HL Deb 08 July 1974 vol 353 cc450-2

3.2 p.m.

LORD JACQUES rose to move, That the Draft Weights and Measures Act 1963 (Sugar) Order 1974, laid before the House on May 23, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it will be recalled that this Order was debated in this House on June 25. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments had examined the Order and on the previous evening its Report had become available. In its Report it was critical of the Order and of the Explanatory Note. In the circumstances, after the debate the Order was withdrawn in order that my right honourable friend might give consideration to all the points raised by the Committee on Statutory Instruments. This, my Lords, has been done and, after considering each of the points raised, my right honourable friend finds compelling reasons for retaining the Order in the form in which it was submitted.

The Committee were critical of Article 3. In particular they said that the phrase— shall be sold by retail only by net weight

was ambiguous. We find that these are the words repeatedly used in the Act, not only in reference to sugar but in reference to other commodities. This phrase has also been used consistently in all the Orders based upon the Act. We find also that neither the Department's records nor O'Keefe's standard work of reference on the Act suggests that there has been any difficulty so far as interpretation is concerned.

An explanatory memorandum was sent to 70 representative organisations of manufacturers, retailers and consumers. In that explanatory memorandum this phrase was used, but no comment has been made by any of the organisations suggesting any difficulty. In the past when Orders based upon this Act have been contemplated similar memoranda have been sent using the same phrase and we have no record of any difficulty of interpretation ever having been raised. My right honourable friend feels that to change the wording now might for the first time cast some doubt on existing legislation and may give rise both to difficulties and inquiries which should be avoided. I give that as an example of the kind of inquiry that has gone on in relation to the Order.

I turn now to the Explanatory Note. My right honourable friend feels that the Committee's criticism was justified. Accordingly, the Explanatory Note has been completely redrafted and all the Committee's recommendations have been accepted and incorporated. The revised Explanatory Note is available in the Printed Paper Office, and I would suggest that it would be for the convenience of the House if it were reproduced in the Record. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Weights and Measures Act 1963 (Sugar) Order 1974, laid before the House on May 23, be approved.—(Lord Jacques.)

3.5 p.m.


My Lords, the aim of my noble friend Lord Brooke of Cumnor, myself and others who spoke when this Order was debated on the last occasion was to ensure that the views and the comments made by the Joint Select Committee of this House and of another place were given serious consideration by the Department concerned. There was no questioning of the motives of the Department, but because of the shortage of time it seems that there could not have been an adequate opportunity for consideration to be given to the comments of the Joint Committee. I am very pleased to hear what the noble Lord has just said from the Dispatch Box opposite, that the comments of the Joint Committee on the wording of the Explanatory Note have been accepted by the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection and that, as a consequence, the Explanatory Note which will appear with the Order has been completely redrafted in the interests of clarity and accepting the various criticisms made by the Joint Committee.

I am not sufficiently close to the bigger question of the wording of the Order consistently with the substantial Act to be able to make a judgment one way or the other; but I am quite content, now that thought and consideration have clearly been given to the comments of the Joint Select Committee, to accept the conclusion at which the Secretary of State has arrived; in other words, that the wording of the Order as it was put before Parliament previously is the best in the circumstances.

I would not propose to press the Government further on this Order, but I would thank the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, and the Leader of the House also, for the action they took following the last debate. It was a matter, I think, entirely of the rights of Parliament against the legitimate interests of a Government Department. As the noble Lord opposite will accept, when in opposition we do need to be vigilant in these matters.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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