HL Deb 16 February 1967 vol 280 cc405-8

3.1 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will state the grounds on which it is felt that the grading of fruit and vegetables at the retail end is unnecessary for shoppers.]


My Lords, the present statutory provisions apply to produce sold in bulk by wholesale. An entirely different system would be needed if produce sold in small lots or individually at retail shops were required to be graded, and a far larger staff would, of course, be needed for enforcement. The Government take the view that the first step is to establish grading at the wholesale level. Since the housewife shopping for fresh fruit and vegetables can see what she is buying, and can make her own judgment of quality in relation to price, there is not the same need to introduce grading at the retail level. In effect, the housewife acts as her own grader and inspector.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that it is most unfortunate for him that he made the statement which he made last week? Is he furthermore aware that, while housewives or anybody else can see produce in the shops or on the stalls, there is certainly no guarantee that the produce they get is what they have seen at the front or on the top of the pile?

Is he furthermore aware that the only way of dealing with this problem is by grading?


My Lords, I am sorry that I am still unable to satisfy my noble friend on this matter. I shall not repeat the arguments of last week, but I would suggest to her that if at any time she would like to come and talk with me, either publicly or privately, I should be delighted to see whether I can help.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that of course I should be delighted to accept that invitation? But may I ask him whether, before I come, he would give some thought as to whether it might be possible to include an Amendment in the Agriculture Bill, which will soon be before your Lordships' House, whereby these powers could be extended to the consumer and to the retailer?


My Lords, I shall certainly give some thought to that matter before I have the pleasure of a visit from my noble friend.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that, although it may be impossible to inspect all retailers, it might well be made an offence for retailers to exhibit high-grade apples, and to put what is termed in the trade a "jumble pack" in the housewife's bag? Further, would it not be possible to educate the public to the fact that, in the case of many varieties—notably Cox—the small apples have more flavour than the large?


My Lords, I think the public is a great deal more educated than it was. There are still some people who are taken in by things which look good, or even have exciting labels on them, but are not as exciting as the labels make them out to be. But I am quite sure that the public is becoming increasingly aware of that. With regard to the first part of the noble Earl's question, while of course the consumer needs, and is entitled to, a certain amount of protection, I still believe that it is the consumer, the buyer himself, who has the primary responsibility to see that he receives what he thinks he has bought.


My Lords, will not the consumer inevitably become aware of the grades into which produce is graded? Will he then not come to demand particular grades, and will it not be an offence clearly to represent one grade as being a different grade?


My Lords, it would clearly be an offence to misrepresent any article offered for sale. I think the noble Lord is perfectly right that, as the wholesale grading progresses, people—the wholesaler, the retailer and the housewife—will become more conscious of grading, and we shall move a long way towards the result desired by my noble friend.


My Lords, is my noble friend not aware of the fact that most housewives are very shy and diffident creatures, who are usually afraid to complain to a shopkeeper if they are served with an inferior product? Is that not another argument for clearly label ling Grade 1, 2, or 3, as the case may be?


No, my Lords; I am not aware of that fact at all. I think my experience of housewives must be very different from that of my noble friend.


My Lords, while I cannot confirm all that my noble friend has said, are we to gather from the answer of the Minister that the only defence which the housewife has is to enter into an altercation with the tradesman?


My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend would have many other ways of dealing with a problem of this sort if it ever confronted her. In all seriousness, it is always possible for a housewife to complain if she feels that she is not getting in the package the commodity which she has selected. She can insist on having that put right; she can remove her custom elsewhere, and she has a variety of courses open to her.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware that imported fruit is graded? Therefore, why should not our own food be graded? Surely, this seems common sense. Is my noble friend further aware that the Answer he has given is creating very great dissatisfaction indeed among those concerned with trying to establish a better purity of goods for our people here at home?


My Lords, I do not wish to weary your Lordships by going over the ground which I went over in answer to an earlier Question on this subject last week. But I would remind your Lordships that these present grading regulations which are being introduced are designed to cover the wholesale aspect of the problem with the object of improving the quality of home produce, so that it can compete better with imported produce. As a result of that, I am quite certain that the housewife will benefit, as indeed my noble friend asserts, and quite rightly asserts, she has benefited from the grading of imported produce.


My Lords, may I ask whether the rule of caveat emptor still applies in this case?

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