§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood (Rossendale)
When the present Home Secretary delighted the Conservative Party Conference in 1954 by saying that he saw no reason why we should not double our standard of living in the next twenty-five years, cynics on this side of the Committee suggested that the right hon. Gentleman had possibly been misreported and that "cost of living" was what he said and not "standard of living". For the sake of the right hon. Gentleman's reputation as a prophet, I hope that the cynics were correct, because the Government have made better progress towards doubling the cost of living than they have towards doubling the standard of living since the right hon. Gentleman made his speech.
§ Mr. Greenwood
If we were to double the standard of living in twenty-five years it would involve a cumulative increase in industrial production of 3 per cent. per 403 annum, whereas, since the right hon. Gentleman made his speech, the cumulative increase has been only 1½ per cent. per annum. That the Government have made much better progress towards doubling the cost of living is shown by the fact that what cost £1 when the Labour Government went out of office would cost 26s. today. At that rate, a Tory Government would more than double the cost of living in twenty-five years.
§ Mr. Osborne
Is not the hon. Member making the most astonishing accusations against my party? Will he not now give the figures of consumption of basic foodstuffs in 1952, and the comparative figures for today?
§ Mr. Greenwood
I am sure that only the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) is astonished. Nobody on this side of the Committee has been astonished. I have given the facts and figures which are relevant to the speech which the present Home Secretary made in 1954.
The Government's achievement is the more surprising when we remember the drop in raw material prices that has taken place over that period. The latest figures, given in International Financial Statistics for June, 1958, issued by the International Monetary Fund, show that, since the present Government took office, import prices have dropped from 112 points in 1951 to 106 in 1957. Over the same period—perhaps this will satisfy the hon. Member for Louth—wholesale prices have risen from 100 to 112 points. It is clear that the Government have not yet succeeded in ensuring that housewives get the benefit of any changes in world prices.
It is true that the cost of living fluctuates slightly from month to month and that there has been no sudden increase, but, nevertheless, the increase is a steady one. The Index of Retail Prices, for example, was 102.5 for May, 1956. It was 104.6 in May, 1957. And it was 109.2 in May, 1958. The Observer of 15th June pointed out that although there had been no sudden acceleration in the rise in the cost of living recently there was no mistaking its continued upward trend.
In those circumstances, we believe that wise buying, guarantees of quality, and 404 safeguards for the consumer are especially necessary when the value of money is steadily falling. The Labour Party will publish, on 20th July, our "Plan for Progress", which will detail our plans for expanding the economy, increasing production, raising the standard of living, and securing reasonably stable prices. It will also set out those safeguards which we believe to be necessary for consumers. Lest the Press should overlook those points, in favour of our more basic economic proposals, I propose to outline the safeguards for the consumer very briefly this afternoon.
We propose quality labelling of all goods which reach a reasonable quality standard, and effective descriptive labelling of goods, giving information of their composition and performance. We say that where safety or health is involved, as in the case of electrical equipment or children's footwear, the production of goods below a proper standard should be prohibited. We declare that we shall tighten up the hire-purchase Acts to prevent the present exorbitant rates of interest. And we shall implement the Hodgson Report, on which the President of the Board of Trade has now been sitting for the past seven years.
We call for a real drive to ensure clean food. And we emphasise the need for informing and instructing the public about its rights and about where information as to the quality of goods can be obtained. In these proposals we are resuming the work of the last Labour Government in protecting the consumer. I do not want to weary the Committee with going into too much detail about the ways in which the last Labour Government protected the consumer, but I would emphasise particularly the maintenance and development of the Utility scheme, and the establishment of consumers' councils in nationalised industries. In the light of that record we believe that we are entitled to ask how the Government are dealing with the problem.
As a start, I want to stress what I believe all hon. Members would agree with, that the quality of British goods is generally high, but that in some respects it could be higher still; that most manufacturers and tradesmen are men of responsibility and integrity, but that there are bad ones as well. It is against the latter that we wish to safeguard the public.
405 The first point I want to put to the Government is this. What progress is being made in the matter of monopolies and restrictive practices? I touch on this matter very briefly, because I hope that some of my hon. Friends will deal with it more fully in the course of the debate. I wish to ask the Parliamentary Secretary, who, I presume, is to reply, what the Government are doing about the Report of the Monopolies Commission on the Supply of Electronic Valves and Cathode Ray Tubes. It was signed in September, 1956, and it is not at all clear yet whether the Government are proposing to take steps to deal with the serious situation that that Report revealed.
On restrictive practices, all we know about the immediate future is that the Lord Chancellor announced at the beginning of May that what he called three "heavy and important cases" are to be heard by the Restrictive Practices Court in the Michaelmas term, presumably after October. But there are 40 other cases which the Registrar has said he is proposing to refer to the Court. Could we be told by the Government about the sort of programme that they have in mind, and how long it will take the Court to deal with all the cases which are being brought to its attention?
One racket that I want to stress this afternoon is the hire-purchase racket. It is true that, thanks to the enterprise of private Members, notably the late Miss Ellen Wilkinson, the worst abuses of hire purchase have been mitigated by the Hire-Purchase Acts of 1938 and 1954 and by the Advertisements (Hire-Purchase) Act, which the House passed last year. What is the Board of Trade doing, by persuasion or in any other way, to end the remaining abuses?
I will give the Committee an example of what I have in mind. Many hire-purchase advertisements still state that the finance charge for hire purchase is, for example, only 10 per cent. per annum, but the amount advanced is constantly being reduced as payments take place. What is announced as a 10 per cent. finance charge on a £100 advance over two years is, in effect, a finance charge of 18½ per cent. There is no doubt that many people sign hire-purchase agreements under a complete misapprehension.
406 I was shocked to find that the finance charge for small advances of, for example, £15 varies from 28 per cent. for a one-year agreement to as much as 50 per cent. for a three-year agreement. When we remember that last year £150 million worth of furniture and furnishings were sold on hire purchase, and that the average family today carries a hire-purchase debt of £40, we begin to realise the importance of this problem and the need to protect the consumer against those who misuse the system.
I turn now to the rather difficult question of quality standards. When the Government wound up the Utility scheme in March, 1952, the right hon. Member for Monmouth (Mr. P. Thorneycroft) emphasised that in ending the old scheme the Government must provide a safeguard for the future. He said that he had discussed it with the British Standards Institution, and then used these words:The Institution have agreed to establish a range of British Standards … specifications for the purpose. I have received assurances from a number of trade bodies that they will at once proceed to devise with this Institution specifications based on those Utility specifications which provide some guarantee of quality or performance for the consumer.In particular, the cotton industry have told me that they propose within a few weeks to deal in this way with the most popular specifications, which cover a wide range of cotton cloths and household textiles up to about 75 per cent. of the trade in those particular types."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 13th March, 1952; Vol. 497, c. 1584.]The right hon. Gentleman, on that occasion, promised the cotton industry would do this within a flatter of weeks and the following year, twenty months later, my hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) tabled a Question to the right hon. Gentleman to which he replied:A standard for tickings for domestic bedding was published on 6th October. Apart from this, the cotton industry has not found it possible to devise agreed standards based on utility specifications as originally proposed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 12th November, 1953; Vol. 520, c. 1119.]The general progress with the working out of this scheme has been deplorably slow. The right hon. Member for Monmouth was infinitely more successful in his rôle of Lancashire's hangman than in his self-appointed rôle of St. George defending the British housewife because, outside furniture and bedding, only a 407 very limited section of goods bears the Kite mark and the value of the Kite mark itself is very doubtful.
I want to remind the Committee of the weaknesses of the Kite mark scheme. First, these marks do not state what they are certifying. There is no quality grading on the Kite mark. They give no indication of whether or not there is value for money. As they indicate only a minimum standard, many—probably most—of the best manufacturers refuse to use a Kite mark.
It is perfectly true that some inspection and testing takes place, but I submit to the Committee that the value of the Kite mark is best illustrated by the case which was decided at the Marlborough Street Magistrates' Court, in April, about the sale of pillows. Here I would emphasise that on the back of "Shoppers' Guide", published by the Consumer Advisory Council of the British Standards Institution, we find a description of the value of the Kite mark, which says, under the heading "Pillows":The Kite mark means there is no skimping the amount of filling, and when labelled 'down' or 'feathers' you will find just that inside. The tick has to be strong and feather-proof.It was disclosed in the course of the proceedings at Marlborough Street, in April, that the Retail Trading-Standards Association had caused three pillows marked with the Kite mark to be purchased in a London store. All three pillows bore labels claiming that the feather fillings conformed to Kite mark standards of cleanliness, which call for a maximum total of extracted matter of 2 per cent. In fact, the three pillows contained an average of 3.7 per cent., 3.9 per cent. and 3.1 per cent. respectively. The magistrate awarded 500 guineas costs against the company concerned.
The Economist commented on the case by pointing out that apparently the British Standards Institution had no hint of the impending prosecution until the writ was issued, and the article ended by saying:So the B.S.I. is in the undignified position of having its barking done for it by another watchdog.I think that we should give credit to the fact that trade and industry have bodies like the Retail Trading-Standards Asso- 408 ciation and the Trades Advisory Council, with which my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, East (Mr. Orbach) has been associated for some time. They are bodies to which industry subscribes and which are prepared to take vigorous action to protect the public against unethical trading.
The failure of industry to agree standards is a serious failure. My hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton), who has been most assiduous in pursuing the Parliamentary Secretary on these matters, elicited from him recently the fact that deadlock had been reached in respect of children's footwear. It is quite clear that while perhaps deadlock has not been reached with reference to other goods, progress is dismally slow. Moreover, when standards are agreed they are not necessarily applied by the industries concerned.
I say bluntly to the Board of Trade—I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will convey this criticism to his right hon. Friend, whose absence this afternoon we find it difficult to understand—that there are those in this Committee and in industry as a whole who believe that some industries will not "pull their socks up" and enforce standards so long as the President of the Board of Trade continues to insist that he has no intention of resorting to compulsion. So long as the right hon. Gentleman emphasises that, he cuts the ground from under his own feet in any negotiations. Many of us feel that the President of the Board of Trade has yet to convince the House that tact and discretion are included among his no doubt very numerous and very great qualities.
We are entitled to assume that the Government regard their present powers as adequate, except, of course, in the case of the Hodgson Report. We have been promised on numerous occasions that the Government would implement that Report, and the last time the Parliamentary Secretary referred to the matter he said that the Government would implement it when time permitted. I want to tell the hon. Gentleman that many people throughout the country will regard it as a great pity that the Government found time to introduce a Bill protecting the landlords, but could not find time to introduce a Bill protecting consumers and housewives.
409 In the meantime, even if the Government cannot find time for a full-scale weights and measures Bill, could they not introduce regulations which would make the fullest use of their existing powers? I hope that in response to the debate the Parliamentary Secretary will be able to tell us that this is the intention of the Government, because we cannot wait very much longer for the implementation of the Report of the Hodgson Committee.
I want to ask the hon. Gentleman, too, whether the Board of Trade is trying, by persuasion or in any other way, to get effective labelling, quality labelling or accurate labelling of goods. I say "by persuasion or in any other way," because I know that the powers of the Government are limited in that respect. At present, the Merchandise Marks Act is very far from clear, and after the last one had been passed, Mr. H. Fletcher Moulton and Mr. P. G. Langdon Davies, writing in "The Law of Merchandise Marks", commented:The new law does nothing to remove the uncertainties and obscurities of the earlier Acts.The present Lord Chief Justice had on a number of occasions, I believe, commented on the ambiguity of the Merchandise Marks Act.
This is clearly a sphere in which positive action is needed from the Board of Trade. I wear what are called "drip dry shirts", which are labelled, "You need not iron." Up to a point that is true. It is also true that I need not clean my shoes or brush my hair, but both my shoes and my hair look, I hope, infinitely better if I do. Equally, the shirts I need not iron look infinitely better when an iron has been applied.
On Saturday afternoon, in the light of this debate today, I did rather more shopping than is normally my practice. I bought four tins of talcum powder. I found that only one, Morny's French Fern, indicated the weight on the tin. How easy it is for the other manufacturers to increase the price of their products by reducing the amount of powder in the tin! Obviously, a reduction of approximately 10 per cent. in the amount of powder, which no one could detect unless he weighed the tin, would involve an increase of approximately 10 per cent. in the price of the article.
410 I bought four packets of toilet soap and I found that not one of them indicated the weight. My most remarkable experiences, however, were in the case of detergents and breakfast foods. I found that on not one detergent or soap powder packet was any weight shown. Also, there was no indication of whether any potentially harmful substances were included in the powder. I was, however, amazed by the claims which were made for these preparations.
For example, I found that Daz is described on the packet in this way:For the world's whitest boil. One boil in blue Daz will get your clothes more radiantly white than ever before.On another side of the packet it states:It's true! Blue Daz is specially designed to give you the world's whitest wash in just one boil. … Blue Daz for the whitest wash on earth …That is a detergent made by Thomas Hedley, of Newcastle.
I also bought a packet of Tide, which, I found, bears the slogan, "Tide for the cleanest whites". It also states:Until Tide came in you never had your clothes so clean. … Now today's Tide has even greater cleaning power. A new magic ingredient actually gives your whole wash an extra cleanness. We guarantee you'll see the difference.Strangely enough, Tide is also made by Thomas Hedley, of Newcastle.
I also bought a packet of soap powder which is called Fairy Snow, on which I read:Fairy Snow is unbeatable for whitness—it gives you white, white clothes—whiter clothes than you would have thought possible.On another part of the packet it states:Fairy Snow gives you the whitest, brightest wash you've ever known!I should add that Fairy Snow is made, believe it or not, by Thomas Hedley, of Newcastle.
Omo, on the other hand, which is made by Hudson and Knight, "Adds brightness to whiteness" and the packet states:You'll see! The moment your first Omo-bright wash goes up on the line. Never, never have whites been so bright, bright, BRIGHT. They put ordinary whiteness completely in the shade!And everybody knows, of course, that "There's no whiteness like Surf whiteness". Surf is made by Levers.
411 It is obvious that at least one of those detergents is making an exaggerated claim. They cannot all be right in claiming that each of them produces the whitest wash on earth, and yet I have no doubt that there are many people who are deceived by this detergent advertising, just as at election times, unfortunately, they are deceived by propaganda from the party opposite.
In the case of breakfast foods, I was surprised by the free presents and bonus schemes which are operating. For example, I learned that in a packet of Cubs I would find "an exciting plastic scale model aircraft." The packet read, "Start collecting your own air fleet today." That is quite a tip for the Minister of Defence.
Now, Cornflakes I found to be most generous. On one side of the packet I found that I could "win a 14-day holiday in America." On another side I found that there was a silverware offer of a fish knife and fork for… only 6-plus 4 Silverware Tokens from Kellog's' packets.On the back I found that if I was a "kid" I could get a—9-inch build-it-yourself model of the Pan-Am jet clipper.Shreddies make three staggering offers. There is the offer of an exciting new space wheel that really flies! There is an offer ofStainless steel tableware at a special price 3 Dessert Spoons for only 4/11 and 6 tokens.The most interesting offer of all, I think, is an "Amazing, inflatable cushion bag" which is "Yours for only 2/9." It is a cushion bag which inflates so that people can sit on it; it might be a tremendous boon to hon. Gentlemen opposite who are anxious about their seats.
If these offers are genuine, and no doubt they are, somebody has to pay for them. Without these schemes, and without the monster advertising by many of these firms on television and in the Press, there is no doubt that the price of many of these articles could be reduced substantially.
I do not think that I should conclude without paying tribute to those organisations which are now defending the consumers. First, there is the Co-operative movement, which is a consumers' democracy, and which has recently appointed 412 a special lecturer in consumer protection. Then there are two organisations, the Consumers' Advisory Council, which produces the "Shoppers' Guide" and the Association for Consumer Research, which produces "Which?". I find the latter a good deal less inhibited, a good deal more astringent and a good deal more helpful than the rather more officially minded "Shoppers' Guide", but I think that through all these organisations and the publications for which they are responsible we are at last catching up with the United States, Canada and Scandinavia.
The weakness of these publications is that both of them cost 10s. a year, and they are, therefore, unlikely to go into the homes which, perhaps, most need guidance on how best to spend the money which is available. I therefore ask the Parliamentary Secretary what steps his right hon. Friend is taking to make the information they contain available to the general public through libraries, through post offices and through shops, and to inform the public on this whole issue through the schools, through the Central Office of Information, and by radio and television.
Let us, however, never forget that ultimately the most effective protector of the public is Parliament itself. If we are vigilant and persistent, as many of my hon. Friends have been in this matter, we can uncover abuses and we can press for reforms and for amendment. It was in that spirit and in that determination that we asked for this debate today. Unless the Government are able to satisfy us that they are doing their utmost to face the responsibilities which Parliament has conferred upon them, we shall find it necessary to divide the Committee.
§ 4.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Anthony Hurd (Newbury)
We are very grateful indeed to the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) for opening this debate in such an entertaining way. We have greatly enjoyed his speech. We should be not so delighted if it were all true. The hon. Gentleman painted a very gloomy picture of the downtrodden consumers. I do not find housewives downtrodden or submissive at all. When I go shopping I keep my eyes about me, and my wife keeps her eyes about her, too. She gets good value, as the other people do, who shop in the places where we do 413 our shopping. Of course, it is great fun, as the hon. Gentleman did, to trot out all the advertising gadgets which are part and parcel of large-scale marketing today.
I do not want to do that, but to consider some fundamentals. I shall speak about one side of the business of providing what consumers need, a side that I happen to know something about—the food production side. I should like the Committee to take note of what our own farmers are achieving in meeting the needs of consumers. It is vital that they should and that they should make even more progress than they have hitherto. This is a competitive age. We do not have bulk buying by the Government in a Conservative régime. We have to stand on our feet and are judged by the quality and the reputation for value of what we produce and have to sell.
There are two products which are particularly delicate, particularly open to abuse and to deterioration if not properly handled. One is milk and the other eggs. We can take credit, whether we are producers or distributors of milk, for the fact that today we are turning out a first-quality product with the least possible risk of disease or contamination attached to it. It requires a great deal of care on the farms, and in the depots where the milk is first treated and also, of course, at the retail point; and, indeed, all the way to the housewife's doorstep. It is rarely today that we hear of a housewife complaining about the quality of the milk which is provided. As soon as 1960 we shall have the whole country clear of what has been a bad scourge for cattle and human beings, bovine tuberculosis. That is a great advance in which all of us in this Committee and in the farming community and veterinary profession can find real satisfaction.
§ Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
Is not the advance really due to two factors, first, to the Co-operative movement, which led the way for a clean milk supply, and, secondly, the Government, who themselves have accepted a great amount of responsibility for making sure that there is the necessary protection for the consumer in getting a good, healthy, clean milk supply?
§ Mr. Hurd
Let me finish. I know the facts. There happens to be a co-operative depot not far from where I live, and there also happens to be a Milk Marketing Board one, and big creamery units of the United Dairies and other private enterprise firms.
The hon. Lady mentioned the Government's part. I agree. I have said that all of us in this Committee, where we have some say in what Governments do over a period of years, can take our full share of the credit for the lead which Governments have given, and for the full co-operation with which the producers also have answered it. Whether we are speaking for the Co-operative movement, or whether we are farmers, we can all take credit for the advance which has been made. We have made great progress with our milk supply. It compares well in quality and freshness and soundness with that of any other country in the world.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that he has got the facts completely wrong? The Co-operative movement distributes 35 per cent. of the country's milk supply, and that proportion has increased in the last twenty years.
§ Mr. Hurd
The hon. Gentleman did not listen to what I said. I was talking about getting milk from the farms. It is that end of the line which decides whether the milk is clear of tuberculous infection or not. It is not what happens in the retail shop.
We have made great progress, too, in providing consumers with fresh, reliable quality eggs. Perhaps the British Egg Marketing Board was too forthcoming with some of its publicity to start with. Be that as it may, we are producing a really top quality product. I was impressed last week at the Royal Show, at Bristol, to find the British Egg Marketing Board devoting much of its demonstration to showing farmers and their wives how vitally important it is to handle eggs aright from the start to protect them from contamination or deterioration which can all too easily affect eggs.
It was stressed how important it is to keep the hen from fouling the nest if we 415 want clean eggs. A demonstration under ultra-violet light showed the horrified spectator what happens when dirty eggs are washed. The dirt in the solution smeared over the shell will spoil the keeping quality.
This is just one advance which producers, packing stations and wholesalers are pursuing which will add to the reputation of our home produce. I am glad to think that now over 90 per cent. of the eggs consumed in this country are home produced. We have no need to-day for further regulations by Government, whether comprised of the Conservative Party or the Labour Party, to safeguard consumers. The producers are doing this job and doing it as it should be done, because it is good business to provide what the housewives want.
I would say a word about the public being misled by descriptions of food. I am not at all happy about the scope which the ingenious advertiser and marketeer can use when he is selling a product which is a substitute for a dairy product. I am thinking, at the moment, not so much of butter as ice cream. One can buy a choc-bar today in a silver packet, with the word "milk" repeatedly written down the centre of the wrapping. I do not think that that ice cream has any milk in it at all. It is merely a milk chocolate coating that is taken to justify the label "milk". I hope that when the time comes—and it should not be long now—for us to look again at the Food Regulations, we shall make quite sure that if a foodstuff purports to be a dairy product—for instance, ice cream—it shall have genuine dairy produce in it and shall not contain a substitute product.
The substitute may be good stuff, such as vegetable oils—there is no harm in them—but the product is not what it purports to be. When my right hon. Friend the Minister of Agriculture examines the regulations again, I hope that he will keep much in mind the need for the public to know quite clearly, by the labelling and the advertising, just what they are buying. Otherwise, it is fair neither to the housewife nor to the dairy producer.
In conclusion, I want again to stress that many of us—certainly those in one producing industry which has direct contact with consumers—are doing our 416 utmost to safeguard the consumers' interests. This is not because it would be against the law if we did not, but because it is common decency and good business to do so.
§ 4.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Frederick Willey (Sunderland, North)
I often find it difficult to agree with the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Hurd), although I assure him that it is for no lack of good will on my part, but I can now accord him a measure of agreement with what he has just said. I willingly admit that we can be overenthusiastic in seeking to safeguard the consumers. We should realise that when people shop they enjoy using their own judgment, and we should not seek unnecessarily to inhibit people doing that when we are seeking to save them from themselves. I also think that a nation that spends so much of its time filling in football pools must also contain an element of gambling, and we must recognise that when some people shop they gamble, even when they buy shoddy goods.
Having said that, and accepting that salutary caution, there are three objectives that we can quite properly seek to attain. The first is to reduce the cost of distribution, because we all pay for it and, moveover, it may mean a diversion of our national resources that the nation cannot afford. Secondly, we are entitled to protect ourselves against avoidable danger. Thirdly, we are entitled to give ourselves guidance when we go shopping.
As I have said, we should not, unless there is an element of danger, necessarily prevent people from selling shoddy goods, but we should make the sellers of those goods reveal the fact that they are shoddy. We should seek to ensure an element of fair play between shopper and shopkeeper.
Dealing, first, with the cost of distribution, which has affected the cost of living, I make these two points about foodstuffs, which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned. We have a considerable and welcome extension of the pre-packaging of foodstuffs. That has to be paid for in the final price. That being so, we are entitled to drive for greater efficiency in distribution to cover the increased costs. The second factor—
§ Mrs. Jean Mann (Coatbridge and Airdrie)
Our usual safeguard used to be that the grocer took the time to put the poke on the scale and weigh it out in front of the customer. We have been told for years that the quick way, and the cheap way, is to run it along an assembly line in packaging it. Are we now to be told that that is actually a more expensive way?
§ Mr. Willey
No. I was saying that the prepacked article costs more than the article that is not prepacked. Therefore, there is a burden on the distributive industry to be more efficient, as my hon. Friend has indicated, in order to cover that cost, and, if we are to have pre-packing, we are entitled to new forms of distribution, such as the self-service shops.
My other point is that during the war, as we all know, the retail margins for foodstuffs were very tight indeed. We also know that since decontrol there has been a considerable increase of the margins. We do not know what that increase is, but I think we are entitled to some reply about it from the Government. If they cannot give that reply, we are entitled to expect them to take steps to find out what that increase is. As I say, we suspect that there has been a considerable increase in the margins. There is no real justification for it because, as hon. Gentlemen opposite are very anxious to point out, there has been an increase in through-put, so there should not have been such a substantial increase in the margins at the same time.
My hon. Friend mentioned Utility products. I do not think we should exaggerate what we can do by way of Utility production, but we should recognise—and I hope that the Government will—that there are some things we can do. Backed by Government orders ensuring long runs, we might get cheaper blankets, cheaper children's clothing and shoes. That sort of commodity might well be provided much more cheaply. And I say this about standards. It is not only a question of providing better standards, but the standards themselves should provide a more efficient means of production. We should press for them, not only to get the standards themselves improved, but also to get cheaper goods.
My hon. Friend referred to advertising. I say at once that I have no objection to 418 flamboyant advertising. I am one of the few Members who travel by Tube, and I enjoy the contribution that advertising makes to the journey. I enjoy flamboyant advertising. I do not think that it really deceives anyone.
My objection to advertising concerns something much more important. Advertising is a very heavy on-cost on distribution. That on-cost is far too great, and we cannot overlook it. Again, in the United States they are finding that advertising is also affecting the national economy. It is not the actual needs of the people that are shaping the economy, but advertising which is dictating the needs of the people, creating the needs of the people, and affecting the whole national economy.
In this country we are living on such a tight economy that we cannot afford to allow that to happen. For that reason if for no other, we have to look very carefully at the new demands created by advertising and see how far they are socially necessary. In so far as it affects foodstuffs, I would say we should also see how far they are desirable nutritionally, and how far, in fact, they are going against higher nutritional standards.
The hon. Member for Newbury mentioned ice cream. I am not particularly upset by the description of what we now consume as ice cream as ice cream, but what I am concerned about is increasing the consumption of liquid milk. This is a legitimate concern. Knowing the milk production difficulties that farmers have been in over the last few years, it is quite legitimate that we should encourage greater consumption of milk through the medium of ice cream. The Government should have the courage to recognise that that it is desirable, now that we no longer have to rely on vegetable oils for the production of icecream to encourage consumption of milk through this medium.
So much for the cost of distribution. I turn, now, to protection. In retrospect, I believe that one of the appalling factors of our present civilisation will be the little regard we pay to the individual. We have the terrible toll on the roads, yet how little impact it has made on public conscience. My hon. Friend the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann) and others have repeatedly called 419 attention to the frightful toll of household accidents, yet what little impact that toll has had on the general public and on the manufacturers. We are entitled to be assured that all avoidable dangers will be avoided. We ought to be much more vigorous in ensuring this.
I should like to refer to detergents. My recollection is that when we had a catering trade working party it was suggested that there should be a committee set up to supervise the development of detergents. I should like to know what is to be done about that, because there are inherent dangers in the continued use of detergents. We are entitled to know whether we are properly safeguarded in using them.
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
Is my hon. Friend aware that the departmental committee reported on the effects of detergents and made it clear that there were great dangers to sewage disposal and sanitation works, even though there were some detergent producers on the committee? The Government have had the report about a year now, but nothing or very little has been done about it.
§ Mr. Willey
I am obliged to my hon. Friend, and I share his anxiety. Whether or not we have grounds for feeling this anxiety, we are entitled to be assured that proper investigation is being made all the time while these new detergents are put on the market.
The Food and Drugs Act has been in operation for a few years, and it has been of considerable benefit in ensuring clean food, but we still have to provide for the registration of all catering establishments. The Government gave way on this under the pressure of what we then called the "dirty food lobby" and we have now discovered that that is the only effective step we can take to ensure that our restaurants are properly looked after. This is more than a matter of clean food. This is a question of decent standards of life. In fact, if we enforce standards of clean food in restaurants we shall have far better attention and service in them.
On the question of guidance to shoppers, as I have said, I do not object to shopkeepers selling shoddy goods provided their shoddiness is revealed; then, I think, we shall have fair buying between the shopkeeper and the shopper. Just as 420 we had the Food and Drugs Act, we had the Merchandise Marks Act a few years ago, and again in the light of experience we know that this ought to be strengthened.
Reference has been made to self-service. What self-service means is that there is much greater reliance upon package labelling and description. There is not a friendly shopkeeper between the customer and the packet to advise her to avoid buying a particular commodity in the light of complaints from customers. Therefore, we should pay more serious regard to package labelling.
I think, too—we argued this on the clean food Bill—that we are entitled to take much stricter measures on questions such as the composition of food. I know that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster made fun about the loaf which is sold in Canada which is covered with a wrapping on which is stated the constituents of a loaf of bread, but in fact we know that all sorts of steps are taken in the preparation of foodstuffs which ought to be revealed, so that the appropriate authorities may take steps to assure us whether what we consume is safe and healthy.
When we buy household goods and take them home, we do not know until we use them whether they are a good buy or not. We should ensure in every sort of way that proper description and labelling is an obligation upon the person who sells durable household goods, such as furniture and so on. In fact, this would be a safeguard to the manufacturer. When we buy clothing, for example, we are told how it should be treated, whether it should be dry-cleaned or washed.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
May I assure the hon. Gentleman that that is done in a great many instances in the textile trade, and the habit is growing. It is a very good one.
§ Mr. Willey
I know that the habit is growing. I am pleading that we should encourage and press forward with the rapid growth of such habits.
I have not the time to deal with the many more ways in which we can provide guidance. I should like to mention two cardinal points which arise in a debate of this sort. First, there is a great deal of work to be done. The trouble is that at present much of it is being done 421 in a haphazard and piecemeal way. Some of my hon. Friends have suggested that there should be a Ministry of Consumer Welfare. That may be a little too ambitious, but we certainly need some effective co-ordination of these methods.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, following the intervention of the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden), who said that this kind of labelling is done by the best firms—a fact with which I agree—surely unscrupulous competitors can copy the labelling and put it on inferior goods. That is the danger.
§ Mr. Willey
I can only agree with my hon. Friend and say that this is one of the important factors, that the good manufacturer should not be put at a disadvantage. He should not be made to suffer unfair competition.
The second factor which emerges from a debate such as this is that the Government lack the drive, initiative and vigour to deal with this problem. I would remind the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade of one or two things which have happened under this Government. We have had the clean food Bill and we had the sell-out in another place. That was merely being weak-kneed in the light of representations from sectional interests. As some of my hon. Friends know, we went through exactly the same experience on the Slaughterhouses Bill, the Government again giving way to sectional interests. That, of course, is not surprising from the party opposite. What we want is not a weak-kneed approach in the light of sectional lobbies but greater resource, initiative and imagination in providing this service.
Reference has been made to broadcasting. I should like the B.B.C. to retaliate against commercial advertising by giving a good consumer service on the B.B.C. I would like people to turn from commercial television to the B.B.C. for consumer advice about the goods which are being advertised on commercial television. I concede at once that when we talk about a vigorous approach, it applies equally to the nationalised industries. I would not pretend that the consumer councils have been entirely satisfactory in the nationalised industries. We must do more. I think that yesterday's debate illustrated that there exists a tenderness towards this matter generally. I believe that some 422 hon. Members opposite are now becoming tender towards the nationalised industries because they do not want to encourage individuals to speak up against industries generally.
§ Mr. Donald Wade (Huddersfield, West)
Would the hon. Gentleman explain what he had in mind when he referred to consumer interests being catered for on the B.B.C.? Surely, if he refers to the specific goods which have been advertised on I.T.V., it would merely be another form of advertising; or does he suggest that some alternative goods should be mentioned on the B.B.C.?
§ Mr. Willey
I made the point in broad terms. What I would like the B.B.C. to do would be to give time to consumer advice organisations to reach a much wider public.
§ Mr. Willey
If we are to have more time for safeguarding consumers, I would even allow more advertising of the Liberal Party.
In very different circumstances, the Labour Government tried to ensure fair shares. We are now trying to ensure fair prices and to ensure that the customer gets value for money. I want to do more than that. I want to encourage not only fair prices but decent design and high standards. We are talking about very mundane things, but these are the things which shape our civilisation. I hope that we shall not only encourage the Consumer Advisory Services but use our influence to see that the things which we use in daily life are well designed and pleasant to be with.
§ 4.42 p.m.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
I hope that the hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) will forgive me if do not go along with him in his arguments, but, broadly, I was in agreement with very much of what he said.
I was very interested in the comments made by the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) in opening the 423 debate. The Committee and many consumers will be glad to hear that we are shortly to be told the Labour Party's policy on the protection of the public and consumer standards and the quality labelling of all goods which reach reasonable standards. It is very difficult to determine exactly where a reasonable standard ends and an unreasonable standard begins. It is all a question of the price range which the public wish to pay and are able to pay.
I hope that before it produces this policy document the Labour Party will have considered all those points. I hope that when it puts this policy forward it will advise the public, who are not to be the arbiters of what is reasonable and what is not. It is a very interesting subject, to which we all attach great importance.
I understand that the Labour Party state that in the production of children's goods the manufacture of any goods below a certain standard will be prohibited. I hope that in saying that hon. Members opposite will not deny the opportunity to many poor people who want to buy garments for children which, perhaps, will not last long, and who do so because their children are growing rapidly. All those things must be taken into consideration.
We know that there has been vigilance by some back-bench hon. Members opposite on consumer standards in the last few years, but there has been equal vigilance on this side of the Committee. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) was at one time Financial Secretary to the Treasury in the Labour Government, and he will remember that since I entered the House in 1950 I have spoken on these subjects on many occasions. Although hon. Members opposite have not admitted it today, I hope to be able to show that much more has been done by this Government to ensure the standards of goods than was done by the Labour Government. The right hon. Member for Battersea, North shakes his head, but he will have an opportunity of listening to what happened when the Labour Party had this job to do and what has happened since.
§ Mr. Douglas Jay (Battersea, North)
Can the hon. Member tell us how many Questions he or anyone else has asked, 424 for instance, about the Hodgson Committee's proposals in the last year?
§ Mr. Burden
No, I cannot answer that off-hand, but I will read in a moment a quotation from the last Merchandise Marks Act. It was I who proposed the Amendment which gave force to the Act and which has been the basis of many prosecutions which have taken place since. That is some measure of the success that I have had in endeavouring to protect the public.
§ Mr. Norman Dodds (Erith and Crayford) rose—
§ Mr. Burden
I hope that the hon. Member will forgive me if I do not give way at this stage. I have not yet made the quotation. The problem of the Labour Party and of the way in which it intends to fix the standard of goods and to decide how those standards shall be determined is not made easier by the movement towards European free trade. It might create difficulty, and I hope that in the preparation of future policy the Labour Party will ensure that it does not cause considerably greater difficulty in bringing about the trade fusion which we all believe to be in the best interests of our countries.
The right hon. Member for Battersea, North shook his head when I said that much more had been done since the present Government came into power to preserve the public from exploitation by unscrupulous manufacturers and retailers than was done by the Labour Government. Let me read what the right hon. Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) said about wool cloth on 10th February, 1949, as reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT:… 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.]It did not have to be wool as we know it; it could be any animal fibre and yet could still be described as wool cloth, provided that it contained not less than 15 per cent. of wool or animal fibre in its make-up.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
Could the hon. Member say in what context my right hon. Friend made that remark?
§ Mr. Burden
It was the standard set by the Labour Government. I have not yet finished with quotations from remarks by the right hon. Member for Huyton about wool cloth. On 24th March, 1949, as reported in the OFFICIAL REPORT, the right hon. Gentleman said:… the term 'wool cloth' should not be used in Statutory Instruments, to refer to any cloth containing more than 15 per cent. of wool …"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th March, 1949; Vol. 463, c. 46.]Thus on one occasion he said that a cloth can be called wool cloth if it contains not less than 15 per cent. of wool. If it contains 85 per cent. of cotton and 15 per cent. wool it can be called wool cloth. Later, however, the right hon. Gentleman went further and said, in effect, that it need not have any wool in it at all and could still be described as wool cloth. Those are facts which must be borne in mind when hon. Members opposite make strictures on this party about consumer standards. We are quite prepared to accept them, but it seems to me that they must accept responsibility for their own actions when they were the Government of the country.
§ Mr. Coldrick (Bristol, North-East)
When my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Mr. H. Wilson) was replying in 1949 surely he was merely giving information about the standards which had been laid down by the Coalition Government. They had not been changed.
§ Mr. Burden
The hon. Member cannot get away with that. This was four years after the Labour Government had come to power—four years during which they had been responsible. They must accept responsibility for those four years after the advent of Socialism and the end of the war.
§ Sir L. Plummer rose—
§ Mr. Burden
I have given way twice and I hope that the hon. Member will forgive me if I now proceed. I shall be happy to give way a little later, but I hope that I may be allowed to continue for a while with my speech.
In the standards of retail practice—which is probably the basis of attack today—the Socialists now claim that 426 wool cloth should be a cloth containing not less than 90 per cent. wool. I am a clothing manufacturer and interested in these descriptions. I came back from the war and found cloth described as wool—after the advent of the party opposite in Government—that had so much fibre in it that one could push a finger through the cloth without any difficulty. On 14th December, 1950, the right hon. Member for Huyton was asked whether he would ensurethat utility wool cloth made partly from fibre and any garments made therefrom are clearly marked with the composition of the cloth.He replied:I am hoping that it will be possible some time in the future to define 'wool cloth' a little better."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 13th December. 1950; Vol. 482, c. 1297.]That is the sum total of what was done by the party opposite. They were pressed by Members of my party to label the goods so that there should be no possibility of the consuming public misunderstanding. I can appreciate the difficulty that the hon. Member for Ashton-under-Lyne was in, because he is a cloth manufacturer. He was torn between his duty to the party opposite as a Parliamentary Secretary and his honesty and desire as a woollen manufacturer to ensure that wool cloth should be properly described.
In his reply to which I referred a moment ago on the question of description, the right hon. Member for Huyton said that the prevailing description of cloth had proved satisfactory. How could it be satisfactory to describe as a wool cloth one that could contain only 15 per cent. of wool?
I know that all hon. Members regret these things. We should like to see a better description given to these goods, but hon. Members opposite should not argue with their tongue in their cheek and say that the Conservative Party is 427 guilty while they are completely whitewashed over these things. Hon. Members opposite really did mislead the public over a long period.
The Retail Trading Standards Association is an organisation that has often been quoted by hon. Members on both sides. It is an organisation that has been set up by the big retail stores. Its governing body comprises directors and executives of those big retail stores, but it has an independent operation. It is provided with funds by stores and retailers, but its function is to ensure that the public are not misled by descriptions and that dishonesty in description by retailers is at once prosecuted to the utmost degree by the association.
It has done much good work. I think it should be made clear that it is an organisation that was founded by retailers in order to ensure that the public get a square deal. That cannot be stressed too strongly. It proves that the vast majority of traders in this country are highly reputable people and are determined to give the public good value, and a square deal. It is doing its utmost to ensure that the black sheep are exposed and dealt with by the courts of law.
The association in its booklet says:In all other cases other than that of sheep's wool"—and this is in direct contradiction to what the right hon. Member for Huyton said when he was at the Board of Trade—it is recommended that the word 'wool' should be abandoned and the material be known by the name of the fleece from which it is made.I think there would be no quarrel with that, and I am sure that hon. Members opposite would support it. I am also certain that the hon. Member for Rossendale would do his utmost at all times to ensure that a label is affixed now that he is a Member of the Opposition—and I hope he will remain in Opposition for a long time—and not called upon to make these decisions.
In the last two years of the Socialist Government, there were a series of debates criticising the fall in quality of Utility merchandise. We all know about that fall, and the then Government's attitude to wool cloth—and, frankly, there was no standard of quality for wool 428 cloth during the whole of the time of the Labour Government—was one of the reasons for that decline. The word "worsted", which traditionally has been known to define a certain quality of wool from this country which contained at least 90 per cent. wool, was permitted under the party opposite to include in its make-up increasing quantities of cotton. That was a very bad thing for the worsted manufacturers of this country and throughout the world. A great deal of damage was done to many of our manufacturers during those times of shortage. When foreigners wanted to buy it they thought that it was what it had always traditionally been known to be.
Prayers were moved by hon. Members who were in Opposition, including the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), and myself, about these falls in quality, but nothing very much was done. One hon. Member opposite, who has campaigned very forcefully about standards in cloth, really gave the answer in a series of articles. I think they were written by the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry. South (Miss Burton). She has campaigned very strongly and with great credit, as has the hon. Lady the Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie (Mrs. Mann), although I disagreed with her most strongly in her remarks about Purchase Tax. Both hon. Ladies have campaigned quite nobly in the interest of consumer goods. But so have Members on all sides of the Committee; let us be honest about it. The hon. Member for Coat-bridge and Airdrie supported the chief culprit, the right hon. Member for Huyton, when he was President of the Board of Trade. I wish that she had objected as strongly and as often then as she has since.
§ Mr. Burden
I am referring to the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie. She was in the House then.
§ Mr. Burden
Yes; I am coming to that in a moment. I was charging the hon. Member for Coatbridge and Airdrie that she acquiesced with these loose descriptions when she was supporting the Labour Government, but now she is objecting most strongly. Of course, I had hoped that she would object as strongly when she was supporting the Government as she does now.
The Merchandise Marks Act was passed by the Conservative Government and I had the privilege of proposing the Amendment which put meat into it.
§ Mr. Burden
It is not a question of modesty. The hon. Member laughs, but he will know that there is a good deal in his career about which he might have been a little more modest—ground-nuts, for instance. I have never been engaged in such a failure as that.
§ Sir L. Plummer
I do not know on what the hon. Member bases his remarks concerning my past career. If he says that he has never had such a failure, he cannot be listening to himself speaking this afternoon.
§ Mr. Burden
From the hon. Member's past record, he is the last person whom I should ask whether what I was doing was a success or failure.
Section 1 (1) of the Merchandise Marks Act, 1953, states that Section 3 of the 1887 Actshall be amended by inserting after paragraph (a)—(aa) as to the standard of quality of any goods according to a classification commonly used or recognised in the trade, or(ab) as to the fitness or purpose, strength, performance or behaviour of any goods …'.It goes on to deal with the question of misdirection in advertisements, and so on. It is through that Act and that Section that a great many of the prosecutions have taken place since 1953.
As for a comparison between what has happened since the present Government have been in office and what happened under the former Government, I can do no better than quote briefly from articles written by the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South, whose absence today we all regret. In "Housewives' Choice", 430 written in the first of three articles in the Daily Herald, the hon. Lady said:Before"—that was, before the advent of the Merchandise Marks Act—it was possible for a manufacturer to sell dresses as fadeless, raincoats as waterproof, fabrics as washable, when these claims were false.All that was legal during the five years in office of the party opposite, which took no measures whatever to stop it. It remained for a Tory Government to amend the earlier Merchandise Marks Act to stop all that. In the hon. Lady's own words, this is what the present Government have done.
The hon. Lady went on to say:By now the overboosting of goods and the printing of misleading descriptions should have been stopped. That was the idea of the law anyway. For instance, you can no longer call an article with a small percentage of nylon in it 'nylon and wool'",as could be done when the right hon. Member for Huyton was at the Board of Trade. To use the hon. Lady's words,You must call it 'wool and nylon'.Equally, if there is a greater percentage of cotton than wool in the make-up of a material, it must always be described by stating first the commodity which has the greatest share in its make-up. In the hon. Lady's words,You cannot call a 'showerproof' coat a 'watenproof'. Textiles are more accurately described. So is furniture in which leather is used only in pant.Great strides have been made since the Conservative Party came into power and still more has to be done. We are justified in pointing out that much more has been done by the present Government than was done by the party opposite. It is not right for hon. Members opposite to come here and say that we have done nothing at all. Their own case is completely exploded by the hon. Lady the Member for Coventry, South, especially in view of the record of the right hon. Member for Huyton.
I believe that the play of competition is much more effective than any legislation that any Government may bring forward to improve the quality of merchandise. As I have said, I am engaged in the manufacture of clothing. I have no hesitation in saying that if hon. and right hon. Members, from both sides, looked at the shops today and did some 431 shopping, they would find that the quality—at least in the clothing industry, of which I speak with some authority—has certainly increased tremendously during recent years, that prices have dropped considerably and that buyers have been much more selective and are continuing to be much more selective in the merchandise they are buying.
I am convinced that if trade organisations got together, they would be able to wipe out the occasional black sheep. The broad strata of manufacturers of a great many of our goods are determined to give the best possible value they can and the public will exert every possible influence to ensure that they do. If the buyers are to retain their position and their turnover, they are forced to insist upon good value and good quality in every way. When we talk of the occasional black sheep, we know that they exist not only in the world of commerce, but that even this honourable House of Commons has had an occasional black sheep as well. Those things cannot be guarded against.
The Board of Trade can at least co-operate with the trade organisations in assisting prosecutions and itself prosecuting where there are considerable violations of the Merchandise Marks Act and of the proper behaviour in commerce. Not only does this apply to the sale of merchandise, but there comes into it also the question of the relations of certain firms with the buying public. I wish to say a word about this and I hope that trade associations will take it up. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary knows about what I am going to say.
Recently, in my constituency, I was visited by an elderly widow, who informed me that she could not purchase less than ½lb. of butter from a certain multiple store, which had told her that it was illegal to sell less than that weight. I told my constituent that that was wrong and I telephoned a director of the firm in London. He blandly informed me that what my constituent had told me was correct. I communicated with my hon. Friend about it.
The position, I understand, is that a shopper may demand whatever weight he wants provided that it is weighed in front of him or, if it is pre-packed, the weight of the contents is clearly marked upon the package. In view of this, I wrote to the firm in question and asked for an 432 assurance that if it was the policy of the firm to sell not less than ½lb. of butter, the firm would admit that this was its own policy and was not a Government order. I was given that assurance and undertaking. I consider it very reprehensible that any firm should behave in that way.
We know that pre-packing is a good thing to ensure cleanliness, but I hope that if firms, for their own convenience, fix their own minimum quantities which exceed the minimum quantities that they are permitted by Statute to sell, they will make it clear that the choice is their own and has nothing to do with any orders from the Government. I make the point because I hope that this sort of behaviour will be stopped. There will, I think, be no further cause for complaint from the firm which I have mentioned and I hope that the butter trade will make it clear to its members that this is not the sort of thing that the counry likes to hear about.
I am sorry if I have taken quite a long time. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) should not be in such haste. He speaks a great deal, and he will have his opportunity. In any case, I understand that there are only two hon. Members on this side of the Committee who wish to speak. I felt that this was a matter of very great seriousness. It is something of which I have had a certain amount of experience, and if I have kept the Committee for rather a long time I hope that, in view of the importance of the debate, I shall be forgiven.
§ 5.10 p.m.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
To avoid the need for the kind of apology which the hon. Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) has just made, may I say that I intended to propose when we had a debate some time ago, out of which we set up a Committee on Procedure, that when back benchers got up to speak they should announce the time when they would sit down, and that if they went on for a longer period, Mr. Speaker or the Chairman should call them to order. I propose to sit down before 5.30. In order that I may get on with the debate without wasting time, I would say to the hon. Member for Gillingham that, by my definition, quotations out of context come under the heading of false labelling.
433 Much has been said about quality standards and I think that in regard to manufactured goods this is a problem with which we have to concern ourselves. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) has said, it is not so much a matter of establishing quality, although that in itself will be difficult enough, but something has to be done, particularly in the manufacture of textiles from new fibres and the curious mixtures that now come along, to tell the shopper what has gone into the cloth or whatever the manufacture may be, and what its performance will be. I think that it is with the performance that we are primarily concerned.
§ Mr. Darling
Yes, whether it is washable, whether she has to have it dry cleaned, and so on. So we are faced with the problem of laying down specifications. That will be very difficult indeed, but I do not think that we should run away from this problem. In other industries the British Standards Institution specifications are very important and manufacturers of heavy machinery, engineering equipment and so on take full advantage of the B.S.I. standards and specifications. When they announce to customers in foreign countries that they manufacture to B.S.I. specifications, that is a guarantee of quality. I think that if, in spite of the difficulties which I admit right away, we can get this kind of B.S.I. standard for consumer goods we should be doing a great deal to help the consumers of this country.
As the hon. Member for Gillingham said in an interjection earlier in the debate, in many of the trades in this field at the moment the best manufacturers are working to good specifications and good standards. I think that the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) will try to get into the debate and that I shall be in order if I pay tribute to him in this matter—he can correct me if I am wrong but I am sure that he will not correct me on this. I know that he is engaged in the manufacture of high quality goods which carry trade marks, which customers have come to understand are a guarantee of quality. There are other manufacturers doing the same thing. The Co-operative movement's marks are a guarantee of standards.
I think that we have to concede that the best manufacturers do this on behalf 434 of their own trading position, their own reputation and also on behalf of the consumers to protect them from the more unscrupulous competitors whom they have to face. It is no use these days asking the housewife when she goes shopping to judge by appearance the quality of the things which she buys. The hon. Member for Louth knows very well the tricks that go on in his own trade; manufacturers who tease up fibres to give an impression of high quality stuff when, in point of fact, they are weakening something already inferior in quality, and when the housewife washes the dress, the fabric goes into holes right away.
The hon. Member for Gillingham said that competition will deal with this problem, and that, if there is free competition among manufacturers, traders and shopkeepers, the housewife will be able to choose the high-quality stuff, and the traders will produce that high-quality stuff in competitive business. I have never believed that competition always has had that result. There are always bad people in every competitive society, and I think that good manufacturers, and the public, have to be protected against them. That is one reason why we must try to lay down specifications if we can.
If there is general agreement that this should be done and that we should try to get specifications for consumer goods, obviously the B.S.I. must have more money and more staff for the job. I believe that in this matter the trade associations, as well as the Government, have an important part to play. I think that, so far as it can be done, it should be the trade associations themselves which should try to lay down the specifications and standards. The B.S.I. is representative of the trade associations that need B.S.I. specifications, and the trade associations are there. I think that some Government money must go into this—some already does but it is admittedly inadequate—and the matter should be looked into.
We want the best manufacturers in each trade to try to lay down specifications for consumer goods so that customers will know just what they are buying—that is the point—what the stuff is made of, what it will do, what its performance will be and how consumers have to deal with it. It follows that it 435 is not only necessary to lay down specifications but to give the public some information in one way or another about the products which it buys.
The range of products available to the public will become wider and wider, by way of new cloth production, new synthetic fibres and so on. The range of products will get wider and we cannot expect the housewife to be learned and knowledgeable about all the goods which she is called upon to buy. The more information that we can give the housewife, the better.
We have in many other respects laid down standards. We have had to do it in the food trades in the interests of hygiene and good health, and in such Measures as the Food and Drugs Acts, the Slaughterhouses Act and others, and in prosecuting people who deliberately mislead the public by putting false labelling upon their merchandise. So we have a body of legislation already in existence for the protection of the consumer. As far as I can see this problem in its wider aspects, I do not think that we need much more legislation. I think that we have plenty already if it is properly applied.
The main problem which we are up against is that no Government Department is primarily interested in this debate. We know very well that the Parliamentary Secretary, who is to reply, takes some interest in it, but his interest is a narrow one. It is not concerned with food and drugs and it is not concerned with anything outside the sphere of activities of the Board of Trade. The Vote which we have before us mentions the consumer protection services in five Government Departments, but actually there is a sixth, which I do not suppose could be got in the Vote on this occasion, and that is the Home Office, which is responsible for some parts of the legislation on poisons and for the Shops Act. We have these Government Departments playing about with this problem. I do not think that we can get the standards which we ought to have within our present legislation properly applied, and protection of the consumer properly dealt with, so long as the job is split up between these Government Departments.
Some time ago some of us proposed that there should be a Ministry to bring 436 together these consumer protection sections of the various Departments. We are not adamant about a Ministry in our proposals, but at least there should be a Minister, even if he is only a junior Minister of State inside the Board of Trade. The important thing is that these consumer protection jobs should come together.
I should like to give an example of the way in which these things work at the moment. Whenever we debate the subject we usually talk about manufactured foodstuffs and manufactured consumer goods, but the problem is wider. There are, for example, the things that gardeners buy. A little while ago a case came to the Ministry of Agriculture concerning the sale of grass seed. The complaint was made by a competitor that there were weeds in the grass seed sold to a buyer as weed-free. When it was examined as a result of the complaint weeds were found to be in the seed. Those who were buying grass seed under the impression that if they threw it on the ground they would have a beautiful lawn without weeds found that they actually had the weeds as well.
The consumer must be protected in such cases and so must the manufacturer of the good grass seed, but this is such a fiddling little thing for the Ministry of Agriculture. That Ministry is concerned with milk and egg production and all the other great farming activities. The sale of grass seed in little packets to a little man who has a handkerchief of ground which he wants to make into a lawn is something which one would not expect the Ministry of Agriculture to be terribly concerned about. We say, therefore, that matters such as this ought to come within the scope of a Minister or a Department primarily concerned with the protection of the consumer.
§ Sir James Duncan (South Angus)
In fact, grass seed is protected by the Seeds Act, 1920. Whenever a farmer buys seed for farming purposes he not only receives a certificate of the nature of the seed mixture but also a guarantee of purity.
§ Mr. Darling
That is perfectly true, and the point that I was about to make was that obviously the Minister of Agriculture could have prosecuted under existing legislation but, because this was not the kind of quantity involved or the 437 kind of operation in which a farmer engages, the Ministry was not so interested as it would have been in a case concerning a farmer. I believe that is a sound point, and that these consumer protection services should be brought together.
I will repeat my promise that I will sit down before 5.30 because I wish to emphasise that it is desirable that hon. Members should announce in advance the limit they have set to their own speeches.
When we are discussing these matters we should be clear in pointing out that we do not want to apply a lot of regulations to the consumer. We want to do this job as easily as possible and, at the manufacturing end, with the full co-operation of the manufacturers and trade associations concerned. If a person wants to buy Inferior goods he should have complete freedom to do so. What we insist upon is that the stuff should be labelled inferior and that the prices should be appropriate to the quality.
There is no need of a great deal of legislation to ensure that, nor do we need to set up a bureaucracy for the purpose. We have existing legislation, and if we brought together into one Government Department these questions of consumer protection we could manage to do the job with a smaller staff than that which is now scattered about so widely. The policing should be the job of the trade associations. It should be made possible for consumers to bring forward their complaints more easily when they have been gypped and swindled by an unscrupulous manufacturer. They should be in a position to make a complaint and have the matter remedied.
Means should be found whereby the consumer can make her complaint to a Ministry, which will handle the matter if there is a prima facie case that she has been swindled in some way. We should lay down that prosecution or action can take place only if the consumer has gone back to the trader and the trader has refused to do something about it. If that were widely known, I think that it would be found that, to avoid the prospect of prosecution, traders would be very willing to deal with the complaint sensibly and to the satisfaction of the consumer. But the sanction must be there, and people must know that it would be used. One of our criticisms of the Merchandise 438 Marks Act is that far too few prosecutions take place. Our proposal to bring all these things together would deal with that difficulty, too.
I hope that at least the debate will draw attention to the problems of consumer protection and that when the Parliamentary Secretary replies, and he tells us what he is trying to do to anticipate the Weights and Measures Bill which was promised so long ago and has not yet been introduced, he will not dress the new regulations up in the form of a housewives' charter or anything of that kind, because that would be far below anything that we would expect from a decent Government.
§ 5.27 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) for the nice things that he said about my companies and the goods which I produce. My experience of trade has taught me that one cannot produce good quality and bad quality goods in the same works. One has either to produce all good quality or all bad quality goods. I hope that it will not happen, but there is a great danger of an impression being created by the debate that, as a whole, British industry produces shoddy goods. That would be doing a great disservice to our country. I beg hon. Members to be careful not to overplay this card, because 20 per cent. of everything that we produce is sold abroad and we live on those exports. If we cry stinking fish about the things we produce, we shall be doing the gravest injury to our workers.
Quite an appreciable amount of the consumer goods in that section of trade in which I have certain interests is sold to Americans and Canadian visitors who are coming into this country in increasing numbers. They come here and buy because quality goods made in England or made in Scotland are still the hallmark of the best, and only the best will do. We do our country an immense disservice if we suggest that we are deliberately selling shoddy goods which the visitor who conies to our shores is so glad to buy and so proud to take home with the comment, "I bought this in England".
On Monday I was in Doncaster at the board meeting of a big engineering firm of which I am a director. We were discussing the problem of exports to 439 South Africa and the possibility of establishing a business there. I asked a representative of the firm who had come from South Africa to discuss the problem of the prospects. He said that the Italians were exporting valves to South Africa at a price 50 per cent. below ours. The valves were not nearly as good as ours, but they did the job.
Let us not cry stinking fish about our people and their output. We produce fine goods in this country. I am proud of what we produce and of what our workers do, and we do them a great disservice if we say otherwise. Nearly forty years ago, when I was an external student at the London School of Economics, I was taught that one of the first things that a buyer should remember was caveat emptor.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey), who, I am sorry to say, is not present, said, among other things, that in a free society we could not save the buyer from his own stupidity and folly. Under Communism that can be done, but not in a free society. In a free society there is a limit to which one can prevent men and women being foolish with their money. The old adage that fools and their money are soon parted is as true today as ever.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North also said—and I put this to my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary—that we ought to look into the increased costs of distribution. I believe that that is true. I think that the labour engaged in the distributive trades has grown dangerously over the last twenty years and that something could be done in that respect.
§ Mr. Osborne
No, I am sorry, because I promised to be brief, and I have been in the Chamber all day.
The hon. Member for Sunderland, North also made the point that, since the end of rationing, profit margins especially in the food industry, had substantially increased. I earn my living in many ways, one as chairman of two wholesale grocery companies. Our recent report showed that our gross profit was 8.47 per cent., out of which we have to 440 pay wages and everything else. Our net profit, subject to tax, is 1 per cent. That is typical of the profit made by wholesale grocers throughout the country. There is not a lot of margin there, and I ask hon. Members to bear that fact in mind.
The last thing which the hon. Member for Sunderland, North said was that he thought we were spending too much on advertising and that the costs of advertising were being put on the article, which they must be, of course, thus putting up the cost of living. There is something to be said about that, but it is a matter which can be pushed too far.
I remember listening with great glee, before the war, to a record by Gracie Fields which said, "Shop at the Co-op". Gracie Fields was advertising the "Coop." We can do a disservice by saying wipe out all advertising, though I think that it is a matter that might be investigated.
The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood), who provoked me into taking part in the debate, said two things which I want to rebut. First, he said that the "Co-op." was safeguarding the consumer by its efficiency, its fairness and by the magnificent way in which it was conducting its trading, which was better than the way in which private industry was operating.
§ Mr. Osborne
Do not say that. I have read the recent report, signed by the Leader of the Opposition, which condemns out of hand the incompetence, the inefficiency and the backwardness of the Co-operative management. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Members should read the report, but if they have not the time to go through its 150 pages, and they want a summary of it, then I beg them to look at the summary given in the News Chronicle. It was devastating.
§ Mr. Osborne
I have read the whole report. The hon. Gentleman should not make statements which he cannot prove.
The report was a devastating condemnation by the Leader of the Opposition of "Co-op." trading. Therefore, I think it is a little unfair for the hon. Gentleman to throw the co-operatives at us when 441 the leaders of his own party have said how grossly inefficient the Co-operative movement is. That does not detract from the social value of the Co-operative movement over the last hundred years.
The other thing I want to rebut is this. The hon. Member for Rossendale, starting with what I considered to be rather an overdone and unjustified sneer at my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, said that in 1952 my right hon. Friend promised that he would double the standard of life of the people—
§ Mr. Osborne
—and that all that he had actually done was to double prices. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Hon. Members will be able to see that in HANSARD tomorrow.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
If the hon. Gentleman will give way, I will tell him what my hon. Friend actually said.
§ Mr. Osborne
Then I withdraw that, but the hon. Gentleman did say that little or nothing had been done to increase in those years the standard of living of the people.
That is so demonstrably false that in fairness to my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House I want to give the Committee some facts. I have here material for a letter which I intended sending to the Daily Telegraph. The statistics contained in it were produced for me by the statistician in the Library, so that we can take them as being fairly good.
What do we mean by increasing the standard of living? First, I suppose, we mean food. What have we done between 1951 and 1957 in the matter of food?
§ Mr. Osborne
The right hon. Gentleman must look up those figures for himself. I have my figures, which I propose to use.
The Committee will see that the biggest rise in the graph took place in the years 1954–57. If, when the debate is over, the right hon. Gentleman likes to come to the Library with me, I will go through the figures with him. I cannot be fairer than that.
442 How much do we eat as a nation? I will take just the five main foodstuffs. In 1951, we consumed 624,000 tons of beef. Last year, we consumed 799,000 tons. The consumption of mutton went up from 130,000 tons to 199,000 tons, and pork from 93,000 tons to 379,000 tons. The consumption of eggs went up from 796 million dozen to 966 million dozen. The consumption of milk went up from 1,790 million gallons to 2,199 million gallons, and the consumption of sugar went up from 1,929,000 tons to 3,273,000 tons. I think that these figures for food alone would justify the claim of my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.
To the people who love their tobacco and who regard their standard of life partly in terms of that commodity, I would point out that its consumption, despite the scare of cancer, has gone up—not in terms of money—from 287 million lb. to 304 million lb.
§ Mr. Osborne
The amount of whisky and spirits consumed has risen by 9.96 million proof gallons to 12.6 million proof gallons. Therefore, on that front my right hon. Friend was fully justified in saying that within a period of time he hoped to double the standard of life in the country.
§ The Temporary Chairman (Mr. Malcolm MacPherson)
The hon. Member should not seek to take part in the debate without first rising to his feat.
§ Mr. Osborne
Another thing by which we can judge our standard of life is the clothes we wear. In 1951, 119 million pairs of boots and shoes were sold, compared with 133 million pairs last year. Hon. Ladies will be interested to know that in 1951, 94 million pairs of nylon stockings were sold as compared with 207 million pairs last year. The number of men's shirts, and so on, increased from 46.2 million to 54.48 million. That shows that we are doing the nation a disservice when we pretend that we are not doing as well as is, in fact, the case.
I do not want to weary the Committee with too many figures, but I want to give several more. Another indication of the increase in the standard of living is the increase in the number of people able 443 to take holidays abroad. In 1951, the figure was estimated at 1,100,000, whereas last year it was 1,900,000. Another standard of judgment is the number of workers who have holidays with pay. When he was Minister of Labour, the right hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Isaacs) said that there were nearly 20 million workers who enjoyed holidays with pay. Today, the number is more than 24 million.
I claim that the standard of living has increased materially in the last few years and my final figure also shows that. Despite the undoubted improvements in our standard of living, the amount of money left over after those increases have been paid for has been infinitely greater than it was in 1951. The figures are startling. The figures for small savings are that the amounts invested in building societies totalled £97 million in 1951, as against £165 million in 1957; National Savings were only £1 million in 1951, and were up to £70 million last year; the amount deposited with provident societies increased from £44 million to £100 million; bank deposits were down by £26 million in 1951 and up last year by £81 million; life assurance premiums increased from £112 million to £300 million. The total savings of small savers last year were £716 million against £228 million in 1951.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary was, therefore, fully justified in saying that we would increase our standard of living in twenty-five years. Indeed, we have already materially begun the process and I hope that when hon. Members have studied the figures—and the House of Commons is always fair-minded in its acceptance of facts—that sneer will not be repeated.
§ Mr. Fernyhough
The hon. Member has often referred to the need to increase production. Does he not agree that production in the period he has mentioned did not rise by anything like the increases which he mentioned? If the standard of living depends on increasing production, how are his figures borne out?
§ Mr. Osborne
The increase in national production is exceedingly difficult to calculate, since it provides for arbitrary figures for the production of people like postmen, policemen and school teachers. 444 However, to take the steel industry, there has been an astonishing increase in production since 1951, and the increase in textiles, an industry with which I am associated, has been large. If the hon. Member cares to come with me to Doncaster, to the works which I mentioned earlier, I will show him the figures. The British people are doing a magnificent job and we do them a great disservice by pretending that they are not.
§ 5.45 p.m.
§ Mrs. Harriet Slater (Stoke-on-Trent, North)
We must give credit to the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) at least for working reasonably hard on his homework. In defence of my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton), if she were here today to answer some of the charges made against her and some of the things said in support of the Government, she would say that on innumerable occasions she has asked the President of the Board of Trade to bring prosecutions where goods have not been of the standards declared on the labels. My hon. Friend has repeatedly put questions about cases on which the President of the Board of Trade has refused to take action. The number of prosecutions under the Merchandise Marks Acts is nowhere near the number of accusations which have been made and which should have resulted in prosecutions.
The Vote which we are discussing has a very wide scope and includes five Ministries, which means that there are five Ministries dealing with consumer protection. We need to have consumer protection integrated under one Ministry rather than under five. That is why those of us concerned with the problem and those of us in the Co-operative movement who have been considering the matter for a long time have advocated that we should have at least one junior Minister, if we cannot get any more, responsible for consumer protection.
The world of shopping in which we live today is very different from that of before the war. I remember the time when we ran study classes in the Co-operative movement for our employees, not to show them how to sell goods, but to explain to them in great detail of what the commodities were made. That was so that they could explain to the consumer what was in the commodity being 445 sold. With that knowledge, they could help consumers to buy a good product and to use the product the right way when once it had been purchased.
Today, the problem is altogether different. We are now living in an age when scientific development has been such that it is no longer possible to make a shopper as knowledgeable about what is in a commodity as were our great-grandmothers. If any hon. Lady remembers going shopping with her mother, she will remember that when her mother bought a shirt, a sheet or a towel, one of the first things she did was to rub it to see whether she was getting linen, or some linen with a great deal of dressing. She knew that if she bought an article which had a great deal of dressing in it, then the first time that she put it in the wash it would go limp and wear away very quickly. That was one reason why poorer housewives, when buying tablecloths in the old days, bought a grey twill which they knew would be serviceable and which when boiled would become white.
Most housewives going shopping today do not use that simple method of testing—hon. Members can go into the shops and watch. Not only is the modern housewife confronted with simple cotton or linen, but with synthetic materials about which she does not know and about some of which even the shopkeeper does not know. Unless she has some protection in the form of guidance, she may well wash the material in the old-fashioned way and ruin it in the first wash, because of the synthetic material. That was not a problem with the linen and cotton which our grandmothers used to buy. From that angle alone, because the whole nature of the materials which the shopper is sold may have changed considerably, consumer protection is more than ever necessary.
There is the other factor, that there has also been a change in shopping methods. More and more, self-service is being extended, and, therefore, the shopper who goes into the self-service stores can be tempted very easily, by the fact that the goods are on show and easy to get at, to buy commodities which look attractive but which may not be serviceable. It is quite true that the best of our self-service stores try to maintain a standard in the commodities which they sell, but we have also a lot of second-rate 446 stores, and a great amount of development is now taking place in that way.
In some respects at the present time, and particularly in foods, drugs and other commodities of that kind, the shopper's only protection is to buy a branded commodity, and that does not always mean that she is getting protection. She can buy some branded commodities by which she can be as easily deluded as she can be in buying some of the unmarked ones. Even on some of our branded goods we need a tremendous amount of supervision and protection for the consumer.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, North (Mr. Willey) said he related shopping almost to gambling. I do not want the shoppers ever to feel that they are gambling when they go shopping, but I think there is another factor, and that is the time factor. The amount of time which one now has in which to go shopping is considerably reduced as compared with the time when our grandmothers went shopping. Many women now have to go out to work, and the time which they have for shopping is very much reduced. When my mother went shopping, it was a day out; she could spend her time making shopkeepers bring down umpteen things for her to see when she had already made up her mind that she would buy the article she was first shown. That was part of their shopping in those days. [An HON. MEMBER: "Technique."] It was not only technique; she was having a day out.
When we go shopping today we have a very limited time, especially in the case of the woman who goes to work. Her problem is that she wants to be sure that in the limited time which she has for her shopping she will do it profitably in regard to the commodities she buys. Therefore, I do not want to see any opportunity for housewives to gamble in the way in which they do their shopping. It is much more important that women who have only working-class incomes to spend should not have any opportunities for gambling in the shopping they do, but should be quite sure that they are able to get good value in the commodities on which they spend their money.
If a housewife has to buy a new sweeper, washer, refrigerator or carpet, quite a lot of discussion goes into the sale of such an article. She goes round 447 and looks at one shop after another, sees the goods tested out, and, consequently, when she buys a washer, cleaner or cooker, usually she takes very much more time than would be taken if she were buying a shirt for her husband or a frock for herself. She takes a lot of time buying a carpet, but very often is persuaded to buy a carpet because of the colours in it.
The carpet may be attractive, but she may have very little knowledge whether that carpet is suitable only for a bedroom or will wear well if it goes in the dining room, and, if she has children running about the house, this is very important. There are questions about the tufting and weaving of carpets and their general durability which are most important, and she should have some guidance. At least, we might expect her to be told whether a carpet is or is not suitable for hard wear.
I turn now to one other factor. Advertising has been mentioned. Advertising is a very profitable industry at the present time. Advertising specialists do not advertise merely to sell somebody else's commodities. The firms responsible for the advertisements are advertising in order to make money for themselves out of the designs which they create and the way in which the goods are advertised. Unfortunately, we have far too many people who buy commodities because they are well advertised, and proof of that can be obtained from any retailer. When I.T.V. advertises somebody's coffee, margarine or aspirins under another name, the sale of these commodities goes up immediately. The shopkeeper may be left with a large supply of these goods after a little while, perhaps because people have tried them out and do not want to buy them any longer.
There is also the consideration that the housewife likes to see a presentable packet containing the commodity she buys. One has recently seen how the manufacturers of detergents and corn flakes have been relying on this in order to sell their commodities. During the Whitsuntide Recess I went round two firms, and I was absolutely staggered when I visited one factory. This is a firm which advertises its good very much, and which has a very large factory on which £5 million has been spent on extensions. That money 448 was made available through advertising, by which the firm has been able to persuade people that its commodity really does "wash whiter," and why.
In one of these factories, the man in charge, knowing the interest I have taken in the subject of detergents and the amount of the commodity contained in the packet, had obtained some of the detergents sold in Germany There, again, the housewife has either been better trained or is not so easily persuaded as are some of our housewives, but the fact is that the packet was not attractive. It was indeed unattractive, but it had no foaming agent in the detergent, and it did the job. It washed quite as effectively as those products of ours which create a tremendous foam, causing trouble not only for sewerage works and rivers, but also, possibly, storing up trouble in future for the housewife herself, if she does not always see that the detergent is sufficiently rinsed off dishes and other articles after washing
It could be a very serious problem in our catering establishments, our dairies and in other places where various utensils are washed, if they are not sufficiently rinsed after the use of a detergent. If one wants to test that, one only need go to a local medical officer and ask him to check on it; I am quite sure that every hon. Member of this Committee would be absolutely appalled at some of the results. The German commodity was very much cheaper than ours.
There is also the question of the blue in detergents—blue Daz and other commodities. The advertisers try to persuade the housewife that she need not use old-fashioned blue when she does her washing because the detergent will blue the clothes without it. But that does not happen. The blue ingredient in the detergents has no effect, and it merely kids the housewife that it saves her another little job of pushing the whites through the blues. Because of successful advertising, the British housewife is gulled in that manner.
Something is being done about it in the schools. Last week I visited a school where the girls were allowed to carry out tests by simple methods in washing, stretching and machining. They were learning about buying materials to be used for washing their clothes, and this will save them a lot of trouble.
449 I have been glad to receive a letter from the Parliamentary Secretary saying that the Government are considering a Bill to deal with weights and measures. At present housewives are being tempted to buy strawberries in punnets. Many housewives think they are buying half a pound or a pound of strawberries in a punnet. At lunchtime I looked at some in a shop, and if I had been persuaded to buy a punnet I am sure I could have had a wide choice in number and weight of strawberries.
When buying potatoes after wet weather such as we have just had, the housewife buys far too much dirt because she has no protection. There is also the matter of packets of soap powders. The housewife should be protected by knowing how much she obtains when she buys a packet of soap powder or other commodities.
We live in an age when we are short of time and when we are confronted by new scientific development in respect of what goes into the commodities that we buy. Far too much money goes into advertising in this country, having regard to the balance of our economy, and some of it is not very reliable advertising. In view of all this, the Government must do something about bringing together existing Statutes for the protection of consumers and introducing new Measures in relation to weights and measures and labelling. These things should be done without delay.
The Ministry of Education should be doing much more in educating school girls so that when they become housewives they will not be so easily persuaded as present housewives are. I am not by any means libelling our housewives, but the next generation will be much more knowledgeable. The Government ought to make bigger grants to the organisations which are protecting consumers, such as the Retail Trading Standards Institution, and should prosecute manufacturers who do not fulfil the claims which they make.
I should like to see not only the Government but the Labour Party give much more consideration to some of the proposals which the Co-operative Movement has put forward so that even if we do not have a "Ministry of Consumer Welfare" we have at least one Minister in the Board of Trade 450 responsible for taking the necessary action to protect consumers so that their money is spent wisely and they get the very best possible value for it.
§ 6.5 p.m.
§ Mr. William Shepherd (Cheadle)
The hon. Lady the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater) has followed the general trend on the other side of the Committee and has dealt with the issue in a very sensible way, realising that it is just as important to promote more intelligent shopping as it is to secure rigid statutory protection for the purchaser. I am glad that she visited one of the big soap manufacturers. I did so a short time ago. I hope that she saw the work done by the detergent manufacturers in relation to the effects of detergents from the health point of view.
§ Mrs. Slater
Perhaps I might say that my visit was not as a result of an invitation, although the President of the Board of Trade asked me to go. On my own initiative, I asked two firms to arrange a visit for me. One was a Co-operative movement firm and the other a private one.
§ Mr. Shepherd
These visits come about in a variety of ways. It is valuable that hon. Members should visit manufacturers and learn some of their problems. It is easy to assume that all the difficulties are on the part of the consumers, but some manufacturers go to extraordinary lengths and adopt remarkable methods to make certain that their weights are absolutely correct. It is good that we try to learn the other side of the picture.
Because I had an official engagement outside the House of Commons, I was not here to listen to the opening speech today, but I gather that an extraordinary declaration was made about the efficiency of the Co-operative movement. I should say that the inefficiency of the Co-operative movement is one of the blessings to private enterprise.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
Then, how does the hon. Gentleman account for the great increase in the Co-operative societies' trade in the last twenty years?
§ Mr. Shepherd
Because people are attracted by the "divi". I come from Crewe. When the "divi" was 3s. 4d. in the £ it was a tremendous attraction. It did not matter whether the cakes were stale, stodgy and uneatable; one ate them because at the end of six months one got the "divi". If the hon. Member for Wednesbury (Mr. Stonehouse) really believes that the Co-operative society, as a business organisation, is efficient, he will believe anything.
If I were to give any advice to the co-operative society—it would be entirely unasked for—I should say that if it is to be efficient it must begin thinking in terms of paying its executives £5,000, £10,000 or £20,000 a year. All the members of the little local associations would then begin complaining, saying that it was a democratic organisation and that the executives ought to earn what they themselves do. As long as they persist in taking that view and the movement accepts it, so long will the Co-operative society be one of the most ghastly and inefficient organisations in the United Kingdom.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I mean those responsible for running the Co-operative movement, for example, on the wholesale side of the business, and executives in the larger-scaled Co-operative organisations. I do not mean "executives" in the sense of a members' executive; mean those actually running the business. But I do not want to spend much time talking about the Co-operative movement.
§ The Temporary Chairman
I hope that hon. Members will remember to rise to their feet when they wish to intervene in the debate.
§ Mr. Shepherd
Comment has been made about the merits of the private 452 trader. I agree at once that the private trader does not, in all circumstances, do the best that is possible. But I am a profound believer in the competitive system. I believe that the competitive system, on the whole, together with the intelligent shopper—we cannot do without the intelligent shopper if we are to have really effective results—can give the best possible commodities in the country. I believe in the competitive system and the small shopkeeper. I believe in the individual trader, and I want to see him prosper. I do not want to see what some hon. Members opposite want to see, a proliferation of nationalised concerns, because I am satisfied that that is socially bad, and I do not wish economic tidiness to be pursued at the loss of social advantage.
My hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), anxious as he was to get his speech through at such speed, resisted my attempt to interrupt him. I wished to do so for a purpose which was by no means unhelpful, but, there again, it was not appreciated. I wanted to point out that, in this country, despite what has been said about distribution costs, we have what are probably the lowest distribution costs in the whole world.
§ Mr. Shepherd
It is no good the hon. Gentleman shaking his head. After all, some people do a great deal to determine these things. If he is interested, perhaps he will write to the International Association of Departmental Stores, which frequently publishes figures showing the costs of distribution in the various countries where its members are to be found. He will find that, with the exception of Norway, England has the lowest distribution cost in the whole world. When we talk about high distribution costs, we may be talking about individual industries.
§ Mr. Stonehouse
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Co-operative movement which he was disparaging a few minutes ago, is playing a very big part in ensuring that efficiency?
§ Mr. Shepherd
Many people are. I would remind the hon. Gentleman that there is a well-known departmental store which is playing ten times the part of Co-operative societies in bringing about lower costs of distribution and better 453 quality of article. I will not advertise that company, although I have no doubt that its identity will not be lost on most hon. Members. I assert that, on the whole, our distribution costs are lower than those to be found in the rest of the world.
I want now to have a grouse about weights and measures. It has annoyed me ever since I became a Member of the House that this wretched organisation, the Post Office, should not have its scales examined by the weights and measures authorities. I cannot understand why this should be allowed. Why should the Post Office be able to say, "We arrange for competent inspection of our scales, and we make certain that they are right"? Of course, nothing of the kind is done. I know of some very inquiring and diligent housewives who, some years ago, when sending parcels by airmail to people abroad, used to run round from one post office to another until they found a scale registering the lowest charge. That may be an amusing experience, adding some variety to what is usually a very mundane task, but it is quite wrong that the Post Office should be allowed to check its own scales. It should be subject to the normal procedure to which other traders are subject and be covered by the weights and measures regulations.
What can we do about ensuring better quality goods, less shoddy goods and, if one likes, better distribution at lower cost? We cannot do it just by what we say in the House. It is a co-operative effort, not in the sense that the hon. Member for Wednesbury means. We must have several kinds of awareness. We certainly must have public awareness. We must have much more intelligent shopping than we have today. Many shoppers are extremely unintelligent and undiscriminating. We must say that, because it is no good thinking that we can bolster up the interests of the moronic fringe of buyers by statutes and regulations. We cannot do anything of the kind. There must be a more intelligent and discerning public.
Next, we must have more awareness in the trade. Many people who sell goods are not sufficiently interested in the quality of the goods. I take an interest in design, and I am told by those who try to promote it that one of the difficulties in putting better design over is the resistance of those in distribution who 454 want to sell the old-fashioned thing, the thing they are certain of. They have not sufficient enterprise to push the new product, which may look a little different and may be a little more difficult to sell in some areas. Therefore, I say that, in addition to public awareness, there must be trade awareness, also.
We must have much more scientific examination of the product. When some hon. Members opposite condemn certain manufacturers in this respect, they do so, perhaps, unjustly. Many manufacturers do not know how their articles actually work. Although it may seem a rather strange thing to say, it is not always easy to test performance. Indeed, we are only at the beginning now of performance testing. I went to see, as did my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary some time ago, a chair performance test at the Furniture Development Council. The Council has been going on with this work for about two years now, and it seems to me that very little progress has been made in trying to find out where the strains are when a person sits down in a chair.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East)
Does the hon. Gentleman mean on the chair or on the human being?
§ Mr. Shepherd
I know that many hon. Members will say that one could find out what the strain is on a chair with very little effort. I assure them that that is not so. It is exceedingly difficult to determine and assess these performance standards. I ask the Committee to bear with some manufacturers and trade associations which are trying to establish these standards. It is painstaking work, to which very many men are devoting themselves with great skill, and, if the results are not as readily forthcoming as some hon. Members would like, that is because the job is much more difficult than they have assumed.
Many organisations are trying to help in this respect. There are the trade associations, the Council of Industrial Design, and the British Standards Institution. One hon. Member, I think it was the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling), said that the institution should have a bigger staff. It is not entirely a problem of staff. I do not know whether hon. Members really appreciate the extent 455 of the work of the British Standards Institution. One can gain some idea of it when one learns that (the institution has over 2,300 committees, staffed by voluntary members.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I really do not want to go into that, because I feel that there is very much more in this matter of establishing standards than most hon. Members are prepared to admit.
As one interested in the dry cleaning trade, I have been following very closely the efforts of the trade and makers of garments to establish a standard for labelling purposes to enable dry cleaners and launderers to do the right thing with each product. Hon. Members may say that that should be simple. If they were to learn about the discussions which have gone on and the difficulties we have encountered in trying to establish a proper marking system, they would appreciate that it is not a simple matter. It is an exceedingly difficult matter.
§ Mr. Shepherd
I do not want to go into individual cases. Buttons present a particularly difficult problem, and we could have a very long discussion upon them, let alone upon raincoats. I would ask the hon. Lady to accept from me that it is very difficult to produce these standards. When we are not absolutely sure of them it is difficult to enforce them statutorily. What we must do is to get the utmost co-operation from all sections of the community, and that includes a very substantial improvement in the discrimination with which people purchase articles.
Hon. Members opposite have indulged in many attacks upon advertising. I suppose that some advertising is open to 456 objection, and some of it is not very intelligent. Some of it, indeed, may add unnecessarily to the cost of the commodity. If Income Tax and Profits Tax did not amount to 15s. or 16s. in the £ the amount of advertising done might be reduced. But we must not write off advertising as anti-social. If the cost of advertising reaches unreasonable proportions—if we have to spend 30 per cent. or 40 per cent. of our total costs in advertising—it is obviously uneconomic.
Advertising plays a tremendous part in the life of the community, and I do not know how we could get a vital and progressive society without it. If we did not advertise we should have a dull society—a dull, socialist society—and although some people would like to see that, I certainly would not.
Advertising can play a part in improving standards, although I do not necessarily pretend that the advertised product is either the cheapest or the best. Here, I would enter the plea that if traders complain—as they rightly do—about the extent to which profit margins have been whittled down, they themselves might try to become better salesmen than they are at present.
It is a very great temptation to a trader to become merely a hander-out of pre-sold goods, and many of them have accepted this proposition. In doing so they have had to accept a greatly reduced standard of profit, and I think that it would be to the advantage of the community, and especially of purchasers, if shopkeepers thought less in terms of being handers-out of pre-sold packages and more in terms of being sellers of the goods in question. Let them test the goods and establish their value; let them recommend products which are less extensively advertised. In that way they would get a bigger profit for themselves, and perhaps they would provide better value for their customers.
I am satisfied, if hon. Members opposite are not, at the progress that we have made in the last ten years in improving the standard of the product in the United Kingdom. As my hon. Friend the Member for Louth said, we have a great reputation for quality, and I believe that, on the whole, we have maintained that reputation. We now have the problem of translating a reputation built upon non-mass-production methods into one built 457 upon mass-production methods in a number of industries. It can be done, and I believe that we are doing it to a great extent.
I am pleased with what we have done in the last ten years in British consumer industries, but we have more to do. The reports of the Consumer Advisory Service have shown how poor are some of the products, but despite the fact that testing for performance has not been adequate up to now I am very pleased with what has taken place, and particularly with the way in which people are now conscious of design. It is gratifying to me to think that people can look upon a saucepan as a thing of beauty. In my younger days a saucepan was a hideous thing, but now people have spent time in designing a beautifully shaped and well-balanced saucepan.
It is wonderful to think that in the middle of the twentieth century, after all the mess of the past hundred years, this country is once more thinking in terms of beauty in mass-production goods. That is a most elevating thought, and if the process continues it will have a very marked effect upon our lives, because when we have beautiful things around us we can live much better lives. We have lived far too much with the ugly, and I am very pleased—whatever may be the reservations of hon. Members opposite—to think that we are making very pronounced improvements.
§ 6.26 p.m.
§ Mr. Francis Noel-Baker (Swindon)
In the very few moments left to me it is almost impossible to develop my argument. I understand that the Parliamentary Secretary wants to rise very shortly, and although neither clock is visible to me, because of reflections, I shall do my best to oblige him.
The hon. Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) made many points with which I cordially agree—and I do not entirely dissent from what he said about advertising. But I think that many hon. Members on this side of the Committee are very gravely disturbed by some of the anti-social aspects of the advertising industry, and we very much hope that either within the lifetime of this Government or, at the worst, early in the lifetime of the next, we shall have a Royal Commission on advertising which will go very thoroughly into the whole industry.
458 With modern conditions and modern marketing methods it is obvious that advertising is an essential ingredient. One cannot get a new product on to the market without modern advertising techniques. But there are directions in which advertising is being gravely misused—directions which are not only anti-social but positively dangerous to the community.
One small example is the recent considerable increase in advertising, aimed directly at young people, encouraging them to drink more alcoholic liquor. The young have been singled out for this campaign by a number of brewers. Another example is the utterly anti-social advertising which defiles the countryside and serves no economic purpose—in fact, it does a great disservice, because it causes us to increase our expenditure of foreign exchange and seeks to increase the vehicles which clog up our roads. I am referring to the advertising of the various brands of petrol. There is no difference between the various grades of different brands, as any engineer will say. These advertisements serve no useful purpose, they cost a great deal of money, and they make the countryside look hideous.
Far more important, however, is the advertising of tobacco products. I interjected during the speech of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), when he was giving statistics of consumption, because I was horrified to hear from him that even during the past year the consumption of cigarettes and tobacco has enormously increased. I understand that on television and in the Press alone advertising these products cost very nearly £2 million during the last half year. The manufacturers of tobacco know very well the grave risks involved. They are not concerned with the cancer death rate. They know very well that cigarettes with filter tips are every bit as dangerous as those without such tips, and yet they are spending millions of pounds trying to shove them down the public's throat.
Before I sit down I want to draw the attention of the Committee to the words of a distinguished doctor—Dr. Robert McCurdy. Speaking at the Commonwealth Chest Conference, which is investigating the causes of cancer, and after pointing out that in the last year for which statistics are available 1,000 more people died from cancer than in the year 459 before; after referring to the immense increase in lung cancer in England and Wales between 1950 and 1957, and after going through the medical evidence, which proves conclusively that smoking is a contributory cause to this increase, Dr. McCurdy said:The Minister does not intend that so many cigarette smokers should die of lung cancer. Therefore, he is not guilty of murder, but, by God, he is guilty of manslaughter.I feel that the advertiser and, indeed, this House are guilty of manslaughter if we do not do something very soon to prevent the sale of what, by all medical evidence, is recognised today as a dangerous and, very often, a lethal drug.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. F. J. Erroll)
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker) for sticking so closely to the agreed time-table, particularly as his remarks were so interesting.
Apart from one or two short Adjournment debates, Parliament has not for a long time had such a good opportunity to debate the subject chosen by the Opposition today. I welcome in my turn the opportunity to give the Committee the Government's policy on shopping. But before I do so, and as so much has been said about advertising, I should like to congratulate the Opposition on having secured such very successful advance publicity for their own publication by announcing this afternoon that it would shortly appear. Of course, that serves to explain one surprising feature of the debate, namely, the total boycott of the rival society's publication "Efficiency and the Consumer" which, to my surprise, was not mentioned by any Opposition speaker today.
As the date of publication is 20th July, I hope I may be allowed to make a contribution to the Labour Party's pamphlet by offering a quotation which might be put on the opening pages. As it comes from one of Shakespeare's plays, I feel that the source would certainly be above suspicion. The quotation I offer is:Sigh no more ladies, sigh no moreMen were deceivers ever.One of the pleasant features of a debate of this kind is that, as we are all 460 shoppers ourselves, we can all argue from personal experience, although, naturally, we tend to remember the odd unsatisfactory purchase or transaction, and correspondingly, to take for granted the hundreds, if not thousands, of satisfying purchases which we make every year. Several hon. Members referred to cases where the shopper gets a bad deal or a "racket" appears to exist. I shall try to refer to some of these cases in more detail later in my speech, but right at the beginning I should like to pose this question: Is the British shopper satisfied?
We, as Members of Parliament, have several ways of knowing what is going on in our constituencies, and I am sure that I am right when I say that remarkably little of our time, as Members of Parliament, is taken up in dealing with letters from angry or dissatisfied shoppers. I have not had one for years. Like a number of Members of Parliament I run a "surgery" in my constituency and a fairly popular one, too. I am glad to see one of my constituents sitting on the Front Bench opposite—he "nobbles" me in the House of Commons and does not have to attend my surgery.
I should like to say that in the course of the last few years I have not had a single complaint about shopping from any constituent attending my "surgery", Thus, while it is certainly right for us in the House of Commons to review the law and make suggestions, and to expose what we believe to be "rackets", nevertheless, I am sure that I am right when I say that today the public are satisfied with shopping conditions as they exist. The hundreds of millions of transaction which take place in the shops, markets and streets of Britain every day are completed to the mutual satisfaction of both buyer and seller.
The reason is that we have fully restored to the shopping public the two most valuable safeguards it can have, namely, freedom of choice and competition between traders. Manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers all want to stay in business. They want to keep their customers and to attract new ones. Simply and truly, it is wholly against their longterm interests to give the public a bad deal. In fact, the competition of a free market makes them keen to improve on what is already being offered to the public. Free competition automatically 461 provides the British shopper with the other safeguard, namely, freedom to choose between the products of rivals. If he does not like one article he can buy someone else's.
Perhaps I might just mention a personal experience which I had the other day. I went to a garage to have my car cleaned. The car washer suggested a time which did not suit me, and so I suggested another time which I knew would be unavoidably inconvenient for the garage. [Laughter.] But wait for the rest of the story. Back came the reply from the car washer, "That's all right, Sir, you're the boss." I said, "No, I am not the boss, I am the customer." Back came the reply again, "Well, that is the same thing." I think there is quite a useful lesson to be learned from that, because today in Britain the customer is the boss.
§ Mr. Erroll
I am not going to be guilty of advertising it in this Committee, but I shall be glad to inform the hon. Gentleman afterwards. As a matter of fact, the garage is in London.
Thousands and thousands of shops and manufacturers are willing to serve the customers of Britain today and to meet their wishes. I think we may be very proud of the retail system in this country, because our shopkeepers, large or small, have a long tradition of integrity and desire to please. I do not wish hon. Members just to take my word for that. I urge them to ask the foreign tourists who are flocking into Britain in their thousands at this very time. As was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), they are delighted to come to Britain and to buy quality goods. Some have told me personally how much they appreciate the standard of service and the courtesy which they find in British shops, both large and small.
Nevertheless, we fully recognise the need to provide statutory safeguards for the consumer. The Board of Trade is traditionally the Department which is generally responsible for measures to protect the shopper from deception by traders. The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) suggested that 462 while the Board of Trade took an interest in this matter, its powers were limited. In fact its powers are broad, and I think that they are usefully exercised, but it makes for good service if other Departments take an interest in this matter and if all the work is not concentrated in one Department.
Whenever a person goes into a shop to buy something there are three things for him to remember to keep an eye upon. They are weight or quantity, quality and price. I shall try to deal with those three things in their separate categories. We believe that there should be no deception about weight or quantity. Out of this simple concept has grown a great deal of complicated national and local legislation and the subject is becoming ever more complicated as more new products, new sales methods and new forms of packaging appear on the market.
I regret as much as anyone the unavoidable delay in the implementation of the Hodgson Report, but the intervening interval has not been wasted. The Hodgson Report appeared while rationing and control were still unavoidably the order of the day. Now we have many new problems to cope with, such as the sale of coal from robot vehicles and how to mark correctly the weight of a prepacked quick-frozen mixed grill which, I might add, is quite an important and difficult thing to achieve.
We have to consider, if we are to decide to sell nails by weight or by count, whether the nails included as part of a "do-it-yourself kit" must be so sold, or whether they should be specially exempted. Those are the sort of modern problems thrown up day after day by the changes and improvements in our sales and marketing metihods; and when the legislation comes along, we shall have taken full advantage of the interval during which we shall have been able to study these changes and legislate properly for such developments.
§ Mr. Erroll
Not at this stage of the current Session. Obviously I cannot give that information.
In devising this legislation we have to keep a balance between elaborate 463 schemes of protection for the consumer and the costs which will be involved and which the customer would pay in the end. These costs would arise if we were to impose too many checks and controls. The hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) referred to his purchases of talc powder. While that has not been specifically considered, I think I can say that it would be covered by the legislation which would require all prepacked goods of that sort to be sold by weight. In all probability the hon. Gentleman will have no difficulty in purchasing talc power at some date in the future.
§ Mr. Erroll
I have already explained that it is not yet decided.
The other thing which we are doing at present is to make quite useful progress with Regulations relating to food. I actually announced last November that we would be making Regulations under the Sale of Food (Weights and Measures) Act, 1956, and the Food and Drugs Act, 1955, to effect quite a number of improvements in the law relating to the retail sale of food, based on certain of the recommendations of the Hodgson Committee.
I was asked to say when. The problems are quite involved. We put out our proposals to about 80 different organisations affected and asked for observations by 31st March. Many meetings are being held with the organisations on points of difficulty, serious points, not obstructionist. Our original proposals may be modified in certain cases as a result.
I can give the Committee another example. We may have to accept that it is impracticable to mark soda water syphons, but, on the other hand, I think we shall be successful with spirits sold by the glass. They may be included in items to be sold only in specified quantities. We hope to bring the Regulations in as soon as possible, in all probability early next Session, but not this Session.
The hon. Member for Rossendale amused the Committee considerably with his quotations from the packets of detergents. When one hears them read out on the Floor of the Committee they sound rather ludicrous, but I would remind the 464 hon. Gentleman that after General Elections some housewives amuse themselves by reading out selections from the Election addresses of rival candidates, and there are sometimes exaggerated statements. [Interruption.] I was going on to suggest that if exaggerated claims were to be made illegal the Labour Party would have to be wound up tomorrow.
I do not think that the elaborate and fantastic features on the packets of breakfast cereal do very much harm. They add very much to the gaiety of the breakfast table at a very slight increase in cost, if any at all. And I very much hope that they will continue. They make the packets very much nicer than packets one can obtain in Communist countries, where there is no freedom of choice and precious little competition.
The hon. Lady the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Mrs. Slater) made very interesting points arising out of her visit to a detergent factory. I am glad she followed up the invitation and saw for herself some of the manufacturing problems involved. She will now understand the problems we have in the Board of Trade in protecting the consumer while giving the manufacturer a fair run.
§ Mr. Erroll
In the new legislation which we are considering we could require all detergents, and not only clothes-washing detergents but washing and scouring powders with them, to be sold by weight. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] That could be a step forward, but we must not think that it would solve the whole problem. Many factors enter into the making of detergents and one of them is the active ingredients. A person might be able to make up the weight with non-active ingredients while the active ingredients were lacking.
§ Mr. H. Rhodes (Ashton-under-Lyne)
May I warn the Parliamentary Secretary that he is starting off a very difficult process? If he is going to insist upon a standard weight in packed goods every shop will have to be air conditioned to accommodate them.
§ Mr. Erroll
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remark, which actually illustrated one of my great difficulties in 465 the Board of Trade, where we have to be fair all round. Loss of moisture is one of our great difficulties, and another is at what stage to put the chopper down and say, "No more loss of moisture".
The hon. Lady the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North referred to strawberries in punnets, a very topical point. In our new Regulations we propose to deal with the sale of strawberries by weight and to make that a requirement. The problem is very difficult because of the amount of moisture which can be lost between the picking point, the packing point and the shop. If we put the punnets into cellophane wrappers the strawberries deteriorate, and we are worse off than we were. I shall be grateful to the hon. Lady for any suggestion she may have to help us get over this difficult matter. We are doing our best with it.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
The hon. Gentleman has just referred to Regulations. Would he say whether the Government have Regulations in mind or legislation?
§ Mr. Erroll
Definitely Regulations and not legislation. We hope to do this by Regulation, because it is the retail sale of foodsiuffs and we can do that next Session, if we can get round some of the difficulties in time.
Some hon. Members referred to gift offers. While personally deploring them, I realise that the public like them. One distributor of packet teas held out for a long time against introducing a so-called "dividend" tea. He was compelled in the end to introduce a scheme, which he did by putting the price up by the same amount as the dividend handed back to the customer. It sounds ridiculous to hon. Members here, but I am informed that the sales of that brand of tea went up tremendously. Why should not the manufacturer provide tea in the way which customers wish? Who are we to say that his customers should not adopt this method of saving petty cash if they wish?
The second thing to bear in mind is quality. We believe that the customer should decide for himself, except in regard to the purity of food where special requirements are enforced by my right hon. Friends the Minister of Health and the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. We believe that a quality stan- 466 dard should be voluntary and not compulsory.
Let those hon. Members who favour compulsory standards ask themselves what sort of standard they would impose. A very high one? Then many consumers either could not afford or would not wish to buy high quality goods. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) made this point particularly well in his interesting speech. Furthermore, many manufacturers could not produce goods up to the legal standard so there might well be a shortage of goods and possible unemployment in many factories.
All right. Should we have a low standard as the legal standard, a "charter of shoddy"? That is not what most of us want. This would not serve the purpose of legal protection because many manufacturers would refuse to manufacture to a low standard, and so the standard would be boycotted and would fall into disrepute. We back a policy of voluntary standards as the most practical way of dealing with this matter.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Cheadle (Mr. Shepherd) for referring to the problem of satisfactory performance standards. I remember a chair which had to be subjected to some very intricate tests which were not satisfactory owing to the habit of some people of sitting on one leg of a chair and tilting it over. The manufacturers devised a very clever method of performance test carried out under a satisfactory arrangement, so that people who now buy that chair get a high-performance, tested chair and will know that they are getting a hard-wearing and well-tested article.
Those standards are worked out and devised by the British Standards Institution in consultation and by discussion with British industry. The Government support B.S.I. by a general grant, this year of £150,000 and a special grant of £10,000 specifically for work for the domestic consumer. Here I should express my full agreement with the proposal made by the hon. Member for Hillsborough who hoped trade associations and other bodies would support the work of the B.S.I. more generously. It is well supported at present by popular subscription, but any additional money made available would be most well spent and I hope everyone will remember what the hon. Member said.
467 Some hon. Members rather gave the impression that we had really nothing to show on the consumer goods side of the problem. That is not true because an impressive list of standards for consumer goods is in being. The majority of those relate to sizes, weight, terms, definitions and so on and some, only a few I am afraid, to quality and performance. We have many standards of consumer goods and those are valuable and much appreciated.
The hon. Member for Rossendale referred to Kite marks. It is important to realise that Kite marks do not indicate only a minimum standard; the goods must comply with objective tests which ensure a reasonable standard of performance. The case of the Marlborough Street pillows prosecution was mentioned. It is hardly necessary to remind the Committee that no law—in this case the Merchandise Marks Act—is immune from contravention. The fact that the law is there enables prosecution to take place and the matter to be put in order.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
Is it not a fact that that prosecution was made, neither by the Board of Trade nor the B.S.I., but by a voluntary organisation, the Retail Trading Standards Association?
§ Mr. Erroll
I am glad the hon. Member referred to that because I wanted to point out that, although we can and do prosecute, other bodies can do so and other bodies are active in this way. In the year ending 30th June, 1958, the Board of Trade brought 24 prosecutions and all the 23 completed cases were successful. We do prosecute and I am glad that other organisations do so, although there are no central statistics of the number of prosecutions by those other bodies.
The question of labelling was referred to. We are all in favour of an extension of informative labelling. Progress is being made, particularly in regard to a laundry code and a textile glossary which have been produced in recent years, but effective action—it must be effective action if it is to be any good—depends on the co-operation of a number of industries, and it cannot be achieved quickly.
468 I now come to the third factor, price. We believe the best way of keeping prices down is by competition between manufacturers and retailers. Except for goods which are individually price maintained, there is no special sanctity about a price tag on an article. It is merely "an offer to treat" and indicates that the seller will sell at that price. The buyer is free to make a counter offer, which the seller can reject or accept as he pleases. When we consider retail shoppers we realise that we are not a nation of hagglers. If shoppers do not like the price demanded at one shop they go to another shop where prices are lower. The shop where prices are out of line will soon have to come down to the general level. It is a combination of common sense and taken-for-granted efficiency.
§ Mr. Erroll
I have tried it and it works very well. I can recommend it to the hon. Member. We reinforced these sound practices by passing the Restrictive Trade Practices Act in 1956. That Act was designed to encourage the growth of competition in trade, and some success has already been achieved. In various fields restrictive arrangements have been abandoned and in others—the grocery trade is a good example—the rigidity of price arrangements has been noticeably reduced. Where the parties to a restrictive agreement feel that it benefits the consumer, they can under the Act argue it before the Restrictive Practices Court.
It was not claimed by the Government when the Act was passed that it would bring about spectacular reductions in prices. Indeed, it was recognised that in times of inflation price rings may operate to stabilise rather than to inflate prices. This may be at the cost of rigidity in trade and lack of opportunity for new entrants and the marketing of new products. If the Act achieves its object, consumers will benefit by more flexibility of the supply of goods, but it is up to shoppers to take advantage of this by demanding the goods they want and by looking critically at those which are offered to them both as regards price and quality. No law could achieve this for them.
469 The Government stand by competition and freedom of choice as the best safeguards for the consumer, and the best way of bringing prices down. We back up this policy with a body of Weights and Measures legislation which puts beyond argument the quantity of an article being purchased. By the Merchandise Marks Acts we protect against deceptive description of goods while leaving the shopper free to decide what quality he wants, quality standards themselves being best settled on a voluntary basis; while on prices themselves we have set up the Restrictive Practices Court, the very existence of which is already achieving beneficial results; and in the field of hire
§ purchase we have through legislation given the shopper access to all the facts before he need make up his mind.
§ We believe the shopping public thoroughly approves of the Government's successful combination of personal freedom and carefully planned protection, which I now invite the Committee to endorse.
§ Mr. Anthony Greenwood
In view of the unconvincing reply that we have had, I beg to move, That Item Class VI, Vote I (Board of Trade), be reduced by £5.
§ Question put:—
§ The Committee divided: Ayes 215, Noes 242.473
|Division No. 196.]||AYES||[6.57 p.m.|
|Ainsley, J. W.||Forman, J. C.||Logan, D. G.|
|Albu, A. H.||Fraser, Thomas (Hamilton)||Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson|
|Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.)||Gaitskell, Rt. Hon. H. T. N.||McAlister, Mrs. Mary|
|Allen, Arthur (Bosworth)||George, Lady Megan Lloyd (Car'then)||McCann, J.|
|Awbery, S. S.||Gibson, C. W.||MacColl, J. E.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Gooch, E. G.||MacDermot, Niall|
|Balfour, A.||Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||McGovern, J.|
|Bellenger, Rt. Hon. F. J.||Greenwood, Anthony||McInnes, J.|
|Bence, C. R. (Dunbartonshire, E.)||Grenfell, Rt. Hon. D. R.||Mainwaring, W. H.|
|Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S. E.)||Grey, C. F.||Mann, Mrs. Jean|
|Benson, Sir George||Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Mayhew, C. P.|
|Blackburn, F.||Griffiths, William (Exchange)||Mellish, R. J.|
|Blenkinsop, A.||Grimond, J.||Messer, Sir F.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Hale, Leslie||Mitchison, G. R.|
|Boardman, H.||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Morris, Percy (Swansea, W.)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Hamilton, W. W.||Morrison, Rt. Hn. Herbert (Lewis'm, S.)|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, S. W.)|
|Bowles, F. G.||Hannan, W.||Mort, D. L.|
|Boyd, T. C.||Harrison, J. (Nottingham, N.)||Moss, R. L.|
|Braddock, Mrs. Elizabeth||Hastings, S.||Moyle, A.|
|Brockway, A. F.||Hayman, F. H.||Mulley, F. W.|
|Broughton, Dr. A. D. D.||Healey, Denis||Noel-Baker, Francis (Swindon)|
|Brown, Rt. Hon. George (Belper)||Henderson, Rt. Hn. A. (Rwly Regis)||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.)|
|Brown, Thomas (Ince)||Herbison, Miss M.||O'Brien, Sir Thomas|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Hewitson, Capt. M.||Oram, A. E.|
|Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green)||Hobson, C. R. (Keighley)||Orbach, M.|
|Carmichael, J.||Holman, P.||Oswald, T.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Holmes, Horace||Owen, W. J.|
|Chapman, W. D.||Holt, A. F.||Padley, W. E.|
|Chetwynd, G. R.||Houghton, Douglas||Paling, Rt. Hon. W. (Dearne Valley)|
|Clunie, J.||Howell, Denis (All saints)||Palmer, A. M. F.|
|Coldrick, W.||Hoy, J. H.||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)|
|Collick, P. H. (Birkenhead)||Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Parker, J.|
|Collins, V. J. (Shoreditch & Finsbury)||Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Parkin, B. T.|
|Corbet, Mrs. Freda||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Paton, John|
|Cove, W. G.||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Pearson, A.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Irvine, A. J. (Edge Hill)||Pentland, N.|
|Cronin, J. D.||Irving, Sydney (Dartford)||Plummer, Sir Leslie|
|Crossman, R. H. S.||Isaacs, Rt. Hon. G. A.||Popplewell, E.|
|Cullen, Mrs. A.||Jay, Rt. Hon. D. P. T.||Prentice, R. E.|
|Darling, George (Hillsborough)||Jeger, George (Goole)||Price, J. T. (Westhoughton)|
|Davies, Harold (Leek)||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs, S.)||Price, Philips (Gloucestershire, W.)|
|de Freitas, Geoffrey||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Probert, A. R.|
|Delargy, H. J.||Johnston, Douglas (Paisley)||Proctor, W. T.|
|Diamond, John||Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (Wakefield)||Pursey, Cmdr. H.|
|Dodds, N. N.||Jones, Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)||Redhead, E. C.|
|Dye, S.||Jones, Jack (Rotherham)||Reeves, J.|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Jones, J. Idwal (Wrexham)||Reid, William|
|Edelman, M.||Jones, T. W. (Merioneth)||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. John (Brighouse)||Key, Rt. Hon. C. W.||Rhodes, H.|
|Edwards, Rt. Hon. Ness (Caerphilly)||King, Dr. H. M.||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Lee, Frederick (Newton)||Roberts, Albert (Normanton)|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Lee, Miss Jennie (Cannock)||Roberts, Goronwy (Caernarvon)|
|Evans, Albert (Islington, S. W.)||Lever, Harold (Cheetham)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Fernyhough, E.||Lever, Leslie (Ardwick)||Ross, William|
|Fitch, Alan||Lewis, Arthur||Royle, C.|
|Foot, D. M.||Lipton, Marcus||Shinwell, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Silverman, Julius (Aston)||Taylor, John (West Lothian)||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)||Thomas, George (Cardiff)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)||Thomas, Iorwerth (Rhondda, W.)||Willey, Frederick|
|Skeffington, A. M.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)||Williams, David (Neath)|
|Slater, Mrs. H. (Stoke, N.)||Thornton, E.||Williams, Rev. Llywelyn (Ab'tillery)|
|Slater, J. (Sedgefield)||Timmons, J.||Williams, Rt. Hon. T. (Don Valley)|
|Smith, Ellis (Stoke, S.)||Tomney, F.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Sorensen, R. W.||Usborne, H. C.||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Spriggs, Leslie||Viant, S. P.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Steele, T.||Wade, D. W.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Stewart, Michael (Fulham)||Warbey, W. N.||Winterbottom, Richard|
|Storehouse, John||Weitzman, D.||Woof, R. E.|
|Strachey, Rt. Hon. J.||Wells, Percy (Faversham)||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)||Zilliacus, K.|
|Swingler, S. T.||West, D. G.|
|Taylor, Bernard (Mansfield)||Wheeldon, W. E.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Mr. Short and Mr. Deer.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Erroll, F. J.||Kirk, P. M.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Finlay, Graeme||Lagden, G. W.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Fletcher-Cooke, C.||Lambton, Viscount|
|Alport, C. J. M.||Fort, R.||Lancaster, Col. C. G.|
|Amery, Julan (Preston, N.)||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Leather, E. H. C.|
|Arbuthnot, John||Fraser, Sir Ian (M'cmbe & Lonsdale)||Leavey, J. A.|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Galbraith, Hon. T. G. D.||Leburn, W. G.|
|Ashton, H.||Gammans, Lady||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.|
|Baldock, Lt.-Cmdr. J. M.||George, J. C. (Pollok)||Legh, Hon. Peter (Petersfield)|
|Baldwin, Sir Archer||Gibson-Watt, D.||Lennox-Boyd, Rt. Hon. A. T.|
|Barber, Anthony||Glover, D.||Llewellyn, D. T.|
|Barlow, Sir John||Glyn, Col. Richard H.||Lloyd, Maj. Sir Guy (Renfrew, E.)|
|Barter, John||Godber, J. B.||Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)|
|Batsford, Brian||Goodhart, Philip||Low, Rt. Hon. Sir Toby|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Gough, C. F. H.||Lucas, P. B. (Brentford & Chiswick)|
|Beamish, Col. Tufton||Gower, H. R.||Mackeson, Brig. Sir Harry|
|Bell, Ronald (Bucks, S.)|
|Bennett, F. M. (Torquay)||Graham, Sir Fergus||McKibbin, Alan|
|Bennett, Dr. Reginald||Grant, Rt. Hon. W. (Woodside)||Mackie, J. H. (Galloway)|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. R. (Nantwich)||McLaughlin, Mrs. P.|
|Bingham, R. M.||Green, A.||Maclean, Sir Fitzroy (Lancaster)|
|Bishop, F. P.||Grimston, Sir Robert (Westbury)||Macleod, Rt. Hn. Iain (Enfield, W.)|
|Black, C. W.||Grosvenor, Lt.-Col. R. G.||MacLeod, John (Ross & Cromarty)|
|Body, R. F.||Hare, Rt. Hon. J. H.||Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)|
|Boothby, Sir Robert||Harris, Frederic (Croydon, N. W.)||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)|
|Bossom, Sir Alfred||Harris, Reader (Heston)||Macpherson, Niall (Dumfries)|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Harrison, A. B. C. (Maldon)||Maitland, Cdr. J. F. W. (Horncastle)|
|Boyle, Sir Edward||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Maitland, Hon. Patrick (Lanark)|
|Braine, B. R.||Harvey, Sir Arthur Vere (Macclesf'd)||Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.|
|Braithwaite, Sir Albert (Harrow, W.)||Hay, John||Markham, Major Sir Frank|
|Bromley-Davenport, Lt.-Col. W. H.||Head, Rt. Hon. A. H.||Marples, Rt. Hon. A. E.|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Marshall, Douglas|
|Brooman-White, R. C.||Henderson, John (Cathcart)||Mathew, R.|
|Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Henderson-Stewart, Sir James||Maudling, Rt. Hon. R.|
|Bullus, Wing Commander E. E.||Hesketh, R. F.||Mawby, R. L.|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Hicks-Beach, Maj. W. W.||Medlicott, Sir Frank|
|Butcher, Sir Herbert||Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)||Milligan, Rt. Hon. W. R.|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Walden)||Hill, Mrs. E. (Wythenshawe)||Molson, Rt. Hon. Hugh|
|Campbell, Sir David||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)||Nabarro, G. D. N.|
|Carr, Robert||Hinchingbrooke, Viscount||Nairn, D. L. S.|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Hirst, Geoffrey||Nicholls, Harmar|
|Chichester-Clark, R.||Hobson, John (Warwick & Leam'gt'n)||Nicholson, Sir Godfrey (Farnham)|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Holland-Martin, C. J.||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)|
|Conant, Maj. Sir Roger||Hope, Lord John||Noble, Michael (Argyll)|
|Cooke, Robert||Hornby, R. P.||Nugent, G. R. H.|
|Cooper, A. E.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Oakshott, H. D.|
|Cooper-Key, E. M.||Horobin, Sir Ian||Orr-Ewing, Charles Ian (Hendon, N.)|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Howard, Gerald (Cambridgeshire)||Osborne, C.|
|Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Hudson, W. R. A. (Hull, N.)||Page, R. G.|
|Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Hulbert, Sir Norman||Pannell, N. A. (Kirkdale)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Hurd, A. R.||Partridge, E.|
|Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.)||Peel, W. J.|
|Cunningham, Knox||Hutchison, Sir James (Sootstoun)||Peyton, J. W. W.|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Iremonger, T. L.||Pickthorn, K. W. M.|
|Davidson, Viscountess||Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye)||Pike, Miss Mervyn|
|Deedes, W. F.||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Pitman, I. J.|
|Digby, Simon Wingfield||Jennings, J. C. (Burton)||Pitt, Miss E. M.|
|Donaldson, Cmdr. C. E. McA.||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Pott, H. P.|
|Drayson, G. B.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Dugdale, Rt. Hn. Sir T. (Richmond)||Joseph, Sir Keith||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Duncan, Sir James||Keegan, D.||Price, Henry (Lewisham, W.)|
|Duthie, W. S.||Kerby, Capt. H. B.||Prior-Palmer, Brig. O. L.|
|Eccles, Rt. Hon. Sir David||Kerr, Sir Hamilton||Profumo, J. D.|
|Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Kershaw, J. A.||Rawlinson, Peter|
|Emmet, Hon. Mrs. Evelyn||Kimball, M.||Redmayne, M.|
|Errington, Sir Eric|
|Rees-Davies, W. R.||Storey, S.||Vickers, Miss Joan|
|Renton, D. L. M.||Studholme, Sir Henry||Vosper, Rt. Hon. D. F.|
|Ridsdale, J. E.||Summers, Sir Spencer||Wakefield, Edward (Derbyshire, W.)|
|Rippon, A. G. F.||Sumner, W. D. M. (Orpington)||Wakefield, Sir Wavell (St. M'lebone)|
|Roberts, Sir Peter (Heeley)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)||Walker-Smith, Rt. Hon. Derek|
|Robertson, Sir David||Teeling, W.||Wall, Patrick|
|Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)||Temple, John M.||Webbe, Sir H.|
|Rodgers, John (Sevenoaks)||Thomas, P. J. M. (Conway)||Webster, David|
|Ropner, Col. Sir Leonard||Thompson, Kenneth (Walton)||Whitelaw, W. S. I.|
|Sandys, Rt. Hon. D.||Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Shepherd, William||Thorneycroft, Rt. Hon. P.||Wills, Sir Gerald (Bridgwater)|
|Smyth, Brig. Sir John (Norwood)||Thornton-Kemsley, Sir Colin||Wood, Hon. R.|
|Spearman, Sir Alexander||Tiley, A. (Bradford, W.)||Woollam, John Victor|
|Speir, R. M.||Tilney, John (Wavertree)||Yates, William (The Wrekin)|
|Spence, H. R. (Aberdeen, W.)||Turton, Rt. Hon. R. H.|
|Stevens, Geoffrey||Tweedsmuir, Lady||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Steward, Sir William (Woolwich, W.)||Vane, W. M. F.||Mr. Bryan and Mr. Hughes-Young.|
§ Original Question again proposed.
§ It being after Seven o'clock, The CHAIRMAN left the Chair, further Proceeding standing postponed until after the consideration of Private Business set down 474 by direction of The CHAIRMAN OF WAYS AND MEANS under Standing Order No. 7 (Time for taking Private Business).
§ Mr. SPEAKER resumed the Chair.