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Mrs. Virginia Bottomley : My hon. Friend makes an important point. She is well known for speaking on behalf of small businesses, and the whole House much appreciates her efforts on their behalf. Would she be satisfied if we said that when we come to make regulations we shall appreciate her advice as to their effect on the people for whom she is concerned, who are involved in a legitimate trade but who may not have all the authority of large firms behind them?

Mrs. Gorman : I thank my hon. Friend the Minister, and I am grateful for her suggestion. Since I appear to be in a bargaining position, before imposing these over-onerous regulations will she consider the development of more sites for legitimate tipping and obliging people who produce toxic waste to register, so that we know who is producing the rubbish? That would be better than giving powers to coppers to stop every lorry travelling from A to B with a bit of old rubbish, and making lorry drivers take out licences or be looked on as potential criminals.

Mrs. Bottomley : It is well known that the Government hope to bring forward comprehensive legislation on waste at the earliest opportunity. We would much appreciate the thoughts and comments of my hon. Friend. There is no doubt that she will have many more opportunities to develop her important points at much greater length.

Mrs. Gorman : I thank my hon. Friend. I hope that what I have extracted from her does not turn out to be waste, and I hope that she will not fly tip my ideas.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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Weights and Measures (Amendment) Bill

Considered in Committee.

Clause 1

Persons authorised to pass and stamp equipment

1.32 pm

Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) : I beg to move amendment No. 66, in page 1, line 5, leave out Secretary of State', and insert local weights and measures authority for the area in which an applicant for a licence has his head office or his registered office'.

The First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Sir Paul Dean) : With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments : No. 37, in page 1, line 5, after State' insert

, after consultation with any local weights and measures authority appearing to him to be concerned,'.

No. 29, in page 1, leave out lines 7 to 9 and insert--

(aa) is employed by a local weights and measures authority and has completed a course of training deemed by the Secretary of State to be satisfactory.'.

No. 48, in page 1, line 9, leave out from applies' to end of line 11.

No. 73, in page 1, leave out lines 10 and 11 and insert (

(b) satisfies regulations issued from time to time Secretary of State in consultation with representatives of local weights and measures authorities and

(ba) who has been accredited and audited in accordance with BS 5750 on such other quality assurance scheme as the Secretary of State may from time to time determine, and

(bb) has been accredited by the National Weights and Measures Laboratory in conjunction with Local Trading Standards inspectors and

(bc) has been audited by the appropriate local authority inspector in conjunction with the National Weights and Measures Laboratory.'. No. 39, in page 1, line 10, after satisfies', insert

the Secretary of State as to the matters mentioned in subsection (1A) below and complies with'.

No. 67, in page 1, line 10, leave out Secretary of State' and insert

local weights and measures authority'.

No. 47, in page 1, line 12, leave out from section' to equipment' in line 14.

No. 49, in page 1, line 14, leave out from applies' to end of line 15.

No. 40, in page 1, line 15, at end insert--

(1A) The matters referred to in subsection (1)(b) aboveare-- (

(a) the adequacy of the quality assurance system which is to be adopted by the applicant ;

(b) the adequancy of the procedures which are to be so adopted for ensuring that any equipment which is passed and stamped by the applicant conforms to or complies with such of the following as are applicable to it, namely--

(i) any pattern in respect of which a certificate of approval under section 12 of the 1985 Act is in force ; and

(ii) the requirements of regulations under section 15 of that Act (including in particular the requirement that the equipment should fall within the prescribed limits of error) ; and

(c) the traceability to national measurement standards of any testing equipment which is to be used by the applicant.'

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No. 68, in page 1, line 17, leave out Secretary of State' and insert local weights and measures authority'.

No. 22, in page 1, line 17, at end insert--

(2A) Before granting a licence, the Secretary of State shall consult the Chief Inspector of Weights and Measures for the local weights and measures authority, and the authority, together with the Chief Inspectors of such other local weights and measures authorities (if any) as appear to him to be appropriate.'.

No. 69, in page 1, line 20, leave out Secretary of State' and insert

local weights and measures authority'.

No. 72, in page 1, line 23, leave out

Secretary of State such fee as the Secretary of State' and insert

local weights and measures authority such fee as the authority.'.

Mr. Illsley : The Opposition are concerned that this measure has been introduced through the private Member's Bill procedure. We are aware of the Eden report on this subject of a few years ago, and of the Government's response to it. In effect, the Government accept most of the committee's recommendations. We should have liked the Government to introduce a comprehensive measure dealing with the self-verification of weights and measures equipment. We believe that this Bill deals only with a section of the Eden committee's recommendations and does not implement them comprehensively. Amendment No. 66 seeks to delete the word "Secretary of State" and to insert the words

"local weights and measures authority".

The amendment goes to the heart of the Bill. We think that the appropriate authorities to deal with weights and measures inspection and verification should be local weights and measures authorities and trading standards officers. Which, therefore, is the appropriate body to grant licences under clause 1?

There are a number of reasons why I should like the local weights and measures authorities to be the licensing authorities rather than vesting that power with the Secretary of State. The latter course would involve a centralised system of weights and measures administration with powers placed on the Secretary of State and would move us away from the local aspect of weights and measures administration. It is a fact that every local authority has a department that deals with weights and measures legislation and contains trading standards officers. The localisation of weights and measures administration should be retained.

In any event, if the Secretary of State were the licensing authority, he would have to seek the advice and co-operation of a host of other organisations on the applications for licences that he would receive. As it is more than likely that those organisations would be local weights and measures authorities together with organisations such as the National Weights and Measures Laboratory, we feel that the involvement of the local weights and measures authorities should be retained.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody (Crewe and Nantwich) : Is my hon. Friend satisfied that there has been sufficient consultation with the weights and measures authorities? All hon. Members who have been involved with consumer affairs legislation in the House for a long time are worried that there may not have been sufficient consultation. Does

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my hon. Friend agree that such consultation is important in determining our attitude to the amendment and to the Government's control of the Bill as a whole?

Mr. Illsley : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that important point. It might have been better if the promoter of the Bill, the Government, the local weights and measures authorities and their representatives had been brought together to discuss a comprehensive Bill on which all parties could agree because, although there is a substantial measure of agreement within the local weights and measures authorities on the recommendations of the Eden committee, there is not a great deal of agreement about the provisions of the Bill which seeks to enact only part of the recommendations of that committee. I am sure that the local weights and measures authorities would be only too pleased to participate with the Department of Trade and Industry and with the manufacturers of weights and measures equipment in drawing up some proposals for a framework for legislation on this matter.

Centralising the power to grant licences in the Secretary of State would mean that he would either utilise the framework and the facilities that are already available--the local weights and measures authorities--or adopt an attitude of granting blanket licences to any manufacturer who applies. That would defeat the whole object of weights and measures legislation. I stress that we can trace the origins of such legislation as far back as the Magna Carta. Although we talk about safeguards in weights and measures legislation, it would seem to defeat the whole idea of protecting the public from being short measured if we were to give a power to the Secretary of State, without adequate safeguards, to give a blanket licence to anyone making an application.

I emphasise that the local weights and measure authorities have considerable experience in that area, and I suggest that they should be responsible for the granting of those licences. Indeed, by their very name, the local weights and measures authorities are the obvious candidates to run any type of licensing arrangements. They are doing the job now and they are doing it well. The public have confidence in them. That confidence is increasing, and that is borne out by the response that most local trading standards officers receive to their reports.

Trading standards officers have influence within their authority areas. Why should we remove from them the whole remit for weights and measures administration and pass it to the Secretary of State? Those officers are doing the job and would be the obvious people to grant licences. If the power to grant licences is left with the Secretary of State, he will have to utilise weights and measures officers and trading standards officers or employ trained staff. It would be ridiculous if local weights and measures officers were not used by the Secretary of State. Why not give them the job and the authority to grant the licences to be applied for by various manufacturers? Local weights and measures authorities have been operating for years and have built up local knowledge of companies, operators and people who use weights and measures equipment. Such local knowledge will be essential for the Secretary of State before he grants a licence. Again it seems logical that the ideal candidate to supply that local experience and knowledge is the local

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weights and measures authority. That would also enable local weights and measures authorities to combine inspection with other aspects of trading standards in their locality. The assessment about the suitability of a company for a licence could be combined with the normal day-to-day workings of local departments, and that would save time, effort and money. Local weights and measures departments have instant knowledge about the suitability of candidates applying for licences.

The Bill requires the provision of various controls such as audit and accreditation mechanisms. It also requires the inspection of the verification systems that will be put in place for manufacturers. Once again it will be left to local trading standards officers to control and monitor the audit and accreditation systems that will have to be used by manufacturers. It would be a duplication of effort to bring in local weights and measures officers under part of their remit to advise the Secretary of State when he is considering licence applications. The authorities should be given the power to carry out that job at the same time as they are verifying audit control, quality control and accreditation systems.

The job of considering the suitability of an applicant for a licence will enable the local authority to accumulate knowledge and experience of manufacturers in its area. That experience can be used to make instant decisions about licences and that will cut down on the bureaucracy of shuffling papers between local authorities and the Secretary of State. The local weights and measures authority is on the spot and has the experience, the knowledge and the capability to carry out the necessary functions in a short time. Of course it could also do the job much cheaper.

As well as being able to grant licences, the local weights and measures authority could also be an adviser. Before or after a licence application the authority could advise manufacturers on how to set up a self- verification and accreditation system or a quality control system. During that process of giving advice or advising on these systems, the local weights and measures authority would be able to accumulate the information required for the granting of a licence. Indeed, it would be on the spot to advise a company about what measures it would need to employ to qualify for a licence offered under the terms of this Bill rather than applications being made through the system to the Secretary of State, with a licence possibly being refused and further amendments being required. In those circumstances, much bureaucratic effort is involved in the granting of a licence.

1.45 pm

The Eden committee said in its report that any scheme of self-verification must engender the same confidence as verification by weights and measures inspectors. If we are to maintain public confidence in the weights and measures system in this country, licensing should be left with the local authorities and not given to the Secretary of State.

Ms. Joyce Quin (Gateshead, East) : Does my hon. Friend agree that it would seem to be more sensible for the Government to act on all the recommendations of the Eden committee by bringing forward its own Bill? Why has it taken the Government so long to act, and why are we having now to deal with a partial implementation of the

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Eden recommendations through a private Member's Bill rather than deal with a comprehensive Government measure which would have appeal to all parties concerned?

Mr. Illsley : We would obviously have liked and would have co- operated in consultation on the full implementation of the Eden committee proposals, or as near to that as could be achieved. The Eden committee reported in June 1985, the Government's response being completed a year later. So the Government have had three years in which to bring forward a comprehensive Bill to cover these aspects of the weights and measures legislation. Even at this late stage, we would still like to see the Bill withdrawn with some commitment to a Government Bill and consultation with all the appropriate authorities.

I was saying that public confidence has to be maintained in the weights and measures authorities and legislation. As that public confidence presently rests with local weights and measures authorities, if the provision before us is accepted, that confidence will be transferred to the granting of licences.

Mr. Gerald Bermingham (St. Helens, South) : Does my hon. Friend agree that much of the good work of the local weights and measures authorities would be destroyed if we had a central licensing system? Another great danger is that many local authorities now have inter- departmental arrangements between one area and another, enabling information to be transmitted very quickly to put on warning other areas of the country against fraud or other criminal acts. That, too, could be at risk.

Mr. Illsley : My hon. Friend demonstrates adequately another reason why local weights and measures authorities have a stake in being the licensing authority under the Bill. Through their knowledge, networking and the facility they offer, authorities are able to work together. Their extensive knowledge in the field is what presses us to move these amendments to include them as the licensing authority. The Eden committee recommended independent assessment, accreditation and surveillance. If amendment No. 66 is accepted, we would be moving some way towards the Eden committee recommendations. Paragraph 117 of the Eden report states that the authorities should be responsible to the Secretary of State and should also be publicly accountable. It stated that they should establish and publish criteria for accreditation and assess, accredit and register manufacturers. It also recommended that they should maintain a register and have many other responsibilities. Eden produced a long list of recommendations which he believed were necessary for the authority which would deal with the legislation. I believe that Eden never envisaged the idea that the Secretary of State would be the sole licensing authority. He believed that weights and measures authorities would be given that role.

Eden recommended that the authorities should be responsible to the Secretary of State through some kind of mechanism.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : One of my worries about the Bill is that it gives the Secretary of State powers to fiddle. That is roughly it. The manufacturers are saying that they do not want an independent body to test their machines. They want the power to make them, repair them, and to fix the dials. That is in line with this Government's policies. They have fiddled 19 different sets of unemployment figures, they have fiddled the cost of

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living figures, and they have threatened to fiddle the balance of payments deficit because it is so embarrassing. Now along comes this Bill from the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin). The Government are so blatant that they are introducing Bills under the guise of private Members' Bills to fiddle the figures. That just shows how arrogant the Government have become.

Only a few days ago the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare could have introduced his Bill, but what happened? He fiddled it away. It disappeared from view and was scheduled for another Friday. Then some Government fiddler came along to the hon. Member for

Weston-super-Mare and jogged his elbow. He said, "Get your Bill off. Fiddle it away." He fiddled it away. He sat in this place for an hour and a half and then decided to take it off at the Government's behest. The whole thing is surrounded by fiddling. It fits in with the Government's performance in trying to trick and deceive the nation.

Mr. Illsley : My hon. Friend has made one or two points in his brief intervention which I should like to address.

The fact that the Bill is being presented as a private Member's Bill does not exactly inspire confidence in the hope that the Government will protect weights and measures legislation. Public confidence would have been maintained had we had a Government Bill open to the full rigours of debate, with a Committee stage and consultation.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs (Mr. Eric Forth) : I am at a bit of a loss to understand the difference in principle between the private Member's Bill on the very important subject of fly tipping and waste control and this measure. Surely it is equally legitimate for Members on both sides of the House to come forward with such measures.

Mr. Illsley : I am not seeking to deny Members the right to bring forward Bills on whatever subject they choose. That point is for another debate at another time.

Weights and measures legislation and weights and measures authorities must maintain public confidence. In such a delicate area as this, perhaps a Government Bill involving adequate consultation, taking into account the Eden committee's recommendations in full, would have been more suitable.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) also referred to tolerance exploitation, and that will be raised later in our proceedings.

Paragraph 124 of the report sets out three scenarios for a self- verification system. They include the British Standards Institution, the National Weights and Measures Laboratory and the National Metrication Coordinating Unit. All three scenarios are set out diagrammatically and are explained in some detail, but not one of them takes recourse to the Secretary of State as the highest authority. A supervisory body exists in all three cases, but at no point is it ultimately or immediately responsible to the Secretary of State.

Mr. Bermingham : Earlier, my hon. Friend mentioned public confidence in the Government. One cannot have confidence in a Government when, as in the case of the factories inspectorate, the number of public inspectors has decreased, as has also occurred in respect of Admiralty searches and the number of marine surveyors. If weights and measures also passed into private hands, what

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guarantee would their be that proper verification would take place--and that verification or self-verification of the small repairer will be adequate to guarantee the accuracy of weights and measures systems?

Mr. Illsley : My hon. Friend's comments are self-explanatory. Public confidence must be maintained in any weights and measures legislation, as must the current local accountability.

Amendments Nos. 48 and 73 relate to provisions that we feel should be included in the Bill for regulating licences. We propose four different conditions, because the regulations set out in clause 1 relating to matters that must be taken into account by the Secretary of State when considering licence applications are inadequate, and they should be substantially strengthened.

Licence conditions and regulations should be clearly defined, and those relating to any self-verification scheme must be particularly well understood. The Bill currently requires only that a licence application should be in writing, accompanied by a fee, and that a record of it should be kept. Provided that a manufacturer can write and can afford the fee, he can obtain a licence. The Bill imposes no further conditions as to the suitability or otherwise of any manufacturer or body applying for a licence under the Bill. Weights and measures legislation is a technical area, as is evidenced by the Weights and Measures Act 1985, and we are concerned that the Bill is loosely drafted. Licence conditions should be clearly stipulated, but the Bill contains only a vague proviso mentioning certain requirements of the Secretary of State--not conditions, but only requirements. We believe that licence applications should comply with various conditions. The first is that the applicant satisfies regulations to be issued from time to time by the Secretary of State in consultation with local weights and measures authorities. We believe that they are the appropriate authorities to draw up regulations in conjunction with the Government in ensuring that weights and measures legislation retains public confidence.

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Under the second condition, schemes must be accredited and audited in accordance with BS5750, which deals with quality aassurance schemes, or other quality assurance systems which the Secretary of State may introduce. The third condition provides for the National Weights and Measures Laboratory and local authority trading standards officers to accredit licensees. The fourth condition provides for assistance by the NWML in auditing manufacturers.

There must be confidence in any self-verification scheme introduced under licence or the Bill, and that would involve local weights and measures inspectors. There should be independent assessment of quality management systems, accreditation systems and surveillance systems. Paragraph 16 of the Eden report sets out self-verification schemes in detail. The committee recommended that BS5750 should be followed in quality assurance schemes. We believe that that should be made compulsory in the Bill. The government accepted that proposal in their response to the committee's report.

The Eden committee set out requirements for authorities administering the scheme. Those requirements

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should be included in the Bill to make it comprehensive. The Bill refers merely to a vague request to comply with requirements.

Mr. Bermingham : Is not the great danger of the Bill the fact that, because it is so short on detail, it is wide in the licence that it gives manufacturers? There cannot be quality control when licence is given to abuse.

Mr. Illsley : I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I hope that we shall return to that issue. Applications for a licence should lay down detailed requirements for manufacturers or, as my hon. Friends have said, the Bill will be a charter for manufacturers to cheat. The paragraphs in amendment No. 73 reflect the Eden committee's recommendations. The committee envisaged a split system for self-verification schemes, a split between the supervisory role, covering regulations issued by the Secretary of State and accreditation by the NWML and trading standards officers, and the Executive, which would have the job of inspecting the schemes, accrediting those involved and auditing management on a day-to-day basis. The British Standards Institution, because of BS5750 on quality management schemes, would be a prime candidate on the supervisory side, with the NWML and trading standards inspectors carrying out field audits. Alternatively, the National Weights and Measures Laboratory and the National Metrological Co-ordinating Unit might act as supervisors, with the weights and measures laboratory accrediting the firms and manufacturers and the home trading standards officers carrying out audits and imposing sanctions. The final suggestion involved the establishment of an accreditation board--

Mr. Skinner : Something has just crossed my mind. My hon. Friend has been associated with the mining industry all his life. He may care to draw attention to something that happened when I was a lot younger and when his father worked down the pit. We used to have self-verification machines at the pit, owned by the private coal owners, who weighed their own coal. Under the Bill, those weighing machines could come back. We should then have to do what we did then and employ a check weighman to check the bosses' weighing machines. The bosses ran the tubs of coal over the weighing machines and cheated the miners. We had to pay check weighmen out of our own pockets to stop them doing it.

We have talked about a return to the Victorian era. The Bill might not take us quite as far back as that, but the system extended into the twenties and thirties and right up to nationalisation. The miners had to employ people to check the machines, which were deliberately made to cheat them out of the amount that they were due for the coal that they had produced.

Mr. Illsley : My hon. Friend has given us a graphic description of the introduction of the check weighman into the coal industry. What he has described is known as tolerance exploitation. Within a given legal tolerance, a weighing machine can be adjusted to give a lesser reading than that which it is prescribed to deliver. Tolerance exploitation is still possible under the law, and one of our fears about the Bill is that tolerance exploitation may be used by repairers or installers--rather than the

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manufacturers, with whom the clause deals-- especially those who have some relationship with the end user of the machine. We hope to come to that in due course.

Mrs. Dunwoody : Does my hon. Friend know that, in a statute of 1335, Edward I made it clear that it was precisely such problems that concerned him? He required that, in the weighing of wool, "the Tongue of the Balance be even, without bowing to one Side or the other, and without Hand or Foot, or other Touch made thereto." Is it not clear that nothing changes?

Mr. Illsley : My hon. Friend is right that nothing changes. As I said earlier, the weights and measures legislation can be traced back to that statute and to the Magna Carta.

Mr. Bermingham : To Roman times.

Mr. Illsley : As my hon. Friend says, it goes back to Roman times. The Bill would severely dent public confidence in weights and measures, which hitherto has enjoyed a high degree of continuity. A cost would have to be involved--a licensing fee--if, for example, the British Standards Institution were involved, as it would have to cover its costs. The accreditation boards, too, would have to cover their members' expenses. Under the existing arrangements, it is sensible to include and use the existing organisations such as the weights and measures laboratory and the co-ordinating unit. That would make the transition to the new system easier and ensure that we were using known, tried and tested standards.

All the recommendations to which I referred and which are contained in the amendment are set out in paragraph 126 of the Eden report. The Eden committee's recommendation was accepted by the Government, but it was not put into the Bill, and we have no Government legislation to implement it. It is interesting to consider the Government's response. The Eden committee recommended :

"Accreditation to self-verify will depend on the applicant satisfying the Secretary of State about :

(a) quality assurance ;

(b) the traceability of testing equipment to national measurement standards ;

(c) the procedures for ensuring conformity with an approved pattern ;

(d) the adequacy of the testing regime for ensuring that self-verified equipment meets the relevant regulations."

On page 11 of the Government's response, one line stands out and confirms what I have been saying. It reads :

"there is a special opportunity to benefit from inspectors' accumulated experience in the verification of equipment". Unfortunately, that does not appear in the Bill. The Government recommended British Standard 5750 because they wanted demonstrably high standards. Again, there is a special opportunity to benefit from inspectors. They said that they would encourage schemes based on British Standard 5750. On audits, they said that we need regular assessments plus notification of self-verification equipment for sample checking. That is not included in the Bill. The Government's response to the Eden report went on to state :

"The inspector will have powers to issue instructions to a SVO regarding verification procedures and powers to embargo equipment where the spot checks have revealed an unsatisfactory performance by the SVO."

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