§ 11.41 a.m.
§ Mr. John Farr (Harborough)
I beg to move Amendment No. 4, in page 1, line 11, after 'Kingdom', insert:'whether the goods have been subjected to further manufacture within the United Kingdom or not,'.I congratulate my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on his elevation to the Front Bench. Some of us who entered the House with him in 1959 thought that he should have been promoted to the Front Bench long ago. It gives myself and many of my hon. Friends a great deal of satisfaction to see him where he is today.
The Amendment seeks to require foreign goods in the circumstances outlined which are finished in this country to have the country of origin marked thereon. It relates particularly to the specific instance of cartridge cases which enter this country and which under the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, were protected until the relevant marking order was revoked.
That marking order offered the consumer considerable protection against the danger of people importing foreign cases similar in colour and appearance to British cases, loading them without regard to control of ballistics and then printing them with English names and palming them off on to the public as being cartridges of wholly British origin.
It is well known that British cartridges are produced within the safety limits imposed by the British rules of proof, especially with regard to mean service pressures. Mean service pressures are the internal pressures which are exerted on the walls of a chamber of a gun when the cartridge is fired. For example, British 2½-inch chambered guns are proved for cartridges generating mean service pressures not exceeding three tons per square inch.
1592 11.45 a.m.
To increase protection for the consumer it was hoped to make it compulsory to show on the cartons of all cartridges on sale in the United Kingdom the minimum proof level of the guns in which they should be used. At present there is the strange situation that guns are proved and marked for the mean service pressures which they are designed to withstand but there is no corresponding compulsion on cartridge manufacturers to indicate in which guns the cartridges can safely be used.
The main reasons for the Amendment are as follows. The old order which has been revoked had the effect of inhibiting the import of low quality foreign cases. Not all imported foreign cases are of low quality, but some of them—for example, those coming from countries such as Hungary and Czechoslovakia—were of very doubtful construction in some instances. It was in the interests of the consumer that such imports should be discouraged because such cases, when loaded in this country, can cause danger.
British cartridge cases are established to be of a very high standard. Most foreign cases are the same as, or very similar in appearance to, British cases, and consumers can be, and are readily, misled into buying them thinking that they are British unless the origin is given.
British cartridge manufacture is subject to continuous analytical and inspection procedures. Sportsmen accept that British cartridges are absolutely safe in use. It is known that some types of foreign cartridge have led to gun "bursts", causing injuries and damage.
Many sportsmen insist on British cases and loading because they can be sure that the proof standards accord with those of British guns. Some foreign cartridges with lower standards of proof can leave obstruction in gun barrels, with resultant danger.
Some sportsmen reload cartridge cases themselves. Unmarked foreign cases cannot be identified as safe for reloading.
The old order which has been revoked led consumers to assume that unmarked cases are British.
1593 It is with the object of protecting users of cartridges from hidden danger that I move the Amendment.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Peter Emery)
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) for the kind words he said and the good wishes that he extended to me at the beginning of his speech. I assure him that I shall need all his good wishes.
It was useful that my hon. Friend was able to draw attention to the specific example of cartridge cases and point to the concern which exists. The Amendment seeks to extend the provision of the Bill to imported goods bearing a United Kingdom name or mark which are subject to further manufacture within the United Kingdom—in other words, in my hon. Friend's illustration, the filling of cartridge cases.
Such an extension is unnecessary and impractical by virtue of the provisions of the main Act. Section 36(1) of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968, provides that:goods shall be deemed to have been manufactured or produced in the country in which they last underwent a treatment or process resulting in a substantial change.Thus, if imported goods undergo a treatment or process resulting in a substantial change in this country they are subsequently deemed to be of United Kingdom origin. The Amendment would merely secure that they were marked as being British. I do not believe that that is what my hon. Friend would wish. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend will see the problems which are involved and will appreciate that we want to ensure that there will be no danger to the public. One of the ways of doing this is to ensure that British cartridges which are entirely British made are thus marked so that the public see that what they are purchasing is of that nature.
I thank my hon. Friend for raising this point, and I hope that with that explanation he will see fit not to press the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.1594
§ Mr. Eric Deakins (Walthamstow, West)
I beg to move Amendment No. 5, in page 1, line 11, leave out from 'the' to end of line 16 and insert'goods are clearly, conspicuously and legibly marked with an indication of the country in which the goods were manufactured or produced, any person who supplies or offers to supply the goods in the course of a trade or business shall, subject to the provisions of this Act, be guilty of an offence. It shall be sufficient compliance with the requirements of this paragraph if the words "foreign produce", "imported produce", "product of the Commonwealth" or other indication of the geographical area in which the goods were manufactured or produced are used in place of the country of origin'.This is in the nature of a probing Amendment and is in two parts. The first sentence which it is desired to insert makes the present wording in the Bill much clearer and, indeed, probably strengthens the intention of the promoters of the Bill. In place of the wordsa conspicuous indication of the country in which the goods were manufactured or producedthe Amendment suggests that the goods should beclearly, conspicuously and legibly marked".This is very important in the food industry, and, in fact, this Amendment has been designed with the interests, needs and requirements of the food industry in mind. I am well aware that the origin of the Bill lies with those Members who have textile interests very much at heart, but the Bill goes much wider in its purport than merely the textile industry; and, since the food industry—if one may dare say so—is even more important and larger than the textile industry, I think it is as well that its interests are considered by the Committee. I do not think there will be any dispute about the wording of the first part of the Amendment, which I believe strengthens the Bill.
The second part of the Amendment might be a little more controversial. It provides that instead of stating the country of origin it shall be sufficient to indicate the country of origin by a generic term, in terms of a geographical area, such as, for example, "Commonwealth produce" or "foreign produce" or a similar expression which would ensure that the consumer or purchaser knew exactly that the goods were not of United Kingdom manufacture and were, indeed, imported goods.
1595 In some cases the use of such an expression would distinguish between Commonwealth goods and other goods. This is of particular importance in the food industry where we do not have origin marking in quite the same way as may have been the case in the textile industry. I am thinking particularly of articles like fruit, which are sold under trade names, and they are on sale at stalls in the streets, in grocers' shops, and so on, under some sort of generic name.
I think, therefore, that with the interests of the food industry in mind the promoters of the Bill might see their way to accept this Amendment or at least give it favourable consideration because, as I say, we have to consider the interests not only of the textile industry but of other industries, including the food industry, to which the Bill is likely to apply.
§ Mr. Emery
I appreciate the way in which the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Deakins) has moved the Amendment, as well as his obvious desire to help in clarifying the Bill.
The problem with which I am faced is that the Amendment would make two significant alterations to the Bill. First, the indication of origin would no longer have to be in close proximity to the United Kingdom name or mark. Secondly, a variety of other forms of indication of origin would be permitted as alternatives to the actual country of origin.
I consider that the Amendment would weaken the Bill for the following reasons. The object of requiring the indication of origin to accompany the United Kingdom name and mark is to ensure that if the purchaser is misled he is only misled for as long as it takes him to read and take in the significance of the mark of origin-of the goods. The Amendment—I am sure the hon. Gentleman does not want this—would permit a clear, conspicuous and legible mark to be widely separated from the United Kingdom name or mark.
The main argument about the need for this Bill is that the United Kingdom name or mark on imported goods would be a misleading factor, and, therefore, we want to ensure that the fact of importation shall be stated in a position close to the particular United Kingdom 1596 name or mark. The Amendment would allow the marking to be on the other side of the box. Therefore, I cannot accept that this would be an improvement.
Also, while the addition of the words "clearly" and "legibly" might be considered to be helpful, I can assure the hon. Gentleman, having taken some legal advice, that the word "conspicuous", which word appears in the Bill already, will cover both "clearly" and "legibly". Obviously, the marking would not be conspicuous unless it were clear and legible.
Then we come to the alternative markings. Although they would be more convenient for traders and some manufacturers, this proposal ignores the fact that the public are generally suspicious of wider terms or connotations such as "foreign" or "Empire", which terms were permitted under the old Merchandise Marks Act. Many people felt that these were cloaks under which a variety of origins could be hidden. For example, there may well be a lot of difference, in the public's mind, between a radio made, say, in Germany and one made in Hong Kong.
In such circumstances, the mark "foreign" does not give that clear indication which the consumer has a right to expect if we go forward with the Bill. Much the same applies to textiles, for example, French silk as opposed to silk from Thailand or, again, from Hong Kong. Our firm impression and information is that there is a desire that we should hold to the requirements that indicate the precise origin.
The hon. Gentleman spoke of the extra complication for manufacturers or wholesalers if precise origin has to be indicated, and I accept that that may be so. But I have myself been a manufacturer, when I was able to wear other hats, and I know that it is not an uncommon practice to have to change the labelling or marking on articles which one is manufacturing or packaging. I feel, therefore, that that argument can be somewhat inflated in this general context.
I suggest to the promoter of the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel), that he might consider the matter, but it is my judgment that the Amendment would weaken rather than strengthen the Bill, and I am sure 1597 that that is not a result which the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West would wish to bring about.
§ Mr. Tom Normanton (Cheadle)
When I read the Amendment on the Paper today, I had considerable misgivings about the intentions underlying it. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Deakins) for the way he introduced it, expressing his deep concern, shared by many, if not all, right hon. and hon. Members, that there should be no ambiguity which could mislead the consuming public, our object being to ensure that there is a clear indication of the source of origin of the goods available for the public's choice.
I come now to the first part of the Amendment. I am a sponsor of the Bill, not its promoter. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel), whose Bill it is, will think it appropriate to consider the wording suggested by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West and perhaps consider whether an Amendment might be appropriate at a later stage to achieve the object which the hon. Gentleman has in mind.
On the second part of the Amendment, I welcome the Minister's comments drawing our attention to the danger of ambiguity, which existed before November last year, in the use of the words "foreign", "imported" and "commonwealth". There is nothing to be ashamed of—indeed I hope that all countries, including Britain, will be ready and proud to do it—in marking the origin of the goods which they manufacture or export. Let it be done clearly and without equivocation.
I can see difficulty in the interpretation of the words "foreign" or "imported" within the Common Market connotation. At what stage are we in a foreign country within the Common Market? At what stage is Germany foreign to us? At what stage are goods from Italy imported?
The use of the precise name of the country of origin will remove doubt in anyone's mind as to the source of goods available to the public from which a choice may be made. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman will be willing to withdraw his Amendment, though I hope at the same time that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East 1598 will give detailed consideration to the first part of it.
§ Mr. John Peel (Leicester, South-East)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Deakins) for the way he moved the Amendment and to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) for his comments.
I very much agree with what my hon. Friend the Minister said about the first part of the Amendment. My view was that, in order to give the consumer as much protection as possible regarding the origin of goods, the words "is accompanied by" should be used, because I was assured that that would mean that the name of country of origin would have to be placed sufficiently close to the United Kingdom mark for the purchaser to be able to see it almost straight away. I regard that as important. If the indication of origin is some distance away, the consumer may well be misled, and the basic purpose of my Bill is to protect the consumer from being misled. I think it important, therefore, that we should keep the wording as it is. For that reason, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his Amendment.
On the second part of the Amendment, I see the point which the hon. Gentleman makes, though here again I agree with what the Minister said. Circumstances regarding imported goods are very different now from what they were some years ago. It is important nowadays that the consumer should know the precise country of origin, and for this reason I regard such words as "foreign", "imported" and "Commonwealth" as insufficient.
§ Mr. Deakins
I am grateful to the Committee for having given the Amendment a fair run. I am grateful to the Minister in particular for having pointed out that the first part of the Amendment would to some extent weaken the Bill. I yield to no one in my desire, a desire shared, I know, by the sponsors of the Bill, to increase by every possible means the protection for the consumer and to ensure that the fullest possible information is given.
I am a little surprised to learn that the wording "is accompanied by" means in law that the mark of origin has to be 1599 very near the United Kingdom mark. However, if that is so, I am delighted. On the face of it, it did not seem to me that it was so, but the promoter has told us that that is what he understands and, obviously, he has made inquiries and taken advice.
§ Mr. Emery
I had the same doubt when I had to take over the handling of the Bill in the Department, and we looked into the legal aspect of that matter. I can add my assurance to that given by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel). What he said is correct; they must be kept together.
§ Mr. Deakins
I am much obliged for that clarification. I take the point also that the second part of the Amendment could in some circumstances be held to weaken consumer protection.
In view of the desire to make progress, and in view of the doubt in my mind now about the value of the Amendment, after what the promoter and the Minister have said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ The First Deputy Chairman (Miss Harvie Anderson)
I think it would be appropriate to take at the same time Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 22, at end insert:() For the purposes of subsection (1) of this section a name or mark which is applied to any firearm manufactured or produced outside the United Kingdom shall not be regarded as accompanied by a conspicuous indication of the country in which the firearm was manufactured or produced unless the country of origin is indicated by being incised or impressed on the exposed surface of the barrel in proximity to the breach.and Amendment No. 2, in page 2, line 17, at end insert:firearm" means any lethal barelled weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged and includes a starting pistol.
§ Mr. Farr
I wish to put forward these Amendments because the position on firearms is unsatisfactory in the Bill. My intention is to improve the Bill for the 1600 users of all types of firearms, including shotguns. The design, quality and performance of any firearms are all matters of great importance to the consumer or user and there is wide variety in standards of manufacture. Experience shows that the variations in these standards are directly related to the country of manufacture. Though there is a similarity in the design of shotguns manufactured in Britain, Belgium, the United States, Japan and Spain, there is a wide variation in the quality and performance of those weapons. For example, a new Purdey shotgun made in this country would cost about £2,000 whereas a shotgun of exactly the same type firing the same cartridge in the same way would cost as little as £50 if it were made in Spain. So there is a tremendous importance in establishing quite clearly the country of origin of the weapon concerned.
§ Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West)
For those of us who have a singular ignorance on the operation of certain of these sporting firearms, can the hon. Member explain the importance of distinguishing the country of origin? He mentioned a price difference, but what is the quality distinction between, say, a Spanish product and a British product?
§ 12.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Farr
The Purdey shotgun—there are many British manufacturers of similar quality weapons—is hand-made by artisans who have had the craft handed down from one generation to another. The Spanish shotgun is turned out on a mass production line and exported to this country. The difference between the two is in quality and efficiency. The cheaper product is rough and ready and will go bang if the trigger is pulled but no more can be expected of it.
The same situation applies to rifles. Those manufactured in Britain, Italy, the United States of America, Finland and Germany are similar in design but there is wide variation in performance and quality. Air rifles are manufactured in Britain, Spain and many other countries and are similar in external appearance, although they too exhibit very wide variation in quality and performance. Many products produced in one country are intended copies, or nearly precise imitations, of the originals produced in another country.
1601 I could give several examples. An interesting one is that of the Spanish manufacturer who a few years ago copied a particular type of short-barrelled shotgun which is manufactured in this country at high cost by a firm called Churchill's. The Spanish manufacturer even went so far as to introduce on his gun a special type of rib which was unique to Churchill's. Inlaid on the Spanish gun were similar insignia and the Roman numerals XXV which are also inlaid on the Churchill gun and indicate that the barrel is 25 inches long.
Most English-made firearms and some firearms made in certain foreign countries fetch higher prices than those manufactured elsewhere. The only reason for English firearms being copied abroad and sold in Britain is to obtain higher prices than the weapons would otherwise fetch. If these products do not show the country of origin it is easy for the consumer to be misled by manufacturers and importers into believing he is obtaining a firearm with a design, quality and performance associated with similar products from another country. The unsophisticated consumer is thus in great difficulty, when products look similar in appearance, in deciding which is of better value. A clear indication on a foreign weapon of the country of origin would be of particular assistance to him and to the dealer.
The question of safety is of particular importance and is one of my reasons for moving the Amendment. The barrels of firearms, shotguns and other weapons are, in the main, subjected to tests in their country of origin to establish whether they are within the safety limits laid down by legislation, where such legislation exists, in their respective countries. The British proof houses in London and Birmingham have recognised strict standards which apply to all weapons manufactured in Britain and to all imported weapons except where a mutual agreement has been reached between the proof houses concerned to exempt the products from further proving. In fact these are firearms manufactured in Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Spain or Eire.
It is no longer the practice for foreign weapons to be marked at proof "Not English made" as used to be the case. It is, therefore, necessary for the country of origin to be known so that the necessity for British proof can be determined. 1602 The consumer should therefore be left in no doubt as to the origin of the product he purchases, and, whilst proof marks are clearly indented giving this information, it is by no means easy for the average consumer to interpret these marks, which are garbled in appearance, and relate them to the country of origin. The marking of the country of origin, as at present required by the Order in Council, removes all doubt.
For many years purchasers of firearms in this country have been accustomed to finding evidence of the country of manufacture marked on the firearms and in the advertisements connected therewith. For the reasons I have explained, imported goods which do not contain such marking can easily be confused with British products or the products of certain other countries. Trademarks and names do not prevent misunderstanding. If the practice which has continued for so long in accordance with the requirements of the Order in Council of indicating the country of origin were suddenly to cease, consumers might well be misled into paying higher prices for lower quality products.
Two further short examples which have prompted me to move the Amendment will give an idea of the manner in which British firearms are being copied abroad and deliberately exported. There is a firm in this country of quite high repute called Holland and Holland which makes a very good shotgun, which is in great demand and very expensive. Japanese competitors have even gone to the extent of registering in Japan the name "Holland and Holland" and exporting guns to this country with that as their trademark, which bears no connection with the British firm concerned.
Secondly we must bear in mind the important point that with a shotgun, as with a firearm, we are dealing with an object that has a very long life. It is not like a garment which is discarded after a year or two or a motor car which may be changed after four or five years. Good shotguns will last well over 100 years in regular use, and I would say that most of the shotguns still in use in this country are well over 80 years old. Therefore it is no good simply to have a label attached to the weapon or a mark which can be rubbed off. The name of 1603 the country of origin must be clearly incised on the barrel.
We are all delighted to see my hon. Friend here as Minister. If he is not fully seized of the need to make the Amendments which I have tabled, I hope that in view of what I have said and the fears I have expressed, which are widely held throughout the country, he will be kind enough to say that should they prove to be justified, and should the misleading of users of firearms of all kinds occur because of the 1968 Act, he will take steps to introduce the relevant origin marking orders to protect the consumer and the trade.
§ Mr. Emery
I again thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) for the way in which he has spoken to the Amendment.
I think it right to deal with Amendment No. 3 first so that no hon. Member, or anyone who reads the report of the debate in Hansard, will think I tried to sidetrack the Committee from that Amendment. I am particularly worried about it because, whilst I feel that it is introduced with the intention of blocking what hon. Members believe to be a loophole in the provision of Clause 1(1), it would do exactly the opposite. It would take many classes of goods outside the provisions of the Bill, which provides that a United Kingdom name or mark applied to imported goods shall be accompanied by a conspicuous indication of the country of origin. By virtue of the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, the name or mark is deemed to have been applied to goods if it is applied to(i) the goods themselves, or(ii) anything in, on or with which the goods are supplied.That, naturally, includes the label. The Amendment would thus remove from the scope of the Bill those imported goods to which a name or marking was applied otherwise than by a label. I am certain that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel), who has been in charge of the Bill, would object to that very much. It would remove from the Bill many classes of goods which the Committee would not be willing to see removed.
Amendments Nos. 1 and 2 specifically concern shotguns. I see serious difficul- 1604 ties in the approach suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough in respect to firearms and to the wider implications. There is no doubt that it would give a special provision and exemption for firearms which might well be wanted by those concerned with other goods.
The essential aim of the Bill is to counter the inference of United Kingdom origin which may be drawn by anyone, but specifically the customer, where a United Kingdom name or mark is applied to imported goods. If the indication of true origin is to be this country, it is essential that the potential customer who sees the United Kingdom name or mark should at the same time see the indication of the country of origin.
I can best illustrate that by using the example given by my hon. Friend of the Japanese company which has been registered in the name of "Holland and Holland". If its guns bore the name "Holland and Holland", it is at the place where the name appeared, whether incised on the butt or wherever, that the customer should have the foreign origin made absolutely clear. The specific marking my hon. Friend wants in a set place on the barrel would exclude, in the operation of the Bill, the marking of origin being in any of the advertising literature, the box, label or any of the display notices which might be used for the sale of such equipment. I realise that many of the most expensive shotguns are not sold in that manner, but starting pistols, and so on, and some of the cheaper guns are packaged. Where there is any sign in connection with shotguns that could mislead by the use of a name or mark of British origin, it is at that point that the marking of the origin should be made.
§ Mr. Deakins
The Minister said some thing that rather surprised me. Is it clear from subsection (1) that its intention is to apply to advertising material in connection with goods as well as the goods themselves?
§ Mr. Alan Williams
The Bill refers to a mark being applied to the goods. I know that this is a rather awkward legalistic point, and the Minister, like me, is not a lawyer, but "applied to" would appear superficially to a non-lawyer to be rather specific and would not relate, for example, to television advertising of a product.
§ 12.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Emery
I think I may have misled the Committee in that instance, and I am sorry. As far as I am advised at the moment, I believe that the interpretation given to it by the hon. Gentleman is correct.
I turn now to the question of the proofing of the barrels. I see this as a specific illustration, but I believe again that the fears of my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough are not correct. After all, as I am informed, all barrels and guns coming into the country have to be submitted for British proof unless there has been an exemption. There are obviously certain foreign proof houses which have been able to provide the British proofing houses with evidence that they maintain the necessary standards and reliability, and they have been able to obtain exemption from the requirements. Therefore, in that instance it is true that the barrels are not British proofed, but where there is any doubt, where no exemption has been given, these firearms have to obtain the British proofing marks.
I feel that the arguments I have put should go a considerable way to meeting the point of my hon. Friend. Of course, it is up to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East whether to accept the Amendment or not, but it might be helpful if I give my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough the assurance he asks for. I am willing to say that 1606 if his worst fears were realised my Department would be ready to look at the points he has made to see whether action could be taken under the existing provisions. I hasten to add, however, that I believe and hope that we will never come to that point. But if his fears were realised we would have the matter looked at again in the Department.
§ Mr. Alan Williams
I congratulate the Under-Secretary of State—[Interruption]. I am sorry to start with what may appear to be a corrective manner, but I hope he will listen to me now because I am about to make a complimentary remark and I know that, as a man of great humility, he would not wish to miss it. As someone who exchanged verbal assaults with the hon. Gentleman when we were in Government, I congratulate him on his first appearance on the Government Front Bench. He can feel assured that he has conducted himself in a highly acceptable way to both sides of the Committee in dealing reasonably with the points raised.
It is in this spirit that I ask the hon. Gentleman to look again at his assurance to the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr). If the basic point made by the hon. Member for Harborough is valid but there is a quality difference as well as a price and place of origin difference, action should be taken, because this is a matter of consumer interest, a point admitted by the Under-Secretary of State's predecessor as a critical deciding factor. If there is a quality difference, this should easily be able to be established without having to wait for a certain situation to arise. The hon. Gentleman said that the Department would consider the matter if a certain situation arose. But on the basis that prevention is better than cure, and since scientific data are readily available here, I think the hon. Gentleman should go further than he has done with his assurance.
It may be that no Amendment is needed to the Bill. I would have thought that this aspect was already covered in the 1968 Act. In the interests of the consumer, I think that the hon. Gentleman could take powers under that Act. I ask the hon. Gentleman to strengthen his assurance to the extent of saying that he will make the necessary inquiries before a certain situation comes about. 1607 If there is a quality difference and a safety element is involved, a regrettable situation might come about, and it is one which I am sure the hon. Gentleman would wish to avoid.
§ Mr. Emery
I thank the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Alan Williams) for his kind remarks. I hope that we can always keep our level of debate as it is today. I have my doubts, but I thank the hon. Gentleman for his good wishes.
I hoped that by referring specifically to the proofing factor I was dealing with the aspect of safety. I accept that if I were in any way concerned about the safety aspect I would want to see action at this stage, but I do not believe that it is involved here, and I believe that the hon. Gentleman is right in saying that there are powers under the 1968 Act to deal with the trade description position.
I always believe in making certain that one does not leave any ambiguity, and I want to clear up the advertising position. The Bill applies not to advertising in general, which might have been inferred, but to advertising "in, on or with" any goods to which the United Kingdom name or mark has been applied. In other words, it would apply to the show cards nearby. This is important. In other words, it applies not to general advertising but to show cards or packaging.
§ Mr. Normanton
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for that last observation. Within the context of the wish to see the public protected from abuse, this is an extremely important point because there are far too many cases where the public are deceived by glamorous wilful deception in techniques adopted in offering goods for sale. Whatever goods are imported, they must have the country of origin clearly stamped on them.
Should any goods be offered for sale to the public—we can be assured on this in the drafting of the Bill—any attempt to camouflage or mislead the public about the true source of origin will lay those responsible open to the full consequences of the Bill. That cannot be too strongly represented. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for having done so.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Deakins
I beg to move Amendment No. 6, in page 1, line 18, leave out from 'mixtures' to end of line 19 and insert:For the purpose of this subsection the expression 'blend' or 'mixture' does not include any blend or mixture which has been subjected to a process of manufacture resulting in a substantial change.For the purpose of clarification, I make it clear that the Amendment would mean that the existing subsection would be divided into two. There would be two separate sentences.
On Second Reading the hon. Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) said:Clause 1(2) of the Bill may be somewhat confusing. It excludes from the provisions blends and mixtures of materials of the same kind. Such blends and mixtures are often made of materials from different sources, and they were excluded from the scope of the 1926 Act provisions.There was then an intervention by the hon. Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler), to which the hon. Gentleman replied:This can be considered in Committee if an Amendment is proposed. Some difficulties might be involved here and that is why I mentioned it."—[Official Report, 25th February, 1972; Vol. 831, c. 1675–6.]It would be generally accepted that the wording of subsection (2) is rather obscure. I find difficulty in understanding exactly what is intended about blends and mixtures by the sponsors. It is rather vague. My concern is about its effects not on the textile industry, where there may well be special problems, but on the food industry. I am concerned about the effect the subsection is likely to have on food mixing and blending. For example, a commodity like vinegar might be blended in this country from a whole variety of imported ingredients. I cannot believe it is the intention of the sponsors that on the vinegar bottle it should be stated that ingredient A comes from country 1 and ingredient B from country 2, and so on.
1609 Although it might be logical I do not believe it would be helpful to the consumer who wants to know who made up the vinegar. The important point is that the blending and mixing should have taken place in this country rather than overseas. There are other examples, but I hope that I have made the point that there would be grave difficulty in applying this subsection to certain processes in food manufacturing. The purpose of the Amendment is to clarify what I hope is in the minds of the sponsors so that the expression "blend" or "mixture" will exclude any such blend or mixture which has been subject to a manufacturing process resulting in a substantial change so that we are dealing with a completely different commodity from the ingredients which went into it in the first place.
I hope that the sponsors will look kindly on this or a similar Amendment. Otherwise the subsection is likely to create considerable difficulty and confusion. This can lead to weakness in application and misunderstanding, with a lot of time being wasted. It is right that in Committee we should do our best to clarify a somewhat obscure subsection.
§ Mr. David Clark (Colne Valley)
May I raise a point relating to the wool and cotton industries? It was pointed out on Second Reading by the hon. Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) that mixtures of materials of the same kind are not covered by the Bill. The Minister's predecessor made the same point when he said thata blend of two wool fibres of differing origins would in theory fall within the exception…"—[Official Report, 25th February, 1972; Vol. 831, c. 1736.]Can the Minister deal with this? If we import wool from New Zealand and Australia in a raw state and mix it, does it mean that it would not be covered by the Bill? The same thing applies to the cotton industry.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Emery
May I now do some congratulating? This is the first time I have seen the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. David Clark) on the Opposition Front Bench. Although I am certain that he has been there before, it is the first time I have had the pleasure of dealing with him in this way and I would like to extend to him my good 1610 wishes. I can understand why he has raised the point he did, bearing in mind his constituency. I admit readily that Clause 1(2) is unsatisfactory and I have been giving a good deal of thought to what should be done about it—much more thought in the first four days of taking office than I would have wished.
Much as I would like to be able to accept the Amendment I do not believe that it is what is required. The original thought behind the subsection was to exempt those cases in which, if a United Kingdom name or mark was applied to a blend or mixture, the indication of origin required by Clause 1(1) would involve naming more than one country. In some circumstances that could obviously create practical difficulties, as the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West(Mr. Deakins) has made clear. That position could arise only if the material blended or mixed came from two or more different countries.
Section 36(1) of the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, provides that goods shall be deemed to have been manufactured or produced in the country in which they last underwent a treatment or process resulting in a substantial change. If the process of blending or mixing results in a substantial change, the exemption should not apply. This might result from a chemical reaction between materials as, for example, when water is mixed with cement. The exemption should not apply either if, after blending or mixing, the combined materials were subject to some process which produced a substantial change as, for example, by applying heat to a mixture of thermostatic plastic powders, thereby converting them into a solid mass.
Nor should the exemption apply if, while or after being blended or mixed, the materials were incorporated into something of a quite different identity. Here we come to the example given by the hon. Member for Colne Valley—a mixture of cotton fibres spun into different threads or warps and wefts of different origins woven together to form a piece of cloth. We are talking about a wide variety of cases not easily covered by the simple form of words we have here.
I have thought long and hard about this but have to admit that at the moment I have not devised an alternative form of words which would cover the situation 1611 even as well as the Amendment. However the Amendment does not cover the whole matter or deal with all possible combinations or circumstances or those cases in which the practical problems of stating the country of origin of blends or mixtures is serious enough to justify exemption from the Bill. What I recommend to the Committee and to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) is that we must give further consideration to Clause 1(2). This may even mean taking it out of the Bill entirely and leaving the difficult cases to be dealt with as they emerge under Clause 1(4). This is the suggestion which I shall be putting to the noble Lord who will deal with the Bill in another place.
Therefore I would hope that although I am not able to accept the Amendment moved by the hon. Member he will, through this explanation which I have offered, be fired with the knowledge that his initiative and his Amendment have made us think very deeply about the matter and that his Amendment has been extremely helpful. I hope he will understand the difficulties in which the Government find themselves on this matter; we shall have to look again at this during the further progress of the Bill in another place. I hope this will be acceptable to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East because, of course, he will be entirely concerned with the Bill during the whole of its life. I think I can say, after conversation with him, that he appreciates as much as I do the problems on this matter.
§ Mr. Peel
I simply want to thank the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Deakins) for raising this issue and to thank also his hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench. On Second Reading of my Bill I detected the problems which were raised by this subsection and I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman has brought the matter up.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for the consideration he has very kindly given to the matter, especially when he has had to do so at short notice. The proposal which he has put forward I gladly accept, because I think it is probably the best answer. In these circumstances I very much hope that the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West will be prepared to withdraw his Amendment.
§ Mr. Deakins
I am grateful that the Committee has accepted the spirit and purpose of the Amendment. I think it is generally agreed in the Committee that if subsection (2) were to be left as it is, it would cause a great deal of confusion and would not necessarily help the purposes of the Bill. Whether it could be dealt with by the sort of clarifying Amendment the Minister has been racking his brains about for the past four days, or by withdrawing the subsection altogether, I do not know, but I think the Committee is of the general opinion that we cannot leave subsection (2) as it is. Since that seems to be the general feeling of the Committee, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. Deakins
I beg to move Amendment No. 7, in page 1, line 22, at end insert:(4) Subsectiton (1) of this section does not apply to the sale of any foodstuffs at any hotel or restaurant or other premises for consumption thereon or the sale of any foodstuffs, which have undergone a process of cooking, curing or preserving in the United Kingdom.This is a new subsection which raises two entirely separate points. Although it is in one sentence there are two quite separate halves so to speak.
The first part is about sales of foods at restaurants and hotels—in a word meals, to make the matter as clear as possible. As I understand the situation, if the Bill were to go through without such an Amendment as this, once the Bill had become law a restaurant owner, a cafe owner or a hotel proprietor—anyone providing meals to the public—would be under an obligation to ensure that the origins of the foodstuffs used in a meal were described to the consumer, and that would be done through the bill of fare or menu. To give a simple example, if the order were for "beef and two veg" the menu would have to say whether the beef came from the Argentine or—
§ Mr. Deakins
—or Leicestershire; whether it was English, Scottish or American, and so on. As agricultural experts in particular know, there are many varieties of beef. Similarly with lamb. It would have to be said whether it was English, Welsh, Scottish or New Zealand, 1613 and to those varieties we shall have to add one or two more if we go into the Common Market. It is a question of the main constituent of the dish. To take again the example of the order for beef and two veg, it would be necessary to write on the menu where the potatoes came from if they were not English, whether they were Dutch or Danish or whatever the case might be. If the dish were to be of eggs it would have to be stated whether they were Finnish, Polish, Argentinian, New Zealand or whatever else they were.
This would create considerable difficulties for the catering industry generally, because there would have to be constant changes in the descriptions set out on menus in restaurants, hotels, cafeterias, and so on. It is well known that caterers buy their foods from the most convenient markets, and the most convenient market may not always be the same one and the foodstuffs bought do not necessarily always come from the same country of origin. A caterer may serve Argentine beef on one day and on another day United Kingdom beef. Similarly with all the other items which go on menus. To have to make these constant changes would certainly mean a great deal of inconvenience and expense to the caterer.
I do not regard that as necessarily an overwhelmingly important issue. It would be a relatively unimportant issue if the interests of the consumer were to be served by what is proposed in the Bill. I wonder, therefore, what is the intention of the sponsors of the Bill.
For example, a customer asks for beef and two veg, and he gets beef and two veg and is perfectly satisfied with them, but he does not necessarily know that the beef came from the Argentine or that the potatoes came from Holland; and if he orders an omlette he does not know whether the eggs came from Finland, if they did not come from the United Kingdom.
My first point, therefore, is whether there is any great consumer protection in insisting that the provisions of the Bill should apply to meals in restaurants.
The second part of my Amendment is a slightly different one relating to the sale offoodstuffs, which have undergone a process of cooking, curing or preserving in the United Kingdom".1614 It is rather similar to the point I made earlier about blending and mixing. To give an example shortly, it is the practice of some firms in the meat industry, in which I used to work before I became a Member of the House, to import pork from, let us say, Holland or Denmark and to apply to that pork a process of pickling or sometimes of curing to produce hams for sale to the public in this country. Those hams are rather like British hams in that they are produced in this country, but they are produced from imported material, even though it has been subjected to a substantial manufacturing process. I wonder whether the sponsors of the Bill can say whether it is the intention in the case of ham that it would have to be labelled "Product of Holland"—or Denmark or whatever country the pork came from—rather than let it be assumed to be a product of the United Kingdom since it would be a product of manufacture or process by a United Kingdom firm.
Another example is preserves, the manufacture of jams for instance. No doubt jam manufacturers in this country from time to time use imported ingredients. The question is whether the interests of the consumer are likely to be safeguarded by ensuring that on a bottle of jam sold to the consumer it is absolutely necessary to say that the currants, strawberries or other ingredients came from Barbados and that the sugar came from another part of the West Indies, and all the materials not specifically mentioned must be deemed to have been produced in the United Kingdom. Is the consumer interest helped in that respect? Most consumers would regard jam manufactured in this country, albeit from imported ingredients, as being of United Kingdom origin. Is this the intention of the sponsors?
Alternatively where a raw material has undergone substantial manufacturing processes, either in cooking or pickling, could it not be misleading to the consumer to describe such a product as "Made in Holland" or "Made in the West Indies"? Patently the product would not have been made there in the sense that the consumer would normally understand that expression. I appreciate that there is a difficulty here, as we had with mixing and blending, and we must seek a compromise. The wording of the Amendment 1615 is not necessarily ideal but I hope that the sponsors will agree to look at this again, if necessary in another place.
§ Mr. Normanton
With great respect to him, I think that the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Deakins) has misunderstood what is in our minds. The Bill does not require the country of origin to be indicated on goods unless those goods are deemed, through labelling or description, to come within the terms of the Bill and therefore to be likely to mislead. Imported goods which have no label or description attached to them would not require to have their country of origin attached to them whether they are for sale and consumption inside premises or for sale over the counter.
On the other hand, if a dish described as Aylesbury duckling or Cheshire cheese did not come from Aylesbury or Cheshire this would technically be a case of misrepresentation to the consuming public. The requirement to indicate the country of origin of goods to be consumed at a catering establishment or sold over the counter could arise only if those goods were labelled misleadingly.
§ Mr. Emery
The Amendment seeks to exclude from the provisions of Clause 1(1) foodstuffs sold in hotels, restaurants and the like which have been cooked, cured or preserved in the United Kingdom. The hon. Member for Walthamstow, West (Mr. Deakins) made his first point most reasonably, and that point was reinforced by my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton).
Section 36(1) of the principal Act provides that goods shall be deemed to have been manufactured or produced in the country in which they last underwent a treatment or process resulting in substantial change. I am advised that this applies where catering establishments cook food which they serve for consumption on the premises, and equally where anyone else in the United Kingdom cooks, curesor preserves imported foods. Those foods are no longer goods manufactured or produced outside the United Kingdom and are, therefore, exempt from Clause 1(1) without the need for an Amendment. I hope that assurance will help the hon. Member for Walthamstow, West.
§ Mr. Normanton
I am not clear on the point made by my hon. Friend the 1616 Minister. Does he regard this as the correct interpretation of the Bill: that where goods offered for sale at a retail establishment or food store are described as having been cooked or processed in this country and have attached to them a geographical name such as Aylesbury or Cheshire the requirement is that that description shall be an honest description, and if it were not an honest and true description there would be an offence?
§ Mr. Emery
My view on this is that we are going somewhat wider than the Bill. A Yorkshire pudding does not have to be made in Yorkshire, nor, indeed, is all Cheddar cheese made in Cheddar, and I do not believe that any Stilton is made in Stilton.
I do not see why imported foods which are served for consumption in their original containers should not receive the same treatment as they receive when they are sold across the counter. One is buying an article with a United Kingdom name or mark. An imported carton of yoghurt in its original container would have its mark of origin irrespective of whether it was sold over the counter or for consumption.
My advice is that there is no need for the Amendment because the problems which have been raised are already covered.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Clause stand part of the Bill.
§ The Chairman
Although I have not selected it, I am prepared to allow on this Question a discussion of new Clause 1:Misleading absence of marks of origin
- (1) Any person who supplies or offers to supply in the course of any trade or business any goods to which this section applies on which the country of manufacture or production is not conspicuously indicated shall be guilty of an offence.
- (2) This section applies to any goods in respect of which the Secretary of State has made an order under this section:
- Provided that such orders shall only be made in respect of goods where the absence of a conspicuous indication of the country in which the goods were manufactured or produced is liable, in the opinion of the Secretary of State,
1617 to mislead purchasers of those goods as to their country of origin.
- (3) An order under this section shall be made in the form of a statutory instrument which shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament.
§ Mr. David Clark
I thank the Minister for the kind words which he addressed to me a few moments ago, and I reciprocate his good wishes.
In discussing new Clause 1 on the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill", I should like to outline some of the difficulties which have become apparent. Generally, we support the Bill, and our only reservations are that we feel it does not go far enough in making provision for sufficient information to be given to protect the consumer. On the one hand, we are trying to provide all the information that the consumer might need, yet on the other hand we are conscious that we must honour our international obligations.
In that spirit we put forward new Clause 1, which seeks to help the Government, the consumers and also various industries which feel themselves to be affected by the Bill following the disappearance of origin markings last November. We welcome the spirit in which the Government have approached the Bill and also the co-operation shown by the sponsors.
The Under-Secretary of State said that in the last four days he had spent a large amount of time examining the Bill and that he would look again at Clause 1(2). He also said that his Department's help would be available to the sponsors in another place.
The Bill relates to a somewhat narrow point which has been difficult to deal with. Perhaps the easiest way to tackle the problem might be by amending Section 8 of the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968. We all appreciate the background to this Bill following the situation which arose last year, after many years of various merchandise Acts running back to 1887, when origin markings disappeared. There was then some disagreement over the matter. The Labour Minister who was responsible for piloting through Parliament the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, said in Committee on that legislation that in regard to Section 8 of that Act the interests of consumers would be 1618 wide enough to include manufacturers as consumers of raw materials. It was felt that the powers in Section 8 were not strong enough, although certain powers were taken in regard to certain foodstuffs.
We disagree to some extent with the Government's interpretation, and in the new Clause we intended to give the Minister a power in respect of origin markings which we thought he would like to possess I accept that the new Clause is a little cumbersome, but the point which we sought to cover was that in the absence of origin marking, which might be taken to mislead the consumer, the Minister would have the right to issue an origin marking order subject to a Statutory Instrument. We thought that this was the best way to protect everybody's interests in this complex matter.
It has been a tradition in the cotton and wool industries that goods which are unmarked are known to be British and that all imported goods by being marked are known to be foreign. Tradition dies hard, and it could be argued that the absence of origin marking will be taken by many people as denoting that those goods are made in Britain. This situation could have been avoided if the new Clause had been accepted by the Government since it enables the Minister to insist on origin marking. We must remember that we must protect the consumer, and, therefore, this is a most important provision.
I was impressed by an article in the Sunday Times on 2nd April which published the results of a survey by the Opinion Research Centre on the subject of consumers' needs. I was interested to see that no fewer than 94 per cent. of those interviewed said that they wished to know the country of origin. I believe that is an accurate reflection of public opinion and is quite true. The article in the Sunday Times said that such a high percentage was rather rare in polling, and went on to say:An O.R.C. man said last week: 'We normally get that kind of response only to questions like Do you commit adultery?' Apparently the vast majority deny it.This shows that the man or woman in the street cares about where goods are manufactured, and we believe this is right and proper. If people want to buy foreign 1619 goods it is a decision for them to make, but they should have a right to know where the goods were manufactured.
Since I represent the constituency of Colne Valley which has a wool and clothing industry, I was impressed to see that no fewer than 86 per cent. of those interviewed thought that they got the best value from British clothing. That is a fair commendation to all those concerned with the clothing and textile industries.
The whole question of advertising raises serious problems in this sphere, and I hope that the Minister will see what he can do to resolve them. As I understand the situation, even a showcard could be taken as an intention to mislead the purchaser in respect of goods, but an advertisement in a mail order catalogue would not be covered by the Bill. I can envisage a bizarre situation in these days of colour advertisements in newspapers when the Union Jack, the Cross of St. Andrew or the pennant of the lion rampant, a familiar sight in Scotland, will be used as background to an advertisement by a firm seeking to sell Japanese whisky. These are problems with which we shall have to cope in seeking to provide further information to the consumer.
The wool industry is seeking origin marking not through any form of protectionism but because it believes it is right that people should know where goods come from, because it must be remembered that when goods are made in Britain there is usually a guarantee of high quality. I am not saying that other countries do not produce high quality wool textiles. Obviously they do. But people have to decide which is high quality and which is not. While it is often difficult to tell from the texture of a cloth how good the quality is, a marking showing the country of origin sometimes gives an indication of the quality.
§ Mr. William Molloy (Ealing, North)
I am extremely interested in this point as it affects finished articles. I am sure that the Association of Clothing Contractors will agree that it should be made clear when goods are made in this country, not because it is against goods made by other countries as such but because the standard of workmanship in a made-up suit or coat made in this country by British 1620 craftsmen is second to none. There are some extremely clever methods by which it is sometimes suggested that a garment which has been made in a foreign country has been made in this country. Very often the standard of workmanship is poor in foreign garments. We are trying to point this out not because a garment is foreign-made but because it is of a poorer standard.
§ Mr. Clark
My hon. Friend has made the point clearly, and, obviously, I agree with him. We are not interested in protectionism. We are interested in giving information about goods. We feel that there should be fair competition, and this is a rather difficult situation. In the Second Reading debate on 25th February the Minister's predecessor made the point, for example, that there are not very many important countries which insist on origin markings. He said that the United States was about the only one. He went on to discuss the E.E.C. countries. Obviously, no one can ignore the effect of the E.E.C. in this respect. I was a little perturbed when he discussed the German situation. Although I see the point that he was making, he gave the impression that without origin markings British industry could still compete favourably and fairly with the E.E.C. countries. I am a little perturbed when I see the situation in Germany. As I understand it, the position there is that where any label on goods is in German the origin of the country in which they were produced must be stated. That puts us at a disadvantage. There is probably a case for saying that wherever a label is in English there should be some way of determining the country of origin. Clearly, the Germans feel that if the label is in German it is misleading to the consumer, who might innocently asume that the fact that the language is German means that the product is German. We feel that the competition is not exactly and completely fair.
In our argument on this Clause we are trying to help everyone concerned. We are trying to protect the jobs of many thousands of highly skilled personnel by ensuring that there is fair competition. We are trying to look after the interests of the consumer. I have heard it argued that we cannot insist on origin markings because the cost of doing so is prohibitive. However, I understand that we 1621 are to have an E.E.C. directive before long which insists that all textile garments bear some indication of the fibre composition. If we are to give the consumer information about the composition of the goods, I believe that we should go a stage further and indicate their origin.
I hope that the sponsors of the Bill will continue to be as co-operative as they have been in the past. We all hope that the Bill will go to another place and that the Government will assist its sponsors in the other place. However, perhaps the Minister will also consider the approach that we have made to the Bill and see whether at a later stage he can help the sponsors in getting a provision on the lines of this proposal inserted in the Bill. We believe that it would make this legislation very much fairer to everyone concerned.
§ Mr. Farr
Although I tried, without success, to improve Clause 1—and I am grateful for what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has said—there is one point which I should be grateful if he could clarify. Does the Clause relate to the sale of second-hand goods? I assume that it does. I am concerned especially about second-hand goods which have a very long life. I should like to be assured that the protection afforded to the purchasers of new goods applies equally to the purchasers of second-hand goods.
§ Mr. Molloy
I, too, offer my congratulations to the Under-Secretary. We have agreed about many matters and crossed swords about many others, not only in this House but in establishments overseas. I hope he will have a happy stay in his new office, though I trust that it will be a short one.
The sponsor of the Bill is to be congratulated. I support the ideals and objects behind his Measure. However there are some aspects of the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, which, if they had been enforced with more vigour, would have done a great deal more to strengthen our legislation on these matters.
No one in this House or in the country is against foreign goods as such. What perturbs ordinary people is that some foreign goods are coming in which are substandard. Some very clever devices are used to imply that they are of a higher standard and that they may be of British 1622 origin. It is that form of deception that I hope that the Bill will contribute to removing. We are trying to prevent the public from being the victims of a number of private cheats. Whether we like it or not, it must not be suggested that we have in mind merely wicked foreigners who send their substandard goods to this country, because they are aided and abetted by their British counterparts who are their allies in this form of deception.
There are still many people who are very properly influenced by the simple statement on goods that they are British made. This applies very much overseas. People have a sense of confidence when they see goods or articles marked as being British made. Britain has nothing to fear.
I am not sure whether the Bill applies to spareparts supplied, for example, for radios and motor cars. Japanese radios have been referred to. I remind the Committee that a first-class British Parker pen was cleverly mimicked in appearance by a much cheaper and inferior Japanese substitute. Complaints have been made to me by people who thought they were buying a new spare part for a wireless, a television set or a fountain pen but who discovered that, far from their purchasing a genuine British spare part, they were being fobbed off with a foreign substitute of much lower quality although at the same price.
It has been said this morning that we might be moving to a situation in which, if—as I think, regrettably—we join the Common Market, there will be no need to mark goods coming from Community countries. The implication seemed to be that, although the 1968 Act and the Bill will apply to many other foreign goods, they will not apply to goods emanating from Community countries if and when we join the Community.
§ Mr. Normanton
I may have raised ambiguities in the minds of the hon. Gentlemen and other hon. Members and also in the minds of people outside the House. My point was in connection with an earlier Amendment which suggested that the country of origin could be covered adequately by having the word "Foreign", "Commonwealth", or "Imported". I speculated about the possible inappropriateness of such phraseology within the context of our joining the Common Market. I did not 1623 say that it would be inappropriate. I gave voice to the fear in my mind, a fear which is, I believe, in the minds of many others, that in an entirely new environment in terms of tariffs and economic controls there will be a loophole. That is the last thing that I, as one of the sponsors of the Bill, would like to see. I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman wishes to ensure that it does not arise.
§ Mr. Molloy
I share the hon. Gentleman's apprehensions. I therefore hope that we shall both receive reassurance from the Under-Secretary.
I hope also that the Under-Secretary will be able to comment on the aspect of advertising. There is a grave danger of people being misled. The organisation which represents the manufacturers of women's clothes—the light centre and the heavy centre of the clothing industry; costumes, coats, underwear—is the Association of Clothing Contractors. There has been a tendency in advertisements recently to give the impression to the unsuspecting prospective consumer that a lady's coat or costume, say, is of British make-up origin. This arises from a clever and devious use of advertisements—for example, the use of some well-known national symbols.
This is a dishonest ploy which we should try to outlaw in the interests not only of all members of the association but also of all members represented by the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers, which feels annoyed when the craftsmanship of its members is stolen or appropriated to foreign goods—not because the goods are foreign, but because they are substandard.
British and Commonwealth manufacturers are only too proud to state clearly for the world to see that the goods are British- or Commonwealth-made, because such manufacturers have confidence in the quality and in the competitive price of their products.
I hope that the Minister will seriously and sympathetically consider the points outlined in the new Clause. The Clause would strengthen the Bill and assist the objects of the sponsors of the Bill. There is, regrettably, a minority in trade and commerce which stains the good name of private enterprise by trying to cheat. These people are skilful. It is worth their while knowing all about the law 1624 and its loopholes. The object of the exercise is to cheat the people. By cheating the people they cheat not only the purchaser, but also the British and Commonwealth producers of the goods. The hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) gave the example of shotguns. There are many other examples right across the board.
I hope that the House will support the Bill and that cognisance will be taken of what my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. David Clark) said about new Clause No. 1.
§ Mr. Arthur Davidson (Accrington)
I add my congratulations to those which have already been expressed to the Under-Secretary on his appointment. I know him very well, and although that fact is not necessarily in his favour, I am none the less delighted to see him occupying that position.
I do not think I need make a meal of what I am about to say—whether of Aylesbury duck or otherwise—because the points have been more than adequately covered. I take a very simple view about the Bill. I believe that at all times the maximum amount of information should be given to the public This applies not only in respect of consumer protection, but I also feel very strongly about the absence of information from official quarters, which is why—and I am now going very much out of order—I have always opposed the Official Secrets Act. However, Sir Robert, I doubt whether you would allow me to speak in detail about the Official Secrets Act on this Clause.
I feel that the British public are entitled to receive the maximum information. They want to know what they are buying, not only as regards quality but also about where the goods come from. Therefore, while I welcome the Bill I have reservations because I do not believe it goes far enough.
I should like the Under-Secretary, particularly after the nice things that I have heard said about him, seriously to consider new Clause No. 1.
§ Mr. Davidson
This would enable him to make orders where the absence of any mark could be misleading to the public. 1625 This applies particularly in places like Lancashire where people believe that when there are no markings on goods, the goods come from Britain, and probably from Lancashire. At a time when the Lancashire textile industry needs help, even if it does not need protecting, any measure, however small, to assist in this way would be very useful.
While talking about the Lancashire industry, I must not forget the Cheshire textile industry, because the hon. Members for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) and for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) have both pointed out how important that industry is.
I have always thought that the Trade Descriptions Act would cover the points which have been raised but that, if it did not do so, the simplest way of dealing with the situation would be to amend that Act. I have never had a satisfactory explanation from any Minister why that simple device has not been adopted. However, since apparently the legal advice is that it cannot be done, new Clause 1 seems to me to be the next best thing and the next best method of ensuring that as far as possible people who buy goods—and I am particularly concerned about cotton textiles—have more information about the origin of the goods so that they do not purchase them in the mistaken belief, through the absence of markings, that they are buying British goods when, in fact, they are not British.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Farr
I welcome this Clause but I wonder whether the Clause and the Bill as a whole go far enough in protecting the consumer. I am one of those who regretted the action of the previous Government in passing the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, which has necessitated the introduction of the Bill. The fact is that although my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) introduced the Bill which hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to see put on the Statute Book, it does not by any means fully restore to the shopper the protection which he enjoyed before the 1968 Act was passed.
The housewife will have to be very careful of the purchases she makes in the future, particularly unmarked goods such as woollens and stockings which 1626 she has been accustomed in the past to assume were British if no country of origin was marked on them. Even when the Bill goes through, as I am sure it will, a new position will have arisen with regard to foreign goods. They will be able to enter the country and be sold with no indication of the country of manufacture on them. This may be a good thing; I am not saying it is not, although personally I doubt it, and I believe that many discerning consumers, not necessarily for patriotic reasons, place great value on the simple label "Made in Britain". Because it is essential to help the housewife to know what she is buying, I think that all foreign goods which enter this country should have the country of origin marked on them.
Consider what will happen, for instance, in a few months' time when a shopper goes to one of our multiple stores, such as Marks and Spencer, to buy her household requirements for a few days or a week. She may start at the counter where various garments are sold and may perhaps buy a pair of stockings, a pair of trousers or some woollen goods. She has to remember that at all counters where garments and woollens are unmarked they are likely to be of foreign origin and manufacture. Then she will move on to the next counter to buy some food. She may want some tinned food, a joint or some jam. She has to remember that those goods without the country of origin marked on them will be British.
When she has bought her food she may move on to another counter to buy some toilet requirements, and she will have to bear in mind that unmarked soaps and toilet goods offered for sale are likely to be foreign goods. Finally, when she buys some pet food and a packet of seeds for the garden, the unmarked goods will be British.
I fear that the Bill will lead to chaos. The housewife will be severely misled, not necessarily deliberately but simply because it will be very difficult for her to remember these different points that I have mentioned.
The Bill will help to a limited extent; it will restore some of the protection which the housewife should enjoy, and for that reason I welcome it. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East on his initiative in 1627 introducing the Bill, but I still fear that it does not go far enough to protect the consumer. I should like the country of origin to be marked on all imported goods so that the housewife could be sure of making a choice without fear of deception.
§ Mr. John Forrester (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
A few minutes ago the Minister told my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) that flattery would get him nowhere. I suppose that abuse will get me nowhere either, so I shall content myself with wishing the Minister well on his new appointment.
On Second Reading, and again today, many doubts have been expressed about the effectiveness of the Bill. My hon. Friends the Members for Accrington and for Colne Valley (Mr. David Clark) suggested that the same protection for the consumer could have been achieved under Section 8 of the Trade Descriptions Act. I shall not pursue that point now, but there is an idea growing in the country, and in the trade associations concerned, that the Bill does not go far enough to protect the consumer's interest. However, many who feel that concern are none the less extremely grateful to the hon. Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) for giving the House an opportunity to debate these matters and to put some legislation on the Statute Book.
There is a fear that the Government themselves, though willing to accept the Bill in its present form, are not necessarily prepared to strengthen it. I hope that is not so. I was gratified to hear the Minister say that he had spent many sleepless hours thinking about Clause 1(2) since he came to office earlier this week.
I make a special plea for consideration of new Clause 1. That Clause, or similar words inserted in the Bill, would put far more teeth into it than it has at the moment. Like the hon. Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr), I should much prefer to see all goods marked with the country of origin, because in that way the shopper would be far better protected than he or she is now.
Some goods and trades axe particularly vulnerable. I think of Sheffield cutlery, or pottery, in which I have a special interest, and of textiles—though I shall not 1628 involve myself in an argument about where textiles are manufactured. Each of those industries in this country can match its overseas competitors in quality, but each has at some time or other been the target of unfair foreign competition, and may well be subject to pressure from overseas again.
It is sometimes easy to deceive the unsuspecting buyer, and this is especially so in pottery. There are traditional patterns and shapes, and English country scenes or pictures of our historic buildings are printed on pottery. All these ways have been used in the past, and, no doubt, will be used in the future, to mislead the consumer. One recalls the protective coverings adorned with many Union Jacks which, when removed, revealed sanitary ware made not in England but in China. This is the sort of thing we are all up against.
I accept the argument put by the previous Minister that origin and quality are not synonymous. However, if a manufacturer has to disclose his identity, he is more likely to produce goods of quality, especially if he wants repeat orders, than one who hides his identity or is not required to disclose where he comes from. I wonder how the consumer can be protected against making a bad buy in future if there is no indication on goods of who made them or of their country of origin.
If people wish to buy the products of a certain country, be they British made or foreign made, they have a perfect right to do so, and the more information we can give to consumers the better shall we fulfil our obligations to them.
§ Mr. Arthur Davidson
I am interested to hear what my hon. Friend says on that point. There are people who, for a variety of reasons, sometimes snobbishness perhaps, though by no means necessarily so, like to buy foreign goods, who like to have "Made in Sweden" on their pottery or whatever it may be. Does not my hon. Friend agree that it is in the interest of those people just as much as of the consumer who wants to buy British that markings should be on those goods as well?
§ Mr. Forrester
Yes. Perhaps I put the point badly. People who wish to buy the goods of other countries should have just the same right to information, and 1629 mark of origin on all goods would meet the need there.
I am not totally opposed to some protection for producers, if that is a by-product of giving greater protection to the consumer, and I think that this may well apply to the producers of quality goods in particular. The goods which we produce in Stoke-on-Trent are, in the main, high-quality goods at competitive prices. I do not see why we should make it more difficult for such manufacturers to maintain their industry, their craftsmanship and their quality when so few countries seem willing to inflict corresponding restrictions on their industries.
I ask the sponsors of the Bill to consider carefully the wording of new Clause 1 and to see whether they can at a later stage accept it or a similar form of words. It would greatly strengthen their Bill.
§ Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, East)
I add my congratulations to the Minister. His new Department has a vast empire and a reputation for stretching the talents of its Ministers, keeping them fully occupied. I know that he will have an engaging and interesting time there, and I hope that he emerges with added lustre and unscathed.
The Bill is welcomed on both sides, and I congratulate its promoter and sponsors, but, as has been said several times, it does not go far enough. Why do people decide not to put the mark of origin on their goods? Those who are proud of their manufactures hasten to indicate the origin on the product. Those who are ashamed are happy to leave the product in anonymity, hoping that the consumer will give it the benefit of the doubt.
Our concern is for the rights and protection of the consumer. Consumers may mistakenly take the same view of the product as does the anonymous manufacturer who decides that he will be better off if he does not give any mark of country of origin. Clearly, therefore, the absence of such markings will tend to increase the import and sale of goods from manufacturers who are ashamed to mark them. That increase will militate against the sale of goods of British manufacturers, particularly in the clothing and textile sectors, both of which have an excellent reputation for their products, 1630 and both of which are proud of the goods which they make.
I shall not make a speech on behalf of protectionism, but I endorse all that has been said about the need to give maximum information to the consumer, first, because of questions of quality, and, second, for the other reasons why consumers want to know the origin of goods offered to them. For instance, there are many people who do not buy South African goods, not because the goods are inferior but for other reasons. I do not complain that some goods are made by cheap labour, but I should complain if they were made in slave labour conditions or by child labour. If I knew that a garment was made in a country where child labour was employed I might well be deterred from buying it simply because I knew that fact and to mark my disapproval of it. That knowledge will be denied to the British consumer in future, and that is an unfortunate situation.
The point has been made, and it is worth making many times, that in an establishment which is known to have its own factories but which also has retail branches there is an assumption, usually in the absence of a contrary indication, that the products sold in the retail branches come from the factories of that enterprise. We know that large manufacturing organisations with retail outlets in this country are importing increasing quantities of goods. I have heard that one very large clothing manufacturer is now importing some 30 per cent. of the clothing which it sells through its retail chain.
Last year's figures show that the import of outer garments into the United Kingdom increased in value by 37 per cent. to £107 million compared with 1970. The number of garments, estimated at 109 million, showed a 40 per cent. rise. These figures come from the Wool Industry Bureau of Statistics in Bradford and these are the figures which shocked the wool textile industry, which is affected, albeit indirectly, by imports. It is expected in the wool textile industry that the floodgates will open with the removal of the legal obligation to mark imported goods.
It always seemed to me that words like "foreign made" and "Empire made" 1631 were very teasing in that they left me speculating in frustration about the origin of the goods. Now we shall have a situation where there will be no indication.
In my constituency mills are closing down week by week, and the unemployment rate is now about 7 per cent. Any legislation which denies these people equal competition in the sale of their goods must be regarded as reprehensible and unfortunate by those who have the interests of the textile industry at heart, and I therefore qualifiedly welcome the parts of the Bill which force some origin marking but I very much regret that unmarked goods will be free of all restraint.
§ Mr. Normanton
We have had about three hours' debate so far on Amendments which clearly, as reflected in the Bill's sponsorship and in all the contributions during the debate, showed widespread, indeed universal, support for the Bill in principle. It is difficult therefore in this debate to avoid covering at least some of the ground which has been covered already but there are a few points I would wish to add to those which have already been made.
It makes a nonsense to try to separate the interests of the consumer from those of the producer. We are all producers in some form, and we are all consumers. As one of the sponsors of the Bill, I know, having regard to a considerable interest in certain sectors of industry, and one in particular, that the representations calling for action in the form of this Bill have come overwhelmingly in the early stages from producers in the very narrowest sense of the word. I do not think it was unrealistic that these representations should have been made.
Within the confines of the international trading philosophy of the liberalisation of trade, which is growing continually throughout the world, the message has been driven home clearly but painfully to the trade associations which made these representations that legislation would be hypocritical were it to appear to be, or were it actually, concentrated exclusively on the interests of the manufacturer of goods. This has been a considerable inhibiting factor in the drafting of the Bill, in that all one's attention 1632 has had to be concentrated within the rather narrower confines of the use of the word "consumer".
I have no doubt that the Bill and the Clause will not go the whole way to satisfying the manufacturers of goods to which the Bill will apply. I doubt whether the Bill will apply to more than 60 or 70 per cent. of all imported goods, but at least it is a positive and constructive step in the right direction. It was a step which was becoming increasingly urgent with the approach of the end of the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, and its demand that the country of origin should be attached to all imported goods after, I think, the end of November. The Clause will be a contribution, however, inadequate it might appear to many people, and at least it will be constructive.
Points have arisen during discussion on the Amendments to which I would like to add my comments. I refer in particular to the last point by the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. Edward Lyons). He made an extremely valid and valuable contribution when he drew the attention of the House and, I hope, through the news media, of the whole country to the ever-increasing submergence of the identity of the true manufacturer and the true source of goods under the heading of "own brand". Distributors and so-called manufacturers' "own brands" mean that the source of manufacture is totally unconnected with the name so conspicuously marked and emblazoned upon the packaging and the display associated with the sale of the goods.
I would like the House and the country clearly to recognise that the Bill will cover "own brands", and were any retail distributor to offer goods marked with his company's name he would be required by the Bill to show the country of origin clearly and conspicuously at the point of sale. Therefore, this will be a major improvement in consumer protection. Although it covers only a sector, it will be substantial once the message is received in the distribution sector.
The predecessor of my hon. Friend the Minister declared last October or November that it was the Government's wish to support my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) in 1633 his attempt to deal with the situation which would apply after the ending of the sections of the 1968 Act in question. He did that intentionally to draw to the attention of the country as a whole, and importers in particular, that although legislation might take a considerable time to take effect they would be very ill-advised to take advantage of an interim hiatus to import goods other than with the appropriate marking on them. But perhaps I had better be careful not to trespass into the province of the next Clause.
The Clause we are debating is part of a Bill which will be read in conjunction with the 1968Act. Together with that Act, the Clause will be an extremely powerful piece of legislation so long as the forces for inspection and taking action against offenders are adequate. The adequacy of such provision is not a matter for debate now, but no doubt we shall have an opportunity before the Bill is enacted to draw attention to the inadequacies as we see them.
The Committee should also be aware of the question of stores' displays. The distribution industry as a whole should take careful note that where goods are offered for sale in association with displays and other forms of sales promotion techniques, and where they incorporate the name of the vendor, not the manufacturer, the vendor at the point of retail sale will be under a statutory obligation to puton the advertising medium—the posters, the counter displays—the country of origin of the goods he is selling. This must be carefully noted, even though it may cause strong objections in certain quarters. The sponsors of the Bill are determined that the public shall not be deceived on the issue of country of origin and the use of names in association with imported goods.
I was most grateful for other contributions to the debate, particularly one from an Opposition Member who referred to the use of symbols. I think he was referring to the use of things like tartans, Scottish thistles, kilts, the haggis, and so on, in conjunction with the offer for sale of goods, whether solid or liquid, which were not made in the Highlands but which the advertising would lead a gullible public to believe were made there. There are sections of the 1968 Act covering that point. My great regret is 1634 that the use of that Act has not been as extensive as we might wish. The public—whether consumers or producers is irrelevant, because they are still members of the public—also have a rôle to play, even if not in a statutory sense.
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Mr. Molloy
I very much support what the lion. Gentleman has just said about the public's having a rôle. Does he not agree that the medium by which public opinion could be focused was the Consumer Council, and that it would be a good thing to re-establish it?
§ Mr. Normanton
I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's intervention, but I doubt whether the Chair would allow me, in debating the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill", to refer to a matter which is not included in the Clause. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman's views have been noted. There may be strong views on the matter held on both sides of the Committee.
The Minister's predecessor has made it clear that consumer protection will not be met adequately or totally, or more than partially, by the Bill. I believe there are pledges that legislation to cover this field—I earnestly hope a much wider field than that covered in the Clause—will be introduced at the appropriate time. There is deep, widespread and genuine concern that the public are, have been, and always will be deceived if certain things are allowed to happen. One is the absence of all the facts relevant to their purchases. In that connection I was delighted to hear an hon. Member refer to the intention within the E.E.C. to introduce directives requiring fibre content specifications to be attached to labels on textiles of all forms. Fibre content is only one of many hundreds of characteristics about which I am certain the general public are deeply concerned.
I have said that the public have a rôle to play. If they will recognise the importance of the flow-back to retailer, distributor and manufacturer resulting from the part they play, the consumers will be the better served. I am referring to the need to be much more conscious of quality, price and value than this Bill and certainly Clause 1 can possibly cover. There are, tragically, within the context of matters other than trade descriptions, 1635 far too many sectors in which the public are lamentably and to their own great disadvantage, both individually and collectively, not sufficiently conscious or alive to their rôle.
There is one other sector to which I draw attention. This is the rôle of the trade associations. I have referred to the fact that the mass of representations which was building up in the early part of 1971 came almost exclusively from trade associations. I think that the form in which those representations were made—clearly, openly and honestly within the context of manufacturers'protection—showed beyond doubt amongst their ranks as manufacturers, and including in this context the trade unions associated with them, a deep concern for the consumer interest.
I ask these trade associations to pay special attention to the part they will be required to play once the Bill is enacted. Although not specifically defined in Clause 1, it is the general one of policing by checking for malpractices and attempts at misrepresentation by those who offer goods for sale to the consuming public, and by alerting the authorities concerned—namely, as will be referred to in the combined 1968 Act and this Bill, the weights and measures inspectorate, which has an important rôle to play.
I deeply regret that a totally inadequate effort has been directed by the trade associations to advising—I cannot say ordering—if not influencing their members, the manufacturing firms in membership with them, to insist upon the use of the mark "Made in Britain" or "British made". This is where the trade associations will have an increasing rôle to play. They recognise it, I think, but appear to have done insufficient to drive the message home. They are greatly inhibited, as they and many manufacturers know, from attaching "British made" for the reason that more and more of their goods are being sold in certain supermarkets and very powerful multiple stores which specifically or by devious means prescribe that no indication of origin should be made, whether the goods are British or not, for the sole purpose of making it more difficult for the consumer to identify the difference between 1636 those goods which are coming more and more into the shops from sources abroad and those manufactured in this country.
It will cause considerable heartache amongst various sectors of the distributive trades to disclose the country of origin, but at the end of the day any distributive organisation, retailing or otherwise, which fails to recognise the importance of maintaining the interests of the consumer is being totally irresponsible, and it is to avoid or reduce substantially irresponsible, flagrant violations of the interests of the consumer that this Clause has been drafted. I have pleasure in supporting it.
§ Mr. Alan Williams
I was intrigued by the assurance we had from the Under-secretary of State about the need to have identifying markings on foodstuffs from abroad in their original containers. I am sure that we look forward to a considerable improvement in the aesthetic surroundings of certain West End restaurants when the French snails in their original containers are duly presented stamped with the tricolour. For this, his first act as Minister, the hon. Gentleman deserves to go down in history and be remembered.
Our new Clause 1 was intended to be probing in order to give a chance for discussion. We have had the required discussion. I am in no way criticising the draftsmen of the Bill and its sponsors, but a gap in the legislation has emerged which is covered neither by the 1968 Act nor by the Bill. This is in relation to advertising away from the point of sale. This is a possible abuse. I am not saying that there is any serious evidence of it at the moment but it is something which may merit the attention of the Department to see whether any tightening up is necessary.
I assume that in any case the Advertising Association would quickly endeavour to act if such abuse was drawn to its attention. But this association, generally concerned as it is, still has a very limited budget on which to try to scrutinise over £1,000 million of advertising in this country. It may well be that we shall need to extend the protection which hon. Members want to give to advertising away from the point of sale. However, that is not a point we need press now.
1637 We still maintain that the Bill probably is not needed and that everything it does could be done under the 1968 Act. I am sorry to say it in his absence, but we suspect that the need for the Bill is one of the repercussions of the thoroughly mischievous rôle played by the former Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). I in no way blame the new Under-Secretary of State in this situation, but his predecessor made a point on television of creating a completely false impression of what powers already existed and of saying that the situation was purely the result of the wicked Labour Government's policy of repealing the 1926 Act. On Second Reading of this Bill, however, the hon. Gentleman himself said:Therefore, I entitrely agree…that it was right in the Trade Descriptions Act to repeal the 1926 Act."—[Official Report, 25th February, 1972; Vol. 831, c. 1729.]Once the 1926 Act was repealed, inevitably as a consequence any orders made under it were repealed.
§ Mr. Williams
My hon. Friend is right. Perhaps we might refer it to the Advertising Association.
A further cause for trouble, as was indicated by the hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton)—who did most of the drafting—is that the trade associations have been guilty of indolence and ineptitude. They have been indolent because they did not use the time available when they knew that the 1926 Act was to be repealed. They have been inept because, once they became aware of the significance of that repeal, they did not take account of the advice of the then Minister of State, who indicated clearly the form in which they should present their representations if they wanted marking orders made. If only they had done a small amount of homework, used a little commonsense, avoided the presentation of a manufacturing protective case and geared their case to the point of view of consumers, we would not need to deal with this piece of legislation.
We are in the strange position that over 40 applications have been made for marking orders but none has yet been 1638 approved. As my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. David Clark) pointed out in his excellent opening comments, a recent survey undertaken by the Sunday Times made it absolutely clear that 94 per cent. of the people covered by the survey felt that marks of origin were important. I know the Government are somewhat sensitive on the referendum approach to assess public opinion but this is on a small scale. I am sure it would not create a major constitutional precedent if they took note of the findings of this poll. It was a clear indication of consumers' wishes. The consumers want to have the country of origin marked on products. It is not good enough for the Government to tell them that they know better than consumers what they want. That is what has been said.
The Prime Minister in a letter to my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley said:But I do not think that we can seek to protect people against the unreasonable assumption that the absence of a name or mark indicates that goods were made in the United Kingdom.Why not? If it is an unreasonable assumption, that does not alter the fact that it is an assumption made by a good many people. If it is made and is misleading them in some way, it would seem to me quite relevant for us to seek to protect the consumer against being misled.
I am bound to ask, from whom will the Government accept consumer advice if they will not accept the findings of a poll showing that 94 per cent. of the public want this? If they then abolish the one focal point for consumer opinion, the Consumer Council, which apparently they were willing to heed, what now do they consider to be adequate consumer representation in putting forward applications for marking orders and definition orders? Although such orders are outside the scope of this debate, they are every bit as important for the consumer. The Government have shown themselves completely schizophrenic on this whole issue about not having an extension of the system of origin markings.
In the Second Reading debate the former Under-Secretary based his case on the fact that this would add to the cost. He spoke about the extra stock that 1639 would be needed for each mark and he built up his case on the cost that would arise. On the other hand the Prime Minister in that same letter to my hon. Friend said:Indeed, if all home producers were to indicate where their goods were made, as so many do, this would reinforce the more natural inference that unmarked goods are probably imported.The Under-Secretary also said, later in the debate:British manufacturers—I hope all—will write 'Made in Britain' on their goods".This leaves us in a rather peculiar situation. If costs are negligible, the former Under-Secretary's initial argument falls. If on the other hand the costs are substantial, it seems a strange proposition that, faced with the substantial cost of marking, the Government's answer is to say that the problem can be solved if a British firm marks but they will allow a foreign competitor's goods to come in unmarked. Either way the Government do not have a case.
The former Under-Secretary made the point that quality and origin were not synonymous. Then, when he was issuing his injunction to British manufacturers—"I hope all"—to write "Made in Britain" on their goods, he said:That would be a mark of quality which would sell those goods.It seems to be argued on both sides of the case as and when it suits the Government, as long as there are enough column inches between the arguments so that no one will notice there are points of disagreement.
§ Mr. Normanton
There is a point here which may have been overlooked. I refer to the Molony Committee. I want to keep off partisanship because there is clearly universal agreement on this subject. The Molony Committee's recommendations reveal a dichotomy. I interpreted the main text as suggesting that markings of origin are on balance desirable from the consumer's point of view. In the final summing-up it rejected this. Clearly much of the thinking in the past, on both sides, may have been heavily influenced by mis-selecting the appropriate parts of the Molony Report.
§ Mr. Williams
I am grateful to the hon. Member. I accept largely the point 1640 he seeks to make. It is unfortunate that the former Under-Secretary is not here to defend himself. That is not his fault because I certainly had not initially intended to pursue this argument. It seems relevant to establish that the need for this legislation would not have arisen had it not been for an interpretation by the hon. Gentleman in one part of his Second Reading speech when he quoted the 1968 Statute:expedient in the interest of persons".He went on to say:That word 'interest' is perfectly clear. It means interest in terms of quality and value for money."—[Official Report, 25th February, 1972; Vol. 831, c. 1713–35.]That was his limited interpretation of what "interest" meant. It was his interpretation but it was not perfectly clear. It is clear as has been pointed out that there are many consumers with a genuine and material interest, highly relevant to them when making purchases, in knowing whether goods come from South Africa. There are all manner of other reasons why people may wish to know a country of origin. To bring it down simply to quality and value for money is taking too narrow a view of the consumer interest.
It is from that decision by the hon. Gentleman that much of the frustration in industry had flowed. The hon. Gentleman bears a considerable responsibility in this respect particularly when at another stage he almost admitted that a marking could be an indication of quality. This is not a controversial piece of legislation. The only controversy is whether it is needed. We have no intention of blocking it or opposing it. We are grateful to the hon. Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) for responding to what he saw to be a need. My complaint is that the need need never have arisen and that legislation already existed.
It is not legislation that will make for more vigorous consumer protection. The only thing that will do that is the will of the Government to use existing legislation, and this Measure when it is passed. What has been lacking at the Department of Trade and Industry is the will to use legislation. The new Under-Secretary is of a sturdy temperament and aggressive in his approach to problems. I hope he will take a wider interpretation of the legislation and of his powers, thus giving the widest possible consumer protection.
§ Mr. Emery
I speak before my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) because, although the debate is on the Question "That the Clause stand part of the Bill", it is likely to be the last debate that we shall have here on the Bill. As I do not think there is a need to prolong matters too much, I feel it only right and proper that, so far as the Government are concerned, we should now pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend for the way in which he has piloted this Bill through the House. I pay tribute to the diligent work which both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) have done on this Bill and in trying to ensure, as they have, that the Bill was considered with co-operation between all sides and with considerable ease and a modicum of friction. I therefore congratulate my hon. Friend immensely.
I would point out something which, so far as I know, has not been pointed out yet. It is fairly unusual that a Private Member's Bill should go through the House bearing the name of a senior Minister. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-West (Mr. Tom Boardman), who is now the Minister for Industry, is a signatory of the Bill itself. This seems to have been a Leicester field day, especially with my hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) also participating so much in the debates.
Another reason for my rising is that certain questions which have been put were put more to the Government, I think, than to the sponsor of the Bill, and, that being the case, it seems to me that it would be wrong not to respond to them.
The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. Molloy) asked me specifically about spare parts. The answer to that is, I think, clear if he thinks it out. If there is a British brand or mark on the spare part, that would imply that it was British. If it was imported there would need to be on it an annotation of the country of origin. If, however, the spare part is part of an initial sale, or part of an initial purchase, then it is part of the overall sale and will not necessarily have to be so stamped.
§ Mr. Alan Williams
I think the hon. Gentleman is in danger, quite unwittingly I am sure, of misrepresenting what my hon. Friend said. He made the point 1642 that these were components from abroad which had no stamp whatever on them but could be identical with British components.
§ Mr. Emery
Then the situation is as it is at the moment. Only if there were an implication that it might be a British mark or name would the country of origin have to be annotated.
I was impressed by the point put by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) when he talked about the abuse of any mark in such a way that it could be misleading. Obviously, it is the view of the Government that there should not be abuse, and that is why we have seen it right and proper to give the support which has been given to my hon. Friend in bringing forward this Bill.
The hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Alan Williams) said he had never seen or heard the argument by Government that the Government should amend the 1968 Act, and a similar argument was made by the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. David Clark). The answer is that, of course, there could have been amendment, but, as the hon. Member for Swansea, West will know, when there is a good deal of legislation to be proposed by the Government, then if a Private Member is able to come forward with as excellent a Bill as this has proved to be the Government are willing to try to ensure that their support is given to it. This has been apparent in this case.
The hon. Member for Swansea, West was pulling my leg slightly when he said he was delighted at the thought that I would be held responsible for a snail having to bear a tricolour as a mark of origin. I would only respond by saying that if he can produce to me some snail with a British mark on it he will make his point for having his tricolour, but till then I think the Bill will stand as it is.
The point has been made that the British public will not realise that unmarked goods may be British. Again, the argument has been propounded in the Committee today that people will not know that unmarked goods may be foreign. One cannot have it both ways. The situation is that the Government 1643 have seen fit in backing the Bill to try to ensure that a certain degree of protection is given—absolute protection—so that where a name or mark is used which would imply that imported goods are British this shall be shown not to be true by the fact that the country of origin is named on them. This is a major step forward.
I do not accept what the hon. Member for Swansea, West said in attacking my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley). It seemed to me that what the hon. Gentleman said was entirely a misinterpretation of the views which had been expressed by my hon. Friend. My hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury went a very long way towards persuading certain people who might have opposed this Bill at certain times that it was a useful Bill to bring on to the Statute Book. I certainly believe that he deserves all the credit for that. I have inherited the work which he was doing on the Bill. It would be wrong to understand anything else but that, and here at this Dispatch Box I pay tribute to the work which my hon. Friend the Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury has done on the Bill both in preparation for the Bill and, on the Government's side, during the passage of the Bill.
There is one other thing I feel I should say. There is a feeling that if something bears no mark at all people will be unable to judge whether it is British or foreign. What matters is the quality of the goods themselves. If a British manufacturer thinks it is to his advantage to describe his goods as being "British made" it is completely within his power and his ordinary commercial judgment to do so. He can have stamped on his goods "Made in Britain", "Made in England", "Made in the United Kingdom" or whatever phrase he wishes, even "Made in Wales" or "Made in Scotland". Just before Christmas I purchased a gold tinsel Christmas tree, on the box of which was marked "Made in Wales". I asked several people where they thought the tree might have come from, and they suggested a hundred and one other countries but no one suggested that it had come from Wales. The hon. Member for Swansea, West might be interested in that example.
1644 The manufacturer has the right to mark his goods if he believes that they may be unfairly judged in competition with foreign goods. A prime example is my tinsel Christmas tree, which was in competition with Christmas trees from Hong Kong. The manufacturer expected that people would think it to their advantage to buy a Christmas tree made in Wales. It is within the manufacturer's power to do this if he feels that his customers may be deceived or are not able to make a judgment about the quality of the goods which he is putting on the market.
Whilst one or two hon. Members have suggested that the Bill does not go far enough—and I listened with interest to the interventions of the hon. Members for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mr. Forrester) and Bradford, East (Mr. Edward Lyons)—I believe that we have gone a long way to meet the major objections to the Bill. I am, therefore, delighted to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East for his work in bringing the Bill before us.
§ Mr. Alan Williams
In case my earlier criticisms were misinterpreted against the hon. Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) I should make it clear that we, too, congratulate him on the way he has presented the Bill and has tried to meet the reasonable criticisms that have been expressed.
§ Mr. Peel
As Clause 1 goes to the heart of the principle of my Bill, perhaps it will be in order for me to say a few words about the debate that has taken place. Before doing so, I take this opportunity of warmly congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Honiton (Mr. Emery) on his translation to the Front Bench—a well-deserved honour. I feel I may say this because he and I have worked closely together in the Council of Europe and in Western European Union and I have had every opportunity to learn how energetic and able he is and how much he has contributed to the work of the House of Commons both here and abroad. I am therefore delighted to see him where he is.
I also thank my hon. Friend for taking over the Government side of my Bill from his hon. Friend and for having done it so ably at such short notice. It would not normally fall to him to have to deal 1645 with this subject, but in the circumstances he has had to do so and I greatly appreciate the way in which he has done it. He has impressed us all by the way he has handled the Government side.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. David Clark) on coming to the Opposition Front Bench. I greatly welcome his appearance there and appreciate the way in which he spoke on the new Clause. I hope he will long remain on the Opposition Front Bench and that he will shadow my hon. Friend for many years to come.
I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Normanton) for his splendid support and sponsorship of my Bill. He is an expert on this subject and without his able support and contribution to our debate I should have found it very difficult to take the Bill through. I appreciate that very much. I thank all the sponsors and others who have contributed.
I am particularly grateful to hon. Members opposite for saying that whatever criticisms they may have of the shortcomings of my Bill they nevertheless accept it and support it in principle. I understand that it may not go quite as far as some people would wish. On the other hand it goes a lot further than some other people would wish. My object is not protectionism—that is the last thing this country should go for; we should go for more and freer trade—or to discriminate against or restrain international trade in any way. My main object is to protect the consumer from deception. This is a farily restricted but important object. To say that the Bill should go further and give the consumer complete protection, and that even goods which bear no mark upon them should be labelled with their country of origin, would be to go a little far and would tend to under-estimate the native intelligence of the British housewife.
The British housewife in her shopping habits is becoming a great deal more educated, discerning and discriminating as time passes. I remember a friend of mine who travelled over from America found himself in conversation with an American. They swapped stories about what each other did, and the American said "I reckon that there are about 50 million fools in the United States, and I live on them". I would not dare to 1646 say that about the British housewife. The British housewife is very discerning in her shopping.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) spoke about guns. Firearms are very special articles. On the whole, people who buy them are fairly knowledgeable. Completely ignorant people do not walk into a shop, pick up any old gun and buy it. Those who go to buy guns are discerning and discriminating, and adequate protection is given to them by the old Acts of the last century which are still in force and provide that guns should carry qualitative marking. So my hon. Friend should not worry too much on that score.
I take the point made by the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Alan Williams) on the question of advertisements that are not connected with an article. The situation needs to be watched.
I agree with what my hon. Friend the Minister said about his predecessor. I do not think it was a matter of lack of will in making the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, work. It was rather more of an oversight by industry and trade that they did not make as much use of the Act as they could have done.
Section 8 of the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, is a somewhat inappropriate and clumsy weapon to cover all aspects of the problem. I agree that a gap existed which needed to be closed in a somewhat simpler way rather than that orders should be brought in to cover every conceivable matter—in other words, to have something across the board to cover anything which might be misleading concerning manufacture.
I am anxious that it should be realised that the Bill seeks to supplement the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, and should be read with the provisions of that Act. Anything that escapes from the Bill, if it becomes law, will certainly be caught by the provisions of the 1968 Act. If both pieces of legislation are taken together, I feel it can be said that the ground has been thoroughly covered.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Clause ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Clauses 2 to 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment.1647
§ Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.