§ (1) After the expiration of three months from the passing of this Act every individual and firm required by this Act to be registered shall, in all trade catalogues, trade circulars, and business letters, on or in which the business name appears and which are issued or sent by the individual or firm to any person in the United Kingdom, have mentioned in legible characters:
- (a) in the case of an individual, his present Christian name or the initials thereof and present surname, any former Christian name or surname, his nationality if not British, and if his nationality is not his nationality of origin his nationality of origin; and
- (b) in the case of a firm, the present Christian names or the initials thereof and present surnames, any former Christian names and surnames, and the nationality if not British, and if the nationality is not the nationality of origin the nationality of origin of all the partners in the firm.
§ (2) If default is made in compliance with this section the individual or, as the case may be, every member of the firm shall be liable on summary conviction for each offence to a fine not exceeding five pounds:
§ Provided that no proceedings shall be instituted under this section except by or with the consent of the Board of Trade.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1) after the word "all" ["shall, in all trade catalogues"], to insert the words "letters and cards containing any offer or invitation to transact business."
§ Mr. CURRIE
I regret to have to object again to this Clause as it is now proposed to be amended. The hon. Gentleman has modified the position since the other day, and I particularly regret to have to raise the point again, in view of the fact that I had a conversation with him, and I am afraid we were at cross-purposes, for which I dare say I am to blame. I do not suggest the hon. Gentleman is to blame at all. This proposal that the names of all partners in a firm, even the smallest firm, shall be placed upon every sheet of notepaper which may bear the signature of the firm is no part of any request the chambers of commerce have ever made to the Government. I know what has taken place in the last ten days. I know it has been put to the provincial chambers whether they will take the Bill with this Clause or lose the Bill. That is practically what it comes to. I know they have said they will take the Bill with this Clause. At the same time, they have not had an opportunity of considering it properly. I admit that if a firm keeps two kinds of notepaper, and writes two kinds of letters, and always distinguishes one from the other, there is a little to be said for differentiating between one kind of letter and another, and if it were practicable to earmark letters as dealing with trade advertisements, canvassing matters and letters to fulfil somewhat the function of a trade catalogue, I do not know I could object to the course proposed. But that is not practicable, and I think the chances of trouble arising from this Clause as proposed to be amended are really far too great. I hope- before the Bill is passed, or before it is considered in another place, the chambers of commerce will bestir themselves and really express their views upon it.
A great deal would depend upon what interpretation was placed on the words "containing any offer or invitation to 243 transact business." Supposing a grain merchant wrote to one of his customers: "With reference to our talk yesterday over the telephone, we see that wheat has tumbled to so-and-so this morning. We can still get you those three cargoes, and we advise you to go ahead." That read strictly would be an invitation to transact business, and yet can anyone think of anything more ridiculous than that such a firm should be pilloried? Take the case of a solicitor who might write to a client: "We see your shares in such-and-such a company have risen to such-and-such a price. Please authorise us to carry out the transaction we were talking about the other day." Take the case of any ordinary business man away from home who might sit down in an hotel, and, perhaps on the back of an envelope, send a message confirming some arrangement come to, and saying he will write in a day or two. The business might be extremely important. The signature or initials of that firm would appear, and an offence would be committed. This is undiluted inquisition. The chambers of commerce never asked for anything of the sort, and I think it monstrous that every small trading concern in the country—my own Constituency is full of them—should be in this position. Take a case of three old women making five, shillings a week out of Berlin wool, or brothers carrying on business as partners—I think it monstrous that people like that should be chivied and prosecuted in this way. I have been working on this for years with chambers of commerce. I do not want to wreck the Bill, and I do not want to press the Amendment if it is regarded as wrecking the Bill; but I protest against this sort of thing, and against any idea being allowed to get abroad that the chambers of commerce in this country have ever asked for anything of the sort.
§ Sir F. CAWLEY
I hope the Government will not press this Amendment. There is a later Amendment down in the name of the hon. Gentleman to leave out the words "and business letters." In this present Amendment he is going to whittle away the concession. Without this Amendment the Clause would read, "shall, in all trade catalogues, and trade circulars." I think that is quite enough. Anything further is an irritation to tradesmen, and is putting all sorts of hindrances in their way. I can easily imagine a man of business dictating to a typewriter a 244 good long letter, and then wanting to put something about some transaction, such as, "You will be well-advised to buy So-and-so." If he were to put that in, it would scrap his whole letter. Two lots of stationery would have to be required by every firm, and it would really tell very hard on business people. It is really putting hindrances in the way of business. As I understand, ships sometimes have fresh partners for every voyage, and if there is occasion to write, are they to put the names of everybody on their notepaper if they want to sell some of their cargo? If the hon. Gentleman will excuse my saying so, it is rather a paltry Amendment. If he sticks to the words "in all trade catalogues, and trade circulars" I think that goes quite far enough, and anything further would cause irritation to business people.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I admit that this is a very difficult point, but if we consider the object of the Bill and the Debate which took place in Committee, I think it will be realised that what the House desires is that, on the initiation of any busines, the person who is asked to transact that business should have his attention called to the identity of the people who are desiring to trade with him. That is really what we want to get at, and we further want to arrive at that object, so far as it can be obtained, without imposing an undue burden on the ordinary traders of the country. This question was very fully debated in Committee, and the Committee generally agreed to the obligation placed upon registered firms to place their name and nationality, and I hope the House will bear in mind very clearly that they are not asked to put upon the paper all the particulars they are obliged to register, because, of course, that would be quite an undue burden. All they are asked to put upon their stationery is their name and nationality. We have cut it down to that point, and in the case of a firm, the name and nationality of the partners. That is all we ask. That was the limit to which the House, I think, agreed.
Let me come to the other side of the question. It having been decided what is to go on the stationery, the question remained what should be included in the stationery. By an Amendment in Committee it was suggested that a great deal of stationery should be subjected to that 245 provision, and invoices, and many different kinds of communications and statements. I see an Amendment on the Paper to include "show cards." As for invoices, they are clearly at a subsequent stage. The contract is completed before an invoice is required. A man does not give an invoice until he has undertaken to buy, and therefore I think it is rather a needless burden to include invoices. We did insert in the Bill, as originally drafted, "business letters," but very strong objection was taken to that by several hon. Members. I considered it very carefully, as I undertook to do, and came to the conclusion that we might take out business letters generally, and confine the obligations to "letters and cards containing any offer or invitation to transact business," and really this is not an extension, but a very considerable limitation, of the obligation which was imposed in the original Clause. For instance, take the ease of professional firms. Professional firms very rarely send out invitations to transact business. Their ordinary business correspondence would not be affected at all, and, as to the point of having two different kinds of stationery, it is quite easy to put a stamp on a particular letter where this is required. It seems very easy for a firm to have one kind of stationery where the nationality, if foreign, can be inserted, and there can be no real objection to that. I do not think the case brought forward of those very small firms and people entering into small partnerships arises. I think it is hardly conceivable that in any of these cases, and certainly in very few, will there be trading under a business name at all. I do not think the old women doing a wool business, which was referred to by the hon. Member opposite, trade under a business name at all, and therefore they will not have to be registered.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
A Bill of this kind is bound to impose some disabilities and hardships, and we cannot pass it without putting some people to some trouble. Unfortunately, we have to deal with this kind of legislation; the innocent must suffer with the guilty and be given some 246 trouble which they would not otherwise have to undergo. We are only doing this because we gain a greater national advantage than the measure of the burden put upon these people. From that point of view I think it is reasonable to ask people who are sending letters and cards containing any offer or invitation to transact business to do what we are asking, in order to prevent a person from writing to some wholesale firm inviting them to do business and to send goods and when they are sent to him both the man and the goods disappear. What we propose would oblige this person to give these particulars, and the Contract Clause would clearly enable that firm to examine the Register. If a person sent for goods without giving these particulars he would commit an offence under this Clause, and he would have to use his real name. I think we can hardly do less than that. I propose to meet my hon. Friends who object to business letters, and I think this is a very great improvement. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not very much!"] Of course hon. Members cannot have it both ways. I know they are entitled, if they desire it, to omit business letters altogether, but as far as my action is concerned, representing the Board of Trade, I propose this Amendment as meeting hon. Members in their desire to omit the words "business letters." I may say that the hon. Member for Leith Burghs (Mr. Currie) is quite wrong when he says that chambers of commerce have not asked for this Amendment. I submitted this Amendment to the Central Chamber of Commerce and they circulated it at, once, and approved of it.
§ Mr. CURRIE
I know that process was gone through. My point is that perforce it was gone through in such a hurry that the chambers of commerce of the country were not able to apply their minds to the point.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
That argument would have had great force if they had sounded an uncertain note, but practically unanimously they approved the Clause without hesitation, and there was hardly a dissentient voice—or, at any rate, not one dissentient was brought to my notice.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
There has been plenty of time to say "Yes," and I do not know why on a matter of this kind it should take-longer to say "No." As a matter of fact 247 they said "Yes." This is not a commercial question of a legal or a remote character upon which a chamber of commerce would require a great deal of consultation. They considered it, and distinctly said that this ought to be done. I hope my hon. "Friend will not press his point.
§ Mr. STUART-WORTLEY
I do not wish to take up a strong line about the particular words in this Amendment as regards letters. But even as regards letters I think the hon. Member for Leith Burghs is going a little too far when he claims to have the whole of the chambers of commerce in his pocket. My own chamber of commerce, so far as instructions have reached me in regard to the present Amendment, do not ask me to consent to the withdrawal of these words, but, on the contrary, they ask me to put in words carrying the obligation still further, namely, to other matters. What I wish to say with regard to these words is that it seems to me it ought not to be beyond the resources of draftsmanship to limit the words to letters initiating business in some shape or another, and if you can-snot do this, there are dangers in those words. I hope the hon. Member who represents the Board of Trade will not, because letters are attacked, drop the rest of his Amendment. I also have an Amendment down relating to show cards, and his Amendment is even more generous towards my desires, because it is not confined to show cards, but to cards of all kinds. I hope the hon. Member will not drop cards, because I wish to hit a particularly rascally kind of transaction, under which cheap scissors are tied on a card, and, by an ingenious manipulation of names, they evade the penalties which attach to a false trade description under the Merchandise Marks Act. In this way they humbug the consumer, and this is an illegitimate incursion into the field of British trade. For these reasons I hope cards will not be dropped out of this Amendment.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
I happen to be a member of the Associated Chambers of Commerce, which represents practically all the provincial chambers of commerce, and, speaking from inside knowledge, I can confirm what has been said by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade. The great majority of the provincial chambers of commerce are in favour of the general lines of inserting 248 these particulars on business papers. Various Amendments have been entrusted to me by the Associated Chambers of Commerce, and if there had been any Amendment antagonistic to that moved by my hon. Friend I should have taken notice of it and put down an Amendment on behalf of the Associated Chambers of Commerce. Not having had any notice of that kind, I can support the view that the opinion of the chambers of commerce is in favour of the view put forward by the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, and not of the view expressed by the hon. Member for Leith Burghs.
§ Mr. JONATHAN SAMUEL
With regard to chambers of commerce, personally I think it would be a very grave mistake to legislate on the representation of any particular body in this country. In a very large number of cases to my knowledge the chambers of commerce do not represent all businesses, and there are hundreds of businesses outside the chambers of commerce, which generally represent one or two leading firms in a particular district. [An HON. MEMBER: "That is not so!"] We must all say what we know about chambers of commerce. It may be all right for Sheffield, and this looks as if we are going to have another Trade Marks Bill in this particular measure. We know quite well that Sheffield has been after this kind of legislation for years, but I repeat that chambers of commerce do not represent the actual business of this country to the extent which has been claimed, and I think we ought to be chary in saying because they want certain things that what is asked for is going to be to the advantage of those engaged in a particular business. Do I understand from thi6 Amendment that cards or any post cards sent out containing any offer or invitation to transact business must contain upon it all the information asked for in Subsections (a) and (b) of this Clause? I ask any person who has read these two Subsections, how is this to be done on a post card or card sent out which contains any offer or invitation to transact business? It is provided in the case of an individual that the Christian name or the initials thereof and present surname must be given, and in the case of a firm the present Christian names or the initials thereof and present surnames, any former Christian names and surnames, and the nationality of origin of all the partners in the firm. How can all that be put upon a business letter or a post card 249 or a card sent out by a business firm? I am quite certain that when this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament and contains this new Amendment a very large number of Members of Parliament will get into trouble for passing such legislation as this, which constitutes a great interference with the ordinary transactions of business and which, in my opinion, is a complete absurdity to put into an Act of Parliament.
§ 7.0 P.M.
§ Sir W. ESSEX
I sympathise with the desire of the Government to secure a complete knowledge, as between a buyer and a seller, of the persons involved in a contract, but I cannot help feeling that the whole machinery of this Clause is so cumbersome and involved that it will break down by its own weight and become inoperative. I do not share the fears of the hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. J. Samuel) who thinks that we shall get into trouble by passing this Amendment in its present form. We shall find, in my opinion, that inasmuch as the bulk of the operations of this Clause will be confined to comparatively small firms, those fears need not arise. As hon. Members know a very large amount of business is done "on the nod," in which no transactions of the character of writing is entered until the cheque passes. This is what will happen if this Clause is insisted upon. A man will either do more business "on the nod" in the way I have described, and in the way of trusting one another, or it will mean an enormous transference of the free and open business methods to the protection afforded by the registration of limited liability companies. Is it suggested that every bit of stationery that is sent out by a firm will have to be encumbered with all the various items that are here insisted upon? I see one hon. Member goes to the extent of suggesting that it should be put on cheques and advertisements, but I think that will expose us to ridicule. If we do this we shall miss our aim, and encumber hopelessly the small trades of the country. I regret that we have not taken the course generally adopted by large numbers of traders, who put down the particulars of the business transacted on a printed form which is given by one and received by the other. A commercial traveller, for instance, if he represents a respectable house and does not do his business"on the nod," invariably has his books printed with the name and 250 style of his firm and probably his own private name and address, and he enters the bargain that he has made and the details of the goods that he has sold, and hands it over to the purchaser. The purchaser keeps it, and it is a witness between the two as to what they have done. You might easily attain your end by making such a document obligatory upon everybody and insisting that all these particulars should appear upon it. It is only in one of those two ways that you can proceed. I would like to see the whole of this Clause swept away, and the simple business-like arrangement made that persons doing business should exchange documents giving details of the contract, such document bearing the name and the particulars which this Bill seeks to procure.
§ Mr. JOYNSON-HICKS
It seems to me to be a storm in a teacup about these business letters. Ninety-nine firms out of one hundred already put the names of their partners on all their business correspondence. I have a large number of business-letters, and even old-fashioned professional firms have long since adopted the ordinary system and put the names of their partners at the top of their writing paper. My hon. Friend opposite puts this Amendment forward in the light of a compromise, but I do not think that we can at all accept the compromise to leave out the words "business letters." They were an essential part of the Amendment inserted in Committee, an Amendment which was very carefully considered, which was put in by the Government, and which was down in the names of several hon. Members. That is what we want. We do not want it whittled down merely to that particular type of letter which contains an invitation to do business. I quite agree that would involve two different kinds of stationery, and when dictating a letter to your typist you would have to consider whether you ought to put it on paper bearing the names of the partners to the firm, or on paper without those names. Whoever heard of legislation reduced to such an absurdity. The object of this Bill is to secure that everybody shall know with whom they are trading. All these objections of persons who want to do business on the nod would not apply if only they would trade in their own name and not in a name other than their own. If they do so trade, then our contention? is that they should put on their business correspondence, as is now done by nearly every respectable firm, the name of the 251 firm and the name of the partners in the firm. I therefore hope that my hon. Friend, whose Amendment has not been received with much favour by those who object to the Bill or by those who, like myself, support the Bill very strongly, will withdraw it.
§ Mr. HUME-WILLIAMS
This seems to me to be rather a half-hearted compromise, and I would suggest either that the names should be on all communications or that they should not be on any. It is very difficult to determine what is a letter containing an offer or invitation to transact business. When does the invitation begin, and who is to interpret it? Take the correspondence from its very earliest date and read it through. Who is to say when the correspondence contains an invitation to transact business or whether the names of every partner should be on the correspondence from the beginning or only at the end of it? I would suggest either that all the corrspondence should contain the names of the partners or that it should be omitted from all, and should appear in the contract itself. Personally, I should have thought that would be satisfactory. I do not think you want to put all these names on all your printed invitations if you are quite sure that at the time the contract is entered into the parties know who are the partners of the firm and with whom they are entering into the contract. Let me point out some of the difficulties which are likely to arise. You have got to put not only the name, surname, and Christian name of every partner of the firm, but, supposing one of the partners has changed his name, you have got to put in his former surname. The object of that is to stop a man who is in reality a German changing his name from Schmidt into Smith and concealing the fact. That has my entire sypathy, as it will have of everyone in the House, but it is likely to go further. Let me give a case which came under my notice a short time ago. A man whom we will call "B" was the head of a large firm. He had no son, and he wanted someone to follow him. He had a sister who married a man called "A," and who had a boy. "B" adopted this boy, educated him, and trained him for his trade on the one condition that he should take his name, and that boy is now, as "B," at the head of a large and important firm. Is ho to put on every com- 252 munication that he makes "B, née A," or "Brown, nee Jones"? Surely, if the change of name is from one British name to a second British name, and if the British nationality is clear, there ought to be a certain amount of time within which a man may be allowed to change his name! Otherwise this unfortunate man may be prosecuted, go to prison, have all his contracts made void, and have to pay £5 per day, owing to the fact that he did not disclose the fact that, although born "Jones," he had been "Brown" all his life. That is the kind of thing that is likely to arise. I hope that the Board of Trade will retain the exercise of discretion as far as this particular Amendment Soes. It is a half-hearted affair, and I do not believe it will work. It is not practicable, and I appeal to the Government to make up their mind one way or the other and to let us have either all the names on all the communications, or none of the names on any of the communications other than trade circulars.
§ Sir STEPHEN COLLINS
I should like to explain that when I cheered the hon. Member's phrase, "A storm in a tea-cup," I was referring to the discussion generally on the Bill. The Bill for all intents and purposes is just what it was. There has been no material or serious alteration, and we have been discussing trivial matters for over three hours. We have made very little progress in the way of altering the Bill, and I suggest that we soon get through it and get on to some other business.
§ Mr. FELL
I have an Amendment down simply to make it necessary that all letters from any firm should bear the names of the partners in that firm. Of course, if a man was Rosenthal before and is now called Rose, he would put "Rose, formerly Rosenthal," and it would be no more difficult than to put one's telephone number and telegraphic address, as is done on all business communications as an absolute matter of form. I get many letters from solicitors and other firms in Canada, where they have a great many partners, and in every case there is the general name of the firm and underneath every one of the names of the partners. I should like to see the man who would convict such a person as my hon. Friend mentioned for putting down the name by which he has gone since he was an infant and not some other name by which he has never been known. One of the main points in 253 the Bill has frequently been put in the form of a question to the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and he has always replied sympathetically, but said that he has no power to compel people to put on their letter paper the name of the firm arid their previous German name. This Bill seeks to give that power. I do not mean with regard to those little slips of paper which are filled up on one buying a small article in a shop and which are more like a ticket than anything else, but when a firm writes it should write in its own name.
§ Sir NORVAL HELME
I am bound to express my regret that the Board of Trade should think it necessary to insist that the names of all the partners, with all the particulars that have been mentioned, should be put on the post cards. It is almost too trivial, and I can scarcely think that the Associated Chambers of Commerce ever intended that it should be done. I would appeal to my hon. Friend whether, in view of the opinions expressed, he could not do away with this faulty regulation, that would certainly break down in working.
§ Sir G. CAVE
The Debate has been rather interesting, and the arguments have been directed, not only against this Amendment, but against the Clause as a whole. So far as I can see, the Amendment is objected to, both by those who support the Clause because they desire that all business communications shall disclose the names of the partners, and by those who oppose the Clause because they object to any words of this kind being inserted. I think that is a little unreasonable, and those who oppose the Amendment from the point of view of opponents of the Clause must understand that if they ask us not to insist on this Amendment we must keep the Bill as it stands. That meets, I think, with general assent on both sides. May I remind the House that this Clause was the subject of a long discussion in Committee, and I think the general view then was, as it is to-day, that where a firm is not trading under its own name there ought to appear on all business communications some intimation of the fact, so that persons dealing with that firm may know the names of the partners in it? There is no great hardship about that. As the hon. Member for Brentford (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) said, nearly all firms of professional men adopt that course without any compulsion at all. The letters I receive from solicitors 254 at any rate do usually bear the names of every person in the firm, and that is done because they like their clients to know with whom they are in communication. Surely the motives which govern those firms in giving their names might also move traders to give their names. At all events, it is the general view amongst traders in the country that persons who trade under a name not their own, for whatever reason, really ought to submit to the slight inconvenience of putting their names on their business papers. We have considered the best course to follow in this matter, and we have come to the conclusion it is better not to insist on this Amendment, but rather to leave the Bill as it stands, and the effect of that would be that postcards would not require the names to be inserted. My hon. Friend stated, in Committee, that he did not desire the provisions to apply to the ordinary postcards. Under these circumstances I ask the leave of the House to withdraw this Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. STUART-WORTLEY
I beg to move in Sub-section (1), after the word "catalogues" ["in all trade catalogues"] to insert the word "show cards." I take it there are two kinds of cards which come under the phrase "show cards." The one would be the regular printed pictorial card, in which a firm holds itself out to the whole world. There would be no hardship in regard to that. The second kind of card, also called a show card, is the actual vehicle whereby goods are put on the market, and the appeal is made to the public. Take the sort of card used in connection with tools and scissors. These articles are usually bound together with a name on the top, a name which may be specious and entirely misleading by suggesting some quality or origin which the articles have not. In these cases it surely is not at all a hard thing to insist upon this requirement if the goods are from a foreign firm or a firm not of the kind suggested by the words used on the top of the packet, and in that case we contend that they should be compelled to disclose the true names of the partners. This practice is in its essence an appeal for business in an insidious form, which, if it injures anybody, injures either the humble consumer or the workman by depriving him of employment which otherwise he might obtain.
There are many show cards used because the purchaser desires that the name of the manufacturers shall not appear at all, as they desire to attract customers to their own shops. On these the origin of the goods is not disclosed. This provision would interfere with a very large number of these persons and would divert trade from one quarter to another.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
I should like to understand what is the real intention of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
Let me give a case to illustrate my point. I will take the instance of knives or scissors. Does the right hon. Gentleman mean to tell me that any person who goes into a shop to buy such an article will look at a show card having printed on it the names of all the partners in the firm before they will buy? I say that that suggestion is ridiculous. You had better have the names of the partners on the scissors or the knives themselves. Anyone acquainted with business in shops, and I have some knowledge on the point, will say that people never look at the show card. [An HON. MEMBER: "Yes, they do!"] Excuse me, they never do. They simply go into a shop to buy the article they require. The show cards are really for the purpose of advertising in general and not in particular. They are not for advertising a particular firm. I should like to point out the injury this sort of thing would do. Some years ago I sat on a Committee upstairs which dealt with the provision made on a demand put forward by the Sheffield manufacturers that the words "Made in Germany" should appear on all articles made in that country which were offered for sale here. The late Sir Charles Wilson, of Hull, in giving evidence before that Committee, described how this provision had dislocated the trade of the country.
§ Mr. SAMUEL
I know it is out of order, but I am stating it as an illustration to show that you are proposing to do a very great injury to trade. What the people want is a good article at a reasonable 256 price, and if a Sheffield manufacturer, or any other manufacturer, can offer it at a reasonable price people will buy it. They do not care whether it is made by Brown, Jones or Smith. I agree that in the future they may want to know that the firm is a British firm, but to insist on putting on the card the names of the partners and the origin of each, and all that tomfoolery which has been referred to this afternoon, is simply absurd. If we are going to insist on all these particulars appearing on these show cards, then I advise the Sheffield manufacturers to put the information on the articles themselves.
§ Sir TUDOR WALTERS
I think the hon. Member who spoke last has completely misunderstood the proposition of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Stuart-Worhley). He has been telling us his experience. I should suggest, in connection with miscellaneous articles sold in shops, it may be mustard, blacking, or glue, and he suggests that all the customer is concerned about is getting a good article. But my right hon. Friend has in mind an entirely different set of conditions and circumstances. It is not true to say it does not matter a bit who has made the article. If my hon. Friend knew anything about the quality of steel—I doubt if he does—he would know that the name on the scissors or razor, or on any article made from steel, is the only guarantee the ordinary purchasing public possesses of the quality of the article. There is associated with the names of people who make the best qualities of steel articles a very considerable goodwill, and this is recognised by unscrupulous people in the trade, who consequently trade under some name not their own, but under a name which sounds very much like the name of the genuine maker of the article. They choose their trade names accordingly.
I could give dozens of instances in which that is done, and we want the show-card in order to fight against that. We want the show cards which are sent round by the wholesale trader for the purposes of the retail trade to show the real name of the maker, because it may be a German who is trading under a name which sounds very much like a well-known Sheffield name, merely with the addition of "and Co.," the name having been adopted with the idea of imposing on the public. Where a man is trading under a name which is not his real name, then we ask that his real name shall be disclosed on 257 the card, and I suggest that that is absolutely essential. I do not see what objection there can be to it. I can only say that the members of my firm are anxious to put their names on our business papers, in order to show that they are associated with me in the business. There may be no such inducement perhaps in the ordinary trading community, but I say that wherever a man is trading under a name which is not his own name, his show card should give his actual name. Hon. Members who are opposed to this Bill altogether have tried to justify their opposition by suggesting that there may be a dozen partners in a firm, all of whom may have changed their names and that therefore it may be necessary to put twenty-four names on the card. I say that that is absurd. In the vast majority of cases this simply means that if a man adopts some other name than his own, for the purpose of having a name which sounds like that of a well-known trading firm—and as a rule he does that in order to impose on the credulous public—then his show cards should give his real name as well as his business name. If the Government cannot accept the Amendment of my right hon. Friend and colleague I hope they will at any rate agree to adopt it in a modified form.
§ Mr. CECIL HARMSWORTH
I should like to say a few words in support of the Amendment. Early in the War the Board of Trade held a number of little exhibitions of foreign made goods for the purpose of showing English manufacturers how to compete in certain branches of business with aliens. I visited several of these exhibitions, and nothing struck me more than the ingenious and elaborate attempts made by the alien manufacturer to imitate in every possible way British show cards and advertisements by the use of every kind of patriotic device and British name. The evident intention was to mislead the British public, and I am quite sure that such businesslike people as the Germans would not nave gone to all that trouble if they had been of the opinion of the hon. Member for Stockton (Mr. Samuel) that the British public never troubled to look at the show cards. This is a most important Amendment. I hope it will be accepted, and that the Government will not allow the Clause to be weakened in any particular.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
This Amendment does not raise the question of weakening 258 the Clause as it stands, because we propose to adhere to the Clause as it stands and include these particulars in all business letters. This Amendment proposes to apply the same particulars to show-cards. I have great sympathy with it, but my difficulty is that it is not perfectly certain what a show card is. So far as I am aware there is no legal definition of a show card, and the House will agree that it is rather a dangerous thing to impose a liability upon people when there is no actual definition.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
That is not the point. Show-cards may be held to include things we do not want to include. I am perfectly prepared to accept the spirit of the Amendment, but I do not feel sure that the word "show cards" is exactly the right word to use. I think I am entitled to say that in view of the fact that this Amendment has only been upon the Paper for a day. Had my Amendment been accepted, this would have been covered. That being the case I did not give this point that particular consideration I should otherwise have done. It is only since my Amendment was withdrawn that this one has come into prominence. You cannot expect the Board of Trade at a moment's notice to accept words of which they do not quite appreciate the full meaning. May I point out to the House that this was a new Clause inserted in this House, therefore it can be amended in another place. I am quite prepared to give my right hon. Friend an undertaking that we accept the spirit of his Amendment. We may find that the word "show card" is a limitation. It must be examined with a little more time than we have yet had. We do not want to impose unnecessary burdens upon people. Perhaps I may be allowed to leave it in this way, that I desire to accept the Amendment, and if the word "show cards" is found to be the right word and does not require any limiting words it will be inserted in another place, but if limiting words are found to be necessary it will be inserted with such limiting words.
§ Mr. HUME-WILLIAMS
I venture to hope that the Government will include what nine men out of ten understand by the word "show cards," namely, cards to which are fixed samples of the articles or cards on which are painted illustrations 259 of the articles. If you are going to put the names on the catalogues, you ought to put them on the cards advertising the goods. At the present time foreign goods can be passed off as English goods. We want to stop that illegitimate trading.
§ Mr. STUART-WORTLEY
I would rather not have my Amendment negatived. I accept the undertaking given by the hon. Gentleman, and thank him for giving it. I ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. MORTON
I beg to move, to Subsection (1), after the word '"circulars" ["catalogues, circulars, and business letters"], to insert the words "invoices, statements."
I am aware of the great interest taken in this Bill in the City of London, a part of the country which, perhaps, is more interested in it than any other. Our anxiety is to make the Bill effective and useful and as strong as possible in order to achieve our object. There is a great desire at the present time to get at and control these Germans who trade with British names. I ask the House to give a fair consideration to this proposal in the hope that I shall receive the support of the Government. If I do not, of course I cannot help it. I do not deny that there will be a little hardship connected with the proposal, but there will be hardship connected with the carrying out of any Bill of this sort.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I hope my hon. Friend will not press this Amendment. I have already given reasons for not including the word "invoices," and the word "statements" is far too wide.
§ Mr. MORTON
If the Government do not agree, I am not going to put the House to a Division and therefore ask leave to withdraw.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
On a point of Order, I have an Amendment down to leave out the words "business letters." It also stands in the names of the Parliamentary 260 Secretary to the Board of Trade and the hon. Baronet the Member for Elgin and Nairn (Sir A. Williamson).
May I point out that that Amendment was not accepted, and simply left the Bill as it was. I submit that gives me the opportunity of moving out the words "and business letters," in order to insert an Amendment I have down to insert a new Sub-section providing that" Every individual and firm required by this Act to be registered shall add to its registered name in legible characters the word" registered "in all business letters, notices, advertisements, bills of parcels, invoices, receipts, letters of credit, bills of exchange, cheques, and orders for money or goods wherever the registered name appears thereon."
I beg to move, in Subsection (1), after the word "catalogues, to insert the word "and."
It will be necessary later to leave out the words "and business letters." The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade desired to leave those words out for one purpose, and the hon. Member for Elgin and Nairn and myself wished to leave them out for another purpose. That purpose is twofold: first, we think it is not necessary that these particulars should appear upon business correspondence generally at all, and, secondly, sufficient notice that the name of the individual or the firm under which he is trading is not his true surname, or name would be given, if after the name of the firm or the individual name the word "registered" was put just as the word "limited" is put after the name of a company which is registered under the Companies Acts. I argued this question in Committee, and I am putting the matter before the House now, first, because the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade sympathised with the Amendment, and said he would like to adopt it, and, secondly, because, since I moved it in Committee many Members have said they think it an Amendment worthy of consideration, seeing that it would avoid all the difficulty of having all the names on any documents whatever except such documents as catalogues, trade circulars, and show cards 261 The person receiving the communication, offer of business, cheque, bill of exchange, promissory note, invoice, or bills of parcels would know that the name written there was not the true name of the person carrying on the business. All he has to do is to write to the Registry Office and get the particulars of those persons if he wishes to do so. He may not wish to do so in numbers of cases because he would know them already. If he is a stranger to the firm all he has to do is to write to the Registry Office. We were reminded in Committee that 99 per cent. of the firms in this country are not German but British firms, and it would be a great infliction upon them, especially the smaller ones, if they were compelled to put all these details upon their business paper. I will not go again into the illustration of the three maiden ladies who keep a lodging house or of the fisherman who has a smack for a voyage or the fishermen who are partners for a voyage. We should save the traders of this country the trouble of putting all these things upon their stationery if they simply have to use the word "registered" as the word "limited" is used under the Companies Acts. In my proposed new Sub-section I have taken the actual words of the Section of the Companies Acts, and instead of the word "company" I have used the words "every individual and firm," so that my new Sub-section reads:
"Every individual and firm required by this Act to be registered shall add to its registered name in legible characters the word "registered" in all business letters, notices, advertisements, bills of parcels, invoices, receipts, letters of credit, bills of exchange, cheques, and orders for money or goods wherever the registered name appears thereon."
The word could be put on with a rubber stamp or written on with pen or pencil, so long as it is in legible characters. The reason I put this forward is that in future representations may be made to the Board of Trade by either the chambers of commerce or the business men of this country that they would rather use the word "registered" than have to put all this printed matter upon their business letters. I should like the matter to be ventilated and considered, in case there is any feeling outside the House after the Debate that occurs, and after any alteration that may be made in another place, and also that that which the business community 262 most desires may be put into the Bill, the consequences of which they have not yet had time to understand.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
This question was very fully debated in Committee. I then pointed out that if these particulars are not on the letter paper, then all that is put on the letter paper does not disclose the nationality of the firms, which is what people want to know. It would involve an application to the Registrar to ascertain the facts. The matter was referred to the chambers of commerce—although this is not a matter which solely concerns them, it does affect them—and they unanimously, or by a very large majority, rejected this proposal. It was rejected by the Committee, and I cannot accept it now.
§ Sir F. CAWLEY
This was fully discussed in Committee, and I certainly thought at the time that the Government was prepared to leave these words out. I am strongly of opinion that it is really superfluous for all the names of the firm to be put on the business letters. My hon. Friend (Sir A. Williamson) felt very strongly about it, because his firm, a very eminent one, has fourteen partners. It is not very acceptable to have to put the names of all the partners on all the stationery and on every letter that is sent out. Not only that, but many large firms like his take partners in for a limited time, and they do not want to be always-changing the names of the partners and putting them on all the stationery. The advocates of this measure advocate it principally because it may stop German people coming and trading here, and no one knows who they are. But a German has only to make himself into a limited liability company. He has no need to publish any balance-sheet. It may be a private company of only two members. If a German really wants to masquerade under some English name he has only to call himself Brown, Jones, and Robinson, Limited, and he is an English firm and has no need to register himself.
§ Sir F. CAWLEY
As a limited company. I think this is handicapping private firms very much. This is really a Bill to encourage people to turn themselves from 263 private firms into limited liability companies, and I do not think that is a very desirable end to obtain. It is very much better, perhaps, to have old firms still remaining in their capacity as individuals who are responsible to the last penny they possess for all the debts of the firm. Instead of that, if they have all this irritation, I think it will tend to make these people turn themselves into limited liability companies. That is what I should do if I were in their place, and it is certainly what any Germans will do if they want to deceive the public. For that reason I propose to leave out "and business letters," and then the only invitations to do business will be in the shape of catalogues and trade circulars where all the names will have to be given. In those cases it is very desirable that all the names should be given, except in cases where you are inviting people to do business with you and to buy. The putting of names on letters is absolutely unnecessary.
§ Sir N. HELME
With regard to the use of the word "business" it really involves such an amount of difficulty that I think it would have been well if the Government had relieved the trading community from that obligation. Letters pass between departments altogether independent of the members of the firm who are dealing with contracts resulting in the trade. There is an enormous amount of detailed work done every day between the subsidiary departments of concerns which have nothing to do with the question of who it is who buys or sells, and I submit that this is putting great difficulty in the way of trading, and it is quite unnecessary, in order to protect the principle which is approved by the House generally, that it shall he open to every firm to know the nationality and the character of the people with whom they are doing business, that when you advise the dispatch of so many packages of goods or so many returned empties, to bring the thing to a reductio ad absurtdum,, all the names of the partners shall be given. It is carrying it too far. We all, as a trading community, desire to support the Government in the essential condition that trade shall be honestly carried on between firms which understand who it is that sells and the nationality they represent. But these details really go too far—far beyond the purpose that is at the back of the Bill. 264 When this proposal first came up, it was that a firm should be registered so that it should be known of whom the firm consisted. We have now got, through this German scare, into a position which is really unworthy of the great commercial interests which are represented by this House.
§ Mr. R. McNEILL
My hon. Friend (Mr. Denniss) and the two hon. Members who have supported the Amendment have really travelled over ground which was fairly well covered when this Clause was in Committee. I intervene lest it should be thought that those of us who are opposed to the Amendment have been in any way shaken in our views by the speeches which we have heard. I think the hon. Baronet opposite very much exaggerates the inconvenience which may be caused by these words remaining in the Bill. The only argument which has been adduced in favour of the Amendment is that great inconvenience may be caused in some cases, and the hon. Baronet (Sir F. Cawley) cited the case which was brought up in Committee by another hon. Baronet of a firm with a dozen or so partners who would be greatly inconvenienced. My hon. Friend who moved the Amendment pointed out that the word "registered" can be affixed very easily by a rubber stamp, and it would be equally easy in the case of a dozen partners to have the names upon the paper in small print. Apart from that question, what reason is there against these words remaining in the Clause? The hon. Baronet says his only other argument is that it will drive people to give up being private firms and become companies. He says he would do that if he were in a *similar case. I do not think that would be the result To begin with, this Bill is only a beginning of legislation, and I think we have had something in the nature of an assurance, at all events we have had an expression of opinion from the Government, that it will be necessary to deal in some fashion on these same lines with limited companies.
§ Sir F. CAWLEY
I do not think the hon. Gentleman went so far as that. I think he said he would give the matter his honest consideration.
§ Mr. McNEILL
At all events, my own view is that some such legislation as that will be necessary. We certainly look forward to doing it in that way. The hon. Baronet says this is all a sort of German scare. I entirely repudiate that view.
§ Mr. McNEILL
I understood the hon. Baronet to say that. At all events, his view was that you would do no good by forcing people to disclose their names in this vexatious way. I ground my view of this matter on a very simple principle, and a very wholesome one, which it will be of very great advantage to introduce into our commercial life, and that is that people should know with whom they are dealing. To take the case of the firm of the hon. Baronet (Sir A. Williamson), a most eminent firm, I think everyone who deals with them is quite entitled to know who the twelve partners are, if there are twelve partners, and apart altogether from the question of naturalised Germans or anything of that sort, I do not think there is any grievance, and it is a perfectly intelligible, honest, and wholesome principle. It is on that perfectly plain, simple ground, and not with any idea that this provision will reveal some German spy, that I hope the Government will withstand this Amendment.
I notice that nearly all the advocates for the addition of these names to every letter heading are in the law. They do not seem to know anything at all about business. Very many business firms use their headings as an advertisement of their business. They often give pictures of their business premises and describe various departments of their businesses, and you are going to add to that a great deal of other information which can easily be obtained elsewhere—through catalogues and other publications in which you are compelling them to give the information. It would be perfectly easy, in order to enforce this, to obtain all the information as to the people with whom you are dealing, and it need occasion no delay whatever on the part of those who are transacting business. I presume that the object of letter headings is to convey information on business matters. In the case of solicitors, however many partners there are, practically no space is taken up; but in the case of many businesses—engineers, ironmongers, all kinds of businesses—a considerable amount of space in the nature of advertisements is used at the top of the letter heading, and a further curtailment of the space utilised for the purpose of communication means a great waste of paper. It is quite unnecessary and undesirable, and we can attain the purpose 266 for which the Bill has been introduced without bringing in every letter and every note heading.
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. C. HARMSWORTH
I think my hon. Friend opposite has destroyed the Amendment. He has shown the House, as I proposed to do before he spoke, that it is the habit of business men to exhibit at the top of their business paper a number of details connected with their business, and in many instances pictorial representations of factories and other business premises are given, together with a considerable amount of detailed information. Surely it can be no hardship in such a case as that that a small amount of printing, occupying far less space than any of these other details which he mentioned, should be added to the business notepaper of firms and private individuals. I suppose there is not a Member of the House who does not receive every day, whether from business firms or great charitable enterprises, notepaper giving at the top a very great deal of information connected with whatever enterprise it may happen to be. I think, for the purpose of the public at large, it is absolutely necessary that these details should be put on business communications. If they attach any importance to it at all the public at large can apply to the Registrar to know who are the component persons of any given firm. I should like to say I quite agree with my hon. Friend (Mr. McNeill) and other speakers that this Bill must inevitably be followed at once by a Bill dealing with companies, otherwise the value of this measure would be almost nugatory. Although I have heard a number of Members, including my hon. Friend in charge of the Bill, say it was a very difficult matter to include companies, I have never heard any Member of this House give any explanation of that difficulty. Speaking for myself, I cannot understand why it should be more difficult to include limited liability companies in legislation of this kind—unlike some hon. Members who have been referred to I am not a lawyer and have had some experience of business—and I cannot conceive how it should be more difficult to frame a measure, perhaps not quite on these lines, dealing with limited liability companies than it is to frame a measure dealing with individuals and firms.
§ Mr. HARMSWORTH
I am asked whether we should put the names of shareholders—a preposterous proposition. It would not be in the least necessary.
§ Mr. HUME-WILLIAMS
I rather thought the House had determined to leave the Bill in the form in which it stands at present, and it is consoling to know, after the speeches which we have heard, that any amount of information can continue to be supplied to a gratified public in the future, any amount of illustrations of the goods which are to be sold, as well as the names of the partners who sell them, including even portraits of the gentlemen; but what I really wanted to say was that I do not at all agree with the Amendment that has been moved by my hon. Friend behind me. It seems to me that if you simply add to the firm's name the word "registered" at the end without saying anything else, those people who do not read Acts of Parliament—and there are still a few of them—will come to the conclusion that the firm in question has got some form of State sanction, that it is registered, and therefore one which they will be perfectly safe to deal with. The only way in which you can meet the purport of the Act would be to say that it has been registered as a firm, the total number of whose names do not appear, a firm which comprises Brown, Jones, and Smith, whose names are not on the note-caper.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Mr. PENNEFATHER
I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words "United Kingdom" ["to any person in the United Kingdom"], and to insert instead thereof the words "British Empire"
I shall not detain the House more than a moment in explaining the object of the Amendment. The intention of this Clause is to benefit the citizens of this Kingdom, and my suggestion is that we should not be so selfish as to confine those benefits to citizens of this Kingdom only, but that we should extend any benefits which are conferred to our fellow citizens in the Empire beyond the seas. I think probably the hon. Member in charge of the Bill will see that the insertion of 268 the words "British Empire" instead of "United Kingdom" is an improvement, and will certainly do no harm and may do some good, and therefore I shall defer any further remarks in the hope that he will see his way to accept it.
§ Mr. J. SAMUEL
I should like to ask what is the purpose of this Amendment, which appears to me to be very far-reaching. I understand the purport of the Bill to be the restriction of trading with foreigners in this country. It has this object, that every firm or every individual in trade must give a list of the names -of the partners, and so on, and the object is to try to prevent people in this country trading with a person who is an alien. Do I understand my hon. Friend or the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade to wish that all this information should be sent broadcast throughout the Empire, with a view to showing those with whom we trade throughout the Empire that every firm is British—that is to say, that the component parts of the firm they are going to trade with are British persons? I can see myself that that may be somewhat detrimental to the persons doing trade in this country. I do not suppose any Member of the House on the other side objects to sell throughout the Empire, whether to enemies or aliens, or not. The idea is to sell. An hon. Member for Lancashire has spoken. Now to keep the business of Lancashire factories going you must sell 72 per cent. of cotton outside the country. Suppose now you put the names of all the firm on your business letters and so forth, and before you transact any business you must divulge what you are. Suppose if people were to say, "Well, these are all Britishers; we will not buy from them"'? In our district we have a large number of orders coming from different parts of the Empire for steel rails, or plates, angles, and so on. Do I understand that the object is to try to restrict the sale of these to individuals throughout the Empire who may happen not to be Britishers, who may be aliens? If that is the object, it is to try to restrict trade. I should like to have some definition as to what the object is. I understood from the hon. Member for St. Augustine's (Mr. R. McNeill) that this is only the precursor of another great Bill. What is the object they have in view? If it is to try to induce 269 people in the Empire not to buy from anybody unless they are Britishers, it may act in the other direction, and it certainly would have a very detrimental effect upon our trade, because we are bound to export—whatever we do inside the country to keep our factories going—a very large proportion of our trade, and for these reasons I should like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade, as I understand he is going to accept the Amendment, what really is his object and the intention underlying it.
§ Mr. BUTCHER
I think the hon. Member who has just spoken is under some misapprehension, both as to the object of the Clause itself and of the Amendment. The object of the Clause is to give information to persons in the United Kingdom of the true character of the people with whom they are trading, and my hon. Friend says that if this is to be an advantage to traders in the United Kingdom why should it not be made an advantage also to traders in the British Empire outside the United Kingdom? If it be a benefit for us here, surely it ought to be extended throughout the British Empire. That is the sole object of the Amendment, and I cannot see myself what objection there can be to it, but I gather that my hon. Friend opposite suggested that if persons in the Dominions beyond the seas saw on the face of these letters that they were trading with British subjects it might injure British subjects' trade. That is a very singular view and very extraordinary, that people in the Dominions would prefer to trade either with an unknown firm, as to whose composition they knew nothing, or with a firm they knew to be German. If that is the suggestion, all I can say is that I do not believe it. When persons throughout our Dominions find on the face of their business letters that they are dealing with British subjects in this country, I think they would be far more likely to do more trade with them in consequence. If, on the other hand, they find by the disclosure on the business letters that the persons who seek to trade with them are really Germans or some other persons trading under some fancy name or cloak by which they seek to conceal both their identity and their nationality, I think the traders in the other parts of the British Empire beyond the seas would be very thankful that they had been informed of the true facts, and would prefer to trade with British subjects.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I am quite prepared to accept this Amendment, not only for the reasons that have been given, but for another reason, and that is that we usually leave to the Colonies—certainly to the self-governing Colonies—the right to legislate for themselves, and we do not interfere at all, and where they can protect themselves by their own domestic legislation it is not our business to do it for them; but in this particular case they cannot, because they clearly cannot enact laws binding on people in this country, and therefore they cannot protect themselves even if they wish to do so. When we are passing legislation that people here should know with whom they are dealing, it seems only right that British subjects throughout the Empire should have similar knowledge, and I really cannot see that in extending it we are inflicting any undue burden upon anybody.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Further Amendment made: In Subsection (b), at end, insert the words "or, in the case of a corporation being a partner, the corporate name."—[Mr. Pretyman.]
§ Captain BARNETT
I beg to move, after the Amendment last inserted, to add the words(c) the principal place of business of the individual or firm.The object of this Amendment is to make it easier for a person dealing with a registered firm to ascertain whether the formalities of registration have been performed.
§ Mr. PRETYMAN
I hope my hon. Friend will not press this Amendment. We do not want to overload the information which has to be put on the stationery. These particulars are in the registration form, and can be ascertained there. I know it is difficult to say how much will go on letter paper and how much in the registration—where one should begin and the other end—but I think the House has generally approved the principle that on the stationery we should have the name and nationality, and confine it to that, and that anybody who wants more should go to the Registrar.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Amendment made: In Sub-section (2) after the word "shall" ["Provided that no proceedings shall"], insert the words in England or Ireland."—(Mr. Prelyman.]