§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ The PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY to the BOARD OF TRADE (Mr. Pretyman)
This is a small measure arising out of the Portuguese Commercial Treaty which was signed at Lisbon on the 12th of August, 1914. That Treaty gave considerable commercial advantages to both countries, and part of that Treaty was a Clause to the effect that:the description 'port' or 'madeira,' applied to any wine or other liquor, other than wine the produce of Portugal and the Island of Madeira respectively, shall be deemed to be a false trade description within the meaning of the Merchandise Marks Act, 1887.That meant to say, that to satisfy the natural desire of the Portuguese Government and their subjects in Madeira that there should be no counterfeit wine sold here, that Clause was inserted, and the Act was passed on the 23rd of November, 1914. The Treaty was signed on the 12th of August, 1914, and the Act approving the Treaty and having the Clause I have just. read was passed in this House on the 23rd of November, 1914. That was in cluded in Article 6 of the Treaty. Then the Treaty was introduced into the Portuguese Legislature for approval and the representatives of the Oporto wine producers expressed dissatisfaction with Article 6, which they wished to be so modified that the description "port" should apply only to wine shipped from Oporto, and at their instance a sentence was introduced into the Portuguese Act approving the Treaty of 23rd January, 1915,to this effect:It is however, understood as regards Article 6 of the said Treaty, that according to our internal legislation the Portuguese wine to which the denomination 'port' is applied is solely the full-bodied wine produced in the Douro region, as demarcated by law and exported through the Bar of Oporto.That, as the House will see, did not amount to legislation. There was no legislative effect to that, it was declaratory. The Portuguese Government changed just at that time, and the new Government decided that they could not ratify the Treaty unless the United Kingdom was prepared to give effect to that proviso. The British Government were then asked to modify that Clause of the Treaty, and further, of course, of the Act by which this House approved the Treaty, in 2482 that sense. The Government were not very anxious in the first instance to accept that proposal which has some restrictive effect, possibly, on British trade, but after several communications had passed between the Government it was finally decided that it was better to accept the principle, and this Bill, therefore, enacts that:The description 'port' applied to wine the produce of Portugal, imported into the United Kingdom after the commencement of this Act, shall be deemed to be a false trade description within the meaning of the Merchandise Harks Act, 1887, if the wine on importation into the United Kingdom was not accompanied by a certificate issued by the competent Portuguese authorities to the effect that it was a wine to which by the law of Portugal the description 'port' may be applied.So the effect of this Bill is to enact that no wine may be sold as "port" in this country unless it has been certified as "port" by the Portuguese Government when it was imported here from Portugal. That is really the whole effect of the Bill, and obviously it is very desirable if we can to obtain the very considerable benefit wihich the other Clauses of that Commercial Treaty gives us. Unless this Act is passed, the Portuguese Government do not find it possible, under the conditions prevailing in that country, to ratify that Treaty, and the whole gain of the numerous advantages of the Treaty will be lost. Also the House will feel, and everyone will feel, that our present relations with Portugal, and the way Portugal has supported the Allies in this War, will incline the House to do everything that is possible to meet the wishes of Portugal, provided it inflicts no injury on British trade. I do not think this Bill will inflict any injury on British trade, or that the drinkers or consumers of port will suffer any injury. I hope, therefore, that the House will see it sway to give this Bill a Second Reading.
§ Mr. HEWINS
There are one or two questions I should like to ask my right hon. Friend about this Bill if he will be so good as to answer them. In the first place, I feel that I am not very satisfied with the change in the Clause which is proposed by this Bill. I think you are not only restricting British trade, but that you are also taking a step which, in principle, is not satisfactory. You are taking away from yourselves the power of defining what is "port," and are leaving it in the hands of Portugal. Of course, I am not going to reflect in any way on our Portugal Allies, but at the same time I do not think that is a wise principle, and it is on that ground that I take exception to it. I can only express my regret that the Government have gone so far as they have in that 2483 respect. Then we have to look not only at this new Clause but at what we are getting for it. My hon. Friend just pointed out that we are getting many advantages. I do not want to make a speech upon that, and in fact I do not wish to detain the House for more than two or three minutes, but I shall be glad if my hon. Friend could set out more in detail what are the ad vantages we are getting. I have tried to make it out myself. The Portuguese have something like twenty most-favoured- nation treaties at the present time. Most of these treaties in respect to the concessions they make or receive are highly conditional, and it is very, very difficult to make out what we do get for the concessions we have made. There is this further point, and here I do take strong exception, that taking all the other Portuguese treaties, they are all treaties which can be denounced at twelve months' notice. Some of them were concluded for longer periods of years—
§ Mr. HEWINS
Yes; many of them are terminable on quite easy terms. I think there was one that was for a period of ten years, but that period has gone by and that particular treaty can be denounced at shorter notice. It seems to me, if I may say so, extremely unwise at this period that in exchange for this somewhat nebulous sort of concession we should tie our hands for a period of ten years. The reason is this. My hon. Friend says we get certain advantages, chiefly under the most-favoured-nation treaties, but all the other treaties Portugal has can be terminated. We shall not be in a position to terminate it, and as everyone knows who understands these matters there are plenty of means available to whittle away the advantages of most-favoured-nation treaties to us. I take strong exception to that point, and I think it extremely unwise. Further, the hon. Gentleman knows that all our most-favoured-nation treaties are under consideration. Approaches have been made to the foreign Powers with whom we have these treaties to get them altered. Why are we at this stage, when all that policy is, so to speak, in the melting pot, embarking on new engagements in return for this Clause which in itself is not very satisfactory? Then, with regard to the provisions which turn upon the relation of our action on that of the 2484 Dominions. We are bound for a period of ten years, but any of the Dominions which becomes a party to this Treaty is bound only for twelve months, and you will get in consequence of that, and of war conditions which will affect everything of this kind, a difference of conditions of policy set up in the Empire by this Treaty which I contend is extremely unsatisfactory. In these circumstances I do not wish to go into any lengthy criticism, but the points I put forward are extremely important, and I do think the House is entitled to some more detailed explanation than we have had as to what we are getting by this Treaty. We have merely got this vague Clause, and no man can say precisely what advantage we gain by passing it. The Treaty is not yet ratified. I would suggest to my right hon. Friend that before we get to the next stage of the Bill he should look into the points I have mentioned, and, if possible, give us a satisfactory assurance in respect to them. I should also like to know whether the arrangement he is now proposing in this Bill, and the Treaty itself, have been considered by the Cabinet in connection with all the othei1 branches of policy bearing upon our treaty system, which are, as a matter of fact, subject to consideration by this House. I am not going to oppose the Second Reading of the Bill, but I do wish, before we reach the later stage of the Bill, that my hon. Friend will take counsel and look into these very important points —the most-favoured-nation Clause is one of the most important—in the relations of the Empire at the present time. It is highly inexpedient to complete a new treaty embodying simply the old-fashioned regulations in the old-fashioned way at the very moment when all these various relations are the subject of consideration.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
The hon. Member speaks with great weight and knowledge. I wish my right hon. Friend the Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs had been here to reply on the general question of the Treaty. Nevertheless, we shall be glad to take into account what the hon. Gentleman has said before the next stage of the Bill, which will probably be taken tomorrow.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I think probably tomorrow. But I can say what is within my own knowledge, that a great many of the points raised by my hon. Friend were 2485 very much in the mind of the Government. I can tell the House that very considerable hesitation was felt in accepting this Clause and introducing this Bill for these very reasons. It was after considering the reasons I have given to the House that it was felt that the advantages would outweigh the disadvantage.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Quite; I thoroughly understand my hon. Friend. The Government were not sure for a considerable time as to the relative advantages and disadvantages, but I may point out that the Treaty itself and the Clauses were considered and approved by the House.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
Yes, that is quite true. We had the measure up, and it was approved by the House before the War— no, on 27th November, 1914!
§ Mr. HEWINS
These negotiations date back before that. As a matter of fact conditions have absolutely altered since 27th November.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I think my right hon. Friend is really right, and I do not wish to take refuge in a technical point. We did not appreciate then, as we do now, the whole effect of the War. But I do not wish to labour that point. I shall be glad to confer with my hon. Friend and to take his advice before the next stage of the Bill.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House for To-morrow.— [Mr. Rea.]