HC Deb 02 May 1894 vol 24 cc186-97

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said, it was printed on the first day of the Session.


I have never seen it.


said, that was exactly the answer the right hon. Gentleman gave him last Session. For several months the right hon. Gentleman and he sat upon a Committee which went fully into the matter, and now the right hon. Gentleman told him he knew nothing about the Bill.


I have not seen the Bill.


said, it was the same Bill that had been introduced every Session since 1888. That showed that the right hon. Gentleman was unable to deal with the vast mass of business that came before his Department. The Bill was very simple in its character, and was designed to remedy a defect in the Merchandise Marks Act of 1887. No one would dispute the good effects of that Act, which was passed by the last Administration, and was promoted largely by the Cutlers' Company of Sheffield, assisted by the Federated Trades Council. Goods could come into this country unmarked, though they might be made in German prisons, and he would presently put into the hands of the President of the Board of Trade the card of an agent who announced himself as an agent for German prison-made brushes. He was going about selling goods in this country, and, when called to task, he said—"It is your own fault, because you allow goods to come in here without any indication of their origin." This Bill had nothing to do with Protection or Free Trade; it was simply that the purchasers of goods in this country might know from what source they came. All they wanted was that the purchasers and consumers in this country should have the option of choosing between English and foreign made articles. Let them choose whichever they liked, but do not let them pay a higher price in the belief that they were paying for an article produced in this country if it were not. The Chairman of the Board of Customs stated to the Select Committee of 1890 that he believed it to be the case that a considerable quantity of goods were imported which wore subsequently falsely marked. It was also clear that in Scotland German cutlery was being sold at English prices, and under English names and designations, as was abundantly proved before the Select Committee appointed by the late Government in 1890 by a leading Labour Representative of Sheffield. The right hon. Gentleman would perhaps tell them that these cases of false trade description were provided for under the Merchandise Marks Act of 1887. But the difficulty was in proving the offences, and, as a matter of fact, only 17 prosecutions had been instituted during the last two years, with exceedingly moderate results as to convictions. This was a matter which had been warmly discussed at Trades Union Congresses, and at the Congress in Glasgow a resolution was adopted instructing the Parliamentary Committee to get a Bill introduced in Parliament to amend the Merchandise Marks Act, so as to provide for the marking of goods with regard to origin. There was also a similar feeling expressed by a deputation to the Board of Trade which he had the honour of introducing last May—a deputation representative of the entire trade of the country and entirely non-political in its character. As showing how very strongly this matter pressed on the industries of Sheffield, and particularly of that division which he represented, ho might say he had before him an extract from The Sheffield Telegraph to show that large quantities of foreign goods were being distributed in this country, and re-exported to other countries, under the guise of being of English manufacture. A special instance was cited in which a Manchester merchant received a large order for goods from Australia, got them manufactured in Belgium, had them forwarded to him in Manchester, where all marks were carefully obliterated, and then shipped the goods—iron goods—to Australia as of English production. He had seen the agent who was sent by The Hardware-man to Germany to inquire into the production of goods in German prisons. He had given his name to the President of the Board of Trade, and he had hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would have seen him himself. From the character of the journal and his conversation with the commissioner himself, he could not but believe that what he stated was absolutely true and incontrovertible. He had visited German prisons, and seen the prisoners producing goods on English models. In one prison he was shown whips which were being made at the rate of three tons per day and exported to England. This might be a small matter, but in these days, when there were so many unemployed persons in this country— there being, unfortunately 8 per cent, of the Trades Unionists out of work—such a system of foreign prison labour competition with English free labour ought not to be allowed. He earnestly invited the House to agree to the Second Reading of this Bill. It had been often before the House; it had been considered by nearly every working man in the country, and, without exception, it had met with favour and support. He hoped the President of the Board of Trade would accept this Bill, which was only put forward in defence of British industry. All he asked was that the consumers of this country should have the opportunity of knowing whether they were encouraging the industries of their own countrymen, or whether they were deliberately depriving them of the means of earning an existence. The Trades Unions of this country had agitated so strongly upon the system of prison manufactures that the Home Office had prevented the prison authorities allowing prisoners to compete with free labour. Let the President of the Board of Trade, at all events, have this mark of origin upon foreign goods, and let him protect the producers of this country from that unfair competition which prevailed at the present time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Colonel Howard Vincent.)


I have seldom heard a speech delivered in support of a Bill which had loss to do with the Bill itself, or was more misleading. It would be well for the House to understand precisely what are the proposals of this Bill. It is the same old familiar Bill which the late Government year after year refused to consider, and the hon. Member knows that well.


I know nothing of the sort.


The hon. Member knows that my predecessor was opposed to it.


My right hon. Friend is rather exaggerating the case. I never until now had an opportunity of speaking to the Second Reading. I could only bring it on after 12 o'clock, and the cry, "I object," always came from the right hon. Gentleman's own supporters.


I beg your pardon. The records of Hansard will show that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for West Bristol repeatedly objected to the principle of this Bill.




Let the hon. Member examine the Parliamentary Debates, and he will see for himself. This Bill does not touch the question of prison-made goods at all. It simply will secure that the goods show the country from whence they come. What is the position? Great Britain is the largest importer of foreign goods in the world. Four hundred millions' worth of foreign goods are imported annually, and a very large quantity of those goods come from our own Colonies. What the hon. and gallant Member demands is that every article of this vast quantity of goods coming to Great Britain, no matter what it is, shall be marked with the place of origin, if it is capable of being marked. I cannot conceive anything more likely to dislocate the import trade of the country than to impose such a condition as this. More than 1,000,000,000 eggs are imported into the country from every part of the world, and, according to the Bill, every one of these eggs will have to be marked. Is not that preposterous?


The Aylesbury Dairy Company find no difficulty in marking their eggs.


Yes, and they get something like 2d. or 2½d. each. But you cannot mark every egg that comes into this country from all parts of the world. But that is only one detail of the Bill. There are tens of thousands of articles imported which are of immense importance to the trade and manufacture of the country, and to talk about requiring every single article to be marked is the most absurd dream that ever entered the mind of man. The hon. Gentleman knows that the Bill went before a Committee of 15 Members of the House during the tenure of Office of the late Government. How many of the Members supported him? Only one!


The right hon. Gentleman has repeatedly misquoted me. This Bill was never referred to a Select Committee. It has never been read a second time.


The Bill itself was not referred to the Select Committee, but another Bill was, and the hon. Gentleman took the opportunity to lay the provisions of his own measure before the Committee, with the result that he only got one supporter, who apologised for his action by saying he did not wish to see the hon. and gallant Gentleman left entirely alone. The fact is, that the Bill is nothing more nor less than a Bill in favour of Protection—a Bill to place every foreign nation that imports goods into this country under an enormous disability. It would prohibit the entry into this country of all goods unmarked that are capable of being marked. Now, it is to England that the vast proportion of the foreign products of the world come, and a large proportion of the goods are re-exported, and to enforce such a disability as this Bill proposes would be ruinous to our merchant shipping and import trade. I will put it to hon. Members, for instance, whether it is possible to mark every yard of ribbon brought into the country from all parts of the world or every toy imported from Japan? But there is another phase of the Bill. Suppose every foreign country to which the Bill will apply demands in return the same condition of this country, and insists that every article exported from Great Britain shall be marked, and if not 80 marked shall be prohibited. Such a state of things would be most injurious to British trade, for the foreign importer would then purchase his goods in countries where ho is not compelled to have them marked. Does the hon. Member remember that the master cutler of Sheffield came before the Select Committee and gave evidence against his proposal? The Bill, in short, is not intended to facilitate trade, but to harass and hamper it, and I hope the House will reject it by an overwhelming majority.

MR. J. HAVELOCK WILSON (Middlesbrough)

said, he felt bound to support the Bill, because year after year the Trades Union Congress had passed resolutions, not asking for protection, which they did not in the least want, but asking in common fairness to the British workman that foreign-made goods imported into the country should be marked with the place of origin. Foreign goods were sold as British goods—that was the complaint. The right hon. Gentleman, who appeared to evince unnecessary alarm, asked what English manufacturers would do if foreign countries demanded that all English goods should be marked. That would be no injury to the trade of this country. It was the pride of English manufacturers that the mark on their goods gave them their value. He was bound to support this Bill, which had been demanded year after year by the Trade Unionists, whose trades were affected by the importation of foreign goods, and which certainly would not interfere with the trade of the country in the manner suggested by the right hon. Gentleman.

* MR. GODSON (Kidderminster)

said, he felt very strongly on the subject. In his constituency meetings had been held presided over by the Vice Chairman of the Radical Party, and held under Radical auspices, at which resolutions were passed to the effect of the proposals contained in the Bill, and he had found that the working classes in his part of the country were in hearty accord with the hon. Member for Central Sheffield, in desiring to have these foreign goods properly marked. He had one instance of unfair trading which he would like to lay before the House. A large firm in Birmingham engaged in the metal trade were offered an order for goods on which a certain mark was to be placed. They refused, and the order was given to a German agent in the same street. It was executed abroad, the goods were imported without a mark, in Birmingham they were marked with a mark to which they were not entitled, and then they were sent to Singapore as English-made goods.


was understood to say that the Customs Authorities ought not to have allowed them to enter this country unless they bore the mark of origin.


said, he could only tell the right hon. Gentleman what had actually occurred, and he knew that similar tricks were played in the tin trade. He regretted that the hon. Member for Swansea was not in his place to corroborate that statement. It was most important, so far as our eastern trade was concerned, that the goods should be marked with their place of origin. It was strictly accurate that a more steady price and a greater demand was felt for English goods out there than for goods of all the other nations of the world together. His constituents felt most deeply on this question. Only quite lately 29,000 pieces of carpet were sent to England from America and sold here as of English manufacture. If they had been marked as of American origin their effect upon the English market would have been very slight; but as it was, they took away trade from the English market, and though it was now some months since the carpets were imported he was sorry to say the trade had not yet recovered from this blow.

MR. MUNTZ (Warwickshire, Tamworth)

said, the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade had taken an exaggerated and inaccurate view of the Bill. Its application was not limited to the importation of goods for consumption here. Goods were imported into England from abroad without any mark of origin, and were exported again as British-made goods.


said, this was a fraud punishable with the severest penalties, and the goods were liable to be seized.


said, it was very easy to say it was a fraud, but how was the fraud to be detected? The proper way to prevent the fraud was to prevent goods from coming into this country without bearing a foreign mark, It was a very serious question, and he sympathised very heartily with his hon. Friend and with the working classes of the country. They produced the best classes of goods in the world, and were proud of producing them; and with regard to the marking of goods with a British mark, there would never arise any difficulty on that point, for buyers in foreign countries were only too glad to be possessed of articles of British origin.

MR. WARNER (Somerset, E.)

said, he could not agree with the great objections which the President of the Board of Trade entertained to this Bill. They were such as could be met in Committee, and probably the promoters would be willing to substitute for the words "incapable of being marked" such words as "inconvenient" or "almost impossible." He was not one of those who would absolutely prohibit the entrance of all these goods into the country, but ho would impose the severest penalties in cases of fraud such as had been described that day. He hoped the Government would withdraw their opposition to the Bill.

SIR J. JOICEY (Durham, Chester-le-Street)

said, he must express his surprise at the line which some hon. Members who were strong Free Traders had taken on this question. The Bill was nothing more nor less than a, Bill to protect particular industries, and, if it were passed, it would be to the great disadvantage of the consumers of the country. Hon. Gentlemen opposite had told them that the measure was being brought forward in the interests of the working classes; but seeing that the goods exported from this country were so much greater in quantity than the goods imported, he could not see how the Bill would benefit the working classes. For every man employed in the manufacture abroad of goods exported to England four or five men were working at home on goods exported from England to other countries, and why, in order to protect a particular industry, should they run the risk of losing a large share of that employment? It would be a most foolish policy to promote legislation of that kind, and it would assuredly lead to reprisals, He hoped that no Free Traders would give their support to the measure.


said, if it were Protection to have the truth told as to the origin of goods, then he was a Protectionist, and was, as every honest man should be, in favour of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade was against telling the truth. And why? Because he was a party to ordering French shells for use in the British Navy. It was true the right hon. Gentleman professed to know nothing of the matter, and said he had not concerned himself in a question which so seriously affected the trade of his constituency, but—


The hon. Member is entirely mistaken as to the matter of the French shells. I did take a great deal of interest in it, as the correspondence shows.


said, he was, then, unable to understand why at the time the right hon. Gentleman said the reverse. At any rate, after such conduct, he was not surprised to finding the right hon. Gentleman in opposition to a Bill which was likely to be beneficial to Sheffield, the manufacturers of which were peculiarly subjected to these frauds. The right hon. Gentleman threatened them with retaliatory measures on the part of foreign Governments, and he could only reply that they would be delighted at such a course, as "English made" was a phrase to conjure with, and a certain passport to sale, especially in the East. This was a good Bill universally demanded by the workmen of this country, and the fact that it was opposed by the right hon. Gentleman, who, in defiance of the interests of his own constituents, had been a party to the importation of foreign shells for the use of the British Navy, was the most conclusive argument that could be advanced in its favour.

MR. ROBY (Lancashire, S. E., Eccles)

said, ho entirely agreed with the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade in his opposition to the Bill. There was nothing more hindering to British trade than the continual stoppages that took place at the Customs. He believed the Bill was incapable of being carried out in a rational manner. They would have to mark goods not as they came in the bulk, but in such small parts as would be sold in retail commerce. That was practically impossible. The Bill would only cast an additional burden on and hindrance to trade which he believed would be found by importers and exporters to be simply intolerable.

MR. G. W. PALMER (Reading)

said, he, too, hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would stand firm. The statement that this Bill was demanded by the Trade Unions seemed to him to indicate a want of faith on the part of the working men in their own power to meet foreign competition. As a manufacturer he had not the slightest fear of the future of the industries of this country if they were conducted in the future with the same ability and honesty that had distinguished them in the past, and he therefore hoped that the Motion for the Second Reading would be defeated by an overwhelming majority.

MR. J. HAVELOCK WILSON rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."


Order, order! There is still another five minutes in which the Debate can proceed.


said, there seemed to be some misconception as to the existing state of the law with reference to the importation of foreign goods. He agreed that if anything was to be said it should be the truth, and the existing Act was most careful to provide for that; for it was a penal offence, not only in the ease of an importer, but in the case of a British manufacturer or trader, to put a false description upon goods offered for sale. The fault of the Bill was that it enforced a statement as to the origin of goods in cases where such a statement could not be made without placing great difficulty in the way of our import trade.

Colonel HOWARD VINCENT rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.

Question put accordingly, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

The House divided:—Ayes 157; Noes 183.—(Division List, No. 38.)