§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.5 a.m.
§ Mr. Philip Goodhart (Beckenham)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Last year I had the privilege of being the chairman of a small committee of members of the Conservative Party—including my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur), and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West (Mrs. MacLaughlin), who cannot be present today because she has influenza—which produced a report on consumer protection. In that report we made a substantial number of recommendations for legislative action. Virtually on the day that the report was published, I was also lucky enough to draw a very high place in the Ballot for Private Members' Bills, so it seemed to me that it would be only right and proper to try to put into practice some of the things that we had just been preaching about.
Here, alas, we run into some fairly obvious difficulties. The fact is that a Departmental Committee, the Molony Committee, is studying at the moment—although it is coming nearly to the end of those studies—this whole question of consumer protection. I can understand, even though I do not support, the Government's reluctance to consider any legislation without first having had an opportunity of studying the Departmental Committee's Report, but I do not believe that the establishment of such a Committee as that can, or ought to, stop Members of this House from touching on a whole aspect of legislation. I therefore felt that it would be right to look into the highways and 566 byeways of this subject and to concentrate on an isolated issue; one of importance, but one outside the main stream of consumer protection.
Before I leave the subject of the Molony Committee, I should like to trespass for a moment on the functions of the Leader of the House and consider what is bound to happen soon after the Committee's Report is published, as we can expect it to be, later this year. People who are interested in this question, but who have not studied the complexities very closely, may imagine that, after due consideration, the Government will introduce a consumers' charter which, in one sweep, will cover the whole range of consumer protection. But, of course, this is legislatively impossible because the Molony Committee's recommendations will be concerned with weights and measures legislation, hire purchase, the Merchandise Marks Act, the Sale of Goods Act, and many other facets of our legislative fabric.
What will happen is, I think, reasonably clear. We shall, next Session, see some major weights and measures legislation. I hope that the Weights and Measures Bill will at least lay the foundations of a local consumer protection service, a local consumer protection service which would be based on the weights and measures inspectorate—to which we look forward in our pamphlet—and which, I believe, will do more than anything to give British consumers the feeling that they are being protected.
Certainly, there is bound to be major legislation next Session. It is also plain that there will be major hire-purchase legislation and this, by any standards, will be an immensely complicated matter. No doubt some hon. Members present today will be on the Standing Committee which will consider that piece of legislation. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) will certainly wish to be on it.
I do not look forward to that particular piece of legislation with any great enthusiasm. It will mean spending a great deal of time studying the Bill. It seems that next Session the legislation I have described will just about complete the amount of consumer legislation that the Board of Trade can possibly 567 contemplate. There is, after all, a limit to the amount of legislative work that Ministers can take on their shoulders, however broad they may be. I do not see how they will be able to cope with more than two such major Bills in one Session.
This means that what I might call the "Molony muckage", the less important recommendations that Committee is bound to make, will inevitably get pushed back from next Session to the one following that and to the one after that, and so on. Thus, if we do not take this opportunity of doing something it may be two to five years—whatever the Molony Committee says—before we will have an opportunity to return to this theme. The reform which I propose stands on its own, for it is not dependent on action being taken in other respects and it affects no other facets of consumer protection. I believe it to be worth while and to have wide support.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
I think that my hon. Friend is wrong there. I understand that every time a proposed seal will be affixed by a society or organisation, that fact must be registered. What happens when the seal that is affixed is the Lion seal on eggs? Surely my hon. Friend's proposed reform covers a wide field.
§ Mr. Goodhart
My hon. Friend, who is one of our Friday experts, usually reads Bills before making interventions. On this occasion, however, he cannot have read this Bill with very great care. I will try to explain the points that are troubling him when I deal with that aspect of my proposals.
The idea of the reform, as I say, has very wide support. From the evidence to the Molony Committee that has already been published we know that the T.U.C. is in favour of the reform, just as we know that it is supported by the Citizens Advice Bureaux, which play an important part in this field and which, I hope, will play an increasingly important part. The Women's Institute has recommended it, just as it is supported by the Co-operative Guild, the Retail Trade Standards Association, the Consumers' Advisory Council, the British Standards Institution and the Consumers' Association.
568 The Labour Party, in its unofficial recommendations, has recommended the reform and I am glad to have the support of some hon. Gentlemen opposite. I think that the Liberal Party is in favour of it. I have lost that party's pamphlet, in which its recommendations were set forth, but I see the right hon. Gentleman the leader of the Liberal Party in his place and perhaps he will inform me of his party's views.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
I will gladly send the hon. Gentleman another copy of the pamphlet free and give him as much support as we can. I would inform the hon. Gentleman that one-sixth of my party is present.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I am grateful that we have the support of the major portion of the Liberal Party.
In our unofficial pamphlet some hon. Members of the Conservative Party have suggested the reform. We said in that pamphlet that:Those who set themselves up as testers should be themselves subject to test.We added:A growing number of guarantee seals and certification marks has shown that there is a demand among consumers for a reliable independent indication, that goods are of sound quality and fit for their intended use. As with independent testing houses, it is important that the organisations giving these seals should be above suspicion and should be seen to be so. But in this field there is now some cause for anxiety.We are all aware of the tremendous increase in interest in consumer protection in recent years. There has been a great wave of prosperity and people are buying far more goods than they ever did before. These goods, however, are far more complicated than in the past. There is, of course, a far greater variety of goods, many of which have changed in their appearance and make-up. In the old days "Old Mother Grumble's" soap flakes were, perhaps, considered to be the best. That fact was handed down from mother to daughter. New packages of detergents are now arriving on the grocers' shelves each week and it seems that the old certainties are giving way to a greater choice, although there is increasing doubt about what really is the best product.
569 This has happened in other countries as well, and there have been different responses to this problem in various countries. For instance, in Scandinavia there is much greater emphasis than there is here on labelling. America and this country have led the world in the establishment of independent testing magazines, such as Which? and the Shopper's Guide. In France and Belgium there has been much greater emphasis on quality seals. I do not think that these seals are mutually exclusive. I would like, for instance, to see some of the labelling schemes in Scandinavia introduced into this country with the support of the British Standards Institution.
I believe that there is definitely room for the growth of the use of proper seals and guarantee labels in this country. Even to men they are of some importance. I enjoy doing a bit of Saturday morning shopping, and I must admit that if I see a packet with a "Good Housekeeping" seal of approval on it I am prejudiced in favour of that product, possibly wrongly.
But how much are some of these seals worth? If the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade were to leave the Government tomorrow—I hope he has a long and distinguished Ministerial career ahead of him—I believe that he could the very next day register a Scottish Consumer Research Establishment, go on to design the most elaborate seal and issue it for a substantial fee, if he could persuade anybody to pay it, to any manufacturer or retailer. They would put the stamp upon their products and no doubt tens of thousands of housewives might be influenced by it. But it could be absolutely worthless.
This is not as far-fetched as it might seem, because there have been registered a large number of curious companies with high-sounding consumer protection names, and we in the Consumers' Association keep a watch on these things. Some of these companies are at the moment issuing seals of approval which, on the face of it, seem to be absolutely valueless. This is a field in which there has been considerable controversy and even acrimony. Here, I am indebted to Miss Elizabeth Gundrey, who has made an exhaustive study of seals of approval which are now in circulation, at some 570 risk to herself because she has been threatened with libel actions on a number of occasions.
I suppose that perhaps the best known of all the seals of approval in this country is the "Good Housekeeping" seal, but even here there is considerable criticism, to put it no higher than that. For instance, yesterday I received a letter from a chief inspector of weights and measures, who had had some difficulty with a weighing machine which had the "Good Housekeeping" seal of approval. He writes:As the scales were obviously inferior I requested sight of the Institute's standard After a delay of six weeks details of the 'standard' were submitted and these proved to be complete nonsense.It may be that the chief inspector is wrong in saying this. It may be that the standard of this organisation for weighing machines is not complete nonsense, but one does not know because the standards on which this important seal is based are not published and so the public cannot tell whether the seal is of value or not. More important, the watchdogs of the public cannot tell. There is a substantial body of experts in this field, but if they do not know the criteria of a test they are incapable of forming an expert judgment of the value of the test. We need to compel people who issue these seals to make public the basis and the criteria of standards on which their seals are based.
The same applies to the criticism of the British Safety Council, about which there has been some acrimony in the past. No doubt, hon. Members will recall it. It would be possible to tell whether they were of value if the standards were seen and could be checked, but at the moment it is not possible.
This is a field in which Gresham's Law definitely applies. The fact that there is doubt about a number of the seals that are in existence detracts from the value of seals in general to the housewife. If we merely ask people to state their test criteria in a register that can be inspected by the public, it may be that the information that they give will be absolutely meaningless. Therefore, I believe that it is necessary in this legislation to have some sort of stick to make people give the information about the genuine criteria on which they are basing the award of the seal.
571 It would be possible, for instance, if there were no penalty clause at all, for the "Good Housekeeping" organisation to state in a register that it was awarding a seal on the basis of standards which were kept in that organisation's own secret register, and thus still not inform the public of the real basis behind its activities. But there is a penalty clause, and there is a threat that they can be struck off the register and prevented from issuing their seals. This will, I believe, ensure that they do put dawn the valid criteria on the register where they can be inspected. The penalties are not required so much to enable the Board of Trade to wipe people out on a whim of its own as to compel people to put down valid information on the register which will, I hope, soon be set up.
In these matters it is possible to draw the net too widely. The House will see that the Long Title of the Bill includes those who publish comparative reports on consumer goods or services. Although this is in the Long Title, it is not in the text of the Bill because, after long consideration, it seemed to me to be quite impossible to draw up a definition of consumer reports which would not drag in all sorts of people whom one had no desire at all to bring within the net. It could, I suppose, be argued that a film review which criticised one film in terms of another could be held to be a comparative test, but to make anyone who published a film review came within the terms of the Bill would, I think, be absurd.
Then there are Paris fashions. The dresses which are on display are consumer goods, but, if the fashion reporter of the Evening Standard says that Dior is better than Yves St. Laurent, I see no reason why the Evening Standard should then be registered as issuing consumer reports within the meaning of the Bill. Therefore, with some regret, we have abandoned that field altogether.
It has been suggested that we should ask to be registered the charges which are made for the issue of seals, in order that we might have an idea of the financial transactions which go on. Here again, I do not think that the cost and complexity of the operation would be worth while. After all, if someone 572 wishes to be dishonest, there is any number of ways in which money can change hands under the counter which would not come within any possible registration of financial dealings which we put forward.
At the same time, there is the possibility that, through lax drafting, one could bring in agricultural shows, shows in parish halls and the like, which, again, one has no desire to do. I remember very well that in my school days I lived near a farm which produced superb milk. This milk used to win prizes at all the local agricultural shows. Indeed, the farmer got so bored with winning these prizes year after year that once he took a small pinch of manure and dropped it into the milk he was submitting to the judges for test, but still won the first prize. Of course, this particular farmer, with that unparalleled run of successes at agricultural shows, used to advertise that his milk had won all those prizes.
Clearly, we do not want every agricultural show and every village show in the country to register the criteria of their judgment on the central register at the Board of Trade. We have, therefore, taken care in the drafting of the Bill that they should be excluded and that only those bodies issuing seals designed specifically as quality seals should be included. This clearly rules out prizes of that sort.
The Egg Marketing Board will, I think, be brought within the scheme in that the criteria, if any, which it has for applying the British Lion would have to be registered on the register which I hope will soon be instituted by the Board of Trade. But it is only the criteria of tests that we ask should be put down. The result of the tests would not be put down. In the particular case of the Egg Marketing Board, if the result of every test that the Board carried out had to be recorded on the register, the whole thing would become an absolute nonsense.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
It is my case that the Bill is nonsense. Under Clause 1 (3, a), the name and address of the person issuing a seal of approval must be registered. That means that every time a person bangs the seal on an egg those particulars must be registered. The Bill is nonsense.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I have never considered that those words would be interpreted in that way. It is my understanding that one expects the laws of the land to be interpreted by reasonable men, and I do not imagine that it could conceivably be held—except, perhaps, by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter—that every single stamper employed by the Egg Marketing Board, if, indeed, there are such stampers, should have his name and address kept on a permanent register at the Board of Trade. It is the name and address of the Egg Marketing Board which would be registered. Incidentally, the Board's address is in Shaftesbury Avenue, for some absurd reason. I hope that it will soon move to more suitable accommodation elsewhere.
§ Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)
Is not the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter covered by Clause 7 (2), which provides thatA person shall be deemed to issue a seal of approval…who authorises the use of such seal"?So it would not be everyone who stamps the eggs who would be registered, but the person authorising.
§ Mr. Goodhart
No, not the foreman. The Egg Marketing Board, which is situated in Shaftesbury Avenue, for some odd reason.
I commend the Bill to the House and to the Government. I believe that its provisions will give the maximum protection for the minimum of inconvenience, because I believe that the best test by far is for the basis on which these tests are made to be readily available to the public. I am not indisolubly wedded to all the provisions of the Bill. If the Government can think of better ways to achieve the same objective, I shall not resist any Amendment. We know that the Molony Committee is nearing the end of its deliberations. Possibly the views of the Committee on this issue have been formulated. Surely the Board of Trade could, either formally or informally, seek the advice of 574 the Committee on this single, isolated issue.
I presume that the Molony Committee will desire action to be taken on its recommendations, because it will not have spent many months studying these matters as a purely theoretical exercise. The Committee will wish a practical application of its recommendations, and the strong evidence submitted already would appear to make it plain that the Committee will make recommendations for action in this matter. If we do not take action now, it may well be that there will be no further chance to do so for a very long time. As I have already pointed out, once the full Molony Report has been published, the time of this House in respect of consumer protection will be at an absolute premium.
So I offer to the Government a Bill; but, more than that, I offer them time and opportunity to put through an isolated but I think important reform. I hope that the response of the Parliamentary Secretary and of the House will not be ungenerous.
§ 11.43 a.m.
§ Mr. J. Grimond (Orkney and Shetland)
May I start, Mr. Speaker, by apologising to you, and to the House, for the fact that "one-sixth of the Liberal Party" will have to withdraw from the Chamber shortly owing to a previous engagement. I am all too well aware that the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) who introduced the Bill with such lucidity and charm has not too thick an audience as it is.
I share the desire of the hon. Member for Beckenham to see something on the lines he is suggesting put into force. But the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) is not the only hon. Member who does not wish to see the machinery of Government or the Statute Book cluttered up with unnecessary provisions. The hon. Member for Beckenham went a long way to answer one of my questions. When I read the Long Title of the Bill I was rather alarmed. It seemed clear from the Long Title that most of the newspapers of this country would have to register. Certainly the Spectator, which has a special consumer interest, would have to register and so would the Observer, and similar 575 papers. And, of course, so would the publishers of Which? But I understand that that is not the intention. I presume that the hon. Member has been advised that there is no danger in leaving the Long Title as it is; or it may be his intention to amend it in Committee.
I hope that the hon. Member for Beckenham will have another look at Clause 7, the Interpretation Clause. I do not think he intends that every cricketer who gives his signature to an advertisement for hair oil would have to register. Would John Arlott have to register? So far as I can see, he would have to do so under the definition of "seal of approval" in that Clause, and I do not think it is the intention of the hon. Member that this should be so.
There may be one or two other points, which could be taken up during the Committee stage, about the drafting of Clause 1. I should like to ask one question about Clause 3. I confess that perhaps I ought to know the answer, and it may be that there is a well-established precedent, in which case I shall be raising an unnecessary question. I should be grateful for an assurance from the hon. Member that he is satisfied that the public advantage referred to in subsection (1) is sufficiently defined. That subsection reads:The Board of Trade may, on the application in the prescribed manner of any person or on the application of the comptroller, make such order as they think fit for expunging an entry in the register…The sole ground given in the subsection for doing that is:that it is not to the public advantage.As I say, it may well be that there are well-established methods of defining the public advantage in this context, but it is an extremely wide phrase and there seems to be no safeguard that a body to be struck off the register may even appear. There seems to be no publicity—
§ Mr. Grimond
—and I think it might be an advantage to have a word or two more about that, anyway, for the benefit of people like myself.
§ Mr. Grimond
That is why I prefaced my remarks by saying that perhaps I ought to know the answer. If this is well-established and has worked well in another Measure, there is no danger, but I should like also to feel that the Trade Marks Act had worked well.
There may be considerable difficulties over the egg mark. I think that now the lion is becoming a more popular animal than the lamb, but there was a time when people went a long way to avoid getting an egg which had the lion stamp on it, and if an application were made to expunge from the register the Egg Marketing Board, the Board of Trade might be forced to do so. However, I understand that now the situation is much better and I am glad to be reassured on that point. Those are the questions I desired to ask and I was reassured to some extent by the opening speech of the hon. Member for Beckenham.
§ 11.49 a.m.
§ Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)
I have pleasure in supporting the Bill and in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) on making such good use of his good fortune in the Ballot.
My hon. Friend referred to a publication which followed the establishment of a small group of hon. Members and others, over which he presided. I am sure that he is right in regarding the recommendations embodied in this Bill as being a separate parcel, as it were, from the general consideration of consumer protection. I believe that they make a little package of their own which might well be dealt with separately from whatever wider consumer protection legislation may follow later. To try to avoid any difficulty, it should be made clear that the Bill refers, as I understand it, exclusively to consumer goods and services, not to cricketers and so on, which is the point that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond) perhaps had in mind.
§ Mr. Grimond
Surely hair oil is a consumer article, and, indeed, a service. So, indeed, are cricket bats. Many cricketers inscribe their names on bottles 577 of hair oil and on cricket bats. I think that they would come within the Bill.
§ Mr. MacArthur
I beg the right hon. Gentleman's pardon. I thought he also referred to reports of cricket. I misunderstood him. The Bill is almost bold in its attempt to define consumer goods and services in Clause 7.
There has, of course, been a great interest in the question of consumer protection in recent years. But I think that at times there has been perhaps some misunderstanding of what consumer protection is about—what it is that the consumer needs or seeks to be protected from. It may be thought that the forces of consumer protection try to protect the consumer from dishonest manufacturers and shoddy goods. Certainly there is some element of truth in that, but I suggest that the greater truth is that the vast mass of consumer products today is of good quality and that the protection the consumer needs and seeks is from the confusion that accompanies a wide and growing range of choice and the development of new and complicated products.
At this point, I must declare an interest. I am in business life an associate director of an advertising agency. In my view, good and informative advertising will direct choice to a particular product, but the discriminating consumer is looking now also for an independent critical judgment to set beside the legitimate advocacy of the advertiser. In this, of course, the spread of seals of approval has a real influence.
I am sure that all hon. Members will want to support any way of helping the discriminating consumer to become more discriminating, for that surely is one way towards a progressive competitive society. The Long Title of the Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham has mentioned, refers to the publication of comparative reports, a matter which is not dealt with in the proposals of the Bill itself. I want to refer to the advances made by the two publications Which? and Shopper's Guide, whose reports on consumer goods are soon to be the basis for B.B.C. television and sound programmes.
This is a welcome development, and I am sure that the B.B.C. will take care that these programmes are full and fair. 578 These comparative tests are very helpful to the consumer, provided that their limitations are understood. They cannot measure the subjective qualities of certain products. I have in mind fashion, line, colour, taste and smell—indefinable factors which are purely subjective.
There are certain other problems to be considered. For example, the article concerned may have been bought some months before the publication of the report on it, and in some cases it might not be truly representative of the product available at the time of publication. Furthermore, if these tests are to be comprehensive they should, if possible, cover the whole range of a particular product field and not only a few selected brands. This is of special importance if these programmes are to be shown on television, as I understand they are.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Niall Macpherson)
Can my right hon. Friend tell us how he suggests that should be done? How is it possible for any consumer testing organisation to make certain that it covers an entire range?
§ Mr. MacArthur
I should have thought it reasonable for the nature of the testing to be such that goods nationally distributed are tested. I recognise the difficulties, but I hope that the B.B.C. will give a very careful thought to the grave harm that might be done to a manufacturer whose product is excluded from a series of tests, but which is, nevertheless, nationally available. I ask only that these difficulties should be considered, as I am sure they will be, by the B.B.C., whose standards in matters of this kind are very high.
Independent tests of the quality and content of products are obviously in the interests of the consumer and also of trade here and abroad, provided that the methods of testing and the standards observed are fair and are seen to be fair. The recent spread of independent testing concerns and the seals of approval some of them issue have certainly helped to improve quality standards. There is no argument about that, but there is a danger that a testing concern may embark on tests beyond its capacity.
There have already been one or two cases where the methods used have been 579 seriously contested. Similarly, even properly conducted tests may do more harm than good if the distribution and use of quality seals associated with them are not rigidly controlled by the testing concern. As I understand it, the Bill applies to seals of approval issued by any source. In this way, it applies not only to seals of approval issued by independent concerns but also to those issued by manufacturers themselves.
As hon. Members will know, there is some difficulty in the maintenance of quality standards in textiles. Very often a large manufacturer of yarn and fibre—I have in mind Courtaulds and British Nylon Spinners—sells yarn or fibre which passes through many processes of manufacture which are often outside their control before it reaches the public in its final form. These companies, which have a very high standard of behaviour, very often carry out a system of testing or inspection of garments containing their fibres before they will allow their fibre or yarn trade mark to be applied to the final article. I am sure that it is not the intention, by this Bill, to restrict or cause restriction of operations of that kind.
Equally, however, there is a tendency to introduce seals of approval for a manufacturer's own products or for products ultimately created from the initial product sold by a manufacturer. Here, it is reasonable to ask that the standards of the test applied in qualification for the seal should be registered and made available for public inspection, so that there cannot be any suggestion that a manufacturer's own seal is somehow escaping the restrictions which would govern the issuing of seals of a more independent concern. The safeguard this Bill proposes will protect not only the consumer but also the reputable testing concern. The requirements set out in subsection (3) of Clause 1 and throughout the rest of the Bill generally are reasonable, and I hope that they will meet with the approval of hon. Members.
§ 12 noon.
§ Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) on attempting to put right in this Bill what may be widely con 580 sidered to be a fault or weakness in the trading system of this country in consumer goods. I apologise to him for the small attendance on this side of the House. I can, however, assure him and the House that it is not because of lack of interest in the aims of the Bill, but I must confess to him, if I am to be perfectly honest in this discussion, that I have had some difficulty in persuading my more interested colleagues that the Bill is the best way of achieving the hon. Member's aims, with which we are in full agreement.
I agree with the observations of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur), that the starting point of all our discussions on the matter of consumer protection must be that most manufacturers, traders and dealers in this country are perfectly honest and above board and are trying to give service to their customers. Therefore, consumer protection must take two forms. It must help manufacturers and traders to give the fullest possible information to the public about goods and products, their qualities, services and performances. It must also have the final sanction of the law to deal with unscrupulous competitors who offend against any good standards which may be made voluntarily, and, when we come to safety appliances where we need legally imposed safety standards to deal with people who offend against those standards.
We shall be running into very great danger if we think that we shall be able to put everything right by passing Acts of Parliament. I consider the informative job—the job of giving information to the public—to be far more important. Although an Act of Parliament may set up a body to provide information, I think that on the whole it is much better to leave the informative job to the trade associations, the reputable manufacturers and dealers and, by the pressure of public opinion, keep on compelling them to give more and more information about the products that they provide.
In that regard, if I am in order, Mr. Speaker, in following up the remarks of the hon. Member for Perth and East Perthshire about the projected B.B.C. programmes, I would say that I completely agree with him. I do not know 581 whether it is our duty to warn the B.B.C. that it may be running into danger, as the Parliamentary Secretary hinted in his intervention, if its programmes are not comprehensive when it is trying to tell the public which are the best goods to buy. I would say that the B.B.C's job is to help and support the informative side of what I have called consumer protection services. It can do that by giving information about standards and showing customers what to look for when they go to buy products, how to find out from manufacturers and traders whether fabrics are shrink-proof and that kind of thing. I do not want to go into detailed cases because that would take us a little further away from the purposes of the Bill.
I agree, as I have already hinted, with the Leader of the Liberal Party that we do not want too much legislation of this kind, especially where standards could better he raised by persuasion. We want far more public discussion about this, and we need the pressure of informed public opinion. We do, however, need legislation in the long run to provide the final legal sanction against unscrupulous people who cannot be made to conform in any other way to the standards or good practices which we should like to lay down in our trading system.
I shall not follow the hon. Member for Beckenham by going into the well-merited publicity that might be given to the Labour Party policy statement on consumer protection in the way that he tried to publicise the Conservative Political Centre's document on this subject, with which, of course, he was so closely connected.
On this matter of testing consumer goods and issuing seals of approval, there is, as he knows, a somewhat different approach between us. This, of course, is our difficulty, because, strange as it may seem to all political commentators who try falsely to persuade the public that the Socialist Party stands for great, massive, State bureaucracy, which of course, is perfectly untrue, the hon. Member is trying in this Bill to give us a far more bureaucratic method of dealing with this problem than we ourselves approve in our own policy statement. I appreciate his difficulty and that is why I am supporting his Bill, because the machinery which both of us would like to have set up is not here.
582 We have not the Consumers Council and other bodies which may be proposed not only in our own policy statement but in the report of the Molony Committee when it comes. Therefore, we have to deal with the situation as it is, although our approach is somewhat different. We have no quarrel at all with the aims of the Bill. Any weaknesses there may be in the drafting are matters which, I am sure, can be put right in Committee. That is the reason I have attached my name as a supporter of the Bill. I think that it is necessary—we cannot go on waiting for the Molony Committee's Report for ever—to have some control over bodies issuing seals of approval or pretending to test products and influence consumers in their choice of goods, but which are, in fact, misleading them by giving false impressions of quality by seals of approval which have no validity.
Some control is urgent, especially in the case of domestic appliances which, if they are badly made or do not come up to some recognised standard, could be dangerous in the home. At present, as I am sure hon. Members will be aware, there are electrical appliances which carry a seal of approval which has a very high-sounding title, but I have not been able to discover the standards worked to. They may be good standards, I do not know, but, certainly, those standards are not published. I am sure that the Parliamentary Secretary will agree that if we are to lay down standards for potentially dangerous domestic appliances, the only body to lay them down is the British Standards Institution.
On that point—and this is an example to give support to what I am saying—we quite obviously would never agree to an unofficial body giving a seal of approval to oil burners or heaters, the standards of which were below the B.S.I. standards. We know the tragic consequences attaching to oil burners which do not come up to the high standards which are now to be imposed. Incidentally, that was not the fault of the manufacturers. Some had a standard which was not quite good enough to meet the higher standards now being imposed. It would be quite wrong for a seal of approval to be given to dangerous appliances of that kind which were not of B.S.I. standard.
583 The hon. Member for Beckenham mentioned the Good Housekeeping Institute, which, I think, has done a very good job on the whole, but nobody knows, as far as I can discover, the standards it works to, and it would be far better if those standards were published. Of course, there is a drawback here in that the standards of the Institute are applied only to firms which advertise in the magazine, which is a restricted field of approval and needs, I think, to be looked at in consideration of consumer protection.
I would agree with the hon. Member for Beckenham that, in the circumstances, it is the only approach which can be made to clear up this problem of seals of approval which may be issued without any standards behind them, without any proper standards being imposed, which could mislead the public and become dangerous.
In any case, while seals of approval are being handed out by an unofficial body which has no standard and is putting seals of approval on articles merely to get them sold whether they deserve to be advertised or not, the public are going to be faced with this kind of false advertising. It is false advertising. As the hon. Member knows, the advertising trade itself is very much concerned to get out of its own business the people who go in for false advertising and so mislead the customers. Where a seal of approval is given which is not justified in any way, that is a form of false advertising we have got to deal with, and we have got to stop people being mislead.
Therefore, although there are some minor criticisms of the drafting of the Bill, I support it, and I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will say that the Bill should at least be given a Second Reading so that in Committee we can clear up anything in the drafting which needs to be cleared up.
§ 12.11 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. Niall Macpherson)
First, I should like to join with the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) and my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) on the manner in which he 584 introduced his proposals and the cogent way in which he presented his argument. We know very well the very close interest which my hon. Friend takes in consumer protection. He has done a very valuable job, if I may say so, and I am sure that any criticism which I may make of his present proposals certainly will not damp his zeal in any way in promoting consumer protection.
Consumer protection is, of course, one of the traditional functions of the Board of Trade in its general duty to promote fair trade, and there can be no doubt that the subject which the hon. Gentleman has chosen for today is a matter in which there is room for improvement. He said himself that he had strong personal reasons for bringing in the Bill. I hope that he will not mentally put too great emphasis on his personal reasons for bringing in the Bill. We fully understand those, but he accused the Government of reluctance to consider any legislation on matters covered by Molony; but, as I said before, when a committee is considering such matters I think that legislation in the meantime would have to be justified by urgency or by great public demand.
With great respect to my hon. Friend, there is in the House today no great evidence of great public demand. On the Opposition benches the parties have been led from the van very much, and it is only the respective spokesmen on the subject who have been present in the House at all. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Liberal Party explained courteously that he had to leave from time to time for other engagements, and the hon. Member for Hillsborough has made a most considered and valuable contribution to the debate today; but the fact remains that there is no evidence of great public demand for the Bill.
Even if there were urgency and a great public demand for the Bill—for which, my hon. Friend said, he had looked in the highways and byeways of this field—one would have to be able to justify the Bill on its own merits. I noticed that my hon. Friend said really remarkably little about the Bill itself. He did not go through the Bill in the normal way, Clause by Clause, to 585 explain it. He said he was not indissolubly wedded to the provisions in the Bill. Given that phrase, I am rather reminded of the chairman who, introducing a speaker, and having been told that he must not make too long a speech in making the introduction, said, "I understand that the less said about him the better."
I think that it is true to say that this reform could stand on its own, and I would agree with my hon. Friend that we need not necessarily expect one huge consumers' charter as a result of the Molony Committee's recommendations, but, of course, I would not agree with him in saying that if the Bill does not reach the Statute Book this year there may not be another opportunity for many years to come. If this matter really does command the public support which he suggests it does, if it is a matter of such importance, I cannot imagine that there would not be an hon. Member who would introduce such a Bill next year after we have had the benefit of examining the Molony Report.
My hon. Friend said that many seals were absolutely valueless, and he wanted, he said, to make people put down the valid criteria on which they awarded a seal. I hope that I shall not be considered captious in asking, if this is so, why has my hon. Friend refrained from registering in his Bill the valid criteria on which the Board of Trade should remove a seal from the register? He told the House in an intervention that he had lifted this provision bodily from the Trade Marks Act, 1938. That is true, but, of course, the criterion of public advantage in Schedule 1 is only one of the criteria for the admission of certification trade marks. The others arewhether the applicant is competent to certify the goods in respect of which the mark is to be registeredand—where there are regulations, that is to say, regulations in accordance with which the certification is to be used—"whether the draft regulations are satisfactory".Again, there is another point here, and that is that the test of the public advantage in that case is quite different. A certification trade mark, unlike a seal of approval or a certificate or diploma, is an industrial property. I am advised that there is no industrial property in a seal of approval. Undoubtedly, if it 586 were usurped by somebody who issued a seal of approval, or if somebody used it who was not entitled to use it, was not authorised to use it by the owner of the seal, a criminal prosecution could arise for fraud or a prosecution for misdescription under the Merchandise Marks Act, but so far as I can find out there would be no case for a civil action for an infringement of a seal of approval in the same way as there would be an action for an infringement of a trade mark.
The public advantage criterion in the certification trade mark is the fact that official recognition is being given to a monopoly right in a certification trade mark, and that, I would think, is a rather different sort of consideration from the consideration of public advantage in the case of a seal of approval. It so happens that although my hon. Friend has selected what appears to be a small and isolatable—if I may use the word—section of consumer protection, he has lighted on one of the most difficult issues in a field which, in any case, is far from easy. I hope, therefore, that he will forgive me for saying that there seems to be a gap between what I imagine he is seeking to achieve and what are the proposals of the Bill. I am not referring just to matters of detail. That a Bill should be workable and practicable is as much a matter of principle as is anything else. Provisions must be workable.
My hon. Friend made his objective perfectly clear. He wants to eliminate bogus or misleading certificates of merit. He wants certificates of merit to be issued only in accordance with declared and approved standards duly registered so that the public may know what real merit there is in the goods to which a certificate is attached; in short may know what is the real merit in what is loosely referred to as a seal of approval. For that purpose my hon. Friend proposes compulsory registration of every such seal or certificate and provides for the subsequent removal of a seal from the register if it is not to the public advantage that it should continue to be issued.
My hon. Friend pointed out that some seals are issued by bodies whose independence and technical qualifications are open to doubt and whose criteria for the issue of the seal are far from clear, if 587 there are any criteria. In short, he maintains that there is often little merit in some of these marks and that they serve only to mislead. Very careful safeguards are written into the Trade Marks Act for the certification of trade marks, including their registration by the Comptroller-General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks who would be the authority for registering the seals of approval. On the certification of trade marks, the Comptroller-General has to consider the competence of the applicant to certify the goods in question, the adequacy of the regulations in accordance with which he proposes to do so, and whether registration would be to the public advantage.
I do not deny, and I hope that nothing I have said will be taken as denying, that something will have to be done in this field, but what, if anything, has to be done must depend in part on the scope of the problem. The first need, therefore, is to identify and define its scope. Various examples have been cited, but I do not intend to go into any particular example or mention any names. From what has already been said in the debate I confess that I have not been wholly convinced that the problem is as great or as urgent as has been suggested, or that the public is being duped on such a scale that immediate action is necessary and that the desirability of having the matter more fully considered is overridden by its urgency.
Again I say that even if that were so, the first need would be to identify and define the problem. I do not know what consultation my hon. Friend had when he was drafting the Bill, but I would not be surprised if he found himself having to choose between two alternatives, not an easy choice. The first is to define seals of approval fairly closely. If that can be done, the result might well be administratively satisfactory. There is no objection to charging fees, although my hon. Friend does not make provision for doing so. In all the other spheres of the Comptroller-General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks, fees are charged.
That solution, however, has the disadvantage that those who want to escape from the burden which it seeks to impose can do so by not registering their 588 seals of approval, although if they did that might mean that they would have to forgo the use of certain words or designs which were reserved by the legislation for registered seals. But the general effect would be to confer on registered seals a prestige which would be denied to unregistered seals, and that, in turn, would mean that unregistered seals would carry very little weight with the consumer. That would be one way of dealing with it.
The alternative, which my hon. Friend has chosen, is to make the definition very wide and to apply it very widely. In consequence, seals and certificates of which my hon. Friend would disapprove would have to be registered. But many other things as well would have to be registered and whatever was registered would have to stay on the register until someone successfully applied to the Board of Trade for its removal. Moreover, since every sort of design which is used in respect of consumer goods is involved, some very awkward questions of interpretation and administration would arise. Without doubt, there would be an area of vagueness about whether certain certificates or seals had to be registered, because the net is cast so wide.
Another point is that there can be registered trade marks and unregistered trade marks. Registration establishes a property right in the mark. The presence of the mark on the register is, at any rate, prima facie evidence of the claim of the person named to the property right in the mark. There can also be unregistered trade marks, for there is nothing in the law to compel anyone to register a trade mark if he does not want to do so.
On the other hand, the Bill makes registration of all seals of approval compulsory, and seals of approval may include both registered and unregistered trade marks and certainly include certification trade marks. I recognise that certification trade marks could be excluded in Committee, but there is bound to be duplication and it is right for me to point that out.
No doubt wishing not to detain the House too long, my hon. Friend did not go into the Bill itself in any great detail. Clause 1 requires the registration by 1st January, 1963, of the names of those issuing seals of approval in 589 respect of any goods available for sale to the public at large—that is a very wide definition—together with particulars of the goods to which they may be applied and the standards by which those goods are to be judged.
The core of a matter like this must be in the definition of a seal of approval—because that is what the Bill is about—and seals of approval are defined asany diploma or document in the nature of a certificate or any device, emblem, symbol, brand, heading, label, ticket, name, signature, word, letter, numeral or any combination thereof specifically awarded or authorised for use in relation to consumer goods for the purpose of denoting approval of such goods or their compliance with standards relating to their composition, quality, value or performance.I do not propose to discuss with my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire whether one can award a certificate to oneself. I do not think that is what my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham meant by his definition; but if that were so, the scope of the Bill would be immensely widened still. It is already wide enough and probably covers phrases like "Pure silk" and "100 per cent. Virginia tobacco," which are included in advertising matter issued by a manufacturer for use in connection with goods that a packer or wholesaler sells under his own brand name. I am not absolutely sure that it would not include a simple phrase identifying a manufacturer with the product, saying, "This is a such-and-such toy."
I am bound to say that, in my view, if the scheme is to have any meaning it must be based on a much clearer and probably more limited concept of what constitutes a seal of approval, and there must be a quite clear indication also of the goods to which the Bill applies. Those, I suggest, are fundamental, at least to the Bill, because upon the definition in this case depends the Bill.
I have tried personally to envisage what would be covered by the Bill. I do not think that there is any doubt that a Book Society recommendation would be. Also, I do not see how one could avoid a seal authorised by an international exhibition having to be registered. I agree that the lion stamped on by an egg testing station—it is the testing station that does it, I think—would 590 have to be. Certainly, references on packages to certificates issued by analysts would. I am not quite certain whether certain stamps placed on certain parts of the anatomy of animals by the Departments of Agriculture would not have to be registered. It might even be—to carry it almost to the extent of the ridiculous—that a certificate issued to someone who beat the panel in "What's My Line?" would have to be registered if it concerned consumer goods; but, seriously, the point I am making is that the definition goes far wider than at first sight it appears to go.
The Bill is applicable under Clause 1 (1) togoods available for sale to the public at large,which in Clause 1 (2) for some reason becomes transformed into "consumer goods." When we came to the definition Clause we find that one is defined in terms of the other. Frankly, I do not think that this will do. It is too vague. I am not really sure whether it is too wide or too narrow. In one sense, perhaps, it is too narrow. Certification trade marks can be registered in respect of any goods and have been registered in respect of many things which my hon. Friend might not consider to be consumer goods, such as drainpipes and what is known as street furniture—bollards, and so on—and even sheep marking fluid.
Are these to be held to be goods available to the public at large? If not, who benefits by their exclusion from the scope of the Bill? On the other hand, there are all sorts of things available for sale to the public at large, even if they are not very commonly bought by the public at large. The phrase is far from being confined to food, clothing and domestic and household goods.
Another difficulty I would mention, in passing, is that there is nothing in the Bill to prevent a firm to which a seal of approval had been issued before the Bill came into operation from continuing to use it although the person who had issued the seal never registered it because he had ceased issuing seals before the Bill came into operation. For an offence is committed only if someone continues to use a seal which has been expunged from the register.
591 However, registration is only the first stage in the Bill. After 1st January, 1963, the Board of Trade is given power to review a seal on the application of any member of the public or of the Comptroller-General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks, who acts as Registrar of Trade Marks. After such an application, if the seal is not judged to be to the public advantage it has to be removed from the register.
As I said, the trouble here is: what are the objectives that the Board of Trade has to have in mind? What are the criteria for judging? What is to be "to the public advantage"? It is a very different matter from the judging of the public advantage in the case of a certification trade mark. It is very flattering to the Board of Trade that it should be suggested that it should exercise unfettered judgment in this matter, but it would be an onerous and invidious task.
It is true that the Board of Trade has to judge the public advantage, among other criteria, in the case of certification trade marks, but there the Board of Trade is, in effect, considering whether it is expedient that a monopoly should be granted in a certain mark. In the case of seals of approval, on the other hand, although I may say that there is no obligation on the Board of Trade to investigate the case laid on it by the Bill, the Board of Trade would have to satisfy itself of the applicant's status, competence, methods and reliability and a host of other things if the seal were challenged.
The Board of Trade would thus need an inspectorate. This is not a small matter. The number of seals being put on the register would be very large indeed. The Comptroller would also need an inspectorate, because how could he make application for the removal of a seal from the register if he had not first investigated the case? The Registrar of Trade Marks has no inspectorate at his disposal, and one would have to be created.
Also, in the Bill it is open to any person—not just my hon. Friend, or even the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. F. Noel-Baker), but any Tom, Dick or Harry—to apply for the removal of a seal from the register. The Board of 592 Trade would then have to investigate and decide. The Bill provides for no appeal against that decision, nor so far as I can see is there even a right conferred upon the person issuing the seal, or upon those whom he has authorised to use the seal, to be heard.
As the hon. Member for Hillsborough said, these are grave grounds for questioning the Bill. The hon. Member is supporting the Bill out of loyalty—I would not go further than that—having put his name to the Bill. I do not know whether the loyalty is to my hon. Friend, or to himself, but out of loyalty he is supporting the Bill. In fact, one can support the perfectly general purpose of the Bill, but it is very difficult to support a Bill of this kind where there seems to be a degree of unfairness either on the owner or, in this case, on the Board of Trade itself.
The absence of criteria means that the Board of Trade will be subjected, undoubtedly, to immense pressure from interested people for and against the removal of a trade mark from the register. I have grave doubts whether this would not have the effect of turning the register into a political football. Hon. Members would be under constant pressure to ask Questions about why the Board of Trade had or had not expunged a seal. One has to ask oneself whether this is the best form of administration that could be devised.
My hon. Friend suggested that if the criticisms that I have voiced and other criticisms made by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and the hon. Member for Hillsborough are right, then, granted acceptance of the view that there exists here a wrong which should be put right, the Bill could be amended in Committee to become a workable and effective instrument.
On matters of this kind the Government do not usually want to go against the general feeling of the House, although they would want it to be a fairly representative House before their own views were overridden in this matter. I think that they would do so only if it were felt that the Bill could be turned into a workable piece of legislation. If the Government are to be asked to approve a Bill it is only reasonable that they should draft the Long Title as 593 well. Frankly, this is not the Long Title which we would choose.
The admirable pamphlet called "Choice," published by a group of six Conservatives, three of whom are Members of this House, and presided over by my hon. Friend, dealt, in Chapter 3, with what it termed "Consumer Guides". This is one of the subjects we are talking about. Under this heading it covered many other subjects such as independent testing and what it described as the growing number of seals and certification marks. My hon. Friend pointed out that, although his Bill provides for registration of all those engaging in the publication of comparative reports as recommended in the pamphlet, he has not felt it desirable to pursue that subject for the reasons which he gave. That is a matter which can be further examined, but I think that I would agree with him.
Of course, there is nothing wrong in having a Long Title which goes further than the Bill, especially when, as we all know, a private Member has to think out the Long Title before he devises a Bill. I wonder, however, whether the Long Title does what my hon. Friend thinks it does. To paraphrase, it provides that bodies corporate and unincorporate which issue diplomas or authority to use marks or emblems of approval must register particulars of their financial state of affairs, control and management and of the criteria on which such diplomas or authority are granted together with—and here I quote because the purpose and effect are rather obscure:the results of research or investigation carried out for the purposes of such reports or awards.I think that my hon. Friend has been wise to miss out reference to that in the Bill. I ought also to point out, in passing, that there is no provision in the Bill either for registering particulars as to the criteria and results of research and investigation but onlydetails of the standard by which the goods"—in question—have been judged.This is undoubtedly a very difficult matter. The Book Society, for example—would it be able to put down satisfactorily details of the standards by 594 which it judges? Here we have two separate kinds of approval given. We have approval given by virtue of somebody's personal qualifications to judge because he is experienced in this field and has long experience in it so that people are prepared to rely on that experience. There may be a panel or people with experience in this field to say, perhaps, only whether the consumer gets value for money on a particular item. That is one side of the matter. On the other hand, we can have something like a Kite mark which is given in relation to British Standards clearly defined. That is exactly at the opposite end.
But it is not what is in the Long Title so much as what is not there which is a matter for concern. I am advised that no individual who issued such awards would have to register under the Act in accordance with the Long Title. Only organisations, bodies corporate and unincorporate would have to do that. Obviously, there is a serious gap there. One of the few areas—and there have not been very many—which caused us some anxiety in this field, was that of an individual who issued, seals of approval to himself while manufacturing under another name.
The most serious matter is that there is no precise indication as to the type of activity that is to be caught by the Bill. It is all very well to say that seals of approval are causing anxiety, and that we must do something about them. But this is not a Motion calling on the Government to do something about the matter; it is a Private Member's Bill proposing a specific remedy for a specific mischief. The problem is to isolate the mischief and to define closely the area in the Bill to ensure that the remedy proposed is workable. That is a task of great difficulty. I cannot blame my hon. Friend if he has not entirely succeeded in doing it. Frankly, the Board of Trade would not be able to do it either without long and careful consideration.
Fortunately, we are being spared the need for the Board of Trade itself to give that long and careful consideration as we have appointed the Molony Committee to do it for us. When that Committee reports we shall give the matter consideration, which I think will 595 be careful, but it will not necessarily be long. Quite apart from that, we are not convinced that my hon. Friend has identified the field. We are not convinced that registration should be compulsory and automatic on application. That is not the way in which the trade marks and, trade mark registration work. We are not convinced that the Board of Trade should be left to remove a seal of approval with no guidance about why it should do so and that there should be no appeal from that decision.
As we are not convinced, I must say to my hon. Friend that the Government would see great difficulty in introducing a Financial Resolution, especially at this time, for a Measure which they do not consider absolutely urgent or fully thought out. I do not blame my hon. Friend in the slightest for the fact that it is not fully thought out, because this is an exceedingly difficult field. I know that this news is bound to be a disappointment to my hon. Friend and his supporters—all of whom appear to be on this side of the House, apart from the hon. Member for Hillsborough.
I know that my hon. Friend has devoted a great deal of time and effort to this matter, but I hope that he will accept that before venturing into a difficult professional field of this kind we want to get the matter as nearly right as we possibly can.
§ 12.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Charles Doughty (Surrey, East)
I am sorry that I did not hear the whole of the speech of the Parliamentary Secretary, but I did hear the whole speech of the mover of the Second Reading of this Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart). I listened with considerable care because I am always ready to be persuaded by him, knowing the care he takes in the preparation of Bills or speeches and other works he does, but I am sorry to tell him that, having read the Bill and listened to his forceful arguments in support of it, I still cannot give him my support for the Bill.
To start with, the Bill is not well drafted. Perhaps as a lawyer I always begin at the end of any problem. I look at the definition Clause, which is much too widely drawn. It says: 596consumer goods' means all such goods as are available for sale to the public at large;That means everything, every single thing, every soap flake in a packet of soap flakes—
§ Mr. Doughty
As my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) says, the "Queen Mary" as well, and every rowing boat on the Thames. The definition is much too wide and would cover too many articles. "Seal of approval" has a long definition. I do not propose to read it because it is so long. I am reminded of the old advertisement which we saw many years ago picturing a man writing a letter in which he states:Twenty years ago I used your soap, since when I've used no other".That gentleman was a layabout tramp who, under this Bill, would find himself punished for the advertisement and implied approval in respect of a well-known brand of soap.
Coming from the end to the beginning, I do not like the Long Title. It imports far too much. Looking at the purpose of the Bill, is there really any evil which it is intended to cure? Can it really be said, short of hunting through the highways and byeways, that we can find a case where a body of persons give approval to articles which they ought not to give, or give it on flimsy grounds? Newspapers—at any rate, the more reputable—rely enormously on revenue from advertisements, but they are extremely careful in respect of the claims made for the articles which are advertised in the newspapers. There is no evidence, except impliedly, that they have been giving approval for articles either recklessly or wrongly.
The powers given in the Bill are much too wide. I am not saying a single word against the Board of Trade, whose Ministers and officials carry out their duties to the very best of their ability, but I wonder whether they and my hon. Friend who introduced the Bill realise the tremendous powers that are given to refuse registration and to strike people off just at a whim. They could put people out of business, and, indeed, do so, under Clause 3 (1)—on the application…of any person597 which, of course, would encourage anybody who might have a grudge or some feeling against a particular article to make a complaint anonymously to the Board of Trade, with the result that the person who carried on this type of business would be struck off the register without a right of appeal.
Does this House want any Minister or Government Department to be given these wide, secret powers without any right of appeal, in respect of the use of these marks? The result will be pressure on Members of Parliament and this House and continual Adjournment debates or Questions on whether the X.Y.Z. association had been rightly or wrongly struck off the register. The Minister would give evidence and there would be the usual arguments, with which we are so familiar. This is not a case for the discussion of these matters, and for these reasons I am afraid that I cannot give my approval to the Bill. My hon. Friend threatened us in a pleasant way. He suggested that if we considered quality now, we should get ahead of the Molony Committee, and also get ahead of the Weights and Measures Bill, which has not yet been debated, and should be doing something which we should not have time to do later on.
I listened with apprehension to his statement about what would happen in this House when we come to consider these very long Bills in Committee. He may be right or wrong, and we will deal with them when they come, but that is no reason for slipping in this Bill in advance of the main Government Measure. It must wait, and, indeed, this Bill must wait to be incorporated at a later stage in any other Bill after the Molony Committee has reported. The Committee has been working very hard, but until we see what the Committee recommends and what action the Government propose to take with respect to the findings of that Committee, we should not proceed further now.
If the Committee reports in favour of this proposal and the Government do not follow up the report or its recommendations, my hon. Friend could introduce a Bill on these lines, but I hope it would be better drafted. In that connection, I would offer him my assistance in the drafting of it, if that is of any use to him. We can then consider the question when it arises. For the reasons 598 which I have given, and much as I regret it, I am not able to support the action of my hon. Friend and cannot give the Bill my support. I hope that he will wait until after the Molony Committee has reported and Government legislation has been introduced.
§ 12.54 p.m.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
While I have been in the Chamber this morning, I felt that I could not fail to be conscious of the momentous stage which we have reached in our Parliamentary history. The serried ranks on both sides of the House, waiting for the words of wisdom to fall from the lips of my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), were something which we have not seen here for a very long time. We have the spokesman for the Labour Party, the Leader of the Liberal Party, and about eight times as many Members on this side of the House as on the other, including my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade and his Parliamentary Private Secretary, constituting a House rarely seen in this Mother of Parliaments.
Like the hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. M. Foot), who made such an interesting speech last night, I believe that these matters should be thrashed out in Parliament and should not be settled in little hives of industry in the Palace of Westminster or outside it. We all know that this Bill is the result of considerable mental effort by the Conservative Political Centre and the publication "Choice." I should like to refer to a few words mentioned on one occasion by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. J. Rodgers). I am sorry that he is not here today, but he once said that one cannot sharpen a razor blade by Government legislation and that neither can integrity be applied by legislation to testing and certifying bodies.
There are two matters which arise here for discussion far too frequently—one being the subject of consumer protection and the other being anything to do with fox hunting, deer or stag hunting. I cannot imagine anything much more likely to irritate hon. Members than when these subjects are introduced in our debates. We frequently have debates of some sort on questions to do with consumer protection. Last year, 599 we had a Consumers' Protection Bill. I was the only Member to oppose it on Second Reading. I had a very strenuous time in Standing Committee C and I think that I would probably have prevented that Bill from becoming an Act of Parliament if, unfortunately, on coming to the House one morning to take my place in the Committee I had not sprained my ankle.
I made a point which, I think, refers to the present proposals before the House in my Second Reading speech on the Consumer Protection Bill on 27th January, 1961, when I drew attention to the fact that it was desirable that we should define the word "consumer". I said that the Shorter Oxford Dictionary gave a simple definition, at which there was a very rude remark from an hon. Member who sits for a Scottish constituency. That definition is:He who or that which consumes."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th January, 1961, Vol. 663, c. 531.]That gives an indication of the enormous field which we are considering when discussing consumer protection. That is why, during the speech of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty), I mentioned the "Queen Mary", which could be covered by regulations under this Bill. I was telling the truth, because the "Queen Mary" is a great consumer of fuel. It could be affected by fuel sold under a branded name or with a certificate of approval from a certifying body. The "Queen Mary" is also a great consumer of food, and many of these cartons of foods are sold under seals of approval from various bodies. I was quite right. I was not being frivolous, as I rarely am, when I said that this is a very far-reaching Measure which should not be discussed except under the crowded conditions which we now see confronting us. That is why I am very glad that there are so many hon. Members here to dispel the doubts of my hon. Friend whether there is sufficient interest in the Bill to ensure that the Government should give it their approval.
Next, I wish to refer to the Molony Committee's Report. A great many Reports are presented to the House, and I strongly suspect that many hon. Members do not trouble to read them. I 600 read most of them assiduously. I think that I am right in saying that I am one of the few hon. Members who has read the Report on Corporal Punishment. I have read through that dreary tome.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I have some difficulty in seeing how the consumer is protected by corporal punishment.
§ Mr. Williams
Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker.
There has been reference to the Molony Committee's Report today, and I hope that more hon. Members will read it, because it affects the whole principle behind the Bill. I wish to refer to paragraphs 48 and 49 of the interim Report of the Molony Committee. I think that for the benefit of those hon. Members who have not had the good fortune to read the Report, it would be not out of order if I read those two short paragraphs:We do not recommend that the exhibition of a certification or other mark, registered or unregistered, should form part of the requirements imposed by Regulation under the proposed Act.Paragraph 49 reads:As part of our main enquiry we are in process of examining the merits and the value to the consumer of seals of approval not registered as certification trade marks. In relation to articles with a danger potentiality we wish to place on record our opinion that in current conditions unregistered seals and symbols must be viewed with caution unless the standing of the issuing authority is unimpeachable.From those words hon. Members will realise that the Molony Committee is giving very careful thought to the whole of the principle which lies behind the Bill. With great respect to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham, who, I know, is very assiduously in attendance on Fridays and takes great interest in private Members' legislation, I do not think that he should introduce Measures of this sort while the Molony Committee is sitting, and I think that it would be most unwise if the House were to "jump the gun," as it were, before the Molony Committee has reported. I sincerely hope that, for that reason alone, my hon. Friend will take this proposal no further.
Next, I want to consider the terms of the Bill and to refer to one or two of the Clauses and to the effect which they might have on people if the Bill were 601 passed. Before I come to the Clauses, I should like to refer to the Financial Memorandum and to the Money Resolution which will be necessary before the Bill can become an Act of Parliament. I was very glad to hear my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade saying that the Government would be very cautious before agreeing to the Money Resolution.
We have frequent scenes in the House on the question of Government expenditure. I believe it fair to say—and I say this in no controversial sense—that hon. Members opposite are rather inclined to want more Government expenditure, while we on this side of the House want less. We have had scene after scene about this—and not only in the Chamber; for we have heard at meetings up and down the country that the Government should restrict their expenditure.
I hope that I am in order, Mr. Speaker, although I do not propose to go any further into the question of Government expenditure. The Financial Memorandum is a direct incentive for more Government expenditure, and I hope that the Government will be quite firm on this issue and will not agree to the Money Resolution. As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham knows full well, if the Money Resolution is not acceptable to the Government the Bill can never become law.
Next, I wish to say a few words about the Bill. I agree with the fears expressed by the Leader of the Liberal Party, the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr. Grimond), that the title is very comprehensive, and I remind my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham that one has to be very careful about the Titles of Bills before they are introduced into the House.
I remember bringing in a Bill of three Clauses. It may astonish hon. Members to know that I got the Bill through. I do not think that I shall get many more through. That Bill was taken to another place, where their Lordships changed the Title, knocked out my three Clauses, put in seven new Clauses and sent it back to me saying that it was still my Bill.
My hon. Friend may be encouraged by the fact that he may well find that when his Bill reaches another place—if it does—it will undergo quite a trans 602 formation before it is sent back to this House for final approval. I think that the Title is unnecessarily wide and that it should be changed in the course of its passage through the House, if the Bill receives a Second Reading.
Clause 1 specifies thatEvery person who has issued a seal of approvalshall register his seal with the Comptroller by 1st January, 1963. Has my hon. Friend made any examination of how many seals of approval there are? There may be a tremendous number. I do not know what registration will mean. Will it mean that the size of the seal must be laid down and registered? Will it mean a sample of the seal? Will it have to be done in colour? Will it have to include a complete list of all articles covered by the seal? Will it state what are the qualifications necessary for the seal to be issued by the issuing person?
If all this information has to be included, it will be a heavy job for any society engaging in this activity, and, assuming that the Bill receives the Royal Assent by July, I do not think that it would be reasonable to expect issuing societies and authorities to do all that work in the short time which would be left to them before 1st January, 1963. I do not want to make a lot of this point. If this were the only criticism which I had to make, I should not think it a justification for throwing the Bill out, but it is a matter which, I think, will have to have attention during the Committee stage, which, it will be seen from my remaining remarks, will be rather lengthy.
Clause 1 (2) lays down that anyone who issues a seal of approval after the passing of the Actshall register with the comptroller the particulars specified in subsection (3) of this section"—that includes the details of the quality which is required before the seal can be used—on or before the first day of January, nineteen hundred and sixty-three, or within thirteen weeks of the issue of such seal of approval, whichever is the later.If we are to have an adequate control of seals of approval, surely before their issue these people should say what the limitations are and then notify the Comptroller that they propose to issue 603 the seal in respect of a certain cooker, or washing machine, or so on. I think that my hon. Friend has it the wrong way round. To ensure that no difficulty is caused to the societies concerned or the consuming public, it would be better to say what the limitations are and which articles will have the seals applied to them before they are issued, rather than within thirteen weeks of issue.
When I come to the particulars to be registered with the Comptroller, this is where I begin to have serious doubts about the desirability of the House giving the Bill a Second Reading. The first issue is one on which there has already been some discussion, and it concerns the name and address of the person first issuing a seal of approval. It is certainly questionable whether only the name of the society issuing the seal is sufficient.
The example of the lion on the egg has been mentioned, and I do not want to weary the House by referring to it again, but I should have thought that there was quite a good case for saying that the first issuing authority was much lower down the scale than the Egg Marketing Board. If we are to ensure adequate control for the consumer, and if the House, in its wisdom, decides that this is desirable, I should have thought that at least the foreman in charge of the room in which the egg was stamped should have his name registered so that we know who is this budding criminal who has to be watched by Her Majesty's police to make certain that he does not send out any bad eggs.
I do not know what restriction there is on the registration of seals. Does the Bookmakers' Protection Association have to register its seal? Several members of this association in the West Country are friends of mine. Some of them give me advice from time to time. I like to know that they are members of this important body, because it ensures that I get my money back on the rare occasions when my investment, as I believe it is called, has been successful. Is the seal of this association to be registered?
Then there is Clause 1 (4), which I do not like very much. It says:If any seal of approval is withdrawn in respect of all or any of the goods on the register or any change occurs in the particulars 604 specified in the foregoing subsection notice of the withdrawal or particulars of the change and of the effective date thereof shall be furnished to the comptroller within thirty days after such date.I should have thought that the important thing would be to tell the Comptroller. "This must be stopped. We are not having any more goods sold under our label because this article is now being sold in a sub-standard state". That is the way to do it. At the same time, if not before, the Comptroller should be furnished with details of the instructions given to the manufacturer stating that he can no longer make use of the facilities.
Now I come to the provision in the Bill which I really do not like. This is subsection (5), which says:If any person contravenes the provisions of this section he shall be liable to a fine not exceeding twenty pounds and to a daily fine not exceeding forty shillings.We have had these penalties provided for before. There was quite a disturbance on a Finance Bill a couple of years ago because the Inland Revenue was able to impose heavy penalties against anyone who attempted to evade tax. I will not weary the House with the details now. I think that the penalties for tax evasion are too light, but that is a personal opinion. Very heavy penalties were available for quite minor evasions of tax. There was much feeling in the House. As a result, the Chancellor of the Exchequer decided to bring in amending legislation in the Finance Act.
The penalties provided in subsection (5) are very heavy. A man may forget to inform the Comptroller within thirty days after withdrawing his seal. He may decide, "I am not going to allow this washing machine to be sold, because the wiring is defective", for example. He may forget to inform the Comptroller. If he does, he is liable to a daily fine not exceeding 40s. That is a monstrously heavy fine to be liable to in respect of such a minor offence, which may have been committed purely as a result of forgetfulness. This provision should be changed in Committee.
If a record is to be kept of seals of approval, I do not think that there is much in Clause 2 to which I take exception. However, I have a considerable amount of criticism to make of Clause 3. This is a direct encouragement to a Department of State to act on 605 information furnished, possibly by an anonymous person. It is quite wrong thatThe Board of Trade…on the application in the prescribed manner of any personshould be able withdraw its approval of a seal. I am even more deeply concerned when I find that there is no provision in the Clause for an appeal if anyone believes that he has been hard done by. Presumably, the only appeal an aggrieved person could make would be to consult his Member of Parliament and appeal to the Board of Trade through him. It is reasonable to ask that somebody should be in a position to hear an appeal from an aggrieved person.
In Clause 3 (3) there is provision that the Board of Trade can make an order expunging a seal from the register. It is provided that anyone who issues a seal after it has been expunged is liable to a severe penalty—not exceeding £20 and again to a daily fine not exceeding 40s. I can see no mention in the Clause to the effect that it is incumbent upon the President of the Board of Trade to inform the person or persons concerned that the seal is no longer on the register. A seal may be struck off the register and the person concerned may be a travelling salesman. Because he has not been informed by the President of the Board of Trade that the Board of Trade has expunged his seal from the register, the man is to be liable to a penalty of £20 if he fails to take certain action. This is wrong. It should be incumbent upon the President of the Board of Trade—I do not mean my right hon. Friend personally, but somebody should be made responsible for finding the man concerned and warning him that the seal should not be used any more.
I come now to what I think it is fair to say is my annual "grouse" about Private Members' Bills. This is Clause 4
§ Mr. Williams
The hon. Member knows that, fortunately, Private Members' Bills are not discussed every week, but usually, in the course of a year's proceedings, I make a few vigorous protests—perhaps it occurs biannually; I will not argue with the 606 hon. Member—about the proposal contained in Clause 4. I shall now read it, and I intend to read it to the House every year as long as I am a Member of Parliament:The Board of Trade may by statutory instrument make regulations prescribing anything which by this Act is required or authorised to be prescribed.Everyone knows that private Members' day, Friday, is a day when private Members introduce legislation and the Whips are not on, at least not the official ones. I believe that some quiet Whips have been sent round today because my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham knew that I and some of my hon. Friends intended to do our best to ensure that this piece of tyrannical legislation should not reach the Statute Book.
This is what I object to about Private Members' Bills. A piece of legislation is passed when there are no Whips on. Hon. Members are busy. I do not blame them for not coming here on Fridays as often as some of us do. They go away to their constituencies, or to some other activity, private or public, in which they are interested. They do not expect anything but unimportant Bills to be put through on days when Private Members' legislation can be dealt with.
However, we are constantly coming up against this sort of behaviour. Bills are put through the House by private Members and we find that the Government have power to issue regulations. What happens when the regulations are issued? We all know that the Whips go on. Because of a Bill which a private Member has never heard of, he finds himself glaring grimly at the Patronage Secretary as he stands at the entrance to the Aye or No Division Lobby, whichever it is. He finds himself pushed in. I do not mean physically pushed in, but he is mentally pushed in to support a regulation issued under a Bill which is promoted privately. This is monstrous.
I shall always resist Private Members' Bills as long as this manoeuvre—I think that it is fair to call it that—is indulged in by the promoter of a Bill. I hope that we shall not see much more of it. If regulations are necessary, they should be embodied in a Clause in the Bill. This would mean 607 much hard work for the Member concerned. It would probably mean a great deal of expense. This would be all to the good, because we should not have so much legislation—and I am all for that. But I will not support Private Members' Bills which put powers into the hands of the Executive, which then pushes me into the Lobby to support a Government Measure arising from a Private Member's Bill.
For this reason, as well as the others I have made in the course of my brief remarks today, I hope that the House will not give a Second Reading to the Bill.
§ 1.20 p.m.
§ Mr. H. P. G. Channon (Southend, West)
There is one Private Member's Bill about which I can assure my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) he will not have an opportunity to make his biannual protest. I came here today with the full intention of supporting my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Good-hart), but after hearing the brilliantly cogent speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter, and that of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for the Board of Trade, I have come to the conclusion that it would be futile so to do, because even if my hon. Friend obtains a Second Reading for his Bill the power of the Administration is such that, they having said that they will not sanction a Money Resolution, we know that the Bill would be a dead letter.
Nevertheless, I should have thought that the tenor of this debate would have proved to my hon. Friend and to the Government that should the Report of the Molony Committee make recommendations on the lines of the Bill they will, in general—with the possible exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Exeter—find hon. Members' approval for a scheme that will enable some form of control to be exercised over seals of approval of this kind. I hope that this debate will, at least, be found to have had that effect in the not-long-distant future.
The most attractive argument my hon. Friend gave for supporting the Bill was that it might well shorten discussion on the Weights and Measures Bill, whenever it is introduced, but, as I have said, 608 it would be futile to undertake a great range of discussion on this Bill today because of the Government's attitude to a Money Resolution. Although some of us think that there should be some control, I do not think my hon. Friend's Bill is the way to achieve it, but I hope that when framing legislation in the future the Government will be found to have taken note of the general feeling of the House today.
§ Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time, put and negatived.