HL Deb 28 June 1985 vol 465 cc909-11

11.32 a.m.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth rose to move. That the draft order laid before the House on 14th June be approved. [25th Report from the Joint Committee.]

The noble Lord said: My Lords, this order would, if approved, make four specific and unrelated amendments in two pieces of secondary weights and measures legislation which we approved in your Lordships' House last August. The first two of these amendments relate to provisions for fresh fruits and vegetables which are contained in the Weights and Measures Act 1963 (Cheese, Fish, Fresh Fruits and Vegetables, Meat and Poultry) Order 1984.

That order requires that from 1st July 1985, all produce must be sold at retail by net weight, by number or by the bunch. Hitherto, only a limited number of green vegetables were required to be sold by weight, all other produce being sold by the piece. The provisions of the 1984 order would, however, preclude the growing practice of inviting customers to select their own produce and present it for weighing in a light polythene hag. The amendment proposed in the draft order would permit fresh fruits and vegetables (including potatoes) to be sold by gross weight in a container of less than a certain weight. It would thus allow this popular trading practice, which benefits both consumers and retailers, to continue.

The opportunity has also been taken to correct an error in the same order which inadvertantly exempted packages of fruits or vegetables containing more than 5kg. from certain long-standing provisions designed to protect those buying at wholesale markets. It was not the intention that this protection should be removed, and the second amendment proposed in the draft order would re-instate the buyer's right to request that the weight of his goods be checked.

The other two amendments are to the Weights and Measures Act 1963 (Miscellaneous Foods) Order 1984. Many basic foodstuffs are required to be pre-packed only in ranges of quantities prescribed in Schedule 1 to that order. It is proposed to make two changes. First, the optional imperial range for instant coffee should be discontinued. This has ceased to be used by United Kingdom packers but nevertheless offers opportunities for marketing techniques which could be confusing to consumers. From 1st July 1986 it would be illegal for instant coffee to be sold by retail other than in the metric range of prescribed sizes.

Secondly, small jars of honey, jam, marmalade and similar preserves weighing less than 50 grams should be exempted from the requirement to be made up only in prescribed sizes. Your Lordships may be familiar with small jars of honey, jam, and so on, which are commonly sold in presentation packs of two or more, and your Lordships will appreciate that they do not compete with the everyday products for which the prescribed quantity legislation was designed.

The four amendments proposed in the draft order are not controversial. They have the support of consumers and trading standards officers and were largely drawn up in response to advice from the industry. I believe them to be useful measures which will enable traders better to serve the needs of their customers. Finally, I should advise your Lordships that this order was considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, but the committee did not draw the special attention of your Lordships' House to it. With that, I beg to move the draft order.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 14th June be approved. [25th Report from the Joint Committee.]—(Lord Lucas of Chilworth.]

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, it is true, as the noble Lord the Minister said, that this order has been before the joint committee of both Houses, and that in its view the special attention of either House is not to be directed towards it.

When I was a Member of another place, I was taught always to beware of business that was slipped through on a Friday morning. So, contrary to the advice of the joint committee, I examined this order and have pleasure in informing your Lordships that its views on this matter are quite correct, and that it is not necessary for us to pay detailed attention to the order.

I have only two questions to ask the Minister. The order states that consultations have taken place with the interests substantially affected. Can the noble Lord inform the House whether consultations took place with the National Consumer Council on this matter, and also with the co-operative societies? That is my first question. My second question is this: what is the particular reason for the lower limit referred to in the last paragraph of the Explanatory Note to the order? Why is it that the lower limit is now three times as much as the former limit of half an ounce? Fifty grams are 1.72 ounces and is there any particular reason why the lower limit should now be three times the size of the former limit? On the assumption that the noble Lord will answer those questions satisfactorily, I have to inform the House that I would not wish to detain it further.

Lord Sainsbury

My Lords, as the Minister is aware, retailers generally welcome this order. So far as concerns fruit and vegetables when they are sold not prepacked, which is very popular with consumers, this order will bring the law into line with practice and is to be welcomed for that reason, among others.

Lord Lucas of Chilworth

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Bruce of Donington and Lord Sainsbury, for their welcome to this order. On Fridays, the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, and I frequently engage in debates which are sometimes at greater length than I imagine this order is going to take.

The National Consumer Council itself was not I think specifically consulted, but certainly consumer interests were. I cannot confirm that the council itself was consulted, and neither can I confirm that the co-operative movement, separately from the industry's interests themselves, was consulted. As regards the lower limit, that was raised largely for consistency with other prescribed quantity goods and to exempt from control small jars a little below the 5-gram measurement.

I am now advised that both the Consumers' Association and the Co-op were consulted. I am sorry that I did not have that answer readily to hand.

I am glad to have the welcome from the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, expressed on behalf of retailers. I am quite sure that this order is for the benefit not only of retailers but of consumers and that it will lead to a better service for both interests. I beg to move.

On Question, Motion agreed to.