HC Deb 29 January 1930 vol 234 cc997-1000

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Merchandise Marks Acts, 1887 to 1911, and to define certain trade descriptions as applied to articles in the fancy jewellery and allied trades. The object of the Bill is to give statutory meaning and effect to certain terms current in the fancy jewellery and allied trades, such as gold front, rolled gold, gold filled, and others which I need not mention. The expressions are not new but, owing to the absence of any statutory definition or consistent practice, they have taken on conflicting meanings. Purchasers have, therefore, no indication of the real nature of the article offered to them. The result is frequent deception of the public, and demoralising competition within the trade. The meaning of these descriptions were long since agreed upon by practically the whole trade, after careful consideration and a good deal of research. Such associations, with far-reaching ramifications, as the Birmingham Jewellers' and Silversmiths' Association, the London Wholesale Jewellers' and Allied Trades Association, the National Association of Goldsmiths, and others, have for some considerable time been in agreement about this. It is also a matter of interest that already in Canada legislation with regard to this class of goods has been embodied in the Precious Metals Act. Australia, also, has some legislation, and I understand that she is prepared to bring it into line with ours when this Bill is placed upon the Statute Book.

There is also a wider international aspect to this matter in that the International Conference of Gold, Silver and Allied Trades, upon which 22 nations are represented, has the subject under consideration, and I understand there is every likelihood that the terms of this Bill will be adopted by them. The Bill has been considered and approved by the following bodies likely to be affected by it: The Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, His Majesty's Customs, the Board of Trade and the Law Society. Nothing in the Bill is restrictive of trade, nor is there anything in it to prevent the manufacture at home or the import from abroad of the cheapest or the most expensive goods of the type covered by the Bill. In short, the Bill seeks to assure that goods which are covered by it, whether they are manufactured at home or abroad, shall correspond with the descriptions marked upon, attached to, or used in conjunction with them.

To the older Members of the House, at least, this Bill is probably fairly well known. So far back as February, 1924, it was introduced by the right hon. Member for West Birmingham (Sir A. Chamberlain), and on other occasions since the hon. Member for Moseley (Mr. Hannon) has brought it forward; but there are two new features about its introduction to-day. One is that, for the first time, the Bill is backed by hon. Members on both sides of the House, and another, which I count as of especial importance, is that the organised workers in the trade are now ranged behind this particular Bill. Speaking through their national organisation, the National Union of Gold, Silver and Allied Trades have given their blessing on this occasion. With the optimism of a new Member I trust that not only will leave be given to bring in the Bill, but that the Bill may even go further than on any previous occasion.


As the hon. Member who is now sponsoring the Bill has told us, this is a very old friend. It has almost grown a white mane. For many years hon. Members now sitting in Opposition above the Gangway brought in this Bill, and year in and year out hon. Members opposite consistently opposed it as being a mischievous, interfering and bureaucratic proposal. The principal opponent is now in the pleasant position of First Lord of the Admiralty. I am sorry he is not here to oppose it to-day, as he is far more conversant with its machinery than I can pretend to be, but I maintain that at this time, above all others, this is the kind of Bill which ought to be resisted, because it will hamper industry, make employment more difficult and interfere with our export trade. Already there is ample protection for the trade. There is a state organisation, the Assay Office, whose business it is to test and to prove all articles which are manufactured from precious metals. Here is a remarkable instance of hon. Members opposite not believing in State enterprise. They want to interfere with what in the past has been the prerogative of the Crown—to standardise articles made of the precious metals.

So far as I can see the inspiration, the whole inspiration, of this Bill comes from Birmingham. This is thoroughly "Brummagen" in manufacture. It is inspired with all the worst traditions of Birmingham industry. They feel that by putting barriers in the way of trade, by regulations of the kind proposed in the Bill, that somehow or other they will be strengthening their position to obtain a monopoly. The very last thing we ought to do at the present time is to manufacture new crimes. This Bill is related to the Trade Marks Act, 1911, and amending Acts, which make it a serious offence, punishable by heavy penalties, if any wrong description is applied to gold cases, jewellery, plate or any thing made out of precious metals. I maintain that that law is adequate for all the purposes of the trade, and if it is necessary to strengthen the law the new legislation should not be proposed by a trade organisation, should not be fathered by a private Member, but should be brought in officially by the Government Department concerned, the Board of Trade or the Home Office. I was very much surprised to hear the hon. Member say that this Bill was approved by His Majesty's Customs. They have a very good guardian in the Chancellor of the Exchequer. If he thinks it necessary to amend the law to protect the public and stop fraud, a Bill can be introduced with all the authority of a Minister of the Crown. I hope this Bill will not become law, because there are far too many difficulties in the way of industry at the present time, and we do not want to put more sand in the machine.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by MT. Wilfrid Whiteley, Sir A. Chamberlain, Sir A. Steel-Maitland, Mr. Strachey, Mr. Simmons, Mr. Gossling, Mr. Longden, Mr. Sawyer, and Mr. Hannon.