Non-Automatic Weighing Instruments Regulations 2000

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Mr. Forth: This is a revealing debate, which fully justifies the brief time available to consider the matters before us. The Minister has tried to charm us, but has failed.

I was going to say that this is a typical European Union nightmare and to refer to the document's four parts, 44 paragraphs and five schedules, containing among its many gems interpretation, application, examination, verification and surveillance. However, in the middle of his speech, the Minister said that it was a deregulatory measure, and I began to wonder whether we were talking about the same document. The Minister's view of deregulation is clearly at odds with mine. How he can use his charm and persuasiveness to convince us that this document is deregulatory is quite beyond me. I can understand why he stuck faithfully to his brief, but his claim that it is a deregulatory measure is beyond credibility.

I have therefore decided to take the Committee through the document to highlight the respects in which it cannot remotely be seen as deregulatory. I start with regulation 3, which deals with the application of regulations. The bad news is that it starts by stating

    ``these Regulations apply to any instrument'',

leading one to believe that they are all-embracing. It then proceeds to exhibit a glimmer of light

    ``These Regulations do not apply to . . . an instrument'',

which raises one's hopes in anticipation of flexibility, making one think that this could be a new European approach to these matters, exhibiting some flexibility instead of a ghastly straitjacket. I therefore read anxiously forward to find out the respects in which the regulations will not apply. The regulation goes on:

    ``in respect of a pattern of which EEC pattern approval was granted or extended before1st January 1993 under the Measuring Instruments (EEC Requirements) Regulations 1988(b)(in this regulation referred to as ``the MI Regulations'') or by any member State other than the United Kingdom and which is in force; and . . . which bears a mark of EEC initial verification or of EEC partial verification which is first affixed before 1st January 2003 under the MI Regulations or by any member State other than the United Kingdom''.

That is a relief: we are really off the hook there! We can see straight away that this is a truly deregulatory measure. The Minister told us not to worry. He must have convinced the Committee already that we are living in a new era of a relaxed European Union approach to these matters. I shall not bore the Committee or, indeed, you, Mr. Hood, with the rest of the paragraph. Suffice it to say that the paragraph continues in the same vein.

I am not convinced that the regulations constitute a dramatic new breakthrough into a new Euro, deregulatory world. On the contrary, the measure is the usual rigid, heavy-handed straitjacket with which we have become all too familiar from Europe.

Under the general heading

    ``Placing on the market, putting into service and use of instruments''

of regulation 4, the regulations continue:

    ``No person shall place on the market any instrument unless it meets the requirements of regulation 5 or regulation 6 . . . No person shall put any instrument into service for any Schedule 3 application unless it meets the requirements of regulation 5 . . . No person shall—

    (a) use any instrument for any Schedule 3 application; or

    (b) have any instrument in his possession for such use''.

That does not sound deregulatory to me. It sounds highly interventionist, highly regulatory and extremely heavy handed. The European Union loves such provisions and believes that it thrives on them.

That is the great problem that we now confront. The Government seem to have persuaded themselves that the regulations will be good for business and people in this country, and they may even have fooled themselves into believing that such measures will aid the cause of Europe—at the very time when, as you may have heard, Mr. Hood, if you listened to the radio this morning, as even BBC radio was quoting it, the latest survey has found that 71 per cent. of people in this country oppose the euro, and that 32 per cent. believe that we should leave the European Union.

Such regulations have fed such opinion in this country. The Government seem prepared blindly to go along with them, with all sorts of blah about what happened in 1980 and 1995, and about such developments being inevitable and inexorable and everyone believing that they are beneficial. That will not do, because people want us to step back and ask ourselves in what respect the regulations will benefit the country. What sense does all this blah about 44 paragraphs in four parts with five schedules and all these prohibitions and detailed requirements make? Does it make sense to a country that still feels comfortable with different ways of measuring?

I freely concede that the younger generations are much more comfortable with metric measurements. People under the age of about 30 or 35 understand temperatures in centigrade, measurements in metres and weight in kilograms. Equally, however, people beyond the age of 35—indeed, you may be one of them, Mr. Hood; I am not giving away too many secrets here—may continue to feel more comfortable with pounds and ounces, feet and inches and so on. Why, against that background, driven by their fanaticism about the European Union, the Government want to impose such nonsense on people and businesses in this country is beyond my comprehension. That, however, is a matter for them.

Dr. Howells: I always enjoy the right hon. Gentleman's contributions, but could he explain why the regulations are a problem when people can, until at least December 2009, go into a shop and ask for any loose goods in pounds and ounces and be served the metric equivalent with no fuss or bother? I do that regularly myself. I know some metric measurements, but I am afraid that some are beyond me, because I am older than 35.

Mr. Forth: The Minister asks why the regulations are a problem. The patronising presumed permissiveness of allowing people to work with the measures that they want until 2009, and suggesting that that is generous illustrates the difficulty in the relationship between this country and the other members of the European Union. What are we saying in the regulations? We are saying that we are being allowed to measure in the way with which we feel comfortable until 2009. I do not want to be allowed to measure in any way by other people in the European Union. I do not want to interfere in the way in which they measure their things, and I do not understand why they should want to interfere in ours.

My hon. Friend the Member for South-West Hertfordshire, in his rather rough—or perhaps Belgian—French, referred to the fact that some punters in Brussels were able to dish out goods in ``livres''. I would prefer to use my more guttural French, but I spare the Committee on this occasion. Even on the continent, many people are more relaxed about such things than the Government appear to be.

I do not see what the Minister has offered as a concession as being one at all. I see it as a piece of patronising nonsense saying that our partners are graciously going to allow us to continue our culture and heritage but only so long as they allow it to happen. That is the wrong way round altogether.

Dr. Howells: Will the right hon. Gentleman tell me why he voted for the measure in April 1989 if it is such a bad idea? Why, too, did his right hon. Friends the Members for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) and for Penrith and The Border (Mr. Maclean) vote for it? Everyone voted for it. I do not understand. If it is so bad now, why was it not so bad then?

Mr. Forth: Let us talk about political conversions. Let us talk about the members of the Labour party who, like the Prime Minister, used to be in favour of us leaving Europe and have now recanted and changed their mind. Let us talk—but only for a moment, Mr. Hood; I promise that I shall not digress—about members of the Labour party who used to be in CND and no longer are because they see the world in a different light. I confess that I was a Member of the European Parliament. It is a part of my life on which I look back with some pleasure, but it opened my eyes to what was going on in Europe. Equally, I confess to what the Minister has said—I voted for these measures all those years ago. I have changed my mind. I see things differently. I believe that that approach to Europe is now the wrong approach and I fear for the future of Europe if we insist on going down the route that these regulations take us.

I feel sorry for Ministers if they believe that such a measure will improve the image of Europe in this country, and I hope that they will undergo the same conversion that I did all those years ago. Perhaps now I regret not having resigned from the Government who passed all these measures. When he becomes as old as I am, the Minister, who has been in the Government for some time and—who knows—may or may not be for some time to come, may look back with the odd twinge of regret and say, ``Why didn't I take the honourable step?''. That has not happened yet but it may well do so. I did nine years in the foothills of government and many were the times that I had to examine my conscience as to whether an issue was big enough for me to consider leaving the Government. I never quite reached that point. I have no problem with all of this, but I will not dwell on it any further because I am anxious to get into the guts of the document before us rather than just scratch the surface. As you know, Mr. Hood, that is not my style.

The next thing that caught my eye was under the heading of ``Enforcement''. The Minister wanted us to believe that somehow this was all a pretty soft touch and deregulatory and we were not to worry too much. He wittered on about self-verification and the like. The really bad news is contained in some of the details. Typically of a document of European origin, it does not actually hide anything. We would have known right from the start what Europe was all about if only we had read the documents. Here is another one that does not conceal anything.

    ``Unauthorised application of CE marking etc''

is the rather unhappy start to regulation 22.

[Mr. David Winnick in the Chair]

The regulations talk about people being guilty of an offence, because that is the whole stuff of European regulations. Regulation 22(2) states:

    ``Where the alteration, defacement or removal of any mark, inscription, identification number sticker, disqualification sticker or re-qualification sticker is occasioned solely in the course of the adjustment or repair of any instrument by a manufacturer of instruments regularly engaged in the business of repair of instruments''—

this is all the deregulatory stuff that the Minister told us about—

    ``by his duly authorised agent, by a person (other than a manufacturer) regularly engaged in the business of repair of instruments or by his duly authorised agent, that person shall not be guilty of an offence''—

there is some good news,

    ``not guilty of an offence under sub-paragraph (c), provided that the said alteration, defacement or removal does not amount to forging or counterfeiting as described in that sub-paragraph, or under sub-paragraph (e), of paragraph (1) above.''

The Minister might say that it is good news, it is all deregulatory stuff; here is something for which people will not be found guilty of an offence. The paragraph had already outlined several bases on which they could be guilty but here is one, which I defy anyone to understand or decode, which actually says that someone might occasionally not be guilty.

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Prepared 1 February 2001