HL Deb 07 July 1987 vol 488 cc597-9
Lord Chelwood

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the 1984 voluntary code of practice to regulate the quantity of still table wine when sold by the glass in public houses and restaurants is being observed, and if not, whether they will introduce legislation on this subject.

The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Lord Young of Graffham)

My Lords, recent evidence, including a local authority survey, indicates an increasing level of compliance with the voluntary code, particularly in the quantities in which wine is sold. I have no present plans to introduce legislation.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, that is a very disappointing reply. Is it not a fact that this question has dragged on in the department since about 1973, when all that is required is an amendment to the Weights and Measures Act 1963? Why should a pint of beer, a tot of spirits or a carafe of wine be strictly controlled by statute when no one knows what he is going to get in a glass of wine? What is the reason for this straightforward and long-overdue measure not being introduced when the voluntary code has clearly failed and the sale of wine by the glass has become a widespread swindle?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, prescribed sizes for beer and spirits have been with us for a very long time. I confess that my taste runs to wine more than to beer. But I am willing to accept that there is a difference between one beer and another. There is also a considerable difference between the wine of a great chateau and ordinary plonk. It would not seem to serve the interests of the consumer if both were to be measured at 100 millilitres.

Lord Williams of Elvel

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the Consumers' Association recently did a study on the sale of wine in public houses and came to the conclusion that not only did quantity and quality vary but also that price apparently had no relation to either of those matters? What is the Government's view of that study?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I wish I had increased opportunities to go and test in person! The matter is difficult because of the great variation in quality of wines. I am not sure that it would serve either the consumer or the general public well if we were to regulate quantities. This is one of those matters on which I suspect that the market will know best.

Lord Harmar-Nicholls

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that many people, quite apart from issues of quality and price of wine, do not wish the Government to encourage any more stereotyped regulations which interfere with such people making up their own minds as to where they are getting value for money?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I hope that I have not as yet acquired a reputation for being a great regulator.

Lord Monson

My Lords, will the noble Lord agree that one solution may be, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Harmar-Nicholls has said, to stipulate that all open wine, whether sold by the glass or by the carafe, should be dispensed in multiples of one centilitre, as normally happens in Switzerland?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I have the advantage of having a copy of the voluntary code. That code specifies that wine, where it is to be sold, must be sold in one of two measures—either the metric system or the imperial system. The system should be shown clearly at the place of sale. I should have thought that that was enough for present purposes.

Lord Renton

My Lords, would it not be a safeguard, as well as adding to the interest and pleasure of drinking wine by the glass, if the publican or the restaurateur got into the habit of saying what the drink was or having a placard indicating what customers were drinking?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, I can only agree with my noble friend.

Lord Ezra

My Lords, as president of the Trading Standards Administration, perhaps I may ask whether the noble Lord is aware that there is serious concern in that organisation at the lack of legislation on this matter and whether, before coming to the negative conclusion which the noble Lord announced to the House earlier, he consulted the Trading Standards Administration.

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, the main pressure for legislation tends to come from consumer groups such as the Consumers' Association and the National Federation of Consumer Groups. Such pressure does not tend to come from individual consumers. As yet, there have been very few complaints and very little pressure from such individuals.

Lord Broxbourne

My Lords, can my noble friend arrange for what I believe is called a blind tasting for Members of the House, so as to see the extent of the discrimination of the niceties and nuances of these matters?

Lord Young of Graffham

My Lords, if I had any responsibility for the supply of wine I would most happily accede; but, alas, I do not.

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