§ 7.31 p.m.
§ Lord WALLACE of COSLANY rose to move, That the draft Weights and Measures Act 1963 (Potatoes) Order 1978, laid before the House on 27th April, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Weights and Measures Act 1963 (Potatoes) Order 1978 laid before the House on 27th April 1978 be approved. The main purpose of the draft order is to permit the sale of prepacked potatoes in a metric range of prescribed quantities, as well as in the imperial range of prescribed quantities that appears in the 1963 Act. Parliament has been approving such orders from the end of 1973 onwards, and they have now been made for a wide range of prescribed quantity products, including such every day items as tea, sugar, butter and cereal breakfast foods. The metric range of sizes has been agreed between the interests involved—packers, distributors, retailers and consumers—and some 60 bodies were formally consulted before the order was laid.
§ I particularly wish to draw the attention of the House to the inclusion of the 25 kg. size in this range. This is roughly equivalent to the 56 1b. sack of potatoes, and is a size which is becoming increasingly of interest to consumers through hulk sales. The inclusion of the 25 kg. size in the prescribed quantity range is very welcome to consumers and retailers, 407 and the Government are grateful to the packers organisations who have agreed to its inclusion, in spite of the additional requirement that this places on them. One novelty in this order is a provision which allows certain large potatoes to be packed and sold by number. This means that consumers will be able to buy packs of weight-graded baking potatoes, all with similar cooking times. A voluntary code of practice is linked to these enabling provisions. Under it, packers will be able to grade and pack potatoes according to four weight bands related to the size of individual potatoes.
§ Finally, my Lords, I should like to emphasise again that this order is purely permissive in its effect. There is no compulsion to use the metric range. The current national metrication debate is not related to this type of permissive order, about which I think there is no objection in principle. The main crop potato harvest will soon be with us, and I recommend that those who are awaiting our approval before they are allowed to pack in the metric sizes should be delayed no longer. My Lords, I beg to move.
§ 7.34 p.m.
§ Lord SANDYS
My Lords, the House will be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, for explaining this order to your Lordships. As he has said, it has been laid before your Lordships for a little less than three weeks, so it will be familiar in its relationship to the Weights and Measures Act 1963. It appears, from what the noble Lord has said, that wide consultation has taken place, but I should like to ask him specifically whether the agreement of the Potato Marketing Board was obtained. In matters of consumer interest in this field, we believe that the double marking of packs is very important, and that both imperial and metric measures should be used. As the noble Lord said, this is a purely permissive order. Nevertheless, I hope that he will be able to tell your Lordships that it is the Government's intention, wherever possible, to ensure—and, if necessary, insist—that both 408 imperial and metric marks are made on the packages concerned.
Lord WALLACE of COSLANY
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sandys. I was expecting him to go on for a little longer, but I should like to reply to the two points that he made. I am advised that the Potato Marketing Board were consulted. In fact, there has been quite wide-ranging consultation with all aspects of the distribution trade—wholesalers, retailers, consumers and so on. I shall not go into extreme detail on dual marking, but will try to be as brief as I can. Existing imperial packs have had to show the metric equivalent since 1st January 1978. The new metric packs—I believe that this was the noble Lord's point—will have to show the imperial equivalent and be marked quite clearly "Metric Pack". I do not think there is anything further to add on this very simple and generally welcome order.
§ Baroness STEDMAN
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 7.45 p.m.
§ [The Sitting was suspended from 7.37 p.m. until 7.45 p.m.]