I beg to move, in page 14, line 26, after "Excise," to insert:
and local authorities for the purposes of the Weights and Measures Acts, 1878 to 1936.
With your permission, Major Anstruther-Gray, it may be for the convenience of the Committee if we consider all the Government Amendments to this Clause together. They are all consequential on the change which the Committee may remember it made to Clause 5 when it enabled the Board of Trade to make regulations concerned with labelling articles of food as to their weight, measure, or number. These Amendments make the enforcing authorities for those regulations the weights and measures authorities and enable the Board of Trade to institute proceedings where there has been a breach of those regulations.
The Minister has power under subsection (4) of this Clause himself to institute proceedings for offences, and where local authorities intend to prosecute, the Bill requires that notice be given to the Minister 14 days before the proceedings. Presumably there are two possible reasons why such notice should be given. First, so that if the case is of wide national or regional significance, the Minister may suggest to the local authority that it might be more appropriate if proceedings were taken with the authority of the Minister.
Secondly, in any event local authorities will require some guidance as to the standards set by local authorities and by benches of magistrates in other parts of the country, and if he has notice of what proceedings are being taken throughout the country, the Minister will be able to build up some information from which he can advise as to the standards which are general.
The purpose of the first Amendment is to allow 28 days instead of 14 days between the giving of the notice and the institution of the proceedings by a local public health authority. The Minister has two important functions which he has to carry out on receipt of that notice. Proceedings cannot be instituted, the information cannot be laid, until he has carried out those two functions. It is thought that 28 days would be the minimum time in which the Minister may be expected in all cases to be able to do the job required of him. May I say that the trade generally regards the functions of the Minister in setting up national standards and instituting proceedings to be of some importance and they think that it would be a protection if he were given a month in which to make up his mind.
The second of my two Amendments is simply a lawyer's point which occurred to me as requiring attention. At the moment, the Bill requires simply that notice shall be given to the Minister and does not say anything about the form of the notice. Reference back to the 1938 Act and to the Public Health Act, 1936, which is read with it, requires, I believe. that the notice shall be served on the Minister at his present or last known place of abode, which might occasion some personal and domestic inconvenience to my right hon. Friend.
In any event, it seems to me that if the Minister is not to be made a party to the proceedings it should not be the duty of the prosecution at the commencement of a hearing strictly and formally to prove that they have served the notice. There is no point in requiring them to do so if the Minister is not a party to the proceedings, but there is the possibility that a fillibustering defending advocate might seek to argue that the notice was not proper, or that the summary of facts to be served with it was not full and fair. I think that the Committee should consider if it be necessary for the prosecution strictly to prove that notices have been served.
I think that 14 days is sufficient for the purpose, and that were we to extend the time I am doubtful whether it would be fair to the trader concerned to be kept hanging about too long. Mine is a quick working Department, and I think that 14 days will suffice.
As for the second Amendment, I think it possible that there may be something in what my hon. Friend has said, and that it would be a good plan if we looked into it. If my hon. Friend is satisfied with what I have said about his first Amendment, and also with my assurance that I will look into the point raised in his second Amendment, I hope that he will agree to withdraw the Amendment.
Since the Minister has undertaken to examine the point raised in the second Amendment, may I add my plea to that of my hon. Friend that he will so look at the first Amendment which has been moved. I think that the Minister has overlooked the possibility of proceedings passing down the line from the retailer to the wholesaler and to the manufacturer, and, it may be, even further. Fourteen days can go very quickly when it is necessary to find out who are the other parties concerned, and I consider that it is an important point to have time to make proper inquiries.
Although the appeal made by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Pitman) that this should be considered is no doubt right, I would express the hope that, nevertheless, it will be rejected. It is quite clear that the time afforded by this provision is more than long enough. It does not say that the period has to be 14 days, but that it must not be fewer than 14 days, whereupon it is possible for the Minister to give even longer consideration before a notice is given.
All that it means is that when the notice is given there shall be that time, namely, 14 days, and that there shall accompany it a summary of the facts upon which the charges are founded. That is more than ample time, and to extend it beyond that period would be to the prejudice not only of the public but—and here I agree with the Minister—to the parties concerned.