HL Deb 22 June 1976 vol 372 cc256-60

7.20 p.m.

Lord ORAM rose to move, That the Draft Weights and Measures (Sale of Wine) Order 1976, laid before the House on 8th June 1976, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, this order supersedes the Sale of Wine Order 1974, which came into operation on 2nd September 1974. That order requires that when wine is sold for consumption on the premises of the seller it shall be sold only by capacity measurements unless it is sold pre-packed in a securely-closed bottle or in a glass in which it is to be drunk. When the 1974 order was made it was generally agreed that it did not go far enough and that it would be desirable to make further progress in this area. In particular it was agreed that it would be desirable to introduce prescribed quantities for wines in carafes and that the seller should make known the quantities available.

This new order, which will revoke the 1974 order, is being proposed under Sections 21(2), 21(3) and 54(4) of the Weights and Measures Act 1963. It requires that such wine shall only be sold in specified quantities; namely, 25, 50, 75 centilitres and 1 litre or 10 fluid ounces or 20 fluid ounces. The House will be aware that under the present Weights and Measures Act 1963 it is necessary to prescribe an imperial range as well as a metric range of sizes because of the provisions of Section 10(10) of that Act. In practice we understand that the great majority of sellers will be using the metric range and ultimately it is our intention to dispense with the imperial range completely if the Weights and Measures Bill which is currently under consideration in your Lordships' House becomes law. The use of the metric range is greatly to he preferred in this case, particularly because the Government will shortly be bringing forward legislation under the European Communities Act to introduce prescribed quantities for bottles of wine based on metric sizes only.

The order under consideration excludes wine sold in securely-closed bottles, and this would, of course, exclude what is called carafe wine sold in this manner. It also excludes the circumstances where a bottle of wine may be decanted on the request of the buyer before being served. As I have indicated, it is our intention to introduce prescribed quantities for bottles of wine under different legislation. The order also proposes to require that premises selling wine in carafes or any other open vessel must display a statement in writing showing the quantities in which wine is for sale for consumption on the premises or else that information must be contained in every wine list and menu which indicates that wine is available for consumption on the premises. Notices must he displayed in such a position and manner as to be readily available for inspection by the buyer before a sale is made without him having to make a special request for it.

Finally, it is proposed that the order should come into force on 1st January 1977. This date has been set in order to allow the trade sufficient time to replace existing carafes with suitable sizes and to allow sufficient time for the printing of necessary notices and wine lists. Section 54(2) of the Weights and Measures Act requires us before making such an order under Section 21(2) of the Act to consult with, and consider any representation with respect to the subject matter of the order made to us by, organisations representative of interests affected by the order. These consultations have been carried out. The organisations covered include consumer organisations, and the proposals have received wide support.

Obviously the order will place some additional burden on the trade and it is to their credit that they have accepted the merits of the proposals. Two of the 110 bodies consulted suggested that 33 and 66 centilitres should be included in the proposed range, but after careful consideration we have concluded that the range proposed would best meet the needs of the consumer. In my view, the proposals represent a distinct step forward in consumer protection, admittedly in a limited field; but it is a field in which we have hitherto lagged behind other countries. I commend the proposals to the House.

Moved, That the Draft Weights and Measures (Sale of Wine) Order 1976, laid before the House on 8th June 1976, be approved—(Lord Oram).


My Lords, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his very explicit elucidation both of the implications of the order and of its origins. I am particularly interested to hear that the deliberations which took place before the order was drafted included some which brought to light the possible advisability of the 33 and the 66 centilitre sizes, which may approximate more closely to the average one person helping and two person helping than the present sizes. But it is the function of the Government to consult; they have consulted and taken a majority view, and one will not cavil at that.

I should like to take this opportunity to ask the noble Lord two questions. One is the degree of exactitude with which the measurement of the decanted wine must be made. if you have a unit which is exactly half a bottle, it is fine if the bottle is full. There is a continental habit of filling bottles one or two or even three centilitres less than full in the litre size; and one then sees the restaurateur or café proprietor faced with either giving short on one, or, if he is very accurate in his judgment, two customers, or opening a bottle for a couple of centilitres, or alternatively risk being taken up by the Weights and Measures Inspectorate. It is not a large problem because it is only going to be one bottle at the end of the day anyway, and most restaurants are open the next day, so it will not spoil. But it is a point one would like to have elucidated because it has a wider bearing, I think we shall find, in the Weights and Measures Bill to which the noble Lord alluded. I would also be interested to know what the state of play is on the new European bottle sizes he tells us are going to come across the Channel and whether those were taken into consideration when the present carafe sizes were arrived at?


My Lords, could I just reassure the noble Lord opposite; the way to cure that problem is for the glassmaker to take his thumb out of the bottom of the bottle.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his clear explanation. But it is not clear enough to me why Section 2(1)(b) says when not prepacked wine should be sold only in these quantities, that is, 25, 50 and 75 centilitres and I litre, and yet over the page it says that when it is sold in the glass from which it is intended to be drunk it does not have to be sold in those quantities which are prescribed in the previous paragraph. In other words, it appears to me that the two paragraphs somewhat contradict the purpose of each other, and I wonder why restaurateurs and café proprietors and others have been given what looks to me to be a very big let-out in paragraph (2)(b) under which they apparently can sell wine by any measure they choose.

7.30 p.m.


My Lords, I thank those who have commented on this proposed order, and I do not think there is much for me to reply to. There is the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about the difficulty, if a bottle is somewhat under a litre, of getting the exact amount in the serving. This arises because wine imported from other countries is usually bottled on the average system—I think we shall be coming to this when we deal with the Weights and Measures Bill—and therefore it is true, as he has pointed out, that some litre bottles may contain only 99 centilitres.

The attempt to link carafe sizes to bottle contents in this way, as the noble Lord did, is, I think, to assume that restaurants will be asked every evening to serve a number of carafes whose total quantity will exactly equal the contents of a whole number of bottles. I think that this is possible, but in practice I think that new bottles are opened, and I do not think it really amounts to a serious case. It was the case put forward by one of the organisations which approached us with regard to the 33 and 66 centilitre suggestion, but it seemed to us that this added more quantities to the list and was perhaps confusing rather than helpful to the consumer. Therefore, it was thought best to stick to the list of quantities contained in the order.

My noble friend Lord Raglan raised the point about the apparent contradiction between Section 2(1)(b) and paragraph (2)(b) on the other side of the Paper. I think that we are going to deal with this in two stages. I agree that at the moment, and indeed under this order, the sale of wine per glass will not be regulated in the same kind of exactitude as the sale of wine in a carafe, but it will be the subject of a future order, and this contradiction, if that is the right word, will be removed.


My Lords, if I may speak again with the leave of the House, I should like clarification on the point of the amount of variation, because these are not minimum quantities. If it was a minimum quantity of 25 centilitres the chap could put in a little more and be safe. He is required to sell exactly. Of course he will not be prosecuted for selling over, but is there any breadth below the line? Are we dealing with any sort of average, or approximation, or legislating for minimum quantities without saying so? I hope that this is not splitting hairs. It seems to me that it has a wide application in a whole series of these orders, and in some of them it may be of material interest. If the noble Lord has not got the answer at this stage, perhaps he could let me have it later so that we can have it in mind when we come to later orders in the series.


My Lords, before the noble Lord replies to my noble friend may I ask him a question? I am not altogether certain what the difference is between being pre-packed and not being pre-packed. Does being pre-packed mean in a bottle, and when not pre-packed mean being drawn out of a cask into a carafe? I am not certain what is meant by not being pre-packed. I sympathise with Lord Raglan's point here.


My Lords, may I reply first to the point which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, raised. It is a minimum requirement, and the whole of the Weights and Measures Act that is in existence at the moment is on this basis of a minimum requirement. On the pre-packed question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, wine is pre-packed when it is in any container other than a tightly contained bottle, which is mentioned elsewhere in the order. I think that it is that kind of packaging and the open carafe which are covered by the order.


My Lords, by the leave of the House may I speak again? I am afraid that my noble friend's explanation both to me and the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, does not make it any clearer. I am sure that the Ministry means well in this but it simply is not clear to me, and I doubt whether it is going to be clear to anyone who reads these regulations.

On Question, Motion agreed to.