HL Deb 09 May 1985 vol 463 cc788-808

6.22 p.m.

House again in Committee.

[Amendment No. 72D not moved.]

Schedule 6 [Waste regulation and disposal]:

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Murton of Lindisfarne)

The Question is that this schedule be the sixth schedule to the Bill.

Lord Elton

I am not sure whether the noble Lord the Deputy Chairman should put the Question and we should negative it, or whether he should of his own motion take cognisance of the fact that, having no clause to depend upon, the schedule presumably crashes to the ground.

The Earl of Cranbrook

If the noble Lord the Deputy Chairman is in a dilemma, I so move.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees

The Question is that this be the sixth schedule to the Bill.

Schedule 6 negatived.

Clause 9 [Joint arrangements for waste disposal functions]:

The Earl of Cranbrook moved Amendment No. 73:

[Printed earlier: col. 743.]

The noble Earl said: This amendment has already been debated. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 73A and 73B not moved.]

The Earl of Cranbrook moved Amendment No. 74:

[Printed earlier: col. 744.]

The noble Earl said: This amendment also has already been debated. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 74YA, 74YB and 74YC not moved.]

Clause 9, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendment No. 74ZA not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 74ZB to 74ZN had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 10 agreed to.

Schedule 7 agreed to.

Clauses 11 and 12 agreed to.

Clause 13 [Local valuation panels]:

[Amendment No. 74A not moved.]

[Amendments Nos. 74B to 74J had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.]

Clause 13 agreed to.

Clause 14 agreed to.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal moved Amendment No. 74K: Before Clause 15, insert the following new clause:

("Trading standards and related functions.

. Schedule (Trading Standards and Related Functions) of this Act shall have effect for transferring functions under the enactments there mentioned from metropolitan county councils to the residuary bodies established under Part VII of this Act.").

The noble Baroness said: With this amendment, I should like to speak also to Amendment No. 75B: Amendment No. 75B: Before Schedule 8, insert the following new schedule—



1. In section 201(2)(a) of the Local Government Act 1972 for the words "county and London borough, the council of that county" there shall be substituted the words "metropolitan county, the residuary body for that county, and for each non-metropolitan county and London borough the council of that county".

2. In section 71(a) of the Food Act 1984 for the words "county and London borough, the council of that county" there shall be substituted the words "metropolitan county, the residuary body for that county and for each non-metropolitan county and London borough the council of that county".

3. In section 67(1) of the Agriculture Act 1970 after the words "the council of a county" there shall be inserted the words ", or (in a metropolitan county) the residuary body".").

In doing so, I wish to say that we are speaking about a highly efficient and sophisticated consumer protection service which has developed out of the former weights and measures departments that were there before 1974. This debate is solely about the metropolitan counties. There is nothing like the trading standards officers and the departments anywhere except in the metropolitan counties. These services might have been in London, because there was the opportunity in 1965. The formula was there in the Local Government Bill. The suggestions the Government are now making that the boroughs should take on the powers are well illustrated in the London area.

In 1965 the 32 London boroughs became local authority trading standard function officers. Twenty-three of the authorities formed seven consortia, ranging from three to five authorities. Perhaps I may say to the noble Lord that of these consortia only one remains in the London area. If he suggests later that these services be devolved to the boroughs I feel sure that he will not use London as an example.

If one looks at the trading standards officers, the departments and the work that they undertake, one sees that a real proliferation of consumer law has gone on to the statute book during the past 10 years. For those to be effective, one has to have enforcement. There is no use in Members of this House or of the other House discussing things which ought to be done, making recommendations, putting forward Bills that become Acts of Parliament and then leaving them there. Most of the consumer protection laws have to be enforced and that enforcement comes through these trading standards officers.

It is true to say that much more work has been done by the metropolitan trading standards teams. They have effectively rooted out a very wide range of national consumer scandals. There is no need for me to remind the Committee of some of them. At Christmas time one is always warned not to buy cheap, shoddy electrical goods to hang on one's Christmas tree because of the great danger of fire. Members of the Committee will realise as well the great campaign that had to be undertaken to make sure that children's nightwear was not in a category which burnt very easily. These are the kinds of campaigns in consumer work that the trading standards officers undertake.

One of the most important campaigns at the present time is making quite sure that loan sharks do not tear off the people. Because of unemployment many people are facing serious problems in making two ends meet. They borrow money but they do not have the resources of bank overdrafts or the opportunities that some members of the Committee have, and therefore they have to resort to what are called the lending societies, who tear off people by the very high interest rates they charge. This is one of the areas that is being tackled at the present moment by trading standards departments.

6.30 p.m.

If we have a fragmented service, as suggested in the Bill, we are likely to see a downgrading of the importance of the trading standards function. That means that there will be a downgrading of Government legislation, because if there cannot be enforcement it is no use having legislation on the statute book. In my view, it will also downgrade the importance of the Ministers who answer on consumer affairs for the Department of Trade and Industry. If one considers the re-organisation of local government in 1974—and one must keep returning to that reorganisation—it was the Redcliffe-Maud and Wheatley Reports on local government which influenced the local government Acts of 1974 and 1975. Those reports concluded that any particular unit administering trading standards must be large enough to administer them effectively. We therefore see the splintering of this function as having a detrimental effect on trading standards.

It is easy to lose sight of the fact that an efficient trading standards service is just as important to business as it is to the ordinary consumer. The business community—including the CBI, the Retail Consortium and the National Consumer Council—emphasise clearly the importance of trading laws. They emphasise that the law should be implemented in a consistent way. If the administration of trading standards is broken up and brought down to district level, then this will be bound to increase the problems of uniformity.

I remind the Minister that the Government have published a new booklet entitled Burdens on Business. Chapter 5 draws attention to the complaint which small businesses make about inconsistencies. Managers of small businesses complain about the variations and the different practices policed by local authorities. The Government very wisely say that such complaints are well founded and that there must be more consistency between local authorities. Yet, on the other hand, the Government are being thoroughly inconsistent in getting rid of trading standards departments, which are the very bodies that can ensure consistency.

I turn now to the ways in which trading standards departments help industry. Many noble Lords have a great knowledge of industry, and some of them, perhaps, are actually involved in the areas about which I shall speak. First, in a speech in another place on 19th December 1980 the right honourable Cecil Parkinson stressed the damage which uncontrolled counterfeiting of United Kingdom goods of high international reputation would wreak on the United Kingdom firms concerned and on the job prospects of those employed in such firms.

Counterfeiting is a multi-million pound racket. I will give the Committee one or two examples. As noble Lords will appreciate, I perhaps know the West Midlands better than many other parts of this country. The trading standards office for the West Midlands serves a population of nearly 3 million people. It used to cover—and we wish it covered more now—the heartland of the manufacturing industry. One noble Lord who I do not see in his place has, I know, a great interest in the lock-making trade. The lock manufacturing industry in the Black Country, as we know it, which covers Dudley, Walsall and the surrounding area of the West Midlands, has traditionally produced the highest quality products. In recent years it has almost completely gone out of business because of cheap, inferior imports into this country. That kind of counterfeiting completely destroys British industry.

Exactly the same is true in the case of a large firm manufacturing motor accessories in the West Midlands. Not only were their products counterfeited but also the actual packaging which contained them, so that it appeared almost identical to that used by a brand name known throughout Europe and the rest of the world. That firm, also, is suffering very much from counterfeiting. Counterfeiting is not only bad for business but is bad for employment, too.

Dunlop—another famous firm—is my third example. Everybody knows of Dunlop sports equipment. Again, that company is suffering very badly through counterfeiting of their products. I could give similar examples for South Yorkshire. The Sheffield cutlery industry has been almost completely demolished because of counterfeiting. The same is true in West Yorkshire in the case of textiles. Wool traders are constantly having to battle against counterfeiting. I could go on to give examples for all the other metropolitan counties. If there are no trading standards departments and offices, there will continue to be counterfeiting—and that means tragedy for many businesses and manufacturers who may be well known not only in this country but throughout the world.

I want to stress the point that trading standards departments do not deal only with the lady who discovers a maggot in a loaf of bread. It is important to recognise that businesses are themselves a great beneficiary of the trading standards function. If noble Lords had attended a seminar arranged last week, they would have heard that not only are the local authorities in the London area not doing anything about trading standards but that the same is true elsewhere. A trading standards officer from one of the metropolitan counties stated publicly (and I shall use his words): "I don't know what we shall do if the trading standards authorities are fragmented in the metropolitan counties because the shire counties have not the specialist services and they ride on the backs of the metropolitan counties". So if the metropolitan trading standards departments are abolished, we know very well that the difficulty then will be with individual local authorities.

I can give your Lordships an example of one individual local authority. It is very well known in the West Midlands; it is the authority for a place called Solihull. I suppose that most noble Lords on the Benches opposite have, at some time in their lives, visited Solihull. It does not have a very good polling record in the case of my honourable friends.

Lord Graham of Edmonton

We will change that.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

A leading councillor for Solihull is on record as saying that after 1986 trading standards expenditure will be at a minimum in his local authority, and that this function is regarded as a necessary evil. So anyone who lives in Solihull will have to get onto the backs of other authorities if they want their trading standards protected. I give both of these examples because the shire counties rely very, very much on what the metropolitan councils do. I give one example which is an example of a local authority which said it would not be doing anything.

In my view, the Government must find ways to preserve the scientific role of the metropolitan county services in the trading standards departments and their centres of excellence. If anyone wants to visit a trading standards department, I am giving them an invitation. You can always come to the West Midlands. We are always pleased to meet anyone there. One can see the centres of excellence not only from the scientific side but also from the practical side dealing with people who have been "ripped off" on car servicing and all the kinds of things which are commonplace when people discuss how we operate.

These centres of excellence and the scientific role provided by the metropolitan county services are referred to in the report of your Lordships' Committee on Science and Technology. We have to say again that they are reported as centres of excellence.

It would seem to me that the Government have not so much an open mind on the trading standards department as a blank one. The Government do not have a clue as to what to do with this very important part of local government which serves not only the ordinary consumer and voter but the retail trade and industry. Therefore, I am moving the amendment standing in my name and that of my noble friend to give the Government time in order to make quite sure that they make the right recommendations about trading standards. Of course, I would say the best move would be to accept wholeheartedly the report of the Select Committee on Science and Technology, and to put the scientific part of trading standards into the residuary body.

I conclude by saying that the comprehensive, fair and consistent service provided by the trading standard service within the metropolitan areas is the only proved way of enforcing the law, giving advice and assistance to trade, industry and the consumer. Necessary specialisation, adequate staffing and resources and other important factors come with large authorities, not small ones. To break up these units would be tragic. It would be against the consumer, it would be against business, and it would put us back 30 years. I ask for the support of your Lordships in these amendments, and I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Drumalbyn

If it is convenient for the Committee, I should like to speak now to Amendments Nos. 75, 78, 79, 80, 81 and 82. Amendment No. 75: Clause 15, page 11, line 27, at end insert— ("(2) If it appears to the Secretary of State necessary or expedient, he may, after consulting the constituent authorities, by order dissolve any joint committee established in relation to trading standards by virtue of Schedule 8, paragraph 15(4) and establish a single authority whose duty it shall be to carry out all of the enforcement functions conferred on the constituent authorities by virtue of paragraph 15 of Schedule 8."). Amendment No. 78: Schedule 8, page 132, line 39, at end insert ("not later than 1st September 1985"). Amendment No. 79: Page 132, line 41, leave out ("to seek") and insert ("from the abolition date"). Amendment No. 80.: Page 132, line 44, leave out (", so far as practicable,"). Amendment No. 81: Page 132, line 45, leave out ("and") and insert ("by"). Amendment No. 82: Page 132, line 47, at end insert— ("(5) The joint committee established by virtue of subparagraph (4) above shall before the abolition date co-ordinate the making of preparations by the constituent district councils for the transfer of functions relating to trading standards to the constituent district councils."). If we were speaking in the other place, I would now say that the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednal, made an excellent speech, but unfortunately said all the things that I was about to say. She probably said them better than I can, except that when she came to the end, her solution is not the same as the solution I am going to propose. However, that will come with the next series of amendments. The solution I am going to propose is that the same kind of arrangement that applies in the shire counties, where the trading standards authority works together with the fire authority, would meet the case that arises from the abolition of the metropolitan counties.

This set of amendments in my name is taken first not because it is the one that I prefer—I prefer the one to which I have just referred—but because it is reached first. The amendments I prefer are found in Clauses 25 and 36 and Schedule 11 which, as I have said, would create a joint board shared with the fire services in the metropolitan counties. That is the solution which I say right away (and this was not mentioned by the noble Baroness) is preferred by the CBI, the National Consumer Council, the Retail Consortium and the British Standards Institution.

But I am hoping that my noble friend Lord Elton, who appears to be going to reply to this debate, will be able to convince your Lordships that the joint committees to be set up in each metropolitan area will develop into satisfactory bodies despite their inherent handicaps. But I am bound to say that the noble Lord is going to have a job to convince the Committee of that.

Turning to Amendment No. 75 to Clause 15, may I read it to your Lordships so we know where we are. It says: Page 11, line 27, at end insert— (2) If it appears to the Secretary of State necessary or expedient, he may, after consulting the constituent authorities, by order dissolve any joint committee established in relation to trading standards by virtue of Schedule 8, paragraph 15(4) and establish a single authority whose duty it shall be to carry out all of the enforcement functions conferred on the constituent authorities by virtue of paragraph 15 of Schedule 8. Clause 15 of the Bill does two things. It transfers functions mentioned in the first three sub-paragraphs of paragraph 15 of Schedule 8 from the Greater London Council to the London borough councils. This need not concern your Lordships at all at present, so that gets rid of paragraph (a) of Clause 15.

What does concern us is paragraph (b) of Clause 15 which transfers the trading standards functions from the six metropolitan county councils to the 36 metropolitan district councils.

Perhaps I may put in a question here which does not arise otherwise. Clause 93 of page 66 requires the councils of the districts in each metropolitan county not later than 1st September 1985 to establish a joint committee to discharge the function specified in that clause, including trading standards functions. The districts vary in population from Birmingham, with over 1 million, Leeds with 700,000 and Liverpool with 500,000 at one end, to Bury with 175,000 and Calderdale with 192,000 at the other end. These last two are in the Manchester metropolitan council area and West Yorkshire.

Plainly the resources of the constituent districts vary very widely. It cannot be easy for districts with majorities of different political hues, different economic interests, different traditions and different geographical characteristics within one county to agree among themselves or with their neighbours on priorities, methods and so forth. It would be a miracle if all these committees were invariably to accept the wishes of the majority on each committee, let alone those of the majority in the neighbouring committees. Yet uniformity of enforcement is a cardinal requirement, if not the cardinal requirement, in trading standards administration.

May I remind your Lordships that a similar system was tried—this was mentioned by the noble Baroness opposite—in London following the 1965 reorganisation of local government. As the noble Baroness said, 23 London boroughs combined to form seven groups, and, as she also said, there is only one left. Why?—because there was, so to speak, no cement in the structure, nothing to bind the members together. Without that the joint committees are unlikely to be either efficient or consistent. Indeed, they are prone to break up entirely, as happened in the London borough groups.

On the other hand, when a number of councils in the same county form a joint committee where, before, there was only one county authority, the great disadvantage to all relevant interests, trade, industry and the general public, lies in the subsequent fragmentation—another word used by the noble Baroness opposite—of the previous comprehensive service. There will be, in each county on average, six times as many authorities loosely combined instead of one authority. One very experienced chief executive of a trading standards and consumer protection authority put it to me this way: Different authorities create different structures. Professional and political preferences place different emphasis on different duties. To promote fair trading and free competition becomes difficult if not impossible especially in trading activities geographically related". I should add that it also becomes more expensive. The cost of the service per 1,000 population in the shire counties in 1983–84 was 99.5 pence, in the metropolitan counties 89.5 pence, but in the London boroughs 169.5 pence. Who is to say that the cost to the metropolitan district councils will not rise to, or at least approach, that in the London boroughs when the metropolitan counties are broken up and their trading standards systems fragmented among the districts?

I turn more directly to Amendment No. 75. A single authority in place of a joint committee would, or at least should, secure continuity and uniformity of enforcement. I suggest that it is necessary to tighten up other proposals in Schedule 8, paragraph 15(4). I hope that your Lordships will not think it sufficient for the councils to have a duty to seek to co-ordinate the exercise by them of their enforcement functions with a view to securing uniformity in the exercise of those functions throughout the county.

Their duty should be, should it not, to achieve uniformity and not merely to seek to do so. That is covered by Amendment No. 79. There should be no nonsense about securing it "so far as practicable". That is Amendment No. 80. It seems to me absurd to lay on a council a duty and to qualify that duty with the words "so far as practicable" when the duty, as I have said, is cardinal and basic. If that cannot be done—here again, the noble Baroness opposite referred to this—would it not be better to have a single authority? As I understand it, this sub-paragraph does not envisage a single authority. It requires district councils to establish a joint committee of each metropolitan county whose duty shall be to co- ordinate or rather, in the terms of the Bill, to seek to co-ordinate the enforcement functions of each district council with a view to securing that those functions are exercised, so far as is practicable, uniformly throughout that county.

It seems to me that the Government have little confidence that this co-ordination arrangement will work any better than the grouping of the London boroughs. The councils' joint committees are given the duty not to co-ordinate but to seek to co-ordinate with a view to securing so far as practicable uniformity throughout the county. The Government do not expect them to secure uniformity. They hope apparently that uniformity will be secured to some extent.

Uniformity in the exercise of trading standards functions is a "must". The Government must therefore adopt that which must secure uniformity. The metropolitan counties have been aiming at uniformity and have already, in 10 years, gone a long way towards achieving it. Moreover, our European commitments, in many cases, require uniformity. In regard to Amendment No. 75, we must plainly continue to aim firmly at uniformity in the exercise of trading functions throughout the county and at co-ordination or at least co-operation between counties. But there may be a failure of co-ordination. In that case co-ordination must still be somehow secured. The obvious way is to dissolve any joint committee that is failing to co-ordinate, and to establish a single authority whose duty it shall be, in the words of the amendment, to carry out all of the enforcement functions conferred on the constituent authorities by virtue of paragraph 15 of Schedule 8". That is the point of Amendment No. 75.

Amendment No. 81, at page 132, line 45, proposes leaving out "and" and inserting "by". This is an interesting point. As drafted, sub-paragraph (4)(a) and (b) seems to have two separate objects; first, to co-ordinate the enforcement functions so as to secure uniformity in the exercise of those functions through-out the county and, secondly, to secure the employment, provision or the use of staff, property and facilities by those councils for the purpose of those functions.

It is not perhaps the most felicitous of drafting. If I am wrong, my noble friend, I am sure, will be glad to put me right. The substitution of "by" for "and" would make a significant change in the sense, since "by" would restrict the method and ways by which councils are to secure uniformity in the exercise of their functions throughout the county. I should like to ask my noble friend whether this is what the Government intended.

As to Amendment No. 82, it is not clear to me what is the relationship between Clause 93 and paragraph 15(4) of Schedule 8. Is the joint committee established in Schedule 8 the same as that established by Clause 93? That, I think, covers the various amendments to which I am speaking. The major issue is to ensure that the Secretary of State will be able to replace any committee that fails in its duty. I hope very much that my noble friend will accept that.

Lord Ingrow

We should, I think, consider this question of uniformity. It is generally held to be—

Lord Sainsbury

This side.

Noble Lords

Lord Sainsbury.

Lord Sainsbury

I should like to speak briefly in support of the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn. The great variety of purposes that the enforcement of trading standards serves has already been shown. The first is to protect the consumer by, for example, ensuring the accuracy of petrol pumps, ensuring—and this is coming near home—that cooked meats and poultry do not contain excessive water, and ensuring that the lead content of products does not exceed the safety limits. The second is to promote fair competition for the retailers and the manufacturer. It is necessary to prevent reputable businesses from being undercut by unscrupulous competitors. The third is to interpret the law. The law is broken more often by failure to understand than by evil intention. Trading standards authorities assist local industry by giving advice on legal matters and in product development, as with, for example, the manufacture of weighing and measuring equipment.

7 p.m.

In my opinion those are very important functions which affect a large section of the population. It is therefore inappropriate to devolve responsibility for the administration of trading standards from the metropolitan counties to the districts. First, as has already been mentioned, the problems of maintaining consistency will be increased. Secondly, there will be a loss of efficiency. County administration benefits from economies of scale. District administration would need much duplication of expertise and initially would break up existing teams. Thirdly, districts will not have the resources large enough to finance special investigation teams to work on particular projects as they exist now in the metropolitan counties. It is by virtue of their size that the metropolitan counties can afford the necessary resources to finance projects such as investigation into product counterfeiting, which has already been mentioned, especially in the clothes and video trades, and investigation into credit abuse which is very important from the consumers' point of view. It is for those reasons that I conclude by expressing hope that the Government will accept this and related amendments.

Lord Ingrow

If one is in business, possibly one may somewhere be involved with trading standards, and so I should declare an interest; but I want to speak on the question of uniformity. I can see a case for uniformity if one wishes to have it over the whole country, but there is no specific merit in having uniformity, say, within the boundaries of the West Yorkshire County Council and a totally different uniformity across the border in North Yorkshire. If it is to be uniformity throughout the country, by all means let us have it. But really one of the most deadening things that people talk about today is uniformity.

The metropolitan districts are not the same. They are composed of different people, with different ideas. They do not necessarily want to be run in entirely the same way, and in fact in practice it is not possible to achieve that. At the end of the day if prosecutions occur, they will be dealt with in a court; in the case of West Yorkshire, say, a dozen or more courts. They will not necessarily get the same sort of decision. Different people take different views as to the importance of particular crimes. If they are serious crimes and they go to the Crown Court, there could be about three different Crown Courts. We shall achieve informity only on the basis that standards are the same in a given area but not in contiguous areas.

My next point is this. I do not know the noble Lord's full experience of local government, but very few people would agree with him that the second tier authorities are more efficient (and take full advantage of economies of scale) than the first tier authorities. Those directly answerable to the public for a rate demand are usually much more careful and precise in what they do. That is one of the reasons why so many people want counties: they are much easier to get money out of because no one takes the responsibility. But that is not a particularly democratic argument to use.

The enforcement policy may—indeed, will—vary from time to time. It seems to me that districts of the size of half a million or more are well and truly capable of dealing with these matters. It may very well be that no one would run a trading standard better than the city of Bradford, for example, looking after its wool problems, but it may have its efforts dissipated by neighbouring authorities which did not attach the same importance to wool and might consider other things more important. I think that we are in danger of going backwards into a craze for making bigger and bigger, and the Government quite rightly have been trying to do exactly the opposite. I would very much hope that the districts, which are large, substantial bodies, run by able people, would be well capable of running such activities, and they should be allowed to do so.

Baroness Lockwood

I come from the same parliamentary constituency as the noble Lord, Lord Ingrow, and I take an entirely different view from him. A lot was said in the earlier debate this afternoon and in previous debates about the efficiency of district councils compared with metropolitan counties. I think that the facts speak for themselves. If we look carefully at the facts, I think it can be seen that a number of services are much more efficiently and effectively carried out at metropolitan county rather than district level. I certainly think that that applies to trading standards.

To take the metropolitan county of West Yorkshire as an example, in 1983–84 the number of staff was 108, compared with 173 when the metropolitan county took over from the then reorganised county boroughs and district councils. So we have a decrease in the number of staff employed by the metropolitan county; yet if we look at the scope of the work over the past 10 years, we find that it has increased enormously. I understand that in the space of 10 years there have been something like 375 Acts of Parliament or regulations passed which have increased the responsibility in the whole area.

I should like the noble Lord, Lord Ingrow, to go with me to visit the centralised department in West Yorkshire which operates throughout the county to see that it can operate at a more economic rate than the individual districts simply because it has teams of specialists. I should like to give an example. Reference has been made to the problems of finance within West Yorkshire. There is one specialist officer who deals with consumer credit. Were there to be a dispersed service there could not be one-fifth of an officer in each of the five districts, so presumably there would have to be five officers dealing with that particular problem. Thus one could replicate the different specialisms that have been developed in this whole area.

Another very important problem is this. Again, in West Yorkshire the metropolitan county has become a leading authority in the effort to reduce the incidence of overloaded heavy goods vehicles. In this connection, the metropolitan county works with the West Yorkshire police and with the regional transport department. One has an economic and neat unit, the three bodies working together on this problem of overloaded vehicles. This is a very serious problem. When one thinks in terms of trading standards, one tends to think of the smaller areas of work. Yet, in many respects it is now a very technical and highly mechanised service. Thus I suggest that in the interests of economy and effectiveness it is important that there should be this centralised service.

I was going to say something about the textile industry and about uniformity. Again I am taking an entirely different view from that of the noble Lord opposite. The textile industry in West Yorkshire works very closely indeed with the trading standards department. When there are problems, as there have been in recent years, with the increasing number of imported commodities which go under the title of "woollen commodities" but are found not to be so, it is very important that there is not only an efficient and effective service in the metropolitan county area but that it is also a uniform service; in other words, that Bradford is applying the same standards as Kirklees and Calderdale. It is important to have this uniformity. I think that is one of the reasons why the textile industry itself is very concerned about the move to fragment this service.

Therefore I support the amendments which have been moved by my noble friend Lady Fisher. I support them in preference to the amendments which have been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn. That is for the simple reason that there would be certainty. If we in this Chamber can establish that we will keep the service together, then there will not be the problem that we could run into if the service is dependent on coming to some agreement between the districts. That is the problem of losing some of the specialist officers, and that is something which we can ill-afford to do.

Baroness Elliot of Harwood

Very shortly, I should like to support Amendment No. 75. My mind goes back to the very early start of the Consumers' Association movement. I was chairman of the first committee. One of the first things we had to do was to try to establish standards that were comparable throughout the country. Of course we had the Board of Trade, and so on, to help us. However, we were dealing with people; we were dealing with the different counties and with the different industries producing goods. What the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, said was absolutely true. I agreed with everything he said. We have to have a standard. We have to have standards which cover the whole country. I simply do not know whether it can be done as the Government hope to do it. I feel that it would be much better if there was a standard which covered a wider field, where it was not split up so much. I feel that one should really concentrate on what noble Lords have already mentioned. I shall not repeat it all. I entirely agree also with what the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, said. There has been a tremendous step forward in these matters, and one wants to see that that continues. One does not want undercutting. One does not want under-selling.

Both noble Lords have spoken about the West Riding. I have here a letter from the wool textile and clothing industry saying that all they want is to be quite sure that their standards are kept up and that people do not import cheap woollen goods into this country which are below standard and which we cannot stop. This is vital to the whole aspect of production, selling and so on. I very much hope that the Government will take this very seriously and, if necessary, will say that they will consider this again in order that one can have something. It is not a political subject at all. It is simply a matter of whether or not one can obtain the right methods and the right standards. As the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, has said, it is a matter of finding the right way to do it. It is not necessarily a matter of politics. I hope the noble Lord, who is very wise in these matters, will look at this with an unjaundiced eye and see whether something cannot be done which will fulfil what has been spoken about tonight.

7.15 p.m.

Lord Jacques

I submit to the Committee that there is a very strong case for keeping this service on something like a county basis. There are three reasons for that. First of all, in the past decade, there have been enormous changes in testing. Those changes have given rise to the use of a very much greater amount of technique and expertise. Secondly, they have also given rise to the use of improved testing equipment. It has now reached the stage when more or less the only people who can afford to employ the expertise and use the equipment are the metropolitan counties because of their substantial rateable value base. Those changes have taken place since the last change in local government. I believe the Government are losing sight of that. At the present time it is recognised in the whole profession that the metropolitan counties are ahead of everybody else, so much so that the other counties are using the metropolitan counites' service in many of the checks that they are making.

The second reason why I suggest that it should be retained on a county basis is this very important question of consistency. I spent the whole of my working life in retailing. Therefore I have a very great knowledge of the need for consistency. When one is operating in several towns and each of those towns has its own service, one has no consistency at all. There is a different attitude according to the personality of the officer in charge, or the facilities that he has available, or his particular committee.

On a county basis one can even move towards the national consistency which was pleaded for. That is because one can give guidelines. If one has to give guidelines to a restricted number of counties rather than to hundreds of district councils and boroughs, then one is likely to have more adhesion to the guidelines. Thus I submit that by keeping it on a county basis and by using national guidelines, there would be a possibility of far greater consistency on a national basis than there is now.

Finally, there is the question of costing. Here I am astonished at the Government. They are either working purely on political dogma or they are unaware of the figures that are available. The noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, submitted the authentic figures. In relation to their rateable value, the metropolitan counties have a lower cost than the shire counties. In proportion to their rateable value, they have a substantially lower cost than that in London where it is done by the London boroughs. I cannot understand the Government, purely on dogma grounds, doing away with a service which has proved itself to be economical and to have the lowest costs in the country.

Lord Mottistone

I shall not detain your Lordships for long on Amendment No. 75, to which I have also put my name. I should like to begin by saying that the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, has covered a great deal of the ground that I would have covered and I agreed with a great deal of what she said. However, I do not agree one little bit with her amendment and I hope that your Lordships will not consider it.

It is significant that the earlier amendment—Amendment No. 72B—which referred to the "residuary body", was withdrawn. I hope that the opposition will withdraw this amendment also so that we can concentrate on the amendments of my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn; namely, Amendment No. 75, and Amendments Nos. 78 to 82. My noble friend has explained the effect of those amendments and therefore I shall not repeat it.

However, there are just two points that I should like to make. First, there is the question of uniformity, upon which my noble friend Lord Ingrow commented. From a manufacturer's point of view—and I have been working with manufacturing for a long time—the fewer centres for applying the law relating to trading standards, the better. My noble friend said that if it were national, it would be all right. To have it national would be too difficult. One cannot administer nationally so well. We have certainly found that a county basis in England and Wales and a regional basis in Scotland is the right type of level.

In fact, there is something in between. I cannot remember exactly, but I think that there are about 460 districts throughout the country. If we were to put it at district level throughout, we would find that there would be a whole range of different measurements as regards how the law should be put into effect and a whole range of advice given to courts and so on.

We want to have something in between. About the right level at which to co-ordinate the districts is covered by my noble friend's Amendment No. 75; namely, a single authority. The Government have recognised that, because in Schedule 8, paragraph 15(4) they talk about the establishment of a joint committee which would provide that co-ordination. My noble friend Lord Drumalbyn and I do not think that that goes quite far enough; hence the amendments about which we have been talking. I hope that my noble friend will be able to accept some of those amendments or, if he does not like their wording, will be able to accept them in principle, so that if need be, we can come back at Report with something else. It would seem to me very reasonable to accept these amendments. I hope that no further consideration will be given to Amendment No. 74K.

Finally, I hope that my noble friend will be able to give me some reassurance as to what plans there are for the scientific resources for the metropolitan county trading standards officers and their laboratories. Are they to be handed over to the joint committee? If so, would perhaps a single authority do the job rather better? I hope that we shall be able to get on with this matter nice and quickly because I expect that we are all getting hungry.

Lord Ezra

I should like to ask for clarification. Are we also at the moment discussing Amendments Nos. 110 to 114? They propose another possible solution.

Lord Mottistone

They will be moved later.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

I was very impressed by the theme of the noble Lord, Lord Jacques. He said how important it was to be consistent. "Consistency" was the great word that he used. There is a lot in it, and I was very impressed. This House must be consistent. When we gave a Second Reading to this Bill we said that we wanted to get rid of these intermediate tiers. If we start by dealing with little bits and if we do the opposite to the message that came from the Second Reading debate, we shall not be very consistent. I would beg the Committee to pay attention to what the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, has said and to be consistent with its own decision when the principle was discussed and voted upon on Second Reading.

As regards the noble Baroness and her Amendment No. 74K, as I have said we come from almost the same village and so we ought to have similar outlooks. We have had the same type of evidence to form our views. I should like to ask the noble Baroness about the sudden magic which has started to surround the residuary bodies. Why has this become so wonderful all of a sudden? It is a new word. It has a new attraction. As far as I can see, the attraction of the residuary bodies is that they are a backdoor way in which to do the very thing that on Second Reading we said we would not do. I must say that it seems to me to be in keeping with what I could call "political tactics".

I do not see why the colleagues of the noble Baroness should have withdrawn their two previous amendments in which they wanted to make use of residuary bodies to keep alive something that is not at all in keeping with the principle of the Bill, and why the noble Baroness should think of pursuing this amendment.

Every now and again in the language of party political battle words suddenly have a special meaning. I remember at one stage it was "solidarity". One had never heard of "solidarity" until it suddenly carried with it some type of message. As a trade union leader the noble Lord, Lord Graham, will remember the new word that the trade unions suddenly produced—"parity". They said, "We must have parity with this and that". There is a fascination for new words. The "residuary body" is exactly what it means. It is intended to remain in being for the transitional period during the overlap. Of necessity it should be for only a short period, or a shorter period if possible. There is no question of it being permanent because otherwise, as my noble friend said, we would be misusing the English language.

Therefore, following the theme of consistency of the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, I would suggest that the noble Baroness should be consistent with her colleagues and should say that she will not proceed with her amendment for exactly the same reasons as her colleagues withdrew the previous amendment.

Lord Jacques

Before the noble Lord sits down and since he has mentioned my name, I should like him to reply to this comment. The Government by this Bill are abolishing the GLC and the metropolitan county councils. They are suggesting in the Bill that the functions which they performed should go partly to the boroughs, partly to quangos, partly to joint committees, partly to central Government and so on. The Committee is suggesting improvements and different ways in which that can be done. That is a function of this House.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

Of course it is, and the noble Lord, as I have said, made a most effective speech. However, it was on the wrong basis; that is what I was trying to say. The object of this Committee stage is to share minds. We are sharing minds and the noble Lord, Lord Jacques, has said that we should be consistent. I am saying the same—be consistent, and make the amendments consistent with the message which we gave on Second Reading.

Lord Jacques

We are being consistent in continuing to seek improvement of the Bill.

Lord Avebury

It is a great pity that the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, has seen fit to introduce a party political note into what has been an entirely independent and unbiased debate with from both sides contributions from such distinguished noble Lords and noble Baronesses as the noble Baroness, Lady Lockwood, and the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, who has such a distinguished record in consumer protection. I should have thought that the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls, would have paid more careful attention to what she said and to what his noble friend Lord Drumalbyn said rather than accuse those who have spoken in the debate of being party politically inspired.

Moreover, the noble Lord would have done well to refresh his memory on the wording of the Long Title of the Bill which provides for functions to be transferred from the Greater London Council and the metropolitan county councils, in some cases to other bodies.

7.30 p.m.

What the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, is arguing is that if we cannot achieve an objective which is shared by everybody except the noble Lord, Lord Ingrow, then he has proposed a workable solution. The noble Lord, Lord Ingrow, is the only one who suggested that we should not aim at any kind of uniformity and that it was a positive merit if, as a result of these functions being devolved on to the districts, we had variations in the enforcement of consumer legislation as we cross from one authority to another even within the space of, say, West Yorkshire where it would be extraordinarily confusing, I believe, for the consumer, the manufacturer, and the retailer if different standards were imposed in an area as small as that.

He could have argued, had he wanted to—but he did not—that these functions should have been taken away from local authorities altogether and that they should be administered by central Government, and I do not think that anybody is advancing that point of view. We all believe that the responsibilities we are talking about in this group of amendments should be administered locally. The question is how best we can secure that uniformity about which everybody else has spoken.

Even in the schedule at paragraph (4) we read that the aim is to secure uniformity in the exercise of these functions throughout the county only "so far as practicable". I think that is the crux of the matter. Are we going to leave the Bill in this unsatisfactory state where we are saying, in effect, that we want to try to achieve uniformity, but if we do not, that is too bad, we can only go part of the way towards it; or are we going to provide in a wise and far-sighted way, as the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, is attempting to do, for the eventuality that what is contained in the Bill will not achieve what Parliament as a whole is trying to do?

Then we should have a fall-back position which is extraordinarily sensible and which ought to commend itself to the Minister. If it does not, I believe that the views of consumers, retailers, and manufacturers which have been outlined in the course of the speeches so far ought to prevail against the stubbornness, if I may say so, of the Government.

Lord Elton

If the debate continues much longer, I shall begin to become confused and so I hope that your Lordships will allow me to reply now. Perhaps I may start by clearing up a small point simply because it is on the top of my pile of papers. My noble friend asked about the difference between what I shall call Schedule 8 committees of my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn and Clause 93 committees. These are not the same creature. Schedule 8 committees are for one purpose only; that is to say, on trading standards, and they are post-abolition bodies. Clause 93 committees can be created for a number of purposes, and the intention is that they shall start work at least pre-abolition, though I believe that they may be continued thereafter.

The amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Birk, and cogently moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, have the intention of transferring responsibility for the enforcement of trading standards and related legislation to the residuary bodies. I pause merely to remind your Lordships of the role of the residuary bodies as it is now planned and as we believe it may be planned for the future, and I say no more on that acrimonious subject; but let us not forget it.

The first group of amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn would retain the devolution of these functions to district councils but would strengthen the co-ordinating role of the joint committees proposed in the Bill and introduce a reserve power for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry to establish joint authorities to take over these functions from the districts.

The Government's proposals under the Bill are to devolve trading standards and related functions to the districts, but with the safeguard of joint committees in each metropolitan county, whose role it would be to co-ordinate enforcement work. Noble Lords have mentioned that some people object to this. I ought to mention that others support it. The Association of British Chambers of Commerce, for instance, in a commentary on the Bill circulated during Committee in another place, wrote: The main concern of industry and commerce relating to trading standards is the possibility that district councils could operate varying standards of advice and enforcement, and that centralised units such as exist in West Yorkshire might be disbanded when control is passed to districts". It seemed to the association that what they call the clause, but which is, in fact, paragraph 15(4) of Schedule 8 which, establishes a statutory joint committee allays that fear and should be supported". My right honourable friend drew attention during the debate on these provisions in the other place to the close links between trading standards and environmental health. These, I am sure my noble friend will accept, are of great importance. It is therefore of interest to notice that the Institution of Environmental Health Officers in a policy paper issued on 29th April make clear their belief that food standards, composition, and labelling duties in particular would be performed to a higher standard and with a greater understanding of health implications if, as we propose, the metropolitan districts become responsible for both trading standards and environmental health. The institution goes on: There is a determination amongst the environmental health departments in the metropolitan districts to achieve a uniformity of approach by adopting a proven co-ordination scheme". That should be some reassurance to noble Lords who are anxious about diversity of standards. The Association of British Chambers of Commerce and the Institution of Environmental Health Officers are important and influential bodies. I urge your Lordships not lightly to disregard their views. The noble Baroness would have us transfer trading standards to the residuary bodies. As they are now constituted of course that would not be an approriate role for them.

My noble friend alluded briefly to a subject which I know is of great interest to him, though he did not quote his amendments on the subject of the fire authority. I do not know whether he is going to allude to it again. If not, I shall merely say that I see considerable difficulties in that approach because the affinity between the two services does not seem to be close enough to justify a pursuit of that subject. But he has not spoken to that amendment and so I shall leave it at that. I understand that he will speak to it later.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fisher, was concerned about counterfeiting, as are a number of your Lordships. This is a national problem. The metropolitan county councils do not have a monopoly of dealing with it. The joint committees proposed in Schedule 8, paragraph 15, for co-ordinating enforcement of trading standards will be able to mobilise action against counterfeiting just as the MCCs have done, and I hope with more success.

That brings me to what my noble friend proposes in his amendments. He proposes first that paragraph 15(4) should be strengthened in a number of ways. He wants to insert into the first line a date, not later than 1st September 1985". We were intending that the operation should be carried out in a timely way, and I am perfectly happy to accept that amendment and that date.

He also wishes to remove the words "to seek" from line 41, which is a weakening expression and suggests there may be a failure, and I am prepared for him to do that to the Bill. He next wishes to remove another hesitating phrase, "so far as practicable" in Amendment No. 80, and I am content for him to do that. He then wishes—and I think this is only probing—to substitute "by" for "and" between heads (a) and (b). I can tell him that the drafting, as it is, is I believe as we intended it to be and seems to me to read as plain English. I would ask him therefore not to press that amendment because I should like to look at it more closely.

My noble friend then asks us to add a new subsection (5) at the end of line 47. I hesitate about the wording of what he proposes, but if he will allow me to look at it between now and Report, I shall hope to bring back an alternative form of words for a similar purpose.

There remains therefore Amendment No. 75. It may be that the drafting would need further attention but for the greater comfort of my noble friend I am prepared also to accept that amendment provided it is agreed that we may have to revise it at a later stage. It seems to me that we have everything to offer to those on this side of the Committee who wish to improve the situation as they see it in the Bill as drafted and nothing to offer noble Lords opposite who pursue a different aim which is inimical to the Bill. I hope that my noble friends will assist me in persuading them; or, if not, voting that other view out.

Lord Drumalbyn

May I simply say thank you to my noble friend for accepting these amendments and thank Members on both sides who have supported what I have had to say. One or two did not support, but the general feeling of the Committee was in favour of the tenor of the amendments. May I also say thank you very much to the noble Baroness opposite who saved me quite a bit of speaking by covering most of the points that I had in mind.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

As the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, has said, the debate has been good. As my noble friend Lady Lockwood and others have said, trading standards is not a party political matter. It is of grave importance not only to consumers but, as has already been said, to traders and manufacturers.

The Minister gave information relating to environmental health officers and I should perhaps tell him that there are two arguments to that view. The food responsibilities of the MCC's account for only 15 per cent. of the work of the trading standards department. To use that as a justification for transferring the whole function of the work of standards officers in the districts is to ignore the other 85 per cent. of the work which is not related to the work of the environmental health officers. That is a classic example of the tail wagging the dog: the small amount of work which the MCCs do relating to food opposed to what the environmental and trading standards officers do on the larger scale.

The work of the environmental health officers is at a local level. They were the old sanitary inspectors; therefore their work involves investigating hygiene in shops and seeing whether food is fresh.

Lord Elton

I think the noble Baroness will accept that her argument is susceptible of appreciation in two directions. There is all the work of the environmental health officers to consider as well as the rest of the work of the trading standards officers. With recent events in mind I am sure she will not underestimate the importance of ensuring that food sold to the public is in good condition.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

I am not underestimating. I was explaining the different functions that these officers have. It is true to say that environmental officers were the old sanitary inspectors. Therefore they visit shops. They see whether food is fresh, and if it is mouldy, for example, they take action. The trading standards officers also do that, but they cover the wider field of food composition which the environmental officers do not do. They also deal with labelling. Everyone is concerned with labelling to ensure that what is in the bottle or in the tinned goods is shown; and, for example, if a product contains salt that is shown. Therefore they work closely with the manufacturers. That is the point I was trying to explain and I hope now that the noble Lord sees that there is a distinct difference in the functions. The environmental officers could take over only 15 per cent. of the functions. That would be my reply to the Minister.

I have listened with a great deal of interest to what has been said and I would go so far as to say that there is not much difference between what I have said and Lord Drumalbyn's view. He is trying to achieve exactly the same as those of us on this side of the Committee inasmuch as we want to keep the standards that have already been set up. We wish to improve on already good standards. I go all along the line with the noble Lord on that.

Before I continue, will the Minister explain whether he has now accepted the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, because at a later stage there is a debate on whether the trading standards should go to the fire service as is operated in the counties. Are we accepting now that the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, substantially will be the Government's policy?

Lord Elton

I have said that if your Lordships reject, as I hope you will, the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, we shall accept my noble friend's Amendments Nos. 78, 79 and 80 as they stand, consider Amendment No. 81, assist him in redrafting Amendment No. 82 and accept Amendment No. 75, subject to a possible minor amendment at the next stage. That would then be our policy.

Baroness Fisher of Rednal

With all those assurances, I agree with the point of view that has been put forward. I have listened to what the Minister said, I am satisfied and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment No. 74K, by leave, withdrawn.

Lord Drumalbyn moved Amendment No. 75:

[Printed earlier: col. 793.]

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 15, as amended, agreed to.

[Amendments Nos. 75A and 75B not moved.]

Lord Denham

In moving that the House do now resume I think that, with the leave of the Committee, I should say that we shall not be returning to this Bill before 8.45. I beg to move that the House do now resume.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House resumed.