§ 2.57 p.m.
§ Further considered on Report (according to Order).
§ Schedule 4 [Foods]:
LORD STONHAM moved, in paragraph 2, after sub-paragraph (2) to insert:
(c) when sold otherwise than by retail, on and after such day as the Minister may by order made by statutory instrument appoint, fish shall be sold only by net weight, except in the case of any sale by wholesale of fresh fish by kit measure or herring by cran measure;
Provided that if any seller of fish by wholesale at a place of landing makes representations to the Board of Trade that the provision at such place of weighing equipment suitable for the wholesale weight of the fish is not reasonably practicable, or would not be justified on economic grounds, and the Board of Trade is satisfied with the grounds of such representations, the Board of Trade may direct that, subject to such conditions and for such period as may be specified in the direction the provisions of this subsection of this paragraph shall not apply to any fish landed at that place.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 40, which seeks to ensure that wholesale sales of fish should be by net weight. The Amendment is somewhat different from the one I moved in Committee, although it has the same purpose. When we were considering it in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, said that he had not "done his homework" on it, and he proceeded to prove that by declaring that the Amendment was, from a practical 889 point of view, inadvisable and would handicap the eventual consumer. The noble Lord also said he did not think that wholesale sales by net weight would at this present time be desirable. He will readily agree, I am sure, that this present Amendment meets that point, because it leaves it wholly at the discretion of the President of the Board of Trade as to when, if the Amendment is accepted, the principle should be implemented in practice. The noble Lord also said that it would not be desirable at some ports because of the lack of suitable equipment, and I think the Amendment we are now considering fully meets that point, even if we did not know that suitable scales can be purchased for £25, and that there therefore cannot be many ports that would be unable to equip themselves with proper scales.
§ The other two points the noble Lord made were, first, that the vital consideration was that fish must be sold quickly, that any slowing of the process would be serious, and that it could be considerably slowed up if one had to weigh more carefully and be checked by inspectors. The other point made by the noble Lord against this principle was that the general short-weight provisions of Clause 24 are sufficient protection. It is with that case that I now want to deal, because it is my submission that the noble Lord's objections show that he and his advisers are somewhat out of date in their information, and that they are judging the present situation by that which existed in 1937, when the Hodgson Committee considered this particular point and made their recommendations.
§ Since then I have had occasion to inquire into conditions at the two largest fish-landing ports in the country, Grimsby and Hull, and I am assured by the weights and measures inspectorate there that what I am now asking for is, in fact, the practice in those ports; that it is being done voluntarily and that it has been done for some years. I am assured that at the present time at Grimsby the first-hand sales of fish from trawler owners to port wholesalers are on a weight basis. The trawler owners, through the medium of a company known as Exchange Limited, own 125 3-cwt. capacity dead-weight machines and a great many weights. 890 This equipment is regularly used for weighing fish as it is landed from the trawlers, and is regularly inspected by officers of the weights and measures department. Prior to 1937, first-hand sales of fish were conducted on sight, but it was about that time that the trawler owners themselves decided to conduct sales on a weight basis. Therefore, in opposing the sale on a net-weight basis—if in fact they do oppose it—it is clear that they do not want to be legally obliged to continue these sales in exactly the manner that they are now conducting them voluntarily.
§ As for the noble Lord's argument that speedy despatch is an overriding consideration, the undeniable facts are that trawlers enter port at any time of the day according to tide and weather. They are berthed at suitable points along the fish quay but, except in very few instances, no fish is landed from the boats until midnight. The boats are then unloaded by gangs of men who commence to unload all the trawlers then berthed, and the fish is lifted from the holds of the ships and immediately weighed into lots of ten stones, each of these lots then being placed in a kit which is stacked with others along the length of the fish market and left there until seven o'clock in the morning. It is at that time that the fish is auctioned to the port wholesalers. The delay until midnight is of no consequence, because the fish is on ice or in refrigerated ships. But the period of up to some six hours for unloading and weighing is hardly in accordance with the picture that the noble Lord gave us during the previous discussion of the overriding need for haste so as to despatch as soon as possible this very perishable food.
§ I submit that during this period there is every opportunity for inspectors periodically to come round and make random checks on a reasonable number of these kits, and, if they find some under-weight, to have them either made up or withdrawn from sale. Neither the trawler-owners nor the port wholesalers would be inconvenienced or delayed to the slightest extent. Of course, if this Amendment were accepted it would help to ensure that the buyer would be getting the amount he had paid for.
§ In addition, I must point out that the White Fish Authority levy a charge of 891 one-halfpenny a stone on white fish landed in the United Kingdom. As a result of this levy the fish must be weighed in order to ascertain the amount payable to the White Fish Authority. This proves beyond question that the wholesalers' case against net weight is a fabrication. I assume that it is these people who have made the case against it. It really does not exist. The fish must be weighed in any case. Apparently the wholesalers object to having statutory obligation to sell net weight to retailers. I must point out that unless the Government accept this Amendment they are encouraging the wholesalers to sell unfair weight to the retailers.
§ I mentioned that this system does not apply only to Grimsby; it applies also to Hull; and something like 60 per cent. or more of all fish landed in the United Kingdom comes to these two ports. Consequently, acceptance of my Amendment would not be burdening the industry with any new procedure; it would simply make it a legal obligation to do those things that are now being done on a voluntary basis by most people in the fishing ports.
§ I would ask noble Lords to consider the extent to which retailers are defrauded—and I think that is really the proper word—because of the lack of statutory provision for net weight sales of fish by wholesalers. I have a letter from the chief inspector of weights and measures for the Royal County of Berkshire. It was sent to a fish retailer and it gives some facts about a number of weighings of fish to the retailer from a London wholesaler. One example concerned plaice fillets, which are expensive. The stated weight was one stone; the deficiency was 2 lb. 4 oz. Another case, again plaice fillets showed: stated weight l4 lb., actual weight 11 lb. 15 oz.; a deficiency of over 15 per cent. Plaice in an open box was stated to be 4 stones in weight; there was in fact a deficiency of 4 lb. Most of these deficiencies are quite serious ones; and this particular weights and measures chief inspector points out that the main difficulty facing his officers in trying to protect retail fishmongers against short-weight delivery is that weights and measures legislation does not control wholesale fish landings; the possibility of taking effective action 892 under the Merchandise Marks Act is thwarted by the practice of wholesalers of avoiding applying a plain statement of weight in writing to fish deliveries; and further, by sending invoices several days after delivery.
The weighings set out refer to, say, "stated weight: one stone", because the delivery list accompanying the fish is simply a piece of plain paper on which is written the wholesale weight, such as "2 × 1 plaice". While it is known that that means "two boxes each of one stone", it does not constitute a weight statement which can be used as a false trade description in a Merchandise Marks Act action. This chief weights and measures inspector described the conditions at Billingsgate as
the most confusing and unsatisfactory state of affairs in the wholesale fish trade.
He expressed the opinion that
it is essential that wholesale dealings in fish should be required to be made on a net weight basis and controlled by weights and measure legislation.
And he concludes:
It should be remembered that the retail fishmonger cannot face losses on his deliveries and the inevitable result is that these have to be met by increasing the price to be paid by the ultimate consumer.
One of the points which the noble Lord made when we discussed this before was that it would not be to the advantage of the consumer to insist that the wholesaler should be obliged to sell by net weight. I am sure that this is a complete answer to that statement.
§ We are all aware that, by the very nature of things, it is difficult for a wholesaler to be sure that the weight at the time of despatch is going to be the same as the weight when the fish arrives at the wholesaler. If there is now no compulsion on the wholesaler to sell by net weight and he can sell by catch weight and send invoices days after the fish have been despatched, so that there is no possibility of checking up and complaining with any effect days after the fish is sold, obviously the present position is most unsatisfactory. It should be altered now and since we all hope that we shall not have another Weights and Measures Bill in our time, I think that the Government should take the 893 opportunity of putting this near iniquity right in this Bill, while we still have the chance. I beg to move.
Page 69, line 29, at end insert the said subparagraph and proviso.—(Lord Stonham.)
§ THE MINISTER OF STATE, BOARD OF TRADE (LORD DERWENT)
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his explanation, because the drafting of this Amendment is a little obscure. The object is to bring most wholesale sales of fish within the scope of Part II and make them subject to the requirement to sell by net weight, when the Minister makes an order to that effect. I explained in Committee why the Government are unable to agree at the present time to require wholesale fish sales to be by net weight. I do not think that your Lordships will want me to go into this matter at length. The noble Lord's Amendment recognises that the net weight requirement would have to be imposed by order, but it is unnecessary to have this Amendment, because the Board of Trade already have powers, under Clause 21, to require by order that this trade shall be conducted in terms of net weight.
The noble Lord mentioned Hull and Grimsby—if, as a Yorkshireman, I may put them in that order.
§ LORD STONHAM
Before the noble Lord leaves the point, can he mention the subsection in Clause 21 where this precise power is provided?
§ LORD DERWENT
Subsection 1 deals with the whole question, and then subsection (2)(a) is the appropriate subsection. The noble Lord said that about half the fish landed go to Hull and Grimsby. I have no figures in front of me, but they do handle large quantities of fish. Hall and Grimsby have modern equipment, but the majority of small ports are not so equipped. That is why just now I stressed the words "at the present time". Except where there is modern equipment at the present time, a statutory requirement to sell by net weight would interfere seriously with the speedy distribution of fish to the consumer, and it is the consumer who would suffer. At the moment, we see serious practical difficulties, and although we have power to make an order I do not hold out any hope that we shall make one in the near future. A lot of 894 alterations have to be made at the fish ports. But we shall keep this matter under review, and if it becomes practical we shall make an order covering the wholesale sale of fish, as the noble Lord wishes.
§ LORD CROOK
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord can tell me what ports he has in mind which are so inefficient. There are very few of any size other than Hull and Grimsby. I allow him to put Hull first. It is not only the largest fishing port in Yorkshire but probably also the largest in Europe. But there are also Fleetwood and Aberdeen, which I know very well, and I regard them as very efficient. Surely the noble Lord can only be talking about some tiny places which distribute fish in very small quantities.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, with permission, a great deal of fish is landed at the smaller ports, where the necessary facilities do not exist. To make an all-over Order at the present time would not be practical.
§ LORD CHAMPION
My Lords, I was sorry to hear that the noble Lord thinks the time is not ripe to put fish within the scope of a ministerial order. Fish is part of our staple diet, and fish and chips form our sole contribution to the world of gastronomics. For this reason I think that this is extremely important. I have a great preference for my fish and chips to be in a newspaper. I am such a connoisseur that I can tell the difference between the tang of Lord Beaverbrook's Daily Express and the mellow flavour of The Times. I want to ensure that when a retailer gets his fish it is of the full weight, and I think that the Minister should make an order to ensure that when I now pay 2s. for my fish and chips, I am sure to get my full "whack".
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I think that the noble Lord's reply was most disappointing, in content, in quality and in extent. He scarcely bothered to reply at all to the case I put. It may well be that he found himself unable to do so, in which case he should have accepted the Amendment. There is one point that I must put to him because I was astonished at something he put forward. It almost seems that he had not read my Amendment, which I know could not possibly be true. He said that Hull and Grimsby 895 were equipped for this weighing, but other ports were not. I say in my Amendment that fish shall be sold by net weight,Provided that if any seller of fish by wholesale at a place of landing makes representations to the Board of Trade that the provision at such place of weighing equipment suitable for the wholesale weight of the fish is not reasonably practicable, or would not be justified on economic grounds, and the Board of Trade is satisfied with the grounds of such representations, the Board of Trade may direct that, subject to such conditions and for such period as may be specified in the direction the provisions of this subsection of this paragraph shall not apply to any fish landed at that place".That is absolutely conclusive. We are asking only that this should be operative, and that the Board of Trade should insist on net weight on wholesale sales of fish only where they are satisfied that there is this proper weighing equipment and facilities for weighing. It is astonishing that, in reply to this Amendment, the noble Lord should put up that kind of an answer when provision is already made in the Bill. Added to that is the fact that one can buy suitable scales for £25, and it cannot
§ be much of a port that cannot afford to have a pair of scales at that price.
§ I, like the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, sat here through the long hours last night and, like him, came here this afternoon like a lion refreshed, full of good intent and good humour; and, indeed, I still am. But really we cannot make progress when we get answers like that to a perfectly sound case that is put forward. The noble Lord quite properly pointed out—and this is the first time he has pointed it out—that the powers exist in Clause 21(2)(c). We have elicited that they have delved into the Bill to find some place where it could be provided for in the future. I am afraid this is a most unsatisfactory answer. We must do better than this on a point of this importance where the case is proved, and therefore I would hope that all noble Lords who have heard the case and the answer will support us in the Lobby.
§ 3.23 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 40) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 29; Not-Contents, 53.895
|Addison, V.||Grantchester, L.||Ogmore, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Henderson, L.||Shackleton, L.|
|Alexander of Hillsborough, E.||Henley, L.||Sinha, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Killearn, L.||Stonham, L.|
|Amwell, L.||Kinnoull, E.||Summerskill, B.|
|Burden, L. [Teller.]||Lawson, L.||Uvedale of North End, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Layton, L.||Walston, L.|
|Champion, L.||Lindgren, L.||Williams, L.|
|Chorley, L.||Listowel, E.||Wise, L.|
|Crook, L.||Lucan, E. [Teller.]|
|Albemarle, E.||Freyberg, L.||Molson, L.|
|Alexander of Tunis, E.||Gage, V.||Monsell, V.|
|Allerton, L.||Glentanar, L.||Moyne, L.|
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.||Goschen, V. [Teller.]||Robertson of Oakridge, L.|
|Bessborough, E.||Grenfell, L.||St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]|
|Bridgeman, V.||Hailsham, V. (L. President.)||St. Oswald, L.|
|Carrington, L.||Hanworth, V.||Salisbury, M.|
|Clwyd, L.||Hastings, L.||Salter, L.|
|Colyton, L.||Home, E.||Sandys, L.|
|Conesford, L.||Ironside, L.||Somers, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Jellicoe, E.||Soulbury, V.|
|Cromartie, E.||Jessel, L.||Spens, L.|
|Denham, L.||Limerick, E.||Stonehaven, V.|
|Derwent, L.||Long, V.||Swinton, E.|
|Effingham, E.||Lothian, M.||Tweedsmuir, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, B.||McCorquodale of Newton, L.||Twining, L.|
|Ferrers, E.||Margesson, V.||Woolton, E.|
|Forster of Harraby, L.||Milverton, L.|
|Resolved in the negative, and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.|
§ LORD STONHAM
moved, in paragraph 4(2)(c), after "market", to insert "ship". The noble Lord said: My Lords' this is quite a simple Amendment and I can deal with it briefly. Paragraph 4(2) in Part II of Schedule 4 lists a number of goods or types of sale which will be exempted from the requirements of paragraph 2 of that Part of the Schedule. It exemptsany sale of fish made otherwise than from a market, shop, stall or vehicle.That means that a sale of fish from a ship would be exempted from the provisions of the Schedule. I think that may well prove to be an oversight. I do not know whether that is so, or whether there is a sound reason for exempting from these provisions sales of fish from a ship. That is the whole substance of the point, and perhaps the noble Lord is now in a position to reply. I beg to move.
Page 70, line 11, after ("market") insert ("ship").—(Lord Stonham.)
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, may I give the House my extreme apologies? This had slipped my notice. I would say to the noble Lord that it looks to me at the moment as if it might be an oversight. If it is, I shall put it right at the next stage; if it is not, I will write to him. I am very sorry I have overlooked this point, and I shall deal with it in the appropriate manner if the noble Lord will now withdraw the Amendment.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, when the noble Lord deals with it will he consider whether, for this purpose, the expression "ship" includes a boat? If a longshoreman is selling from his smallish boat, will that come under the same provisions as where the sale takes place from a trawler?
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I must confess that the point put by the noble Lord had occurred to me, and I should like to know the answer to that one, too. I quite understand the position, and the offer the noble Lord has made is perfectly acceptable, except that I should like to make my position clear. If the noble Lord writes to me and says there 898 is a case against this inclusion, I should then be at liberty to put the Amendment down on Third Reading myself, if only to give the noble Lord the opportunity of explaining the position to the House.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, may I have the permission of the House to speak again?—because my oversight has now been, to some extent, rectified, and we may be able to deal with it without letters. Sales from a ship are all wholesale, and there is no need to exempt from requirements which do not require net weight to apply to wholesale sales.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, if I may, in the extraordinary circumstances, have leave of the House to add another word, that was precisely the kind of answer I thought the noble Lord might give. It is one that I do not find wholly acceptable, for the reason that I should have thought that "ship" included "boat". We all know that there are retail sales of fish from boats. If the noble Lord will continue his original offer, I am quite sure we shall have a full answer on Third Reading without occupying the time of the House more than five minutes at the outside.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 3.36 p.m.
§ LORD CROOK
moved, in paragraph 4(a) to leave out "Cheddar or Cheshire type" and insert:Cheddar, Cheshire, Lancashire, Leicester, Derby, Dunlop, Edam, Gloucester, Gouda, White Stilton or White Wensleydale type".
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move this Amendment. As my noble friend told us on the last Amendment, we all return here refreshed. He talked about fish; I start talking about cheese and we are going on to deal with bread, whisky and beer.
I am in the fortunate position that I am not moving on the Report stage exactly the same Amendment that we moved last time. We have tried to put down a constructive Amendment which deals with the point the noble Lord himself made at Committee stage on May 7,
when he said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 249 (No. 79), col. 661]:
There are serious practical problems about extending the requirements of the Bill to many of these cases. For example weight losses from evaporation or 'throwing' moisture, which occur even when these cheeses are packed in heavy containers … make it impracticable to mark the net weight on the container.
§ In putting down the list of other English cheeses here to-day we hope that we have met the point made by the noble Lord, because we have modified our suggestions to require the net weight marking only in the case of the specified hard cheeses, which, together with the Cheshire and Cheddar that were in the Bill when the noble Lord first dealt with it, cover perhaps as much as 96 per cent. of the total amount of this kind of cheese sold in the shops. Therefore, I feel that all I have to do on behalf of noble Lords on this side is to try to demonstrate to the noble Lord in a few words, from the experience we have had since the early days of May, that it is practicable to do this thing.
§ We have had people who have made tests in the intervening period. They are persons associated with the weights and measures inspectorate, and they have shown that it is both practicable and indeed easy to pre-pack cheeses by a cheap and easy method to comply with the kind of Amendment I am moving.
§ LORD CROOK
It is a method commonly used by which losses by evaporation or by throwing, as it was called in the noble Lord's reply in May, are negligible. It is in fact the method largely used by the better quality pre-packers of cheeses and is called vacuum packing. Cheese in this packing is first weighed, and then it is placed in plastic film—whether in the form of a wrapper or bag does not matter. By a quite simple process the air is exhausted and the container is then heat sealed. As we have had demonstrated to us, the exhausting of the air brings the plastic film into actual contact with the cheese, and in that condition of close contact with the surface an effectual seal is made to stop moisture from being lost.
I would add only this. If, as I suggest, we have managed to demonstrate 900 that it is practicable and indeed easy and cheap, it follows in our view that there is nothing against it at all. In other words, the mere fact that some people might not like to do it is not a reason against the acceptance of this Amendment. I venture to suggest that that is the kind of view with which your Lordships will agree, because if those people who want to pre-pack cheese are not prepared to pre-pack it by this vacuum method to keep it in this good condition, then they ought not to be in the business. I say that because the cheese they put on display for sale to members of the public should, when sold by the retailer some considerable time afterwards, still be in as fresh and good a condition as the public have a right to expect it to be when it goes into the film container. Therefore, I would say that any suggestion on the part of those who at the moment do not bother to do this because they say it would cost a little more and they ought not to be made to do it, can be ignored by all of us. I have pleasure in moving this Amendment to-day in its new terms.
Page 70, line 41, leave out from ("of") to end of line 42 and insert the said words.—(Lord Crook)
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, this Amendment is much narrower than the one moved on Committee; that is quite clear. I know that the noble Lord is aware of that, but from conversations I have had outside the Chamber some noble Lords have misunderstood this clause and I think that I ought to explain it. Loose cheeses, not pre-packed cheeses, are all covered by Part III, so that we are not dealing with those. We are dealing only with the pre-packed cheeses, of which Cheddar and Cheshire processed cheeses account for about 80 per cent. of the trade; so we are dealing with that small proportion of the total trade of 20 per cent. of the processed cheeses.
I would commence by saying that for pre-packed cheeses the Bill represents a major extension of the existing law which does not require pre-packed cheese to be marked at all. That is the present position; I am not suggesting that it is satisfactory, but this is a major extension of the law. We think that 901 to go further and attempt to cover the small part of the trade not subject to Part III would raise at this moment particularly difficult problems. To be rather technical about the cheese and not so much about the packing, as was the noble Lord opposite, the cheese exempted, which is a small part of the whole, as I said, includes many different varieties, not one of which by itself—and I think this is important—accounts for more than 2½ per cent. of the total consumption. There are serious practical problems about extending the requirements of the Bill to many of these. I know that the noble Lord dealt with this in Committee and I shall deal with it now as I intended.
Weight losses from evaporation, or "throwing" moisture, which occur even when these cheeses are packed in heavy airtight containers—which they often are in order to protect them—make it impracticable to mark the net weight on the container. I have considerable sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Crook, when he desires to extend the Schedule to cover some of the pre-packed hard-pressed cheeses, but we have considered this problem very carefully and we think that it is sensible to leave Part III at present to cover the three major kinds of pre-packed cheese only. The main reason for this is that there are certain difficulties about imported cheeses which the consumer wants. I am advised by technical experts on this that the method which the noble Lord has put forward as being right is suitable as a method for packing for large supermarkets but is not practicable at the present for any village grocer, and of course the law must apply to all shops.
For that reason, in this small speech on cheeses I am going to resist the Amendment; but this is a matter which we intend to keep under very close review because to-day systems of packaging alter very rapidly. If in the future pre-packing of other cheeses were to develop to a significant extent, and it became practicable and desirable to apply the Schedule to the other varieties, this could be done under the powers provided in Clause 21, and we would certainly do it. We think that there would be certain unfairness to the small trader if at the moment we made a law completely covering all shops. We are not 902 quite certain that that is entirely practicable for all the cheeses yet, but we are indeed watching it. I hope, in view of what I have said, that the noble Lord will not press this Amendment.
§ LORD CROOK
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord for his explanation and for the way in which he treated the Amendment. We are aware that it is not practicable at this moment, if one refers to cutting the cheese and putting it into a package, for a village shop to carry out vacuum packing. Indeed the experiments we had carried out showed quite clearly the very great difference there is in losses by evaporation between those cheeses that are vacuum-packed and delivered to the shop, as in the case of the supermarket, as the noble Lord said, and those of the village shopkeeper who on a Friday night cuts up his cheese and puts it into a film wrapper so that it may be served quickly on a Saturday. I do not think we could venture to contradict the truth of the statement which the noble Lord has made that the Amendment we propose covers that point.
On the other hand, I would go on to repeat the argument with which I wound up, and I am sure noble Lords will not mind my repeating it. It is not for the noble Lord to act upon at the moment but for him to bear in mind. The public have a right to expect—indeed, I am sure that the Chairman of the Consumer Council has her own particular interest in this—that in the time ahead when they go to buy cheese they will buy cheese on which they can rely. With all due respects to the village grocer—and I have no desire to see him go out of business at all because these little old grocery shops still have a purpose to serve in this country—it remains true that the quality of cheese wrapped in these films and sold in this way after a night of preparation is not, by the time it is sold, up to the quality which the members of the public are entitled to expect.
I am not asking the noble Lord to accept anything from me on that, but I would say to him that we can meet outside the Chamber and we shall be happy to make available to him all the weighings which have taken place in the experiments which have been carried out on our behalf showing the exact weight down 903 to a 24th of a dram, and which show the exact evaporative change in each of the types of cheese named in the Amendment when wrapped by the pre-packed vacuum method and by film packing to which the noble Lord has referred. There are very considerable differences. Of course, there is a difference (and the noble Lord could not be contradicted on this) between the weight of any cheese when it is packed and when it is sold. But the amount of variation in the proper pre-packed cheese is such that, on the figures which we should be prepared to give to the noble Lord, we think that anyone, could put a figure on a packet and, by making correct arrangements in his production unit, could make certain the purchaser would always have as much as was stated on the packet.
§ LORD CROOK
We shall. I was interested in the noble Lord's reference to the powers under Clause 21 whereby other cheeses can be brought into the Schedule later. I must say that I had not realised that myself. Noble Lords on these Benches will between now and the next stage look at the reply which the noble Lord has given, and in the meantime I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 3.49 p.m.
§ LORD DERWENT
moved, in paragraph 1, to omit sub-paragraph (c) and to insert instead:and for the purposes of this Act any pre-packed sliced bread shall be deemed to be a whole loaf of bread and the pre-packing of sliced bread in any quantity by net weight shall be deemed to be the making for sale of a whole loaf of bread of that net weight.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this Government Amendment is intended to meet an important point which the noble Lord, Lord Crook, raised in Committee on the question of pre-packed sliced bread. The noble Lord pointed out that the requirements of this part of the Schedule might lead to practical difficulties in the case of pre-packed sliced bread. I said on that occasion that, while I could not accept the other aspects of the noble Lord's Amendment, we agreed to reconsider the drafting so as to specify clearly the requirements 904 for pre-packed sliced bread, and we agreed that those requirements should be the same as for ordinary whole loaves. This is the effect of the Amendment which I am moving to-day. It will make it clear that pre-packed sliced bread is subject to the same statutory requirements as ordinary whole loaves; that is, if it is over 10 oz. in weight it will be required to be packed in the standard amounts of 14 oz. or multiples thereof which apply under the Schedule to whole loaves.
§ The Amendments which the noble Lord has tabled on this Part of the Schedule would also allow pre-packed bread to be made up in a range of quantities different from those applying to whole loaves which are not pre-packed, provided that the weight is marked on the container. As I said in Committee, and I repeat now, we cannot agree that pre-packed bread should be packed in quantities different from those applying to unpre-packed loaves. I think that would only cause confusion to the consumer. And since the consumer will know now that pre-packed bread, whether sliced or not, is made up in exactly the same sizes as unpre-packed loaves, there will be no need to have the weight marked on the container. However the loaf appears, it will be subject to the same rules which are now in force. I hope that the noble Lord will agree that perhaps we have met the substance of his point, and that he will not move his own Amendments when they are called. I beg to move.
Page 71, leave out line 8, and insert the said new words.—(Lord Dement.)
§ LORD CROOK
My Lords, I suppose that the proper reply for someone on the Opposition side who is having part of his Amendment accepted is to say that "half a loaf is better than none"; and that very definitely applies on this occasion. We have not got all we want, but we have so much from the noble Lord; and he was courteous enough to write to me about the matter between the Committee stage and to-day, for which I thank him. We should, therefore, like to associate ourselves with his own Amendment, and I shall not move Amendments 44 and 45.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.905
§ 3.53 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
moved to add to paragraph 3:Provided that the foregoing provisions of this paragraph shall not apply to a sale of pre-packed milk by means of a vending machine if the milk is pre-packed in a container marked with an indication of quantity by capacity measurement and a statement that it is not for sale otherwise than by that means, and it shall not be a contravention of this paragraph for any person to sell otherwise than by retail, or to have in his possession—
any milk pre-packed as aforesaid notwithstanding that it is pre-packed in a quantity not otherwise permitted by this paragraph.
- (i) for sale by means of such a vending machine or otherwise than by retail, or
- (ii) for delivery on sale otherwise than by retail,
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, we on this side of your Lordships' House regard this as a major and important Amendment, and since I believe the Government share that view, your Lordships will perhaps forgive me if I deal with this matter in some detail and try to cover a fair amount of the ground.
§ It will be within your Lordships' recollection that during the Committee stage of this Bill I moved Amendments to permit the sale of pre-packed milk through vending machines in any quantity of milk provided that the quantity sold was clearly marked on both the containers and the machine. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, could not then accept those Amendments, but subsequently, at an earlier stage on Report, he moved an Amendment to do just that: to permit milk to be sold at a price of 6d. I at first thought that, in so doing, with the milk he had swallowed all the words he had uttered against the case I was presenting in Committee. Unhappily, however, the noble Lord's change of heart was more apparent than real, because he made it clear that this change—or concession, I suppose one would say it was—was to operate only for two years. He explained that the Government had made this concession to give the operators of vending machines time to adjust their machines so as to comply with the Schedules and to be able to soil milk in vending machines at either one-third of a pint or half-a-pint.
§ I would mention here that the current cost of milk makes it impossible to sell a half-pint for 6d. in a vending machine without loss, and the Minister of Agri- 906 culture has said, quite rightly, that he would use his powers to prohibit sales of one-third of a pint of milk for 6d. because this would permit an exorbitant profit; indeed, the farmers and dairymen themselves do not want to sell one-third of a pint at 6d., because the profit would be far too large. It is impossible to forecast with any certainty what the wholesale cost of milk will be in two years' time. But it seems highly probable that the situation with regard to vending machines will, broadly speaking, be exactly the same as it is now; namely, that it will be uneconomic to sell a half-pint for 6d., but 6d. would be too high a price to charge for one-third of a pint.
§ In effect, therefore, if the Government do not accept this Amendment they are saying to the vending machine operators, and through them to the farmers and dairymen, "Adjust your machines to take other coins or go out of the business of vending milk". Before examining the significance to farmers, dairymen, housewives and vending machine manufacturers of such a decision, which I regard as utterly deplorable, I should like to deal with the only points which the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, made in his speech at an earlier stage in our consideration on Report of this Bill, in what I regarded as a hopeless and forlorn attempt to justify the Government's ridiculous, and indeed disastrous, attitude.
§ The first point the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, made was that it would be wrong to make permanent the arrangement which will be operating for the next two years because it would mean applying to sales from vending machines different rules from those applying to other retail sales. This, he declared, would be neither desirable in principle nor satisfactory in practice. The noble Lord's statement is quite untrue. The Bill permits countless products to be sold by capacity measurement, such as we stipulate for milk in this Amendment. It is the case that some commodities specified in the Bill may be sold only in certain fixed weights or fixed quantities; but those are in the minority. In the vast majority of foods the seller decides the weight or quantity he will put in the package, the quantity that he will sell. The Bill demands only that he shall state the quantity at the time of sale—a very proper provision—and that is precisely 907 what we would be doing if this Amendment were accepted: we should be saying exactly what quantity of milk is in the carton.
§ Nor is the noble Lord on any surer ground in this contention of principle if we consider only sales from vending machines. The very machines used for the sale of milk are also used in summer for the sale of chocolate milk drinks, orange squash and other drinks. With beverages like that, including these milk drinks, the Bill demands neither sale of fixed quantities nor even quantity marking.
§ LORD STONHAM
I should have thought that interruption was quite irrelevant, particularly as I was then dealing with different sales from vending machines. I am dealing with the point: no amused smiles, I think, are in order on this subject. This is a very important matter to the greatest industry in this country. Do not let us be in any doubt about that—a very important matter. I am arguing a very serious case. I have taken the noble Lord's precise words, his objections: he knows that I am quoting him accurately; and I am demolishing them one by one.
§ LORD STONHAM
I do not think, partially—and I hope that he will do me the honour of replying to my argument; it would be a somewhat unusual experience. Considering vending machines again, in regard to sweets and chocolates, I would point out that there are no quantity markings on those unless by the wish of the seller. There is no compulsion regarding those in this Bill. If the cost of chocolate goes up then the size of the slab or packet goes down, if the price is kept the same.
I submit that there is no vestige of evidence for the noble Lord's statement that we are demanding different or special requirements for milk vending machine sales—or even if we were, I hope he would be prepared to admit the case made in support by noble Lords in this House that special action was needed. So one is drawn to the ines- 908 capable conclusion that the only possible objection arises either because the noble Lord or the Board of Trade are allergic to milk.
Then there is the point which the noble Lord called, in column 1456, a "practical point". The practical point of objection was the allegation that cartons not sold from a vending machine within a reasonable period were taken out and put on the counter and sold as first milk in the morning. This, the noble Lord said, is a common practice, and it could cause a public scandal. It would be a rather minor scandal compared with some public scandals that I have heard of; but certainly we do not want a public scandal. But I am happy to be able to relieve the noble Lord's fears on that score, because the dairy operators of milk vending machines, both large and small, who are sellers, including the National Dairymen's Association, utterly scout this suggestion as a virtual and practical impossibility. Indeed, I am obliged to ask the noble Lord to produce a single case in justification of his "practical point" that milk not sold over night is taken out and put on the counter by the dairyman and sold as first milk in the morning.
The fact is that when loading the machine the dairyman budgets most carefully, taking into account whether it is an ordinary week-day when there should be ordinary sales, early closing day, which would mean extra sales, or a week-end when there would be maximum sales. The machines are so constructed that the first cartons put into the machine are the first ones sold. So if, when the machine is refilled, there are an unusual number unsold, the quantity put in obviously is adjusted accordingly. They do not remove the cartons because, as the machines are refrigerated, the quality of the milk would probably suffer. I accept that evidence, because it is given by the biggest organisation of dairymen covering the whole country, and it is obviously practicable because the first cartons to be discharged from the machine are those that were put in first and were there the longest. So whoever thought up that "practical point" should, I think, be thinking again.
I also ask them to think again about the insistence on sales in either one-third or half pints, unless the noble Lord 909 is going to tell us that there is something sacred about one-third or half pints. We are asked to believe that this is consumer protection, and I put it to your Lordships as a practical point. We are asked to believe that the housewife will instantly recognise one-third of a pint which is 6⅔ fluid ounces, and she will instantly recognise a half a pint which is 10 fluid ounces, but she will not recognise 8 or 9 fluid ounces. Apparently, there is something wrong or immoral if one or other of those two sizes, which are going to be stamped on the cartons for the next two years, are not recognisable. The truth is that what the housewife wants is 6d. worth of milk when she wants it, and if the quantity is stamped on the carton she is just as fully protected, and we are just as completely satisfying every principle of consumer protection in the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, knows that I should not be moving this Amendment if I did not know that that was the case. It really beats me how the Government can persist in this attitude.
On Sunday, I was driving along the North Circular Road and pulled up in traffic, and I noticed a Negro crossing the road hugging a carton of milk, and just about a quarter of a mile away I looked across to my right and saw a milk machine. I said to my wife, "If the Government have their way you will not be able to go on doing that for much longer". I should say that my wife is a non-political person, and her remark was, "What on earth will they think of next! What utter nonsense!" I would assure the noble Lord that that is what most women will think, and certainly that is what the National Council of Women think about this proposal. They fully support the plea that the public should be able to buy 6d. of milk from a vending machine.
This is important to farmers, to dairymen and to industry generally. Vending machines are the means of selling 12 million gallons of milk a year. That is not an insignificant quantity. There are 6 million machines in use, representing a capital investment of between £2½ million to £3 million a year, and each machine has a life well beyond two years. Lord Derwent rightly said earlier on the Report stage that it would be grossly unfair to ask people to alter machines in a hurry. I think it would 910 be grossly unfair to ask them to alter them at all when it is completely unnecessary.
Again, the noble Lord said that it was a matter of principle and not practice. He is quite right about its not being practical; but he is certainly wrong when he added that the Government's attitude is in the interests of consumer protection—it is not. Food vending is a growth industry in this country, although compared with other countries it is virtually in its infancy. Here it is more appreciated by consumers and workers, travellers, housewives and children. Why deny them access to this, the most healthy of all foods? The noble Lord said it was happening all over the United States. I have here in my hand a brochure issued by the International Chamber of Commerce, published in Paris in February of this year. I will read one sentence from the paragraph headed "obstacles". It says:One of the principal obstacles to the earlier fixed-size machines lay in repeated price variations due to unstable market conditions. In the United States milk vending remains hampered by this.That is one of the authorities quoted. That is the great country of the vending machine. That is the one which we are told, supports the Government argument; and here is an official, non-political, international book which positively proves otherwise. It goes on to mention the great difficulties which arise when giving change with all sorts of goods. I think it is complete confirmation of my case.
I should like to put before your Lordships one or two other facts about the industry. Some 250 million cartons of milk are at present being sold through vending machines each year. At a price of 6d. per half-pint carton, on a sale of 105 cartons a day in a five-day week a loss of £23 a year is at present made. On a nine-ounce carton—one ounce less of milk, but considerably more than a third of a pint—there would be a profit of £18 a year. The operating costs of a machine amount to £137 a year plus rent and rates. The point is that if, after the two-year period of grace allowed by the Government, the machine has to be adapted to provide for the sale of milk in half-pint or one-third pint cartons only, considerable cost would be involved in altering the machine.
911 It is incumbent on the noble Lord to explain convincingly why the Government propose to inflict that cost on the industry. There must be a reason. To alter the mechanism to enable the machine to take sevenpence—that is, 6d. and 1d.—for the sale of half a pint would cost £35 a machine, and experience has shown that sales would drop catastrophically. The Milk Marketing Board, from their experience, say that the change-over to the use of two coins could cause a drop of possibly 40 per cent. in sales. That has been the experience with other things.
One cannot really compare cartons of milk and packets of cigarettes. It is a practical proposition in the sale of cigarettes which have a cellophane outer cover to give change attached to the packet by sticking or strapping. It is not a practical proposition with milk, and is not hygienic. There will be great difficulty in persuading operators to work these machines if this Amendment is not accepted and they have this period of uncertainty for two years. Indeed, nobody would dream of buying a machine in that two-year period. If it happens that the price of milk increased so that they had to sell half pints and charge 7½d.—in other words, three coins—it would be completely impracticable in a vending machine.
These are the practical considerations, and they are unanswerable There is no logical reason for limiting this concession to two years. The same difficulties which now apply in respect of vending machines—and which the Government have admitted by their own Amendment—will apply with equal force in two years' time. It is unreasonable to suggest that two, three, four, even five years, could be regarded as a reasonable working life for these very expensive machines. Possibly the noble Lord could say, "We will see what happens in the two years, and if it does not work out the Board can make the thing permanent and it will go on for another two years". But why obstruct or hold up the industry in this way? What is the advantage of creating this uncertainty and difficulty? Why not do it the other way round: accept this Amendment and then, if anything I or the industry have suggested proves wrong, it is still possible 912 for the Board to try to amend the Schedule.
Who will benefit if the Government insist on the present position and reject this Amendment? No one, so far as I can see—certainly not the farmers, the traders, the manufacturers, the housewives, the school children. They will all suffer. It is scarcely conceivable that the Government would commit this folly and that the noble Lord would be a party to it. He is well aware—and there have been two letters in The Times on this subject—that the National Farmers' Union, the Milk Marketing Board, and the National Dairymen's Association all join in this with the consumers. I therefore hope that, on the basis of the facts and in the name of all that is reasonable, the Government will accept this Amendment. If they do not, I hope that noble Lords who have heard this case will in this instance strike a blow for the farmers, the housewives and for common sense by supporting this Amendment in the Lobby.
page 71, line 33, at end insert the said proviso.—(Lord Stonham.)
§ 4.16 p.m.
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, I should like to support this Amendment. I know a small fishing village in Scotland which has a 6d.-in-the-slot refrigerated milk-selling machine. I do not suppose for a moment that the local dairyman there would be able to afford a much more expensive machine which would give change, because I do not suppose his milk sales out of the existing machine would warrant the increased cost. That machine is of the greatest usefulness to the fishermen there. They come in and go out at all times of the day and night according to the tide, and it is a great service to those men to know that they can get six-pennyworth of refrigerated milk out of that machine at any time of the day or night. If machines like that are going to be made illegal by Government action, it is going to be a great disservice to men like those.
§ LORD SPENS
My Lords, I also should like very much to support this Amendment. Before doing so, I must state that I am the Patron of the National Dairymen's Association. Everything to be said on behalf of the trade has already been said at various interviews, and so 913 forth. For some reason which, to me, is utterly inexplicable the Board of Trade, against the whole weight of the milk industry from top to bottom, remain determined to refuse to agree to this Amendment—at least, to date they have. It is going to affect not only the farmers and the amount of milk that is going to be produced if these machines have to go out of operation at the end of two years, which is the situation to-day, but also all the users of the machines. Of the total of 6,000 machines 45 per cent. are in factories and such places, and perform an essential catering job for everyone employed in the factories. Others perform a service to the public generally, and are to be found in railway stations, in fishing villages, and so on. Mercifully, there is one just off Fleet Street near the Temple which has saved the lives of many of us when we have come home unexpectedly at week-ends and have had no milk delivered. The inconvenience to the public if these machines go out of use is going to be tremendous.
The suggestions of the Board of Trade are really not practicable. We cannot prevent the price of milk varying. We do not know what it is going to be in two years' time, but we do know that at the present time it is not possible economically to sell a pint for 6d. Therefore, there must be some variation, either in the price or in the quantity. The practical way is to do as is suggested in this Amendment: to put on the carton the actual amount that is being sold for 6d. Then if any of the vendors try to deceive and rob the public, there are means by which they can be made to pay, and pay very expensively, for any such deceit on their part. It seems to be simply some sort of theoretical idea inside the heads of some people in the Board of Trade who will not face up to the practical difficulties of this trend, and who are determined to cause all this inconvenience not only to the trade but to millions and millions of the public of this country. I do hope that the House will support this Amendment.
§ VISCOUNT HANWORTH
My Lords, I should also like to support this Amendment. It seems to me quite incredible that we should wish to protect the public so carefully that we prevent the public from getting what they want. If milk is sold by a fixed measure it is probably 914 slightly easier to compare one price with what is paid elsewhere. But it is not impossible in this modern age in which people have some education to work out, if you want to, exactly how much extra it costs to buy milk through a vending machine. I know the inconvenience of having to take about not only a 6d. but coppers as well, and one may not even know what the price is. I think that it is quite absurd to protect the public in a matter like this, when it is clearly not in the public interest to do so.
The only other argument that I have heard on this matter is one of administrative convenience. It seems to me quite incredible that in a Bill we should carry the matter of administrative convenience as far as this. This is not a Party political matter, and I feel most strongly that I personally should vote with the Opposition if this Amendment were pressed to a Division.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
My Lords, I should also like to point out that probably not every household in this country will have a fridge even in two years' time. As it seems that the tendency is less and less to deliver milk on Sundays, I feel sure that during the summer many people will appreciate these machines enormously, not because they will have forgotten to buy their milk for the weekend but simply because in really hot weather their milk will not keep for more than 24 hours. Therefore they will be compelled to use these machines. Even if the machines are adjusted so that they will take 7d. instead of 6d., or even 7½d. instead of 6d., one would quite often find oneself without any coppers at all. I do think it is far more convenient for the public if these machines take 6d., and deliver an appropriate quantity, rather than that they should always give a half a pint or a third of a pint, for which you would put in a suitable, and probably large, number of coins. So I hope that the Government will accept this Amendment.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, I am very happy that there has been so much support in all quarters for this admirable Amendment which was so ably moved by my noble friend Lord Stonham. It seems to me that this attitude on the part of the Government is a magnificent example of the new form of Parkinson's disease which, as your Lordships know, 915 arises from an undue adherence to Parkinson's Law. It is simply creating work for officials, with no benefit to anybody other than those people themselves. I was always brought up to believe, as I think most of your Lordships were brought up to believe, that there was a lot of truth in the words of Thomas Jefferson. I do not know that I can quote the exact words, but I can certainly quote the meaning. They were to the effect that it is the duty of a wise and benevolent Government to prevent men from harming one another, but to leave them otherwise free to carry on with their own pursuits. Surely, my Lords, this is what the Government should do to-day; particularly a Government which calls itself a Conservative Government, which I believe holds with the freedom of the private individual and various things of that kind.
In a democracy we want to have a Government of the people, by the people, for the people. As it is, my Lords, we are having a Government of the people, by the bureaucracy, for the bureaucracy. That is something on which I hope noble Lords in all parts of the House, as a matter of principle (and the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, has told us that this is a matter of principle) will take a stand, and show quite clearly what they believe in. Obviously, it is right for the Government to take steps to protect the consumer from the rascally salesman, or from being cheated in one way or another; and that is what this Bill sets out to do. But, as noble Lords pointed out, there is no question of that with these milk sales. It is perfectly possible and perfectly feasible—and the noble Lord, by his own Amendment, is allowing it to happen for the next two years—to see that somebody is protected in the manner suggested by my noble friend. So there is no problem there: the consumer can be protected. It is indubitably for the convenience, above all, of the consumer, that he should have only to put in a 6d. and then read with his eyes, with the assistance of glasses, if he needs them, but otherwise with no assistance, how much he is getting for that 6d. Then, next time, if he is dissatisfied he need not put in his 6d.
My Lords, I should like to go just a little further than anyone has gone so far in this discussion. Milk-vending machines, as has been said, are of very 916 great value not only to the consumer, but also to the dairy industry. The Milk Marketing Board has explained that, if anything were done to inhibit and impede their use, there would undoubtedly be a decline in milk sales. I should like to see a very great extension of this use of the milk-vending machine, so that eventually it might to a very large extent replace the whole extremely costly system of milk deliveries to the door. The noble Duke mentioned that in many places it is now becoming increasingly difficult to get milk delivered on Sundays. In general terms, although it may be inconvenient to the housewife who has no fridge, that change is something which will come and should come.
Coupled with that, we want to reduce the cost of the milk as it is delivered. We want to reduce the margin between what the farmer receives and what the housewife pays. One method by which that can be done is by an increase in automation in milk delivery. Most people are increasingly living in places of high density of population, and they normally walk to do their shopping to various shopping centres. What is there to stop a progressive dairy company from setting up a system of milk-vending machines, not of the present type, which are very costly, but of bulk milk-vending machines to which the buyer, the housewife, can bring her own container along, Having inserted her 6d. or her 1s. she will draw off whatever is the proper quantity, the milk not having gone through the expensive process of being packed into containers, but being delivered from bulk lorries into suitable sterilised bulk tanks coupled to the vending machines, from which the milk is delivered.
My Lords, there is nothing technically to stop that happening. It will need a good deal of research; it will need a good deal of investment. But, above all, it will need encouragement and a knowledge that the fruits of that investment and research will be enjoyed by the people who invest the money and the time. This action of the Government and the Board of Trade in the matter of milk vending machines, will make any development of that kind far, far slower to come. Instead of waiting, perhaps, for another five years for it to develop, we shall have to wait for another 20 years. So, I ask your Lordships not to regard this solely 917 as a matter of the convenience of people who want to go and buy their occasional carton of milk—and that is great enough, in itself—but as something which may point the way to a new system of very greatly reduced costs of milk distribution in this country. For those two reasons I ask you to support this Amendment and those who have spoken for it.
§ 4.29 p.m.
§ BARONESS BURTON OF COVENTRY
My Lords, far be it from me to come to the rescue of the Board of Trade, but I wonder whether the Minister of State realises what a very bad name the Board of Trade are getting on particular matters in this Bill, for what I can only call their "pig-headedness". I can go back over several matters—though I do not propose to do so—that have arisen on the Bill, and your Lordships will know that the Minister of State has not brought forth one iota of proof, or one statement of fact, as to why the Board of Trade propose to take certain decisions. It seems that, quite irrespective of facts put forward from either side of the House, the Board of Trade have made up their mind and do not intend to budge from it in the slightest.
Now I have read a good deal of what one might call propaganda put forward by the Government in connection with this Bill, when they described it as "a housewives' charter". It is all very well, but in some matters it seems very far removed from a housewives' charter. I will not go back over the story of the inspectors and the coal lorries, because we had a very good run on that, but the House will remember that the Minister of State was not able to bring us any proof, any reason, or even any evidence which had been given to the Board of Trade, for their action. They just said that they were going to do it, and, because they have a larger number of noble Lords in this House than the Opposition, they were able to carry it. But on this particular matter it looks rather as if they have run into some difficulty.
I have not any great knowledge of this subject, and I approach it purely from the point of view of the consumer. I really cannot see, in a Bill which purports to help the consumer, how the Government can say there is anything wrong with people putting 6d. into a machine and getting from it a quantity 918 of milk (in this particular case) if the quantity of that milk is stated on the carton. I am going to wait and see whether the Minister of State can help me and tell me what is wrong with that. The Government's attitude seems to me quite crazy; and, without being rude to him, I think he knows that we on this side of the House believe that, though he has treated us with very great courtesy in replying to our arguments, he really has ignored a great many facts that we have put forward. We realise, of course, that he might not accept them, but we should like to know his reasons for not doing so. So I, for one, am going to sit down and wait with great interest to hear why the noble Lord thinks that to put money into a machine in order to get from it a carton on which the amount of liquid is stated, is wrong.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I have listened to this debate this afternoon with intense interest, and I cannot call to mind anybody who has spoken for the Government's view on this matter yet.
§ EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
Then let me state this argument in support of those who have already made such sensible speeches. I declare an interest. I am a farmer. I also declare not a direct interest now, but a former interest as a distributor in a trade which has often been maligned but which has probably few competitors in efficiency in this country, or in the world, in almost any direction of distribution. The development of the milk trade during the last forty years has been perfectly astounding, and there is a daily service in this country to-day which is unmatchable. In regard to its actual economics, there is no distributive organisation in the whole country which is like the milk distributive organisation—subject at the end of each accounting period to having its expenses examined, its prices examined, and the actual gross margin fixed for it, and not by itself, although milk distributors are entitled to speak and to be represented at the conference. There is no commodity in regard to which the general national organisation has been 919 able to act so collectively for the benefit of the consumer.
In addition, it must be remembered that perhaps the main factor in dealing with these vending machines is the vital need, which has always been supported by the Ministry of Agriculture, of expanding the sale of liquid milk by the farmers so as to offset the very heavy competition they get from manufactured milk products, which occasions, therefore, a serious inroad into the general receipts of the farmer, and which has fallen in the past as an extra burden upon the Exchequer by way of providing a standard price. The present position, however, is this: that the farmer's income from milk, under the various awards in the last twelve years, has gradually slipped and slipped to an extent which is quite astounding. At the time when these special grants were being made for tubercular-tested milk and for its wider introduction, thirteen years ago, one could get, in the winter time, as much as 4s. a gallon, total price off the farm: but no such price is being paid to-day. On the other hand, a farmer finds that the wages of his farm labourers are going up—and quite rightly so; they have always been entitled to press for more wages.
A minimum labouring wage in the farming industry in 1950 was about 94s. a week: to-day, it is between 180s. and 190s. a week—and an application is now in for a minimum of £10 a week. In fact, the actual outgoing of a farmer to his field cowman, as any noble Lord knows (we have so many farmers here) is far and away above the minimum wage now being asked for. That is the situation with milk. Yet what is the farmer's experience? His net receipts on the farm per gallon are a long way down from what they were in 1950—and I can prove that from my own actual experience as a farmer. Therefore, it is essential that, if you can get any increase and improvement in the economic position of the farmer who is producing the milk so efficiently in this country to-day, you should ease the situation for him (that is so also with regard to any Government aid that might have to be given from time to time) so you would enable him the more easily to meet the legitimate demands for increased wages of his workers.
920 We can see now that there has been one new avenue opened up for the sale of liquid milk—and that sale of liquid milk has come through the vending machine. As has been explained in the House before, but it needs to be repeated, this has become the subject of very large investment. I should say that, in the thousands of vending machines which are now in operation, there is a total investment in this business throughout the country of between £2½ million and £3 million. This is a very considerable investment; and yet you hold that at trigger point and say that, in two years' time, the traders must repeat that investment again because of this trivial point which is being raised by the Board of Trade. Now that is a very considerable factor to face, and I have not heard a good word of explanation as to why it should be so at the present time. The milk distributive trade as a whole are subject to this annual check upon their expenses, their rates and what shall be the margin of final profit; and with the exception, perhaps, of the individual vending machines put up on the farms, which afford very great assistance to travellers who are passing the farms in the hot weather, I suppose all these other receipts are to be taken into account where they are received by those who are already distributing milk on a wider basis.
I submit to the Government that their position is entirely unreasonable. It is unreasonable from the point of view of the farmer. He has money invested in these vending machines, helping to meet that demand which has been demonstrated by a letter to The Times—I am sure the Minister of State has seen it—signed by the representative of the farmers, the representative of the milk distributive trade and also by the Milk Marketing Board, saying that this is a wrong action by the Government. They are all against the Government on these matters—and yet they are standing over a trade which, from the producer to the ultimate distributor, has shown a far greater standard of improvement in service to the public than any other distributive trade I know. In 1920, 1921 and 1922 I was stumping the country on the quality and the pollution of milk. My text was "Death in the Can"—and it was death in the can. There were terrible diseases and infantile mortality due 921 to infected milk in those days. But since then the industry has spent a tremendous amount of money upon improving both the breeding and the milking of cattle and the methods of milk distribution until it has produced what is probably the most efficient service of its kind in the world in that respect; and the improvement in the health of the consumer has been tremendous.
I say to the Minister of State that he has already injured the trade greatly, in my view, in the decision that has already been made on the third-pint bottles. All that is going to do, in large areas of the trade, is to prevent third-pint bottles from being distributed. They will not be distributed because on every third-pint delivered there is a dead loss to the distributor. This does not need to be demonstrated because it is immediately apparent from the costs of the bottling process, of the washing process and of delivery. The cost of delivery to-day is enormous. You propose to substitute instead, apparently, in the centres of distribution, that the housewife should carry home the milk. In fact, nearly all the supermarket business to-day is directed towards letting the customer hump the delivery; whereas in the milk distributive trade there is an early morning service and an immediate vending machine service as required for the convenience of the housewife and the milk customer in general. You are going to put the clock back by unreasonable insistence on changes of this sort to-day. I am grateful to the large number of speakers in this House to-day who have taken a sensible line on this Amendment and I hope that it will be carried.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, I must apologise to you because the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, has said three times that the argument is unanswerable, but I intend to answer it. I am sorry that the noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition has said that he has had no explanation from me, but in fact in the discussion of this Bill this is the first opportunity of giving the full Government view; and I intend to give it. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for saying that she will listen to me, more particularly as my noble friend Lord Hanworth said he had 922 no intention of listening. I think he used words to that effect.
We touched on this question when we were discussing Amendments to Clauses 61 and 66, but we agreed not to go into details then and I made it clear at that time, for reasons to which I hope noble Lords will listen, that the Government are firmly opposed to the permanent exemption from the requirements of the Schedule of milk sold from vending machines. The temporary relaxation which we have made in the interests of the vending machine operators during the two-year period immediately following the passing of this Bill in no way lessens the objections which I intend to express. I think it is clear that many of your Lordships are not familiar with the reasons why we take this stand, and so I make no apology for dealing with the matter at some considerable length. There has already been some considerable misunderstanding.
First, I might remind your Lordships that the Bill does nothing to tighten the existing law relating to fixed quantities in which milk may be sold through vending machines. On the contrary, by legalising the one-third pint it makes the law more flexible; and if, as the noble Earl says, it does not pay to sell one-third pints then they will not be sold. But this legalises it and there has been a demand from the consumer for it. We are dealing here with a commodity with which it is probably easier to swindle than with any other commodity, including coal. The reason why we do not have an endless number of cases in the courts of swindling over the sale of milk is that we have a tight control over it. We have had the main protection to the consumer in regard to the sale of milk for 30 years; that is, the rule that milk must be sold only in fixed quantities. That is the present law. I should, perhaps, add at this stage, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that, whatever he may think about the difficulties in the United States, there is no Federal law, so far as I can find out, on the subject. Every one of the States of the United States—and they have more experience in vending machines than we have—insists that milk in vending machines or over the counter must be sold in fixed quantities. Looking towards the future—a point mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Walston—it is a fact 923 that in most States fixed quantities of half a gallon are sold from vending machines. That is the sort of thing he was looking forward to in the future.
I find the attitude of the Opposition a little strange because whenever throughout the Bill we have tried to ease things for the trader, without really affecting the consumer at all, those noble Lords who have taken an active part on this Bill have risen in wrath and said that this is a consumer Bill. Here we have certain regulations entirely to protect the consumer. It is no good the noble Earl laughing. This was brought in for the protection of the consumer, and for no other reason.
§ LORD STONHAM
Will the noble Lord explain how this provision will protect the consumer more than the one I propose?
§ LORD DERWENT
That is the present situation. This was brought in for consumer protection. Here is a case where, apparently, the consumer's protection is not to be considered. But what may be called the "sacred cow" of the trade must at all costs be listened to. Exactly the opposite arguments were used by the Opposition throughout. The fact that there is a requirement to pack certain staple commodities—not only milk—in a limited range of fixed quantities gives valuable protection to the consumer. This was accepted and recognised by the Hodgson Committee, the Molony Committee and by consumer interests generally. We maintain that the sale of milk in variable amounts through vending machines would weaken that protection; and in the United States where they have considerably more experience than we in this field they also take that view. Milk-vending machines do not supply only casual demand. Many vending machines are installed outside dairies and, if the law is not applied to those machines, the housewife may find that she is buying 7¾ fluid ounces one day and 8½ fluid ounces another day without realising that she is not getting a half-pint, which is 10 fluid ounces. She is used to the half-pint and she knows what it looks like. But here, according to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, she is getting a variable amount of fluid ounces. In spite of what the 924 noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, says there are not many people who know what a fluid ounce is.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords I must interrupt. I cannot allow the noble Lord to make statements like that. Is he not aware that the Minister of Agriculture will have a say about the price at which milk is sold? The noble Lord cannot just put it into my mouth that I agree that one day it will be 8 and another day 7¾ fluid ounces. If the housewife is not getting a fair deal in the quantity she receives in relation to the price paid through a vending machine, that would be stopped. The case the noble Lord is putting up is fantastically unrelated to reality.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, I am putting up the case put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Stonham. If people always have to put 6d. in, they will get a varied amount of fluid ounces. That is exactly what the noble Lord said. I am sorry he thinks that it is a silly argument. I think it is silly, too.
§ VISCOUNT HANWORTH
My Lords, may I come back to say that I think most people can recognise what a fraction of a pint is, if it is measured in that way?
§ VISCOUNT HANWORTH
The noble Lord said that many people do not realise what a fluid ounce is. There is surely no reason why it cannot be sold in fractions of a pint, which may be easier for some people, though I would still suggest that many people will recognise what a fluid ounce is.
§ LORD DERWENT
A housewife is used to buying milk in pints and half-pints. That is the normal way she buys it over the counter—and that is what she will have to do, whether this Amendment is accepted or not. She knows what a half-pint looks like; but if there is some further amount somewhere between half a pint and a pint she will not know whether she is getting the full amount of fluid ounces or a fraction of a pint. She will not know by looking.
§ VISCOUNT HANWORTH
Surely she will quickly realise the amount she gets in a vending machine, in comparison 925 with what she gets in her bottle, and realise what the price is accordingly.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, that is not the experience of many shoppers. They can easily be taken in.
The issue at stake is whether there should be one law for trade conducted by shop assistants and another for trade conducted by vending machines. I think that that is a fair way of putting the issue. The Government's view is that retail trade should be subject to the same weights and measures requirements whether it is from vending machines or over the counter, and that it should not be possible, by using vending machines, to evade requirements which are considered to be desirable to protect the consumers. This applies not only to milk, in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Stonham said (again, he said that I was talking nonsense, which is his favourite phrase), it applies also to other commodities which have to be sold in specified quantities in vending machines—butter, sugar, tea and bread. The noble Lord talked about chocolate, which does not have to be sold in fixed quantities.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, they do not have to be sold in fixed quantities. The noble Lord keeps on bringing up this absurd point. I am talking about consumer protection where it is found necessary to protect the consumer by selling in fixed quantities, and to talk about such things as cigarettes which do not have to be sold in fixed quantities, is absurd.
In spite of the intense propaganda, there is nothing impracticable about selling fixed quantities in machines, and changing the prices. This happens frequently in the United States and in Germany, where most of the modern machines can give change. It is no good saying that we do not have machines that give change because on the Underground we have cigarette machines and ticket machines which give change, and it is perfectly easy to have these for machines selling fixed quantities of food commodities. We are continually being told by the pressure group that we ought to go to Waterloo Station and see 926 how well these machines are selling milk.
§ LORD CROOK
My Lords, could the noble Lord tell us who the pressure group is? He is not suggesting that the pressure group is in this House, is he?
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, I am not talking about your Lordships' House. Those who came to see us to press this case, and therefore, presumably, a pressure group, repeatedly referred to Waterloo Station.
§ LORD CROOK
My Lords, we have never heard of these people; and the noble Lord has not told us who they are.
§ LORD DERWENT
It is interesting to note that in the last few weeks all 6d. machines are now selling for 7d.
§ VISCOUNT HANWORTH
Can the noble Lord tell the House the comparative costs of a machine that gives change and of one that does not?
§ LORD DERWENT
There is no doubt that it will cost something to adapt existing machines, made to take sixpences only, to sell milk at variable prices. It will cost slightly more than the cost of a new machine which gives change. But virtually all the consumer protection provisions in the Weights and Measures Bill will cost the trader something, particularly in certain commodities: we cannot have consumer protection for nothing. On Committee stage, the noble Lord, Lord Peddie, who is not here to-day, mentioned £2½ million. That is the money sunk in new machines, not the price of altering them. The figure of £35 a machine for alteration to take different coins has been quoted. I am advised that the figure is not as high as that. At lunch to-day I was talking to an operator who put it at nearer £25. If we assume that it cost £30, and would take two years, that is £15 a year, which is not an enormous sum, if it means real consumer protection. The extra cost will arise only if sellers charge more than 6d. for half a pint. Noble 927 Lords opposite say that that is not a profitable thing, and they may well be right. The over-the-counter price is 4½d., so it is probably argued that the additional 1½d. does not pay for the machine.
In spite of what the noble Lord said, we believe that an exemption for milk sold through vending machines only, as the Amendment proposes, would lead to practical difficulties. The noble Lord said, not this time that it was nonsense, but that it was untrue that it was the common practice for dairies to take the milk left over in the machine in the morning and sell it as the first milk to be sold. We have received evidence from the Institute of Weights and Measures Administration, who, I have been repeatedly told by noble Lords opposite, know more about this than anyone, that it is a common practice to take out the cartons not sold overnight and sell them first thing in the morning over the counter.
§ EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, did they produce any evidence of those discovered being taken to court?
§ LORD DERWENT
It is a perfectly legal thing to do, provided that the milk is good and it is sold at the official price. There is nothing illegal about it whatsoever. But the noble Lord's Amendment says that milk may be sold in varying amounts, and those amounts cannot be sold over the counter. I quite foresee the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, leading an agitation because somebody has been seen pouring away milk, on the ground that it was a silly Board of Trade regulation. I have little doubt that, when it comes about that they cannot sell this milk, there will be a demand for further changes in the law for all milk sales to be of variable amounts so as not to waste it.
Noble Lords have also suggested that, despite satisfactory experience both here and abroad, variable price machines are not technically or commercially satisfactory. I just do not accept that. Other countries use them the whole time. Before one could accept that, one would need an overwhelming case to be made out to show that it is so, and, in my submission, no such case has been made. 928 On the contrary, we believe that there is an overwhelming case for continuing this protection for the consumer. We believe that if machines are allowed, as a permanent measure, and not just to help out the trade on a short-term basis, to sell milk in odd sizes this will weaken the whole structure of the protection given to the consumer for all basic foods which are required by this Bill to be sold in fixed sizes. We are talking here not about fancy or luxury goods, but about staple foods which the consumer buys every day. We really cannot single out milk from the other commodities which also have to be sold in fixed amounts in the interests of consumer protection. If we allow this for milk, we shall get every other manufacturer of food sold in vending machines that has to be sold in a fixed amount asking to sell it in varying amounts; and I would remind the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, that I am not talking of milk chocolate, but these commodities, some of which I think clearly have to be sold—
§ LORD AIREDALE
My Lords, some of these other commodities the noble Lord mentioned—milk, butter, eggs and sugar—are not things which you have to buy for yourself on Sundays. You have to buy milk fresh on Sundays and this does not apply to those other commodities.
§ LORD DERWENT
I cannot see how that applies to the case at all. We are talking of how to stop selling in wrong quantities and the noble Lord's point really does not arise. The selling of other commodities in vending machines is increasing rapidly. What would the consumer say if he found when he bought from a machine that he got 7¼ fluid ounces of milk instead of half a pint, 15 oz. of sugar instead of 1 1b. and 3⅝ ounces of tea instead of ¼ 1b., and with the quantities varying from time to time, particularly downwards? There is no difference between that and what the noble Lord is asking for. If the quantities are allowed to vary from time to time, other retailers will ask why they should not do it if milkmen do it. They are not to be allowed to do it for the same reason that the milkman is not to be allowed to do it—in the interests of consumer protection. If that were to happen, would he not feel, and I think with reason, that there was something 929 very odd about the so-called consumer protection?
I submit that the case against the noble Lord's Amendment is the case for the consumer, and his case is the case for the trade. It is rather interesting, again, that throughout this Bill frequently when I have differed from noble Lords they have said, "Ah, but the weights and measures inspectorate say so-and-so, and they must know best. They are always right." Sometimes I have said in reply that they do not always know what is right, although they have a good view. But here is a case, apparently, where their view is not to be considered. The case I have put to your Lordships is a case that has been supported not only by spokesmen for the Opposition in another place, but also by the Institute of Weights and Measures Administration, who strongly support the Government stand in connection with this.
§ LORD DERWENT
I cannot quote a confidential document. But it is so, and if the noble Lord does not believe it, I cannot help it.
§ LORD STONHAM
I do not say it is not true, but I should like to hear it, because it is in conflict with the information that I have from chief inspectors of weights and measures, who support the Amendment.
§ LORD DERWENT
I said that this was the Institute of Weights and Measures Administration, which is the headquarters of their organisation. I did not say an individual. This is the policy of their own organisation. It was a letter (I think the whole matter is in here, but I cannot read it to the noble Lord) written to us by the Weights and Measures Administration on May 23 of. this year. In my view, the case for consumer protection has not in any way been answered by the noble Lord.
Before I sit down I would just mention one or two points raised by other noble Lords. The noble Earl the Leader of the Opposition says that sales will go down. I do not know why he says that, and I should be surprised if he has any evidence so far, because it does 930 not happen. I am told it is not so in the United States or in Germany. It may be that the noble Earl has the evidence, but I do not see how he has it in this country.
§ EARL ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
I think the noble Lord has rather taken that argument the wrong way round. I said that this was a valuable channel through which the desire of the farmer, of the Minister of Agriculture and of the Treasury is that sales of liquid milk should be increased. That is why these vending machines have been put in. Therefore, I suppose the noble Lord also infers that I am arguing that, if they were discontinued completely, liquid milk sales would go down. I think that is probably true. But the point is that we want to get the development of what we have in the vending machines as a constant means of increasing liquid sales of milk.
§ LORD DERWENT
I agree with what the noble Earl has just said, and I am sorry I misunderstood him. But, in our view, it will not adversely affect sales of milk. According to our information, it has not done so in other countries.
I have dealt with the point, which is not strictly germane to the Amendment, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Walston, of future bulk sales. The noble Lord, Lord Spens, was putting the case put by the noble Lord opposite on behalf of the trade—I am not being offensive, but he did declare his interest. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, made a strange remark. He will forgive me for putting it in that form, but he said that he understood the Board of Trade were taking this view in the interests of administrative convenience. I do not know what that means. How it is administratively convenient, I cannot imagine. But perhaps the noble Viscount will tell me later.
My noble friend the Duke of Atholl rather took the line that we had better do away with the machines. Our case is that this will not affect the sale of milk, and that nothing has been produced so far to show that it might do so, in this country or in any other country. Evidence might be produced, but it is difficult to produce it in this country, because we have not got it.
THE DUKE OF ATHOLL
All I meant was that if one had to produce 7d. or 7½d. instead of 6d., the turnover of each individual machine would go down, and therefore the machines would tend, if not to disappear, at least not to increase at the rate they are increasing at the moment.
§ LORD DERWENT
We have the only evidence available, that it does not appear to be affected in countries which use more than one coin, such as Germany and the United States. Further than that I cannot go. We really believe—and I am not saying this just for the sake of argument—that if we allow milk to be sold except in fixed quantities, it is the thin edge of doing away with quite a lot of consumer protection. I ask the House to reject this Amendment.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, it has seldom been my misfortune to listen to such a painfully inadequate statement from a Minister in replying to an Amendment of some importance. I confess that had I been sitting behind the noble Lord I should feel more embarrassed for him than I do at the present time.
§ LORD STONHAM
I would express my grateful thanks to those noble Lords in all parts of the House (and that means everybody who has spoken except the Minister) who have supported the Amendment. No one else has opposed it. The noble Lord failed completely to answer the debate. He made no attempt to do so. He read his prepared brief, and only at the very end allegedly made one or two points that he had down on pieces of paper. There was no answer to the debate whatsoever; no answer to the points made. There was an indication that the noble Lord, Lord Spens, was speaking in a trade capacity, and a statement that I was making the case for the trade. It is perfectly true that all three organs of the trade, the National Farmers' Union, the Milk Marketing Board, and the National Dairymen's Association have sent, I think it is, two letters to The Times urging support for 932 this Amendment, and quite legitimately and properly they have produced facts. It is quite customary for your Lordships to receive assistance of that kind. I can assure every noble Lord in this House that the case that I have presented is entirely one I believe in. I believe that the Amendment is a case for the consumer, and it passes belief that the noble Lord—may I have his attention?
§ LORD STONHAM
It passes belief that the noble Lord could say that the Government's case is a case for the consumer and for consumer protection, basing that entirely on the fact that, by his method the housewife will be able to buy 6⅔ fluid ounces of milk and recognise it, and by my method she will be unprotected because she can buy 9 fluid ounces of milk and not recognise it. That is virtually the whole basis of the noble Lord's case for refusing the Amendment.
He made a few observations about America and Germany and said we should follow them. But as I said—and he ignored it—in America milk vending remains hampered by the fixed size conditions.
§ LORD STONHAM
The noble Lord has only a view. I am repeating this from an international book on automatic vending. I do not place any importance on what they are doing in Germany or in America. I place importance on the farming industry, on the traders and, above all, on the consumers. Every noble Lord who has spoken has said what a great convenience vending machines are to those who want to drink milk, and buy it at odd times when they want it. I think that is so. That is the case for my Amendment, and I think the case has been made and not answered. I would ask your Lordships please to support this on behalf of the consumers and on behalf of the industry, and on this occasion indicate that Parliament can be decisive and take the sensible course. I hope your Lordships will support me in the Division Lobby.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ On Ouestion, Whether the said Amendment (No. 46) shall be agreed to?933
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 37; Not-Contents, 34
|Addison, V.||Crook, L.||Sainsbury, L.|
|Airedale, L.||Dudley, L.||Sandys, L.|
|Alexander of Hillsborough, E.||Hanworth, V.||Shackleton, L.|
|Amulree, L.||Henderson, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Amwell, L.||Henley, L.||Sinha, L.|
|Atholl, D.||Iddesleigh, E.||Somers, L.|
|Auckland, L.||Lawson, L.||Spens, L.|
|Burden, L. [Teller.]||Lindgren, L.||Stonham, L. [Teller.]|
|Burton of Coventry, B.||Listowel, E.||Swanborough, B.|
|Champion, L.||Lucan, E.||Walston, L.|
|Clwyd, L.||Middleton, L.||Williams, L.|
|Colville of Culross, V.||Rea, L.||Wise, L.|
|Albemarle, E.||Glentanar, L.||Mancroft, L.|
|Allerton, L.||Goschen, V. [Teller.]||Merrivale, L.|
|Bridgeman, V.||Hailsham, V. (L. President.)||Milverton, L.|
|Carrington, L.||Hastings, L.||Monsell, V.|
|Coleraine, L.||Hylton, L.||Robertson of Oakridge, L.|
|Craigton, L.||Jellicoe, E.||St. Aldwyn, E. [Teller.]|
|Denham, L.||Jessel, L.||Soulbury, V.|
|Derwent, L.||Long, V.||Stuart of Findhorn, V.|
|Ebbisham, L.||Lothian, M.||Swinton, E.|
|Ferrers, E.||MacAndrew, L.||Teynham, L.|
|Forster of Harraby, L.||McCorquodale of Newton, L.||Twining, L.|
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ LORD CROOK
moved, in paragraph 3(a), after "one-quarter" to insert "and" and leave out "and one-sixth".
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have moved this Amendment so many times that I am not going to weary your Lordships by speaking at great length. The fact that we have moved it a number of times is, of course, due to the fact that this Bill has been, if I may so put it in the vernacular, hanging around this House for so many years that it has become an old friend whom we are glad to be getting rid of next week. I run a very grave risk in moving this Amendment again that I shall get the reputation that some Members of the House have been trying to give me, that I have taken on to this side of the House the knowledge of Scotch that is normally in the possession of the Peers on the other side who come from Scotland.
§ I want to say straight away that we do not deny the need to keep the special measure for Scotland which the Government have tried to provide. We realise the difference in the normal practice in Scotland, and we are prepared to 934 leave it like that. We cannot see the point in having the three different measures which the Government have been trying to keep to all this time. I am not going to deploy all the arguments again, but I am bound to remind your Lordships what I have pointed out on a number of occasions, of the complete unreality of any belief that this small measure is one which would find any use other than for people who want to try to appear to be selling things cheaply. I have pointed out to your Lordships the use of optics, and perhaps their wrongful use in many cases. But I believe that the simplicity of the presentation of these measures is the thing this Bill should be aiming at; and to have two is bad enough but at least with two we do know where the division between Scotland and England runs. If we have three we shall not know where the other division is at all. I beg to move.
Page 72, line 19, after ("one-quarter") insert ("and") and leave out ("and one-sixth").—(Lord Crook.)
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, as we have met on this Amendment before, may I repeat what I said earlier? When we discussed a similar Amendment in 935 Committee I said that different measures are commonly used for spirits in different parts of the country, as the noble Lord would agree, and the one-sixth gill measure is commonly used in southern England. I know that, as the noble Lord, Lord Crook, pointed out in Committee, other measures than one-sixth gill are also used in the South of England. I agree that there is a great multiplicity of measures being used now. What the Bill does is to reduce the number of measures to the three most commonly used, so the Bill actually goes part of the way towards what the noble Lord wants.
We do not think it would be right to go further than this at the present moment. To make the smallest permissible measure one-fifth of a gill, as the Amendment proposes, would force customers in many areas to have more than they may want at a price higher than they may be willing to pay. Obviously, if sellers of spirits have to dispense a larger measure than they do now—which is what the Amendment would in many cases require—the price would go up. But, if local customs should change substantially over the years in different places and the sixth-gill measure should become less widely used, the Board of Trade have power to delete it from the Schedule by order. If it became not in common use they would do so if asked.
§ LORD SHEPHERD
My Lords, before the Ministry consider taking away this particular small measure I think they should take some account of the fact that where you increase the size of a measure, you can, in fact, increase the amount of drunkenness, perhaps, inadvertently, by people not being conscious of the amount of alcohol they are taking at a party. I should hope that the Government would not themselves withdraw this particular measure merely on the basis that habits change, but would take account of some of the social consequences that might flow from perhaps increasing the amount of alcohol that individuals might drink and, in certain cases, might prefer not to drink.
§ LORD CROOK
My Lords, I am not going to try to resist on this Amendment. 936 I indicated that we have moved it on past occasions, and we have ventilated in this way some of the bad practices that were going on. I am bound to say that I find myself in agreement on the point of the noble Lord that it is certainly better to have three measures than about twenty at the moment by the wrongful use of optics. I find some comfort in the knowledge that it will be possible to use the powers mentioned if necessary. We are happy that we have left Scotland where it wanted to be. If those in the South want to keep this other measure, let them have it for a time. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 6 [Solid fuel]:
§ 5.28 p.m.
moved in paragraph 3, after sub-paragraph (1) to insert:(1A) Subject to sub-paragraph (2) of this paragraph, solid fuel made up in containers in the quantity of one and a quarter hundredweight shall be carried on a road vehicle on a highway for sale or for delivery after sale only if all solid fuel carried on the vehicle which is made up in containers is so made up in that quantity; and if this sub-paragraph is contravened the seller shall be guilty of an offence.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, with your Lordships' permission I should like to speak to Amendments Nos. 48, 49, 50 and 55 together. I think that the Amendments in my noble friend's name will meet the points also in Amendment 56 which has been tabled by noble Lords opposite. Paragraph 3 of the Schedule allows 1¼cwt. as one of the specified quantities in which solid fuel in containers must be made up, but paragraph 11(1) provides that the 1¼ cwt. size may be used only where all the sacks on the vehicle are made up in that quantity. As your Lordships will be aware, this provision was inserted in order to prevent confusion between the 1 cwt. and the 1¼ cwt. sizes, and, consequently, possible fraud.
§ It has been represented to us that this provision in paragraph 11(1) should be extended to cover hawkers. It does not cover them at present because this paragraph applies only to goods over 2 cwt. carried in pursuance of a sale; in other words, for delivery after an order. Hawkers normally sell only small quantities, and we do not think that there is much likelihood of there being any 937 danger of confusion or fraud by the use of 1¼ cwt. sacks in hawking sales. However, it would be logical to apply to hawkers the same requirement as apply to others when trading in solid fuel, and the Government Amendments will have this effect. I beg to move.
Page 83, line 37, at end insert the said subparagraph.—(Earl Ferrers.)
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I would express my thanks to the Government for tabling these Amendments and to the noble Earl for his manner in moving them. They are, as he said, almost the same points, if not precisely the same, as the Amendments I moved in Committee on behalf of my noble friend Lord Hughes, and, as the noble Earl rightly said, I shall not now need to move Amendment 56 when we come to it. I would express on my noble friend's behalf thanks to the Government for accepting this point, which I think will be quite useful and will avoid misunderstandings and anomalies which would certainly otherwise have arisen. We are very much in favour of the Amendment.
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
Page 83, line 38, leave out ("the foregoing sub-paragraph") and insert ("sub-paragraphs (1) and (1A) of this paragraph.").—(Earl Ferrers.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
Page 84, line 1, leave out ("paragraph (a) of that sub-paragraph") and insert ("subparagraph (1)(a) of this paragraph").—(Earl Ferrers.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ 5.32 p.m.
§ LORD WALSTON
moved, in paragraph 5(1), to omit sub-paragraph (a) and to substitute:(a) for securing that on any premises within their area on or from which solid fuel is sold or kept or exposed for sale by retail to domestic consumers there is displayed a notice specifying the price of the fuel; and".
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, with your permission I should like to speak 938 to Amendments Nos. 51 and 52 together. I do so in considerable confidence that these will be accepted by the Government for the reason that they are indubitably Amendments which are for consumer protection. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, on an earlier occasion suggested that we on this side were rather too inclined to put up Amendments on trade interest and forget the fact that this was a consumer protection Bill. This is something which, while not against the interests of reputable trade, may cause some inconvenience to less reputable members of a trade, but it is very clearly in the interests of the consuming public. For that reason I have every confidence that the noble Lord will accept it.
These Amendments deal with the sale of solid fuel in small quantities. A similar type of Amendment was moved at the Committee stage, and the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, then pointed out—and I think there was force in his remarks—that the particular Amendment would be somewhat impracticable to implement because it would apply to all solid fuel sold from various places, such as mine dumps, gas works, coal yards and wholesale premises. That, it was contended at that time, would be wrong in principle as well as being rather too wide a net. To meet that legitimate objection of the noble Lord the Amendment has been redrafted so that the by-laws which it is proposed can be made by a local authority would apply only to solid fuels,
sold or kept or exposed for sale by retail to domestic consumers".
That therefore overcomes this quite legitimate and reasonable objection from the Government.
§ There was also the question whether the price should actually be exhibited in the interests of consumer protection. I would emphasise that this is only to empower local authorities to make bylaws to this effect, by-laws which they are already entitled to make for solid fuel sold in 2 cwt. or smaller quantities. This Amendment seeks to enlarge the range of quantities of solid fuel so sold. The point of having the price put on is solely in the interests of consumer protection. It protects consumers against a practice of certain less reputable coal merchants, charging different prices to different consumers. By these two Amendments that would be overcome.939
§ In view of the fact that we have now been able to meet the arguments put forward by the noble Lord at Committee stage against accepting our Amendment, and that this is, without question, something which will add to the protection of the consuming public without causing any damage to any interests other than those who should be damaged because of their disreputable activities, I very much hope that it will receive your Lordships' support and the blessing of the Government. I beg to move.
Page 84, line 15, leave out lines 15, 16, 17, 18 and 19 and insert the said new subparagraph.—(Lord Walston.)
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Walston, that I thought noble Lords opposite had forgotten the interests of consumers only in one rather glaring example but not in the rest of the Bill. I realise, of course, that this Amendment covers a narrower field than was covered in the earlier Amendment. I should like to oblige the noble Lord, but I do not think I can accept these Amendments. I do not think it would be right to extend the provisions in paragraph 5 of the Schedule beyond their present scope, and for these reasons. As I told the House in Committee, the provisions of paragraph 5 are designed to deal only with those premises and vehicles (this is important, of course) where solid fuel is available for purchase in very small quantities; that is, 2 cwt. or less. In practice this means only hawkers' vehicles, or trolleys operated by merchants, which make door-to-door sales, and a very few retailers' premises which make direct sales in quantities up to 2 cwt. It does not normally apply to the ordinary coal merchant's shop, which handles the bulk of retail sales of solid fuel. I am informed that fuel is not normally available for purchase from such shops; they refuse to sell it in these quantities. For these reasons, we cannot agree to extend the provisions beyond the narrow field—and it is a very narrow field—to which they apply.
Price, which was mentioned by the noble Lord, is not a matter with which this Bill is otherwise concerned, and we cannot agree that the Bill should generally apply requirements to the coal trade which do not apply to other trades. I 940 do not mean the details of weights and measures; but price does not apply to other things and it ought not to apply to the coal trade either. There is really no justification for requiring a coal merchant to display prices of his goods when similar requirements do not apply to other retail traders. We have included the provisions in paragraph 5 only as an exceptional arrangement, to continue the existing law which has applied since 1890. I do not think we ought to extend that beyond its present scope. That is the only reason; because of this existing law since 1890. Otherwise this paragraph would not be there at all.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord considers consumer protection should apply only to those people who buy in 2 cwt. or less, and once they decide to buy 3 cwt. they are no longer in need of consumer protection. I would not force this issue to a Division. I am only sorry the noble Lord has not seen fit to carry out the intentions he expressed at an earlier stage. I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 5.40 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
moved, in paragraph 5(1), after sub-paragraph (b) to insert:() for requiring, either generally or in specified classes of cases, a weighing instrument, of a form approved by the local authority, to be carried with any vehicle in which coal is carried for sale or delivery to a purchaser.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this Amendment is to give local weights and measures authorities power to make by-laws to insist that lorries carry scales when they are carrying coal for sale or delivery to a purchaser. The noble Lord, Lord Derwent, will remember that we had a discussion on a somewhat similar Amendment on the Committee stage, and one point I recall he brought up then as an argument against this—not the power to make by-laws, but about carrying scales on coal lorries—was that scales take up room on the lorry. I have made inquiries about that, and I find that in any case it is not usually a serious objection, because they have some means of putting the scales underneath the floor of the lorry or slinging them in 941 some way so that they do not take up any room which could be occupied by sacks. I cannot argue that that is the case with every coal lorry, but it is the case with a good many of them; and I submit to the noble Lord that in any case it is not a satisfactory argument for no longer requiring or for not giving local authorities the power to make by-laws requiring these scales to be carried on lorries.
§ I know that on a previous Amendment the noble Lord rather felt that I had departed from the standard I have always taken for consumer protection in this Bill, and I hope that the fact that the majority of your Lordships supported my point of view has convinced him that I was still treading the straight and narrow path of consumer protection, and that he was the deviationist. I mention that to assure him that I am still on the same path of consumer protection, and I think it is much more important that the purchaser should not be defrauded, particularly in a type of trade and a type of transaction where, as he and I are both well aware, there is already quite a lot of fraud despite existing safeguards, some of which are going to be taken away.
Since we had that discussion I have received a letter from the chief inspector of weights and measures at Birmingham. I know that when I mention a chief inspector of weights and measures a glow of pleasure always suffuses the noble Lord's countenance, and I am therefore going to quote a brief extract from the letter. He says:
In regard to the carrying of scales on coal delivery vehicles, I am able to give you an up-to-the-minute illustration of the significance of the present requirement which we wish to retain. On Saturday last … an inspector engaged on shop inspection saw a coal lorry carrying bags which he suspected to be short.
that is the inspector—
was not carrying coal weighing equipment at the time but decided to check the bags, using the scale carried on the lorry. He then found that there was only one 56 lb. weight with the scale, the driver stating that the other had been mislaid. The inspector was not to be beaten, however, and when he insisted that they should return to the wharf to weigh the coal—a power which he would not have under the Bill—the men admitted that they had hidden the other weight in the cab of the lorry, so that if they were stopped they could not have their bags checked. There
were in fact 26 bags on the lorry, eight of which were more than 10 lb. short, with a total shortage of 180 lb."—
that is about 1½ cwt. out of the 26 cwt.—
and the men admitted that they had been 'skimming' full bags to make an extra one or two for themselves.
The inspector then says:
I feel that this case clearly demonstrates that the implications of the present provision are not lost on those elements in the trade against which the public need to be protected, and without doubt the same elements would welcome its repeal.
§ This comes from one of Britain's major cities. They have had for a century these by-law powers for the protection of the public; and, so far as Birmingham is concerned, their local provisions were reinforced as recently as 1958. I could quote a number of other examples, but I am not going to do so, because they would be variations of the knavery that these people get up to, much of which can be stopped or, if not stopped, detected. There is a deterrent if they have scales on the lorry with them. The point, therefore, is quite clear, and I hope that on this occasion the noble Lord will be able to follow the example of his noble friend and accept the Amendment, which I now beg to move.
Page 84, line 22, at end insert the said sub-paragraph.—(Lord Stonham.)
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, this Amendment is similar to one moved by the noble Lord in Committee. Its effect would be to empower local authorities to continue to make by-laws requiring a weighing instrument of a form approved by them to be carried, either generally or in specified classes of cases, with vehicles in which coal is being carried for sale or delivery to a purchaser. That is what the present by-laws require. Some of these by-laws say that weighing machines must be carried on the vehicles. In some areas the requirement relates only to people selling coal in quantities of less than 2 cwt.; in other areas it applies to all vehicles carrying coal, whether the coal is carried for sale or is being delivered in pursuance of a sale. There is no uniformity, which is one of the objects of the Bill.
The object of the requirement is ostensibly to ensure that if a customer is suspicious he can ask for a sack of 943 coal to be re-weighed on the machine carried on the vehicle, before purchasing it. That, I take it, is the point behind the Amendment. If his suspicions are proved correct, the shortage can, of course, be made good; but if he is proved wrong he is liable under Section 27(1)(b) of the 1889 Act to pay the reasonable costs actually incurred in and incidental to the weighing or re-weighing. In the case of the odd sack, such costs would be small, and I do not think it has been the fear of having to pay that has caused purchasers so rarely to take advantage of the obligation on the seller to carry a weighing machine on the vehicle. The machine is seldom used, although I do not say it is never used.
Provision is made in paragraph 7 of the Bill for re-weighing. It might cost the purchaser more under this paragraph; nevertheless the requirement is still there. Whether it will be used to any great extent or not, we do not know. In the light of past experience I greatly doubt whether it will be used. I believe that the requirement in existing law that scales shall be carried has worked almost exclusively—I do not want to overstate the case—for the convenience and benefit of the inspector of weights and measures.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, would the noble Lord therefore deal with that point? He has dealt with the purchase, but I would agree with him that that is the more important aspect.
§ LORD DERWENT
It relieves him, or can relieve him, of the necessity of carrying about with him suitable scales and weights with which to check sacks of coal. There is only one other case in existing law that I can find of scales having to be provided by a trader—that is in the case of a person selling bread; it is Section 6(4) of the Sale of Food (Weights and Measures) Act, 1926. The Government consider that this is a quite unjustified discrimination against certain traders only. Noble Lords will be aware that the provision with regard to bread scales having to be carried is not to be repeated in this Bill. Similarly, we do not want to repeat the requirement for a vehicle carrying coal.
We argued between us on the last stage, and the noble Lord has mentioned 944 it again, the question of whether the weight of the scales and the weights on a lorry is negligible. The weight of the scales amounts to something like 2 cwt. of coal. I do not think that I made myself clear in what I said last time. It is not the actual space that matters in regard to these 2 cwt. scales; it is the weight they take up. The lorries are loaded to full capacity when they set out and if the scales are put underneath they will still be overloaded unless they take off two sacks. That is really the position. I do not think that it is much of a burden for an inspector to have to carry the scales in his car. He is provided with and has to carry other equipment. Why should he not carry coal scales and weights as a matter of routine? In fact, he does so in a case where no by-law exists. Therefore, it is not a difficult thing to do.
There is another objection to this Amendment. One very important reason for the whole of this Bill is to try to secure uniformity of practice throughout the whole of weights and measures administration. If we provided that local authorities might make by-laws requiring the carriage of scales—as this Amendment would do—we should be extending the area of the law which may be varied from area to area. The Hodgson Committee felt that this requirement was unnecessary on a national scale, and they would not accept that it should be left to individual local authorities to decide whether or not to impose it regionally. We are inclined to agree with them. My Lords, I hope that I am not being difficult. This is one of those nicely balanced cases. We do not think it is very much to ask the inspector to carry scales, and think that, on balance, it would be better to have everyone doing the same thing all over the country. That is what we consider should be done, and I hone that the noble Lord will feel inclined to withdraw his Amendment.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for a very much better explanation this time than we were given on Committee. We have learnt a good deal more. I do not think that it is a very happy thing for him to say that he thinks it is best to have everybody in the country doing the 945 same thing—when, in fact, he means that everybody in the country should do nothing—that is, not carry scales. However, I think he is right in saying that there is not a lot in it.
It is unfortunate that major local authorities are not allowed to have bylaw-making powers to deal with this problem. They would not use the powers if they were not convinced it was necessary to do so, and obviously it is more necessary in some parts than in others. However, the noble Lord is right in saying that inspectors can carry scales, but they often see coal lorries when in fact they are not out on that particular purpose, and sometimes when they have not got the equipment, perhaps in off-duty periods, they detect frauds and on such occasions scales would be important. However, I know the noble Lord has made up his mind on this and it is not something on which it would be worth dividing the House. Therefore, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
My Lords, this Amendment is consequential on Amend-mend No. 48 which your Lordships have accepted. I beg to move.
Page 85, line 46, leave out from beginning to ("and") in line 49.—(Earl Ferrers.)
§ On Question, Amendment agreed to.
§ 5.55 p.m.
§ LORD WALSTON
moved, after paragraph 11, to insert:11B. If the vehicle is carrying relevant goods for the purpose of exposing or offering such goods for sale by retail, those goods shall be made up in containers.
§ Provided that this sub-paragraph shall not apply:
- (a) where the vehicle is constructed or adapted for the mechanical making-up in containers of relevant goods carried thereon and incorporates weighing equipment approved by the Board for that purpose; or
- (b) to any relevant goods supplied under the arrangements specified in paragraph 3(2)(a) of this Schedule; or
- (c) to any relevant goods carried on the vehicle in such circumstances that paragraph 11(1) of this Schedule applies thereto.
§ If this sub-paragraph is contravened, the seller shall be guilty of an offence."
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, this is an Amendment which, even after the 946 disappointing blows I have received from the noble Lord opposite, in my optimism I still believe he may find his way to accept. Not only is it for the protection of the consumer, even at the risk of a certain amount of inconvenience to the trade, but it is particularly for the protection of the small consumer, which was the criterion laid down by the noble Lord on a previous Amendment. This is an important Amendment for it is designed to deal with abuses which exist in certain parts of the country on a fairly widespread scale and affect the smallest consumers; that is to say, those people who buy their coal from merchants who hawk it round and weigh it up just before they deliver. Those are the cases in which there are many instances of short weight being given.
§ As things are at present it is possible for the inspector to come along and actually do a check-weighing, but in many cases this is an extremely difficult thing for him to do for purely technical reasons—traffic, and all the rest of it. He may not be there at the exact moment; or he may be seen coming along and the correct weight is in fact put in; or, if short weight has been put in and the inspector is seen coming, the sack may very easily quickly disappear before he has arrived on the scene.
§ We discussed in Committee whether this type of inspection might cause a hold-up to traffic and impede its circulation, which was one of the strong points made by the noble Lord in turning down an earlier Amendment. Therefore, we believe that this widespread abuse, which is very hard to overcome on the spot, can be overcome only by insisting that the coal when it comes out for delivery should go out already weighed up so that the inspector can stop the vehicle at any appropriate time when he sees it and check-weigh the sacks which have been weighed up. That is the main object of this proposal, and it has been amended once more in an attempt to meet the criticisms put to us on an earlier occasion by the noble Lord. This has now been restricted so that it affects only the coal coming from the depôt for retail delivery, and is not so widely drawn as the previous Amendment which might have entailed coal being carried from a mine to a depôt, or have involved other wholesale 947 or bulk uses. It has been modified in that respect.
§ It does not meet the other objection put by the noble Lord in Committee, that it would prevent small hawkers from carting loose coal for weighing up at the point of delivery. Under this Amendment, if accepted, they would not be allowed to do that. Frankly, we do not want them to be allowed to do it, because we are more concerned with the consumer and his or her protection than we are with the convenience of the hawker. I agree that it would be an inconvenience to the hawker if he were not allowed to do it, although a decreasing number are using that method. We submit that it is no great hardship to impose on him in return for the benefit to be gained by the consumer.
§ On the previous Amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Stonham, the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, said that it was a delicately poised balance as to whether or not the inspector would have to carry his own weighing apparatus and, on the whole, the Government decided to come down against the Amendment. In this case it is not such a delicately adjusted balance. I think if one looks at this as the noble Lord himself was asked to do, as a charter for the consumer and as protection for the consumer, there can be no doubt that the weight falls on the side of this Amendment and that the inconvenience to the retailer of coal is something which can be disregarded. I commend this Amendment to your Lordships and I hope it will be accepted. I beg to move.
Page 86, line 29, at end insert the said paragraph.—(Lord Walston.)
§ 6.1. p.m.
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Walston, has been so persuasive that I shall have to be even more persuasive in trying to convince him that he is wrong. I will not put the case in the same way as I did last time. The Amendment is different—the other one was very far-reaching. The practical effect of the Amendment would be to prevent hawkers from carrying loose coal for weighing for retail sale at the householder's door. I know coal is a commodity with which 948 it is easy to cheat, as with milk, but the hawkers are in fact doing a very great public service, because it is only in these small amounts that many people can buy their coal. This is the object of a hawker, and many of them are absolutely honest, although I know some are not.
As I think I said in Committee, the case I am going to make now is that it may well be convenient for consumers and hawkers alike if the latter are allowed to carry loose coal and weigh it in front of the buyer. When the hawker is compelled to carry all his fuel in sacks of specified weights he has to guess before he goes out as to the likely demand for various quantities. At the end of the day, if a customer wants 28 lb. of coal in a sack and the hawker has only half cwt. sacks left on his cart he cannot supply at all, and the person does not get any coal. Against this the noble Lord has argued that if the hawker can carry coal around loose, it is easier for him to defraud his customers. I suggest that the reverse is nearer the truth. If the coal is loose and must therefore be weighed out before sale in front of the customer, the buyer has an opportunity of checking that he is getting the right amount. If it comes in sacks, he must trust to the markings on the sacks unless he is prepared to demand to have the sacks re-weighed in his presence, and that is hardly ever done. For these reasons we think that on the whole it is safer for the customer to have the coal weighed in front of him than if it appears in marked sacks.
I would just add this, which I do not think I said last time. Under many Local Acts and by-laws hawkers are at present prevented from carrying around coal. According to our information, while this is true for the majority of local authorities in England and Wales, in Scotland, on the other hand, the majority of by-laws permit loose coal to be hawked. We have tried to find evidence in this matter and we cannot find any to suggest that the Scottish practice leads to a higher incidence of fraud. I think the hawkers can probably defraud the customer even more easily with marked sacks. We can amend the Schedule by order at a later date if we are satisfied that the practice of carting loose coal is leading to abuse, but if the man is seen selling it without 949 weighing it in front of the buyer he will be prosecuted. Under the Amendment, if the man has not the right-sized sack that the consumer wants to buy, then the consumer cannot have coal that day.
§ LORD WALSTON
My Lords, I think Lord Derwent's arguments are somewhat self-cancelling. In the first place, he tells us that the consumer has adequate safeguard and that he can demand to have the coal weighed in front of him, and then he goes on to say that many local authorities have found it necessary, through their by-laws, to forbid that. I think the fact that local authorities have made those by-laws shows that the people on the spot feel that this is not a valuable safeguard at all. Common sense tells us that it is very rare for the housewife to go out, possibly in very cold weather and in the rain, in order to superintend the weighing of the coal. The power of the local authorities to make these by-laws is, as I understand it, to be done away with by this Bill, and therefore the consumer will be in a worse position because his local authority will not be able to make arrangements for by-laws for his protection. I do not think it is worth while asking your Lordships to divide on this point. At the moment the Minister is adamant. I do not pin very much faith on his promise that the situation will be watched, but that is the only straw at which I can clutch; so, with your Lordships' permission, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ 6.6 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
moved, in paragraph 12, to leave out "in such circumstances that paragraph 11(1) of this Schedule does not apply" and to substitute:otherwise than far delivery to a buyer or far the purpose of exposing or offering the goods for sale".
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I hope it will suit the convenience of your Lordships if I discuss with this Amendment Nos. 59 and 60. The object of these three Amendments is quite simple: it is to clarify the purpose of paragraph 12 and to simplify the procedure. If I may suggest it to the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, the wording of paragraph 12 is very similar to that which is used in 950 paragraph 8 of Schedule 5, relating to sand and ballast. The position, however, is very different, because sand and ballast are rarely, if ever, hawked or carried otherwise than in one of two distinct circumstances. Here we are dealing with a different kind of hawking.
§ In my submission paragraph 12 as written would require every hawker or deliveryman carrying any part of a load not covered by a weight ticket in accordance with paragraph 11(1) to carry a document certifying that that provision did not apply. In practice it will not apply to the majority of solid fuel deliveries, and therefore the document required under paragraph 12 would be a rather purposeless and unnecessary imposition in many of these cases. I am actually requiring less by these Amendments, not necessarily because I want to make it easier for any fraud to take place, but because none of us wants to insist on documentation which is quite useless. What is needed therefore is not to distinguish between paragraph 11(1) deliveries, and hawking or exposure, or offering for sale, but to distingush vehicles that are carrying solid fuel for the purpose of sale, in the broadest sense, and those merely carrying it from one place to another otherwise than for the purpose of sale.
§ I do not think there is any doubt about the object of paragraph 12 but the reference to paragraph 11(1) seems unfortunate because it extends its application unnecessarily, and in the way it reads to me it could be a vexatious and unnecessary requirement to the trade. Therefore these Amendments are intended to require that the document under paragraph 12 should be supplied only where the solid fuel is being carried from one point to another without a change in ownership. I must confess to the noble Lord, that I had to study the wording two or three times to be quite sure that it seemed right and sound. But I think it is so, and I hope it will be clear to him, and that this will prove a helpful Amendment. My Lords, I beg to move.
Page 86, line 31, leave out from ("carried") to ("there") in line 32 and insert ("otherwise than for delivery to a buyer or for the purpose of exposing or offering the goods for sale ")—(Lord Stonham.)
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, I think the noble Lord may be—and I am not in the least surprised—under a slight misapprehension. This is a complicated subject and, if I may, I will explain it at some length, although it will not take long. These Amendments relate to the requirement in paragraph 12 of the Schedule, that where solid fuel is carried otherwise than for delivery after sale, a document must be carried stating that the fuel does not come within the scope of paragraph 11(1). In particular, hawkers of coal (who do not carry coal for delivery but for sale on the spot) will be required to carry the document. The Amendments would exempt hawkers and others from the need to carry the document. If I may, I shall explain in some detail how this document works, because it is a somewhat complicated matter.
To start with, I do not think it reasonable to restrict the requirements of paragraph 12 as proposed. Paragraph 12 now requires a document to be carried in all cases where solid fuel in a quantity over 2 cwt. is carried along a highway, otherwise than in pursuance of a sale or agreement to sell. It applies, for example (I think it is important to give certain examples), where fuel is being hawked around the streets or is being carried between a merchant's depôts. I think the purpose of the document will become clear if one considers the requirements in respect of coal carried on a lorry for delivery after sale; that is, the normal coal delivery round.
Paragraph 11(1) provides that the driver of such a lorry must have separate delivery notes in respect of the individual consignments on his lorry. An inspector's first step, no doubt, when checking a lorry is to ask to see these delivery notes. If the driver could produce none, and if this Amendment were accepted, the inspector would then have to make an investigation to satisfy himself whether the coal was being carried for delivery, and whether or not, therefore, the regulations were being complied with. If, however, the driver produced a duly signed document of the kind prescribed by paragraph 12, which made it clear that he was carrying coal in circumstances which did not require delivery notes, then the time of the lorry driver and the inspector would be saved. Is the noble Lord with me so far?
§ LORD DERWENT
All the document is required to state—and I think this is important—is that all or part of the fuel on the vehicle is being carried in such circumstances that paragraph 11(1) does not apply. There is no need for it to give any other particulars (though it must of course be signed by or on behalf of the person causing the fuel to be carried). There is no need for a separate document for each individual journey. A hawker can, in effect, make out a season ticket for a limited or unlimited period. If he produces his season ticket and says that it relates to the load he is carrying, when it does not relate to that load, then he will be guilty of an offence under Clause 49, which concerns obstruction of inspectors.
A ticket of this kind is the simplest way in which drivers can establish, and inspectors can check, that no delivery notes are needed for the fuel on a particular vehicle. I believe, my Lords, that it will prove a help to inspectors and to hawkers, and I think it will probably save them both a great deal of unnecessary trouble and, therefore, will avoid waste of time. I hope that I have made the matter clear. It is fairly complicated but the document itself is quite simple. All it says is that delivery notes are not necessary for that particular fuel; and it is the person sending the load who must sign it and certify it.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I am quite sure that it was well worth while making this point, and I am even surer that the noble Lord's answer which almost stunned me will be much clearer when I read it to-morrow. Meanwhile, I would ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Schedule 7 [Miscellaneous goods other than foods]:
§ 6.15 p.m.
§ LORD STONHAM
moved to add to paragraph 2:and the local weights and measures authority may so direct that the said paragraph shall have effect in the whole of the said area within their jurisdiction or only in such part thereof as may be specified in such byelaw".
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 61 and at the same time I shall deal with No. 62. In case I should be overcome by natural 953 feelings when we discuss the Amendment, I would take this opportunity on behalf of my noble friends—and I also include in this my noble friend Lord Latham, who is not here this afternoon but particularly asked that I should mention this—to express our thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, and his noble friend, for the assistance and patience and courtesy, which they have shown us through the passage of this rather complicated Bill. That does not mean that I rebut one jot or one tittle, as I said earlier to-day; nor do I expect the noble Lord to do so. But it is only right and proper that we should express our grateful thanks to him and to the noble Earl, Lord Ferrers, for the help they have given us.
§ Amendment No. 62 was moved in Committee. Amendment No. 61 is new, as the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, will agree, and we have introduced it to meet his quite valid point that in many rural areas it would be a nuisance to have the restriction on wood fuel sales that we ask for in other areas. Therefore in those areas we propose by Amendment No. 61 to leave it to the local authority if they wish to introduce by-laws. In other words, they will know if it is necessary, and we do not want to interfere in transactions between landowners and farmers and their neighbours in rural areas, because weighing facilities are not readily available there and they could be interfered with in a vexatious way. But our Amendment allows a local authority to apply discretion as to the areas where the by-laws should apply, and that should meet the noble Lord's objections to the points that we put in Committee.
§ However, the other very real point remains regarding the sales of firewood in urban areas. I had the opportunity of proving by the material I sent him—I hope to the noble Lord's satisfaction—that there is a very considerable trade in logs in quantities above half a ton. It is a very lively, thriving trade, well advertised. Unfortunately there is also—I was going to say a thriving fraudulent trade, but at least the incidence of false weights, and quite substantially false weights, in sales of logs is much higher than it should be. I should have thought that the evidence was such as to prove, subject to the safeguard suggested in Amendment No. 61, to page 91, 954 line 24, that the case was made for the Amendment to remove the weight limit which exempts from control sales of wood fuel of over half a ton. I hope, since the evidence asked for has been produced to the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, that he is satisfied the case is made and that he will accept the Amendment. My Lords, I beg to move.
Page 91, line 24, at end insert ("and the local weights and measures authority may so direct that the said paragraph shall have effect in the whole of the said area within their jurisdiction or only in such part thereof as may be specified in such byelaw").—(Lord Stonham.)
§ LORD DERWENT
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks to my noble friend and myself. I am not going to add anything at the moment, but I give warning that when next week I move, That the Bill do now pass, I shall produce evidence to show what help noble Lords opposite have been in improving this Bill. I have a nice tabulated form which will be completed this evening.
I would say only this on Amendment No. 61—because it is not the important one. The Amendment is unnecessary. Paragraph 2, sub-paragraph (1), of this Part of the Schedule already has this effect. The local authority is free to apply the provisions to the whole or part of its area—for example, to urban centres but not to rural districts; and it can do that as it wishes. That is paragraph 2, sub-paragraph (1), and I can assure the noble Lord that it does have that effect. So it is already in the Bill.
As regards the other Amendment, No. 62 (if I may speak to that as well), I thank the noble Lord for sending me considerable correspondence on the matter. I do not have with me at the moment the actual detailed figures because he asked me to send them back to him. I do not need them; but they were available, too. When we previously discussed an identical Amendment in Committee, I said that Part IV of Schedule 7 covers retail sales only, and that it is intended to apply only to relatively small sales, particularly in urban areas. It is possible that the local authorities will use their powers to make 955 by-laws only in respect of sales in urban areas, which I have already mentioned on another Amendment, and we think that the upper limit of half a ton is reasonable and will cover the bulk of sales of wood fuel in those areas. That was the case I made then. I shall repeat the case but argue it rather more fully.
I said that I should be glad to look at any evidence which the noble Lord sent me which showed that the present half ton limit was unreasonable. He kindly sent me the documents, and I have studied them, but I am afraid I must disagree with his contention that these documents provide any evidence that the half ton limit is too low. Certainly they show that sales above this limit take place. Of course, some people who live in urban areas may buy more than half a ton, but my submission is that most do not; and our problem in this part of the Schedule is to try to balance the need to protect the buyer in urban areas, on the one hand, and, on the other, to avoid imposing impracticable requirements in the case of the fairly substantial sales of wood made by farmers and landowners which are normally made by the cord or the lorry load, in excess of half a ton. If these larger sales are required to be made by weight only, they might well stop, since it would not be worth the sellers' while to buy and operate weighing equipment to dispose of their surplus wood in this way. That, I think, the noble Lord would agree. We cannot legislate on the basis that a farmer—this is from the seller's angle—can make sales of this kind to his rural neighbours but not to someone in the local country town, which would be the practical effect of this Amendment.
The details of weighings of wood fuel on a public weighbridge which the noble Lord also sent me I do not think support his case. As I suggested in Committee, the fact that a lorry weighed on a public weighbridge has a load of several tons is not evidence that it is all going to one householder. May I just add these answers to the letter of the noble Lord? I do not think that the list of prosecutions he sent me, which went back for 1947, add much to his case for the Amendment. There were not an enormous number considering the length 956 of time they went back; and if wood fuel in any quantity—I repeat, any quantity; below half a ton or over half a ton—is sold or is purported to be sold by weight, it will, under Clause 24, be an offence to deliver short weight. It is a question of the purport of the sale. If it is advertised and delivered as being of so much weight and it is weighed and found to be under weight, that will be an offence under Clause 24.
The noble Lord also sent me 21 advertisements to which he drew my attention. I think they provide no evidence that there are large sales of wood fuel in urban areas in quantities over half a ton. Four of these advertisements were by the same seller, and a number of the advertisements appeared to be from rural areas. Again, though—and I must stress this to the noble Lord; I am not sure if he realised it last time—if sales are offered by weight, as most of those in the advertisements are, the buyer has the protection of Clause 24 against short weight. If you advertise to sell wood by weight and it is short weight, you have committed an offence. As the Bill now stands, if you have under half a ton and you say you are sending a lorry load, that is all right; it is a lorry load. But the local authorities have power to restrict the sales into urban areas. I hope, in view of what I have said, and as we are now well up the straight, that the noble Lord will feel inclined to withdraw this Amendment.
§ LORD STONHAM
My Lords, I was rather surprised to hear the noble Lord say that paragraph 2 of Part IV covered my first Amendment—which I agree, indeed, it does. I am surprised, however, because he should have said this in Committee instead of putting it forward as an objection to my other Amendment. Nevertheless, that means that I shall be able to withdraw my Amendment.
With regard to the main substantive Amendment, I think the noble Lord has made the wrong decision. The sales of substantial quantities of wood fuel are greater than he apparently believes. More than half of those 21 advertisements—and they were not collected over a long period; they were over a very short period—were for quantities of half a ton or over. I had 957 noticed, of course, as I knew he would, that four were from the same chap; but, in any case, it does not mean that because he lives in a rural area (as you would expect him to if he was selling wood fuel) the sales are not to urban areas, as indeed they are. We have discussed this, I think, quite sufficiently, and although I am not satisfied with the noble Lord's answer, he did at least give me a fair answer, and I would ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House adjourned during pleasure, and resumed by the Lord Chancellor.