point of the Amendment. I raised a legal point, as the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, said. He appears to have taken high-powered legal advice, and I am bound to accept what has been told me. With your Lordships' permission, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 24 agreed to.
§ Clause 25:
§ Pleading of warranty as defence
§ 25.—(1) Subject to the provisions of this section, in any proceedings for an offence under this Part of this Act or any instrument made thereunder, being an offence relating to the quantity or pre-packing of any goods, it shall be a defence for the persons charged to prove—
- (a) that he bought the goods from some other person—
- (i) as being of the quantity which the person charged purported to sell or represented, or which was marked on any container or stated in any document to which the proceedings relate; or
- (ii) as conforming with the statement marked on any container to which the proceedings relate, or with the requirements with respect to the pre-packing of goods of this Act and any instrument made thereunder,
- (b) that he so bought the goods with a written warranty from that other person that they were of that quantity or, as the case may be, did so conform; and
- (c) that at the time of the commission of the offence he had no reason to believe the statement contained in the warranty to be inaccurate, that he did in fact believe in its accuracy and, if the warranty was given by a person who at the time he gave it was resident outside Great Britain and any
500 designated country, that the person charged had taken reasonable steps to check the accuracy of that statement; and
§ 6.50 p.m.
§ LORD CROOK moved, in subsection (1)(a), after the first word "person" to insert "resident in Great Britain". The noble Lord said: With your Lordships' permission, I will also take the next Amendment, No. 16. Both of them deal with Clause 25. The clause, as your Lordships know, sets out the line of defence which can be offered in respect of an offence which relates to the quantity or pre-packing. To sum up, what the subsections provide is, first, that the goods were bought from some other person; secondly, that the trader also bought the goods with a written warranty; thirdly, that at the time of the commission of the offence he had no reason to believe that the statement contained in the warranty was inaccurate; and, fourthly, that he took all reasonable steps in respect of the custody of the goods. The purpose of these two Amendments taken together is to restrict the warranty defence to warranties given by persons resident in Great Britain.
§ I would remind your Lordships that in the majority of clauses in this Bill we have dealt with goods produced in this country. We have pursued them right the way from the time when they were seeds on a farm, through the Wholesaler to the retailer, and then traced them back again. Here, for the first time, we are looking at goods that come in from abroad. We feel that the person who imports goods should be made absolutely responsible for their propriety in respect of subsequent sale in this country. We on this side do not think that it should be a defence in proceedings under the Bill that warranty should have been given by persons abroad who cannot be answerable in the courts of our own country here. It is perfectly true that under paragraph (c) in line 41 there is provision that the person relying on the warranty must prove to the satisfaction of the court that "he had taken reasonable steps" to check the accuracy of the statement. In practice, so far as we know this is not an easy thing to do, if only because the word "reasonable" has been liberally treated in the courts in its 501 interpretation. We think that in this context it would mean "reasonable" in all the general circumstances.
§ The nature of the business is such that importers in many cases never see or take any actual physical possession of the goods which they import. The goods come into the docks and are held on the docks until moved to the place of the person who has purchased the goods—for instance, either figs or dates, which were referred to in another place when they were discussing this matter on Standing Committee. They come in great boxes containing smaller boxes, from Smyrna or other places, and are moved off to the point of sale. The most that happens is that the wholesaler here who is putting the goods over to the retail trade or, it may be, to smaller wholesalers, has himself had a sample of the goods sent in on the new seasons pick (to take the Parliamentary Secretary's reference) of the figs or dates, and they are accepted on a specification of the quality that he is entitled to expect or the number or ounces of goods defined in the packing.
§ It is not good enough to suggest, as the Parliamentary Secretary tried to suggest in another place, that it is a feasible function for the person baying in that way to go down to the docks, open up a package and have his random sample checked, looking at the odd box to see whether there are 6 ounces in it or not. I suggest it is quite absurd to try to hold people to a statistical check of that kind to prove "reasonable steps". I hope that the noble Lord when he replies will be able to tell us that he can at this stage of the Bill accept this Amendment. I beg to move.
Page 29, line 21, after ("person") insert ("resident in Great Britain").—(Lord Crook.)
§ LORD DERWENT
There is between us here simply a difference of view, and I will explain what it is. I am taking the two Amendments together, as the noble Lord has suggested. The Amendments would have the effect of depriving any trader who imported goods of the defence of warranty in any proceedings for an offence relating to the quantity or pre-packing of those goods. He would not have any warranty defence. The defence of warranty is one of the most important safeguards for traders, in the Bill, and it 502 would be unreasonable discrimination, in our view, against the importer, compared with other traders, and against imported goods, too, to withhold this defence entirely from a trader who imported goods. The consequence would be to place upon the importer the whole burden and responsibility of ensuring the accuracy of the quantity and compliance with pre-packing requirements of the Bill. The clause already provides that a defendant who is relying on a warranty from an overseas supplier—for example, an Australian exporter of butter—has, in addition to meeting the other conditions which the ordinary home trader has to meet, as set out in subsection (1) of the clause, to take reasonable steps to check the accuracy of the statement of a warranty given by the supplier overseas.
It is no good the noble Lord, Lord Crook, saying that it is impossible for him to check, because unless he has taken reasonable steps his defence of warranty will not hold. These provisions are similar to those in the Food and Drugs Act, 1955. In the Government's opinion, the additional requirement for importers to take reasonable steps to check the accuracy of the statement of warranty given by an overseas supplier is sufficient. We are not likely to move from that view. The importer has an additional burden in this respect. We think that burden is sufficient, and I therefore ask the Committee to reject the Amendment.
§ LORD CROOK
I should think that what has just been stated is the complete opposite. Surely, what we are suggesting takes away a burden that the Government will place upon importers in trying to do their job. I do not know whether the noble Lord has studied the material that went to the Standing Committee in another place, where one of the honourable Ladies quoted what some of us know from reading constantly the excellent reports that come in every month from the Birmingham inspectors. They followed through on a given case, and they had to show exactly what I tried to show: to get this warranty you have to go right through to the shipping delivery. I think this was a case of dates or figs, the very fruit referred to by the Parliamentary Secretary. They were in boxes allegedly of six ounces. Sixty at a time were put in cases, and 503 the total net weight of fruit in the case was 19½ lb., which meant that it was 3 lb. short. I suggest that the kind of thing we are after not only means we are trying to provide that the warranty is one which can be actionable in our own courts, but takes away some of the burden from the importer and does not put new burdens on him as the noble Lord suggested.
§ LORD DERWENT
The burden would be that he would have no defence at all, if this Amendment were passed, and he might well stop importing. As regards checking, which the noble Lord suggested in his original speech was almost impossible, I may say that there are at this day sample checks being made by inspectors at the London docks on behalf of importers. So it is not so very difficult. But if, after sample checks have been made, one case out of 200 cases is found to be faulty, if this Amendment were passed the importer would have no defence at all. That, really, is unreasonable when you consider that an importer has a more difficult job than the home trader. You are then going to say that he cannot have any warranty defence at all. We do not consider this is reasonable.
§ LORD STONHAM
I do not feel that the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, answered the kind of example which my noble friend Lord Crook mentioned the second time he spoke, about the case of figs. It often happens that fruit is imported for sale on commission, without having been bought from the foreign exporter until after it has been sold in this country. It cannot be bought, because it is imported on commission. Where is the warranty going to lie in such circumstances?
The case contains cartons which give a net weight or quantity; and the statement of either on the case may be totally false. In a case of that kind the consignment is imported for sale on commission. It is either sold in a London auction or in a wholesale market by a commission agent working for the foreign exporter. He, of course, would he the person resident in Britain who would sell on behalf of the importer to a third party. I should like the noble Lord to tell me whether, in such circumstances, there is any value in the warranty at all? There would be, as I see it, no kind of recourse 504 and, therefore, if the case is like that, and of the kind quoted by my noble friend Lord Crook, we think the words "resident in Great Britain" are necessary to put into this clause.
It may well be that a particular case such as I have quoted has not come within the purview of the noble Lord, or may not have been considered by his Department. In such circumstances I shall understand if I cannot get an answer right away, but I do think that under this clause that is the kind of case which must be considered.
§ LORD DERWENT
Is the noble Lord suggesting that these are goods which the person who is selling them does not know are imported?
§ LORD STONHAM
The person who first sells them would almost certainly know that they were imported. The second person who sells them, probably a retailer or a secondary wholesaler, would know they were imported only by the nature of the goods. He would of necessity know they were imported if they were goods which came in at a certain season of the year, but he could not possibly know who the exporter was and there would not in fact have been a sale until after the goods were landed in this country.
§ LORD DERWENT
That is perfectly true, but the fact of warranty still does not ride. There is a middleman in this case; they are sold on commission. The man knows they are imported. Does he or does he not sell having received a warranty? If he sells without a warranty, whether on commission or in any other way, then he is liable. He has sold goods knowing them to be imported, and if they are defective and he has no warranty it is his own fault; and, if he has a warranty, has he taken reasonable steps to see that the goods are in order? It is the question of selling, not the importing, for the man who may or may not commit an offence.
§ LORD STONHAM
The noble Lord still has not quite got the point. These cartons have a description on them as to quantity. The commission agent has not actually bought those goods. There is no contract of sale and he did not specify what should be in the cartons. They are merely sent to him for sale on commission for as much as they will fetch, and 505 he sells them as they are, but if they have a printed label outside the carton which does not tally with the quantity of goods inside, then what is the position? He was at no time the owner of the goods because he was selling them on commission. He was not responsible for the fact that the outside container may differ from the contents. He did not order the goods; he was merely selling them; and he is not responsible for any difference between the description and the contents. There would be, in my submission, no redress for the third party because you could not get back to the exporter.
§ LORD DERWENT
What the noble Lord is saying is that the commission agent had no warranty as a defence. Therefore this clause does not apply. This clause applies to somebody pleading warranty as a defence, and the noble Lord says this man has no warranty. The noble Lord's case has nothing to do with this clause at all.
§ EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I wish to put only this last point. Supposing a man is selling on commission goods supplied to him on warranty, and he sells them in oral auction of sale on warranty because they have been supplied to him on that basis on commission. He would not have known himself where they came from.
§ LORD AIREDALE
Surely the Minister is right about this. This clause applies to a person who, under subsection (1)(a), bought the goods from some other person. If he did not buy the goods from some other person, if he is the commission agent for some other person, this subsection does not apply to the case.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Clause 25 agreed to.
§ Clauses 26 and 27 agreed to.
§ Clause 28 [Offences originating in certain countries outside Great Britain]:
§ 7.7 p.m.
LORD LATHAM moved to leave out Clause 28. The noble Lord said: I rise to move Amendment 18 on the Marshalled List. Its purpose is not dissimilar
from the purpose which was in the minds of those who promoted Amendments 15 and 16. We seek the deletion of Clause 28. This clause proposes to enable an offender to raise the defence that the offence was due to an act or default by some other person not answerable to our courts, another person in a so-called designated country, which is defined in Clause 58(1) as meaning
… Northern Ireland, any of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man …
if the Board think it proper to designate them for the purpose of the provision.
§ It is thought that the principle contended for in relation to Clause 25 is also perhaps more closely applicable here; that a person charged with an offence in this country in respect of imported goods ought not to be able to claim acquittal on the grounds that the offence was due to an act or default of another person in a country not within our jurisdiction. I submit that the provision in Clause 28 is, as it were, an ever-open door to certain people to offend with the knowledge and contentment that they can have as a defence an allegation that the offence arose from an act or default of some other person not within our jurisdiction. This is an "open sesame" with a vengeance, and I hope the noble Lord will be able to meet the submission that I have made and agree that the clause should be deleted. I beg to move.
Leave out Clause 28.—(Lord Latham.)
I rather doubt from the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Latham, if he has ever been engaged in the import trade, because, without this clause, the importing business would become quite impossible. Just consider the question of the importer of goods. He buys them on a sample. He has cases shipped to his warehouse. He probably opens a case to see that they conform to his sample and he then proceeds to send the cases off to the people who bought them. If the noble Lord has his way, the trader would have to open every case in his warehouse and check them. I am not sure he would not have to open every tin, if they were tins. I assure the noble Lord he would put a stop completely to all the import of packaged foodstuffs to this country in one fell swoop.
§ LORD DERWENT
I hope to be able to comfort the noble Lord, Lord Latham, by giving certain assurances to show him that the door will not be open; it will be closed except when we want it open. The object of the clause is to enable the Board of Trade to give a defence to traders in this country against whom an offence is alleged or charged under Part IV of the Bill if they can establish that it was due to the act or default of some person in a designated country (this is also a question of warranty but this is in a designated country); for example, a packer or supplier carrying on business in a designated country.
The effect of deleting this clause would be to render traders (who might sometimes be retailers) who were supplied direct by packers in the countries concerned liable for anything found wrong with the goods supplied by that packer. The expression "designated country" is defined in Clause 58 of the Bill and means such, if any, of the following countries, that is to say, Northern Ireland, any of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, as the Board, having regard to the law—and this is important—for the time being in force in that country, thinks it proper to designate for the purposes of this or other clauses of the Bill by order. As your Lordships are aware, these countries are wholly or partially independent in weights and measures matters. The Northern Ireland Government are, under the Government of Ireland Act, 1920, responsible in their own country for all matters covered by this Bill, except those basic provisions of Part I which apply to the United Kingdom—for example, the basic standards and units; Northern Ireland come in under those. The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man have responsibility for, and power to legislate for, all weights and measures matters within their countries. These countries are, however, all parts of the British Isles, and the effect of the clause is therefore to put dealings in all parts of the British Isles, if possible, on the same footing. Foreign countries are not covered by this clause.
The essence of this designation procedure is to ensure that there is a measure of reciprocity with these territories in weights and measures matters, and that, as far as possible, common weights and measures arrangements 508 apply throughout the British Isles. The Board of Trade will not, for example, think it proper to designate one of the countries mentioned for the purposes of this clause unless they are satisfied that if a count in this country concluded that the commission of an offence was due to the act or default of a person in that country, the authorities in that country would have the power and would be willing to consider using that power to institute proceedings against the person concerned. Similarly, if a designated country reported to the Board of Trade an alleged offence by a packer in Great Britain, the Board would pass on the allegation to the local authority in whose area the packer carried on business so that they could warn him, keep a close watch for a repetition of the sort of fault attributed to him, and, if they found sufficient grounds, take proceedings against him in the local court in that area.
The Board of Trade, I repeat, will think it proper to designate and keep designated one of these countries only when they know power can be taken under the law of that country to punish people who commit packing faults and so on. It is the hope of the Government that in time all our regulations will correspond throughout the British Isles, including the designated countries. I hope I have said enough to persuade the noble Lord, Lord Latham, that perhaps the way the clause is going to work may be the best one.
§ LORD STONHAM
Before my noble friend has another word, may I ask the noble Lord if the position is this: that when a country is designated its exports to us are all covered by the designation; there is no exclusion by description? For example, if you take the Channel Islands, the major exports are horticultural—tomatoes from Guernsey and Jersey, potatoes from Jersey. Invariably, they are sold here in the original containers in which they came and, of course, the packages are in standard weights, and therefore there is, or should be, a warranty at that time. Can the noble Lord assure us that in that kind of quite substantial trade the regulations in the country of origin are such that an offender could be caught and dealt with?
§ LORD DERWENT
That will be the sort of matter to be taken into account by the Board of Trade in designating. May I repeat the words I used: the Board of Trade will not, for example, think it proper to designate one of the countries mentioned for the purposes of this clause unless they are satisfied that if a court in this country finds that an offence has been committed the court in the designated country has the power to punish the offender.
I apologise to the House for having talked nonsense. I did not realise the designated countries were these.
§ LORD LATHAM
I was surprised at the defence of this clause put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Hawke, and I was even more surprised that that defence was underlined by the Minister. Are we to assume the importer has no remedy at all against the exporter? After all, the importer buys either by sample or inspection or by viewing, certainly by reference to some standard, by which of course the importer is protected. The offence of the importer is not that he has been let down by the exporter in another country; the offence is that the importer puts these goods on sale although they do not, for reasons which may be related to the exporter, comply with the requirements of the law. The importer can have recourse to his defaulting exporter, but the public cannot have recourse to the defaulting tradesman who retails these defective goods or otherwise fails to comply with the requirements of the law in this country. It seems there is no hardship imposed on the importer, but there is hardship on the people who buy—the customer, the consumer. In those circumstances I submit that there are grounds for accepting the deletion of this clause.
§ On Question, Amendment negatived.
§ Clause 28 agreed to.
§ Clause 29 agreed to.
§ Clause 30 [Powers of inspector with respect to certain documents]:
§ 7.20 p.m.
LORD FARINGDON moved, to leave out all words after "in charge of" and to substitute:
(a) any document required by or under this Act to be associated with any goods; or
(b) any price notice or display ticket, to produce that document for inspection.
§ The noble Lord said: The object of this clause is to enable an inspector to require the person in charge of any document required under the Bill to be associated with any goods to produce that document for inspection, to seize and detain it if he thinks fit and if it contains a false statement, or to endorse it with particulars of any inaccuracy. The suggestion of my Amendment is to extend this power of the inspector to other documents of a limited kind and class—namely, to price notices or display tickets, and to treat them in exactly the same way as the Bill suggests in the case of the required documents.
§ A rather similar Amendment was moved in another place. The Government then objected and rejected the Amendment on the ground that it was not right or fair to insist that a purely private document, as it were, should be able to be demanded by an inspector. My Amendment has been considerably narrowed, and it is intended to apply to documents of these particular types because it has been found that these documents often form the absolute basis of a prosecution and that many prosecutions have failed where it has not been possible for the inspector to produce price notices or display tickets. These are the instruments of a fairly common kind of cheating, particularly in open markets where a price notice or ticket can be so written as to give an entirely false impression to the buyer.
§ In general, there are four kinds of such notices or tickets. There are simple statements of weight; a statement of the rate per lb. in association with a statement of the total price; a statement of total quantity and price, or a statement of number and price. This can be so written that the buyer gets a false impression, and it is of the essence of the prosecution in these cases that these price notices or display tickets can be produced in court. It is a really serious matter, and I hope that Her Majesty's Government will see fit to accept this Amendment which is for the protection of the public and, I suggest, essential to the working of this Bill. I beg to move.
Page 36, line 3, leave out from ("of") to end of line 4 and insert the said new words.—(Lord Faringdon.)
§ LORD DERWENT
I agree with the noble Lord that he has narrowed this Amendment from the terms in which it appeared before. The Amendment as at present drafted gives inspectors of weights and measures power to examine, and if necessary to seize or endorse, any documents which are especially required by the Bill, or by orders made under Clause 21, to be associated with particular classes of goods and to be delivered to the buyer. The effect of the Amendment would be to enable an inspector, in addition to demanding to see the documents required, also to demand to see any document relating to price or display tickets which the person concerned had in his possession. Apart from what the Bill asks for, it would also enable the inspector to seize things which are not so far demanded by the Bill.
I think the noble Lord is under a misapprehension. Certainly that is not the sense in which I understand this Amendment. It does not, I suggest, entitle an inspector to demand documents which have relation to price or display tickets. It entitles him only to seize a price or display ticket which is actually shown in connection with the goods.
§ LORD DERWENT
The inspector may require him under the Bill to produce it for documentation, and he can demand to have it. That is the way that the Amendment is read. I see what the noble Lord wants; he merely wants the inspector to look at it.
I want him to be able to seize it, having looked at it and discovered it to be deceptive.
§ LORD DERWENT
But if that is the point of this Amendment, I do not quite see why it is put down; because, presumably, if a price ticket is put on goods which the public can see, the inspector also can see it. So I do not see why he should need to demand to see it. It is there for him to see as evidence.
The point is that he may see it, but he has not a 512 legal right actually to seize that price ticket. If he does not seize it, then when he comes to prosecute he no longer is in a position to produce a deceptive statement, price ticket or display ticket, even if he can demand that it shall be produced in court where it will form an essential part of the prosecution. Although he may demand it, the display ticket or price ticket which has been left in the hands of the dealer may have been subjected to alteration. There have been court cases, for example, where a little "from" has been written in at the top left-hand corner before the statement which is, in fact, the statement complained of.
§ LORD DERWENT
I find it difficult to believe that—and we have no example of this—an inspector cannot get corroborative evidence, which is all that is required if a price ticket is displayed. It seems to me that he can always get corroborative evidence. If it is not displayed, it is of course doing the public no harm.
§ EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
Does the noble Lord mean that the inspector would have to take some other person with him to give corroborative evidence? Otherwise, where would such evidence come from, unless he happened to have a special customer?
§ LORD DERWENT
He might get a customer or a police constable. But so long as the ticket is on view he can get corroborative evidence. We do not believe it is right that inspectors should have general powers of seizure and examination—and we are advised that the Amendment is bound to limit this particular power of seizure—of these tickets unless they are strictly required by the Bill in other forms. I know that this Amendment is fairly narrow in its terms, but we still think that it would be an unreasonable extension of the Bill to give inspectors power to demand documents which the law does not require to exist. We have to preserve a reasonable balance between the provision necessary for enforcement of the law and freedom of the individual, including the individual trader, from unwarranted interference. But we take the view that if a price ticket is displayed, evidence can be produced.
§ LORD CROOK
As I understood the noble Lord, he was trying to tell us the opposite of the doctrine which is now 513 being preached to is as magistrates: that we should try to avoid dragging yet more people into court than is necessary. I understand the argument of the noble Lord is that he is happy to have this matter proved by the inspector going to fetch the "copper" down the road who is far more helpfully employed assisting motorists; whereas this could be done quite easily by taking the ticket and allowing only the person who is making the examination to come to court to substantiate the prosecution—in other words, one person comes, instead of two.
§ LORD DERWENT
He will still have to produce the evidence, even if he seizes the ticket. What this Amendment asks is that, in regard to a price ticket or display ticket, which, unlike some other documents, does not have to be produced under the Bill, the inspector should have general powers of seizure. That is what I am advised this Amendment in fact does. We do not think it is right that he should have those general powers.
§ LORD AIREDALE
I should have thought that there was great merit in this Amendment because the courts like to act upon the best evidence. It is perfectly true that an inspector can be called as a witness, with somebody else to corroborate him, and to say that on the harrow boy's cart the figure "½"—inserted between the "2s. 6d." on the price ticket and the "lb." both appearing in large letters—was written so small that hardly anybody could see it. The barrow boy will say that the "½" was written in clear letters. Therefore, the court will say, "Here we have a dispute as to fact. We wish we could have had the price ticket produced to us." Under the Amendment it would appear that the inspector would have power under subsection (2) to seize the inaccurate price ticket and to produce it to the court, and they could see for themselves the extent of the deception being practised.
There seems to be weight in the last argument. Could my noble friend accept something to the effect that the notice or display ticket could be seized only if it was an essential part of the evidence? So far as I can see, it is only in a very limited number of cases that a price ticket can be evidence. The documentary evidence 514 which the inspector will require will in most cases be the weight ticket, or something of that nature. There are not many offences that could be committed by exhibiting the price. The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, has hit on one where there is some element of deception in regard to the lettering being too small. Could my noble friend alter this wording to bring in the possibility of seizing a notice in that limited sort of case?
§ LORD LATHAM
Is this not something more than a case of evidence? It is the actual physical means by which the fraud is perpetrated—and that can be destroyed by the vendor.
§ LORD DERWENT
I am rather doubtful whether we are likely to give way on this; but, in view of what noble Lords have said, if the noble Lord will withdraw his Amendment to-day I will have another look at the point, and write to him before the next stage of the Bill. I do not think the Amendment in its present form is likely to be accepted, for the reasons I have given. But, in view of what noble Lords have said, if I may look at the whole question again, I will let Lord Faringdon know whether he should put down another Amendment, or whether we can come to some arrangement about it. If he will withdraw the Amendment now, I am willing to take another look at it.
I am most grateful to the noble Lord, and I accept his offer. I would point out, incidentally, that it has not infrequently been known for inspectors to produce exactly these documents, and cases have been substantiated by their use. It was suggested that an inspector could demand that this kind of document should be produced. I had no intention of giving that impression at all. I wanted to allow the inspector to seize a display ticket which was actually on the goods to be seen, not to say to the seller: "Have you a display ticket for this?" and then take it. If the display ticket is not displayed, then it is not committing any offence. I thank the noble Lord very much, and I also thank other noble Lords for their support. I feel that there is a point of substance here, and I am hopeful that the noble 515 Lord will come round to agreeing with me. With your Lordships' permission, I beg to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 30 agreed to.
§ Clauses 31 and 32 agreed to.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, this would probably be a suitable moment to break off. I move that the Committee do now adjourn during pleasure until twenty minutes to nine.
§ [The Sitting was suspended at twenty-five minutes before eight o'clock and resumed at twenty minutes before nine o'clock.]
§ Clause 33 [Selling by quantity, making quantity known, and weighing in presence]:
§ LORD MILVERTON moved to leave out subsection (3). The noble Lord said: I rise to move the Amendment standing in my name. The Bill requires that many pre-packed goods shall be sold by quantity expressed in a certain manner—net weight, gross weight or count—and Clause 33(2) prescribes the various ways in which this shall be done. Subsection (3) of Clause 33 introduces a novel principle into the field of weights and measures legislation. It is an alternative to the general principle of this legislation, that the seller must make known to the buyer the quantity or weight et cetera of the goods sold. Where the Board so provide by order, the seller of any goods specified in the order shall be deemed to comply with the requirement generally placed by the Bill upon the seller to make known the quantity, if he provides a scale for the use of the purchaser. This will transfer the burden of ascertaining the quantity of the goods from seller to buyer. The Association of Municipal Corporations has considerable doubt about the wisdom of this change of principle.
§ Subsection (3) of this clause has been amended since it was first introduced, and the procedure will now be available only where the Board of Trade so provide. One feels that it will make for a 516 reduction in the degree of protection of the public which the new legislation will provide; that it may operate in favour of large supermarkets where there is enough space to provide scales for the customer's use, and, incidentally, to the detriment of the small shopkeeper. Even if a purchaser has the courage or is able in the crowded conditions of store trading to take the goods to a scale, he may be unable to ascertain if there is short weight, because he will be able only to ascertain the gross weight of the packed goods. I feel, and the Association of Municipal Corporations certainly feel, that subsection (3) is not required and should be deleted. I beg to move.
Page 37, line 42, leave out subsection (3).—(Lord Milverton.)
§ LORD DERWENT
Although my noble friend has introduced his Amendment with commendable brevity, I hope your Lordships will forgive me, as this is a matter which has been much debated not only in Parliament but elsewhere, if I reply at some length, because I think the Government's view must be made quite clear.
The effect of this Amendment would be to remove the provisions in the Bill which relate to "do-it-yourself" weighing—which I think is the way we refer to it now. Clause 33(3) gives the Board of Trade power to provide by order, subject to Affirmative Resolution by Parliament—I would point that out to your Lordships—that a requirement in the Bill to "make known" the weight of goods sold by retail shall be satisfied if the retailer makes available, without charge, suitable weighing equipment on which the buyer can weigh the goods himself. At the moment, Schedule 4, Part VII, provides that this clause shall apply only to fresh fruit and vegetables.
In my submission this is a problem for which there is no completely satisfactory solution. We cannot accept that this subsection of this clause should be deleted. Perhaps I might remind your Lordships of the background to this subsection. It is designed to deal with pre-packed foods which are liable to lose weight by heavy and unpredictable evaporation under modern methods of packing. It does not follow, of course—and there I would agree with my noble friend—that this subsection may be necessary for ever, but, under present-day 517 conditions of packing, we believe it is necessary. It is heavy and unpredictable evaporation; unpredictable because it is affected by things like temperature, the time of picking, the time of packing, and so on. At the moment, as I say, the clause deals only with fresh fruit and vegetables; but we feel that the important thing from the point of view of consumer protection is that at any rate the buyer should have some idea of what he is buying.
Various suggestions have been put forward. One is that the weight should be put on whatever the package is at the time it is packed; but that, in our submission, is riot going to tell the consumer anything, really, unless he also knows how long ago it was packed, what the temperature was, and what the conditions of travel were—and they all affect this question of evaporation. So we say that the best way of dealing with this is for him to weigh the goods—I mean weighing in some form; I will deal with the other point in a minute—at the time of purchase, so that at any rate the purchaser does or can know at the time of purchase the weight of what he is buying.
In the ordinary shop the retailer would normally meet this requirement by passing the package over the scales in the purchaser's presence. My noble friend is quite right: the difficulty arises here as to these self-service stores. They face a special problem, in that they cannot weigh in the purchaser's presence without losing their economies of staffing and, therefore, affecting their price. The other possible alternative, of marking the display shelves with notices about the quantity of goods, would involve them, in the case of evaporable goods, in periodic checks throughout the day as to whether the quantity marked was still true; and that again would appreciably add to their costs. Accordingly, and in keeping with the concept and growing popularity of self-service methods, this provision for "do-it-yourself" weight checking by the buyer should enable him to continue to benefit from the cost economies which self-service permits while still having full opportunity to satisfy himself as to the weight of whatever he is buying at the time he buys it.
Originally, of course, this subsection applied to a much wider range of goods than fruit and vegetables, and it is owing to debate in the other place that its 518 range has been narrowed. If the Board should at some future date consider it necessary to extend the provision to other goods, they will be able to do so only by order requiring an Affirmative Resolution of Parliament, and after consultation with the interests affected. That is laid down in the Bill. We maintain, and genuinely maintain—it is not just that we like it this way, but because we believe it is in the interests of the consumer—that at least at present (I will not go further than that), for fresh fruit and vegetables, where the problem of evaporation is greatest, this is, in fact, in the interests of the consumer, the best way of dealing with the matter. I hope that I have convinced my noble friend that we feel very strongly, and I hope he will feel inclined to withdraw his Amendment.
§ 8.50 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
I am at the moment speaking in virtually a personal capacity, because inasmuch as the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, referred to this as an extremely difficult matter in which there is no completely satisfactory solution, obviously there are differences of opinion on both sides of your Lordships' House. I would remind the Committee that two years ago, when we discussed a similar Bill, I spent some three or four Parliamentary days trying to persuade Her Majesty's Government to accept what I regarded as the only sensible solution in this matter: to accept a marking of net weight at the time of packing. The noble Lord has rejected this solution because he says the buyer must know what he or she is buying. In my view if the housewife is buying a bag of sprouts which she is assured weighed 1 lb. when it was packed then she still knows what she is buying, because it is still the same bag of sprouts although out of each 1 lb. there may have evaporated by that time 1½ ounces of water.
I think, and I have always thought, that one of the important things we have to bear in mind in this Bill (quite apart from the protection of the consumer, which is extremely important) is that we should not take steps which are impracticable or impossible to fulfil, and which would unfairly handicap the producer. I regard the pre-packing of vegetables as one of the most important 519 and valuable developments in horticulture; and I should therefore be opposed to any measure which would unfairly, and in my view foolishly, restrict that development. I therefore regard the proposal to remove subsection (3) of Clause 33 as wholly wrong; although I must add that I regard the Government solution as quite the wrong one.
It is, indeed, a remarkable one, because here we have a Bill which is in some measure the housewives' charter; and in that charter we are going to tell the housewives that if they are to be protected they must protect themselves. It is quite fantastic to imagine the housewife in the supermarket wheeling a wire basket trolley with one hand and guarding a couple of children with the other; stopping at the stall for strawberries or vegetables; letting go with both hands and weighing the products to see if she is getting fair weight. On a technical point I must say to the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, that it is no good suggesting that the housewife will not get fair weight, because with this method no weight is imputed at all. In fact, no weight is marked on the package; therefore it is impossible for her to get short weight because, unless she weighs it, the housewife will not have a clue what weight she is supposed to get.
The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, may have noticed with some surprise, but, I am sure, with no apprehension whatsoever, that no Amendments to Clause 33 were tabled from this side of the House.
§ LORD STONHAM
Then the noble Lord is far more optimistic than I imagined he would be. The reason was a simple and sensible one. We wanted to hear what the Government had to say on this particular matter; because we are still convinced that the best solution, not the only one but the best, is net weight at the time of packing. It is the solution which is adopted with considerable success in other countries. I have some packets here from Australia, which are marked, "Net weight when packed". They have windows through which can be seen what the vegetables are and through which the vegetables can breathe, as they must. I know that carrots grown in Texas are sold in this country in 520 packs which are marked with only net weight. Carrots are comparatively easy. I should like them to try it with sprouts or vegetables of that kind. One cannot say with any degree of reliability that the innocent trader would be free from dispute over the net weight of pre-packed vegetables.
If it is argued that they should be packed with a heavier weight to allow for loss by evaporation, I would point out that even that is unreliable, as the noble Lord has indicated, because of the variety of conditions. But if we have net weight when packed, then I am sure that we have a reasonable and sensible method, fair to the trader and to the housewife and extremely easy of inspection because there can be inspection at the packers. I do not want to develop this matter any further, because we shall table suitable Amendments on Report stage. I only want to say now that, for the reasons I have given, we support the Government in rejecting this Amendment, because, in default of the better ones that we shall move, we think that this is better than nothing at all.
§ LORD MILVERTON
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, for the care he took to answer and make clear the difficulties of this situation. In the circumstances, I do not wish to pursue the matter further, and beg leave to withdraw my Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Clause 33 agreed to.
§ Clause 34:
§ PART V
§ LOCAL ADMINISTRATION
§ Local weights and measures authorities in England and Wales
§ (4) If on any qualifying day the estimated population of any non-county borough or urban district is sixty thousand or more and before the expiration of the designated period the council of that borough or district resolve that they be the local weights and measures authority therefor and send a copy of that resolution to the Board and to the council of the county in which the borough or district is situated, then, without prejudice to subsection (6) of this section, the council of that borough or district shall be the local weights and measures authority therefor on and after 1st April in the second year after the year in which that qualifying day falls, whether or not at any time after that qualifying day the population of that borough or district falls below sixty thousand.521
§ 8.57 p.m.
§ LORD LATHAM moved to leave out subsection (4). The noble Lord said: I rise to move Amendment No. 21 and it might be for the convenience of your Lordships if, in my speech, I also deal with Amendments Nos. 22 and 23 for they are closely related. Perhaps these three Amendments are the most important to this Bill, for it is of little use to have the most admirable Bill unless it is administered satisfactorily towards the best achievement of its purpose. I ask your Lordships to bear with me if I speak at some length on this matter.
§ The object of these Amendments is to ensure that in England and Wales the administration of the Act, except possibly in a few cases of exceptionally special circumstances, is placed in the hands of the largest units of local government administration—namely, county councils and county borough councils. This Amendment seeks to delete subsection (4), which enables non-county boroughs and urban district councils, with populations of over 60,000 or more, automatically to become authorities by resolution. In order to provide for the exceptional case, where very exceptional circumstances make it expedient to permit a non-county borough or urban or rural district council to be given the powers, it is suggested that subsection (5) should be amended as indicated in the Marshalled List. This, I think, commended itself to another place, when an Amendment to include rural districts within the scope of subsection (5) was accepted; and it is strongly urged that the machinery of subsection (5) is adequate to provide for cases where councils, other than county councils and county borough councils, satisfy the Board that there are exceptional circumstances. It will mean that applications from county district councils will be considered on their merits and the population of an authority will not be the sole determining factor.
§ These Amendments have been tabled, not with the motive of claiming additional local government functions for the larger authorities, or on behalf of their constituent members, but solely on the grounds of the good and efficient administration of the weights and measures services. The clause, as drafted, provides for the first time that 522 non-county boroughs or urban district councils with populations of 60,000 or more may resolve as of right to be the local weights and measures authorities for their areas. Over the country, as a whole, and excluding Greater London which is dealt with in Clause 35, there are some 22 county boroughs and 6 urban districts with populations of the requisite size, of which 10 boroughs are already weights and measures authorities by virtue of their status as quarter-sessions boroughs or by statutory resolution under the provisions of the existing legislation, as are 39 smaller boroughs with populations lower than 60,000.
§ The general effect of the clause, therefore, would be that 10 non-county boroughs would retain their weights and measures functions, as against 39 which would relinquish them, and 18 other authorities, 12 boroughs and 6 urban districts, would become entitled to relief and to exercise the functions for the first time. If the functions are also given to the proposed 32 new London boroughs under Clause 35 of the Bill, the total number of new authorities eligible for the functions for the first time will be 50. With very few exceptions—namely, areas which will include the defunct county boroughs of Croydon, East Ham and West Ham—all these authorities would have to provide premises, costly equipment and adequate staff. Statistics are available which show that the cost to the public in these areas would rise immensely, while the efficiency of the service would most probably diminish.
§ It is further estimated that if the Government's proposals are given full effect, 284 additional qualified inspectors will be required, as compared with the 180 if the functions are confined to county councils, including the Greater London Council, and county borough councils. It is well-known that the supply of newly qualified inspectors is at present not covering normal wastage or retirement et cetera, and that additional inspectors on the required scale could not be available for some years.
The proposals as to units of administration should be carefully examined in the context of the Report of the Hodgson Committee, which emphasised the advantage of large units of administration for the weights and
measures service, and stated in paragraph 43 of the Summary of Recommendations:
The administration of Weights and Measures law should continue to be in the hands of local authorities but should in future be entrusted only to those larger authorities where the work would require the employment of at least three inspectors; that is, with certain exceptions, only to county councils and county borough councils. …".
The changing pattern of trade since then has added emphasis to the advantages of larger units. The service is a highly technical one, and differs from practically every other branch of local government service in that it demands for practically all its activities a highly trained and specialised professional officer. There is little in the day-to-day activities of the service in which elected representatives can participate as is the case with so many other departments of the local government service.
§ For these reasons alone, a small and more remote type of authority has no advantage over the larger. A larger authority, covering a considerable area of population, and with comparatively large inspectorial staffs, can, on the other hand, attract, and justifiably employ, senior officers of high calibre and experience—qualifications which would be denied to the smaller units employing, say, two subordinate inspectors. The larger authority can, moreover, make a much fuller and more economical use of the expanding capital equipment which is essential to this service. Much of its equipment, such as reference standards and testing equipment, must be provided in practically equal quantities and cost for the largest as for the smallest unit.
§ Again, the comparatively larger staffs employed by the large unit enables specialisation, which is so desirable in the wide, and ever widening, field of activity in this service, to take place. Finally, the considerable extension of activity proposed by the new legislation, including the necessity for a liaison machinery with other authorities, the co-ordination of effort, the correspondence with manufacturers, dealers, transport undertakers and the like, the keeping of efficiently maintained records, and legal work in connection with transactions, will demand that any inspectorial staffs are backed by an efficient 524 headquarters administrative organisation. Only the largest units of local administration at present provide, or could economically provide, the essentials of an efficient service on these lines. Furthermore, recent developments in the pattern of trade and the distribution of consumer goods—supermarkets, self-service, discount selling—all add emphasis to the need for fewer and larger rather than more and smaller units. The smaller trader is to an increasing extent being supplanted by the multiple shop concern, with branches extending over areas of many authorities and proportionately more district council authorities than county authorities. The same proprietary goods and, indeed, pre-packed consumer goods of all kinds are being distributed from large regional packing stations over great areas of the country.
§ The Bill provides for a substantial extension of control, not only over such goods, but also in relation to the sale and carriage of goods of various kinds by means of road vehicles. This demands the greatest possible measure of uniformity and enforcement action, and freedom of movement of enforcing officers. With the multiplicity of such authorities, it is inevitable that interpretations of the requirements of complex laws and multifarious regulations will differ to some extent, to the frustration and annoyance of traders operating in certain areas.
§ Enforcement of trade control legislation is tolerable only if there is a wide measure of uniformity of attitude, policy and practice over considerable areas, and this can best be achieved by entrusting the duties only to the larger type of authority. Many traders, I understand, particularly in relation to the enforcement of the analogous Foods and Drugs Act, which is at present in the hands of numerous comparatively small authorities, already bitterly complain of the frustration of having to deal with a multiplicity of small autonomous authorities with differing views on the same subjects in the same comparatively small geographical area.
§ It is fallacious to suppose that uniformity in all these important matters can be achieved by co-ordinating efforts of the Board of Trade alone. In relation to these services, it has been shown that these desirable purposes are in practice 525 achieved only by large units, each employing a considerable number of inspectors whose work is properly directed and co-ordinated. Units of this size tend to avoid wasteful duplication of effort which inevitably arises when a multiplicity of small autonomous authorities operate over the same area, each checking the same goods, each independently following through elaborate investigations, querying, sizing and taking arbitrary and different decisions, even legal action, in relation to the same articles. This has happened to some extent with existing authorities and become so serious that county chief inspectors found it necessary to take steps to avoid it so far as possible by setting up a central reference organisation.
§ These realities were fully recognised by the Hodgson Committee in the less acute circumstances of ten years ago when they made proposals to reduce the number of authorities from 258 to 140 by restricting the functions to the least number of major authorities and providing for the combination of some of the smaller of these. The Bill, far from facing reality, I submit, proposes to add to the number of authorities those urban authorities having, and those subsequently attaining, a population of 60,000, which population, or, the basis of average county administration, could economically employ the equivalent of 1¼ inspectors.
§ The extent of the administrative cost which could arise if the proposals in the Bill are carried to their full conclusion is best illustrated by the extreme example of Greater London. This will have no fewer than 32 autonomous weights and measures authorities. The final effects of the Government's proposals should be emphasised. It is estimated that the cost of providing and equipping a new weights and measures office, even on the smallest and most modest scale, would be in the region of £16,800, and the estimated annual cost of maintaining the service in the small units of 60,000 population would be approximately £9,650. These figures illustrate the likely effect upon the rates in conferring the powers with regard to weights and measures on the smallest authorities. I hope, with that formidable submission, if I may say so, the Minister will be able to indicate that the Government will think again as regards the authorities to be 526 charged with the duty of enforcing the provisions of this Bill. I beg to move.
Page 39, line 17, leave out subsection (4).—(Lord Latham.)
§ 9.15 p.m.
§ LORD CROOK
I want to make it clear that this is not just a casual Amendment put down merely at the request of the County Councils Association, and that every word of the noble Lord's speech has the fullest support of every one on this side of the House. We regard this as a completely absurd kind of provision in the Bill. We thought there was sense in the paragraph of the Hodgson Report to which the noble Lord referred and it seems that the Government have done the best they can to run away from it. If the Bill goes through as it is, there will be an adverse effect on the service, a proliferation of weights and measures authorities to do the work that is being done perfectly well at the moment by existing authorities. I know of no complaint on the grounds of inefficiency or ineffectiveness of the present arrangements. Under the Bill we are to have these new authorities, which will mean new premises, costing a great deal of money; new motor cars; and, so far as I can understand, not only is it the intention of the Government to do this in respect of the 60,000 population urban districts but they go so far as to say that the whole of the 32 new boroughs which they want to introduce under the London Government Bill (which I contemplate with horror) should also have that kind of responsibility.
The proposals on units of administration throughout run completely contrary to the interests of the service. One of the essential things in this local government service, as in so many of the Civil Service Departments, is that, while Parliament may pass all sorts of provisions, they have to be administered afterwards by the authorities responsible, who have to recruit good and effective staff. The noble Lord has referred to the large number of additional staff who will be wanted—probably 300 experienced people, at the least. The noble Lord has indicated the probable cost in terms of capital, and I should like to show it in terms of a penny rate. The cost of administration in a place like Huyton, 527 part of the Port of Liverpool, is equivalent to a rate of 1.50d., against 0.24d. in the County of Nottingham. The penny rate product in Huyton comes out at £6,480 and at £76,500 on the Nottingham population basis. No one who looks at the rating figures and tries to understand the costing can understand what the Government are up to and trying to do. I hope that when the noble Lord gets up to try to persuade us to vote for this he will have something much more concrete to say in favour of this proposal.
§ LORD MILVERTON
I should like to say one or two things about these Amendments to show why I hope the Government will not find it possible to accept them. One has to look at the recent history of how this clause arose. The Hodgson Committee recommended that only county boroughs and county councils should exercise these functions; the Association of Municipal Corporations and other associations protested, and eventually the inclusion of non-county boroughs with a population of 60,000 was decided upon by the Board of Trade after discussion with all the interests concerned. This figure represents a compromise of conflicting views on the thorny problem of functions, and was accepted by the Association of Municipal Corporations as such, although it does not go as far as they would have wished. An attempt to amend it upwards was, however, made in another place and was defeated.
The effect of these Amendments would be to delete those parts of Clause 34 which provide for non-county boroughs and urban districts of 60,000 or more population to become weights and measures authorities of their own volition and to take away the functions from non-county boroughs who are already exercising them. Instead, non-county boroughs and urban districts are put on the same level as rural district councils who, under subsection (5)(b) of the clause, may make representations to the Board and the county council asking for the conferment of functions; and the Board, after consulting the county council, arid if satisfied that there are special circumstances, may confer the function on the rural district council.
I sincerely hope that the Government will not accept these Amendments, because 528 Clause 34 is this compromise on conflicting views on the administration of weights and measures functions which were put forward to the Government by the various local authority associations in the context of local government functions generally. The clause departs from the recommendations of the Hodgson Committee, which were, of course, to the effect that I have already mentioned; and following the Report of that Committee, the local authority associations had discussions with the Minister of Housing and Local Government on the allocation of these functions. The Government White Paper (Cmd. 161). Local Government Reorganisation Functions, contained the following paragraph:The Departments now make the following suggestions and comments…Weights and Measures. Instead of being delegated this function should be conferred 'as of right' on borough and urban district councils of 60,000 and upwards, with discretion to the Minister concerned to confer by order, in special circumstances, below 60,000".In allocating functions to non-county boroughs of a population of 60,000 or more, Clause 34 follows this recommendation in the White Paper, and the Association of Municipal Corporations inform me that they see no reason why there should be any departure therefrom on the lines suggested by these Amendments.
This, unfortunately, is a case where there has been no agreement between the Association of Municipal Corporations and the County Councils Association as to the population level at which weights and measures functions should be administered by local authorities, or indeed as to the type of local authority who should administer them; and the Association, as I have said, have accepted this solution as part of the whole pattern of local government reorganisation and reallocation of functions. If these Amendments were successful that pattern would be upset, and other Amendments would be called for in other fields of local government functions.
By this Bill functions are being conferred for the first time upon urban district councils, and during the passage of the Bill through another place the representatives of the rural district councils asked that they should have the same powers as are given to urban district councils. The Government's reply was 529 that the number of urban district councils who could exercise the functions was much smaller than that of non-county boroughs, and the number of rural district councils was even smaller, and that in the scattered areas of most rural district councils it was preferable that county councils should exercise the functions. Further, the spokesman of the rural district councils said that only two rural district councils of over 60,000 population will wish to exercise the functions, whereas 45 non-county boroughs with a population of less than 60,000 are already exercising them and many of them will wish to continue. I suggest, therefore, that it is quite wrong to apply the same test to non-county boroughs as to rural district councils in this matter as would be done if these Amendments referred to were successful. So I express the hope that the Government will not accept them.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
What has surprised me of late is the Government's attitude towards local government and other fields, particularly economics and trade, and the sort of fragmentation that is going on. This is quite different from what is happening in private industry. In order to be efficient private industry finds it necessary to create as large an organisation as possible. Their one aim is efficiency. We are seeing here the fragmentation, particularly in the London area, of the weights and measures enforcement. As I understand it, London has one authority which is able efficiently to enforce the existing weights and measures legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Milverton, I think has just given me the clue to what the Government have in mind—that instead of having one weights and measures authority, there should be 32. It is part of the Government idea of giving more power and more interest to local authorities. I think that there is a lot to be said for it, but Lord Milverton—and this was the burden of his case—did not at any time say whether the giving of this extra interest to a local authority would in any way make weights and measures legislation and its enforcement more efficient.
There is very little in which a local authority can take tan interest in regard to weights and measures; there is very little to discuss, and little for them to administer. This is purely a matter of straightforward administration of the provisions in this Bill. The local authority 530 would not be able to depart from it in one way or another. The chief inspector and the other inspectors under this Bill will merely have to enforce the provisions. Therefore, I can see little advantage in giving this power to a local authority, except that it is something else which they can put on the door of the council office. I cannot see that it would in any way give any extra interest to a local authority, or that it would stimulate the interest of the electorate or the people who sit on the council. As I have said, this is purely an administrative duty to be performed.
As the business world will show, the bigger one's organisation—so long as it does not get too big, and so long as it is of sufficient size—the more one is able to create efficiency. And above all else—and this is the important part—it gives far greater opportunities for the promotion and advancement of inspectors. At the present moment you would have maybe one or two weights and measures inspectors in one small local authority, with no opportunity of advancement, no opportunity of having increased responsibility. But such opportunities would exist in a larger organisation such as the London County Council or the Greater London Council. There is a lot to be said for it. We want to see efficiency. This is the one point that we need to bear in mind in regard to this clause. I am quite satisfied from all the experience I have had in dealing with matters similar to this—and I am sure that other noble Lords have had such experience—that there is a far greater chance of efficiency, of enforcement of this Bill, if the unit is of sufficient size to give opportunities to the officers for advancement, and to enable them to take an interest in their duties.
There are other matters, of course. This means that you are able to move your weights and measures inspector from one area to another. He does not get too familiar with those people he is called upon to inspect. I think there is a lot to be said for this, and no doubt the London County Council could produce evidence to show that there has been considerable effect by its ability to move inspectors from one area to another. But I would suggest to the Committee that it must judge these Amendments not on the grounds—as the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, would have us do—of the 531 social prestige of a local authority, but on the grounds of efficiency and the effect of the enforcement of the provisions of this Bill. I believe efficiency would come if the Amendment which the Opposition have moved were acceptable this evening.
§ LORD DERWENT
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Milverton for having shortened the amount I am going to have to say, because there are certain facts which he gave which I shall repeat more shortly than I would otherwise have done. I am rather astonished by the speeches of the three noble Lords opposite, and I think I must read Hansard with great care. I understood the noble Lord, Lord Latham, to say at the beginning of his remarks—I may have understood it wrongly—that he was not speaking on behalf of the larger authorities. I shall see in the morning what he said, but I thought he said that.
§ LORD DERWENT
The whole of his speech, of course, was an advocacy for the larger authority. Both he and the noble Lord, Lord Crook—
§ LORD LATHAM
If I may say so, the noble Lord must be a little more precise in his language. My making a speech in support of the larger authorities is very different from my speaking on behalf of the larger authorities, which is not the case here.
§ LORD DERWENT
I shall read what he said in the morning and then make up my mind. What really astonished me in the two speeches by the noble Lord, Lord Latham, and the noble Lord, Lord Crook, was that in listening to them one would have thought that ours was an extraordinary point of view, which no one but Her Majesty's Government supported, and that the rest of the world held the same view as they did. The noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, of course took quite a different view. He said that there was another point of view. But I would say—
§ LORD DERWENT
I would say, as regards the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, some considerable part of which was devoted to London Government, that London Government and this clause have nothing to do with each other. It is Clause 35 which deals with Landon Government. The noble Lord also made a rather strange point, I think, in that he first of all said that the larger authority must ipso facto be more efficient than a smaller authority, and he then went on to say, "But of course the weights and measures authority under this Bill has very little to administer". I took down his exact words. The two do not seem to me to go exactly together.
The provisions of Clause 34, as my noble friend said, are in accordance with Government policy on local government which was originally stated in the White Paper Command 161 which was, as he also said, published in May, 1957. The clause provides—and I shall restate this part of it—that counties and county boroughs will be weights and measures authorities as in the past and that non-county boroughs and urban districts with populations in excess of 60,000, and in special circumstances non-county boroughs and urban districts with populations of less than 60,000 and rural districts of any population, may be weights and measures authorities. The provision in respect of rural districts was added during the Report stage in another place.
There are two sides to this question. This general policy was decided after exhaustive discussions by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government and the Board of Trade with all concerned, including local authorities; and, like most decisions of this kind, as has already been stated by my noble friend Lord Milverton, it represents a compromise between the advocates, such as the noble Lords opposite, of the advantages on grounds of efficiency and economy of very large authorities, and those who hold the view, equally strongly, that smaller authorities ought to have as much responsibility as practicable. Listening to the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, one realises that they are perfectly competent to carry out this duty. The Government believe that the arrangements set out in this clause are reasonable. One thing is certain, as 533 is obvious from our discussions this evening: that no arrangements will satisfy everyone. This is a compromise which was reached after discussion. The Government believe that the clause as it stands provides a workable system which will satisfy most people, and I accordingly ask the Committee to reject the Amendment.
§ LORD STONHAM
The noble Lord, Lord Dement, accused my noble friend Lord Latham of talking on behalf of the larger authorities. He has made it quite clear that, on behalf of the Government, he is talking on behalf of the parish pump. I have never heard such a naïve demonstration of a prearranged deal as that given by the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, when he said quite clearly, "This is part of a deal," and that if this Amendment were accepted it would upset the whole pattern. Parliament is no longer supreme. This is an arrangement behind closed doors somewhere in Whitehall where civil servants, possibly with a junior Minister in attendance, do a deal and say what they will accept and the number of residents there shall be in an area before they qualify for a weights and measures administration.
§ LORD MILVERTON
Might I interrupt the noble Lord? I seem to remember hearing him the other day, or one of his colleagues on the other side, complaining bitterly that the Government did not consult before legislation with the interests concerned in it.
§ LORD STONHAM
But there is a great difference between consultation and decision. The decision should be made here, in Parliament: we should not be told that the deal has already been arranged and that to accept an Amendment to vary it would upset the whole applecart. Now the other noble Lord's turn.
§ LORD DERWENT
The noble Lord knows very well he is trying to mislead the House. The consultations took place perfectly openly between all concerned over a long period of time, and everybody knew what was going on.
§ LORD STONHAM
I was not a party to these consultations, I was not present at them, and I had no idea of the setup until I heard the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, make his speech. I do not think we can normally be accused of being on the side of the big battalions—certainly I cannot—but in this case it is a question, surely, of efficiency, and it is a question of cost. My noble friend Lord Crook quoted some of the figures of cost to the ratepayers—and I should have thought the A.M.C. would have been interested in this. When you have a county authority with a weights and measures inspectorate and the cost is a rate of three-farthings in the pound, and when, in one of these smaller district councils of 60,000 or more, such as Farn-borough, the rate may be as much as 4d. in the pound, that, surely, is a consideration which is of some importance—or does the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, ignore completely the difference between a rate of three-farthings in the pound and a rate of 4d. in the pound, merely for the sake of the alleged prestige of having a weights and measures inspectorate in a county borough or borough or an urban or rural district of 60,000 population? That is the first consideration.
The second consideration is that of efficiency. There can be no question whatever that in these established organisations with a wide experience and a wide coverage of different kinds of weights and measures administration, it must be more efficient, it must lead to less conflict and less differences of judgment and opinion. We have the situation in London where the London boroughs have the administration of the Food and Drugs Act and the London County Council has the administration of the Weights and Measures Act, How much less efficient is that in total than the arrangement in Middlesex where all come under the same administration and where it is far more efficient, far less expensive and gives rise to far less friction and misunderstanding among traders and the general public!
There is one argument that I think is fairly conclusive in this matter. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, said that the 535 Government believed that the arrangements set out in Clause 34 are reasonable, after discussion with the interests involved. I have said this before on other Bills and I will say it again: the most important thing is the public we serve; and also whether we are satisfied that, after we have had our discussions and our Amendments are accepted or rejected and the Bill reaches the Statute Book, we have done any good.
In this matter we shall not have done any good unless we are satisfied that there is an adequately experienced inspectorate able to carry out the provisions of the Act. And on this the Government have been noticeably silent. Their figures as to the number of inspectors available and the arrangements for their increase have been questioned time and again. I have read the discussions in another place and the figures given by the Government. I have before me a memorandum on those figures by the Association of Inspectors of Weights and Measures. I should have thought that if anyone knew the difficulties which were likely to arise it would be the people who are at present doing the job. They say that the question of the figures for established positions is obscure; but returns since the end of last year show that there are at least 940 positions and that in four or five authorities the establishment is not complete. But there has been an increase of some 25 in established positions since the Board of Trade checked their figures, and these were irrespective of whether or not they included Scotland in their figures. But apparently they have ignored the Scottish requirements—some 80 inspectors—completely.
The impression we have is that the Government feel there will be no real need for any significant increase in the overall national establishment of inspectors as a result of the new Act. But we feel there is going to be a considerable need for an increase in the inspectorate, irrespective of the decision to create a number of new inspectorates of weights and measures out of the smaller local authorities. My noble friend mentioned that the smallest number of qualified inspectors that can make up a single unit is three, and the Hodgson Committee suggested that in a population unit of 60,000 there would be work for 1¼ inspectors. If they are right, that would be a 536 considerable waste of expensive trained personnel.
The Government do not seem to have had any regard to the considerable increase in the duties of inspectors which we are rightly imposing in this Bill. I have a list before me of some 20 different duties. I will not weary the House with it, but it is a very impressive list, which includes six cases where entirely new duties are created. I will mention only one, in which the noble Duke, the Duke of Atholl, and I have a common interest—that is, the measuring of spirits in licensed establishments. That is one wholly new duty, which will involve inspectors in a great deal of work—
§ LORD STONHAM
—particularly in the initial stages after the passing of this Bill. Obviously, the Government propose to create an increased number of weights and measures authorities. Inevitably they will be small ones; inevitably they will be relatively expensive; inevitably they will lead to an increase in the acute shortage of inspectors, which will have its effect in other areas, and lessen the efficiency with which the Act is administered. Inevitably they will lead to differences in decisions, to confusion, to frustration, and to difficulties in trade.
We feel that this is a wrong and absurd decision, for which the only justification, as the noble Lord, Lord Milverton, made apparent, is that it has been decided some time ago, probably well before November, when the matter was discussed in Committee in another place. To us that seems a totally inadequate reason, a completely unjustifiable reason, and quite disgraceful. If Clause 34 remains in the Bill in its present form, it will invalidate to a large extent the efficiency and value of this Bill. We feel that the Government, in their discussions outside this House, came to a wrong decision, succumbed to the wrong pressure, and that they should now admit their error and accept this Amendment.
§ LORD DERWENT
I only wish to add one thing, for the Record, because it may be misunderstood, although I do not think the noble Lord was misleading the House. I should like to make clear that if an urban county borough do not wish to take on the job because of the cost, they need not do so. They can hand it over to the county council.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
Would the noble Lord say whether he refutes or accepts the figure given by my noble friend Lord Latham of the cost to a London or a county borough council to set up new weights and measures departments—namely, £16,500? Can the Minister deny or accept those figures?
§ LORD DERWENT
I certainly cannot accept them. I am advised that they are comparative guesswork and will vary from authority to authority. But as regards London, I wish the noble Lord would move away from that, because it is a quite different arrangement. When we come to Clause 35 (I believe one noble Lord opposite wishes to speak on that clause) we will deal with London; but it has nothing to do with this clause, and what will happen in London is something quite different from what will happen here.
§ LORD CROOK
am completely unable to understand what these figures are in this consistent policy. The Government say that 300,000 must be the figure of a borough and are doing away with
§ Clause 34 agreed, to.
§ Clause 35 [Local weights and measures authorities in special areas]:
§ On Question, Whether Clause 35 shall be agreed to?
§ 10.0 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
During discussions on the last Amendment the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, told us, quite rightly, that we were' not discussing Clause 35. We have now reached Clause 35, and we on this side of the Committee and, I have no doubt, the Government
§ urban districts of 65,000 and amalgamating three or four of them, yet they come here and say that any urban district council over 60,000 can pass a resolution. Indeed, I wonder what my own urban district council's position would be if they took advantage of one paragraph here. I find it quite amusing. The Bill says that if the council pass a resolution by June of this year they will become a weights and measures authority; and since by June 30 the Government will not have got the London Government Bill, if this urban district of Carshalton did that I do not know what would happen when the London Government Bill received the Royal Assent because that Bill guarantees that three years after they pass the resolution they will get their powers.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents. 12; Not-Contents, 27.537
|Addison, V.||Faringdon, L.||Silkin, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Latham, L.||Stonham, L. [Teller.]|
|Champion, L.||Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Walston, L.|
|Crook, L.||Shepherd, L.||Williamson, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Derwent, L.||Lothian, M.|
|Atholl, D.||Ferrers, E.||McCorquodale of Newton, L.|
|Bossom, L.||Fraser of Lonsdale, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Boyd of Merton, V.||Goschen, V. [Teller.]||Newton, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Hastings, L.||Perth, E.|
|Chesham, L.||Ilford, L.||St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]|
|Conesford, L.||Jellicoe, E.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Lansdowne, M.||Templemore, L.|
|Denham, L.||Long, V.||Waleran, L.|
Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Our understanding of the situation is that the President of the Board of Trade will, under the London Government Bill, if it is passed in its present form, have power to create, as it were, 32 weights and measures authorities out of the presently proposed new boroughs to be created. Our difficulty is therefore, since we are in effect dealing with something which has not yet happened, with regard to the framing of Amendments 539 in respect to Clause 35. As I think has already been made clear in our previous discussions, we feel that the creation of 32 weights and measures authorities under the area proposed to be created under the London Government Bill will be a mistake. Weights and measures administration is very different in a great city like London from that of the generality of the country as a whole.
§ The London boroughs will be very close together, and it is not argued that they would be small authorities. Indeed, they will be authorities legislating for perhaps a quarter of a million or more people. They will not be small in that sense, but they will be very close together geographically and, in many cases, the goods inspected by or dealt with by weights and measures inspectors are goods nationally sold and common throughout the country. That, in a sense, would seem to make matters of administration easier and more uniform, but it does happen at times that there are mistakes in labelling and otherwise and we feel that that is one of the difficulties that may be created under the proposed new arrangements.
§ In any case, the creation of each of the newly proposed London boroughs into 32 weights and measures authorities will inevitably add to the total number of trained inspectors required, which in itself in the initial stages is going to create a difficulty. We feel, just as was mentioned on the previous Amendment, that this may be a retrograde step, one which should not be taken without full consideration, and we should, therefore, like to hear something from the Government about their intentions under Clause 35, assuming that the London Government Bill goes through in its present form and the alleged intention of the President of the Board of Trade to create these 32 weights and measures authorities is carried out. I hope the noble Lord will be able to deal with some of the points I have raised in connection with this clause.
§ LORD CROOK
I should like to support my noble friend and add this. I hope that when the noble Lord speaks he will tell us something about the figure of cost involved which the Government have doubtless worked out. One of the things I had thought there was some agreement about between the 540 L.C.C. and the Government was that we were having too many offices in London. Presumably the noble Lord will be telling us that there will be 32 more to take over this job now instead of its being, as at present, centralised with the L.C.C. I am bound to tell him that, fed up as people already are with the large increases in rates they have had over the past few weeks, they are very afraid of the effects of the London Government Bill, if the House is unfortunate enough to let it go through, and they would like to know what further costs will be thrown on them by this.
The noble Lord, Lord Latham, when he referred to the capital costs, indicated a figure which, although pooh-poohed by the noble Lord, still remains a fairly active figure of £18,500 as a minimum for buying instruments and setting up office; and 32 times £20,000 is quite a substantial figure. The ordinary cost of administration would not be much less than £10,000 in each borough. We should like to know what are these proposals which the Government are making for further increases in rates.
§ LORD DERWENT
I find the figures get even more muddling. They have gone up £4,000. We were talking about £16,000.
§ LORD CROOK
We were talking then in terms of the whole country, and not the much more expensive Metropolis.
§ LORD DERWENT
I do not know whether those figures are correct. I should like to help the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, but I do not quite know what he wants from me. It is presumably the part of this clause which is dealing with London government, and not the Scilly Isles and possibly the coastal and inland waters.
§ LORD DERWENT
I do not know what the noble Lord's difficulty is. This is a clause which, whatever happens in the London Government Bill, however that comes out in the wash, gives power for the Board of Trade to direct which local authorities in the metropolitan region shall be weights and measures authorities. That is what this clause does, and I do not quite see—and I am very willing to listen—exactly what more 541 in the way of explanation the noble Lord wants from me.
§ LORD STONHAM
The point I really wanted from the noble Lord was confirmation that that is the Government's intention: that in fact assuming—notwithstanding Heaven and Lord Morrison of Lambeth forbidding—we get the London Government Bill on the Statute Book in its present form, it is the intention of the Government to create 32 weights and measures authorities out of the proposed 32 London boroughs. If the noble Lord indicates that that is firmly their intention, then we shall have a bit more to work on before we come to the Report stage, and presumably there will be something which can be discussed in respect of these matters in the London Government Bill.
§ LORD DERWENT
I understand perfectly now. I had not quite understood it. I will repeat what my right honourable friend the Parliamentary Secretary said in the other Place on this point, when he said on the London Government Bill that if the Bill went through on the lines presented—we will forget the 32 except that that is probably the figure—the Board intended to make each London borough the authority for weights and measures. That was said then, and I have no reason to suppose there is any difference now. I have not actually taken up the point, but I confirm that that was the undertaking given.
§ 10.11 p.m.
§ LORD WALSTON
There is one point which I should be most grateful if the noble Lord would elucidate for me. We have heard a certain amount from my noble friends on this side about these figures of £16,000, £18,500 and even £20,000. The noble Lord opposite has poured scorn on those figures.
§ LORD WALSTON
I apologise. If he did not pour scorn on them, his tone seemed to be somewhat scornful in referring to them. But so far as I can make out, he gave no alternative figures which either confirm or deny that these figures are correct. If that is so, am I right in thinking that he was proposing that these new duties should be imposed on certain local authorities which will lead to some increase in the rates without having any idea whatsoever as to how much the 542 extra cost is going to be? Is he so irresponsible as to stand up here and say, "We are going to enforce this particular activity on certain local authorities. We do not know if it is going to cost them £10,000, £20,000 or £30,000. We have never gone into it"?
That seems like his attitude when he was commenting on certain remarks of my noble friend Lord Latham earlier on, when he said that he could not understand what he meant but he would look it up to-morrow and make up his mind what had been meant. But in fact he did not on that occasion delay advising his noble friends to vote against my noble friend's Amendment. Although he said he was going to delay making up his mind until to-morrow, he had in fact already made up his mind that he was going to oppose it. It seems as if he is saying "Although we have not decided what the cost is going to be we still insist that it is going to be borne by other people, not ourselves—perhaps the ratepayers." Perhaps he would elucidate on that. I may be entirely wrong.
§ LORD DERWENT
When I was talking about the noble Lord, Lord Latham, I was saying that apropos of a remark he made. I could not believe that I had heard aright, and I said I would look it up to-morrow to see whether I had misunderstood. That is all I said. As regards these figures, they are extremely difficult to work out—they may well be that sort of figure. I should not like to go further than that at the moment. They will vary considerably. One doubts the figure because of the way that it is arrived at, in regard to the implication behind certain remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Crook. To listen to him, one would have thought that a completely new office block was being erected for a weights and measures authority. That was what it sounded like. Therefore, one is rather tempted to disagree with, or rather to doubt, the way those figures are arrived at.
I will not go further tonight than to say that I do not say they are wrong, though I have no actual confirmation that they are right. If the noble Lord would like to put down a Question, I may be able to answer it; but in view of one or two things that were said, I doubt the way in which those figures are arrived at. I do not say they are wrong, because I do not know.
§ LORD WALSTON
Surely it is not up to my noble friend on this side to work out what the cost of Government proposals is going to be.
§ LORD WALSTON
It was a suggestion put forward. But primarily the responsibility lies, as it must, on the Government's shoulders to work out the cost of these proposals which they are going to impose. To come along and say, "I do not know, but maybe if you ask me a Question at some future date I may be able to give you an answer" suggests that this is a question which has never been asked by the Government of themselves.
§ LORD CROOK
I am obliged to my noble friend for his intervention. I should like to say to the noble Lord opposite that each time I have quoted a figure it has not been one that I have suddenly invented, but one that has been arrived at by local authorities. The Government have no figures.
THE DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES
As it appears that fewer than 30 Lords have voted, in accordance with Standing Order No. 50 I declare the Question not decided and, pursuant to the Standing Order, the House will now resume.
§ House resumed.
§ which we are now talking about, I would point out that it is perfectly allowable, under Clause 37, for London boroughs to combine. Whatever cost you work out is then wrong. It may well be found that the London boroughs may combine under Clause 37.
§ LORD LATHAM
Only the present Government could achieve that, I am sure. Would the Minister say, out of his abundant knowledge, whether this additional expenditure on weights and measures will be grant-aided?
§ On Question, Whether Clause 35 shall stand part of the Bill?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 26; Not-Contents, 2.
|Albemarle, E.||Denham, L.||Lothian, M.|
|Atholl, D.||Derwent, L.||McCorquodale of Newton, L.|
|Bossom, L.||Ferrers, E.||Newton, L.|
|Boyd of Merton, V.||Fraser of Lonsdale, L.||Perth, E.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Goschen, V. [Teller.]||St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]|
|Chesham, L.||Hastings, L.||St. Oswald, L.|
|Conesford, L.||Ilford, L.||Templemore, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Jellicoe, E.||Waleran, L.|
|Cranbrook, E.||Lansdowne, M.|
|Lucan, E. [Teller.]||Stonham, L. [Teller.]|