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Ms. Abbott : My hon. Friend has made an important point about employing politicians who have come to the end of their days in party politics as authorised persons. As he said, it would be a nice little sinecure for them. That is why we want to delete subsection (5). Does my hon. Friend think that when the Opposition come to power we would appoint ex-Ministers as authorised persons? What criteria would we use? If the Bill is to get through, we have to examine the ramifications.

Mr. Skinner : I would make representations to the effect that if the Bill did get through--and I do not think that it will--the Opposition ought to repeal it. It would be a defective law. We ought to repeal it and not be tempted to recommend people as authorised persons, in the way that the Tories would. We should not go down that road one little step.

Mr. Cohen : Another point that worries me is the financial effects of the Bill. If the job of an authorised person could be a sinecure or an honour, those people might--like the people at London Regional Transport when it was made a quango--get chauffeurs. They do not go on the buses or the tube. When the Government appoint authorised persons under the Bill, they might say to the failed Ministers, "Have a car and a chauffeur." Could there not be a money element to the creation of authorised persons? Is not that an aspect that should be included in the Bill?

Mr. Skinner : The financial effects are spelled out in the Bill. They are a bit vague and could mean all things to all people, but the Bill states that it

"will not involve any additional expenditure. The costs of administering and monitoring the scheme will be recovered as fees paid by authorised persons to central and local government. In the case of local government, the loss of testing fees"--

my hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley was right about the removal of public accountability--

"under the present system may result in a small overall reduction in the income of some authorities."

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That is an attack on local government as authorities will lose income and manpower when hitherto they were responsible and publicly accountable for carrying out such inspections.

Finally, clause 2 should be opposed because subsection (5) contains the tremendous loophole for inspectors to be replaced by authorised persons. It is an attack on local authorities. The Bill is opposed by the Consumers Association, which has briefed every Member of Parliament saying that it was not properly consulted on the Bill before it came before the House. Opposition Members are not prepared to allow British consumers to be affected in that way. We want our weighing machines and other implements and equipment to be properly tested. We are not happy about the way in which inspectors are to be replaced by authorised persons. The Bill is a relaxation of the safety laws. For all those reasons, I oppose clause 2 of the Bill and I know that my hon. Friends will agree with me.

Ms. Diane Abbott (Hackney, North and Stoke Newington) : I support my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) in opposing clause 2, and particularly subsection (5) and the insertion of the notion of "authorised persons". I shall speak fairly succintly about that important issue.

There are three main reasons why we have to look very closely at subsection (5). Too many hon. Members are taking the question of weights and measures lightly, but important issues are at stake. First, in some constituencies the vote is weighed. It would not be enough for an authorised person to have checked the scales. Secondly, there is a big debate about measures in pubs, particularly in relation to wine. Thirdly, there is the general issue of the qualifications of an authorised person.

I shall begin by talking about constituencies where the vote is weighed. It would not be satisfactory to have only an authorised person inspecting those machines. At the time of the 1983 general election, I was working as a journalist for TV-am breakfast television. I was sent to do a piece on constituencies which in the past five or 10 years had been the first to declare. Certain constituencies were always the first to declare on election night, and Torbay and Guildford were among those constituencies. Torbay holds the record for declaring first, so I went there with a film crew to find out exactly how they managed to declare first. Torbay is known as the English Riviera and used to be represented by Sir Frederic Bennett who has retired and been replaced by the present hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Allason). I spoke at length to the chief executive and the returning officer and to people who had been involved in previous general elections in Torbay. I also found all the old film of the Torbay general election. There were many films of when Torbay had declared first. I asked the chief executive how Torbay always managed to declare its result first, despite the stiff competition. He replied, "I shall tell you the secret. First, we count the votes in the normal way, but when we check the result, instead of counting the votes manually, as all other constituencies do, we weigh them." I asked, "Is that legal?" He replied, "As far as I know it is." He took me into a back room in the town hall at Torbay and showed me the beautiful Victorian scales on which he weighed the vote as a second check on the ballot. That is why time after time Torbay managed to declare its vote first.

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Those scales, old as they are, have to be checked by properly qualified inspectors with a good public reputation. They are appointed by a panel and their appointment is open to public scrutiny. Under clause 2(5) the inspection could be carried out by an "authorised person" and that could mean anybody. Therefore, the result in a constituency such as Torbay would be open to challenge. 12.45 pm

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare) : As the hon. Lady has not previously honoured us with her presence during the passage of the Bill and as she has not communicated with me in any way, it might be helpful if I explain to her that the Government will not issue a licence to anybody who does not conform to British standard 5750. I hope that she will accept that the Government will not issue a licence without the most rigorous inspection by a third and independent party. I want to ensure that that is clear in case the myth is promulgated further.

Ms. Abbott : I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for clarifying the issue. My hon. Friends and I and those in the Public Gallery want to know what that rigorous inspection will entail. What qualifications will the inspectors have to have? Who will appoint them?

Mr. Wiggin : My hon. Friend the Minister will explain.

Ms. Abbott : The Minister is not at the Dispatch Box. He is sitting on the Back Benches talking to the hon. Member for Weston-super-mare (Mr. Wiggin). It looks as if I shall never know the answers. It is important to get rid of clause 2(5) and to have a proper inspectorate, not an "authorised person".

A controversial issue which concerns my hon. Friends and myself is the measure of wine served in a public house or restaurant. We are concerned that the tests should be done by qualified inspectors. How do the public know how big a glass of wine will be when it is ordered in a bar or a restaurant? At least they now know that at some time an inspector might check the measures. Under the Bill, that check would be carried out by an "authorised person."

There has been a campaign to tighten up the way in which wine is served by the glass. A group of trade organisations introduced a voluntary code of practice in May 1984. It is a voluntary code but the inspectorate advised on it. Under this Bill, who knows who would advise on it. The code of practice states :

"quantities of wine should be given alongside prices, on menus, wine lists and so on, and be displayed at bars and self-service counters.

quantities should conform with one of 11 specific glass sizes listed in the Weights and Measures Act 1963.

no bar or restaurant should sell wine by the glass in more than two measures, and the difference between these two measures should be at least two fluid ounces (or 50 ml)"

As I understand it, the existing inspectorate is keen to ensure that the voluntary code is enforced. How are we to know that an "authorised person" will enforce it with vigour?

Conservative Members look bored, but this is not a trivial issue. A survey has been conducted to see whether the voluntary code has improved the measures served in pubs. The survey found that fewer than one in seven premises complied fully with the code. Therefore, in six out of seven wine bars or pubs one might be given short

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measure. The survey also found that only one in six premises was displaying clearly the quantity and price. If those facts do not show the need for a properly qualified inspectorate, I do not know what does.

Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley) : In how many of those cases does the problem have anything to do with the equipment?

Ms. Abbott : The hon. Gentleman is not looking at the issue in a developed way. It is not just a matter of the equipment but of the political and administrative culture and the way in which the issue of weights and measures is perceived. There is no doubt that wine bars and restaurants would take the issue of short measures much more seriously if they knew that a qualified inspectorate was likely to check up. Such a qualified inspectorate should be supported by the House and its role should not be limited by clause 2(5).

Clause 2(5), which provides for authorised persons and detracts from the role of legitimate weights and measures inspectors, undermines and dilutes the political and administrative culture and will lead pubs and clubs to believe that they can give short measures.

The surveyors found that in over half the premises they visited staff were not even aware that there was a code for selling wine by the glass. How can staff take weights and measures seriously if Conservative Members do not take weights and measures inspectors seriously?

Mr. Waller : The hon. Lady was not present earlier, so I repeat that I speak as vice-president of the Institute of Trading Standards Administration. Is she aware that if weights and measures inspectors did not have to spend so much time on routine tasks they would have more time to deal with genuine abuses such as the giving of short measures in pubs because of human error or intention rather than anything to do with equipment? The hon. Lady is speaking against the interests of the consumer, who would be better served if trading standards officers had more time to deal with genuine abuses of the weights and measures regulations.

Ms. Abbott : I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman should describe the provisions of clause 2(5) as trivial. Is he aware that in the 18th century there were bread riots because of under-weight bread? The issue of equipment and weights and measures is by no means trivial. If one visited the Vale of Glamorgan this morning, where the Labour party has won the by-election with a 6,000 majority, and asked those 6,000 people who constitute the Labour majority--

Madam Deputy Chairman (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Order. I am not sure that this is relevant. The hon. Lady said that she would be succinct. I am waiting for her to fulfil that claim.

Mr. Cohen : The hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) said that trading standards officers do not want to carry out trivial tasks. I have a letter from the county of Cleveland, in which it clearly takes the view that self-verification by manufacturers under local authority trading standards officers' supervision is a reasonable development. However, it does not want to hand over all powers of supervision to the industry, which is the key

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point that the hon. Gentleman avoided. The Government want to hand verification to the industry to spite local authorities, whereas it should be under independent local authority supervision.

Mr. Wiggin : Precisely for that reason, and at the request of the Association of County Councils, I tabled an amendment requiring that local trading standards officers should be consulted before a licence is granted. If the hon. Member for Leyton (Mr. Cohen) had read the amendments and understood the Bill he would understand that I have done precisely what has been asked for.

Ms. Abbott : It must be wrong to hand verification to manufacturers.

Dr. Jeremy Bray (Motherwell, South) : Just to reinforce my hon. Friend's point, would she like to dwell on the relevance of the Labour majority in the Vale of Glamorgan by-election, which was 6,028 votes?

Ms. Abbott : Conservative Members have said that this is a trivial matter. More than once, they have said that the powers given to authorised persons are trivial. Each and every one of the 6,000-odd people who constitute the Labour majority in the Vale of Glamorgan by-election would say that this is not a trivial matter. We do not want verification handed over to the industry.

Mr. Cohen : I am sorry to have an argument with the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) through my hon. Friend, but perhaps she would like to comment on the supervision provided through local authorities. Cleveland county council makes it clear in its letter that this private Member's Bill is a shabby process to avoid consultation. If this were a Government Bill, the Government would be forced to consult local authorities and trading standards officers fully. It is all very well for the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare to say that he wants to move an amendment providing for consultation, but that will be too late. The Bill will have been passed and rights taken away. Does my hon. Friend agree?

Ms. Abbott : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. What he has said about local authorities confirms that the Bill is not in the consumers' interest. Why has not the Bill come forward as a Government measure, with proper consultation? It is all well and good for the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare to say that he will move an amendment at this late stage. Why was not there full consultation before with local authorities and consumers? Self-verification by the industry is a grave matter. Interpolation of so-called authorised persons as properly trained weights and measures inspectors is a serious matter, and clause 2 must be opposed. Conservative Members argue that authorised persons are needed because the weights and measures inspectorate does not have the time to verify equipment. If they are worried about the shortage of staff in the inspectorate and want to lessen the work load, they should argue for more rate support grant for authorities such as Cleveland so that they can employ as many weights and measures inspectors as it takes to check scales and pub measures and supervise pub staff who are pouring drinks. The Bill creates a shabby half-and-half twilight cast of authorised person to take work from the weights and measures inspectorate.

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Weights and measures work is a distinguished calling. I had a lot to do with such people when I was on the environmental health committee of Westminster city council. As Westminster is in the centre of London, weights and measures is a pressing issue. Conservative Members who are serious about reducing the inspectors' work load and want them to do a good job should demand and fight for more money for local authorities so that they can employ staff and trainees and open the profession. If that happens, the weights and measures issue will be dealt with once and for all. The answer is not the creation of authorised persons but more fully qualified weights and measures inspectors.

Mr. Cohen : I have referred to the letter from the Cleveland county council, a Labour local authority which opposes the clause. Is my hon. Friend aware that not just Labour local authorities oppose it? The London borough of Sutton, which is not a labour authority, has made a number of points that have been raised in the debate. Its letter states :

"These are important and significant matters which could reduce the level of consumer protection and requires proper consultation, publicity and parliamentary debate."

The letter calls for :

"Support in opposing the Bill unless and until such time as all affected parties have been consulted and the rights of the consumer receive adequate protection."

That letter is from a Conservative authority, so it can be seen that opposition to the Bill runs across the political spectrum. 1 pm

Ms. Abbott : I am grateful to my hon. Friend for drawing attention to the fact that the Bill is opposed not only by Labour authorities, but by other authorities, whether Conservative or SLD--although after the recent county council elections there are few SLD councils now. The only one left is the Isle of Wight and that is a jolly good thing too, because the SLD is not competent to run a local authority. Clause 2 is opposed by local authorities whatever their political persuasion. Local authorities, including Conservative authorities, believe that the clause will lessen the protection available to the consumer.

Yet the Bill is being put through as a private Member's Bill on a Friday, with no Conservative Back Bencher now present. This is supposed to be the era of heightened interest in consumers, yet they will have their protection lessened by the Bill and especially by clause 2. That is an outrage. If Conservative Members were serious about the problems of the weights and measures inspectorate they would not be supporting the Bill. This is a vested interest Bill which will help industry.

If we look at the history of weights and measures, we see that many serious disturbances were caused by short measures and short weights, especially of bread. I read history and I remember learning of the bread riots of the 18th century. We should remember the seriousness of short weight and we should realise that even now some authorities weigh votes. No one had to weigh the votes in the Vale of Glamorgan, but we had a sizeable majority of more than 6,000. In the next general election, we may need to weigh the votes.

Madam Deputy Chairman : Order. The hon. Lady must speak to clause 2.

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Ms. Abbott : Labour Members would not want "authorised persons" to weigh votes in the Vale of Glamorgan. We would want proper weights and measures inspectors to verify the fact that our majority at the next general election had shot up from 6,000 to 30,000.

The issue we are debating is significant. Discussions about short measures go on in pubs and wine bars. When we consider the pathetic inadequacy of the measures in this private Member's Bill, we see that, instead of a fully staffed, properly paid and properly respected group of weights and measures inspectors, we shall have a shabby group of people known as "authorised persons", and the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare has not said what qualifications they will need to have.

The Bill has been promoted, whether consciously or unconsciously, by industry interests. It will help only the interests of industry.

Mr. Wiggin : What is wrong with that?

Ms. Abbott : The hon. Gentleman asks--

Mr. Wiggin : What is wrong with its helping the interests of British industry?

Ms. Abbott : What is wrong is that Parliament is supposed to be concerned with the interests of all groups and individuals, not just industry, even British industry. We are supposed to be concerned about the consumer, the housewife, the person who shops in the market and the supermarket and the customer in the pub and the wine bar. It would be wrong for any hon. Member to be thought to represent sectional interests.

The Bill has been promoted, consciously or not, by the interests of industry. The Bill serves no purpose but the greater convenience and interest of industry. The Bill pays no heed to the voices of consumers, local authorities or professionals.

The Bill will do nothing to meet the concerns of people about the weights and measures of such things as bread. It will do nothing to help the people of Torbay who are anxious to know about the methods used to weigh their votes in elections. It will not help the more than 6,000 people who constitute the Labour majority in the Vale of Glamorgan. This is an age in which the voice of the consumer is heard in the land--which includes the Vale of Glamorgan with its 6,000 Labour majority. But the Bill is deaf to the voice of the consumer. I urge the Committee to oppose not only the clause but the entire Bill.

Mr. Barron : I am sure that the Bill's promoter will agree that clause 2 is the heart of the legislation. The hon. Member for Weston-super- Mare (Mr. Wiggin) made a sedentary intervention about protecting British industry and asked what was wrong with that. I do not think that any Opposition Member would want to do anything other than protect British industry. We all help industry in our constituencies, and sometimes we help it by supporting legislation. However, we do not want to weaken the voice of the consumer. My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, North and Stoke Newington (Ms. Abbott) gave a graphic example of short measure in wine bars. It would be difficult, even with electronic measures, to stamp out such practices. I am sure that the Bill's promoter will recognise that it is feasible to have a machine that records exact measure. The Bill deals

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with machinery that not only weighs consumer products passed over the counter, but the new equipment that we see in supermarkets. I understand that the official term for price marking in supermarkets is bar coding. If a customer goes to the supermarket for a product that does not have the price stamped on it, it will not be until she gets to the checkout that she will know how much it costs. That is because the product has on it this strange bar coding that has to be zipped over using a piece of equipment. That is difficult to understand, even in present day society, as a means of measuring prices. The equipment is currently covered by trading standards officers and its development needs to be carefully watched. The bar coding system is used in all major retail outlets and now that corner shops are disappearing, we no longer see goods measured in pounds and ounces. We are moving into the age of electronics and the machines in use are not as perfect as people would like them to be.

One of the criticisms levelled by the Consumers Association is that the people who are responsible for the repair and maintenance of electronic machines do not set them up properly. I am sure the promoter will acknowledge that not every retail outlet has the same type of machine. My brother has a small butcher's business in Rotherham, and his machine is very good. When it has been programmed it shows the customer the exact price per pound, and how much the meat weighs and costs when it is placed on the scale. It is complicated machinery and, if it is not set up correctly, all sorts of things can go wrong. Different types of machine are involved. Small businesses repair these machines, and they have been called back in the past by trading standards officers when machines have not measured correctly.

Therefore, this legislation affects not only British industry but, more importantly, it affects consumers. Any changes to this legislation should make the position of the consumer stronger, not weaker. Local authorities, who have a statutory responsibility in this area, have said to Members and to well-respected consumer associations that they have misgivings about the Bill.

Ms. Abbott : I raised the question of the consumer most judiciously, and the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) talked with some sharpness about what was wrong with doing something in the interests of British industry. Does that not suggest to my hon. Friend that the hon. Gentleman may be aware, in the bottommost recesses of his heart, that this Bill really does nothing for consumers? Would the sharpness of his retort not indicate a touch of guilty conscience about how consumers are affected by this Bill?

Mr. Barron : That is difficult to deal with, without hazarding a guess about the hon. Gentleman's position in British industry.

Mr. Wiggin : Let us be clear about the consumer interests ; they were represented on the Eden committee, which was unanimous in its findings, with this Bill being part of its recommendations in its findings.

Mr. Barron : Before the hon. Gentleman actually said it, I was about to point out that the Bill contains only part of the recommendations of the Eden committee. Certainly, it

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does not contain all of the recommendations. It has been alleged that this could be considered a quasi-Government Bill rather than a private Member's Bill. We believe, as do people involved in drawing up the Eden report, that it would have been right and

constitutionally proper, Madam Chair, for the Minister to have proposed the Bill on behalf of the Government.

Madam Deputy Chairman : I may not be addressed as "Chair". We are in Committee. The hon. Gentleman should refer to me by name.

Mr. Barron : I apologise.

We would have been much happier if the Government had adopted a more comprehensive approach to the recommendations and introduced from the Dispatch Box a Bill containing all, and not some, of the recommendations of the Eden committee. That would have been a better procedure than this private Member's Bill.

Ms. Abbott : The hon. Gentleman, the Member for Weston-super-Mare, said that the Bill included part of the recommendations of the Eden committee. Would my hon. Friend not agree that this is definitely one of those situations in which half a loaf is not better than no bread? What should have happened is that a Government Bill should have been drawn up to take into account all the recommendations of the Eden committee, particularly acknowledging interests other than those of the very narrow sectional interests of British industry.

Mr. Barron : I was making that point, and my hon. Friend is right to echo it. Most people involved in the industry, certainly those involved in the Consumers Association, felt that the Bill would have been better if it had included all the recommendations of that committee. I thought that we were here to protect the interest of the consumer.

1.15 pm

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner) talked about the Grantham grocer's shop. We have all heard stories about the grocer who, when weighing out the sugar--before it came in its pre-packed form with the bar code--kept his little finger on the scales as the sugar was going into the packet, then lifted it off with the sugar saying, "Here you are, that is sixpence". We have moved on from those times and there is much more pre- packaging, although many retail outlets still operate in that way. Some shops have bulk-bought stuff in big tubs, which is cheaper if one does not mind buying in that way. Other products are bought in bulk and then sold on to the next person down the line, and they also use scales. Therefore, many of the points made in the report would have been better dealt with under a more comprehensive Bill that took into account all the different ways of retailing food.

Ms. Abbott : This important point illustrates the significance of the Bill. As my hon. Friend said, the goods in most shops are pre-packaged, so there is no need for a weights and measures inspectorate, but the sector of the population particularly concerned about the Bill, the accuracy of weights and measures and a properly developed inspectorate, is the elderly. Elderly people do not go into a supermarket to buy half a pound of cheese. They prefer going to small corner shops and buying two

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ounces of cheese, or one rasher of bacon, or a slice of ham, which is weighed out for them. Therefore, they are particularly concerned.

Mr. Barron : My hon. Friend is right. As I said earlier, I have an interest to declare in that my brother works in the retail business as a butcher. He has a small shop in Rotherham and he has to compete against the major retail outlets--the supermarkets and the hypermarkets where one can go in and buy everything that one wants for the garden and the home. That makes things difficult for the small retailer and many of his customers are those whom my hon. Friend has described, who would be seeking the protection of the local authorities via the inspectors from the local weights and measures department who inspect the weights and measures machines in retail outlets. That is why it is vital that the Bill is made more comprehensive.

Under clause 2, once the authorised person has been agreed and has paid a fee to the Secretary of State, as set out in clause 1, to which the Committee has already agreed, he has the right

"to test and stamp equipment".

There could be a conflict of interest if such a person were also being paid under contract to service the machines. Under the present system, all new or repaired equipment has to be tested by inspectors, but clause 2(5), will add authorised persons to the system. Inspectors are trading standards officers in my local authority and, I suspect, in other local authorities as well. By law those officers are prohibited from having any financial or other type of interest in the manufacture or repair of the equipment that they check. If the Bill is passed we are led to believe that the inspectors will still oversee the work done by others--the authorised persons. The inspectors have no interest except a professional one--to look after consumer interests in various outlets. In clause 2, however, authorised persons will take over the checking of machines when they are installed. We assume that they will check the repair and any adjustment subsequently made to those machines, prior to the inspector checking them.

Although we are discussing clause 2, other parts of the Bill affect local authorities in terms of jobs as well as finance. It appears that the present system of inspectors is to be run down, but they have a statutory responsibility and they cannot have a vested interest in any of the work that they undertake.

I know that the Government's record for funding local government is not good. Their treatment of local government employees is not much better. Almost every other week in this House another Bill is introduced that is designed to remove local government employees, whether through privatisation or competitive tendering, as it is called by the Government.

It would be wrong if the Bill weakened the protection currently given to consumers by our trading standards officers. That fear, which has been expressed by my hon. Friends, is also shared by various consumer associations. In those circumstances we should reconsider whether clause 2 should stand part of the Bill. The change in the relationship between trading standards officers and retail outlets should be considered in detail during our deliberations on the Bill.

The Bill will take away from the local authorities the statutory responsibility to test and verify machines on installation, and any subsequent repairs. The system will

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be subjected to a quasi-privatisation as a result of the appointment of authorised persons. Control will move back to Whitehall because the Secretary of State will have the power to appoint such authorised people. The Bill will centralise rather than decentralise. From the Government's rhetoric we are led to believe that they want to roll back the powers of the state, but in reality we know that power is being centralised all the time. The Bill is yet another example of that process.

Ms. Abbott : It is clear that state control is being broken down through glasnost and so on in the East and in Russia. Is it not extraordinary that the Bill and especially clause 2(5), are designed to increase the power of the state?

Mr. Barron : I agree with that well-timed and well-intentioned intervention. What is so upsetting is that local authorities have a fine and honourable record with their work in weights and measures. They currently undertake those responsibilities in statute but impartially and with no vested interest other than that of the consumers whom they are professionally employed to protect. I would sooner see consumer interests vested in local authorities, who reflect their local regions and who understand all aspects of life in their local communities, and who know whether or not the public are getting a good deal and not a short measure when buying certain items currently protected by local authority responsibility, by statute.

Ms. Abbott : Consumers are very satisfied with the existing system of local authority verification. Has the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) introduced his Bill in response to consumer pressure? If consumers have written to him in their hundreds and thousands, why are they not writing to other right hon. and hon. Members?

Mr. Barron : That question is really directed at the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare, and I give way so that he may enlighten the Committee on that point.

Mr. Wiggin : If the hon. Gentleman had taken the trouble to read the Bill before coming to the House and making an attempt to filibuster it out of existence, he would have found that it has nothing to do with changing the law in relation to trading standards officers and their ordinary duties in monitoring machines that are used for the sale of goods. The Bill is solely about

self-verification by people who have passed the most stringent independent tests. I wish I knew why there is such deep opposition to the Bill. If any right hon. or hon. Member had been prepared to discuss it with me, I would have been happy to try to meet their demands, as I did in respect of representations by trading standards officers and the Association of County Councils, who had the courtesy to approach me. The amendments are a result of those negotiations. I do not understand why such a body of opinion should be generated against an innocent little Bill that will help about a dozen British manufacturers.

Ms. Abbott : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Chairman. Is it in order for the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare to accuse hon. Members with a deep and longstanding interest in weights and measures of filibustering.

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Madam Deputy Chairman : The hon. Gentleman is entitled to his point of view, and he is not offending against the Standing Orders of the House by expressing it.

Mr. Barron : I concur with the hon. Gentleman when he rightly points out that he was approached by interested bodies and subsequently proposed amendments to the Bill, to which I have no objection. If the Bill progresses, those amendments should obviously be incorporated. However, the hon. Gentleman makes mention only of those interested parties who approached him. One would have thought that any right hon. or hon. Member introducing legislation in this area would have consulted credible consumer associations-- [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Chairman : Order, there must be only one debate at a time in this Chamber. The hon. Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron) has the Floor.

Mr. Wiggin : I repeat my earlier remark that the Eden committee was unanimous in its findings and that the Government responded to its recommendations. The Bill is the result of something that has already been agreed after consultations that took place two or three years ago.

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