§ Mr. R. Acland
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require an indication of origin in the case of certain goods imported into the United Kingdom from foreign countries.The Bill which I ask the leave of the House to introduce definitely relates to the situation in the Far East, but it does not, as some hon. Members may expect, say that we should forthwith boycott all Japanese goods. In 1926 the House passed the Merchandise Marks Act because certain people then, rightly or wrongly, desired to discriminate between British goods, Empire goods and foreign goods. To-day, for reasons which, again, may be right or wrong, certain people desire to discriminate between British goods, Empire goods and foreign goods generally, on the one hand, and Japanese goods on the other hand. But the Act of 1926 left to the foreigner the option of marking his goods with a precise indication of the country of origin or with the vaguer term "Foreign." The Bill which I now seek leave to introduce would provide, subject to a large number of safeguards, that in future goods from certain countries should be marked with a precise indication of the country from which they come.
I hope it will not be thought that this small Bill represents the whole policy of my party in relation to the Far East. We would like to do something very much more effective—so much more that some of our more irresponsible opponents say that the Liberal party would like this country to declare war, single-handed, upon Japan. That, of course, is not the case, but we would like our Government to announce that it would be willing to boycott all Japanese goods, provided that a sufficient number of other countries did the same, and we would like our Government to press that policy upon the rest of the world at Geneva and elsewhere. 368 Perhaps I may say a few words about the supposed inconsistency of a free trader who supports sanctions. We hate tariffs and all trade barriers, because we believe that they are the greatest single cause of world poverty and unemployment; but there are some issues which, in our opinion, are higher than wealth or employment. One of them is this: When we believe, rightly or wrongly, that a certain policy is likely to promote peace we will not be deflected from supporting that policy merely because it can be shown to us that that policy would temporarily inconvenience trade or reduce employment.
Let me now come to the details of the Bill itself. The Bill follows very closely the machinery of the existing Merchandise Marks Act. It provides that on the application to the President of the Board of Trade of any persons who seem to him to be representative of a sufficient section of the public the President of the Board of Trade may appoint a committee to report to him as to whether there does in fact exist a substantial public demand for the making of an Order that goods imported from any foreign country shall be marked with the precise name of that country, and to report whether that demand is such as to make it desirable to make the Order in accordance with the demand, in spite of any inconvenience or prejudice that may be caused to British trade. If the President decides to make the Order it has to be confirmed by an affirmative resolution of both Houses.
The whole of the machinery of the existing Act which makes provision for all difficult cases is incorporated, as, for instance, when the nature of the goods makes it impossible for them to carry a mark. The Bill is hedged around with safeguards, so much so that two hon. Members of the Labour party who have been so good as to allow me to associate their names with the Bill have indicated that they would have preferred a rather 369 more drastic Measure. They support this Bill for what it is, but they would have liked more. I thank them for their support, and I hope to be able to convince them that my moderation is wise, because I hope that they will believe me when I state that I am not introducing this Bill by way of a propaganda demonstration. I would have introduced a more drastic Bill for that purpose. If leave is given to introduce the Bill and it passes, it will operate without notice. One word about the question of time and of notice. In the last resort the shopkeeper and trader will be responsible for seeing that Japanese goods are not sold unless marked "Japan." Therefore, there will arise the question of time and notice to them. That matter will fall to be considered by the committee which considers the Bill, and by this House. I make only one suggestion now. Perhaps the committee and the House will not think it necessary to give a protracted period of notice, because if leave is given to-day to introduce the Bill and if the Bill moves forward, that in itself will act as notice to importers, wholesalers and retailers, of the conditions on which Japanese goods may come to be offered to the public. Traders will, therefore, consider what is the likelihood of their being obliged at some time to mark Japanese goods with the word "Japanese." Of those whose minds are inclined against the Bill I would ask this question. Quite apart from any question as to the desirability of a world boycott of Japanese goods through Government action—
§ Mr. Acland
My Bill is entirely impartial. The operation of the Bill will depend on whether there is a public opinion applying to one country or another. I was mentioning Japan, because it seems to me that in the existing state of public opinion Japan is the most likely country in regard to which there might be the greatest public demand for the operation of the Bill. Apart from the question of Government boycott, I ask, is it legitimate for a private citizen to desire that, as far as his private purchases are concerned, those purchases are not to be used in such a way as to swell the finances with which Japan is now carrying on an unofficial war unanimously 370 condemned as a war of unprovoked aggression, and which has been, and is, accompanied by acts of unprecedented inhumanity. If that desire is legitimate, and if after inquiry by a committee it is found to be a widespread desire, ought not this House, in the interest of democracy, to give opportunities for the people who feel that desire to express their desire in a practical way?
§ Mr. H. G. Williams
When I saw on the Paper the notice about this Bill, I wondered what was in the mind of the hon. Member for Barnstaple (Mr. Acland). I took some part in helping to pass into law the existing Merchandise Marks Act, and I also had the privilege for a year and a half of administering it. During that time we could always rely on the complete opposition of the Liberal party to any proposals for marking. In those circumstances, when I find a Member of the Liberal party proposing a Bill like this, I am bound to examine it with care, though it is a little difficult to appreciate the Clauses of a Bill that is not yet printed. I have, however, endeavoured to follow the speech of the hon. Member with such care as I could, and I am inclined to think that this Bill is based on a discrimination which is in conflict with our international treaty, also that it is desirable in this world of dishonesty to set a good example, and that as a necessary condition precedent to the introduction of this Bill, which intends a discrimination against a particular country, we should first of all clear the decks by having the treaty denounced. Until then it would really be rather dishonest for this House to pass legislation to which effect cannot be given. In those circumstances I suggest that it is perhaps undesirable to give leave to introduce the Bill, and that the hon. Gentleman should obtain, by answers to questions put to the Foreign Secretary, the necessary assent for the treaty of commerce between this country and Japan to be denounced.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Acland, Mr. Mander, Mr. Foot, Mr. W. Roberts, Mr. Vyvyan Adams, Mr. Noel-Baker, Mr. Cartland, and Lieut.-Commander Fletcher.