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House of Commons

Friday 5 May 1989

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Mr. Deputy Speaker,-- Mr. Harold Walker, in the Chair ]


Animal Experiments

9.35 am

Mr. Roland Boyes (Houghton and Washington) : It is my honour to present a petition containing in excess of 60,000 signatures from all parts of Great Britain. The petition could have been even greater because, according to opinion polls, 80 per cent. of the population are against the use of animals for experiments for warfare purposes. The overwhelming majority of people have expressed that view several times and are extremely hostile to the use of animals for warfare experimentation.

The experiments are cruel and the animals, if they are lucky they die quickly, otherwise they die horrendous, painful and often lingering deaths. The vast majority of the experiments are commissioned by the Government and carried out at the Government's own research establishment at Porton Down, but the work is often contracted out to other institutions which carry out equally cruel experiments on animals. Such experiments are a disgrace in a civilised society and must be stopped immediately because the results are of no value. Human beings have no right to use other sentients for the purposes of animal experimentation for warfare. I, along with the other 60,000 signatories agree with that view.

To lie upon the Table.

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Orders of the Day

Weights and Measures (Amendment) Bill

Considered in Committee [Progress, 28 April]

[Mr. Harold Walker

in the Chair ]

Clause 1

Persons authorised to pass and stamp equipment

Amendment proposed [28 April] : No. 66, in page 1, line 5, leave out the words Secretary of State', and insert the words

local weights and measures authority for the area in which an applicant for a licence has his head office or his registered office'.-- [Mr. Illsley.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment made : 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,'.-- [Mr. Wiggin.]

9.37 am

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare) : I beg to move amendment No. 38, in page 1, line 7, leave out installer or repairer'.

The Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr. Harold Walker) : With this, it will be convenient to consider the following amendments : No. 30, in page 1, line 11, after determine', insert

but a licence may not be granted to any person employed by a manufacturer, installer or repairer of equipment to which section 11 of the 1985 Act applies.'.

No. 41, in page 2, line 5, at end insert--

(4A) the secretary of State may by order--

(a) extend the application of this section to persons who carry on business as installers or repairers of equipment to which section 11 of the 1985 Act applies ; and

(b) provide that this section shall have effect in relation to such persons with such modifications as may be specified in the order ; and the power to make such an order shall be exercisable by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'

Mr. Wiggin : The amendment has been moved at the request of the Association of County Councils to allow the Government to take a longer- term view before including installers and repairers in the Bill.

Amendments agreed to.

Amendments made : 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'.-- [Mr. Wiggin.]

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

(1A) The matters referred to in subsection (1)(b) above are (

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

(b) the adequacy 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--

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(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.'

No. 41, in page 2, line 5, at end insert--

(4A) The Secretary of State may by order--

(a) extend the application of this section to persons who carry on business as installers or repairers of equipment to which section 11 of the 1985 Act applies ; and

(b) provide that this section shall have effect in relation to such persons with such modifications as may be specified in the order ; and the power to make such an order shall be exercisable by statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.'-- [Mr. Wiggin.] Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Ian Gow (Eastbourne) : I should like to address the Committee on the momentous issue whether the clause should stand part of the Bill. We may note in passing that even though this measure is of massive consequence, there is not a single representative of the Liberal party in his place.

The Committee has become accustomed to the Liberal party proclaiming to be the champion of the customer, but when the customer's interests are being debated we note the characteristic absence of the Liberal party. Naturally, I defer to the views of my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary and, having drawn the attention of the Committee to the matter, I shall resume my seat. Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Passing and stamping of equipment by authorised persons

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Gow : I do not wish to detain the Committee but I should like to draw the attention of my right hon. Friend the Patronage Secretary, who is as sound upon this as he is upon all issues, to a notable feature of the clause. Mercifully, no reference has to be made to those who sit in grand offices in Brussels. Even our right hon. and learned Friend who was recently knighted, Sir Leon Brittan, has no power to intervene in relation to clause 2. That is of great satisfaction to me and to every hon. Member of the Committee.

Mr. Norman Buchan (Paisley, South) : The clause should be examined a little before we allow it to pass. What exactly do we mean by an "authorised person"? Would the term include not only those who are authorised by licence under section 1 of the Weights and Measures Act 1985, but people put forward by consumer organisations?

Does the person authorised by licence have a right of access to the appropriate Minister of a Government

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Department, thereby extending the normal concept of what is meant by an authorised person? Many consumer groups that are concerned with aspects of weights and measures equipment could offer useful advice, but are rarely consulted. One of the worrying aspects of life under the Government is that power, influence and advice have moved from the ordinary people to various official bodies. Those bodies are dominated by a Government who, over the past 10 years, have shown their willingness to intervene in such matters.

Subsection (3) says :

"after the word passed', in the first place where it occurs, there shall be inserted the words by an inspector' and for the words an inspector' there shall be substituted the words the inspector' ". My hon. Friends will recognise the problems that will arise there. The words "the inspector" specifically mean that there will be only one type of inspector when, surely, the whole thrust of modern democracy is to allow bodies, such as local authorities, to put forward inspectors.

I live under two local authorities--Strathclyde, which deals with massive regional affairs, and my district council of Renfrew. Both are perfectly equipped to put forward an official or a councillor. I should like advice about subsection (3) and about the whole Bill. The subsection says "the inspector" and that means that the Government have in mind only one kind of inspector.

9.45 am

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) : It is pretty clear what this is all about. Last week, we discussed the early stages of the Bill, and during the debate it became evident that it was a Government Bill which had been pushed into the hands of the Back-Bench Tory who introduced it. I believe that earlier, at the Government's behest, he agreed to postpone proceedings on the Bill, and there is no doubt that, once again, here is a relaxation of important rules that have applied for years. The Government are intent on relaxing those rules, just as they have relaxed the rules on health and safety and the inspector appointed will be "one of us". He will obviously be a supporter of the Tory party, a member of the "Thatcher 10-year clan". As a result, the Bill will assist people who want to relax the rules and to remove authority from local authorities which are publicly accountable. [Interruption.] Hon. Members are intervening on my intervention.

The Chairman : Order. The hon. Gentleman is making a speech. If he is intervening, it is an extraordinarily long intervention.

Mr. Skinner : I am sure that you know, Mr. Walker, that, occasionally, there are long interventions. Sometimes there are very long speeches, but sometimes they are necessary, such as when a Bill was being rushed through in what was nearly a clandestine fashion by this obnoxious Government and one of their supporters. The Bill has had a chequered history.

The Chairman : Order. The hon. Gentleman's intervention--if it is an intervention--is excessively long. Perhaps he should seek to catch my eye and address himself to the matter before the Committee, which is that clause 2 stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Buchan : My hon. Friend's intervention was extremely helpful. This is not the first time that I have had to rely upon him. I have found that time after time he

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brings a level of expertise, understanding and wisdom to the most obscure corners of legislation. With my hon. Friend, I have explored the hills of south Derbyshire on a Friday morning. I did not know when I arrived today that the Bill was on. I wish that I had been warned, because, as my hon. Friend says, it is not untypical of the Government to bring in on a Friday apparently innocuous Bills which, when examined, are found to be fraught with problems and dangers to the ordinary people. That is why I am concerned with the insertion of the words "the inspector" instead of "an inspector", bringing it down precisely to only one kind of inspector, not any inspector. I can think of many people who should be appointed inspectors, such as members of the Labour group in my district council, including Councillor MacMaster, who is the leader of the group, and Councillor Reilly, who is a brilliant expert on housing and would have much to say on weights and measures matters.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) was absolutely right to introduce the fatal phrase that has dominated life over the past decade- -"one of us". We know that, as has happened throughout the life of this Government, the question will be asked, "Is he one of us?" We often find out that, when a clause is apparently innocuous, it contains one subsection that must be closely observed before the clause is passed. What does it mean to have people who are authorised or unauthorised? In Bill after Bill, two kinds of people have been referred to, so that there are "us" and "them". That is what has happened during the decade of what is amusingly called "Thatcherism".

The Under-Secretary is fortunate, because he is not only "the Minister" but "a Minister". He straddles the borders even of nationality in this country. I am not sure to what extent the Bill extends from England into Wales and Scotland. The Minister might like to intervene and let me know whether it will extend to Scotland, because, if it does, some of we Scottish Members would like to know to what extent.

Mr. Skinner : I should have explained earlier to my hon. Friend that the Government did not give a proper explanation when this matter was last debated, and only a fleeting reference was made to certain provisions. The hon. Member who introduced it did not say much about it. Thus, my hon. Friend may not get from the Government the information he is seeking. However, it seems that the Under-Secretary is beginning to rise, so perhaps the information may be forthcoming.

Mr. Buchan : I should like to hear whether the measure applies to Scotland and, indeed, the whole of Scotland. In some areas Scotland has regional councils and district councils, but in other areas it has only single councils known as island councils. I was brought up in the islands, in Orkney. Weights and measures were always on our mind up there. There are problems in an island community, which has to be served by ships, so that there are questions about the weights of cargoes, and so on. Living there is quite different from living in the rest of Scotland. Will local authorities be involved in this case?-- [Interruption.] I want to explain my question fully. The Under-Secretary should not be impatient.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs (Mr. Eric Forth) : I am getting anxious

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Mr. Buchan : I know that the Minister is anxious to give information, and I welcome that. He has the whole morning to do so. It is a good measure of a weighty Minister that he is keen to give answers to questions. However, I must explain the question fully. Like myself, the Minister has had an academic career--at least, I think he has. I can remember one dreadful occasion when I failed to read the rubric at the top of an examination paper. The normal advice had been to answer three or perhaps four questions. I saw a question on John Donne that I knew inside out and spent two and a half hours out of three answering it. The rest of the time I spent on, I think, Spenser. As I was about to walk out of the room, I read at the top of the examination paper the rubric "Candidates must attempt at least four questions". I sweated for some weeks, but there must have been a generous examiner, because I passed. Therefore, it is necessary to know the fullness of a question before an answer can be given. In Scotland, we have a habit of sometimes using archaic terms. We sometimes use a kind of language of our own. In one area an ounce can mean an animal with four legs. In another area an ounce may be involved with weights and measures. Similarly if we say an ell--if we give an inch and take an ell-- it may be meaningful in some parts of Scotland, or even Yorkshire or Derbyshire.

Mr. Skinner : If my hon. Friend wants answers to questions about inches and ells, he should remember that we have been dragged into this unmitigated disaster of the Common Market. The Common Market is against inches and ells. It is against all those things commonly known as British ; it is trying to get rid of all the forms of measurement to which my hon. Friend is referring. After an extensive debate on this issue, we might find out why certain things have been left out. Is there a connection with the Common Market? Is this another surrender to people in the Common Market-- the bureaucrats working on the big fat salaries who have nothing better to do than search for ells, inches, feet, miles and so on and delete them from the British language?

We must stand firm today. This could be a most important day in British history as we fight for the inches and ells, albeit in connection with a Bill that we do not want. I believe that, on this bleak Friday morning, my hon. Friend has found something very important--another Common Market ruse to remove these important forms of measurement that have been used in Britain throughout the centuries.

Mr. Buchan : That illustrates the wisdom of not immediately putting my question to the Minister. My hon. Friend will realise that I would have gone on to the issue that he has outlined. He will recall that he and I fought bitterly against entry to the Common Market, not just in defence of the ounce, the quart, the pint, and so on, but for all sorts of political and economic reasons. We were right to do so, when we consider the tons-- another weight and measure--of goods flowing into the country and contributing to a reverse balance of trade amounting to a £14 billion deficit. We were nearly hounded out of office in 1964 because of a £100 million deficit-- [Interruption.] I know that the Minister is anxious to get in, but he must let me finish the point I am making.

That figure of £14 billion is in pounds, and not the obscure measurement of money used in the Common

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Market--the ecu. It sounds like a curious animal. Are we going to stick to pounds, or will we have to absorb the Common Market terms? I used to have to fiddle with the green pound and the sterling pound. There are green pounds and ecus, and so on. We must measure that against the deficit into which this damnable Government have run us in the past decade. There is no mention of that in the Bill, yet every pound that we see in deficit can be measured in terms of trade and jobs lost to Britain. Jobs lost can also be measured in terms of human agony. I hope that the Minister is intent on finding out from the civil servants the answers to some of these questions. I hoped that he would be ready to give me an answer, but he is not, so I shall have to continue.

Above all, Mr. Walker--when you lean forward, Sir, I realise that you, like me, are concentrating on the subject at hand--does this Bill apply to Scotland? If it does, will different measurements and forms of administration be used in Scotland or in island councils? Shall we be looking for "an inspector" or "the inspector" and, if so, will it be somebody who has an understanding of consumer problems and the way that they are affected by this measure?

10 am

In Scotland we use the old terms, and we also have a separate administration. To what extent will that separate administration of the Scottish Office be affected? We have a Scottish shadow spokesman helping out today. I think that things are happening. I should like to know what they are, and I should like some advice on them. The Minister might like to give an answer on that.

To what extent will the Bill affect our continuing membership of the Common Market, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover has asked? What will be the effect of subsection (3) on the events that will occur in 1992? On that date, there will be a disappearance of barriers, and a free market. What consequence will that have on British legislation? Is there any point in proceeding with this British legislation when we are within a couple of years of 1992? Will we be forcing on the rest of Europe our ounces, pints and all the rest of our non-decimal measurements that still prevail in British lands? Will there have to be "an inspector" or "the inspector" for ports to determine the precise decimal quantification of metres as opposed to yards or tonnes measured in pounds, ounces, stones and hundredweights? Will there have to be an apparatus of "the" inspectors or "an" inspector at Dover, Folkestone or other ports? My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover has not noticed that point. He has been busy, and I hope that he has got some useful advice.

The Common Market is not just a threat to our names and our acceptance of these measurements. We all know what a pint or a yard is, and we cannot conceive of a cricket ground measured in metres. However, 1992 is nearly upon us. Will there be a battery of civil servants to measure and weigh each crate, and translate tonnes into pounds?

Mr. Skinner : Many people have misconceptions about what is called the big bang of 1992. It will be about as big

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a bang as that in the stock market in 1987. Then they were forecasting all sorts of wonderful and beautiful things for Britain and--

The Chairman : Order. I am having a little difficulty in seeing what this has to do with the debate on whether clause 2 should stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Skinner : Because when we have these inspectors, and they will be as specified in the Bill, they will have to go to the ports and measure this, that and the other. My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) was quite properly making the point that, because of all the hype and propaganda about what will happen in 1992, they will have to inspect, stamp and authorise a lot more goods than would otherwise be the case. He thinks that there will be a massive export of goods from Britain, but the opposite will happen. We already have a massive balance of payments deficit of nearly £20,000 million on trade alone.

Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield) : How much?

Mr. Skinner : The hon. Gentleman should listen carefully. We are talking about trade, not about the balance of payments deficit. That includes the invisibles, which have also been falling since 1987. The inspectors will not be inspecting the invisibles, although this Government could try anything on. They might have invisible inspectors to inspect the invisibles. However, they will definitely have these inspectors who will be Tory inspectors, going to the ports. [Interruption.] There is no doubt about that. As long as this Prime Minister is here, she will be checking them out. Tory Members who are laughing must not think for a moment that these will be what I would call Secretary of State for Wales- type inspectors. They will be inspectors drawn from the belly of the

Establishment--"one of us" type inspectors. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King), who has been referred to as a bladder of lard--

Mr. King : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am somewhat confused, because I am not sure who is speaking. Is the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) making a speech or an intervention? I am listening with great interest to him, but all I hear, apart from incoherent ramblings, is nothing to do with clause 2.

The Chairman : I can well understand the hon. Gentleman's confusion. The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) is intervening in the speech of the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan), but is doing so at excessive length, which he should not. If he wishes to catch my eye later in the proceedings, he can make a speech. However, in the meantime we must recognise our convention that interventions should be brief.

Mr. Skinner : I shall wrap it up then, Mr. Chairman.

My hon. Friend the Member for Paisley, South got the idea that many inspectors will be needed for the 1992 operation. I am saying that not many will be needed, because 1992 will be a damp squib. French and German goods will be coming here, so all the trade will be coming this way. We may have to inspect all the Common Market goods that will be flooding in, and we shall need a new sort of weights and measures Bill, but we should not assume that in all those ports, the Common Market will allow Britain to export goods.

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Mr. Buchan : I see the problem. I had thought of it in only one way- -how to translate yards to metres. I am glad that my hon. Friend intervened, because the Minister now has to answer another question, about how we shall demand of the French that they transfer metres into yards. This could lead to the break-up of the Common Market if we are not careful.

Mr. Forth : That would put the hon. Gentleman's old lady out of a job.

Mr. Buchan : Indeed it would. We are a strong family and are concerned with these problems. My wife has to deal with yet another dimension. The work that she does, weekend after weekend, as she batters at her typewriter while I batter at my word processor--I am defending the people of Britain, she is defending people in this monstrous regiment of the Common Market--will increase. We shall have to exchange notes translating pounds, ounces, pints and quarts back and forth.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Crawley) : The hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) has, as usual, gone to the heart of the problem. This point about the European aspect and the use of metres and other such measures may be a small one, but I want the hon. Member for Paisley, South (Mr. Buchan) to understand that, up to a year ago, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary was sound on European matters. However, he has undergone a Damascene experience. He has seen the European light and he is swashed up in the 1992 push of the Department of Trade and Industry. I urge the hon. Member for Paisley, South to make his case with force and candour because otherwise it will weigh little with my hon. Friend, the pro-European Minister.

Mr. Buchan : I am grateful for that advice, which I shall take to heart. Subsection (4)(a) and (b) will also have to be examined in close detail, as it affects the Common Market. The effort to get to the truth about this Bill has been a cross-party one, and that is helpful. I have seen Damascene conversions on this side of the House as well as on the Government side. There are some of us, however, who remain true to our faith. As has been pointed out, it has been more difficult for my wife than me, as she is absorbed in the strange milieu of Brussels and Strasbourg. I believe that if she can keep the light shining, it should be easier for some of us to do so. It is right that we keep a watchful eye on both Front Benches regarding this issue. Today, the Minister is in the firing line and he has been put into an impossible situation. I understand his grief and the problems that face him. It is enough trouble to represent the Treasury Bench on a Friday morning, but to have to do so and defend what he knows in his heart of hearts to be the indefensible is a further problem.

I am concerned for the health of Ministers who have to bear the burden of speaking that which they know is not necessarily the truth. Truth is even more difficult to measure than weights. At least one can put an ounce on the scale, but "What is truth?" as jesting Pilate said. Truth is more difficult to measure, even with a Bill as neatly drafted as this.

The hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) will also be aware of the skill with which parliamentary draftsmen must try to get through the various labyrinthine shadows--excuse my mixed metaphors--forced upon us by 1992

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and the Common Market. Perhaps that is one reason why some of the legislation seems so harmful to we simple souls who believe that two and two make four. Such legislation is often prepared in the knowledge that the cataclysm of 1992 is upon us. I feel for the Minister and I know that he would willingly withdraw the Bill and redraft it in good English terms.

Mr. Forth : It is not my Bill.

Mr. Buchan : This poor unfortunate Minister. What is the Whips' Office doing sending a Minister here with a Bill that is not even his? Is this a private Member's Bill? Oh my goodness gracious me. Mr. Forth rose --

Mr. Skinner rose --

Mr. Buchan : An embarrassment of riches--I shall give way to my hon. Friend.

Mr. Skinner : My hon. Friend has posed a serious question about Friday mornings. During the past few weeks the Government have taken Bills off the shelf and passed them to Tory Back Benchers. In essence they are Government Bills. We had one last week about which we had to talk for some considerable time. The Bills are passed to Tory Back Benchers so that they look as though they are private Members' Bills, but the net result is that Friday, reserved for private Members' Bills has been hijacked by the Government. The Minister has been stuck with the Bill today. The Government may not be altogether happy with it and no doubt they will express some reservations about it to make it look clean and decent. The truth is, however, that the Bill has come from the Government, off the shelf, into salmonella Wiggin's hands and he is using it.

Mr. Buchan : My hon. Friend is right. This is a Government Bill which has been handed to a Back Bencher so that he can do the job for them. Surely this should be called a hybrid Bill--this uneasy alliance between the Government and private Members. I note that my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) is standing at the Bar--we have another first-class speaker.

I know that hybrid Bills have been the source of some terror to the Government. I remember that a Government were almost brought down by a hybrid Bill and that a little skulduggery was practised in the Lobby to save the day. If it is the Government's new practice to get private Members to smuggle in Bills that they have not had the courage to bring in themselves, surely there should be separate legislation. "Erskine May" should open up a new chapter on Friday morning skulduggery.

Mr. Wiggin rose--

The Chairman : Order. The question before the Committee is that clause 2 stand part of the Bill. To put it mildly, our debate is moving away from that question. Hon. Members should address their remarks more directly to the question.

Mr. Buchan : I am sorry, but I have had so many interventions from Tory Back Benchers and from the Minister, who corrected me. If they had not intervened, much of what I have said would have been unnecessary.

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Mr. Soames : The hon. Gentleman has been extremely unfair and cavalier in respect of my hon. Friend the Minister, for whom we both have a great affection for he is a man of high standing in the House. The hon. Gentleman must understand that my hon. Friend is in much the same position as any British ambassador who is sent abroad to lie for this country. The hon. Gentleman should not be so unfair to the Minister who has his job to do--he must represent the Department of Trade and Industry. However, distasteful it may be to us, to him there is a wonderful fresh taste in his mouth--the new discovery of Europe. The hon. Gentleman should not criticise my hon. Friend too strongly.

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