HC Deb 15 November 1971 vol 826 cc2-4
3. Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry why he is altering the present regulations governing origin marking of goods for sale.

20. Mr. Winterton

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what examination he made of likely effects on the consumer and on employment in the British textile industry before deciding to terminate origin markings at the end of November.

Mr. Ridley

The decision to terminate the present origin marking requirements for certain imported goods, including textiles, was not mine. Their revocation was expressly provided for in the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, which confers no power simply to prolong them. In considering new orders, I am bound by the criteria in the Act.

Mr. Boyd-Carpenter

Does my hon. Friend accept that the best thing to do would be to restore the pre-existing position, which provided a most useful element of consumer choice?

Mr. Ridley

There are certain basic difficulties about doing that, in that the original provisions were highly effective in several respects. My right hon. Friend will know that my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) has given notice of his intention to introduce a Bill. If it strengthens protection against giving false indications of origin, I believe that it will meet the legitimate demands of industry and of consumers, and the Government would certainly support it.

Mr. Winterton

Is my hon. Friend aware that in the textile industry particularly the lapsing of origin markings is likely to increase unemployment? Has he given any thought to this? Would he bring in legislation to rectify the position, because already making-up mills in my constituency have received approaches from Hong Kong manufacturing companies suggesting that they import textile goods from Hong Kong, where labour costs are very cheap, and attach their own marking labels and then sell them to the public so that the consumer would be under the impression that the goods were British made?

Mr. Ridley

I have no power under the Trade Descriptions Act to require origin marking on behalf of manufacturers as opposed to consumers, but the Bill which I mentioned would be intended to prevent just what my hon. Friend has suggested might be happening, with goods imported from Hong Kong bearing false indications of origin.

Mr. McCann

I accept that the new Bill might do some good, but is the hon. Gentleman aware that the position is so serious that mills are closing down now? Am I to understand from what he said that if the textile industry asks for a Bill to restore markings of origin on its products, the Government will find time for it and support it?

Mr. Ridley

I cannot speak for the contents of my hon. Friend's Bill, but if it contained provisions of the sort I have described the Government would certainly back it. I hope that it would meet the just requirements of the industries concerned for protection from false indications.

Mr. Pardoe

Speaking as a free trader, will the hon. Gentleman make clear the Government's attitude that no free trade principles require that a customer should be denied vital information about origins but rather that such principles dictate that the customer should have all the relevant information on which to decide and make a free choice?

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman will be aware that his views are not shared in G.A.T.T., E.F.T.A. or the E.E.C. Having said that, I agree that the consumer has every right to be certain that he is protected against false indications of origin.

Mr. Tom Boardman

Does my hon. Friend consider that perhaps the Trade Descriptions Act is being too narrowly interpreted? Pending the introduction of fresh legislation, will he consider whether powers can be taken under the Act to protect consumers of the products of such industries as footwear and hosiery?

Mr. Ridley

It is possible that action taken under the Trade Descriptions Act will result in convictions if origin is falsely indicated. However, I hope that my hon. Friend's Bill will put the matter beyond doubt.

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