§ 11.30 a.m.
§ Mr. F. Willey
I beg to move, in page 1, to leave out lines 11 and 12, and to insert:(aa) as to quality grade distinctive character.This is the only point of substance, I think, which is left unresolved. It is a difficult point. It is a controversial point, but it is not a controversial point in the usual sense, for I think we would all agree that everyone in the Committee on either side tried to seek the best possible definition of something which it is very difficult to define. I still feel, and my hon. Friends still feel, that the amended definition in the Bill is not really satisfactory. I do not think it would be helpful today to redeploy the arguments we advanced from both sides about this question of how it is best to define quality for the purposes of this 765 Bill, but the main disadvantages of the present definition, it seems to me, are these.
It is going to be extraordinarily difficult to decide what a classification is. It is going to be very difficult to determine what a classification commonly used or recognised in the trade is. I still feel that the Parliamentary Secretary really put his finger unwittingly on the difficulty when he said that we had to bear in mind the fact that there were sales within industry and sales to the public. That is the very difficulty which, to my mind, makes this present definition unacceptable. There has been quite recently difficulty arising on this very point about certain definitions of some textiles, particularly woollen textiles, where a description is well known in the trade but is not well known outside the trade. Indeed, it is quite misleading outside the trade. For that reason I should like the Government even at this late stage to look again at the definition which they accepted when we were considering this in Committee.
I feel—I put it as bluntly as this—that if the Bill goes through as it stands at present this particular subsection will not be used at all. The Bill will serve a useful purpose by providing the additional subsection (ab), which will be very useful, but my own feeling about this, and it is the feeling of at any rate some of the practitioners who specialise in this type of case, is that the new subsection (aa) now in the Clause will not be relied upon because it will be difficult to succeed in a prosecution which depends upon it.
Another difficulty is one I have mentioned before. It is more of a practical difficulty. It is a very real one, and it is that if we rely on this subsection we inevitably have expert witnesses called, and if we call expert witnesses on the one side we call them on the other side in defence, and we have a long protracted proceeding. Many of my hon. Friends and hon. Gentlemen opposite raised the point of the costs of these proceedings, and if the prosecution should feel bound to rely upon this subsection they will inevitably run into increased costs. For these reasons I think we should still try to seek an alternative definition.
What my hon. Friends and I propose by this Amendment is to reconsider the 766 matter in the light of the discussions we had on Second Reading and upstairs. We from our side would jettison some of the words we have previously suggested. They appear attractive, but we attempt to rely only upon those which seem to get the largest measure of support. Therefore, we are relying upon "quality, grade, distinctive character." I would say a few words about those words that we think should go into the definition.
I remain convinced, unlike Lord Lucas, that Lord Mancroft in another place was right and that "quality" colours the whole of the new words brought in. I think he is right, too, when he says that this is, after all, a matter to be interpreted by the courts, and that it is best to leave it to their common-sense to interpret "quality." This word has been used in similar Measures before, and as far as I know, and I think as far as Lord Mancroft knew, there has been no difficulty about the actual interpretation of it. This is one of those cases where it is easy enough to anticipate difficulties, but in which in fact the word is well enough known and the purpose is well enough known. I think that if we leave it to the courts we shall get a reasonable interpretation of it. That is why I should like the word "quality" itself to remain. I think it is attractive to make it quite clear that one of the purposes of this amending legislation is that misrepresentation regarding quality should be an offence.
I can only hope that the Government have reconsidered all that Lord Mancroft said and the persuasive way in which he said it, and will say that on balance there is more on his side than there was in the equally persuasive words of the Parliamentary Secretary and the Attorney-General. I think if we ignored the weight of legal opinion on either side and asked, "What really are we trying to do and what impression are we creating by this amending legislation? "it must be better then to say" We will leave 'quality' in."
There was a point I raised upstairs to which, if I may say so with no disrespect, the Parliamentary Secretary did not attempt to reply. It has been backed up by this pretty recent practical experience. There is this feeling that it is not good enough nowadays to have 767 a description that is understood within an industry and to fob that off on to the public. After all, the main purpose of the Government by this Bill is to protect the consuming public. I think we should not allow this loophole, which would be a very real one. Perhaps it would not be a practical one because I think the subsection as it stands will not be relied upon, but I think it would be far better to allow the word "quality" to stand.
The second word we seek to bring in is "grade." I should have thought the Government would have welcomed our ingenuity in thinking of "grade." It is one of those simple things often overlooked by the draftsmen when drafting a definition like this. When my hon. Friends moved an Amendment upstairs which, I think, was open to drafting criticism but whose purpose was agreed by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, the Government said, "Of course, we agree with it. We want to bring in here that very conception of grade. We want to make it an offence to have a false and misleading description relating to grade," and the Parliamentary Secretary said, "Let us have an economy of words. Let us use as few words as possible." It therefore struck us, on reconsidering this matter, why not use the word "grade"? It is a well known word; it is commonly understood. Let us allow the courts with common sense and reasonableness to interpret it.
When my hon. Friends were trying to bring within the Bill the word "grade" the Parliamentary Secretary said in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for New-castle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler):The hon. Member … used the expression 'grading.' I agree with him, and so does the whole Committee, that that is our idea.He said also:What we want to do is to achieve our object with precision and with as few words as possible."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 9th July, 1953; c. 18.]So why not try to achieve this by using the word "grade" and leaving it to the courts to interpret in it a reasonable way? The Attorney-General took the same view. He criticised that particular Amendment, but he said that they sympathised and wanted to bring in the idea of grade within the Bill.
768 Finally—and this is a little more difficult—we bring in "distinctive character." I agree that there are difficulties about this, but, at the same time, I feel, as I have said before and, therefore, I will not redeploy the argument, that the main objections which were raised by Lord Mancroft to similar words are really in favour of these words. I think it is about time with regard to things like paint and cosmetics that we did have proper descriptions so that people know what they mean. The particular reason which my hon. Friends felt in putting forward these words again was a political one.
These words, as those who sat on the Committee will remember, were supported by the hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), who felt that they would be helpful. I regard him in a sense as an umpire. This is a matter in which we are trying to seek agreement and the best means of stopping up a loophole in the existing law. He felt that these words would be helpful, and I think that we should pay regard to the fact that he felt so. He was thinking especially about a particular industry in which he has constituency interests. The hon. and learned Gentleman satisfied me that there is sufficient protection at present but that is not an adequate reason for excluding the words. They may not, strictly speaking, be necessary, but if it is generally conceded that they would be helpful, I think we should accept them.
We are still not satisfied with the attempt which has been made to improve the definition as it comes to us. We feel that the new definition which we are now proposing is a better one than that which appears, and we hope that the Government in the difficult position of having to resolve between different opinions in the Government itself will resolve them by taking the middle course and accepting the definition we now propose.
§ 11.45 a.m.
§ Miss Burton
I beg to second the Amendment.
I, too, very much hope that the Government will feel able to look at this matter again. It seems to us on this side of the House that the Amendment we now propose is obviously shorter than the one actually in the context, and that the words we propose do cover all the 769 words which it was proposed should be left out. I do not know if the Parliamentary Secretary, when he comes to reply, will feel able to comment on that.
I have discussed with retail organisations the actual words we propose should be left out, and I raised with them the point as to whether or not what we actually propose now to be put in would meet any case that would be raised. They felt this would be so. They said that in any prosecution relating to a false trade description, whether in respect of quality or any other characteristics which were described in the Act, it was necessary to prove what characteristic it is which is described, and we feel that point would be met by the Amendment.
During the Second Reading debate, I mentioned that representations had been made to me through various associations concerning the actual word "quality." I put it then to the Parliamentary Secretary, without wishing to enter into any discussion as to whether or not the word "quality" should remain, that these associations felt that perhaps it should be expanded or omitted. I would say to the Parliamentary Secretary that I have since then read once more the discussions in another place and that was put forward by the Government speaker on this particular matter. I arrived at the conclusion reached by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), who has proposed this Amendment, that the word "quality" should remain. It seemed to me that it did, as the Government say, cover the whole aspect of this particular position.
What I want to go on to from there, quite briefly, is a small, and I imagine, legal point. The Parliamentary Secretary will know, and I made it quite clear, that I have had the benefit of advice from the Retail Trading Standards Association, and I think that what they have to say is of interest, as the Government know that this Association has carried out a good many prosecutions under this Act which really should have been carried out by the Board of Trade, or at least the cost should have been borne by the Board of Trade. The secretary of that Association has asked me to raise this point with the Government. In the Bill as it now stands before us and on this particular Clause we have now paragraph (aa) 770 and paragraph (ab) to take the place of the previous paragraph (aa). The point which I am raising for clarification by the Parliamentary Secretary is this.
The Retail Trading Standards Association did say that they were wondering if under the Bill as is now proposed it would be necessary for them to bring a case either under paragraphs (aa) or (ab) but that they would not be able to bring it under both. In other words, are the two subsections mutually exclusive? They felt that previously the whole of this description was raised under the one subsection and that made their position very much easier. They asked me, for the purpose of clarification, to make plain to the Government that it was their opinion that if in a case which they have to bring forward it had to be brought either under one or under the other, it would make it very much more difficult to bring prosecutions. I am asking for clarification on that point, but I would like to stress that this Association, which has brought a good many prosecutions at its own expense under this Act, support this Amendment of ours and feel that it would cover the words proposed to be left out. I hope, therefore, that the Government will accept it.
§ Mr. F. P. Bishop (Harrow, Central)
I hope that my hon. Friend is not going to accept so readily this Amendment as he did the last one, because I feel that although it is another brave effort to solve the difficulty that we have been confronted with throughout the discussions on this Bill, the Amendment would in fact take us back to where we were at the beginning so far as the word "quality" is concerned.
Throughout the discussions in this House, in Committee and in another place, the word "quality" has been a bugbear, and the difficulty is because the word "quality" is so wide and sweeping. What we agree is needed in this Bill is precision—something that can be understood and is definable to such a degree that a prosecution will have to be aimed at a particular thing and not at some general failure to be accurate in describing goods.
The Amendment which the Government accepted in the Committee stage is not, I think, in itself perfect. There is this difficulty about the use of words 771 which are well understood within a trade itself but cannot be equally well understood by the public.
The textile case most frequently quoted is that of a garment consisting of 15 per cent. of wool which is described as a woollen garment. Apparently that is acceptable as being within the understood meaning of "wool" in the trade. It is obvious that there may be other cases of that kind where a description is understood in the trade but may be very misleading to the public. If that is so, one would hope that there might be some means of dealing with it, but I am certain that the way to deal with it is not to go back to where we were and leave "quality" in the Bill without any qualification. I hope the Amendment will not be accepted.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
There is no need to reiterate the case stated during the Committee stage because both the President of the Board of Trade and the Parliamentary Secretary were present and took a great interest in what was said. I would remind the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop) that the purpose of our Amendment during the Committee stage was to introduce precision. Seeing that the President and the Parliamentary Secretary were so sympathetic towards those who moved the Amendment, one would have thought that even if the Amendment could not be accepted, they would have devised a suitable form of words to insert at this stage. However, that has not been done. My hon. Friend and those who have worked with him in drafting the words have made a good attempt to insert in the Bill at this stage what we expressed a desire to have during the Committee stage.
Our ideas have been reinforced since the Committee stage by correspondence which we have received from representative and well informed people in a number of industries which are interested in the matter. It is their desire that something should be done to bring precision into the Clause and to define the various grades under the heading of quality. Since the Committee stage I have learnt something which I did not know before. I understand that the United States has voluntary standards which are generally accepted and have produced good results. 772 I hope our Amendment will be accepted, but, if it cannot be, can more be done by the Board of Trade on the lines of what is done in the United States in defining standards and quality?
§ Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
We must face the fact that we have sought precision and failed to find it. That is the stage that we have now reached. We discussed the matter on Second Reading and at length during the Committee stage. Some of my hon. Friends and I attempted to draft an Amendment, but we saw its shortcomings and realised that we had got back practically to the point at which we started. We must face it that we cannot find a precise definition of quality which is of universal application, although we can provide precise definitions which would apply to certain industries. Basing ourselves on the pottery industry, some of my hon. Friends and I sought to insert reference to grades A, B and C or 1, 2 and 3, but that would not be of universal application and so it is not acceptable.
I hope the House will accept the Amendment which we have now moved. The hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop) has shown how the definition accepted during the Committee stage will weaken the Clause and the Bill because it will provide a defence in the courts for trade descriptions which are obviously misleading to consumers. The hon. Member gave the example of goods described as "woollen goods" when they contain only 15 per cent. of wool. That is an example of a standard commonly recognised in the trade as meaning that the article contains only 15 per cent. of wool which is obviously misleading to the consumer.
We could produce many other examples from many other industries and trades. A number were mentioned during the Committee stage, one being "full fruit standard" which means one thing in the trade and another thing to the consumer. Apparently, it is misleading to the consumer, but it could be argued in the courts that it is a term commonly recognised and used in the trade and not misleading to those in the know.
Consequently, I hope the Government will accept our Amendment. We believe that "grade" should be inserted. During 773 the Committee stage the Attorney-General complimented us on bringing forward the point, and I believe that my hon. Friend has made the case for it this morning. It is applicable to a great number of industries. There is something quite definite and measurable about trade descriptions over a certain range of goods. I hope that the House, facing the fact that many attempts have been made to get precision but we have failed to get precision which would be universally applicable, will be prepared to insert the words that we recommend and leave it to the good judgment of the courts to carry out the obvious intentions of the Bill.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
I did not have the advantage of being on the Standing Committee which considered this not unimportant Measure and so I do not know exactly what transpired on this issue, but, on the whole, I do not think it would be wise for the House to accept the Amendment. It is agreed on all sides that we are up against an almost insoluble problem, and there is no advantage in pursuing precision of definition to a point which might make the task of the courts more difficult than it is.
By what we have already achieved in the Bill we have lessened the difficulty of dealing with misleading descriptions, which has been the general desire of the House and the country. But we are not merely left only with the provisions of the Bill. The real prospect of eliminating misleading descriptions lies in the acceptance of standards. The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) was correct in saying that there are much more specific standards in the United States. In the course of my business the other day I looked at the catalogue of a United States manufacturer of clothing and I was amazed at the precision of description. An article was described in a certain manner because it contained a certain percentage of material. It is conceivable that we could apply such standards in this country.
The matter is already being discussed by the B.S.I., and I consider it very much better to have specific standards for as many items as possible, which will have ready acceptance by the trade and will in the end have statutory enforcement, 774 than to aim at the impossible, which is a general definition to preclude the possibility of there being misleading descriptions. I hope the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey), whose purpose is the same as ours, will realise that the proper course is to improve and increase the standards issued by the B.S.I., which will, without any doubt, give precision, instead of pursuing the attempt to get perfection and precision where perfection and precision are not admissible.
§ 12 noon.
§ Mr. Harold Davies (Leek)
None of us on this side of the House wishes to make heavy weather of this, but those of us who were on the Committee are perturbed, because in the past, for instance in the pottery industry in North Staffordshire and the silk and rayon industry, in which a section of my constituents earn their living, we were concerned about foreign competition. If we leave in this Bill the expression:… the standard of quality of any goods, according to a classification commonly used or recognised in the trade …we believe that it will create trouble in the future. We feel that the phrase:… quality grade distinctive characterwould be much nearer to a definition, which we could appreciate and approve. Later on some of us may have something to say about this difficulty, especially when we face foreign competition in the silk and rayon industries and in the pottery industry.
Only yesterday I was reading in one of the numerous leaflets and pamphlets that are sent to Members of Parliament that in the brewery industry the term "liquor" is treated as representing water. That upset entirely my idea of the brewing industry, and we believe that this phrase:… commonly used or recognised in the trade..would not be in the interests of the consumer who knows nothing about the recognised terms in any trade. In the furniture trade there are all kinds of terms used that do not mean the real thing at all. For instance, oak veneer is called oak, but it is nothing of the sort.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary to look at these things and to consider this question in the light of that. I fully appreciate 775 that he must have these abstract phrases like "quality of any goods" which are difficult to define and that they must be related to something. But here we are concerned with protecting the skill and the genius of industry and of the best manufacturers and workers in the country from those who would undermine the standard and quality of British production.
As I say, we must have these abstract phrases, but let me take such phrases as "works of art" and "works of genius." One can understand that if Tennyson took a piece of paper and wrote a poem on it for which he was paid £1,000, it is genius. One can understand that if Rembrandt took a piece of canvas and painted a picture on it which became worth £5,000, it is art. One can understand that if a Rothschild took a sheet of paper, writing his name on it and making out a cheque for £1,000, it is business. One can understand that when a man in the Mint takes a piece of metal and prints on it, it is money. One can understand that when a cabinetmaker takes a piece of timber and turns it into a beautiful table worth £50, it is skill. But what one cannot understand is a working man taking a voting paper and putting an X opposite a Tory candidate: That is stupidity.
I fully realise that we have to have these abstract phrases, but we are of opinion that the phrase which we have included in our Amendment should be in the Bill as giving a clearer definition than what is already in the Bill. I hope the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade will be able to accept this Amendment, because if he does he will improve the Bill.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
I must not follow my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies), except to remind him that Rembrandt never got £1,000 for any picture that I know of.
§ Dr. Stross
In this discussion we are referring, of course, to a Bill which is an advance on previous legislation because it deals with terms which are misleading, and in that way it strengthens or is said to strengthen past legislation. 776 Already we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) a description as to how a term like "full fruit standard" in jam can be misleading, and we all agree with him that it is misleading to the public and to the consumer. The fact that the Ministry of Food are the delinquents in this case does not make the matter any less serious.
When we heard from the Minister the other day the confession that there is almost no vitamin C in jam of this type, which is clearly marked "up to full fruit standard," because it has to be boiled so long to get the sulphur preservative out of it. This jam in fact is less useful to the consumer than stale turnip or swede would be. We know that the public has been misled for years and it is time we did something, even against Ministerial Departments, to get a better definition.
In the pottery trade we used to describe our pottery as "first," "seconds" and "lump." I remember well a patient of mine telling me many years ago how they worked in the great firm of Wedgwoods. He said that he spent a considerable part of his time with a sledge hammer smashing up anything that was not first grade quality. That was the practice of the best of our manufacturers. They let their work people smash the "lumps" and sometimes for a copper or two they allowed them for their personal use to take home with them what they called the "seconds." I am sure that both the President of the Board of Trade and the Parliamentary Secretary, looking at those "seconds," would think they were absolutely first-class. They would not be able to find any fault with them. We are not accustomed to seeing the tiny faults that they would never pass and which they rejected entirely.
I am also told—and here I may be wrong and stand to be corrected—that a long time ago, and not necessarily in Britain, if a pot were cracked some people would stick it together with glue and sell it. The words "Yours sincerely" really mean "without glue." That refers to the fact that there was a guarantee as to the quality of the product, and we want all our pottery and all our manufactures to be sincere products without glue.
777 There is nothing here to prevent people outside sending us goods which are not sincere in quality because they could conform tothe standard of quality of any goods, according to a classification commonly used or recognised in the trade.I am not sure that we are safe in this matter and we are right to press upon the President of the Board of Trade and the Government for a closer definition.
Fifty years ago in the rag flock trade when mattresses were being made it would have been reasonable to follow the common, ordinary practice in the trade and not clean the rag flock. Today there is a different attitude. We have the British Standards attitude, which demands that the rag flock should be clean. Nevertheless, about two years ago we had to pass an Act of Parliament called the Rag Flock Act in order to make quite certain that everybody subscribed to the British Standards' technique. We were told that 90 per cent. of the people complied with that, but because a small proportion did not an Act of Parliament had specifically to be passed for this purpose.
Cannot the President of the Board of Trade change his mind about this matter, even if we do get into trouble because the words we offer are too narrow. It is better to get into trouble for a good reason than leave the door so wide open that a piece of legislation is no use at all. That is what we are inclined to believe is the case here.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
I shall resist the temptation offered to me by my hon. Friend the Member for Leek (Mr. Harold Davies) to chase after one of the many hares he let loose from his bag when he talked about the classification of water that may be sold by one important trade in the country. I shall resist that temptation because I have something else on my mind.
The House on both sides seems to be doubtful about the effectiveness of anything we are doing this morning. My hon. Friends who have put down this Amendment seem to be in doubt as to whether they will carry it to a Division and the Government are equally in doubt about the Clause. I see that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Parliamentary 778 Secretary has a great brief which he is studying carefully for our benefit——
§ Mr. Hudson
Then he seems to be looking for inspiration in the next Bill because he finds none in the present. At any rate he is studying something, and I am waiting to hear what it is he has to say.
In one part of our discussions on this matter his difficulties were reduced to the old Latin tag that we should always beware of the seller when we are dealing with merchandise on which we are asking for a precise mark to be placed. "Caviat emptor" he told us not long ago. That is really what is being done in the Clause as it stands; we are really leaving to the sellers in the trade who have any process of making a mark, what shall be done for the protection of the public. Of course if the sellers, as in the case of woollen goods, chose to tell us that from their point of view 15 per cent. of wool is pure wool, then we are governed by the action taken by the sellers.
I admit that there are great difficulties in the matter and for that reason I hark back to another process which might be adopted by buyers for their protection, since we are in such a difficulty in the House over providing proper protection. I am referring to the protection we provide in the Co-operative movement. The Co-operative Wholesale Society grades and defines its commodities in such a way that they come to be known amongst a large buying public as meaning the same thing as the definition placed on the carton or the canister in which the goods are sold. The problem is not solved entirely, because in the Co-operative movement goods of other traders are still being sold because the buyer is prepared to take the risk of purchasing what he thinks may serve his ends.
The President of the Board of Trade might take into account this fact, that the purchaser might be persuaded to rely upon the graded commodities of established wholesalers, such as the Co-operative Wholesale Society, which cannot afford to whittle down the quality of its goods since in the long run it will suffer in consequence. The Co-operative Wholesale Society, therefore, either under the definition of the Government or 779 under the definition suggested by my hon. Friends, would be able to meet the requirements of the buyers in the Cooperative movement.
I know that at the women's Co-operative conference they were very much interested in this matter and insisted that the protection which apparently cannot be offered by the Board of Trade and by the law, and which we on these benches do not seem to be able to offer, could be obtained by many buyers if it were left to their own organisations to buy commodities which have been graded and which they can be sure will be of the quality stated on the canisters and cartons. I suggest that as one solution although, on the whole, I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) that it is just as well that we should try, even if we do not succeed entirely, to make a better definition than we have and I would support my hon. Friends in their efforts.
§ Mr. H. Strauss
I think that the Committee upstairs and hon. Members when the matter has been before the House have all had one end in view, to get the most suitable words possible into the Bill because we have a common purpose in this matter. I can assure the House that, if my right hon. Friend and I thought that the words proposed in this Amendment were more suitable for common purpose than those already in the Bill, false pride would not prevent us from adopting them. Frankly, I cannot advise the House to adopt them. Indeed, when I first saw these words on the paper I had not the vaguest idea what they meant, and I am still not very clear. I will say why. As they appear on the paper, there is no comma anywhere. The Amendment simply says "as to quality grade distinctive character." I thought that was a single phrase——
§ Mr. Willey rose——
§ Mr. Strauss
Wait a minute. I will yield to the hon. Gentleman in a minute if he wishes to interrupt, but I think he may wish first to hear what I have to say. If that were a single phrase, I could not attach any meaning to it, but when I heard the hon. Member opening the debate, I thought he meant to put a 780 comma after "quality", another comma after "grade" and thus to make three things—quality, grade, and distinctive character. Perhaps he will tell me if that is so?
§ Mr. Willey
What I want the hon. and learned Gentleman to do is to continue this debate as hitherto we have been discussing this matter, on its merits. As I said before, I would welcome any assistance from the hon. and learned Gentleman on matters of draftsmanship.
§ Mr. Willey
If I may finish, if the hon. and learned Gentleman had any doubts about this matter and had had a word with me beforehand, I would have told him exactly what I had in mind. I hope we shall not continue this debate in any arid form. Both sides of the House have been anxious to reach a definition to meet a purpose which we commonly share. I apologise to the hon. and learned Gentleman if he has been misled. I have not carried out any research but this may well be a typographical or printing error because I believe the words should have three commas.
§ Mr. Strauss
I am sorry that the hon. Gentleman interrupted me so prematurely. I definitely want to deal with the merits, but first I want to discover the meaning of what is proposed. After his speech I assumed that he wished to put a comma after "quality" and a comma after "grade" and to have three things. Why I doubt whether that was his meaning is because he mentioned, as did other hon. Members, the Amendment proposed in Committee by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) that is very much in point in this discussion. What the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme talked about was "quality standard," with no comma between the two words, and I wanted to know to which matter I was to direct my attention; to the speech of the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. F. Willey) who put two alternatives or to that of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. Whichever it is, I can assure the House that the words which they wish to insert, however they are punctuated, will not be any better for their purpose than what is already in the 781 Bill. In fact they will be very much worse.
A fear was expressed by hon. Members opposite, including the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, who said that these words now in the Bill, to which he objects, provide some sort of defence to the use of a misleading description. Of course, if that were so, there would be a very substantial objection to those words, but that is not what these words do at all. These words are additional to everything else in the Bill. What they say is that if there is astandard of quality … according to a classification commonly used or recognised in the trade,then to use a description which is false or misleading as to that standard of quality is an offence.
Those words do not mean that, if people in the trade agree upon a misleading description, that will prevent the courts convicting under the principal Act as amended. I thought that I had satisfied the Committee on that point. I believe that when that fact is once realised by the House, a great deal of the apprehensions that have been expressed will be removed.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North said, quite truly, that I had praised the idea lying behind the Amendment of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme, who mentioned "quality grade." I said that the idea in his mind about grading was precisely what we had in mind but that I did not think he had expressed it with precision. I think the words "standard of quality" express with precision the idea of grading which was in his mind.
I agree with those hon. Members who say that the word "quality" must appear in this Bill, but I also think it is important that we should make clear the way in which we are using it. We are using it here to express standards of quality, or what the hon. Member says is very often referred to in ordinary language as grade.
The hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton), who has long taken a great and informed interest in these matters, asked me whether, in our opinion, the fact that we had separated these various new characteristics into two groups would make it 782 more difficult to combine them in a single prosecution or charge. I am advised, and I believe, that that is not so, and that there is nothing to prevent a charge of a trade description being false or misleading as to a number of these characteristics, and it does not matter in which group those characteristics appear; nor indeed, as I pointed out in Committee, are all these characteristics mutually exclusive of each other.
I think that I have dealt with all other points that have been raised. I assure the House that any fear that the wordsaccording to a classification commonly used or recognised in the tradeprovide a defence to an undesirable practice is a misapprehension of the law as it will be after this Bill is passed. I assure hon. Members also that I believe that the words already in the Bill as amended in Committee carry out the intention that so many hon. Members had in mind when putting down their Amendments.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I am sorry that I did not have an opportunity to give the Parliamentary Secretary notice of a question that I should like to ask him. Does he think there is anything in what I have said about the American standards and so on? If he is not aware of the position, will he investigate it and consider what I said?
§ Mr. Strauss
With the leave of the House, I had meant to deal with the hon. Gentleman's remarks on this point. I would rather not, without notice, comment on the practice or the legislation of another country, but, in my view, the work that the British Standards Institution is carrying out in this country with the good will of all will make the practice here at least as good as that in any other country.
§ Mr. F. Willey
With the leave of the House, may I say that we appreciate this search for the most suitable words, but we are not satisfied that we have succeeded. The main difference between us is on the word "quality." We agree with Lord Mancroft that "quality" is a good "sweeping-up" word. We do not think it would have been difficult to interpret it in the courts. We were endeavouring to save the Government from the embarrassment which the Lord Chancellor 783 and Lord Mancroft will suffer when this Bill goes back to another place.
§ Amendment negatived.