Third Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.


Wednesday 4 December 1985



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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Sir Michael Shaw

Bendall, Mr. Vivian (Ilford, North)

Bulmer, Mr. Esmond (Wyre Forest)

Butcher, Mr. John (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry)

Churchill, Mr. (Davyhulme)

Conlan, Mr. Bernard (Gateshead, East)

Cook, Mr. Frank, (Stockton, North)

Edwards, Mr. Bob (Wolverhampton, South-East)

Finsberg, Sir Geoffrey (Hampstead and Highgate)

Grylls, Mr. Michael (Surrey, North-West)

Mates, Mr. Michael (Hampshire, East)

Montgomery, Sir Fergus (Altrincham and Sale)

Page, Mr. Richard (Hertfordshire, South-West)

Peacock, Mrs. Elizabeth (Batley and Spen)

Thompson, Mr. Donald (Calder Valley)

Thompson, Mr. Jack (Wansbeck)

Williams, Mr. Alan (Swansea, West)

Winnick, Mr. David (Walsall, North)

Wrigglesworth, Mr. Ian (Stockton, South)

Mr. A. Sandall, Committee Clerk

3 Third Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Wednesday 4 December 1985

[Sir MICHAEL SHAW in the Chair]


10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. John Butcher): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered the draft Weights and Measures Act 1963 (Various Foods) (Amendent No. 2) Order 1985. The draft order would amend detailed weights and measures provisions for the sale of food and drink contained in three statutory instruments which were approved by the House in August 1984. Amendment is necessary from time to time to take account of recent Community legislation in this area and of developments and growing practice in the market place. A first amending order was approved by the House last June. The second order which we are now debating would further amend and redefine certain provisions. Two amendments stem from EEC legislation. First, the draft order would implement a recent Council directive which expands the existing Community range of prescribed sizes of still table wine to bring in the larger sizes of 6, 9 and 10 litres. It also adds a small size, 18·7 cl, but with the proviso that it is for consumption on board ships and aircraft only. That is to facilitate the use in the EC of a "single serving" size which is already popular in international travel. Secondly, it would implement provisions in the EC food labelling directive which require foods which are not sold by weight or volume to be pre-packed only if the number of items enclosed is either indicated on the container, or is clearly visible and may easily be counted through the packaging. Turning to those aspects of the draft order which stem from domestic rather than European considerations, we have been asked to review the weights and measures provisions regulating sales of pies and flans filled with non-meat products, to ensure that those provisions are no more restrictive than those for their non-vegetarian counterparts. Articles 3(a) and 4(a) of the draft order would, together, achieve this aim by exempting those products from the weight marking requirements that currently apply, and by applying instead the general provision that they should be sold by number. Two further amendments proposed in this order would make it clear, first, that fresh fruits and vegetables which may be sold by number when whole may continue to be sold in that way when 4 divided into portions, for example, half cucumbers and pieces of melon; and secondly, that single portion vending-machine packs of beverages such as tea and coffee are not required to be marked with a statement of quantity, although such a statement would be required if the same product were to be packed for sale in the usual way—as, for example, a jar of coffee or a pack of tea. Finally, the opportunity has also been taken, based on 15 months' experience of operating the 1984 orders, to improve and clarify the wording in two respects. These, of course, are legal drafting points. The first amendment deals with multipacks, that is collections of individually wrapped goods offered for sale in a single container. The amendment would make it clear that the protection offered to consumers when goods are sold in multiples is no less than that provided when they are sold individually. Secondly, the transitional provisions in article 16(3) and (4) of the miscellaneous foods orders are to apply to all food packaged in accordance with previous legislation, whether such food is to be sold by retail or otherwise. The combined effect of the amendments proposed in the draft order would be to ease the burdens of complying with the law without reducing the effective protection which it offers to consumers. As such, they have the support of consumers, traders and enforcement authorities, and I commend them to the Committee. I should add that some 70 bodies were involved in the consultations.

10.35 am

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West): May I say first that Labour Members welcome the order? There are two minor points requiring clarification, but the remainder of the order is acceptable to us. The Minister referred to pies and flans with a vegetable filling. They appear to have lost some protection as they have been brought down to the lesser degree of protection applying to non-vegetarian pies and flans. It could be argued, equally logically, that that should have moved the other way and that meat pies should have been made to conform to the rules already applying to vegetarian pies. However, I do not cavil at that because consumer organisations have considered that matter in detail and I assume therefore that the Department is not unduly worried about it. In referring to the single portion vending machines in paragraph (3) of the explanatory note, the Minister made the point that the beverage packs will not need to carry markings. Will he explain the logic behind that. It may be that the amount is already required to be shown on the machine and therefore is available at the time of purchase. However, if that is not the case, why should those packs be excluded?

Mr. Butcher: In respect of the right hon. Gentleman's first point about pies, I am delighted to report that the order does not include custard pies. When a pie is cooked, some weight loss occurs. The industry would have to weigh each pie if it were to put a weight measurement on everyone. That 5 would be burdensome and the consumer organisations are prepared to go along with that argument. On the right hon. Gentleman's point about machine-vending packs, the weight requirement would be necessary if the same material were sold in its usual container, a coffee jar or tea pack, for example. That was a drafting point to remove an inconsistency. The law as it stands could be interpreted as providing exemption for beverage packs only when they contain foods not controlled elsewhere in the order. That is not the intention and the amendment clarifies the position. 6 It would have been technically difficult to comply with the point about pies raised by the right hon. Gentleman, and the consumer organisations are prepared to accept that argument.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the draft Weights and Measures Act 1963 (Various Foods) (Amendment No. 2) Order 1985.

Committee rose at twenty-three minutes to Eleven o'clock.


Sir Michael Shaw (Chairman)

Bendall, Mr.

Bulmer, Mr.

Butcher, Mr.

Peacock, Mrs.

Thompson, Mr. Donald

Williams, Mr.