§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ The President of the Board of Trade (Mr. Peter Thorneycroft)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is a small, but, I hope the House will agree, a useful Bill. It is designed to extend the provisions of our law which protects the public against false and misleading trade descriptions of goods. It may be helpful to us to assess the value and purpose of the Bill if I say a word or two about the background against which it is introduced.
The vast majority of traders in this country will, of course, be unaffected by the Bill, because they describe their goods in honest, temperate and moderate terms, well within what is permissible in this or previous legislation. Indeed, the large bulk of traders will welcome this Bill in so far as it prevents unscrupulous traders from competing unfairly with them.
The second thing I would say is that neither this Bill nor any other can or will protect the unwary purchaser against all the wiles of an unscrupulous seller. Nor, may I add, should it attempt to do so. The legal maxim caveat emptor has a deal of merit in it. The best safeguard for the buyer is to look before he buys, and the best sanction at his disposal is to take his custom elsewhere if he is dissatisfied with the quality of what he receives.
To seek to safeguard the customer against any form of misdescription would require us to draft in terms so wide that honest traders might well be dissuaded from seeking to describe their goods at all, and we must certainly avoid going to those lengths. On the other hand, to fail to bring the law into line with modern merchanting practice would be failing in our duty as a House of Commons to hold the balance fairly between the consumer and the producer.
I think it may be convenient if at this stage I say a few words about the history of this legislation. I can sum- 2244 marise it quite shortly. Up to 1887, with a few exceptions relating to a few types of goods, a man could apply to his goods any description that he chose, subject, of course, only to the wider provisions of the common law in the criminal courts. But in that year of 1887 was passed the main Statute which deals with the subject.
The gist of the law—I am not going into all the details of it—as it was established by the Act of 1887 can be simply stated. It was that subject to certain exceptions and defences it became an offence to sell goods to which any false trade description was applied, and the Act went on to define the terms "false description" as a descriptionfalse in a material respectas to a number of things including in particular, and perhaps most important,the number, quantity, measure, gauge, or weightor place or country of origin of any of the goods. I do not want to exaggerate the effect of that Act. I think it is very largely a matter of opinion how much effect it has, but if I do not exaggerate it, nor do I wish to minimise it.
Rather more than 60 years ago it was thought proper to protect purchasers against certain misdescriptions of goods, and since that time it has made traders, I think one can say, more cautions. The best traders in the United Kingdom were, of course, as honest as before. But the less good or less scrupulous were compelled to assimilate their practices near to the best to the benefit both of their customers and of their competitors. One thing is, at any rate, quite plain. In general, no one is compelled to describe his goods at all. There are certain exceptions to that. There are, for instance, the Acts dealing with drugs, seeds and assay marks on silver, but in general, taking the broad range of merchandise in this country, no man is compelled to describe his goods.
The effect of the legislation is that if a trader elects to describe his goods he must be careful that he does not describe them falsely. If a description is false in a material particular with regard to those matters which were thought especially relevant in 1887, the man commits an offence. If he describes as "Scotch 2245 whisky" an inferior beverage which comes from somewhere else, he lays himself open to the penalties laid down by the Act.
Now as to the need to amend the Act. I think I can give the basic reason for an amendment quite simply. The fact is that over 60 years manufacturing and trading conditions have materially altered, as indeed one would expect them to have done. Half a century ago the bulk of the descriptions of goods related to the contents of the articles or their number or weight, but today they relate more and more often to such matters as quality or performance. By performance I mean such factors as "unbreakable" or whether they are heat resisting and matters of that kind. Many examples will occur to hon. Members. In addition to that, great developments have taken place in synthetic materials which are used sometimes by themselves and sometimes in combination with other older and natural materials. All that raises not inconsiderable problems relating to the proper method of description.
Finally, and perhaps not the least important, the British Standards Institution did not even exist in 1887. Since the formation of that institution in 1901, it has, of course, exercised a considerable influence on the descriptions applied to engineering and non-consumer goods, and recently the range of its activities has been considerably extended. With the good will, I think, of hon. Members in all parts of the House, in recent years the British Standards Institution has, in consultation with the trades concerned and with consumers' representatives, been working out standards for consumer goods as well as non-consumer goods. It is a highly technical process, but it is making steady progress. If a British Standard by which goods are described relates to matters outside the Act of 1887, no offence is committed if the goods do not comply with the standards.
What has really happened to the position in the last 50 years is that with the march of time and with the advance of science new opportunities for deception have arisen. They have not been seized upon at all by the vast majority of traders, but it is open to a dishonest trader to take advantage of them. He need only confine his descriptions to matters outside the Act of 1887 in order 2246 to be safe. The rainproof coat, the shock-proof screwdriver for use by electricians, the accurate timekeeper, the fade-proof cloth—all these terms can be used with complete immunity. Yet they are today the commonplace of trade descriptions.
If the Act of 1887 is deficient in its definition of what comprises a trade description, it is also perhaps deficient in its definition of what is a false trade description. Ingenious persons have found it possible to devise means whereby they can keep themselves within the law and yet convey an utterly misleading idea or description of the goods. Again, I can give some examples. There is tweed which is made in a foreign country but which has on it a map of the Hebrides, conveying the impression that it is Harris tweed. There is a beverage called "MacPherson's Whisky," with a good tartan placed upon the bottle, which anybody might well take as having Scotch whisky in it. There is a vacuum flask, marked "British Made" on the front in large type, but bearing a smaller imprint somewhere else saying "Foreign Inners." Those devices are all drawn from actual experience; they are all permitted within the existing legislation, and they are all rather misleading.
Shortly, the object and purpose of this Bill is two-fold. First, it widens the definition of trade descriptions so as to include certain significant characteristics now widely mentioned, so that any mis-description of them becomes an offence and, secondly, the definition of false description is widened to include misleading descriptions. I should like to say a word as to how that is done, because it is easier to state the objective which one has in mind than to translate it adequately into the phrases of a Bill.
Clearly, one could not cover everything, and it would be quite wrong to try. As I said before, if we go too far we shall prevent anyone describing anything. If we cover too wide a range of things we shall prevent anybody taking the risk of applying any description to his goods, and that would defeat the whole object that we have in mind.
Clause 1 brings in certain new characteristics, such as quality, fitness for purpose, strength, accuracy, performance, or behaviour of any goods. I hope and anticipate that, particularly during the Committee stage, close attention will be 2247 given to these precise phrases. It will probably be found that most of them raise no particularly difficult problem, but I recognise that the reference to quality will need rather careful consideration.
Without going into the matter in detail at this stage, I think the reference to quality is essential in the Bill, because quality sums up the thing to which most trade descriptions refer. I have been impressed, however, by the criticisms I have heard, on the lines that it may be too wide a phrase—some of these criticisms were made in another place—and I am anxious to avoid vagueness or ambiguity. I would, therefore, particularly welcome hon. Members' suggestions on this point, and a full discussion in Committee, on the general principle that we want to keep the word but confine it to something which can be clearly understood by the traders who might be affected by this Bill. The Bill goes on to extend the law to include misleading as well as false trade descriptions, upon the lines and for the reasons I have already stated.
There are a few things which the Bill does not do. It does not make the ordinary trade puff an offence. "Beer is best" is still a phrase which, I am informed, can be safely used for the purpose of this Bill. Another is "Regent Petrol gives more miles per gallon." More miles than what? It could be more miles than water. Many of these trade "puffs" are virtually meaningless. "Look, ducky, she has turned to Tide for the cleanest wash of all" is a phrase which I think can still be safely used. It should not be the intention of any legislation to interfere with phrases of that character.
Secondly, the Bill specifically exempts existing trade marks, even though these have in them a descriptive element. By that I mean such things as "Kilpain" tablets for headaches. Such trade marks have an established value and are quite clearly understood by the public, and it would be quite wrong that they should be open to sudden attack after the trade mark has been established. A saving Clause has been put into the Bill in respect of such trade marks.
Thirdly, the Bill does not catch traders with stocks of goods subject to trade descriptions, which they cannot clear. It 2248 might be that a trader would find on his hands a large stock of goods which had for some reason been suddenly caught by this Bill. We save that by postponing the carrying into force of Clause 1 for a period of six months. Fourthly, the Bill maintains the position that graders of agricultural produce are not made liable to offences under the Merchandise Marks Acts, but are subject to the provisions existing in the Agricultural Produce (Grading and Marking) Acts.
This Bill, therefore, proceeds upon the basis of the old law. It extends the definition to comprehend the modern practice of most traders; it includes misleading as well as false descriptions, and it enlarges the penalty to something a little nearer to what would be right having regard to the change in money values. This Measure presents no obstacle to honest traders. Instead, it offers them some protection against unfair competition and gives some safeguard to consumers against false descriptions. These are objects which I believe are shared in all parts of the House, and in those circumstances I do not hesitate to commend the Bill for Second Reading.
§ 12.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
Not as a matter of customary formality, but with real sincerity, I should like to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman on the clarity and lucidity with which he has expressed the background and the purpose of this legislation. The only disadvantage arising from that clarity is that he has exposed what we consider to be the rather meagre character and limited extent of the Bill, though it is good as far as it goes.
Hon. Members on this side of the House are perhaps more influenced by the customer than by business interests. We should, naturally, desire to go further, if possible, in protecting the customer, though I recognise at once some of the difficulties which the right hon. Gentleman has mentioned. In mentioning the background, I would also add that I have some regret about the circumstances from which this proposal came—the scrapping of the Utility Scheme. That was regrettable, but it would be shortsighted for us to express our regret by opposing something which is desirable in itself, and I feel we should give this Bill a restrained welcome.
2249 The right hon. Gentleman mentioned another place. It is a considerable advantage to us if legislation of this character is initiated in another place, because it gives some of us a better opportunity to understand its purpose. I am relieved to know that the right hon. Gentleman is not to be such an adroit stonewaller as was Lord Mancroft, in conducting the Bill in another place. This is rather a technical Bill; in fact, it is one of those where one turns to the Bill itself to understand the Explanatory Memorandum which accompanies it.
As the right hon. Gentleman says, however, its purpose is clear enough. It seeks to extend the protection of the consumer and to make him feel that he is more likely to get value for his money. It is a recognition of the fact that circumstances and the technique of deception have changed. I agree with him that this Bill is directed against a very small number of people or, if we wish to approach it from another way, it is to protect the good name of the vast majority of the trading community of this country. But perhaps this is where we differ in emphasis: I do not believe it is much good going on repeating caveat emptor. I feel that we ought to recognise that it is necessary to safeguard the consumer.
Having said that, may I add this comment: after my boyhood experience, when I was sold many a pup as a result of mail order advertising, I do not think I am very much affected by advertising except as entertainment. Frankly, as one who travels regularly on public transport, I appreciate its entertainment value, and I was very relieved to hear what the right hon. Gentleman said—and I do not wish to cross swords with my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson)—about "Beer is best," which provides entertainment and relief to those who travel on the tubes and buses, as do "Guinness is good for you," and "There is no substitute for wool" advertisements. They are excellent advertisements, but I do not think they deceive anyone.
I have not the experience of many of their Lordships in reading women's magazines and I am not as well informed as they are about ladies' underwear, but I am told that that is a form of advertisement which should be more scrupulously carried on. From a pictorial point of view, again, I hope it will not suffer any 2250 serious damage. I do not know what is to happen to Mr. Cube, who does not seem to be such a controversial figure as he used to be. Again, I am relying on information I obtained through reading the Reports of the debates in another place, and I am relieved that it will not be an offence to serve a cold hot dog, because I believe some people prefer them cold. I understand that that will not be an offence under the Bill.
I believe that we should support the limited purposes of the Bill in extending the protection to cover calculated misleading descriptions. We have had the experience of that in other fields; action has proved necessary and effective. I think I overheard the comment of the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) correctly, and if I did I certainly agree with him that this protection ought to be afforded against some politicians—in my view, particularly politicians who write for the Beaverbrook Press.
As the right hon. Gentleman explained in present developing circumstances, it is necessary to extend the definition of trade description. I concede at once that this appears to be a difficult matter. I may be wrongly informed, but I understand that the law already covers quality; I believe there are decisions to that effect. Whether that is so or not—and this is not a party matter—there are obviously criticisms of the present attempt to meet the general consensus of view. I am sure that all share the general aim, but some believe it has not quite been attained, and I am very glad to know that the right hon. Gentleman will give this matter close attention and that if we can find a better definition he will join us in strengthening the Bill in that way.
Again, we agree that the penalties should be extended. I apologise to the House, but I have not worked out these sums in terms of money value compared with those of 1887; but, quite apart from that calculation, we feel that the right hon. Gentleman has not gone far enough in this matter of penalties. If we can, we shall put more teeth into the Bill, but if we cannot do so, then at any rate we will endeavour to sharpen those teeth which are in the Bill. Just as the right hon. Gentleman has been most accommodating on other matters, I hope 2251 that he will have an open mind on this subject, too, so that if he feels, as we feel, that there is strong opinion on the matter and that there should be a wider protection, he will reconsider the question.
We therefore give the Bill a restrained welcome. We feel it is rather too limited and, in particular, we feel that it ought to have covered the giving to the President of powers to make compulsory marking schemes. If we have an opportunity we will discuss that matter in Committee. I know there are two sides to the argument, but I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will keep an open mind on the subject. When I say there are two points of view I will emphasise again that this is not a party matter; there are different points of view among different businesses and trades.
There are two other matters which I would mention rather hurriedly. They are outside the scope of the Bill—and I heard your Ruling, Mr. Speaker, on the earlier occasion. Nevertheless, there is some concern about something which is inevitable—the limited effect of this Bill on British trading interests generally. I was gratified to notice that the Government gave an undertaking that they would do what they could to call the attention of the Commonwealth Governments, of the Dominions and Colonies, to the legislation which we propose to implement here.
I recognise at once—and it is excellent that it should be recognised—that the Legislatures of the Dominions are independent and that the Colonies are largely autonomous. It is not for us to complain about that. But if the Government will draw their attention to this legislation they will be setting a good example which we hope will be followed in the rest of the Commonwealth.
Another problem which caused British traders enormous difficulties before the war—and it might happen again—arose from the malpractice of copying designs abroad. I recognise at once the difficulties about that as far as our legislative powers are concerned, but I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will at any rate give us the assurance that we will do all we can to stop this practice and to prevent it arising on any significant scale again so that we can get fair trade in 2252 the world; because if we get fair trade, I think we can rest assured that British trading interests will exert themselves and will have nothing to fear.
We give the Bill a qualified welcome, and we congratulate the President—with no qualification—on the lucidity with which he introduced it. Finally, it is a great pleasure to have with me on the Front Bench my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) whose father's maiden speech was on this subject.
§ 12.39 p.m.
§ Mr. Richard Law (Hull, Haltemprice)
May I, first of all, declare that I have a personal interest in the subject of the Bill, in as much as I am connected with a number of commercial undertakings which exist for the purpose of providing the consumer with some things which are good for him, others which he enjoys and with nothing, I think, which, so far, has done him irretrievable harm. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend would admit the last qualification as a legitimate trade mark. Probably not.
I must say that, generally speaking, I am not greatly attached to Bills of this kind, the purpose of which is to make the world a better place, because very often, I think, they have exactly the opposite effect. The more we shove the devil out of the door the more vigorously he comes back through some other entrance into the house. Nevertheless, I think that this is a good Bill, which will be welcomed by every reputable commercial undertaking. I am sure, too, that no industrial firm has anything to fear from it whatever. On the other hand, the honest trader, as has more than once been pointed out, may get an advantage from it because his dishonest competitor, if such exists, will no longer be able to carry on his malpractices.
However, looking at the Bill, which is extremely complicated, and having no legal knowledge, it does seem to me that there are two weaknesses in it as it stands at present. One of them my right hon. Friend has already dealt with, and that is the vagueness of the references to "quality, fitness for purpose," and so on, in Clause 1 (1). I was very glad indeed to hear my right hon. Friend say that that was something that might be dealt with in Committee.
2253 There is one other point that I think ought to be seriously considered in Committee, and it is this. The Bill gives encouragement to the common informer. It may encourage him to frivolous prosecutions, to misguided prosecutions, and even to malicious prosecutions. Frivolous prosecutions may be undertaken with the very best of motives. I think we have all to remember that there was an attempt by the Ministry of Food to prosecute importers of sherry in Bristol on the ground that they described one of their products as "Bristol Cream" and another as "Bristol Milk," while neither of them had any connection with the cow. This was thought by an over-zealous official to be a great deception of the public.
I do not think that that case ever matured, but there was another case where an over-zealous medical officer of health caused an action to be brought against a concern which makes a substance called "California Syrup of Figs." I cannot quite remember the ground of the action, whether it was that the figs were not actually grown in California, or whether the syrup was not actually syrup, but, anyway, an action was brought. It was dismissed, and the court awarded damages against the prosecutor to the tune of, I think, 250 guineas. Although I do not know this from my own knowledge, I have been assured that the costs of the action to the firm were far in excess of 250 guineas.
There seems to me a very great possibility in cases of this kind that a too enthusiastic, too legalistically-minded local authority may bring actions against manufacturers and traders in perfectly harmless products. Then there are other cases that may happen. It would be quite possible, and I conceive of its being done, for a competitor to encourage some man of straw to bring an action against another firm's good name, trade mark, advertisement, or whatever it may be. In that case the firm bringing the action through the man of straw would never be called upon to pay the costs itself and would have no certainty that the individual acting on its behalf would have to pay costs either.
I would, therefore, suggest to my right hon. Friend that it would be a very good idea, when we come to Committee, to 2254 insert in the Bill an Amendment which would ensure that, where an action is brought under the Bill, for good reasons or for bad reasons, for responsible reasons or for irresponsible reasons, the court would be obliged to award costs to the innocent party unless there should be very strong reasons for not doing so.
As I understand the existing legal position—other more learned hon. Members than I will, no doubt, correct me if I am wrong—a court has discretion to award costs in such a case. It is not obliged to do so. It is not obliged to award the full costs. Indeed, I understand that recently the Lord Chief Justice himself stated that it is inadvisable that they should award full costs in general. At the same time, I think that with the new powers given under the Bill to the common informer that position should be revised, and that stronger powers should be given to the courts, more definite instructions should be given to the courts, to award costs in cases brought under the Bill. I very much hope my right hon. Friend will be able to consider these points.
§ 12.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
I beg to move, to leave out "now," and at the end of the Question to add "upon this day six months."
Having lived all my life in one of the greatest industrial areas of this country, being one whose relatives have been engaged in the two principal industries affected, and having represented now for some time in this House a great industrial area, I cannot approach the problems involved here today in the same complacent way some have already done. It was said in another place that this was a dull Bill. I do not want to create difficulties by quoting what was said in another place, but it was quite evident that they themselves were not closely in touch with industrial affairs.
I approach this problem first of all from the point of view of our own people, management and workers alike, and from the point of view of our country, which is now the greatest democratic country in the world, and from the point of view that what happens nowadays in one part of the world affects the rest of the world. It is upon that basis that I move the rejection of this 2255 Bill, and I shall produce reasons and concrete evidence in justification for so doing.
It used to be the practice that before a Bill of this kind was introduced the Ministers concerned consulted the representative organisations affected by the Bill when it was being prepared. I ask the Parliamentary Secretary, if he can inform us, when were the National Society of Pottery Workers consulted about this Bill? When were the British pottery manufacturers consulted about this Bill? When were the cotton trade unions and the Cotton Board and the Textile Merchants Association consulted about this Bill? If they were consulted, upon what date was it? Is it still the policy of the Government, and particularly of the Board of Trade, to consult the representative organisations affected by any proposed legislation?
I draw the attention of the House to Cmd. 166 dealing with patents, designs and trade marks. It is well worth reading. What we are dealing with this morning is reported on in it. Here I would pay tribute to the civil servants who do so much work behind the scenes and receive too little recognition, in my view, of the work they do.
I want also to draw the attention of the House to Command Paper 8796 in which we read the following:the granting of a Marking Order would not solve the problem of stocks but they maintained that the existence of a mark of origin would have a psychological effect on firms who buy both the imported and home produced product.That is partly our case. Another extract says:Where the market for the goods in question is a retail market it may be possible to justify a Sale Order on the grounds that the retail purchaser cannot ordinarily exercise a choice without the help of an indication of origin …That is further evidence of the correctness of the line which we are taking this morning.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary: Can he give us a guarantee, when he comes to reply, that this Bill will protect the results of generations of accumulated experience of the most highly-skilled people in the world? Will this Bill protect the results of generations of accumulated experience which expresses 2256 itself in the finest pottery produced in the world and in the finest cotton industry, which we need now, together with coal and engineering, to earn our living, because everyone of us depends on our exports being maintained? Will this Bill protect the 115 sections of industry that are vitally affected?
If anyone has any doubt about that, let him go to the Vote Office and see the Orders already made under the Act upon which this Bill is being introduced. In the pottery and cotton industries we produce the most beautifully designed and decorated work in the world. That is the result of highly skilled work, and the high skill handed down is a legacy from one generation to another. Thousands of pounds have been spent on research and development. Will this Bill, after all that work, assist in the protection of what is at stake? Will it insist on the mark of origin being stamped on goods which are sold not only in this country but in the Commonwealth? I think that I saw the Attorney-General smile, but the Commonwealth is trying to work together more closely.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
We can plead for what should be in the Bill and the steps that should be taken by the Government to see that what we plead for should be in the Bill when it becomes an Act. Will the Government also take steps to ask the United States to apply what we are going to apply at home? Will the Bill prevent the names of our towns being stamped on goods made in other countries? Has any attempt been made to prevent other countries from stamping their pottery and textiles with the names Stoke, Longton, Fenton and Manchester?
We have arrived at a period in this country now, often after fighting the legal people, when we have the most highly-developed industrial conditions in the world. We have our trade unions and our democratic machinery and, therefore, we have not only to work now for improved conditions but we have also a great deal to lose. That is why we cannot smile at these problems. It is because we realise that we have a great deal to learn that we want to protect our industries in the way in which I am pleading this morning.
2257 The International Labour Conference, a week today, brought this home to us quite clearly when the representative of the Japanese workers, speaking at this conference, said that his government was gradually suppressing trade union activities and the fundamental rights of the workers. Before I conclude I shall quote from a document proving that this report in the "Manchester Guardian" was correct. We find that we are not only faced now with what we used to be faced with, but we are also faced with this terrible menace which is hanging over us like a black cloud.
Let me make it quite clear that we do not fear fair competition or fair play; what we do fear and dread is unfair play and unfair competition. Will the Minister, in the Committee stage of the Bill, agree to consider an Amendment which we think should be included in the Bill to ensure that all goods sold in this country which have been imported shall have a definite stamp of the country of origin, and will he also, if that is agreed to in Committee and in the House, accept the plea that something should be done about this throughout the Commonwealth? When this Bill becomes an Act of Parliament, will the right hon. Gentleman the President of the Board of Trade agree to consult the Minister of Labour and other Members of the Government affected in order to ask the United Nations to consider the problems affected by this Bill, which I shall deal with later?
Already in this country we set a very high standard. What I am pleading for is already done in seven of the most important industries. In the pottery industry, for example, there are two or three firms that have the right to use the Royal Warrant. They stamp the name of their firm together with the Royal Warrant. Paragon, C.W.S., Crown Staffs., Crown Devon, Wedgwoods, Mintons and Spode all guarantee the quality of their goods already by having their names clearly indicated on what they manufacture. If it is right that these firms should do that, has not the time arrived when we should protect our people by insisting on the quality of their goods being marked? I will explain in some detail what I mean by that later on.
A few days ago, for example, Copeland's pottery had an exhibition at which 2258 one could see how from the year 1770 they had marked all their products. I hear people say that if a manufacturer's goods bear the Royal Warrant they can depend upon them being good, and most people in this country accept that as being sound. Cannot we carry this a stage further, during the Committee stage of the Bill, in order to ensure that proceedings are taken against any firm using the Royal Warrant if it is used without authority?
Will the Minister consider Amendments to this Bill on the Committee stage in order that the public may be protected and that our markets abroad—this is where our markets abroad come in—may also be protected by quality guarantee marks on all our exports? For example, why should not we, if our best manufacturers with the good names guarantee quality, insist on that standard being known as a British standard? Why should not we insist on three or four marks of quality, for example: quality 1 would mean the best; quality 2, seconds; and quality 3, thirds. Some Members may say, "Ah, this interferes with private enterprise." We have evidence of what that means by the correspondence which we have received during the week in which certain vested interests are against proposals of this kind being made.
Many people say, "Our exports must be of the best." I agree with that. Then let us guarantee that they are the best by the marks which I am suggesting. This country now has a high standard of products to maintain. Has not the time arrived when, in fairness to our own people, we should protect them and guarantee quality, and guarantee that all our exported products maintain the same quality?
I should like to refer to the opening speech of the President of the Board of Trade and quote one or two phrases that he used, and in order to save time, I should like to quote from the "Manchester Guardian" in regard to a phrase which he used this morning. The right hon. Gentleman referred to the British Standards Institution. In a leading article on 22nd January of this year the "Manchester Guardian" wrote:Nor will the new voluntary standards of quality being worked out by the British Standards Institution to replace the compulsory 2259 utility standards restrict the manufacturer's freedom to experiment with new designs and qualities.The next extract applies in particular to the President's speech this morning:If the B.S.I, can work out satisfactory standards, why should they not be compulsory? The D scheme has set the reputable manufacturer free to improve his wares, but it has also set the rogue free to take a quick profit with shoddy work.That is more evidence from a newspaper which is published in the heart of our greatest industrial area.
Pottery, tiles, sanitary ware, chinaware and electrical porcelain have all been subject to several investigations during the last 30 years. Have the reports received consideration by the people responsible for framing this Bill in the light of the present circumstances? If not, will the Minister give an undertaking that when we come to the Committee stage the results of those investigations can find expression in the Bill before it becomes an Act?
Here we have the key to an understanding of the opposition with which we will have to contend during the Committee stage. A noble Lord speaking at a banquet in the House of Commons— it was not in another place, so I can quote it—said:The textile industry was confident that competition, coupled with the use of branded names, would ensure that the consumer got a high standard of quality and value for his money.Do hon. Gentlemen opposite believe that we can rely upon competition to guarantee that quality will be maintained?
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I maintain that the people of this country know full well that competition does not guarantee quality.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
That may be so in the case of some branded pottery, but, unfortunately, there is certain marked pottery to which that does not apply, and, according to a speech which she made, Lady Astor appears to know more about 2260 it than we do. Unfortunately we have not time to deal with that this morning.
I now wish to quote from a report of a conference held a few weeks ago at which manufacturers of shrinkable garments were denounced as swindlers. This was the Southport Conference of the Women's Gas Federation, which is not a trade union nor a Labour organisation, and I am suspicious that it is closely allied to the Conservative Party. Suspicion is often said to be aroused because of the affiliation of the Labour Party with certain organisations, but the same sort of thing applies to the party opposite, and when we think it is so we should say so. The report of the conference says:… Mr. William Brown, 56-years-old general manager of London's Savoy Hotel laundry …That is a hotel that I have never been in, but many hon. Members opposite have.
§ Mr. Rodgers
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves the gas conference, is he confusing gas mantles with the mantles which women wear, which might shrink?
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I understood that we were having a serious discussion and were approaching our problems in a serious manner. When the hon. Gentleman interrupted just now, I took him seriously. The report says:… Mr. William Brown, 56-years-old general manager of London's Savoy Hotel laundry, told delegates that they should boycott the sale of such articles. A cotton shirt that shrinks is the fault of the manufacturer who stretched it to save a yard or two of material …Yet some people have the audacity to say that competition will safeguard quality. We ought in this Bill to take steps to deal with problems of the type which were referred to at the conference, and we hope the Minister will support us in doing so.
I now speak with a certain amount of pride. The late Sir Stafford Cripps left with me at the end of the war the duty of considering the future of the Utility Scheme. I went into this matter with some of the most conscientious men and women that it has ever been my lot to work with. Having considered the scheme, I encouraged it and saw to the maximum production of Utility goods which guaranteed quality and price. They 2261 were the best value that our fellow countrymen had ever had. I shall be glad if the President will tell me whether the new mark will guarantee quality to the extent that the Utility Scheme did? If not, is he prepared to consider alterations designed to achieve that standard?
I now speak with a certain amount of bitterness about two subjects which are inter-related. A large amount of anti-Semitism was gathering strength in our area during the period of economic difficulty. Some of my best friends, including the late Mr. Jack Munro, who is well known in the Manchester area, were even beginning to fall for anti-Semitism. The late Mr. Harold Laski's father asked me to meet him at the Midland Hotel. I told him what was happening, and, as a result of that, he approached the Jewish people of the country and told them about the approaching dangers. They then set up an organisation of their own for the purpose of maintaining the relatively high standard which we had attained. My hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Orbach) was appointed secretary of the organisation, an office which he still holds. The organisation has helped to maintain our standards of quality.
The late Mr. Ernest Bevin said to me several times, "We must never allow young couples in the bloom of youth to be exploited like they were from 1920 to 1930." He added, "We have not only to build decent houses for them; we have to see that decent furniture is put into them." That is where we come to the question of quality. When I am speaking with bitterness of Britain in a desperate situation, I am not now speaking critically but only objectively. We introduced a policy of protection, and the result was it became possible to manufacture furniture here whereas that was not possible before protection. It also coincided with the introduction of the means test, and that, in turn, coincided with terrible bitterness in the homes of our people, whose standards were being forced down. This created domestic friction.
Sir Herbert Willliams (Croydon, East)
The hon. Gentleman said that the introduction of protection coincided with the introduction of the means test. He will find if he looks into the matter that the 2262 means test goes back to 1924, which was several years before protection was adopted.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
All right, but I should have referred to the household means test. The hon. Member was in this House at the time and he knows that I meant the household means test. I thank him for having drawn my attention to it, for I should have stated it correctly. It is better for it to go correctly on the record.
It was at this time that the late Ellen Wilkinson introduced a Private Member's Bill into this House in order to deal with the sharks who were organising hire purchase. We had the terrible situation of young couples who, on getting married, bought beautiful furniture. Little did they realise that much of it was made of orange and egg boxes. It was very cleverly made and sprayed with the latest stains and, when they saw it in the shop, they thought it beautiful. But they found when they had it home for a few months and the sun got at it that it warped in parts and in no time young couples were broken-hearted and embittered. We must take steps to prevent a repetition of that kind of thing. Unless we do something in this country there are manufacturers who in the near future will manufacture on this basis. We must organise against it.
Hon. Members opposite should realise that it was their kind who opposed the introduction of factory inspectors. The history of industry in this country shows that, apart from a few public-spirited souls like Lord Shaftesbury, reaction has always opposed progressive proposals of this kind. We have now factory inspectors to maintain decent conditions. We protect our people in weights of food and coal. In our view the time has arrived when we should also protect our people on the question of quality. We should protect our customers abroad so that people throughout the world will say, "If a thing comes from Britain it is a guarantee that its qualities are first class." We should so approach this problem with the new mid-20th Century idea that we will guarantee our exports to be of the best quality.
Before I conclude I want to quote from a document which I have just re- 2263 ceived from the Director of the International Labour Office in London. May I at this stage pay a tribute to the courtesy and the devoted service which we all receive in the House of Commons Library. I have seen that Library grow from the dark place it used to be with a few serving in it to its modern conception of library service, and having seen this change then I think——
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
I think the hon. Member is going outside the terms of the Bill. What he is now saying is not in the Bill.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
I thought you would have permitted me to continue when all I was doing was thanking the servants of this House. When we have an opportunity to thank those who serve us, I think we should do it and place our thanks on record. That is what I am doing at the present time. I am not going to carry it any further. I believe in giving credit where it is due, and I intend to try to do so.
I want to quote from this document because it shows what we are up against. I want particularly to refer the President of the Board of Trade to it. The President of the Board of Trade, no matter what Government is in power, carries great influence in the Government, in the House, in the country, and increasingly about the world at international conferences. This is what the Japanese workers delegate said at this conference, speaking in Japanese. [Laughter.] If it were written in Japanese I would have to refer it to hon. Members opposite to put it into English for me. This is what he said:These new policies being pursued by the Japanese Government and the employers necessarily called for a freezing of wages at low levels and an intensification of work. I will cite one fact to illustrate what I have said above. While the current production index of the country has risen to 130 per cent. as against the pre-war level the wage index remains considerably lower than that level … Under various subterfuges, the Japanese Government has been and is trying to introduce legislative measures to curb the freedom of trade unions, so as to suppress the resistance of the workers against retrogressive political and economic policies.If I had more time I could give several other quotations because they should be on record.
2264 I conclude by saying we have not only to protect ourselves with regard to internal quality; we have to seek to establish quality standards throughout the world in order to maintain what we have achieved here. Therefore, I ask the Government to introduce a Bill worthy of the 20th Century conception of ideas and not this tinkering Bill which we have before us. We ask that action should be taken not only in this country but throughout the Commonwealth, in the United Nations and in the International Labour Office in order that we may protect our native standards.
§ 1.18 p.m.
§ Dr. Barnett Stross (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I do so on two grounds, first, because it is my view that it does not attempt enough in the way of protecting the consumers. The speech of the President himself went a very long way to confirm me in that view. When he described the Bill he watered down even the small powers that appear in it by the explanation which he gave us. My second reason is because no protection whatsoever is given to our manufacturers against the unscrupulous use of our trade marks, patents or designs by competitors who may export to our Dominions, the Commonwealth or to the Colonies.
The powerfully documented and exhaustive speech made by my hon. Friend has made it clear that in his view—with which I agree—our economic future depends in part at least upon the maintenance of the highest possible standards in everything we export. We cannot export good things if shoddy things are being made at home, because a market of that kind cannot be divided into two parts. Therefore, if our goods are to be sought for abroad it will be not only on the ground of price, because, ultimately, slave labour from other countries may defeat us, but on the grounds of quality. We shall have done our duty by our people in this House if we see to that.
So far as the home consumer is concerned, may I, first, look at the penalties? I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will make no bones about it and will agree that it is a farce to impose a penalty of £50 for a first offence and £100 for the second and subsequent 2265 offences, as compared with £20 and £50 respectively 60 years ago. I presume that a workman earned about 15s. or £1 a week 60 years ago, so that then the penalty for a first offence would be the equivalent of 20 weeks' wages of an unskilled worker whereas, at £50 today, it means that these new proposals are about one-third of the penalties in terms of buying power which were imposed 60 years ago when the first Act of 1887 was brought before this House. It is not for me to make concrete suggestions now, but it is obvious that we shall need some reassurance if we are not to divide against the Government on this Bill on that matter alone.
Will the Parliamentary Secretary tell us how many prosecutions there have been in the 60 years or so since the first Act was passed? I know this question was asked in another place and the answer was given that there were fewer than 100 prosecutions, but I think we are likely to get more accurate information from the Parliamentary Secretary. To leave it always to the other fellow to do the right thing is not a good principle. If we legislate and impose certain penalties for a breach of the law, should not the Board of Trade be prepared to incur the cost of prosecutions rather than to leave it to merchants, who are defrauded by unscrupulous competitors, or to trading associations who have to band themselves together to do the work which ought to be done by the President in his Department? I am not arguing for innumerable prosecutions, but we have a right to ask for vigilance on behalf of honest traders who are trying to keep up the highest possible standards for their goods, whether they are manufacturing or merchanting them.
In Clause 1 it is proposed to strengthen the original Act by adding the word "misleading" after the term "false trade description". So it is strengthened in that misleading descriptions will be a breach of the law if this Bill becomes an Act. Yet the President of the Board of Trade himself pointed out that one has to be careful. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) I would urge him not to use the old phrase caveat emptor over and over again. We are living in a different world from that of 1887 or the world of 100 years ago. The world then was simple and transparent compared with the 2266 complex world we live in today. New products come out of the laboratories of the chemist, new processes are today so complicated that it is impossible for the average citizen to know anything about their origin.
May I give one example which I once brought to the attention of the Minister of Food? Albumen is still used today, as it has been for hundreds of years, in the making of meringues such as we eat frequently in the Dining Room as a sweet. In the old days, certainly in 1887, meringues were made from the white of eggs, but now there is another source of albumen. It comes from blood collected in slaughterhouses, citrated and sent to factories where the albumen is extracted and used in confections. Is it not misleading if people do not know that? A point we should discuss carefully in Committee is that nowadays there are sins not only of commission but of omission which result in deception.
We should consider the position of a Hindu, a Mohammedan or a Jew eating, in good faith, confections made from citrated pig's blood. It is a little unfair. Is it not reasonable to ask about the quality not only of textiles and pottery but of other things, and not only what is the origin and source of the production, but what is the quality and the fitness for function, particularly when there is so gross a deviation as the one I have mentioned? That is only one example. The chemist's laboratory is a den of magic; there is almost nothing he cannot give us if we ask him for it.
I heard the President of the Board of Trade make a howler this morning in all good faith. He said there were very few cases in which there was misrepresentation. I wonder if he realises that, when new products are put on the market which replace previous and dearer products, once a few members of the trade accept the new products because they are fit for function as far as they are concerned, everyone else must accept them or go out of business? I will give an illustration.
In the old days anyone buying a loaf of bread knew what it was. Today, that is not the case. I am told that in the United States, since fat savers or fat extenders have come into use to replace animal fat, about 150 million lb. of animal fat which used to go into bread 2267 has been denied to citizens of that country each year. These savers and extenders are made up in the petrol trade and are by-products of petrol distillation. Is it not misleading that people should be eating and wearing things of whose source and origin they have no idea? It may be thought that I am putting the point extravagantly, but we are facing new situations in our civilisation and we ought to bear that in mind.
I wonder whether, by the time this Bill has become an Act, the Minister of Food will be able to label things as he has been labelling them in the past. For example, he describes one form of jam at present as "Full Fruit Standard". I would take that to mean, as would every housewife on reading it, that it is full of fruit. In fact, it contains about 30 per cent. or 35 per cent. of fruit; and it is fruit which is brown in colour, bought from abroad as a rule, impregnated with sulphur dioxide which we used to forbid before the war.
It then has to be boiled to get rid of the sulphur dioxide which, although not poisonous, is unpleasant. The colour then clears and becomes pallid and is then dyed artificially. And then we have the label "Full Fruit Standard". It is at least a euphemism even if it is not a downright deception. I hope we shall be able to influence Ministerial Departments through legislation of this kind not to label things in this misleading way.
In another place, it was thought that the term "Veno's Lightning Cough Cure," being time-honoured by custom, would still pass under this Bill when it becomes an Act. I am sorry about that. I think all these things ought to be looked at. I do not think that the preparation to which I am referring would lose anything in its sales if it called itself only "Veno's Cough Cure" and left out the word "Lightning," which is intended to imply that as fast as a stroke of lightning anyone who takes some of this preparation will cure his cough. That is nonsense, and if we are not to allow things of that kind in future we might ask for a little alteration from these other people.
Advertisement has, like everything else, undergone a great change since 1887. My hon. Friend did not mention this and the President of the Board of 2268 Trade did not speak of it. I believe that it is a powerful and dangerous weapon for bringing about a misguidance of people's views. At its best, it can be most useful, but it tends nowadays to be persuasive. Its purpose is not to discuss goods, but to make people buy the goods. That is the difference that has taken place over the last 50 years.
Sometimes advertisements use techniques which are most undesirable— namely, the technique of urging or imposing upon the citizen who reads the advertisement the fear of being a social outcast. I am sure the Parliamentary Secretary agrees that in the basis of "plugging" things like deodorants and chlorophyll toothpastes, the technique that is used is to make particularly young people and women frightened that they will become social outcasts and that their armpits and their mouths are objectionable. It is a form of childish black magic and we ought not to allow people to have it imposed upon them, particularly when what is said is not even true.
Everybody associated with medicine or science knows that chlorophyll does not take away bad smells at all. Therefore, I am looking forward to seeing those people change the quality of their advertisements and "plugging" their toothpastes in a more reasonable fashion. I have no objection to the green colour, but it should not have attached to it statements which are unproved, but which, on the other hand, can be proved to be false.
The great majority of our newspapers and periodicals have their own standards with reference to what they will allow to be advertised and what they will not accept. The great majority of our periodicals and newspapers would not allow what creeps into the pulp magazines for advertisement. It is there that, perhaps, the least critical of our people are subjected to advertisements of a most misleading type and attempts to extort money from them in devious ways.
One knows of the advertisements for rejuvenation cures which no reputable newspaper today would accept, and of the so-called cures for incurable diseases. They always select psoriasis as one because they know very well that it is not curable by any means that we have available but is always likely to appear to get 2269 better for a while. They get, I suppose, considerable sums of money from people by falsely advertising in this way.
The grossest form of deception and exploitation which I have ever seen is the attempt which is made—I have no doubt, very successfully—to sell a little pottery doll called a pixie, or Cornish pixie. If one buys it, he is told that he will draw money in the football pool, make a lucky marriage and that kind of thing, and there purport to be extracts from letters from people who write about how much money they have had, and so on.
Really, that is too bad. I want the Parliamentary Secretary to give us his views and say whether his Department will look at these things and whether they are going to put a stop to people using the technique of what is virtually highway robbery against simple, decent, credulous people. There is nothing wrong in being credulous, but since folk are essentially credulous we must look after them and protect them. That is what this House is for.
My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) said much about the dangers we face from unfair competition, and I will not say much about it except this. We all noted that the defeat of Japan meant that she lost her dependencies and Colonies. She lost Formosa, and she lost Manchuria, where she had built up her own Empire by methods which, I have been given to understand, were not at all those of gross exploitation but which, strangely enough, were progressive in part. Now, 80 million people are compressed back into their own island.
There is an association there with the greatest economic power in the world—the United States—and a combination, it seems to me, of priming 80 million skilled people with unlimited dollar finance and the latest technologies possessed by the United States of America. If those three things—that large population, unlimited financial resources from the United States, and United States technology—are combined with keeping the standard of life of those people artificially depressed, as my hon. Friend has pointed out, it can mean one of two things only. Either we pay for it by having our markets seized, or there is ultimately an explosion out there that 2270 will lead to a catastrophe of a most violent nature.
It is our duty, although this is a small, modest Bill that has come before us, to consider some of the major issues to it and to ask, in particular, for this assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary: that he and his right hon. Friend will give us complete and absolute assurances that they will never weary in seeing to it that our goods are protected in our colonial markets and in the Dominions, by having conversations with the Governments of the Dominions, throughout the Commonwealth and with the Colonial Departments, to see to it that fair practice exists and that we get protection, not only for our manufacturers but, through them, for our workers; and that, in addition, they look at what is happening when a great people like Japan are forbidden to trade with China and their goods will inevitably be forced and diverted into our markets, such as South-East Asia, Australia. New Zealand and Canada.
It is for those reasons, in order to bring this type of thing to the notice of the Department, that we Members from North Staffordshire took the exceptional step of putting down our names to reject the Bill. We will most certainly divide the House unless we can get the kind of reassurance for which we have asked.
§ 1.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Hylton-Foster (York)
It was with great relief that I heard the hon. Members from Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) and Central (Dr. Stress), because there was a sinister Amendment on the Order Paper which, as far as I could see, on paper, was the Parliamentary form of the proposition that "Unless I can have what I want, then you, the community, cannot have what you want." That is what it looked like on paper. It would not fit, of course, with the hon. Members and their philosophy of life. Now that I have heard them, I rejoice to discover that it is not that at all. What they are saying is really, "We would be very glad for you to have this Bill. We agree with this Bill, but we want you to add other things to it."
I should like, not to quarrel with, but at least to reply to, the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South about some 2271 observations he made concerning factory inspection. My ingenuity, however, is not equal to including discussion on the Factory Acts legislation under the Merchandise Marks Acts legislation, and so I will have to let it go by this time.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith
Will the hon. and learned Member bear in mind that Standing Orders provide, within limits, for stating what should be in the Bill, apart from what already is in the Bill?
§ Mr. Hylton-Foster
But I do not understand how, even with the ingenuity of the hon. Member opposite, it can be suggested that something relating to Factory Acts legislation could be got into this Bill.
The Minister has been pressed in two opposite directions about the costs of prosecutions—by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Law) to say that the court should be in some way directed to fleece the prosecutor where he turns out to be a worthless and unjustified common informer, and by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central the reverse way, that the taxpayer should pay the costs, through the Board of Trade, in order to spur on rather more prosecutions than there have in fact been. I hope the Minister will not yield to the blandishments of either hon. Member.
The fact is that the whole sting and sanction in a Bill of this kind, the whole threat against cheating embodied in Merchandise Marks legislation, is dependent upon people having the courage to prosecute. They will not have the courage to prosecute if we do to them what was suggested by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice. On the other hand, I do not see why the taxpayer should have to pay costs when prosecution is undertaken. I would much rather that the person who prosecuted had himself to judge whether his prosecution was one which it was wise to undertake, the court having full discretion to put the costs on him if it was an unwise one. I hope that the Minister will leave the question of costs of prosecution exactly as it is.
My anxiety about this Bill is not about it being a good Bill; of course it is. No one could not want to have it except the dishonest trader or dishonest advertiser, and there are no supporters 2272 of those people here. It is very important in my belief that we should tackle this topic and see to it that we do not make the legislation itself more misleading than it is. I do not know how much the Parliamentary Secretary is alive to the state of this legislation as it now is. He is not usually insensitive about words. I am not enthusiastic for simplified spelling, but it is mildly interesting to note that, as a result of the corroding processes of repeated amendment, one word is spelt in two different ways in one Section, Section 5 of the principal Act.
What about the method of amendment here adopted? It is a horrible method whereby, supposing one is a magistrate having to administer the principal Act, one has now to get this Measure and count the mentions of a word in it to find out what one should do after the second or third mention of the word. In common courtesy to the ordinary magistrate by this House, I suggest that it would be better to set out the definition as we mean it to be after the amendment we mean to have effected.
Not far from this House, Mr. Deputy-Speaker—quite unknown to you, no doubt—there is a pronouncement which reads:Out of regard for Members reading or writing, conversation should not be too prolonged or too pronounced.I have long desired to add the words "or whistling" after "conversation." The method would be appropriate there. It really does matter in legislation of this kind that it should not be made more misleading. I cannot do better than to remind the House of what a divisional court said in June, 1951. I am quoting from the second volume of the King's Bench Reports of 1951, page 639, where the court said:We have considerable sympathy with the lay justices who have to administer the Merchandise Marks Act, 1887. It is a most difficult Act to construe and has given rise to many appeals. Those who are responsible might well consider whether new legislation should not be introduced to set out the law on this matter in clear language which lay justices and others concerned in its administration could understand.We in this House are the persons responsible. Is there any hon. Member here, even any Minister here, who can lay his hands on his Friday heart and 2273 say that subsection (3) of Clause 1 of this Bill is setting out the law in clear language? I do not propose to weary the House by reading it, but one has to think about it frontwards and backwards even if one purports to make one's living in the law, in order to understand it. Why should we make this matter more confusing in this way?
I understand that there are technical difficulties about consolidating this legislation, but I submit to the House that there is dire need to consolidate it. We have had this topic out of the pigeonhole in Parliament on six occasions, this is I believe the sixth time in 66 years. No wonder it is in a mess, and I believe we should make an effort to tidy it up as much as we can. In this Bill we have not even touched the very question with which the divisional court was dealing, namely defences under Section 2 of the principal Act, and it would not be inapt in my belief if, when increasing the penalty, we had a look at the words in which the defences are provided for in order to make sure that they are tidy and easily understood by lay justices.
I do not wish to urge that I should attempt some amateur drafting; I do not like amateur draftsmen, they are never much good. But I hope my hon. Friend will have a look at the matter before we get to Committee stage and see whether we can tidy it up in that respect for the purpose of improving this branch of the law.
§ 1.47 p.m.
§ Miss Elaine Burton (Coventry, South)
I am sorry that I was not able to be here earlier. I support the Second Reading of this Bill. I was glad when I came in to hear my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) explaining the reasons which led him and other hon. Friends to put down the Amendment.
§ Miss Burton
That, of course, was my very great loss, but I shall look forward to reading that speech, as I always look forward to hearing my hon. Friend.
§ Miss Burton
I think I had better get on with what I want to say.
It seemed to me that the purposes of this Bill were probably threefold. The first was to widen the legal definition of the expression, "trade description." The second was to try to afford greater protection to the public generally and to the shopping public in particular, and the third was to afford better protection to the good name of British craftsmanship throughout the world.
As I understand it at the moment, the general practice is that there is no obligation on a trader or manufacturer or shopkeeper unless he so wishes—I underline "unless he so wishes"—to apply any description to the goods whatever. There are certain exceptions to that provided by three Acts which were mentioned in the debate in the other place, those Acts being the Pharmacy and Medicine Act, 1941, the Seeds Act, 1920, and the Hallmarking and Assay Acts, which impose certain obligations on traders affected. But, if the manufacturer does describe his goods, he immediately brings himself within the purview of the Merchandise Marks Act, 1887. As all of us know, the original Act was concerned much more with Trade Marks than is the present Bill. Under the old Act, which we are seeking to amend, if a trade description fails in any important feature, the trader has committed an offence.
I wish to make only one more quotation from another place, one relating to a very obvious example which was given in this particular case, namely, that if in a shop gold rings were advertised for sale as gold rings and the trader had sold gold-plated rings under that description, he would have committed an offence. I should also like to remind hon. Members that some time ago I ventured to bring to the attention of the House something which I thought was just as flagrant as this example of the gold rings. It was towards the end of last year, when certain wool manufacturers of the West Riding were endeavouring to get through the British Standards Institution, for presentation to Parliament and the public, a suggestion that the terms "wool, woollen and worsted" should be a process of spinning and not of content.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I am sure that the hon. Lady would not like, on that point, to mislead the House or to blame the manufacturers for something for which they bore no responsibility. In fact, it was laid down by her right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson), when he was President of the Board of Trade, that it was quite right to describe as wool cloth a cloth that contained only 15 per cent. wool and had a content of 85 per cent. cotton or rayon. I raised that point on one or two occasions.
§ Miss Burton
I know that the hon. Member has fought a gallant delaying action on this point on each occasion, but I advise him to make it more delaying than ever; he will be caught out very shortly.
The Parliamentary Secretary was not able to agree with me on that point. I pointed out, on 23rd March, and it appeared in c. 603 of HANSARD of that date, that the "Drapers' Record" of 20th December, a publication which has a circulation of about 50,000 weekly, and speaks for the drapery trade, said that theclaim of the Yorkshire firms is absurd. One might as well contend that it would be lawful to describe as 'gold' any article made of a base metal that can be and is processed in the same way as gold. Consumers are entitled to know what they are buying.I am very well aware, even if the hon. Member opposite is not, that we have made some little progress on that matter; I am very glad about that. I think that in the near future he will find that what he thought did not exist has in some small measure been put right. I would bring to the hon. Gentleman's attention the fact that if it was not illegal then, if this Bill which we are now discussing becomes law it will be illegal in the future to describe as "wool, woollen or worsted"——
§ Mr. Burden indicated assent.
§ Miss Burton
I am glad that I have the hon. Gentleman's approval—anything which was not made of these commodities.
To the layman, particularly, it has been apparent during the past few years what great difficulty there is in securing accurate or satisfactory legislation on these matters. I think that on both sides of 2276 the House we are all agreed that the law did need amendment. I should like, if I might, to congratulate the Government on having recognised that and on having brought the Bill forward. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Perhaps I shall be able to get on now without any more interruptions.
As to the reasons for amending the law. I know that hon. Members in all parts of the House have put forward very many. I have put down four here; I do not suggest that they are in any particular order of importance. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central, was referring to the first when I came in—the very great contrast in methods of describing trade goods used by the manufacturer today and those used by the manufacturer many years ago. In the past—I do not know whether in this case one would say that the past was better—there was a tendency to describe the contents of a product. If one talked about "real gold," "solid silver" or "real leather" it really meant what it said, whereas I believe the tendency now is to describe goods by the performance of the product rather than by the content of it.
The second reason, whether it be good or bad, is that high-pressure salesmanship and advertising and mass production and mass distribution of goods have together entirely changed the commercial relationship between the producer and the shopping public. The third reason I see for amending legislation is that there has been a great development of synthetic materials. The fourth is that the British Standards Institution, for which I have a great admiration, although one has occasionally to prod, was not founded until 1901.
All those four reasons, and doubtless many others, are good and sufficient reasons for amending the old Merchandise Marks Act I believe that the House would admit that the effect of all these changes has been to make it possible for dishonest people to deceive others and yet not bring themselves within the terms of the Act. I would say, in passing, as one not skilled in the law, that it must be very difficult to legislate for the many clever people who try to get round the law.
2277 In every trade, as in every country, there are good and bad elements. All of us in the House know that in our industry in this country the good elements far exceed the bad, but we are trying to protect people against the bad ones. I am quite sure that in all quarters of the House it is believed that it should be the aim of the Bill which we are discussing today to protect the shopper from irresponsible traders who apply false trade descriptions to their goods. It is quite useless to say, "Leave the shopper to find out" and "Give him freedom of choice." I very much hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to condemn people who say that.
I am convinced that it is quite impossible, in the case of some of the shoddy goods which are available in the shops, whether textiles, furniture or pseudo-leather goods, to detect that they are shoddy until one gets them home and one's money has been wasted. I believe that it should be the duty of the Government, whatever Government are in power, to protect the shopper from that sort of thing, just as we are protected by the law from the burglar or anyone else of that type.
I have already said that it is a criminal offence to describe goods falsely. I am sure we all realise that there are a good many irresponsible traders who describe goods falsely not so much with intention to defraud but because they just do not care a great deal and do not take a great deal of trouble to find out whether their descriptions are correct or not. My chief reason for supporting the Second Reading of the Bill is that I believe that the 1887 Act has been strengthened by various Amendments designed to bring within the scope of the Merchandise Marks Act not only those traders who actually apply descriptions which are false in a material respect but also those who frame their advertisements and descriptions in such a way that they may be misunderstood by the average member of the public.
I hope that I am right in saying that the responsibility under the law, as we now propose it in this House, will not only be on the actual advertiser or seller of any particular goods but, by inference, on those who handle advertising matter. That seems to me to be a most important point from the angle of the consuming 2278 public. The inclusion within the Act of specific reference to those advertisements and general descriptions which are misleading quite clearly gives to the agent and to the advertisement manager, I submit, not only the responsibility but the right to refuse to handle advertising copy which could reasonably be calculated to mislead the reader.
What is a false trade description, either now, or if the Bill which we are discussing today becomes law? If we look at the text of the Merchandise Marks Bill we shall find that a false trade description isone which is false or misleading in a material respect as regards the goods to which it is applied.One Section deals with number, weight, quality, measure or gauge. Two very obvious examples are, I suggest, where one ordered a ton of coal and 19 cwt. was delivered—that obviously would be an offence under the Act—or if one bought two yards of material which, when measured, proved to be one yard 33 inches, that would be an offence.
The second group which is added here in the text of the Bill, includes the quality, fitness for purpose, strength, accuracy, performance or behaviour. If we bought some material labelled unshrinkable and it went to the wash and after reasonable treatment it shrunk, obviously that would be an offence. If we bought fadeless material and used it for curtains and the material faded, that obviously would be an offence. I should think that to apply a registered trade mark such as that of the British Standard Institution to goods which did not conform to the specification of that standard would be an offence.
There is one point under this Section which I should like to bring to the notice of the President, and if he has already mentioned it, I beg his pardon. I have had representations made to me—and I know he has had them made to him— about the word "quality" used in this Section. Various organisations such as the Branded Textiles Group and the Retail Trading Standards Association have expressed their belief that the word "quality," as it stands in the Bill by itself is not sufficient.
I have read through the debate in another place on 26th February, and from 2279 column 859 onwards in the OFFICIAL REPORT there was a detailed discussion on this word "quality." The Government did not feel able to accept the Amendment proposed. Without passing any opinion on that, I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he feels able to say whether he thinks the word "quality" should be defined more clearly, or omitted, or whether he feels that, for other reasons, it is suitable as it is?
The third group is that of false trade descriptions which might arise under place or country of origin. Here I have a rather good illustration. The operation of this Bill when it becomes law must often depend on the common sense of magistrates in deciding whether an offence has been committed. It seems to me that if one were to label mutton or lamb—of which we sometimes have rather a lot—as "New Zealand," and it had not come from New Zealand, that would be an offence. But no one imagines it is an offence to label as "Epsom salts" salts which have not been made in Epsom, or "French chalk" chalk which has not been made in France. Here we have examples where the geographical significance was lost in two cases and retained in the other.
It seems to me that it would be an offence under the Act now to label as "hand-made" goods which were machine made. Even under the Act as it stands today it is an offence to describe rayon goods as silk, for example, or cotton goods as linen. The Retail Trading Standards Association has secured a conviction on both these points under the present legislation. They also obtained a conviction—which I would bring to the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary because I consider it interesting. This was against a trader who applied to goods not made entirely of wool a woven label bearing the likeness of two sheep. There was no direct statement, merely the label, but the prosecution succeeded in their case.
The latest amendments to the Act state that a misleading trade description is false in law if it is calculated to be misunderstood as, or mistaken for, an indication which would be false in a material respect as regards goods. That definition opens up wide possibilities but I think 2280 we should understand here that the scope and interpretation of the term "misleading" is very wide. Speaking as a layman, I should imagine that in the long run it must rest with the magistrate to decide in specific cases whether a description can be so misunderstood as to be a false trade description.
It might be helpful if we looked at what could be a misleading advertisement under the Act. That is something we all want to stamp out. I would first raise the question of labelling goods as, for example, nylon and wool. On 8th December in column 208 of HANSARD I brought to the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary the fact that the use of synthetic materials with other fibres today had, largely, two specific effects. One was that if as little as 3 per cent. to 5 per cent. of these materials, nylon or terylene were used, it had a beneficial effect on the weaving, but did not make the material any better. The customer received no benefit. But if 25 per cent. or more of synthetic fibres were added the customer obtained a direct benefit.
I brought to the attention of the Parliamentary Secretary the fact that some products were labelled as nylon and wool when in fact they contained less than 5 per cent. of nylon. I hope that under the terms of this Bill that will be an offence. Obviously no magistrate would convict if the proportion were 45 per cent. to 55 per cent. or 49 per cent. to 51 per cent. But I think the proportion of 5 per cent. to 95 per cent. is one which could not be termed correct.
Regarding pictorial illustrations, if we saw in a paper a section of an expensive chair cut through showing a very expensive interior, and if we went into the shop and, under the terms of the advertisement, bought a chair whose interior was much inferior, that would be an offence. I would bring to the notice of the Parliamentary Secretary an example of which I was told only yesterday. About 10 days ago a friend of mine received a tin of sausages from South Africa. The tin stated "Sausages" on it and round the outside there was a nice photograph of attractive looking sausages as one buys them in the shop. But when the tin was opened it was found to contain sausage meat. I wonder if that would be an offence under this Bill.
2281 The Parliamentary Secretary may already know about the other example I wish to bring to his attention. During Coronation time a very well-known biscuit firm in this country was advertising and selling a tin of biscuits. On the tin was a photograph of the varieties contained inside. I believe there were something like 15 varieties. On opening the tin less than half of those varieties were found inside. I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary if he thinks that would be an offence? I gather that the manufacturers in question have been warned that this would be an offence under this Bill if it becomes law.
I would take a further example, because I think these things are important, and I am going back to the 28th July, 1950, in this House for the example of aspirins. On that day I asked the Parliamentary Secretary—this was when my own party occupied the benches opposite—if he was aware that the American public had the choice of 65 different kinds of aspirin and that these were advertised with various qualities to persuade people to buy them. We are familiar with some of the descriptions. Some were pure, some were certified, some dissolved faster; one advertiser said that his brand of aspirin gave quicker relief because it dissolved more speedily in water.
All these aspirins were tested in America by Consumers' Union. It was found upon testing that the speed with which an aspirin dissolves in water is no indication of the speed with which it is absorbed into the system. It was equally found that there was no relationship between the speed with which it was absorbed into the system and the speed with which it cured a headache. What I am asking the Parliamentary Secretary is this. If in this country we had advertisements of aspirins like those in America to which I have referred, I presume that the manufacturers of or advertisers would be obliged to prove their case or they would be guilty under this Bill.
Another point I want to mention—my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central spoke of this—are the claims made for new dentifrices. We must all have seen them advertised in the Underground. Apparently if a certain type of toothpaste is used one gets pinker gums than by using other types 2282 of toothpaste. If we use another toothpaste—I do not know whether it is a green toothpaste, but I believe it is—we get whiter teeth than if we do not use it. If that is true, well and good, but I am hoping that under this Bill the Government will warn people who issue such advertisements that they may be called upon to prove them. I also hope that the whole field of patent medicines will be brought under this legislation. I think hon. Members will agree, whether or not they agree with the examples that I have given, that all these matters should receive careful consideration when this amended Bill becomes law.
But, as anybody with considerable experience in trade and industry knows, it is difficult to prove a false trade description. It is very difficult indeed. I quite accept that because the Bill does not and cannot lay down a schedule of separate descriptions, and we are faced with the fact that trade evidence has to be brought in each case. No generalisation is likely to be useful here because the circumstances vary from case to case. This is an Act under which the police rarely act. I believe—tout I am subject to correction—that by an enabling Act of 1891 the Board of Trade is permitted under the Statute to take action in cases of public policy, and there have been such cases. I believe furthermore that it is the policy of the Board of Trade when once a principle has been established to leave it to the interests concerned to see that the principle so established is maintained.
This is the last example with which I propose to weary the House. On 5th May this year in column 184 I asked the President of the Board of Tradehow many prosecutions his Department has undertaken since August, 1938, under the Merchandise Marks Act, 1887, in respect of false trade descriptions as to material content of consumer goods, including the advertising of such goods to which false trade descriptions had been applied.At that time it was some 15 years since 1938, and the answer which I got was "Six." I believe that that was not nearly enough. Whether it was that the Board of Trade felt that other associations should have brought prosecutions I do not know, but six prosecutions in 15 years is inadequate.
I am anxious, as I think the House is, that infractions of the law such as 2283 this should be prosecuted. This Bill is an improvement on the Act of 1887, but I am convinced that it needs further amendment on the Committee stage. I believe it is agreed on both sides of the House that not nearly enough attention has been paid to the consumer in this country, and I hope that this new legislation will help to bring that about.
§ 2.15 p.m.
§ Sir Ian Fraser (Morecambe and Lonsdale)
As a loyal South African, may I be allowed to say a word for the South African sausage. The question, of course, is: When is a sausage a sausage? I suspect that the sausages to which the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) referred were in a tin, and that if she had examined them—she said that she did not eat one, which, of course, is a pity—she would have found that they were separate units of edible meat shaped like a sausage, and, indeed, a sausage in every respect except that they did not have skins. It is not necessary to put a sausage into a skin if it is to be put into a can, and even the best American practice recognises that fact.
My maternal grandfather founded a famous town called Escourt, in South Africa, where these commodities no doubt come from, and I do not think that the hon. Lady should, without proper knowledge and experience of having eaten one, make these strictures about the friendly country of South Africa.
May I say a word about soluble asprin? It is a good thing that asprin should be soluble, because if it were not, it would pass through the body without bringing about the beneficial effects for which it is so famous. Therefore, the degree of solubility is an important matter, and every manufacturer likes to produce a product which is as soluble as possible and which is dissolved as quickly as possible. It is a very simple point about which I feel sure the hon. Lady would like to be informed.
Personally, I do not like this Measure. There are, no doubt, many good things that we all would like to do, and as time goes on we shall do, but there is a tendency to devote labour, effort and brains to these protective activities in Parliament, when it is my feeling that we ought to be devoting ourselves to earning our 2284 livings better for the sake of all. It is not always wise to protect a fool from his folly, and I am of opinion that the person who goes into a shop should learn to look at what he buys and to judge by the experience of what he has bought. If he finds that a shopkeeper provides him with goods which he claims to be leather when they are, in fact, leatherette, he should tell the shopkeeper and not deal at that shop any more. That is a far better way of getting proper and honest trade than by promoting legislation.
I should have thought that Parliament would have been better employed in devising methods whereby we can earn a better living, rather than fiddling about with a lot of interferences with those of whom, by admission on both sides of the House, 95 per cent. or 97 per cent. are honest decent people. Far better let the customer find out by experience and teach the dishonest trader where he gets off by withdrawing one's custom.
However, I speak not only personally here, but in a representative capacity too, because I declare an interest in a company—indeed, in two or three companies —which make goods and distribute them, which might be affected by this Bill. The companies for whom I speak being very reputable and well known, and providing commodities of the greatest value to many millions of people, would wish me to say that they do not fear anything in this Measure. On the contrary, it might even help them by preventing some unscrupulous rivals from engaging in tricks which might be detrimental to them. They nevertheless see one of two modest disadvantages in this Measure to which I wish to call attention.
I will not go over the ground already covered by my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Law) except to emphasise that quality, fitness for purpose, strength, behaviour and all these other words seem to me to provide field days for lawyers. I cannot imagine any group of words more calculated to be difficult to define or to explain than these words, and I am glad that the President of the Board of Trade is going to try and make clearer what he means in Committee.
I want to say a few words about the actions that might arise out of this 2285 Measure and would not be in the public interest. There is the frivolous action; the malicious action, and there is the action of the busy-body, be he a small official in a local authority, a crank, or a member of a society. There are all those people who, because they have bees in their bonnets or are over-zealous, may from time to time bring actions which cause the courts to be troubled, witnesses to be brought, expenses to be incurred and the police to be engaged, and, altogether, put us to a lot of unproductive work which does not make anyone any better off, does not encourage us, or increase the riches of the country in any way.
There is also the action of the blackmailer; the fellow who says, "I shall bring an action unless…." I do not want to trouble the House with examples, some of which have already been put forward. Some of us will seek to move in Committee that this criticism of the Measure should be met by making it incumbent upon the courts to award costs to the successful litigant unless there are good reasons why that should not be done. It is interesting to recall that that safeguard was in the original Merchandise Marks Act of 1887. I do not know why it has been left out of this Bill. It was in the former Bill and I think it should be put back again, because there would not be the same incentive to encourage frivolous, malicious or mere busy-body actions if there were a good chance that the judge would make the unsuccessful litigant pay for his folly or nefarious conduct.
In defence of this Measure, it will be said by the Government that there is the Costs in Criminal Cases Act, 1952, and that that Act may be used. It has not been very much used, traditionally, and judges have spoken against its use. I want to make it quite certain that where frivolous, malicious, blackmailing action, or action of a nuisance value is brought, the person bringing it runs the risk of having costs awarded against him. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will tell us that he will listen not un-sympathetically to arguments of this kind which are put forward in Committee. Subject to that, and knowing all the work that has been done in framing this Measure, I shall support it, and I want to emphasise that the trading concerns for whom I speak will also welcome it.
§ 2.24 p.m.
§ Mr. George Craddock (Bradford, South)
I want to follow the line taken by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross). This Bill is lacking in scope, and for that reason I am not a whole-hearted supporter of it. I say that because I represent a constituency in the City of Bradford. The textile industry is world-wide, in effect, in the importation of raw wool and in the dispensation of manufactured goods, and I feel that in my local circumstances it is quite impossible for me to take a narrow view.
The Government have had to bring forward this Bill because they discontinued the Utility Scheme, which was introduced by the Labour Government, and replaced it by the D Scheme, which had the effect of introducing lower grades of manufactured goods. That fact is acknowledged not only among working-class organisations but even among manufacturing bodies and business people. I want to support this contention by making one or two brief comments from the speech of Lord Mancroft, who introduced this matter in the House of Lords early in February. He said:The first purpose is to attempt to widen the legal definition…He went on speaking in a restrictive sense about patent medicines and all sorts of odd-job lots that we buy in various shops. The Government are always exhorting us to produce and export more in order to keep up the economic level of development, and world trade is considered to be the greatest aid in developing our economy.
I was rather struck by a point which was referred to in the speech made by Lord Lucas in another place, when he said, speaking about Lord Mancroft's speech——
Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Hopkin Morris)
I do not know whether the hon. Member is going to quote from a speech made in the other place. I gather it is not a Government speech.
§ Mr. Craddock
When I made the previous comment it was only a general observation, and it is in that context that I want to make a further general comment. I want to refer to the fact that textiles were excluded. I want to see them included, and I want to elicit from 2287 the Parliamentary Secretary whether or not, when goods manufactured in the City of Bradford are exported to various parts of the world in face of the keenest competition from Japan and elsewhere, the name of Bradford will be protected, and appropriate marks will be made on manufactured articles from abroad which are imported into this country.
§ Mr. Craddock
If one reads the debate introduced by Lord Mancroft, that is not at all clear. If I am not right on this point I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will be good enough to clarify the matter. I cannot understand why this matter was introduced in the House of Lords. I should have thought this was a Bill that ought to have been introduced in this House, because we have special opportunities and special links with business life and with trade union organisations.
It would have helped the passage of the Bill very much more if it had been introduced in this House. I think it is a most important point that the House of Commons is an elected body whereas the House of Lords is not. I understand that in days gone by Bills of this type came, in the first place, to this House, and I should like to know whether this practice has been abandoned. It is important that we should know.
§ Mr. J. Rodgers
Is it not true that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), who spoke from the Opposition Front Bench, welcomed the fact that the Bill had been introduced in another place?
§ Mr. Craddock
It merely means that I do not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), who spoke on our behalf. It is often the case that back bench Members on the Government side do not agree with their leaders on the Front Bench.
I want to know whether the Bradford textile workers were consulted about the 2288 Bill, and whether the Bradford Chamber of Commerce and representatives of textile firms in the city were consulted about it, because I think it is an important matter about which they should have given advice and assistance to the Government. I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will give satisfaction on that point and will assure us that it is still the attitude of the Government to consult representative organisations when Bills of this description are being prepared, even before they are brought into the House. They could offset the results of generations of accumulated experience, built up by the trading organisations and by the trade unionists. That is a very important factor which we should bear in mind.
I am sure that we can develop international trade only on the basis of maintaining quality. It has often been said that the Japanese and other countries are exporting to the Commonwealth a large number of shoddy goods, but that will not enable them to maintain a market for any length of time for the only sure shield is that we should continue to put on the world market the better quality goods.
I want to know whether there is anything in the Bill, or arising from it, which will protect the conditions of the vast number of workpeople in Bradford and district, for if we are not to take steps to preserve quality, in relation to international trade, it seems to me that we have very little safeguard for the wages and conditions of the workers in this country.
While we stand for reciprocity in world trade, it is an elementary right that we should have reasonable protection against cheap foreign goods being dumped into the Commonwealth. I hope that that point will be most carefully examined because we know that sort of thing is taking place. Surely those engaged in this great trade for so many years could offer valuable advice to the Government so that in forming plans to protect this industry the Government can have their help. In my opinion, this Bill would not give the country that protection which I think is necessary in these times, and for those reasons I have solid reasons for supporting the Amendment.
§ 2.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Geoffrey Hirst (Shipley)
I am sure that the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. George Craddock) will forgive me if I do not follow up his remarks but I see some hon. Members, more directly connected with the trade than I, who are thirsting for his blood. I want to speak for a few moments because I want to outline two Committee points, although it would not be proper for me to develop them on this occasion. My constituency of Shipley, in Yorkshire, is very interested in the subject of the Bill, and the information which I have does not support a good deal of what the hon. Member for Bradford, South said. There are some necessary amendments, which have been referred to already, which we should like to see made and I may say, for the hon. Member's information, that I have the support of the Bradford Chamber of Commerce as well as the Leeds Chamber, and, I believe, the Huddersfield Chamber, in addition to many other textile bodies.
There is no quarrel by the trade in Shipley, which is renowned for its textiles throughout the world, with the principles of the Bill. Indeed there is full support for the desirability of the increased protection which it proposes to give to the consumer and to the honest trader. On the other hand, there is some fear, which has been well described by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster) about the interpretation of some of these additional words. The most difficult word is the word "quality"; there are others, but I take that as an example. I think it is a bad thing to make law when law cannot be sustained. I am not a lawyer but I think that on many occasions quality is a matter of opinion and is extremely difficult to define. The 1887 Act confines the term "trade descriptions" to weight, origin, mode of manufacture and material, which are objective and comparatively easily definable and provable characteristics of the goods.
The new Bill imports into the field of trade restrictions various objective terms liable to different interpretations and neither easily ascertainable nor capable of precise definition. That is why I picked out the word "quality," because it seemed open to the greatest objection.
I understand the Government's desire, which is shared in all parts of the House. 2290 The only question is: what is practicable and how does one produce the answer? The word "quality" has an exceptional degree of vagueness and an almost unlimited capacity for different interpretations by different people and different courts, and it is one of the most difficult. Chambers' dictionary defines the word "quality" as "that which makes a thing what it is." I do suggest that that is a definition of quality which will not get us very far.
In the debate in the other place this was mentioned by several speakers and a number of eminent lawyers expressed the opinion that there was a great measure of doubt about how the courts would interpret such a term. As a matter of fact, the Government spokesman, Lord Mancroft, recognised that "quality" was not necessarily the best word for the purpose. I hope that the Government will give a great deal of thought to this matter in Committee so that we may see whether we can get nearer to the objective which I think the whole House, even the hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded the Amendment, desire to see achieved by the Bill— but which we want to see achieved in such a way as to make it possible for the largest part of traders—it is by far the largest part—the respectable traders, to do their business competently and rapidly.
The second point is amendment to the definition of false trade descriptions in Clause 1 (2), on page 1, line 19, adding the words "or misleading." I think it is the position of the words rather than the words themselves that is confusing. I think we should be getting a little nearer to what is desired if that false description could be interpreted roughly as:A false trade description means a trade description which is misleading in a material respect as regards the goods to which it is applied and as regards the physically ascertainable and definable characteristic of such goods.There is a subtle difference between the use of the word "misleading" in that context and in the context at present written into the Bill, which brings up just the same doubt, which makes it entirely a matter of opinion, and not a matter which is ascertainable in a material sense.
2291 Those are two particular suggestions, which I shall not elaborate further, to which, I sincerely hope, the Government will give thought, as I am sure they will, to try to make this Bill fulfil the objects that we all have in mind while at the same time not making it so restrictive in character that people do not feel they can label their goods as they would and should. We want the Bill to be one that will fulfil the objects we have in mind without being too idealistic. In the words of my right hon. Friend earlier today, it is finally up to the public to look out, and for the public to use a certain amount of discernment, and if they are dissatisfied to take their custom elsewhere. Do not let us try to do everything here by ourselves. My last prayer is, "Oh, Lord, please save us from ourselves."
§ 2.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Stephen Swingler (Newcastle-under-Lyme)
I must apologise at the outset to the Parliamentary Secretary and to the House for the fact that I shall be unable to stay long enough to hear the Parliamentary Secretary's reply to the debate. I must depart for what my hon. Friend said was work of national importance in North Berkshire.
My hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent. South (Mr. Ellis Smith) and Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) have dealt comprehensively with our very strong criticisms of this Bill, and of the way in which it has been introduced. I want briefly to summarise the principal points. We, and I include myself as I represent a number of pottery workers, in North Staffordshire feel very strongly that this Bill does not deal with the principal problem. What is that problem? It is the appearance and distribution of counterfeit goods in international markets. That is the principal problem we have to deal with first of all, and this Bill has nothing to do with it, unfortunately.
It may be said by some that that is a matter that we in this country can do nothing about, but we in North Staffordshire, at any rate, feel that is not true, and we want to know what international discussions there have been on this matter, and what has been said at these Commonwealth conferences, and what has been going on about this matter in consultation with the Colonial Terri- 2292 tories, about the fact that only a few years after the Second World War, as between the wars, counterfeit goods have once again appeared on international markets and are being sold in British Colonies and elsewhere in the British Commonwealth.
In this Bill nothing is being done about it. Moreover, so far as we know, there is no parallel legislation in the Dominion Parliaments and Colonial Legislatures that will give some protection to those who once again are suffering this unfair competition, based upon practically slave labour, from goods that are counterfeited as though they were English goods of quality.
This is a very big problem, and we want a very definite assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that strong action will be taken about it. It is all very well having these international organisations, the International Labour Office, the Economic and Social Council of U.N.O., and all these Commonwealth Conferences, but we want them to expose and to put a stop to malpractices in international markets, the misuse of trade marks and the falsification of trade descriptions, that are going on now as they did before, and which will again undermine British trade in certain markets unless we can get some action. So far as we are concerned, dealing with the problem inside Britain only is merely tinkering with it.
There are some people in this country who are prepared to aid and abet this international "spivery." [HON. MEMBERS: "Who?"] We have had before the experience of goods, pottery goods, being imported into this country which were, so far as we are concerned in North Staffordshire, counterfeit goods. That is what I mean by aiding and abetting the production in other countries of goods that pretend to be English pottery and are not, and are sold in this country and in the Colonies, and in other countries of the Commonwealth.
§ Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)
The hon. Gentleman is making a serious speech. He has made a very serious accusation, and he should also be prepared to name the organisations actually doing this.
§ Mr. Swingler
I am not saying that at the moment it is going on now, though 2293 we can produce from North Staffordshire plenty of evidence from the past. We have had this experience in the past of people in this country aiding and abbet-ting the production of these counterfeit goods by importing into Britain and selling things that pretended and claimed to be English quality pottery and were not. They knew it was not.
That is not happening here now, I agree with the hon. Gentleman, but we can produce—my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South can produce—evidence that this is happening in other countries. It is happening now in the United States, and, maybe, in the Commonwealth countries. These counterfeit goods are once again appearing, purporting to have English names. These malpractices are starting again. We are getting to know in North Staffordshire that they are starting again. We say that this international practice is dishonest trading.
If we are to tackle this question seriously, it is the bounden duty of the President of the Board of Trade, as pottery is a valuable export from Britain, to use every international conference on trade, and all the machinery of international organisation, to expose this international dishonest trading, this international misuse of marks. This Bill should give to the President of the Board of Trade the power to ensure that all those types of goods imported into Britain are stamped with a mark showing where they come from. Can we have that assurance that, as regards, for instance, pottery imported from Japan, which looks like and purports to be something produced in North Staffordshire, there will be power in the Bill to enable the President of the Board of Trade to stamp clearly on the bottom of a cup where it was actually made?
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
I remember spending many weary weeks in 1926 on a Bill of that year, which was opposed at all stages by the Labour Party, under which a marking order precisely of the kind that the hon. Gentleman wants could have been obtained.
§ Mr. Swingler
I am not sure offhand who was representing North Staffordshire in 1926, but I do know that I am one 2294 of those representing North Staffordshire in 1953, and I know that we have made some progress. We know that quite definitely now in North Staffordshire.
We know we want to have merchandise marking legislation which will give the Government the power to ensure, at any rate in this country, that goods imported into this country, which may be competing quite fairly with ours, are stamped in the same way as ours are stamped. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South said, the best manufacturers in this country are not afraid of people knowing who made the pottery and where it was made. They stamp the information on the bottom of the article. One can turn up a cup and a saucer and see. Why should not everybody do it? Why should not the President of the Board of Trade insist that any cups and saucers coming in are marked like that?
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Henry Strauss)
I want to understand the point. Under the 1926 Act, pottery has to be marked. It cannot be imported otherwise. The hon. Gentleman is basing his speech on the argument that the law and practice is quite different from what it has been for years.
§ Mr. Swingler
That is the point. It is one thing to have a mark and it is another thing to have the correct mark on goods. It is one thing to put a mark on the bottom of goods saying where they were made: it is another thing to give power to the President of the Board of Trade that the proper mark shall be put on them quite clearly. The point is that we have discovered in practice that there are all sorts of ways and means of running a coach and horses through these Bills. It is quite possible for firms abroad to call themselves by the name of "Wedgwood"; they have done it before now. It is quite possible for villages abroad to be named "Stoke-on-Trent"; that has happened before. Therefore, although pottery may be marked "Stoke-on-Trent," it is not the Stoke-on-Trent which we know.
§ Mr. K. Thompson
I understand that the hon. Member is supporting his hon. Friends in opposition to this Bill. It may be only a technical manoeuvre, but that is what he is doing. This Bill, by inserting these words in Clause 1, enables a 2295 prosecution to be brought against someone named "Wedgwood" in Guatemala who is exporting goods to this country and trying to cash in on the name of "Wedgwood" by misleading the purchaser.
§ Mr. Swingler
Does it? That is one of the points which we are raising. It has not happened up to now. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman may have read the debates in another place on this matter. It may be that we are to hear something different today, but we were told in another place that this Bill would not affect current descriptions or trade descriptions or marks but only those in the future. Perhaps we have not got this clear. Lord Mancroft's speech in another place made plain, in the assurance he gave, that current descriptions, whether misleading or not, that were already in currency would not be affected by this Bill. That was how I understood it. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."]
I know that other hon. Members want to speak, but I am putting this point to the President of the Board of Trade, that one of the questions which we are raising is whether the President of the Board of Trade has fully the power to ensure that foreign goods imported into this country of this type have not just some mark or description on them but have the correct description of their manufacturer and place of origin. If the power to do that is already there and is used by the President, that is highly satisfactory. If this Bill will prevent misleading descriptions on goods imported into this country, as well as British goods, and the Board of Trade can take action, which has not happened up to now, that is very satisfactory.
On the general assumption that the honest trader puts his mark on his goods, we do not see why, in another place, the Board of Trade were so anxious to resist power being given to the President of the Board of Trade to declare that in certain industries the trade mark must be put on the goods. We would like to see that in the Bill and we think that the Bill is weak without it. Why should not the President have the power, if it is agreed that the honest trader is not afraid of having his trade mark put on goods, in order to counteract dishonest trading and defrauding the public, to declare that in certain industries that must be done?
2296 I come to my final point, which is that we are very greatly dissatisfied with the penalties under this Bill. The President referred to Clause 4 as if the raising of the penalties were being done on the basis of the difference between the purchasing value of the £ in 1887 and the purchasing value of the £ in 1953. I should like to hear how the £50 penalty in 1953 compares with £20 in 1887. If we are to increase the penalties for offences, it seems clear that a £50 penalty in 1953 is a lesser penalty than £20 in 1887, and, therefore, in that sense, is a weaker penalty than in the Acts which have preceded it.
It is upon these points that we intend to engage ourselves in Committee, and we hope that it will not be necessary for my hon. Friends to divide the House this afternoon, because we hope that the Minister will give satisfactory assurances that the points which we have raised are fully covered.
§ 2.57 p.m.
§ Mr. John Rodgers (Sevenoaks)
It is with difficulty that I follow the argument of the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler) because, with all due respect to him, he does not seem to have read the Bill. Already, under the existing legislation, the country of origin must be shown on imported goods, and under Clause 4 of the Bill the exemptions to which he referred relate to already registered trade marks. I think that he has been trying unwittingly to mislead the House on the point which he has been making.
§ Mr. Swingler
Can the hon. Gentleman explain how it was that between the wars, when these previous Acts were in force, this sort of thing went on, on a widespread scale and became a notorious scandal?
§ Mr. Rodgers
It is because of that that this Bill has been introduced. I should have thought that that was what was called elementary.
It is with some diffidence that I rise to speak on this Bill, because I realise that it is a technical Measure and I do not pretend to any legal knowledge, but I must declare an interest in so far as I am connected with 50 or 100 brand marks which are nationally known, nationally respected and, I hope, nationally valuable.
2297 I welcome the Bill. Anything which tends to protect the consuming public should be welcomed by both sides of the House, and anything that protects the honest trader should also be welcomed. We ought to bear in mind that 99.99 per cent. of traders in this country are absolutely honest. Listening to speeches from hon. Gentlemen opposite, one would sometimes gather the impression that British manufacturers were at bottom dishonest. Nothing is further from the truth. Their standards of production and their standards of honesty compare favourably with those in any other country and it is very important that this point should be made. However, if the Bill can catch the .01 per cent. of dishonest traders, both sides of the House should welcome it.
I could not understand the point made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) in moving the rejection of the Bill when he referred to a gas conference at which remarks were made about textiles. It seemed an inapposite subject for a gas conference. He challenged my hon. Friends to say whether we believed that competition in branded merchandise protected the public. I say "yes." Most of my hon. Friends would agree with that, and so would most hon. Gentlemen opposite on reflection. In the non-shrinkage market there are well-known names like Rigmel and Sanforized which give the public great protection, and it is u,p to the housewife to look for the well-known branded merchandise which will guarantee satisfaction for her. That should give some satisfaction to the hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. George Craddock) who was very worried about the point.
While I welcome the Bill there are one or two queries that I should like to put to my right hon. Friend, although he has met us very much on one point. The purpose of the Bill is to extend the Merchandise Marks Act, 1887, which made it a criminal offence to apply a false trade description, "false" meaning "untrue." We have now extended that meaning to "misleading." In so far as that will catch the few unscrupulous traders, I welcome it. On the other hand, the words:… as to the quality, fitness for purpose, strength, accuracy, performance or behaviour of any goods. …2298 are ambiguous, vague, and incapable of measurement and indeed, are likely to give a great deal of trouble. I hope that during the Committee stage my right hon. Friend will consider considerable changes in the wording to ensure that honest trade descriptions are not penalised as a result of those words.
I will give my right hon. Friend three examples. There are well-known glass manufacturers who put out a product described as heat-resisting glass. Under normal domestic conditions the glass is heat resistant, but if it is put in a furnace and subjected to a tremendous temperature, it is not heat resistant. An "unbreakable" comb is unbreakable in normal use, but if a ton weight is placed on part of it, it will break. There is also the case of "indelible" lipstick. Many of us in our youth must have experienced the fact that indelible lipstick did not live up to its name. We must ensure that manufacturers are not penalised in their attempts accurately to describe merchandise under this Measure.
§ Mr. Rodgers
But it might result in a husband bringing a charge if his wife discovered traces of lipstick.
My right hon. Friend repeated what Lord Mancroft said in another place, that the honest trader would be unaffected. I hope he is right, but that is not made absolutely clear in the Bill. I can visualise some frivolous action arising. There is the slogan "Guinness is good for you." I can imagine a man saying that he swallowed one glass of Guinness and tried to lift an iron girder but found that he was incapable of doing so, and alleging that he had been misled into drinking Guinness.
I hope my right hon. Friend will make it clear that he is against frivolous prosecutions. In the past many manufacturers have suffered from frivolous and mischievous attempts to make money out of them. Perhaps people have used a product which was claimed to have some effect upon their skin or their hair, and, not because they were worried about the quality or fitness for purpose of the product but because they hoped that the manufacturer would settle out of court 2299 to their advantage instead of indulging in an action, they have made a claim. We need protection against that.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Law) drew attention to the trouble caused by pettifogging officials in Government Departments and local government who tried to prevent Harvey's Bristol Cream being sold under that name, although it had been sold for centuries, because it had no connection with another product of the same kind. We should like to feel that during the Committee stage my right hon. Friend will consider some form of words to act as a deterrent to the bringing of unnecessary actions under the Bill by frivolous, mischievous or stupid people.
If these two points were taken care of—if the words which are at present subjective could be made objective and measurable, and if some consideration could be given to the inclusion of a Clause to act as a deterrent against mischievous prosecutions—all hon. Members on both sides of the House should welcome the Bill now and resolve to improve it during the Committee stage.
§ 3.5 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hudson (Ealing, North)
The hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. J. Rodgers) spoke of the honesty of traders and trades in this country, and in general I would agree with him. I know many the quality of whose products can be relied upon. But there are trades and trades, and there is one in particular— [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, hon. Members opposite are as well aware of it as I am. That trade makes statements about their commodities which once in a Royal Commission were described as "palpable scientific untruths," and that is something which must be watched under this legislation. I am quite certain that the President of the Board of Trade has not the least intention of watching them. He passes over this issue flippantly and complacently, and he is not going to take any action about all those slogans of which we all know.
I came to the same conclusions as my hon. Friends the Members for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith), Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross), and Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater), that this Bill 2300 could not be relied upon to do the job it pretends to do. The Explanatory Memorandum speaks about:the quality, fitness for purpose, strength, accuracy, performance or behaviour of any goodsBeer, for example. What about its quality, fitness for purpose, strength, accuracy, performance or behaviour?
§ Mr. Hudson
Wait a minute.
If there is a commodity which ought to be examined because of all these things and a pronouncement made upon it for the purpose of guiding a deluded public, it is just the very commodity that the President of the Board of Trade does not intend to deal with at all. I also find this in the Explanatory Memorandum:Subsection (2) extends the meaning of 'false trade description' to include trade descriptions which are misleading in a material respect as regards the goods to which they are applied.In the great liquor trade there is commodity after commodity which comes under that description. There is the need for the protection of the public having regard to the inadequacy of the old Latin tag caveat emptor in this trade as compared with any other.
There is another specific matter to which I want to call attention. It is also part of the liquor trade and if the Government are in earnest in one part of the Bill, I should be satisfied, and I therefore could not support my hon. Friends. The issue I want to bring to the House is the subject of what are called medicated wines. Are they medicines or are they wines? Let us see what pronouncement the Royal Commission made on them. It said that there are:… a very large range of proprietary fluids in which, though there are small percentages of medicine "—I call my hon. Friend's attention to that—beef extract or the like, the wine predominates.That makes it all right from the point of view of hon. Gentlemen opposite, but these things are sold to poor women on the assumption that what they need is 2301 medicine. The advertisement and the labels on the bottles give the impression that this is the pick-me-up they stand in need of in days of convalescence, and this is the medicine that is bringing healing in its contents. Many of them do not know anything about wine drinking. Many of them have my attitude towards wine and would keep away from it, but they are convinced by the labels and the advertisements that this is something which would be specially helpful in a time of trouble. The Royal Commission goes on to say:It was pointed out to us on the authority not only of the 'Lancet' but of the Select Committee of the House of Commons,"—that was the Select Committee on Patent Medicines—which inquired into the matter in 1914, that the quantities of nutritive matter contained in many of these beverages is negligible.On the basis of the statements in the Explanatory Memorandum I feel that there is a need for the protection of the buyers of these commodities, for far clearer statements to be made as to their nature.
If the President of the Board of Trade is really thinking of looking at this, and of making provisions to deal with the problem of whether the commodity is really a pilot to perdition, by which people who would not touch intoxicants are persuaded in a time of ill-health to take the stuff by the advertisements and the marks and symbols which accompany it—if that were to be done by him, I agree that it would be worth while going on with this Measure.
Because, however, I have gathered from the flippancy of the right hon. Gentleman's approach to this issue that he does not intend to touch this, I am under the impression that this Bill is just poppycock and humbug, that these magnificent phrases—what is the accuracy, what is the performance, what is the strength, what does a thing do?— will never be applied to this issue although they are in the Explanatory Memorandum of the Bill we are considering. If he can assure me that he intends that they shall be applied, I will withdraw from the opposition which I have promised my hon. Friends to support.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Hugh Fraser (Stafford and Stone)
I am sure that the speech of the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) has invigorated us more than some of the others we have heard. To hear the hon. Gentleman advocating stronger beer is something which should please us all. Regarding his reference to the various types of proprietary fluid, I think he will agree that it depends on how one reads the label. A drinker would read it as "Invalid Port," a teetotaller as "Invaleed Port."
Now I want to turn seriously to the arguments of hon. Gentlemen from North Staffordshire constituencies. I hope that in view of what has been said from this side of the House they will withdraw their opposition to the Bill on the ground that it is more damaging than the previous state of affairs to the pottery and chinaware trade of North Staffordshire. Because it is clear, from what my hon. Friends have said—and I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will make it even clearer—that in so far as protection will be given to the home market by this Bill, more protection will be given to the industries which we hold so dear in that part of the world.
The question of the protection of British pottery and also bicycles, which are sold overseas with a British trade mark, raises a much wider issue which, unfortunately, is outside the scope of this Bill. I hope that in time to come the President of the Board of Trade will use his influence with other Ministers, in the Commonwealth and elsewhere, to see that some steps are taken on that matter.
Also on this wider issue, there is the question of the International Copyright Convention which is sitting in Paris. Steps should be taken there to protect other British trade because there are at the moment two world conventions, one favouring the American manufacturing clause and the other the European system.
In all these things I believe that steps could be taken and should be pressed to protect British goods overseas. In so far as the Bills gives some assistance to the honest manufacturers of North Staffordshire, we should all support it. In so far as it goes beyond that, it is not the fault of the Bill nor of my right hon. Friend 2303 the President of the Board of Trade, but is because we live in a difficult world.
I remember, when on a Parliamentary mission in South America, being introduced to a Brazilian gentleman who told me that he was brewing excellent Scotch whisky. That was in 1947. He asked me what he should call it and whether he should call it "Whisky Churchill." In deference to the then Prime Minister, I said, "No. Call it 'Whisky Attlee'." These are matters of delicate negotiations abroad, and that is a fair example of the difficulties in which we are placed. I extend my welcome to the Bill, which will not do a great deal but which will put the present rather chaotic situation into greater order and be of benefit to many.
§ 3.17 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I hope that the Bill will not take any steps that do away with the liquid that has been described as a "pilot to perdition." If it does, many Members of this House may not reach perdition quite so quickly as they would otherwise have done. Most of us welcome the Bill. We do so because it strengthens the Act of 1887 and because it will close many of the existing loopholes, particularly in regard to importers and their use of brand marks or near brand marks which have in the past denoted high-quality British merchandise.
One other phase of the Bill which I welcome is that it will help to hold in check the rather extravagant claims of some—they are very few—unscrupulous advertisers. We have got to remember that since 1887 advertising has grown up to become a large-scale industry. It is a good thing that this should be recognised and safeguards introduced to ensure that advertising puffs are, in fact, legitimate. I believe that all our reputable advertising firms recognise that. It is a good thing too that it should remove some of the onus from an organisation such as the Retail Trading Standards Association, which in the past has been pursuing a rather lone course in endeavouring to bring before the courts those firms who have been unscrupulous in their advertising and descriptions of merchandise.
I want, however, to deal specifically with the question of wool textiles and the 2304 future method of labelling them. Under the 1887 Act it would be illegal for any trader to sell a mink coat unless it was made of the skin or fur of that animal. But as the law stands, it is certainly not illegal to sell as woollen an article which possesses not less than 15 per cent. of wool. Therefore, whereas on the one hand, under the old Act, it would presumably be illegal to use only 15 per cent. of mink in a coat and to make up the remainder with the fur of another animal, and any contravening trader could be brought before the courts, a manufacturer could say, "We will use only 15 per cent. wool; we will make the rest of this cloth—85 per cent.—of cotton, and we are perfectly safe in describing it as wool cloth."
I do hope that this Bill and the negotiations that I know are now proceeding will ensure that in future this practice of describing as woollen cloth cloth which has as low a content of wool as 15 per cent. will be abolished. If one takes it as logical so to describe wool cloth, equally cloth which contains only 15 per cent. of cotton can be called cotton cloth, cloth which contains 15 per cent. only of rayon can be described as rayon cloth and cloth containing 15 per cent. of nylon can be described as nylon cloth.
I would join issue with the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) when she said that it was a good thing that consumers in this country would be benefiting if in fact a cloth described as wool contained not less than 20 per cent. of nylon, or rayon. It is a matter of degree and it is what the customer wants. If customers wanted cloth containing 80 per cent. of wool and at least 20 per cent. of nylon they would say that. I think it unfortunate that the impression is getting about that a wool cloth is a better cloth if it contains 20 per cent. nylon and that it should still be described as a wool cloth.
In fact there have already been rather strong repercussions on this matter from certain countries abroad. In the last Parliament I was extremely concerned about this matter and raised the question in this House. On 10th February, 1949, in answer to a Question, the then President of the Board of Trade said:woven wool cloth is material containing more than 15 per cent. by weight of wool or animal fibre."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 10th February, 1949; Vol. 461, c. 510.]2305 As a result of that announcement I believe negotiations were carried on with this country by the Governments of Australia and South Africa. Because they could not reach agreement and because we would not agree that we should describe these cloths accurately, legislation was introduced to stop the importation into South Africa and Australia from this country of cloth not accurately described. I see according to the "Drapers Record" that after 5th September the Australian imported cloth will be required to be labelled as follows:If containing 95 per cent. or more wool, labelled 'pure wool.' If less than 95 per cent. but more than 5 per cent. of wool, percentage of wool must be shown together with the names of the other fibres in order of dominance.Those are two points with which I am very seriously concerned. It seems strange that this loose description has grown up in this country. I trust that the President of the Board of Trade will ensure that in future when a description of cloth is made it shall conform to the standards we knew in the past. As far as I understand, it was laid down that in fact cloth described as wool should contain a minimum of 90 per cent. wool. That description had grown up over many years' trading and is recognised by reputable retail organisations.
I appreciate that as a result of the war, as a result of the expedients to which we had to resort in order to provide our people with clothing, these loose descriptions grew up. The time has now come when they should cease, and I hope that the Minister will give an undertaking that that shall be so. It may be said that there are some difficulties, but in the U.S.A. a wool product labelling measure was introduced which laid down, and still does, very clearly and specifically what are the fibres used in the production of cloth so that when the general public—not merely the manufacturers, and the producers of clothing—goes into a store in New York and buys a garment or cloth he or she can immediately say what are the component parts of that cloth—how much wool fibre, and whether it comprises re-used wool, virgin wool, etc.
The curious fact is that when we are exporting to South Africa, to Australia 2306 or to that very desirable and great market for woollen goods, the United States, these are the requirements of those countries before the goods can be imported. It may be argued that there are difficulties here, but surely there are no more difficulties for our manufacturers in providing that information to the converters and makers-up in this country than in providing the information which they have to provide when exporting to those countries. Every manufacturer knows how much re-used and virgin wool or how much alpaca or other fibre, etc., is used in the make-up of that cloth.
Therefore, I hope that this Bill will be used as an opportunity, particularly in the case of the wool textile industry, to ensure that the correct information is given to the public; that it will stop this debasement that has been going on and will help to ensure compliance with these demands, which we should welcome. One of the points which hon. Gentlemen opposite have raised is that in so many of our overseas markets, and indeed in our own market, foreigners are enabled to send here and to those countries abroad and sell sub-standard merchandise by the use of questionable brand marks. I believe that on both sides of the House we should welcome any Measure, whether it be in Australia, New Zealand, America or this country, which will ensure that the composition of the product is indicated. By that disclosure there will be some insurance that the quality goods of this country will be able to compete satisfactorily in the world's markets.
I believe that here is a great opportunity. All our arguments in international conferences can be backed far more strongly if we have put these requirements into operation here. For these reasons I welcome the Bill. I believe that Amendments will certainly have to be made in Committee, and I would ask my right hon. Friend if he would, at this stage, look very carefully at the question of the labelling of wool textiles and, if possible, give an assurance that the Bill will put an end to the anomaly whereby one can sell as a wool textile a cloth that contains only 15 per cent. of wool whereas if one describes and sells a mink coat as a mink coat one can be prosecuted if the coat is not made entirely of mink.
2307 I hope that these anomalies will be removed. I hope that the proposals of the Bill will assist reputable traders in this country. I also hope that, in the case of imports, it will provide greater difficulty for those who wish to avoid the standards of decent trading; and that the consuming public will henceforward have the opportunity of seeing what they buy accurately described.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
I shall keep the House for only a few minutes, because I know that the Parliamentary Secretary has a good deal he wishes to say. I am surprised at the attitude of the hon. Members opposite from North Staffordshire. I was on the Committee which considered the Bill of 1926 when Mr. A. V. Alexander, who spoke for the Co-operative movement, and Miss Susan Lawrence made endless and tedious speeches and the Labour Party opposed the Bill. I am glad they have had a change of heart. Then they were in favour of people being deceived——
§ Sir H. Williams
And so was I, both inside this House and out, and occasionally, as the hon. Member knows, in his constituency. Why it is, if these offences have taken place, that steps have not been taken to prosecute I cannot understand.
§ Mr. J. Hudson
Surely it is because the hon. Member wasted his time and gave us legislation inadequate for the purpose.
§ Sir H. Williams
The hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson) knows precisely nothing about it. If he reads the Act of 1926 he will find prosecutions could have taken place and if the pottery manufacturers have not taken the necessary steps that is not my fault or the fault of the Board of Trade.
It has been suggested that manufacturers should brand all the goods produced. I see great objection to that. The Co-operative Wholesale Society sell a great many things which they do not make——
§ Mr. Willey
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that the same is true of the Morris car, but the name "Morris" is representative of a certain quality?
§ Sir H. Williams
Are we to brand every nut and bolt and all the parts which go into the car? To brand everything would lead to a most impossible position and I cannot understand how people speak without thinking and advocate such a course. We shall soon reach the position where we brand every brick in a house with the name of the man who made it. It is important that people should think occasionally before they speak.
There are other things I would have like to have said, but the Parliamentary Secretary has already been robbed of three minutes of his time and I thank him for his forbearance.
§ 3.33 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Henry Strauss)
On the whole, this Bill has had a general welcome. It is true that the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ellis Smith) has moved its rejection. I think that was partly an ingenious manoeuvre to enable him to say a great deal of what he wished to say on behalf of his constituents. I hope that he will allow this Bill to have a unanimous Second Reading, but I am determined not to seek his support by pretending that it does something which it does not.
I thought my right hon. Friend made it clear at the outset that it was important not to exaggerate what is done by the Bill; but neither should that be minimised. The Act of 1887 has worked fairly well. It is now 66 years old and it is not surprising that in the light of experience, with the development of new commodities, and for other reasons it needs bringing up-to-date. But there is a great deal that new legislation of this sort cannot do.
My right hon. Friend has been slightly misrepresented—I think, among others by the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson), who made an agreeable speech on his favourite subject but rather ridiculed the phrase caveat emptor. My right hon. Friend never suggested that that phrase meant that we should not in the public interest make criminal offences in certain cases. That was done 2309 in 1887, and we are extending it by this Bill today.
It nevertheless remains very important that the buyer should realise that it is still his duty to exercise some intelligence, and I think we should be very poor friends of the buying public if we suggested that there was any legislation that this House could pass which would protect the careless buyer in every case.
One or two hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), who welcomed the Bill, suggested that its necessity arose from the fact that we had done away with the Utility scheme. He is wrong in that supposition. I think he will find, if he consults hon. Members who held other offices under the Administration in which he himself served, that legislation on this subject has been considered for several years as desirable when opportunity offered.
§ Mr. Willey
What I meant to convey was that it was the occasion, and perhaps not the cause. I went out of my way to say that it served a useful purpose, apart from any controversy there might be about it.
§ Mr. Strauss
I am obliged to the hon. Member for that intervention. It is quite true that the quality standards, now being agreed and put forward by the British Standards Institution which have followed the abolition of some of the Utility schemes, will receive a useful reinforcement through this present Measure.
Several hon. Members have criticised the penalty Clause. As my hon. Friend said, the amendment is desired because the penalty in the 1887 Act is, not surprisingly, out of date. But he never said that this Clause was based on some mathematical calculation of the present value of money. No doubt, when considering the penalty Clause one needs to consider other modern statutes. Nevertheless, let me say at once that I think this is eminently a matter for discussion during the Committee stage, and I see no reason why our joint wisdom should not improve on the figures in the Bill as it at present stands.
The hon. Gentleman also mentioned a matter that was raised also by several other hon. Members, relating to the malpractice of copying designs. That is not a matter with which we can deal in this 2310 Bill. We cannot alter the criminal law of other countries. From what has been said in other debates, the hon. Member will be familiar with the undertaking that the Japanese Government gave in the Treaty. When matters of this kind have come to our attention we have been able to follow them up—and not ineffectively —but, as some hon. Members may not have noticed it owing to the technicality of this subject, I would point out that in this Measure we are dealing with trade descriptions attached to goods.
Design is not a trade description; it is part of the actual article itself, and it is quite impossible to deal with that subject in a Bill of this kind. I repeat the assurance given by my noble Friend in another place. We are bringing this legislation to the notice of the Commonwealth and Empire, and they may like to know that the original Act of 1887 has been fairly widely copied. The new legislation will not be without the influence of the old.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Law), who welcomed this Bill, was the first speaker who was worried by the use of the word "quality," as it now appears in the Bill. It may be convenient if I add a little to what was said by my right hon. Friend, although I think that what he said gave general satisfaction on both sides of the House. He made it quite clear that the main discussion on this word would take place in Committee. If I may give the views which I have been able to form, the use of the word "quality"—which, I think, is the only word which causes any serious difficulty—is by no means without precedent. Section 6 (1) of the Food and Drugs Act, 1938, says:A person who gives any food or drug sold by him a label, whether attached to or printed on the wrapper or container or not, which falsely describes that food or drug, or is otherwise calculated to mislead as to its nature, substance or quality, shall be guilty of an offence, unless he proves that he did not know, and could not with reasonable diligence have ascertained, that the label was of such a character as aforesaid.As far as I know, that modern statute has not given rise to the difficulties that so many of my hon. Friends seem to fear.
Let me repeat—and, I hope, convince the House—that the use of the word "quality" is right. I want to take a case which will be familiar to every hon. 2311 Member—the case of premium petrols and ordinary petrols. Does anybody really suggest that it ought not to be an offence under this legislation if what is really not premium petrol is sold at the price which is paid for premium petrol, and the article sold is described as premium petrol? The difference between these two petrols is a difference in quality. It is a natural term to use in connection with the general subject with which we are dealing.
Having said that, let me say that I appreciate the anxiety which some hon. Members feel because they think there is a certain ambiguity about the wording as it now stands, and that it might not be a question of a standard of quality so much as the state or condition of an article. While retaining the word "quality," I believe that by our joint wisdom we shall be able to get a better form of wording which will remove many of the fears which have been expressed.
The right hon. Gentleman also mentioned, as did my hon. Friend the Member for Morecambe and Lonsdale (Sir I. Fraser), the question of costs in the event of frivolous prosecutions or even malicious prosecutions. I can assure them that the existing law gives full discretion to the court to do precisely what they wish. My hon. Friend pointed out that this had been dealt with in the principal Act, namely, in Section 14, but that that Section had now disappeared. It has only disappeared because it has been replaced in a more modern statute by something quite as useful for the purpose he has in mind. If he looks at the consolidating Act, the Costs in Criminal Cases Act, 1952, he will see that two sections give the court the discretion which my hon. Friend desires.
I admit that it is a discretion; it is not a compulsion on the court; but I think both sides of the House will agree, on consideration, that, as this is one of of hundreds of statutes, we do not wish in this statute to take away the discretion which the court has under every other statute. Of course in extreme cases there is not only the remedy in costs but there might be a remedy in an action for malicious prosecution.
§ Mr. Law
While it is perfectly true that the court has discretion to award 2312 costs, is it not a fact that the Lord Chief Justice has given it as his opinion that the courts ought not to award full costs? If this Bill becomes law does it not considerably enlarge the field of action of the common informer and would it not be a good idea, therefore, to take special measures to deal with the common informer?
§ Mr. Strauss
My hon. Friend is not quite accurate in speaking of the common informer. What he means is that anybody could prosecute in such a case. I give my opinion, for what it is worth, that I see no danger of the increase in the prosecutions which he appears to fear. I will certainly not comment on the judgment of the Lord Chief Justice, particularly until I have studied it, but no doubt this point will be pursued further in Committee.
I think I have dealt with a number of questions raised by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South in dealing with this and other matters, but there are one or two other points on which perhaps I might give a brief answer. He said that misuse of the Royal Warrant should be punishable. Let me assure him that it is, quite apart from this Bill, and that I shall be most happy to consider any apparent misuse which he cares to bring to my attention.
The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Dr. Stross) was one of the first Members to deal at some length with advertisements. I want the House clearly to understand that I think the effect on advertisers of this Measure could easily be misunderstood and exaggerated. Advertisers do not normally indulge in trade descriptions at all. Many of the matters that have been quoted are not trade descriptions. They do not apply to any particular goods that are being sold, and they cannot, in my opinion, be proved to be false.
Somebody talked about the possibility that the suppliers of "Bristol Milk" might have been prosecuted on the ground that it did not come from the cow. I think that the suppliers of "Bristol Milk" and "Bristol Cream," even without legal advice, would have welcomed a prosecution in which the prosecutor made such an abject fool of himself.
2313 I do not think that that is a real risk. I would remind hon. Members that Section 5 of the principal Act, as amended by Section 10 of the Patents &c. (International Conventions) Act, 1938, really requires a very definite connection between the trade description and the thing sold. An advertisement can be a trade description. If, for example, a mail order house invites one to give an order on the strength of the description, and one gives that order, then, no doubt, what appeared in the catalogue from which one gave the order would be a trade description.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster) discovered, by great assiduity, not in this Bill but in the 1887 Statute, that "connection" in the same Section was spelled in one case with "ct" and in another case with an "x." That, I think, was put right by those who revised the statutes. He did mention a serious matter on consolidation. The Government would not, of course, exclude the question of consolidation, but it is quite clear, I think, that we should want to see the working of this Bill, when it becomes an Act, and give further consideration to the working of the 1926 Statute, before deciding on consolidation. The remarks he made on the wording of the existing Bill I shall bring to the attention of the learned Parliamentary draftsman.
The hon. Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton), I was glad to hear, gave complete support to this Measure. She mentioned some of the descriptions such as "unshrinkable" and "fadeless." It is perfectly true that the amendment proposed in this Measure will enable that sort of description to be considered by the courts. In this connection one of my hon. Friends, I think the Member for Seven-oaks (Mr. J. Rodgers), was a little nervous of a possible prosecution for something described as "unbreakable." The court will use its common sense, and "unbreakable" does not necessarily mean that no power on earth can break it, but it would certainly be held that the word "unbreakable" was supposed to connote something, and that what that was should be truly connoted.
The hon. Lady also commented on the number of prosecutions. I think that it is very dangerous to judge the usefulness 2314 of an Act by the number of prosecutions. A criminal statute may very often be most effective when it is obeyed without many prosecutions.
The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. George Craddock) mentioned a number of matters with which, I confess frankly, this Bill does not purport to deal at all. It certainly does not deal with the conditions of workmen in factories. It would be very odd if it did. Nor does it deal, nor can it deal, with dumping in the Commonwealth, for reasons which I have already explained
I think that my hon Friend the Member for Shipley (Mr Hirst) chiefly feared the use of the word "quality" in the way in which it at present appears, and with that I have already dealt. I confess that I did not completely understand the speech of the hon. Member for New-castle-under-Lyme (Mr. Swingler). I can assure him that imported pottery from foreign countries has to be marked "foreign," and if it is not so marked it is stopped by the Customs. Most of his speech seemed to be based on complete unawareness of that fact.
One or two of my hon. Friends have said, "Why do we say that the ordinary trade puff is not affected?" We have some experience of the working of our courts in dealing with other statutes and with the Common Law. There are quite a number of authorities on what constitutes false pretences and what can be construed as a warranty. These matters are familiar to the courts. On the basis of experience both at common law and in the interpretation of statutes, we say with some confidence that the ordinary trade puff will not be hit. "Beer is best" is not a trade description, it is not applied to the goods sold, and it cannot be proved to be false. So, on all three grounds, it escapes. I personally would possibly agree, although for different reasons, with the hon. Member for Ealing, North (Mr. J. Hudson). He thinks that beer is no good at all. I think that wine is much better but whatever our differences on that subject, I do not think that they fall within the purview of this Bill.
§ Mr. Strauss
I think that matters about medicated wines would fall mainly within 2315 the administration of the Food and Drugs Act rather than within the statutes which we are now considering. But I gathered from his own description of medicated wine that it was wine and it was medicated, and I should therefore doubt whether the description was false. I have no experience of the commodity myself and I do not propose to experiment.
I think that I have answered the questions put to me by various hon. Members, and I commend this Bill as a useful Measure to the House.
§ Question, "That 'now' stand part of the Question" put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.