HC Deb 17 February 1933 vol 274 cc1339-66

Order for Second Beading read.

11.4 a.m.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

I am only the step-father of this Bill, the hon. and gallant Member for Maldon (Colonel Ruggles-Brise) being the father, but lest a mixed parentage should make the Bill appear less respectable, I would add that the Conservative Agricultural Committee are its godparents. The Bill seeks to increase the sale of British foodstuffs in the United Kingdom. It proposes that all imported foodstuffs on sale or exposed for sale in this country should be marked with an indication of their origin, either the words "Empire" or "Foreign," as the case may be, and with the name of the country of origin. I attach particular importance to the addition of the name of the country of origin, firstly because many countries which have supplied us with goods in the past have, by good service, built up a goodwill for their produce, and it is only right that they should be allowed to continue to reap the reward of that good service. Again, the addition of the name of the country will mean that it will be possible for purchasers to discriminate against countries which produce their goods under notoriously bad conditions. It will prevent such occurrences as American bacon coming in marked "Wiltshire cut, best Canadian method of curing"; and it will also prevent the catastrophe that happened when a consumer went to his grocer and asked for Empire raisins and explained, "I want Sun-maid raisins from California."

It may be urged that this Bill is primarily in the interests of agriculture, and that no Bill such as this should be put forward merely for one sectional interest. I claim that the interests of agriculture and the nation are one. The big industrial towns have never had greater need of a prosperous countryside. No one will deny that the home producer ought to have the right to the first place in his home market, which is his only market. It is a most appropriate moment for the introduction of this Bill. First of all we have great schemes of commodity marketing, and if we pack and grade our goods better, surely it is only right that the public should know which are our goods and which are not. Again, we have just concluded agreements with the Dominions at Ottawa. We have encouraged the Dominions to send their foodstuffs to this country, and it is only fair to take steps whereby those foodstuffs shall be readily recognisable in our markets.

Under the Merchandise Marks Act,1926, a Committee was set up charged with the function of hearing applications from recognised bodies of producers, who could make application to the Committee for an order for marking a specified and particular commodity. Under that Act eleven marking Orders have been made, the principal ones concerning butter, eggs, tomatoes and apples. From the producers' point of view that procedure has been slow, cumbersome and costly because they have had to engage counsel, and in some cases there has been an expenditure of thousands of pounds by the organisations representing the producers. It is proposed in this Bill that there should be a standing committee, on the lines of the Import Duties Advisory Committee, charged with the work of determining the manner and the times of marking, that is, whether on importation or at the time of sale, wholesale or retail, or both. That Committee would make recommendations to the appropriate Departments, in this case the Departments of the Minister of Agriculture, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Home Secretary, as representing Northern Ireland. The appropriate Department will, on the recommendation of the Committee, make the Order. That Order will not, however, come into operation until it has received the approval of Parliament. It will lie before Parliament for 28 days, and will then take effect only if it is not annulled.

It may be urged that there are not sufficient safeguards. As in the case of the old committee, the committee would be allowed to hear representations from persons representing any body whose interests appear to be substantially affected; and there is a further proviso that if, in the opinion of the committee, any imported foodstuffs cannot be effectively or conveniently marked, it is open to them to refuse to make any recommendation to the appropriate Department. It may be said, also, that this committee will prove to be very costly. I cannot see that it is likely to be more costly than the present committee, and if only the Ministers who are concerned with these appointments will select its members, who number only five, from the ranks of those who throughout the country give their services voluntarily to public work, including men and women who are accustomed to hear and to sift evidence, the cost of the committee as regards its members would be nothing. I should hope, also, that the Minister of Agriculture would extend to the committee the hospitality of the Ministry for its meetings, as he does in the case of the present committee; and, further, that he will be able to provide them with the services of a member of his staff as secretary.

We may be told that the administration of the Act by local authorities will be likely to throw extra expense upon them, that it will mean more inspectors. Anyone who, like myself, has been a member of a county council or district or borough council will know that we have inspectors under the Weights and Measures Act, under the Sales of Food Order and under the Food and Drugs Act, and surely those inspectors when going on their rounds could occasionally take an additional sample under the terms of this Bill.

How will this Bill increase the sale of British and Empire foodstuffs in the home market? We have a startling vindication of the value of marking in the case of eggs, which come under the 1926 Act. Eggs are the only big commodity which have been marked for any considerable time. They were marked first in 1929. Since they were marked, there has been a continuous decline in the importation of foreign eggs and at the same time there has been a rise in the importation of eggs from South Africa and Australia. In 1932, for which year the figures are just published, the imports for eggs from Australia rose by 65 per cent.; the import of eggs from Denmark fell by 13 per cent., from Poland by 13 per cent. and from Holland by 63 per cent., and, thank goodness, those tiny Chinese eggs, which were produced under very insanitary conditions, fell as well. There is one more remarkable fact, and that is the effect which marking has had upon the production of poultry at home. From 1930 to 1932, the increase in the home population of poultry and ducks amounted to 19.2 per cent., and no one has gained more from that than the smallholder.


Would the hon. and gallant Member be so good as to say to what years those comparisons of increases and decreases relate.?


As regards the home production which I have just mentioned, the increase of 19.2 per cent. in poultry was between 1930 and 1932. As regards the other increases that I read out, I thought I had explained, and if I did not I apologise, that they represented increases in 1932 over 1931. Another point that we must notice is the effect of the desire of the British people to buy home and Empire goods, because of the success of the "Buy British" campaign. Ii you go into any store or grocer's and ask if that campaign did not make a great deal of difference to the demand for home and Empire foodstuffs, you will be immediately told that the increase was remarkable. How much more might that increase have been if only it had been possible for the public readily to identify the difference between British and imported foodstuffs. Many thousands of people will buy British foodstuffs because they know that the food is produced under healthy conditions, and is not produced by sweated labour.

In what way is this Bill going to safeguard the consumer? When you come to the question of the consumer, the first thing that strikes you is the problem of substitution. There is no doubt that there are unscrupulous traders who, when British foodstuffs are dearer—and I admit that they are sometimes dearer —take advantage of that fact by substituting a foreign article for the British, and charging a British price. Worse still, they are inclined to mix the foreign and the British. What is the result? The housewife goes home, particularly with the mixed article, and when she gets home she looks at her goods and finds that she has not got what she expected. She finds that those goods are rather on the lines of the old chestnut of the curate's reply when asked what his egg was like. He replied, "Good in parts." She registers her dissatisfaction with the British produce, and gives it a bad name. Another safeguard for the consumer is that under this Bill it will be made imperative for the British producer to produce a better grade of article. I believe that not only will he produce a, better grade of article but that his spirit is willing, and that he is concerned now to try to produce a better article. It has been very difficult in the past for him to do so because he has not had the incentive.

I was talking the other day to one of the biggest of the merchants in Covent Garden. I showed him my Bill and I said to him: "I 'suppose you will not like this Bill very much." This was a man who owns 40 retail shops in London. He said: "On the contrary, it is the one thing that we want, because it will force the British producer to grade his stuff as well as that which comes in from abroad." The question may be raised as to the cost to the consumer of these marking orders. Will they raise the cost? We have no evidence that they have in the past raised the cost in the least; on the other hand, commodities that have been marked have fallen in price, but, if there is any question, the answer is that the cost will be borne, and must be borne, mainly by the importing countries. To give an instance: as far as I can work out from the recent meat inquiry, as regards lamb the opposition was put forward by the importers on the ground that the cost would be an increase to them of about a penny in 35s. In regard to the retailer, it may mean a little more trouble for him. I have walked the streets of poorer London recently, and I have seen in greengrocers' and grocers' shops nothing but tickets and tickets. I only hope that those retailers will take the same view as I do, which is that another little ticket will not do us any harm, if it is for the purpose of identifying the origin of foreign and imported foodstuffs.

Great Britain is the biggest food market in the world. Last year, £358,000,000 worth of food and drink came into this country, but under £30,000,000 worth of that was marked. Another £75,000,000 worth was imported that we could not produce in this country, but which the Empire was able to produce. That leaves over £200,000,000 worth of imported goods and foodstuffs coming into this country unmarked, and able to compete with our own home produce. That quantity is more than the value of our own home production. In 1930 and 1931, the value of our home production was £197,000,000. That leaves an enormous scope for the increase of marking in this country. I am reluctant on one ground only, and that is because the passing of this Bill might mean more work for the Minister of Agriculture. No one has deserved so well of the agriculturist, and we look to the Minister to deserve even better, with his great schemes of marketing reform, in the near future. I would like him to bear in mind that if he is going to ask us to market better, to pack and grade foodstuffs better and to produce a more standardised article for the home market, he must give us a fair chance. We must have marking as well as marketing; they go hand in hand. Finally, I believe that this Bill represents a national desire. The nation wants it; the state of agriculture demands it.

11.25 a.m.


I beg to second the Motion.

In doing so I would ask the House to consider for a few moments the position of those who would be affected by this Bill. I will start with the position of the foreign user of our market, that is to say, the foreigner who now enters our home market and sells his foodstuffs therein. I submit that it is reasonable that, if the foreign producer desires to come into the United Kingdom food market and enjoy the privileges of that market—which, incidentally, is the most valuable food market in the world—he should be required to indicate the source and country of origin of the goods which he sells. Surely, he could not reasonably object to being asked to do that. In a great many cases it would not put him under any disability at all, because much of the food that is sold now in our market is sold in a wrapper or container of some kind, upon which already there is printed matter, and it cannot, therefore, be contended that the addition of a few extra words in print on any container or wrapper would involve the producer in any increased cost, and thereby lead to an increase of price to the public. That would be absurd. At this stage I would enter the plea that, if and when the Bill becomes law, as I trust it will, the committee charged with the ordering of the method of marking should see to it that the print is of such size that a microscope will not be necessary to read it.

Then I come to the position of the Empire producer, and I would make this submission to the House. Surely the Empire producer should be given the advantage of placing his goods alongside those of the foreign producer with the clear distinction that they are the produce of the British Empire. Would any Dominion object to that? Surely not. They would jump in to take advantage of it. We know that it is a main part of Dominion policy to get a larger share of the United Kingdom food market. I very much regret that this question of marking was not mentioned in the discussions at Ottawa; I think that that was a grave omission. If it had been put to the Dominions that here lay to hand a very easy way of assisting the sale of Dominion goods in our market, they would have been the first to clamour for this Bill. After all, what is the value of the "Buy British" campaign, and all the costly activities of the Empire Marketing Board, unless it is made clear to all would-be purchasers where the foodstuffs come from? Further, I submit that the home producer is entitled to have an option, in his own food market, of either marking his products or not, as may seem best to him. If he likes, he can make use of the National Mark, or any other recognised trade mark signifying that the article is a home product, but, if he does not elect to mark his goods, the fact that the article is unmarked, lying alongside articles which are marked, will be in most cases in itself a guarantee that the unmarked article is home-produced.

If this Bill becomes law, it will give definite effect to the Preamble, the first part of which reads as follows: It is desirable to increase the sale of British foodstuffs in the United Kingdom. Will any hon. Member in this House challenge that? I am glad to understand that it is definitely acepted. It is, as we understand, a definite part of our national policy that home agriculture is, as my hon. and gallant Friend has just said, to play a much larger and ever increasing part in the reconstruction of our nation. That implies, of course, greater home production. But what is the use of increasing home production unless we increase the share of the market for home produce? It would be futile to do so. How are we to give a greater measure or employment on the farms and in the fields of England unless we recapture for the English-produced article a very much larger share of the market? The position of the consumer has already been admirably dealt with by my hon. and gallant Friend, and, in regard to the consumer, I would again refer to the Preamble of the Bill, which says that one of its intentions is to safeguard the consumer by indicating the origin of imported foodstuffs. Does any hon. Member object to that part of the Preamble? I hear no objection. I submit that, when the consumer goes to buy, he or she ought to be able to know the origin of the goods which are offered for sale. The consumer may go out with the will and intention to buy British, and with the money to buy British, but very often, through the lack of proper indication of origin, the would-be buyer of British goods is unable to ascertain the origin of the goods that he or she is 'buying. It is no use telling people to buy British if they are denied the means of ascertaining what is British. I myself had occasion, not long since, to buy a bunch of grapes, and I proceeded to an Empire fruit stall and selected a bunch labelled "Best Hot-house." Before buying them, I asked the shop assistant where they came from. Were they grown in England? No. Were they grown in an Empire country? No. Where, then, did they come from? Oh, they came from somewhere on the Continent, but they were quite good, and they sold lots of them. That was the answer that I received; and just above the row of bunches there was a large placard: Eat Empire Fruit. I contend that the consumer is entitled to know the origin of the foodstuffs that are offered for sale. If the argument be advanced that it is not practicable or possible to mark every kind of foodstuff, I would say that, as my hon. and gallant Friend has already pointed out, there is nothing in the Bill which attempts the impossible. If hon. Members will refer to the proviso to Sub-section (1) of Clause 3, they will see that there is no question whatever of trying to do something which it is not possible to do. The proviso reads: Provided that, where in the opinion of the committee, any foodstuffs to which this Act applies, cannot for any reason be effectively or conveniently marked with an indication of origin, the committee shall not be required to make any recommendations to the appropriate department for the marking thereof. I hope, therefore, that that point has been effectively disposed of. I would like now to say a word in general about the urban interests in this matter, and I would particularly address myself to those hon. Members who sit for large urban constituencies. They may think that this really is merely one of a series of agricultural Bills that are coming before Parliament and that they have little interest in it from an urban point of view. That is a very grave error. I believe that the urban community has as great an interest in this as has the agricultural community. If a poll were taken of the urban constituents of hon. Members as to whether or not they would like to know where their foodstuffs come from, there would be an overwhelming majority in favour of possessing that knowledge and the only opponents would be those who have made a practice in the past of trafficking in foreign goods and do not want to have to change their methods of trading. Their position would be quite understood in those circumstances, but, further, if it were shown, as it can be shown undeniably, to urban voters that their urban breadwinners are largely out of work because the great agricultural community is out of commission and cannot afford to buy the products of the factories, he would find that the urban voters would not merely ask for the introduction of this Bill but would demand it.

I will give another instance of the difficulty which the would-be consumer is faced with in making purchases. Up to November last no less than 7,890 tons of imported fruit pulp came to this country, mostly from Holland. The bulk of it was made into jam and sold under English trade marks and, in addition to the English trade mark, there was this trade label: "Full proof standard." A consumer buying goods as marked would conclude that he was buying jam made from fresh English fruit, but it is nothing of the kind. It is made frequently from foreign fruit pulp. It is high time we swept all that away. For several years past, on many occasions there have been acres of the finest fruit left to rot in our orchards, and it is absurd that we should allow such a situation to continue. It is small wonder that we have so many people out of work when the agricultural community is unable to purchase up to a reasonable measure of capacity.

I will now say a word about the Merchandise Marks Acts. It may be advanced in some quarters that, owing to the fact that there are those two Acts on the Statute Book, this Bill is redundant. If anyone holds that view, let him make an application before the committee which administers those Acts. He must take a deep purse with him. He will be in for a very costly fight. He will be opposed tooth and nail by trading interests which are determined, if they can, not to make any alteration in the nature of die goods that they handle—people who have grown accustomed to the handling of foreign produce and refuse to handle British. It is possible that there is a higher profit attaching to the foreign-produced article. That is undoubtedly the case, because we are the heaviest taxed producers of any country in the world. Also our costs and conditions of labour are higher than obtain in other countries. It is really an intolerable position that we should have to submit to be made a refuse dump for the surplus of foreign nations after they have met the requirements of their own market. The price of a foreign article is often fixed at a level just below that of the home produced article, which has been produced often under far superior conditions.

We hear a great deal of home producers being asked to keep their minds receptive for new ideas and to be prepared to change their methods of production and marketing. If it is right and fair that the producer should be asked to do this, why should not the trader also be asked in some instances, where necessary, to change his method in regard to the produce which he handles 2 The trader per- forms a useful service as a distributor. When he handles home produce he renders a definite service also to the home producer but, whereas the trader may be useful to the producer, he is not essential to him. On the other hand, the producer is not merely essential but is vital to the trader, because if there were no producers the trader would have nothing to trade in. When you weigh up the claims of producers and traders, it is well to bear that fundamental point in mind. We have committed a very grave error in this country throughout the era of free imports, which has been falsely called free trade. We have had the exaltation of the trader and the depression of the producer. It has been a long-fought battle between commerce and industry and commerce has won so far. Now we hope the turn of the producer will come at last but the fact that it has been commerce that has won that long battle is the fundamental reason why we have 2,750,000 unemployed. It is the production of goods and not the mere trafficking in them upon which ultimately the life, wealth and work of people must depend.

Where, I wonder, will the opposition to this Bill, if there be any, lie. It is clear that it will not come from the British producer. It is equally certain that it will not come from the consumer. It can come only, if at all, from the people who are rigidly opposed to making any change whatever in their method of trading and who are resolutely determined that they will not handle home products so long as they can handle foreign products. Once more I would appeal to the National Government as I did when I introduced a similar Bill last summer, to act in a national way and to take a national view. If this Bill gets a. Second Reading, as I believe it will, I would ask them to give every facility for its further stages. I can assure the right hon. Gentleman who represents the Government that nothing is more in accord with public sentiment and good sense than the feeling that the National Government is not content merely to exhort the British public to buy British but intends to afford the British public every facility for doing so.

11.45 a.m.


During my 12 years as a Member of this House I do not think that I can remember more preposterous proposals being put before us than are contained in this Measure. I speak for myself and oppose the Bill for two reasons. I happen to be a member of the Marketing Committee of the Empire Marketing Board, and consequently I have come into touch with some of the principles which are raised in this Measure, and I am very concerned also about the Clause in the Bill dealing with penalties. I feel sure that if the Bill became an Act of Parliament the people whom I have the honour to represent in connection with my trade union would be the first to be penalised if its provisions were violated. Those are the two reasons why I take part in this discussion.

I will confine myself to two or three of the main features of the Measure. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Maldon (Colonel Ruggles-Brise) would have the House believe that it is a Bill in support of the "Buy British" campaign. It is nothing of the kind. As a matter of fact, it has nothing at all to do with Empire products as such. The main principle of the Measure is to shut out, as far as may be possible, all goods produced in any part of the world except in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. If that is not the object of the Bill, it has no purpose at all, because the hon. and gallant Gentleman told us frankly that it was just about time that the English agricultural producer should have a chance. That, I think, is a fair summary of what he said.




Well, I am sorry. Neither of the two hon. and gallant Gentlemen dealt with the details of the Measure when they spoke. They dealt, as the Imperialists and the narrow nationalists always do, in large terms, but I will venture to bring them down to the wording of their own Bill. What do they say? Subject to the provisions of this Act it shall not be lawful to sell or expose for sale in the United Kingdom any imported food-stuffs— either from Canada, Australia or South Africa— unless such foodstuff either upon itself or its container is clearly marked with an indication of origin. That is to say, that it will not be sufficient under the Bill to say "Buy British." The intention is definitely to say, "Buy English, Welsh, Northern Irish, or Scottish products." If that is not the intention of the Measure, it has no meaning at all, because the Empire Marketing Board are already pushing the "Buy British" campaign very effectively indeed. It might appear strange that I support the "Buy British" campaign at all, but I have always held this view. I see my hon. Friend smiling at what I am saying. Although I am opposed to tariffs and an internationalist, I have nevertheless seen no reason why our people should not be induced at the same time to support and consume goods produced within their own shores. There is no contradiction at all there, I think. But while I am willing to advocate the purchase of our products, I am not so foolish as the hon. and gallant Gentleman opposite, as to say that we should shut out by this process—because that is what it means in effect—goods produced in foreign lands which cannot be produced here at all. The hon. and gallant Gentleman talked about grapes. He knows quite well that nature produces grapes in some parts of Europe without any glass covering at all.


Hot house grapes!


The hon. and gallant Gentleman surely cannot contend in this House that you can produce grapes as effectively under glass in our climate as nature can produce them in the open abroad.


Hot house grapes?


That is what I said. Surely, the hon. and gallant Gentleman understands English, and a Welshman can usually speak English better than he can. I pass on to another objection which I have to the Bill. I say very definitely that if the Bill is carried and administered on the lines of the wording of the Measure the Government might as well scrap the whole of the Ottawa arrangements, because, as I have said, the intention of the Measure is to shut out products even from Australia, Canada and South Africa if they can be produced at home.


It shuts out no one. May I ask the hon. Gentleman what Clause of the Bill actually shuts out anything?


The hon. and gallant Gentleman told the House this morning that the intention of the Bill was to give a chance to the home producer. I am not wrong in putting it in that way. If the intention of the Bill is to give the home producer a chance, what is the use of talking about the British Empire outside this country I am sorry that I am hurting these Imperialists, but I got up deliberately to do so.


I said that £75,000,000 worth of imported foodstuffs came into this country which we could not produce here but which could be produced in the Empire.


But the trouble is that the hon. and gallant Gentleman who seconded contradicted the hon. and gallant Gentleman who moved the Bill.


Will the hon. Gentleman just look at Clause 8—" interpretation" —line 30, paragraph (a). When he has read that paragraph will he tell the House that he thinks it will be a disadvantage to Empire produce to be offered for sale side by side with produce marked "Foreign". If one is marked "Empire" and the other is marked "Foreign", will he tell the House that British people will prefer to buy the foreign as against the Empire, and that therefore it is not in the interests of the Empire.


I make the confession straight away that if I saw anything marked "Welsh" I would buy it in preference to anything marked "Canadian", and if everyone else feels like I do the products outside this country would have very little chance of sale in our home markets. I want to deal next with the cost which will fall upon the Exchequer. These hon. and gallant Gentlemen have all along the line been supporting the Government in their economy campaign, and here they are to-day going to thrust the cost of this measure upon the Exchequer, and they have no idea how much it will cost either. There is going to be a Committee and a staff in Whitehall, and deputations from all trades in the land are to come forward and they will get their expenses paid too. On top of that there are to be new staffs of in- spectors in all local authorities in order to see that the shopkeeper carries out the provisions of the Measure. Surely, we should not be asked here to-day to spend money on useless machinery of that kind.

To sum up the provisions of the Bill, I would say that it is, in effect, a Bill to compel the urban population to support the agriculturist and lift him out of his difficulties. However poor the agriculturists may be—I know something about them—by comparison with the urban population, I am positive that the poverty. in some of the urban districts is far greater than the depression in some of our agricultural areas. To give an example, there is a township in my division of 6,000 folk, and there has not been a wheel turned in that district, not a stroke of work of any kind whatever, for three-and-a-half years. Nothing could be worse than that in any agricultural area.

I am glad that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Barnstaple (Sir B. Peto) called my attention to the definition Clause. If there is anything more humorous than the present definition I should like to see it. Foodstuffs ' include every article used for food or drink by man, other than drugs or water, and any article which ordinarily enters into or is used in the composition or preparation of human food, and also includes flavouring matters or condiments. That will include of course, fish, flesh, fowl and all the rest of it. There is a sinister movement on foot throughout the world for all countries to be self-sustained and self-contained. However nationalist hon. Members opposite may be they must realise that we in this country cannot hope to produce nearly enough food to maintain ourselves from our own soil. That fact is taken for granted. To show how this narrow movement grows I would point out that we have in Lancashire a new slogan, "Lancashire people must buy Lancashire coal !" I suggest another slogan "Manchester fog for Manchester folk !" Let us carry the whole thing to its logical conclusion so that its absurdity may become apparent.

This Bill would do something else to which I object. If it becomes law it will be the man behind the counter who will have to administer its provisions, and I object to putting the onus upon the shop assistant of seeing whether the law is carried out in respect to the marking of the goods comprised within this Bill. There are already some laws which penalise the shop assistant while the shop keeper goes scot-free. If the Bill goes by chance to Committee upstairs I hope that hon. Members who support it will be prepared to amend it so that the employer who is responsible for the acts of his employees should also be responsible for any penalties. This Bill is a case of nationalism against imperialism, and I hope for the several reasons I have given that it will find very few supporters in the Division Lobby to-day.

11.56 a.m.


I beg to move, to leave out the word "now", and, at the end of the Question, to add the words "upon this day six months".

The Bill is not so simple as the hon. Member who moved its Second Reading would have us believe. The Preamble says that, It is desirable to increase the sale of British foodstuffs in the United Kingdom and to safeguard the consumer by indicating the origin of imported foodstuffs. I find considerable difficulty in envisaging that this Bill would do either of the things set out in the Preamble. The original purpose of the Merchandise Marks Acts was that there should be a stop put upon misrepresentation on the part of those who desired to convey by expression or implication a false description to an article offered for sale. Already the existing Acts amply provide that safeguard. The two main Merchandise Marks Acts are the Acts of 1887 and 1926, and those Acts make it illegal to apply any false or misleading mark to any merchandise. Obviously, therefore, there is no necessity for the present Bill in this regard. Under those Acts no foreign articles bearing any mark or device which might suggest that they were of British manufacture are permitted to enter this country without a qualifying mark of origin, if those goods are imported to be sold in this country.

I would ask the House particularly to examine some of the provisions of the Merchandise Marks Act of 1926. When we are asked to place another Act of this nature upon the Statute Book it is highly important that we should acquaint ourselves with the Statutes already there and see whether they already meet the requirements that are desired by those who are promoting the present Bill. It is absurd to impose more and more unnecessary Acts of Parliament upon the people of this country and it is obviously absurd to give a Second Reading to this Bill if there is already an Act which deals sufficiently with the points that have been raised to-day by the supporters of the Bill, although they have put them in very able speeches. They have made their appeal on sentimental grounds. If existing Acts already cover the points that they wish to have covered, why on earth at this stage, when we have so many Statutes which govern, control and impede the city in every direction—when, for example, everybody is complaining about the continuance 'of provisions in the Defence of the Realm Act—should we be asked to pass an Act of this description? I also cannot understand why hon. Members should be desirous of placing upon the Statute Book an Act which would exclude proper investigation of the complaints in question. The Merchandise Marks Act of 1926, Section 2 (2), says: The sitting of a Committee, shall, while evidence is being taken be open to the public unless the evidence relates to matters which are, in the opinion of the Committee, of a confidential character. The Act of 1926 also makes another provision which I would bring to the notice of those who are promoting the Bill, because it is a most important part and covers any possible argument that could be put forward with regard to the adequate protection of the public as a whole. It is inconceivable to me that anyone in promoting new legislation of this kind should have apparently overlooked this particular Section of the Bill, Section 2 (3): No reference shall be made to a committee in respect of goods of any class or description unless there has been made to the department an application therefor which, in the opinion of the department, substantially represents the interests of either manufacturers, producers, dealers, traders, users or consumers, or of any body of wage earners. I have a very limited vocabulary but I can think of very few people who come outside the scope of that sub-section. As that sub-section provides that applications can be made why have not the promoters of the Bill paid attention to it and made their application? If their case is as strong as they would have us believe they have every opportunity of going before the Committee and presenting the case, of having the matter thrashed out in public with evidence given by people who understand it thoroughly, of having it examined under proper and impartial conditions and of getting a decision. But what do we find? The Merchandise Marks Act of 1926 has been in existence for over six years and in the course of those six years only 15 applications have been made to the Agricultural Committee. Under these circumstances, why should we be asked to believe that the interests of the British consumer and of the British producer are so heavily at stake that the masses are falling over one another with a view to getting injustices put right, when in the course of six years only 15 applications have been made. The argument that it is a costly matter to bring these items before the committee does not hold water.


Is the hon. Member aware of the great expense in getting the butter order?


My hon. Friends say millions of people in this country would be affected by this particular Measure. If public opinion is so keenly interested and so deeply concerned about the provisions of this Bill being put into operation, surely it would be the easiest thing in the world to collect even the comparatively large sums which might be necessary to present their case to the committee. Those who are acquainted with the procedure before tribunals know that if a man is represented or not a reasonable tribunal gives him an opportunity of presenting his case, and there are many bodies acting on behalf of their masses in this country who would be prepared to send representatives before this Committee to have their case properly presented. There really can be no question about costs.

There is only one object which can possibly be sought by a Bill of this nature, and that is that instead of having the option to put "foreign" or "Empire" on a commodity tradesmen will have to mark thereon the actual country of origin. I have here a list of regulations which has been sent out by a trade organisation recently to large and small grocers in this country. The House can see the size of it and the quantity of detail which a small grocer has to study before he can supply anybody with a commodity. I wonder how many more lists a grocer will have to study, if this Bill is carried, before he knows whether he can sell an ounce of currants or an ounce of sultanas. If there happens to be any change in the boundaries of a country at any time and he does not follow the papers or the Official Reports very closely, if he does not know what has happened in respect of of a Polish corridor example, he may find himself in a very sorry plight when he sells his commodities. There are already sufficient hardships upon traders who are attempting to earn a livelihood in a proper and respectable manner without imposing others which have not been properly inquired into.

This Bill imposes obligations; it does not give the Committee the option of saying whatever goods have to be marked. I do not know whether the promoters of the Bill have considered this point. All foodstuffs must be marked. The only proviso is whether the actual marking is going to raise difficulties. Every food commodity is to be marked. The only commodities which will be allowed to be removed from this list will be those which cannot be conveniently or effectively marked. It is not a question of those which ought not to be marked because the interests of the consumers or the interests of the producers are at stake; it is only a question of those which ought not to be marked because one cannot conveniently mark them. That is carrying matters to a very far pass. What are we going to do about tea, which has been the subject of an exhaustive inquiry. Tea, is a foodstuff, it is not water, it may be a drug, but tea will come under the provisions of the Bill. The existing Committee have come to certain conclusions on tea. They have said that it should not be marked, not because it is inconvenient, you can mail packages of tea, but because it is not in the interests of the trade and of the people generally that tea should be marked owing to the complications which would be involved.

There are a number of other objections to this Bill. I was intrigued by the speech of the hon. and gallant Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Captain Heilgers). He says that some American bacon is being marked as Canadian. If he consults a lawyer he will discover that he is entitled to institute proceedings if he can prove that this bacon is actually American bacon. How is he going to be helped in his grievance by this Bill He will be in no better position as a fraudulent person could still evade the issue. He also says that the marking of eggs has shown how important it is that commodities should be marked; but that is only an argument indicating that the 1926 Act, has done something which he considers to be of importance; and there is no reason why, if other commodities must be marked, they should not be dealt with under the 1926 Act. He says that the consumer will be affected by the mixing of foreign articles with British and that the average housewife does not know whether the commodities are good or bad, she just walks out and buys whatever she sees. I would invite him to come to some of the urban areas and see with what care the housewife chooses the commodities she purchases. He told us, in what I considered to be a very appropriate figure of speech, "Another little drink will not do us any harm." We have had too many drinks already. I suppose the hon. and gallant Member is thinking of the famous lines of one of our poets: There shall draughts intoxicate the brain, But drinking deeply sobers us again. It depends on what we drink. The promoters of the Bill have excluded the one commodity which would probably sober us again, water, and the argument used by him in this direction instead of supporting rather detracts from his case. The Board of Trade Committee have already issued 88 reports on individual inquiries, and in most cases, but by no means in every case, marking orders have been recommended; these excluding food-stuffs. If this Measure is passed what to going to prevent other people from saying, "We also want the same thing. The House of Commons in its wisdom has passed an Act which says that foodstuffs shall be marked, why should we not have an all round marking"? It simply means that shopkeepers will have to keep shoals of assistants, who will be running all over the place marking all these goods, and as the boundaries of any country become a little displaced they will have to send out special inquiries as to where a particular commodity comes from. If there are a few currants in a cake which happen to come from abroad why have a mark on the cake? These provisions would become a part of a lot of pinpricking laws, which when combined make life intolerable and ought not to be countenanced by the House of Commons.

There is something, however, which is much more serious than all this. I want to bring the attention of hon. Members to the legal position in this matter. The fact of the matter is that we are again dealing with the liberty of the character of the individual. If my hon. Friend went into a court of summary jurisdiction and listened to some of the 630,000 cases which are heard in these courts annually he would understand that even when a case is dismissed it is not a very pleasant position for the individual concerned. This Bill means that persons will be brought before the courts and will not be given an opportunity of putting forward a reasonable excuse for the offence alleged against them with the prospect of a dismissal. The Merchandise Marks Act, 1926, at least recognised that people are not to be assumed guilty until they are proved so. It is not so here.


Does the hon. Member suggest to the House that it is not a presumption in law in every case that a man is held to be innocent until he is proved to be guilty?


That maxim is very well known to all of us, but I am saying that the Bill does not give an opportunity to an innocent party of proving his innocence under the provisos of the Bill. I am referring to the question of conscience and honesty. A person, for instance, who does not know that an offence has been committed has no means whereby he can prove that he was guiltless, in view of the fact that he did not know he was committing an offence, and I am going to refer my hon. Friend to some of the Sections of the Act of 1926 which have been left out of this Bill. I should like to know why some of those Sections have been left out. There is a proviso, Section 5 (I, ii) of the 1926 Act, which says: in the case of the sale wholesale of any goods other than goods which by virtue of an Order in Council made under this Act are required to bear an indication of origin at the time of importation or of exposure for sale wholesale, it shall be a good defence to proceedings under this subsection if the person charged with the offence satisfies the court that the goods were sold to the purchaser on an undertaking in writing that they would be exported or sold for exportation to a place outside the United Kingdom, and any such undertaking in writing if it purports to be signed by the purchaser and specifies the usual business address of the purchaser shall be admissible as evidence of the facts appearing therein. Why is not that sub-section included in this Bill? Then Sub-section (5) of the same Section says: A person shall not be treated as being guilty by virtue of this section of an offence against the principal Act if he proves— (a) that having taken all reasonable precautions against committing such an offence he had at the time of the commission of the alleged offence no reason to suspect that the goods were goods to which this Act or an Order in Council made thereunder applied, and that on a demand made by or on behalf of the prosecutor he gave all the information in his power with respect to the persons from whom be obtained the goods; or I would like particularly to call the attention of my hon. Friend who interrupted me to the next paragraph of the Subsection: (b) that otherwise he had acted innocently. Why is there no proviso in this Bill relieving a person if he proves that he had otherwise acted innocently? Why should he not be entitled to a relief in respect of any offence so committed? Then, again, why should an employer—and here I differ in some respects from my hon. Friend opposite as far as this is concerned—be the person always made liable? Suppose the employer does not know that one of his employés happened to mix some commodity coming from one country with that from another and did not stick a label on it accordingly, either through lack of knowledge, inadvertence, or negligence. Should the employer in that case be responsible?


Because as a rule he does it for the profit of his employer.


I am talking about the case where a person does it innocently, without knowledge of the provisions of the Act.


Is it not common law that the employer is responsible for the negligence of the employé


I say, with the greatest respect to my hon. Friend, that this is a matter of statutory law, in which the Statute itself must indicate whether the employer shall be relieved or not. It is certainly Common Law, in certain circumstances where an employé has committed an offence, that the onus falls upon the employer. Again, there is nothing in this Bill which suggests that any Act or any Section of any Act is going to be repealed. The 1926 Act will run together with this Bill. Where on earth are we going to find ourselves? Surely, in view of all these difficulties, and in view of the fact that there is already sufficient protection, if protection be necessary, and in view of the fact that there certainly is not a great demand for a further Bill, the House should vote against it.

12.22 p.m.


I beg to second the Amendment.

I should like to express regret at the absence of the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Sir P. Harris), and to express the hope that his recovery will be speedy, because I think in that case the seconding of the Amendment would have been left to my hon. Friend who, with his expert knowledge of the law, is well able to speak on the subject. I merely speak from the very practical point of view. I am not engaged in any of the interests concerned, nor have I any association with them, but I have seen in the course of my experience the tremendous harm which is done by well-meaning people attempting to force their will upon other people, and, in doing so, unfortunately tending to prejudice public opinion against them. When it is said that another little inspector will not do us any harm, it must not be forgotten that people who attempt to carry on retail trade are already hedged about with a number of laws and by-laws. It should not be forgotten that traders have to be subject to the meat inspector, the sanitary inspector, the medical officer of health, the shop inspector, the inspector of weights and measures, the factory inspector, the inspector of the Ministry of Labour, the inspector of the Ministry of Health, the inspector of foods and drugs, and, I have been told, the inspector of the police, who has to tell the wife that the husband has committed suicide because he can stand no more inspection. We are here proposing to give him just one little bit more inspection.

The mover, in his very able speech, pointed out one or two instances of the success of marketing. To mention the fact that it has been successful in the case of eggs is almost like saying that because a small dose of strychnine is good as a tonic, then give the patient a bottle of it, and it will make a man of him. I am certain that food will be dearer and I am rather surprised at the attitude which the hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Janner) has moved the rejection of the Bill, because if there is a profession which would benefit by it, it is his own, by the endless litigation which would be caused by it. The hon. Gentleman who seconded the Motion for the Second Reading stated the case very well for the shopkeeper when he referred to the grapes and the placard. One of the difficulties of the shopkeeper would be in proving whereabouts the placard was meant to apply. It all depends on the angle at which the person who was inspecting the grapes might be standing. From one side of the road the placard would appear to be on one thing, but if it were a large placard it would appear from the pavement to be on another section of goods. Unless a shopkeeper had a strong bundle of British-grown rhubarb underneath the ticket he would always be liable to have someone proving perhaps by camera that the ticket was wrongly placed.

On behalf of the trade I resent the suggestion made that traders who are dealing with food of any kind are stubborn men who will not listen to reason, who are unpatriotic, and, above all, desire to sell only foreign produce. Let me now come to the details of the Bill. In Clause 2 we find this paragraph: A standing committee charged with the function of determining the manner in which the indication of origin shall be applied (subject as hereinafter provided) to all imported foodstuffs. On casual reading that suggests that the Committee will decide what was to be marked. Not at all. It just states how a thing is to be marked. Paragraph iv of the same Clause states how the committee shall be formed. Were we assured that someone with some experience would serve on the committee we should be very much happier. Paragraph vii of the Clause says: The committee, so far as they consider it necessary or desirable so to do for the purpose of the proper discharge of their functions, may by notice in writing require any person to furnish them with returns or other information, or, subject to the payment or tender of the reasonable expenses of his attendance, to attend as a witness before them or before any person authorised by them, and to give evidence or to produce documents. There is a great deal more in the paragraph, but I shall not read it. It sounds very much like a sort of third degree inquisition. I assume that the hon. Member who seconded the Motion for the Second Reading has a profession of some kind. I am sure he would not like any legislation of such a nature as this to be forced upon his profession, and were it imposed I am sure he would appeal to his association or organisation to do its utmost and see that he got a fair deal. On page 3 of the Bill we find this provision: The expenses of the committee to such an amount as may be approved by the Treasury (including the salaries of their staff, and any salaries or other remuneration paid to all or any of the members as the Treasury may determine) shall be paid out of moneys provided by Parliament. I have had as much experience as any one here of local government, having till very recently been the mayor of a town, and I know too well how just a little piece of extra work is more often than not in some districts taken as an excuse for the inspector of any department to have an assistant and a motor car, because he has to visit a larger area. Moreover the inspector would have to justify his existence. If he did not earn his money the ratepayers would grumble. The same thing would happen in this case as happened under the Shop Hours Act. A shopkeeper is pressed by some very nice person to sell him a packet of cigarettes at a certain hour of the evening. The shopkeeper gets perhaps one halfpenny profit on the sale, and does not mind whether he sells the cigarettes or not. Unselfishly he sells the packet and finds that he has sold it to a shops inspector, and he is ultimately fined and humiliated for having done so. That is by no means an imaginary case.

On page 4 there is a lot of matter with regard to the altering or obliterating of signs and tickets shown on goods. We know that over many things that happen in a shop the proprietor has no control whatever. Does a shopkeeper want shoplifting to take place? That is one of the things he cannot prevent. He is responsible by law for the actions of his staff. A customer may ask to see a box of grapes. The assistant takes the ticket off and puts it down somewhere. The ticket is left off, and perhaps goes into the wrong basket, and the shopkeeper, who may have paid £10,000 or £15,000 for his freehold premises, finds that an action is brought against him, he may even be imprisoned for three months, and the whole of his goodwill is lost. He and his sons may have to endeavour to follow an entirely different career in life.

On page 5 details are given of penalties under the Bill—£20, £100, and so on, and then imprisonment up to three months. A shopkeeper may be as loyal as anyone in this House, and as anxious to encourage the sale of British produce, and yet it is quite possible that through no fault of his own he may fall into a trap and find himself in prison for three months. It is not fair play. These people may be traders and shopkeepers, but they represent a very large portion of the population, and it is the duty of this House to see that they are not treated as an undesirable class of people who should be penalised as far as possible.

We have heard to-day a legal argument which I could not quite follow, as to whether a man is guilty if he is proved innocent or innocent if he has been proved guilty. One can well imagine such arguments as this: "Well, it is greengage until we have proved it is a plum," or vice versa. Some very ridiculous situations would arise under the Bill. A currant bun, a seed cake, or a plain cake with a dash of spice in it, although made with English flour would have to be labelled as partly foreign or partly Empire. A jar of marmalade made in Scotland would have to be labelled as foreign produce. All sorts of things like that would arise. Let me read a paragraph from a letter from the Metropolitan Grocers' and Provision Dealers' Association: My Council desire to emphasise that the objects which the Bill is apparently intended to achieve can be effected under the ordinary existing law, under the Merchandise Marks Act of 1926. Under the provisions of that Measure it is possible for the British producer of any particular class of foodstuffs to make application to a standing committee for an Order in Council for the marking of all imported foodstuffs of that class. My Council suggests that this method of dealing with the matter has proved satisfactory in working and that there is no need for the sweeping provisions of the Bill. Many of the restrictions which we inflict upon ourselves have, in operation, the reverse effect to that which we intended. If I may mention what may seem to be an extraneous matter, I would refer to the fact that the slums of London have been largely caused by our own by-laws, which mean that a man may not turn his house into four proper flats, without fireproof floors and all sorts of things. The result is that they are let out as we find them with hordes of people living in them under terrible conditions. The result of course was never intended but that is what has been done by well-meaning people who thought that by the passing of by-laws and restrictions they could improve the lot of their fellows when in practice they do no good but incalculable harm. For reasons I have mentioned I beg to second the Amendment.

12.36 p.m.


May I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for White-chapel (Mr. Janner) on a very powerful and incisive speech. He has pointed out what he regards as flaws in the Bill and I am sure that he will be a valuable Member of the committee to which, I hope, this Bill will be referred when it has received a Second Reading. With regard to my hon. Friend who spoke about inspectors, may I say that I am not very fond of inspectors but in this case I want the housewife to be the inspector. I want her to have the opportunity of knowing what she is buying. That is my concern in this matter. I am not so much interested in the British agriculturist as I am in fair play. Let us have fair play far the consumer. Let the consumers know what is being offered to them and what they are purchasing.

I regard this Bill more as a consumers Bill than a producers Bill. Is there any reason why the consumer should not know what is being offered in the shops? Let each housewife as I say be her own inspector as she will be if she knows what is being sold to her. We have all sorts of stringent regulations with regard to our own production and I think that British consumers are entitled to this protection—namely, that they shall know where their foodstuffs come from in order to be able to judge their quality for themselves. I came across a paragraph recently in the "Daily Telegraph," a perfectly reputable newspaper, and if I may say so one of the best newspapers in the country. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] Well, that is my opinion. A paragraph appeared in that paper on 14th February as follows: