There shall be laid before Parliament each year a return giving particulars of, and information regarding, the cases in which action has been taken by the Commissioners of Customs under this Bill.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said he could not accept this clause. He had the authority of the Commissioners of Customs that they should deal with the matter in their annual report. He did not anticipate that the passing of this Act would have a disturbing effect. [Opposition laughter.]
I have just entered the House, and I have heard the statement of the hon. Member. I beg to say I never said anything of the kind. ["Hear, hear!"]
The hon. Member has no right to doubt my word unless he produces evidence. [Cheers.]
I have contradicted the statement, and it is now for the hon. Member to prove it. [Cheers.]
§ MR. BURNS
I cannot pull "Hansard" out of my pocket, but I am in the recollection of the House—[cries of "No, no!"]—that he did justify this Bill—[a laugh]—and said that it would stop the importation of goods made in German prisons. [Laughter.] Soon after that there was published in The Times from a German authority a statement to the effect that these goods were diminishing, and that the tendency was to restrict prison labour to goods required by the Government departments. That being so, it was important they should have this return.
MR. CHAMBERLAIN (having consulted "The Parliamentary Debates,")
said he must protest against the custom, which seemed to be growing, of giving what was called "the effect" of an hon. Member's speeches which was entirely different from anything he had delivered. [" Hear, hear !"] The hon. Member for Battersea, no doubt speaking from recollection, said that he had stated that the country was flooded with goods made in German prisons. He had had an opportunity of reading the whole of the speech he made on the Second Reading, and he defied the hon. Gentleman to find anything in it which justified in the slightest degree anything of the kind. ["Hear, hear!] He said exactly the reverse. ["Hear, hear!"] He was accused of having said so on a previous occasion, and he took the opportunity of contradicting that statement. What he did say was that it was a matter of small importance economically, but that there was a great principle involved, and that the German authorities had expressed an intention 72 or desire to spread prison manufactures over a larger number of trades, so that no trade would be actually safe from the kind of competition involved. ["Hear, hear!"] But, whether it was spread over a large number of trades or not, he never denied for a moment that it was a small matter, and he still held that, though it might be a small matter economically, it involved a principle of the very greatest importance. It involved a political question, too, which hon. Members opposite had already found to be of very considerable importance—[cheers]—which they would find again to be of considerable importance, and which, therefore, they would be greatly mistaken to underestimate. [Cheers.]
§ *MR. WEIR
thought it was a very small matter to ask for an annual Report showing the amount of prison-made goods excluded by the Bill, and it was hardly in accordance with the usual generosity of the President of the Board of Trade to refuse so small a request. He could not for the life of him understand why the right hon. Gentleman should refuse it, and he sincerely hoped he would even now see his way to comply with the request.
§ MR. BUXTON
said he was afraid he could not accept the suggestion. of his right hon. Friend, though he acknowledged the conciliatory spirit in which ho had met his Amendment. What was required on his side of the House was a specific Return showing the action taken sunder the Bill. They did not want a mere paragraph or two in a long Report dealing with other matters. Therefore he was afraid he must go to a division. ["Hear, hear!"]
MR. CARVELL WILLIAMS
said the President of the Board of Trade had twice that night accepted the principle of Amendments, and, since the right hon. Gentleman had not raised a single objection to the Amendment now before the Committee, he had come to the conclusion that the Government had resolved to deal with this Bill as they dealt with the Voluntary Schools Bill, and not to allow a single Amendment to be made. ["Hear, hear!" and Ministerial laughter.]
Motion made, and Question put, "That the Clause be read a Second time."
The Committee divided:—Ayes, 63; Noes, 156.—(Division List, No. 294.)
§ MR. WOLFF (Belfast, E.)
moved the following clause:—EXEMPTION OF GOODS IN TRANSIT.This Act shall not apply to any goods imported into the United Kingdom for the purpose of being sent to foreign countries.Clause read the First time.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said he was not satisfied that the whole question of the examination of goods in transit was in a satisfactory condition. He thought that the state of the law in regard to merchandise marks at present was probably not satisfactory. ["Hear, hear!"] He understood that one of the principal questions now before the Merchandise Marks Act Committee was the question of goods in transit, and he ventured to prophesy that some Amendment of the law with regard to that matter would be recommended by them. He. thought the question of goods in transit required to be dealt with as a whole and not in a partial manner.
§ *MR. J. SAMUEL
asked whether, if such a recommendation was made by the Merchandise Marks Acts Committee as the right hon. Gentleman anticipated, he would apply such a recommendation to this Bill before it became law.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said he would undertake, if there was a prospect of the Report of that Committee being made at an early date, that that Report with regard to this particular question should be considered in connection with this Bill in another place.
§ *MR. J. SAMUEL
said that as the Bill would become law in a very short time, and before the Committee had presented their Report, great injury might be done to the shipping trade and large numbers of men thrown out of employment through an interference with the tran-shipment of goods. He thought it would be well, therefore, for the Government to decide at once that there should be no interference in the matter.
§ MR. RITCHIE
said that if the Report, which would show the Government exactly what the Committee desired them to adopt in regard to the transhipment of goods was not ready before the Bill reached another place, he would endeavour to frame some Amendment with a view to protecting that particular industry.
§ *MR. J. SAMUEL
said the hon. and gallant Member must know the reasons why that was so. There was no probability of the Report being laid before the House before the Bill had passed through another stage, and he, therefore, hoped the hon. Member for East Belfast would not withdraw his clause, but take a Division upon it.
§ MR. RITCHIE
hoped his hon. Friend would not adopt such a course. He thought he had said enough to show his sympathy with the proposal, but before dealing with it he should like to be informed of the recommendation of the Merchandise Marks Committee. However, he would promise that if the Report was not made before the Bill reached another place he would consider the question of introducing an Amendment in the Bill in the direction desired.
§ COLONEL DENNY (Kilmarnock Burghs)
said he admired the shipping trade, not—he hoped the Committee would believe him—because it gave him employment, but because it was a great national industry; but he thought the President of the Board of Trade had gone as far as he could in the matter, and under the circumstances he hoped his hon. Friend would withdraw his Amendment.
§ MR. VESEY KNOX (Londonderry)
desired to call attention to the significance of the remarks which fell from the hon. Member for Central Sheffield.
§ MR. VESEY KNOX
The hon. Member said "hear, hear!" [Laughter.] When my hon. Friend said the Committee had not yet considered the Report the low. Gentleman said most significantly, "hear, hear!" The hon. Member is a member of the Court, and is strongly opposed to any interference with the policy of the Merchandise Marks Act.
§ MR. VESEY KNOX
The hon. Member will, therefore, oppose to the uttermost any such Report as seems to be anticipated.
§ MR. VESEY KNOX
ventured to submit that it did in this way. The President of the Board of Trade had suggested 75 that the Amendment should be withdrawn in order that the question might be considered in another place in the light of a Report which the right hon. Gentleman expected from this Committee. There was not the slightest probability of the Report being ready in time to influence the right hon. Gentleman in connection with this Bill. What the Committee had, therefore, to consider was whether they should enact a provision which would interfere with the trade in goods in transhipment, although, as the right hon. Gentleman had admitted, there was strong evidence that that interference would, as in other matters have a disastrous effect.
§ MR. WOLFF
said that, after what had fallen from the President of the Board of Trade, he should like to withdraw his Amendment. [Cries of "No!"] The suggestions of the right hon. Gentleman were somewhat vague; and if he sat on the opposite side of the House he did not know that he should accept them as satisfactory. [Laughter.] But he would impress on the right hon. Gentleman the fact that the question was of immense importance to the shipping trade, and not one to be put aside by the Government in the usual way. [Laughter.]
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE (Carnarvon Boroughs)
said that the right hon. Gentleman had promised to consider the question with a view to dealing with it next year.
§ MR. RITCHIE
No, no. I have not made an actual promise, but I have said enough, if not to convince the Committee, at least to bind myself to consider the question with a view to introducing in another place, even if there be no Report from the Committee, some such Amendment as that suggested by the hon. Member.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said that he was glad of the fuller explanation; but the right hon. Gentleman had not gone far enough. This Bill was introduced in defiance of the recommendations of the Board of Trade Committee, that such a Measure could not be carried out.
§ MR. LLOYD-GEORGE
said that the Bill was introduced ostensibly to protect the trade of the country from unfair competition; but unless this Amendment were agreed to, the Bill would protect 76 the industries of every country to which foreign prison-made goods were carried in British vessels. If the goods were carried to other countries, why should they not be carried in British vessels? A great injury to our shipping trade was threatened. If the right hon. Gentleman must wait for the Report of the Committee on the Merchandise Marks Act, let him postpone the question altogether, and deal with it as a whole.
§ MR. E. ROBERTSON (Dundee)
said that the Customs Consolidation Act of 1876 contained a list of prohibited articles, but a special exemption was extended to goods in transit. Why not apply the exemption in the present case?
§ MR. RITCHIE
said that he had expressed his sympathy with the proposition. It was really only a question of words.
§ MR. McKENNA
appealed to the President of the Board of Trade to accept the words. The right hon. Gentleman proposed that they should be considered not in this House, which was representative of the country, but in another place, where it would have consideration of a, kind, but where, from the constitution. of the Upper House, it could not have the same consideration as in this House. On the principle on which the Bill was based, he hoped the President of the Board of Trade would accept the Amendment. He proposed to assist the trade of the country and prevent the working men of Great Britain from being unfairly competed with by foreign prison labour. Unless he accepted the Amendment he would be introducing a Measure which, like some other pettifogging restrictions, would tend to kill the trade of the country. The President of the Board of Trade was merely asked to enable the shippers of the country to carry on their industry unrestricted by the petty restrictions which already hampered them at every turn. The Amendment applied only to goods to be exported for sale elsewhere. They could not come into competition with British labour. Looking at the question from a common sense point of view it must be obvious to hon. Members opposite that the Government was bound by the principle of their Bill to accept the Amendment. If the Government refused the Amendment the House would not have an opportunity of considering the question again on the Report stage, and it would be left to the 77 other House. He did not think the President of the Board of Trade was treating the Committee fairly. It was not reasonable of the Government when they had an Amendment before them coming from the representative of one of the largest shipping businesses in the country, an Amendment which they accepted in principle, to take the matter away from the purview of the House and leave it solely to the consideration of another place.
§ MR. BROADHURST
said that when it was shown, as it had been, that by some oversight the Bill had been so drafted that unless it was altered great injury would accrue to the carrying trade, there was no reason why the President of the Board of Trade should not say that in another place he would take care it was amended.
§ MR. BROADHURST
said he understood the right hon. Gentleman to state that he sympathised with the object of the Amendment. But he had never yet definitely said that the Bill should not become law until the carrying trade of the country was secured by an Amendment. If he would say that the Debate would finish in a moment. Hon. Members opposite thought he himself and his Friends were opposing this Bill. [Ministerial cheers.] He was a supporter of the Bill. He had never voted or spoken against the Bill either in this House or the other. [Loud laughter.] He apologised; he meant either in this House nor outside. ["Hear, hear"]
§ MR. J. SAMUEL
asked the President of the Board of Trade if he would take the opinion of the Chairman of the Board of Customs, Mr. Primrose, as to the transhipment of goods, and whether he would have an Amendment inserted in the Bill in another place to safeguard the shipping trade of this country.
§ *MR. J. SAMUEL
But will you undertake—[Ministerial cries of "Order!" and "Oh!"]—to have the Bill amended in the other House?
§ MR. LOUGH
did not want assurances as to what would be done in another place; the House of Commons ought to do its own business itself. We were the carriers of the world, and this Bill, if carried, would interfere with our whole 78 trade. [An HON. MEMBER: "How?"] Because all vessels coming to British ports with goods for transhipment would be liable to be searched for foreign prison-made goods, and was it to be supposed foreign nations would intrust us as carriers if we had these worrying laws passed hastily and without amendment. [Derisive laughter.] To admit that the Bill must be amended and then to refuse to amend it here, was to reduce the discussions of the House of Commons to a monstrous farce. [Laughter and cries of" "Divide!"]
Motion made, and Question put, "That the Clause be Read a Second time."
The Committee divided:—Ayes, 67; Noes, 164.—(Division List, No. 295.)
§ MR. CALDWELL
moved a new clause—(NO ACTION TO LIE FOR NON-DELIVERY WHERE GOODS PROVED NOT TO HAVE BEEN MADE OR PRODUCED IN FOREIGN PRISONS, ETC.),providing that—where goods were detained from being imported into this country by order of the Commissioners under the provisions of the Act, and the consignee proved in a court of law that the goods were not in fact made or produced, wholly or in part, in any foreign prison, gaol, house of correction or penitentiary, no action for breach of contract to deliver should lie against the consignee, or those deriving rights from him for the time during which the goods were prevented from being imported.There were, he said, more persons interested in foreign prison-made goods than those who were concerned only with certain industries. There were cases in which persons in this country naturally bought from persons abroad goods which were imported here, and which, it might be wrongfully and illegally alleged, were wholly or in part made in a foreign prison. These goods would be ordered with the view of ful-filling a contract in this country. It was well known that anyone who made a contract here to deliver certain goods and then did not deliver them within the time specified was liable to an action for breach of contract to deliver. If the Bill had provided that a Court of Law should adjudicate on the question whether the goods were prison-made or not, then the ordinary principles of law would have been carried into effect. 79 But as the Bill stood there was no mode whatever of leading evidence as to how the goods were made, or of allowing evidence to be adduced on the one side, and rebutting evidence on the other, so as to be able to show, as in a Court of Law, in point of fact that the goods were not made in a foreign prison. By the Bill a person was deprived of that right of protection which everyone ought to possess of having a matter of fact determined. The object of this clause was that if it should be shown in a Court of Law where there was an opportunity of cross-examining witnesses, and of bringing forward evidence before a Judge that the bonâ fide consignee of the goods could substantiate his case that the goods in point of fact were not in the condition mentioned in the Bill—"wholly or partially made or produced in any foreign prison"—and having failed through the action of the Commissioners to fulfil his contract, and having shown to the Court that this was so, no action for damages should lie against him.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said that of all the Amendments handed in this was the most trivial. [Cheers.] He hoped the country would take note of the the tactics that had been adopted—[Cheers and counter-cheers]—in order to delay and obstruct the passage of this Bill. [Cheers.] Any Amendment seemed to be considered good enough that might have that effect. The Amendment provided that if a man had entered into a contract to deliver goods by a certain day the person with whom he made that contract should have no remedy for the breach of it if the delivery was stopped by the goods not being under the provisions of the Bill. A more preposterous suggestion could not be made. [Cheers.] English merchants knew their own business, and if a man desired to protect himself against such a Bill as this he could have a clause in the contract saying that if delivery was prevented in such a way he should not be liable for non-delivery. Such clauses were of every-day occurrence, providing against the liability for non-delivery in case of strikes or other causes. It was the first time that the House had ever been asked to accept a provision that a man who presumably knew his own business and had contracted to deliver brushes by a certain date, should not be liable if he could show that the brushes he imported were stopped by the 80 Commissioners in the course of the execution of their duty.
§ MR. ROBSON
said that this Amendment was worth much more careful and respectful consideration than the Solicitor General had given to it. [Cheers and ironical laughter.] The Amendment itself, although probably expressed in full and precise language, was clear and simple in its effect, and the Solicitor General had not quite accurately stated the effect of it. [Cheers.] The Amendment was this—that where an English importer had contracted to deliver goods by a particular date to his purchaser, and those goods were not made in any foreign gaol, but had been mistakenly detained by the Commissioners, no right of action should lie against the importer for non-delivery when that non-delivery was due to the act of the Commissioners. [Cheers.] That was an act of injustice that might be committed by the Bill. If it occurred, he challenged any hon. Member to say how the Bill proposed to deal with it, or how it could be dealt with other wise than by the clause of his hon. Friend. If a man was importing goods from a foreign gaol, then of course he would insert in his contract the clause suggested by the Solicitor General. But that was not the man with whom the proposed clause dealt. It dealt with the importer who was bringing into the country goods that had not been made in prison—["hear, hear"]—and why on earth—[ironical cheers, and cries of "Order" and "Divide."] If hon. Members who cried "Divide" intended to imply that he was seeking to delay and obstruct—[Ministerial cheers]—let him say that it was they who were obstructing. [Renewed cries of "Divide."] He had never yet in his short experience of the House, and he never would, however long that experience might be, address the House for any other purpose than that of seeking humbly to inform its judgment. [Cries of "Oh," and "Hear, hear."] He had no desire whatever to delay or obstruct for a single moment the progress of business. He was addressing the Committee now simply and solely because he believed, as a man of no slight experience in mercantile matters, that this Bill made an interference with trade which, if hon. Members were in earnest and desired to make a good piece of legislation, they would certainly seek to minimise as 81 much as possible. [" Hear, hear ! "] What he desired to do was to point out that the remedy suggested by the Solicitor General was totally inapplicable in this case. The hon. Member had pointed out an injustice; the Solicitor General had not suggested how the injustice should be dealt with; and he did hope the Committee would accept what he regarded as a just and businesslike Amendment.
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY
claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."
Question put, "That the Question be now put."
The Committee divided:—Ayes, 183; Noes, 66.—(Division List, No. 296).
Question put accordingly, "That the clause be read a second time."
The Committee divided:—Ayes, 67; Noes, 179.—(Division List, No. 297).
THE CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS
A new clause has been handed in on a piece of paper without any name and without any title. I understand it is by the hon. Member for Carnarvon, but it is out of order. [Laughter]. He proposes to apply the procedure under Section 45 of the Customs Consolidation Act, 1876, to prison made goods. That procedure, which deals with the striking of books off the list of copyright books, is not applicable to foreign prison-made goods. [Laughter and cheers].