HC Deb 24 July 1953 vol 518 cc783-9

Amendment made: In line 5, leave out: increase certain penalties under those Acts, and add: amend the Merchandise Marks Act, 1887, in relation to offences."—[Mr. Willey.]

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

12.28 p.m.

Mr. F. Willey

I only rise, as I think I ought, to thank hon. Members in all quarters of the House for the contributions which they have made, and to thank the Government for honouring the undertaking which the President of the Board of Trade gave on the Second Reading that consideration would be given to all points of view which were put forward in an endeavour to improve this Bill. Although we have not seen eye to eye on one matter, it would be ungracious of me if I did not express the thanks of my hon. Friends for the way in which the Government have met us on other points.

I think we have improved a useful Measure, and when this Bill goes to the Statute Book it will strengthen the law about merchandise marks. Although the Government have not gone as far as we wished, they have at any rate gone some way.

Miss Burton

I should like to assure the Government that we on this side of the House are very glad that they have brought forward this Bill, which is a considerable improvement on former legislation.

There are two points that I should like to make. First, I think that associations connected with the textile industry believe that the Bill will help a great deal, but so far as the furniture industry is concerned there are various points outstanding. It was not possible to allow an Amendment on this point to be discussed and, therefore, I would not be in order in referring to it now, but I should like to make this point in respect of the furniture industry.

I am sure the President of the Board of Trade knows that British Furniture Manufacturers, representing employers, and the Furniture Development Council, representing employers and furnishing trade operatives, are bringing certain matters to his notice. We have not been able to do so in discussions on this Bill, but it is a matter on which the trade feel strongly. I hope the President may be able to meet them on this question as both sides of industry feel that something should be done in the matter. I hope, furthermore, that the Board of Trade will then bring an amendment to the House which we have not been able to introduce in this Bill.

Mr. Swingler

I do not suppose that many hon. Members would feel like challenging a Division on this Bill, although some of us had an idea of doing so because we wanted a stronger Bill—not because we were opposed to this Bill—and also because we thought the Government ought to have introduced it in this House and not in another place. We thought that because it was introduced in another place that was a sign that the Government did not regard it as so important, but now consideration which has been given to the Bill at all stages has brought out the importance of this matter.

I hope that the Government will use this legislation when it is on the Statute Book. I am being quite unpartisan when I say that the Board of Trade themselves have been rather lax in this matter over recent years. Figures were given in Committee which showed that the Board of Trade were more active before the war than in recent years. I hope they will take responsibility for trying to suppress misleading trade descriptions and not leave it to outside associations and individual citizens. There is a definite need for this Bill. There is in circulation a host of misleading trade descriptions of one kind and another. There is no doubt that consumers are being defrauded and misguided in a number of ways. We hope that when this Bill becomes law it will do something to put a stop to such practices.

The fact that other countries have not been so enlightened as to pass legislation like this is demonstrated by the fact that the Board of Trade have had to take up 330 cases of complaints about infringements and false and misleading trade marks in 50 different countries in the last two years. I know that is not a matter we can discuss now, because it is not contained in the Bill, but we should like to see similar legislation in other countries because we feel this is part of an international problem. We welcome the Bill and hope that when it is an Act it will be fully used.

Mr. Bishop

The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) said that he would have liked to have seen a stronger Bill. We are all with him to the extent that we want to make the way of the transgressor as hard as possible in the matters dealt with by this Bill, but there is another aspect which some of us have tried to keep in mind. We have been reminded of it by a number of trade and professional organisations which are interested in and very much concerned about this Bill. It is the interest of the honest trader who wants to get on with his job knowing where he stands and not being exposed to unnecessary and unfair risks through a Bill which is, perhaps, too wide in scope and too difficult and abstruse in wording.

What we have had to do is to try to balance those two requirements. On the whole, I think the Government are to be congratulated. If I may say so, the House are to be congratulated on having managed the job very well in this Bill as we now have it.

A matter which I greatly regret is that I was unable to get support for an attempt to amend subsection (3) of Clause 1, the objection being the extremely abstruse and difficult wording of the subsection. After it had been referred to on Second Reading, some of us hoped that the Department would be able to look at the wording again. In the interests of traders, these things ought to be precise. Where we are creating new crimes or extending old crimes it ought to be done in words which the prospective criminal can understand and which can be understood by those who may find themselves exposed to a criminal prosecution without having any ill intention of any kind. Therefore, I think we cannot allow the President to take this Bill away with too great a sense of self-congratulation.

It is not a perfect Bill but I agree that it is the best we have been able to do and a great advance on the old merchandise marks legislation. It will be welcomed not only m all quarters of the House but in all quarters of the country in which honest trade is carried on.

Mr. Harold Davies

I wish to draw attention to Clause 3 of the Bill. Those of us from areas which in pre-war days suffered from foreign competition are concerned about the designs on imported goods bearing United Kingdom certification trade marks. In Committee some of us drew attention to the fact that it is important when goods come into the country to see that "foreign made" or "imported" is not printed in microscopic dimensions on the commodity.

The House noted the warning of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer some weeks ago when he said that there is a rebirth of energy and life among our old competitors, Japan and Germany. We do not want to go back to the days when goods of dubious origin were coming in without the British public knowing clearly from whence they came. There fore, although I welcome the Bill, I re serve to some other time criticism and suggestions which may be made for something which would extend this type of legislation into international spheres. There seems to be no power in inter national law to prevent a foreign country in any part of the world from naming a part of its country "Great Britain"——

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member cannot pursue that interesting topic on the Third Reading of this Bill.

Mr. Davies

I accept your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, that I cannot pursue the topic that international law cannot stop a foreign country calling one of its towns "Great Britain." I hope that at some time or other that kind of question will be looked into in order to prevent false competition from abroad.

Dr. Stross

On the Third Reading of this Bill we are in very calm water as compared with Second Reading and Committee stage. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the Committee because I was in another Committee sitting on the same days.

I am sure that now we have reached this stage we are happy for any advance to have been made on existing legislation. I agree with the hon. Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop) in the basis of his contention. We do not want ever to legislate for the sake of legislation; that is the last thing we want to do. Equally, I am sure the hon. Member will agree that the honest trader in this country has not really had much to fear from legislation by this House. It is for his sake as much as for the sake of anyone that we are anxious to get an improvement in the law which can protect the consuming public and the honest trader. That I think may be said to have been achieved to some extent by the advance in this small Bill. For that we are grateful to the President.

My main concern has been about the term "misleading" and I am not at all sure that my apprehension has been adrift. The President must know that there is a whole spate of stuff passing into the hands of consumers which is still misleading. The best way to give us assurance and protection would be for his Department to go forward and prosecute and not leave it to the consuming public themselves to take action. The reason is obvious; it is that so often when people have been, as it were, made fools of and deceived they are loth to go forward themselves; indeed very often they have not the money or the knowledge which is necessary, so they say nothing about it. It is caveat emptor, a phrase which we do not like about this type of thing.

Lastly, to give a short example, the reputable newspapers will not accept advertisements from people who sell goods the descriptions of which are misleading. Such advertisements creep into the pulp magazines. I have one in my hand which, if its claims were true, would be most helpful to the Government—to Departmental Ministers, and especially Cabinet Ministers. It says that at 80 one can be "as young and virile as at 30." All one has to do is to pay a few shillings for some tablets, one type if one is a male and another type if one is a female. Astounding things are claimed, one being: At 76, I am experiencing the joys of life to the full. I do not know if the President of the Board of Trade knows what that means; if he does not, I will explain it to him afterwards.

It is all very well to put such advertisements into these magazines, but they must cost an awful lot of money, which is extracted from the public in addition to the profits on the product. Is there anyone who agrees that people should push the sale of glandular products which may be dangerous to elderly people when we have a National Health Service under which people can get everything of this sort which they need free, or virtually free? Should we not do something about it and give the protection which should be given? I hope that the President of the Board of Trade will keep this in mind. If he does not, I shall have to write him a fairly long letter. Apart from that, I feel as satisfied as perhaps I can be on this matter.

Lieut.-Colonel Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

In accepting this Bill, I should like to ask the President of the Board of Trade to make it abundantly clear that it is the intention of the Board of Trade to see that the terms and conditions embodied in the Bill are to be enforced. I do not think it is realised by the general public what considerable powers reside in the Board of Trade. These powers have been increased to some small extent by the Bill which we are now discussing. I hope that in those circumstances the Board of Trade will not hesitate to take whatever legal action is necessary to make sure that the contents of this Bill and the other powers that the Board of Trade have, some of which seem to be falling into disuse, are exercised in future with vigour in the interests of the consuming public.

The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)

I feel that the House is perhaps now ready to proceed to give this Bill its Third Reading. If it does so, I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow, Central (Mr. Bishop) that I shall not go away with any undue feeling of self-congratulation. I feel that the House can (congratulate itself upon having given what is, I believe, a very useful Measure a thorough and proper examination through its various stages and upon having produced at the end a Bill which is better than when it started out on its course.

I would not exaggerate the extent of the measures which we are now in process of bringing into law. The standards maintained by the traders of this country are as high as or higher than the standards maintained by any other traders in any other part of the world. The vast majority of traders in this country are absolutely honest and scrupulous in the descriptions which they give to their goods. The purpose of this Bill is perhaps to bring the practice of all a little nearer to the practice of the best. To that extent I think it will satisfy both the traders of the country and the customers. It is in that light that I hope the House will give the Bill its Third Reading.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with Amendments.