HL Deb 09 May 1974 vol 351 cc672-7

5.13 p.m.

LORD JACQUES rose to move, That the Draft Weights and Measures (Sale of Wine) Order 1974, laid before the House on April 10, be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, there are two Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper. Since they are both measures which are designed to give the consumer greater protection, I propose, with your Lordships' permission, to speak to them together.

The effect of the Weights and Measures (Sale of Wine) Order will be that when sold in carafes for consumption on the premises wines should be sold by capacity measurement. Hence it deals principally with the sale of wine in restaurants. It will mean that the seller, instead of merely selling "a carafe of wine", as is now the custom, will be obliged to sell the wine by quantity, which in practice means he must tell the customer the quantity of wine in the carafe. It is expected that most licensees and proprietors will do this by means of a statement on the menu or wine list. It should be noted that the present proposals do not extend to sales of wine by the glass or to wine pre-packed in a securely closed bottle.

The effect of the Weights and Measures Act 1963 (Dentifrices) Order will be that toothpaste in tubes shall be marked with an indication of quantity by volume. Under the existing provisions of the Weights and Measures Act pre-packed toilet preparations for retail sale must be marked with an indication of quantity, either by net weight or by volume in either an imperial or metric unit or both. This flexibilty in quantity marking is an exceptional feature of the Act and was originally permitted to facilitate exports for these particular products. In the case of toothpaste in tubes it has, however, led to an excessive variety of quantity markings about which consumers have complained because of the difficulty in making quick and simple comparisons to judge value for money. After consultation with all interested parties it has been generally accepted that this quantity marking anomaly should be resolved on the basis of standardising on the use of a unit of volume.

Before my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection can exercise her Order-making powers under the Weights and Measures Act 1963, she is required by the Act to satisfy herself that these proposals are generally acceptable to all organisations as appear to her to be representative of the interests substantially affected by the Orders. The proposals, which have been circulated to a wide range of consumer and trade organisations and enforcement bodies, have attracted some comment and suitable assurances have been given by the Department concerned. It is clear from the discussions in another place on Tuesday of this week that although the Minister appreciates that these Orders only partially satisfy consumer wishes in these two areas, they are based upon consultations undertaken over a period of more than a year. The Minister was, therefore, faced with a choice. On the one hand, he could go ahead quickly with some measures, meagre though they may be from the consumer standpoint; on the other hand, he could start afresh with the lengthy process of consultations required by the Act. In fact, he has chosen to compromise: to act quickly to provide an element of consumer protectection, where none exists, but at the same time to start immediately consultation procedures for further Orders that will widen the scope of the protection afforded in these specific areas. In particular, the choice of the unit of volume in the Weights and Measures Act 1963 (Dentifrices) Order provides the platform for legislative action on prescribed quantities. I would therefore commend these modest Orders to your Lordships. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Draft Weights and Measures (Sale of Wine) Order 1974, laid before the House on April 10 be approved.—(Lord Jacques.)


Although two separate Orders have been spoken to, I have to put a separate question to the House in respect of each Order, and the question now before the House, therefore, is that the Weights and Measures (Sale of Wine) Order 1974 be approved.

5.19 p.m.


I do not want to detain the House long upon this not very momentous piece of delegated legislation, but there are two points which I should like to raise. The first of these is that the effect of the Order would appear to be minimal, because although the noble Lord has assured us that the restaurateur must tell the customer the volume of wine that he is buying he must do so only if he is asked to do so. He is only expected, but not forced, to place the information on the menu. Therefore a number of consumers will be faced with difficulties, in view of the large numbers of waiters who speak very little English but who are in service in this country. That is not, however, my main point on this Order.

I wish to raise this point with the House. I wish to comply with the direction of the Fifth Report of the Joint Committee of both Houses, which was appointed to scrutinise delegated legislation. The Report was published this morning and, in the fifth paragraph, expresses reservations on two counts about the way in which this Order is drawn up and the ambiguity thereof. It states that: Article 2 of the Order requires wine to be sold by retail for consumption on the premises at which it is sold only by capacity measurement except where it is sold re-packed in a securely closed bottle or"— and then it quotes sub-paragraph (b)— in a glass or other vessel from which it is intended to be drunk. The Committee found this subparagraph ambiguous. They were not clear about the meaning of the words, "other vessel", nor about whether the words, "it is intended covered the intention of the vendor or the purchaser. Although the Department's second Memorandum makes the interpretation of this sub-paragraph easier, the Committee felt that the drafting was still not sufficiently clear. I should like to seek reassurance from the Government that notice will be taken of this impartial criticism, and that an early opportunity will be taken to introduce a supplementary or amending Order. It is not our intention now to hold up the Business of the House in a dramatic manner on this point, but we feel that the function of the Joint Committee is so important that it should not be ignored. I understand that I shall be able to say something about the Dentifrices Order after we have finished dealing with this Order.


My Lords, I, too, do not intend detaining your Lordships very long. The Sale of Wine Order which is before your Lordships' House seems to come conveniently before the Dentifrices Order, because I have always been told that I should clean my teeth after a meal. I well remember, as no doubt do many of your Lordships, the debate leading to the 1963 Act, especially a marvellous action by a then very young Member of your Lordships' House, my noble friend the Duke of Atholl, who succeeded in forcing an Amendment through the House on a Division, which included vodka in the list of spirits which had to be sold by prescribed quantities.

I support my noble friend Lord Elton in what he said about carafes and waiters, and I am really rather disappointed that printed information—whether on a menu or on a wine list, as the noble Lord the Minister said—will not become the law of the land. I still think that it would have been desirable to have a printed notice somewhere in the lobby of a restaurant, as is required under the Section dealing with spirits in the principal Act, which I believe has to be displayed somewhere on the premises, usually over the bar.

I agree that the suggestion which has been made is a compromise. I, too, would have liked to see the sale of wine by the glass included in this Order. If it is not, I hope that the noble Lord. Lord Jacques, and the Government will take notice of this point, which has been expressed in another place, because in my view it is highly desirable. Quite a lot of play was made in another place about the various measures and the various hostelries in quite a limited area, within, I believe, the constituency of one honourable Member. But it is certainly true that one can go all over London—or, indeed, other places—and get very different measures when asking for a glass of sherry or a glass of wine.

I also wish to put in a plea that when measures are being used the advice of successive Governments should be taken, that these measures may be metric and not imperial measures. The reason for this, particularly in dealing with wine, is that owing to foreign travel most people who are customers of the wine trade—and I speak as one who is no longer a member of the wine trade, but a director of a firm of wine and spirits shippers for 17 years—are becoming increasingly accustomed to a 72 centilitre bottle or a 75 centilitre bottle, or whatever it may be, and in various countries are used to buying their wines in a 1 decilitre glass or in a half-litre or quarter-litre carafe.

5.26 p.m.


My Lords, first may I deal with the question of communication as between seller and buyer? For technical reasons associated with the wording of the Act itself and the consultation letter, it was not possible expressly to require the seller to make known in writing the quantity being offered. However, we are satisfied that the purchaser can demand to know the quantity and the seller is obliged to tell. The other point which was raised by the Statutory Instruments Joint Committee was the question of what was meant by the words, "other vessel". What was meant was a vessel used instead of a drinking glass, when the vessel itself was not made of glass; for example, plastic drinking glasses, of which there is growing use.

In regard to the quantity being known when the wine is served in a drinking glass, I would direct the noble Viscount's attention to the Statement made by my right honourable friend on Tuesday of this week, reported in Hansard of the other place on Wednesday, at column 360, when he gave an undertaking that this point would be re-examined with a view to a further Order being made for this specfic purpose. With regard to the use of metric units, it is not permissible to authorise the use of metric units only, in view of the provisions of Section 10(10) of the Weights and Measures Act 1963. We should like the trade to use only metric units, but we are not in a position to say that they must use only metric units. I think I have answered all the questions that were put.


Not entirely, my Lords. I must again ask the noble Lord whether it is his intention to take some notice of the Fifth Report of the Joint Committee, beyond reciting the remarks in explanation of the Order which were made in the second memorandum from the Department in reply to the first strictures. They appear as Appendix 2 in this Report, and the noble Lord has gone no further. I submit it is not right that the recommendations of this Committee should be set aside, since it was set up specifically to guide us. I should like to receive an assurance that an amending or supplementary Order will be tabled as soon as possible, so that this piece of delegated legislation is clearer in its intention and in its operation.


My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord that the Report of the Committee is under consideration and it is possible that a new order will be made to strengthen the position. But since there has to be contemplation of Orders which will go a little further, there may be some delay.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his reply.

On Question, Motion agreed to.