HC Deb 25 February 1972 vol 831 cc1673-751

Order for Second Reading read.

11.17 a.m.

Mr. John Peel (Leicester, South-East)

I beg to move, That the Bill now be read a Second time.

Although I have been a Member of this honourable House for more than 14 years I find it a strange and refreshing experience to be given the opportunity to propose a Bill in the House and to commend it to the House, and to know that a back bencher can have this opportunity, and the opportunity to speak, and, what is even more refreshing, to know when he will speak.

This is a short Bill. It has, I hope, a number of qualities which will commend it to my hon. Friends and to hon. Members opposite. I think, and I hope, that it is generally wanted not only by the House but by the public.

The first thing I would say about it is that it should be read in conjunction with the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968. It is important that hon. Members should understand this.

The need for the Bill arises from the abolition of the Merchandise Marks Act, 1926, and other Measures by the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, and the inappropriateness of Section 8 of that Act in certain important respects. The object of the Bill is to give effect to a certain specific purpose in a more suitable form than does Section 8 of the. Trade Descriptions Act, 1968. That purpose is basically to protect the consumer—I use the term "consumer" in its widest sense—against being deceived. It is not intended to act to restrict world trade.

This brings me to consider why Section 8 of the Trade Descriptions Act does not satisfactorily cover the object I have in mind. Under that Section, origin marking of goods can only be imposed if the Government are satisfied that it is necessary or expedient in the interest of persons to whom the class of goods in question is supplied. The Government could be so satisfied where, for example, the information gave the potential purchaser reliable guidance in the selection of goods best suited to his requirements. It is recognised that this may be so, for instance, with certain foodstuffs the freshness or flavour of which may be directly related to origin. The Government have already announced their intention to make orders in these cases. This might also apply to more elaborate manufactured goods where the availability of spare parts and after-sales service may be important factors to be checked.

I understand, however, that there has been little convincing evidence that the quality or other characteristics of consumer goods in general can be reliably deduced from origin. There are nowadays good, bad and indifferent consumer goods from every source. I well remember before the war goods coming from certain foreign countries which were good copies of what we produced but very inferior. This is not so today. Goods coming from some of these countries today are of first-class manufacture and quality. In these circumstances, the Government find it difficult to be satisfied that the compulsory provision of information, which may just as well lead the shopper to select the inferior article as the superior one if he uses it as the basis of his choice, can be said to serve his interests as a consumer.

Where compulsory origin marking is justified to protect the consumer, that would best be done by an across-the-board solution rather than by a patchwork series of orders under Section 8 of the Trade Descriptions Act. This could apply to imported goods carrying names or marks which the public might take to be those of British firms and, therefore, denoting British origin. This is not peculiar to any particular class of goods.

It is fair to say that the mere presence of such names or marks does not necessarily mean that the public will take them to imply United Kingdom origin. For example, while it is reasonable to think that "Sheffield" relates to our own Sheffield and not to a place of the same name in another country, it is doubtful whether anyone would suppose that "California Syrup of Figs" came from the small Berkshire village of California. But there is no doubt that the threat of foreign goods being passed off under United Kingdom Trade names is a real one.

I should like to give two examples. One country with low labour costs has advertised in this country that it has been exporting fine-quality goods for years. But this fact is not known here because when the goods arrive in Britain they bear a British brand name. Another foreign firm has written to several British manufacturers asking to supply them with goods to their own standard and in their own form of presentation so that they can be sold as if they were made in the United Kingdom.

My Bill simply imposes a requirement that if a United Kingdom firm's name or trademark, or any United Kingdom place name or anything which the public might take to be a United Kingdom firm's name or trade mark or a place in the United Kingdom, appears on imported goods, it must be accompanied by a clear and conspicuous statement of the country of origin. The word "Foreign" or "Commonwealth" in an inconspicuous place, perhaps on the tail of a shirt, will not be enough.

The duty of enforcing this requirement is placed on the local weights and measures authorities, as is done under the Trade Descriptions Act. For the purposes of the Bill the country of origin will be determined by the rule laid down in Section 36(1) of the Trade Descriptions Act that goods shall be deemed to have been manufactured or produced in the country in which they last underwent a treatment or process resulting in a substantial change. For example, the making up of a television set in this country from wholly imported components would represent a substantial change. Although a United Kingdom name or mark on an individual component of that set would need to be accompanied by an indication of origin, such a name or mark on the set itself would not.

Clause 1(2) of the Bill may be somewhat confusing. It excludes from the provisions blends and mixtures of materials of the same kind. Such blends and mixtures are often made of materials from different sources, and they were excluded from the scope of the 1926 Act provisions.

Mr. Adam Butler (Bosworth)

Will blends of different textile fibres be covered by the provisions of the Bill?

Mr. Peel

This can be considered in Committee if an Amendment is proposed. Some difficulties might be involved here, and that is why I mentioned it. In the correspondence I have received nobody has yet raised that point, but since I thought that it might create doubt I have included it in the Bill.

Clause 1(3) excludes containers and labels used for other goods which are to be supplied commercially. This is on the ground that the consumer is likely to be concerned only with the origin of the goods which he is purchasing and not with where the packaging or the label was made. In addition, there was in the 1926 Act an exclusion for containers and the like. I want to disabuse anybody from taking the view that we may be doing something different from what was done under the Merchandise Marks Act, 1926, and other legislation.

My Bill does not cover goods which are offered or displayed for sale without any indication whatever of their place of origin, but in those circumstances the public could hardly complain that they were being misled or deceived. In fact, if all British manufacturers would do what so many are already doing and indicate that their goods were made in Britain, the public could rightly infer that unmarked goods were imported. The Bill would, however, cover unmarked goods displayed or offered for sale on a shelf or table bearing a notice which might be taken to imply British manufacture of those goods. For instance, if there were completely unmarked goods on a table in a large British store containing a notice only as to source, named and price, that might well be taken to fall within the terms of the Bill.

On the other hand, the Bill would not catch the following cases. The first is the mere use of ordinary English words—for example, in labeling—with factual information or instructions. Consumers welcome such labelling, expect to find it in English and cannot reasonably be assumed therefrom to infer United Kingdom origin. The second is the copying of United Kingdom designs and shapes, for example. This involves the quite separate issue of design copyright, which has nothing to do with origin as such. The tendency for manufacturers all over the world—for instance, motor cars—to come up with much the same design in response to a common requirement makes it decreasingly likely that anybody would assume a particular design to be typically British. There are of course exceptions.

The third case is that of national emblems or symbols which might well convey so strong and eye-catching an impression of United Kingdom origin the mere addition of, say, "Made in Hong Kong" would be insufficient to counteract it. If one had goods bearing, for example, a tartan label, this might have a strong meaning, particularly to a Scot, that it was made in the United Kingdom. If the article merely contained the words "Made in Hong Kong" it might well not counteract that impression. The fourth case is advertisements, except where employed in close proximity to the goods, because in these cases it would be too complicated to regulate.

I hope hon. Members will agree that the Bill is so widely embracing that provision should be made for exceptions, and this is contained in Clause 1(4). Special cases may well arise in which particular difficulties may be presented to suppliers without giving any benefit to the consumer.

I was not proposing to dilate at this Second Reading stage on the other Clauses since this is a short Bill. The important thing to remember is that the existing provisions of the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, will still be there to catch anything likely to be taken as an indication of United Kingdom origin which is false. The purpose of the Bill is simply to single out certain particular forms of indication which can generally be expected to convey the impression of British origin but can adequately be counteracted by a statement of true origin. For the remaining indications the general provision in the Trade Descriptions Act is not only a strong safeguard but the best. For these reasons I commend the Bill to the House.

11.37 a.m.

Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

The hon. Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) said that he had waited 14 years for the opportunity to present a Bill to the House. I congratulate him on at last succeeding. I have waited 22 years—so far without success.

I am sorry that my congratulations begin to taper off when I look at the limited character of this Bill. I wish the hon. Gentleman had been able to introduce something of greater importance. I shall not oppose the Bill since I support its purpose. However, I disagree with the hon. Gentleman's view that what it seeks to achieve could not be done by the Trade Descriptions Act as it stands.

This Bill, like the Trade Descriptions Act, has something of a history which the hon. Gentleman did not go into. There have been representations from all kinds of associations asking for origin marking orders under Section 8 of the Trade Descriptions Act. For various reasons these representations have been turned down. The main reason is that, in the view of the Department, if a marking order is to be introduced under Section 8 it must be in the interests of the customer.

The letter which was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman, and which has been sent to trade associations, said: Against that background it is difficult to be satisfied that the compulsory provision of information which may well lead the shopper to select the inferior article as the superior one, if he uses it as the basis of his choice can be said to serve his interests as a consumer. That statement has appeared in every letter sent to trade associations which have asked for marking orders under Section 8. The argument has been that it would not serve the interests of the consumer. In any case none of these orders has yet appeared, no origin marking orders, under Section 8. However, the Under-Secretary has taken this argument a great deal further in some of the public statements that he has made.

I think that it is in order for me to refer to this part of the history of the introduction of this Bill—

Mr. Peel

Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves this point, does he not agree that under Section 8 of the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, it is necessary to issue separate orders for every single type of commodity, whereas under my Bill there is an across-the-board provision whereby it is no longer necessary to produce a separate order for everything? Is that not more efficient?

Mr. Darling

I think it would be more efficient if it went out like that. However, if the hon. Gentleman cares to look at Clause 1(4) of his Bill, he will find that the Minister will have to issue orders if there are special circumstances, and I think there will be lots of special circumstances leading to a proliferation of orders. I hope that I am wrong, but it will be interesting to see whether this Bill has any more effect than Section 8 of the original Act has had until now.

The Under-Secretary has been criticising the repeal of what, for the purposes of brevity, I call the 1926 orders made under the 1926 Merchandise Marks Act. He has been saying that the reason why all these marking orders have disappeared and why trade and industry has not got new origin-marking orders is due to some stupidity on the part of the Labour Government, especially on the part of the Minister who was responsible for the Trade Descriptions Act.

I wish to reply to those allegations. The only true part of the statements that the Under-Secretary has been making on radio and elsewhere is that the Labour Government repealed the 1926 Act and the 1926 regulations. The rest of his statements have been so misleading that they could be fairly called false descriptions under the Trade Descriptions Act. The House must bear in mind that there were two very good reasons why the 1926 orders were repealed. The first was that the Trade Descriptions Act replaced the Merchandise Marks Act. We could have kept the 1926 Act in operation by enacting it again as a separate Act. However, we thought it better not to follow the advice of the Molony Committee, which offered a rather guarded piece of advice, but instead to get rid of the Merchandise Marks Act altogether, and that meant getting rid of the regulations under the 1926 Act at the same time, thereby creating the need for a Bill containing a new procedure for introducing origin-marking orders.

The second important reason was one which I am sure would have had the approval of a good European like the hon. Member for Leicester, South-East. It was that the 1926 Act and the 1926 orders were in breach of our treaty obligations under E.F.T.A. and G.A.T.T. When we were bringing forward this legislation which, by and large, flowed from the recommendations of the Molony Committee, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, as a good European and a good internationalist, would not have suggested that we should put in any provision which was in breach of our treaty obligations. All this was spelled out during the Committee stage of the Bill.

In the statements that the Under-Secretary has been making about the abolition of the 1926 orders, he has not, so far as I know, drawn attention to the fact that if we had kept the 1926 orders in existence we should have been in breach of our international obligations.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

In all the letters that I have sent out on this subject to hon. Members, I have made it clear that I understood that the reason for the abolition of the 1926 orders was that they were considered to be in breach of G.A.T.T. and E.F.T.A. But it is not for me to give reasons why the last Government brought in the Trade Descriptions Bill.

Mr. Darling

I am not talking about the letters that the hon. Gentleman has sent to trade associations. I am talking about the statements that he has been making on radio programmes.

All this was spelled out in the Committee stage of the Bill. The hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) served on the Committee, and I am sure that he can confirm what I say. After full explanations and a very full discussion on how we should introduce new origin-marking orders, both sides of the Committee agreed. What is more, on Report there were no further Amendments, and we had no further discussion on the Clauses dealing with the new origin-marking order arrangements, and the repeal of the 1926 Act.

Under our treaty obligations in G.A.T.T. we agreed that countries should scrutinise carefully their existing laws and regulations with a view to reducing as far as they possibly could the number of cases in which marks of origin were required and to limit the requirements of marks of origin to cases where such marks were indispensable for the information of the ultimate purchaser.

Our obligation in this respect in the European Free Trade Association was that marking requirements should in principle apply equally to foreign and domestic goods and origin markings should only be made compulsory in exceptional circumstances. I agree that the Bill is defining the exceptional circumstances. To that extent, I support it.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Southall)

My right hon. Friend is immensely experienced in these matters. Does he know whether such a provision as the major theme of the Bill contravenes any specific article of the Rome Treaty?

Mr. Darling

I do not think that matters of this sort appear in the Rome Treaty. I am sure that if there is any contravention the Under-Secretary will tell us.

Mr. Ridley


Mr. Darling

We come then to this problem of who is the ultimate purchaser. During the Committee stage of the Bill, it was generally recognised that we needed to help certain trades and industries. In giving information in compliance with out treaty obligations to the final customer about the origin of goods, clearly this would also be beneficial to the trade concerned. I tried to spell it out. To get the record straight, I am afraid that I must quote again from my own speech. I said in Committee: …we have now got to look at our own siutation; and, if it can be shown that it would be in the general interests of the consumers—who may be not just the ultimate consumers, but in the way that we express it in the Clause"— because the word "consumer" is not mentioned in the Trade Descriptions Actwholesalers, importers, manufacturers, who are themselves consumers of products, including the final making-up, we can introduce origin-marking orders. I went on to suggest that trade associations should get busy, make their applications, and see if they could come within the terms of the Act. I do not think that I could have spelled it out more clearly.

Several hon. Members on the Committee represented constituencies with textile interests. They asked me to deal with the textile situation. In Committee on 21st March, 1968, dealing with textiles, I said: It is perfectly clear from this discussion, from the discussions that we had on Second Reading, and from other discussions on the state of the textile industry…that the case for marking orders with regard to textiles will be presented very forcibly indeed, backed by all the evidence which is needed to get something done.—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 21st March, 1968, c. 163–64.] I will not quote any further. As the hon. Gentleman knows—I am sure that he has read this part of the Committee proceedings—I repeated and almost pleaded for trade associations to bring forward their requests for origin marking orders.

I now come to the time factor. That was 21st March, 1968. However, the Bill first went to the other place with these provisions in it. So by the date when the 1926 orders were finally repealed the trade associations had had five years in which to make their representations. I am sure that hon. Members will agree that, at least during the period of the Labour Government, Ministers are not to be blamed for the inability of trade associations to come along in that time to make their representations, and to alter them if need be, in order to conform with the spirit of the Act and our treaty obligations overseas. Many of the trade associations were not only negligent, but in the way that they approached the problem completely incompetent. Ministers should not be blamed for that. Even if trade associations had to wait for the Act to get on the Statute Book, they had 3½ years from the passing of the Act to make their representations.

The Under-Secretary has given me the impression, possibly because I am prejudiced, in the radio programmes to which I have listened in which he has taken part, that nothing was done by the Labour Government except to repeal these orders and that something would have been done, and perhaps the orders would not have been repealed, if a Conservative Government had been dealing with the enactments which had to come from the Molony Committee. However, the charge of doing nothing can be laid more particularly in the last part of the period of grace, the last 18 months, rather than the first 18 months or so. We would like to know whether the Under-Secretary has done anything other than issue these letters to trade associations which have made applications.

I do not want to take this matter any further, except to ask whether, if a Tory Government had been dealing with this matter, would they have repealed the Merchandise Marks Act, 1926, and thereby repealed all the orders to meet the treaty obligations laid upon us under E.F.T.A. and G.A.T.T.?

I now come to the Bill itself. I wanted to put all these facts on the record, partly because I do not wish to go on being accused of being the ex-Minister responsible for the difficulties that some trade associations now think that they are in as a result of the repeal of the 1926 origin marking orders.

The Bill, as the hon. Member for Leicester, South-East said, has a narrow application, although in that narrow application it goes right across the board in the sense that we do not have to pick up particular trades and goods. However, if articles come into this country giving the impression that they have been made here but have in fact been made overseas and imported, action can be taken on each set of articles or on each article if need be.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned Sheffield. I think that the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn) will bear out the fact that one of the problems which Sheffield cutlery manufacturers have had to face in recent years has been not so much that there happen to be towns called Sheffield in places overseas—a place in Japan was set up to be called Sheffield, although I understand that that has now disappeared—but that certain cheap cutlery has been coming in from Hong Kong and other places labelled "Sheffield make", not" Sheffield made". This is not only misleading and confusing, but illegal. That can be dealt with under the Trade Descriptions Act. We do not need a new Bill to prohibit that kind of thing. I am in favour of making the situation clear and I hope that the Bill well help, but I am still doubtful—I do not want to pursue it—whether it could not better be done under the Trade Descriptions Act.

I turn to the question: who finds out whether the imported produce which, from this point of view, is mislabelled, would be an offence under the Bill as well as under the Trade Descriptions Act? The hon. Member for Leicester, South-East, in passing, said that this job could be given to the weights and measures inspectors in the same way that the administration and enforcement of the provisions of the Act have been given to them. I entirely agree. I think that they are the best people to do the job.

The Molony Committee, dealing with the 1926 orders, pointed out the difficulties which face the Customs and Excise concerning the responsibility for finding out whether anything was mislabelled under those orders when it came into this country. I do not think that Customs and Excise officers are the people to do this job. It must be left mainly to weights and measures inspectors to do the work.

It is worth noting that since the Trade Descriptions Act went on the Statute Book weights and measures inspectors, particularly through their institute, have come into much closer contact with trade associations. There will be no difficulty now—incidentally, this is one reason why I might welcome the Bill—in a trade association, whether in the textile, cutlery or other industry, making sure that prosecutions take place and offenders are discovered and dealt with under the terms of the Bill. All that they need to do is to get in touch with the Trade Descriptions Secretary of the Institute of Weights and Measures Administration and somebody will begin to take the necessary action. The machinery is there now and it is better than any machinery we have had before to look after not only the consumers' interests, but the interests of everyone engaged in trade and industry.

I do not know how many goods coming into this country would infringe the Bill or, as I would prefer, the Trade Descriptions Act. The Bill may not have a great deal of effect. However, it is necessary to make perfectly clear to quite a number of trade associations which are unfortunately reading into the Bill more than it can possibly do for them the limited application which it has.

Some trade associations, particlularly in the North of England, have been saying that under the provisions of the Bill the Conservative Government will remedy weaknesses in the Trade Descriptions Act and they are talking about the Bill helping them to maintain employment. Obviously, it will have only a marginal effect on trade and industry. It will pick up only those cases—there must he relatively few of them—where there is an indication in or on the imported goods that a false claim has been made in relatiton to manufacturing activity in the United Kingdom.

It will have a very limited application. I doubt whether even if a number of origin marking orders under the Act were made and this was extended right across the field of trade it would have more than a marginal effect on the output of firms manufacturing in this country and on employment.

I say that because when a customer goes into a shop to buy domestic goods he or she is concerned primarily with price, quality and design. If there are no British manufactured goods of the type the customer requires, he or she will buy imported goods; and we cannot keep them out, for not only must we under our treaty obligations maintain a free trade policy, for which I am thankful, but if we began introducing regressive measures on imports into this country the retaliation would have a far more serious effect on us than on most of the countries exporting to us.

I hope that the Minister will make it clear that the Bill will have only a marginal effect on trade and industry and that it will not greatly help those trade associations which have been reading into the Measure steps which will stop goods coming in and enable the "buy British" slogan to be more effective. Nor will it have a marked effect on employment in their factories.

Although I welcome the Bill, I do so in the belief that it will have only a limited application and that what it seeks to achieve could be achieved without any addition to the Trade Descriptions Act. I hope, however, that when the Bill becomes law it will stop the importation of some misleadingly described goods.

12.03 p.m.

Mr. Joseph Hiley (Pudsey)

I hope that the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) will forgive me if I do not comment on the interesting points he raised. I confess that when I investigated this matter some time ago, when the right hon. Gentleman was the Minister responsible, I wondered what on earth he had in mind, though I was not prepared to accuse him of inefficiency or inadequacy on that account. That being so, I will not pursue his political apology. I leave that to those who were members of the Committee upstairs which examined the legislation a few years ago.

The purpose of the 1968 Act, as of this Bill, is to protect the consumer, and I welcome this Measure for that. I wish to make it clear at the outset that my comments are made from the background of the wool textile industry and that my views are at least in some measure those of the wool textile delegation.

The average customer is today unable to assess the value of an article at the time of purchase. Although that has always been the case, in the old days the customer was able to, and usually did, rely on the expertise of those selling goods. Generally speaking, the customer was prepared to place his trust in the shopkeeper, whose advice was invariably relied on by the purchaser.

Today, with the considerable expansion of the self-service concept, such assistance is not available. This means that more markings are necessary. This is clearly illustrated by the way in which the famous wool mark is now universally recognised as being on garments made of pure virgin wool. When customers see that mark they remember that there is nothing like wool, and that is true. This is a substantial safeguard for the customer. I mention the wool mark only to indicate how the purchaser or customer can have confidence in marks.

Those who despise advertising in any form should bear in mind that nobody can afford to advertise goods which are not good. To do so merely focuses attention on the name of the article, and if it is bad the advertising has deleterious effects. The reverse is also the case. Suffice to say that it is generally accepted to be the height of folly to advertise or mark goods which are not good. Thus, the customer's interest lies in having more rather than fewer marks.

My criticism of the Bill is that it does not go far enough in this direction. It does not deal with the misleading effect of garments which do not bear names or trade marks and consequently are unmarked as to origin, whereas under the Marking Order which expired on 30th November last only British-made garments could be left unmarked as to origin.

The side effect of the Bill in the textile sphere is likely to be the appearance of large quantities of garments in retail shops and chain stores with no name or trade mark whatever. Consumers will be inclined to think that because a chain store has the word "British" in its name, or has long been known to own factories in the United Kingdom in which garments are made, all unmarked garments on display or on offer have been made in the United Kingdom. That, I fear, will be the effect of allowing goods to come in entirely unmarked.

Mr. Darling

There is nothing to prevent British manufacturers putting "British made" on their products.

Mr. Hiley

I hope they will. Nevertheless, the more marks there are the better.

When I read Clause 1(2) for the first time 1 found tremendous difficulty in understanding it, and I sought advice as to its meaning. I suggest that not sufficient thought has been given to the wording of this provision, and I hope that it will be closely examined in Committee. The words "blends or mixtures" present considerable difficulty in interpreting the Bill, especially from the textile point of view. Why have these words been incorporated? From the textile angle, it does not make sense to provide the sort of defence that subsection (2) appears to contain. I hope that my hon. Friend will look at that matter as well as Clause 4(2), which states: This Act…shall not come into force until the expiration of the period of six months. If the Bill will serve the customer well, as I believe it will, I do not see why we should wait so long before it comes into force. I believe most fervently that the best interests of the customer are served by an extension of marking. It is for that reason that I welcome the Bill so strongly.

12.10 p.m.

Mr. R. B. Cant (Stoke-on-Trent, Central)

I also welcome the Bill. I am speaking very much on behalf of the pottery industry. It is inevitable that con stituency interests should creep into the debate from time to time. A pottery manufacturer recently wrote to me and said: I note that the Member of Parliament for Leicestershire South-East is using his Private Member's Bill for the purpose of legislating on import marking rather than the reintroduction of hanging. This ought to gain him some friends and prevent several industries from facing the prospect of a slower type of death. I do not know whether that pottery manufacturer was being serious in that.

The ceramic or pottery industry is opposed to the abolition of import marking. It was opposed to it under the Labour Government and it is opposed to it now. I do not know whether that indicates a wonderful consistency of economic philosophy or political impartiality. One of the reasons that the industry is opposed to it is that it is convinced that origin marking is a perfectly reasonable piece of legislation, which is not in serious breach of Article 9 of G.A.T.T., and which in a practical and quite inexpensive way precludes misleading practices and—this is important—expensive legal action. If we are worried about these border taxes, what will happen—

Mr. Ridley

The hon. Gentleman has spoken of expensive legal action. But it is the responsibility of the Weights and Measures Inspectorate to take legal action, under both the Trades Descriptions Act and, if it is passed, the Bill; so no expense would fall upon manufacturers.

Mr. Cant

I am grateful for that intervention. But manufacturers in my constituency are not convinced about that, and I shall refer to that later. We are very touchy about the question of freedom of international trade and about the need to honour our obligations. I wonder what will happen when we introduce a value-added tax, which I think is a border tax, beside which this type of origin marking pales into insignificance. There is a great tendency for Ministers of the Department of Trade and Industry to be seduced by civil servants who have, I believe, a sort of uncritical faith—perhaps the Under-Secretary is an exception—in the free trade doctrine which derives from their education at Cambridge or Oxford or from a weekly reading of the Economist or other sources.

I return to the practical problem. I want to make it clear that the manufacturers of ceramic products are not seeking protection. The Bill does not take cognisance of that fact. Those manufacturers have an admirable record. Without fear of contradiction, they can state that whereas, on average, imports of pottery products face a tariff of only between 3 per cent. and 7 per cent., the tariff range they are faced with when exporting is between 15 per cent. and 25 per cent. Imports amount to only about £4 million, whereas exports are nearer £30 million or £40 million, depending upon what one includes in this category of products. So the pottery industry does not have a bad record. It is not afraid of competition. What it is concerned about, however, is serving consumers' interests.

The Minister has been very reticent in trying to ascertain consumers' views. In terms of the Trade Descriptions Act he has placed the consumer right in the centre of the picture. But we have the very ironical situation in which, when the consumer is in the centre of the picture, the present Government set about abolishing the Consumer Council. I do not know why they did that. They must have thought that this was a significant economy which would transform the economic fortunes of the nation. They have been disappointed no doubt, as they have been with other aspects of their policies which have not been wholly successful. Though they abolished the Consumer Council they did not do it before the secretary of that council gave an unqualified support to the pottery industry for its attitude to this question. I could cite also the China and Glass Retailers Association. I know that the motivation is a little suspect; but one has not to be too great a purist about this matter. Nevertheless, the retailers' association states unequivocally that it believes that origin marking is in the best interests of consumers. The European Federation of Porcelain and Earthenware Manufacturers—a body which I should have thought would have appealed to the Minister—represents the ceramic manufacturers of the Common Market and has offered its support in this context.

The pottery industry dominates employment and economic activity in Stoke-on-Trent in a way that perhaps does not occur in other areas of the country. What has upset the manufacturers in my constituency was the way in which the Minister turned his back completely on a Gallup poll which they arranged. If there is one way of finding out what the consumer feels, I should have thought that it was this sort of market research survey.

Although I do not want to bore the House with details, it is pertinent to indicate the sort of questions that were asked. I quote: Up to now, imported goods have had to be marked with their country in which they were made. From the end of this month this will no longer need to be the case. In general, do you think that it is in your interest that the country of manufacture should be shown on goods in the shops? In the categories "very definitely" or "definitely" 83 per cent. were in favour.

The second question was: Of course, your action may vary depending on the particular goods you are buying Would you tell me if you think it is in your interest that the country of manufacture should be shown on the following goods:. I confine myself to the pottery industry, where 40 per cent. answered "very definitely" or "definitely". For fine bone china the figure was 76 per cent. For china for everyday use the figure was 43 per cent. and for bathroom suites it was 57 per cent.

Then there was a final important question: When you buy china, to what extent is it important to you to know that the pattern you have chosen will be available for replacements". To this 84 per cent. said "very important" or "important" That, together with the evidence I have given, indicates that a strong case can be made out for retaining origin markings in the interests of the consumer. This Bill is useful. I hope that it will be passed today and that in Committee it will be considerably stiffened.

The arguments put forward by the industry are threefold. The first has been touched upon already. It is fully appreciated that in the case of pottery we are, in a sense, dealing with something that, if not unique, is in a very special position, and it is not surprising that there should be a little special pleading on its behalf. But anyone who knows anything of the pottery market would have to concede that it is quite possible to create the impression of English origin without using wording which could be alleged to be deceptive. Instances have been quoted of commodities imported into this country which have been marked with the words "Made in England" or "Made in Westminster".

When my friends from the industry saw the Minister they took along with them some excellent plates which had those markings on them. It transpired, as has happened with other industries, that "England" was a little village in Japan and "Westminster" was a little village in Italy. There was another which carried a very nice English name which was a little village in Spain. They were reasonable plates, but I do not think they matched up in quality to what is produced in this country.

But even though the Bill could eliminate that sort of marking, the pottery industry is still not protected from the use by foreign manufacturers of certain designs. I know the hon. Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) will say this is a question of design copyright. But that is only half the story, because on the back of plates of foreign origin there might be English wording saying "Woodland scenery" and that sort of thing. I cannot be specifically alleged that this sort of wording is deceptive as to origin. A foreign manufacturer could get away with it by merely stating that, after all, "A woodland scene" is a phrase which describes a woodland scene.

The Bill also falls short because it does nothing to rectify a deficiency of Section 8 of the Trade Descriptions Act, which does not require the making of an origin marking order at the time of importation. There is confusion about this. It applies only when someone in this country has supplied goods, offered them for supply, exposed them for supply or has them in possession for supply unmarked. The importer would be responsible for seeing that they were marked as soon as he possessed them but not at the time of importation.

It is a little naïve to believe that the Trade Descriptions Act and this Bill, on the assumption that it is passed in its present form, will be sufficient to deal with this situation. Anyone with any experience of public life or the law and so on must know how long-drawn-out, if not expensive, it will be to try to prove that certain imported goods contravene the Act. On the whole it must be accepted that the legislation will be largely ineffective.

An expression that keeps appearing, no doubt originating from the various memoranda which have been put out by the Department, talks of "catching" people or "biting". If we envisage the process of bringing to heel someone who is breaking the law in this context by means of a process of "catching" him, we are using words too lightly. The effectiveness of the law will leave a great deal to be desired.

There is a third argument which is a sort of quasi-philosophical argument. What are we trying to do for the people we are seeking to serve to the best of our ability—the consumers? From what the Minister has said on radio and has written from time to time, and from what other hon. Members have said, it seems that the ultimate criterion for policy is not what the consumer would like but what the Government feel would be good for the consumer. I do not know whether this is a kind of benevolent paternalism, but it comes ill from the Government benches, from people who are dedicated to the application of market economics in all areas of economic activity. It is not good enough for the Government to say that whatever the public want, the ultimate criterion which will guide their policy is what they feel would be good for the consumer.

It has been stated that it is sufficient for any British manufacturer to put on his goods "Made in Britain". We do not agree, for a number of reasons—partly because this is not the way in which pottery is marked. It is marked in a way linked much more intimately with areas, perhaps the five towns of the Potteries—names which may not be known to hon. Members but are known in the pottery world. It would not be enough, and it certainly would not be acceptable, to solve this problem by including the words "Made in Britain".

Mr. Peel

Surely it would not be impossible to have the marking in the traditional way, saying how a plate is made, for example, and then add the words "Made in England" or "Britain".

Mr. Cant

That is a possibility, but it overlooks another objection: that the manufacturers of pottery in my area will simply not start beating the patriotic drum because they feel that they need to depend upon this sort of response from people.

In our welcome to some parts and our opposition to other parts of the Bill, we want to prevent the consumer from being duped. One type of product with which it is so easy to dupe a certain range of consumer is pottery. We are not interested in getting people in this country to buy British so much as to prevent them from being deceived. The figures I gave show clearly that we have succeeded remarkably well in the balance of exports and imports.

The Minister has also made a statement and he was congratulated by The Times on a neat turn of phrase. He said that origin and quality are not synonymous. Of course they are not, but I suggest that there are many other countries which attach great importance to the fact that they make goods and like their names associated with them.

Another objection, which the Minister will probably say cannot be considered by his Department but which makes pottery a special case, is the problem of hygiene. This is a question for the Home Office or the Government Chemist, but it cannot be left out of consideration. With the humble w.c. bowl—I am sorry that I could not bring samples along—the absorption limit is not only a highly technical problem but also a problem of hygiene. The sanitary ware section of the British ceramics industry has striven hard and has been successful in making its products to the specifications laid down by British Standard—that is, a mere 0.5 per cent. absorption limit.

Yet foreign goods can come into this country to a far less satisfactory standard. Japan is the best, with an absorption limit of 2.3 per cent., but Hungary allows a limit of 25 per cent. Any Government with the interests of the consumer at heart should pay heed to this and admit that special consideration is needed.

Another problem is the use of lead and the emission of other toxic substances. We fought a long and successful battle against these practices and it would be a great pity if the removal of origin markings led to an inflow of imports which did not measure up to scientific standards so as to guarantee the health of the British people.

Mr. Ridley

I take the point, but surely, if it is a question of declaring the quality of the import for hygienic reasons, it would not help the consumer to read "Made in Hungary" on a lavatory if he was not aware that that automatically meant that it was not a successfully designed piece of ceramics. What needs to be written on the imported lavatory is its dangerous characteristic and unsatisfactory Quality, not its origin. As I said, Quality and origin are not synonymous in this matter. I cannot see how the consumer is to know from the country of origin whether a lavatory is satisfactory.

Mr. Cant

I believe that it is precisely when one comes to sanitary ware that the suggestion that origin and quality are not synonymous falls down. People can be made aware of the shortcomings of imported products as well as of the virtues of the domestic product. This may involve some "knocking", but I am certain that if any W.C. bowl was marked "Made in Hungary" it would be a good deal more suspect.

I return to the need to honour our international obligations by freeing our trade to all commerce. Like myself, the Minister is a believer in Europe. He can vote in accordance with his conscience at the moment. I cannot, alas. We are going into the Common Market because we felt that we had obligations to E.F.T.A. and G.A.T.T., but we also have to ask ourselves whether we have obligations to Common Market countries which carry out all the fine print of these treaties.

The situation in the E.E.C. is rather disturbing. Italy has no legislation on this matter. That intriguing country, France, requires origin markings on any goods which could be taken for French produce. Even if it were not France, that could cover a multitude of sins, but as it is France it is good enough to exclude as much as the French want. The West Germans get around the subject neatly by requiring markings only on goods bearing German letters. Splendid.

We are not about to enter a Common Market that will be affronted because we have not honoured all our commitments under the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. As one exporter said recently, the fostering of more liberal trade is a laudable aim, but being the only country in step can cause problems. In Europe we shall be the only country in step on this. But that is a general state of affairs for the British. We always like to act as the gentleman. As a writer in the Sunday Times said recently in an article headed "Le carve-up", we are entering the club in which great allegiance is paid in theory to principles of one sort or another, but practically every country is sloping off to make its own deal whereas we wish to adhere to the building up of a European aerospace industry, a European computer industry, and so on.

The other ironic aspect is that the Bill is introduced at a time when the world is moving towards greater protectionism, when there is a greater belief in economic nationalism. Yet we are exposing ourselves to all corners. The Minister will welcome that, because he is a free-trader, a believer in the market economy. I think he even believes that the economic logic of world development is quite simply that a large number of secondary technology industries should move out to South Korea. Multi-national corporations are getting most of their secondary technological products produced in the under-developed world. That is fair enough but the pottery industry is not one of those industries, and we shall not be any party to moving it from Stoke-on-Trent.

Mr. Eddie Griffiths (Sheffield, Brightside)

My hon. Friend has mentioned the Minister's free trade philosophy. Ministers of both parties have paid lip service to free trade but have offered maximum protection to certain industries, like agriculture, while Governments have misguidedly treated others like the pottery industry and cutlery industry as the whipping boys to satisfy their free trade philosophies.

Mr. Cant

I am tempted to agree, but I am not as convinced about that argument as my hon. Friend, because I think that on balance the pottery industry has been more successful than the cutlery industry in holding its own and flourishing in world markets. But I am prepared to suspect Ministers of any type of deviousness, except the Under-Secretary of State, whom I have always said is a charming fellow; I just think his ideas are wrong.

We welcome the Bill, though it needs stiffening, particularly in the sense that the pottery industry should be one of the special cases.

12.44 p.m.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

I was interested in the reference by my hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Hiley) to the wool mark because I was one of the principal persons responsible in the wool industry for introducing that mark. It has pretty universal registration throughout the world now, but it was not introduced without some difficulty, particularly over the words describing the mark, which in English are "Pure, virgin wool". When I went to France to suggest that same version to the French they said that some difficulty would arise because in the eyes of the French there were degrees of "virgin".

I have always been a very strong and staunch believer in informative labelling of all products to help the consumer make his or her choice freely and without being misled. The Trade Descriptions Act, which was passed in 1968, was a result of a very long and extensive examination by the Molony Committee of the whole question of consumer protection. When the last Government introduced the Bill it was first to be called the Consumer Protection Bill, but in the other place it was suggested that not only were consumers to be protected but that industry, manufacturers and retailers alike, wanted to share in the protection. Hence we have the more embracing title.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) on presenting the Bill so ably and so clearly. It is possible to take different views of it. Although it is a Bill to protect consumers, it could be argued that in certain circumstances its provisions might not be required, and could even be detrimental to successful trading.

The Molony Committee did not come down heavily on the side of the need for origin markings. It felt that the consumer interest should be paramount, but did not feel that it was absolutely necessary to apply a mark of origin in all cases in helping the consumer make his choice. That was the Committee thinking about the consumer problem as we saw it four or five years ago.

It is helpful to look back to the whole background of the past 30 or 40 years. The position of the consumer has changed considerably since the passing of the Merchandise Marks Act, 1926, which was not passed in the interests of the consumer so much as to protect "Imperial goods", as they were then called. There were strong provisions in that Act on the indication of country of origin. When the Molony Committee considered the question 40 years later, it concluded, after extensive study with consumers and the trade, that in the increasing pattern of trade it was not so necessary to indicate country of origin. It stated in its recommendation 165: An indication of origin is of genuine consumer interest… But it did not go on to say that there should necessarily be very strong legislation on marks of origin.

The right hon. Member for Sheffield. Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) and I faced one another in Committee and on the Floor of the House over many weeks when dealing with the Trade Descriptions Act. He will remember that he was very much guided by Molony, to which he referred this morning. He said today that the then Opposition tended to agree with him in his cogent arguments on Section 8 and that we withdrew our Amendment as a result of listening to him. It has to be said that the intention of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) in introducing the Amendment was to strengthen the Bill, as it then was, over this question of origin markings because we felt that Molony had not been sufficiently strong.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Bradford, West)

Has not experience since the passing of the Trade Descriptions Act been that the consumer is conservative and has acquired discrimination since the 1926 Act? Is it not true that since then he has been used to a situation in which if a good was not marked it must be British? If he goes into a store today thinking that, he will be misled as a result of these habits that he has acquired.

Mr. Crouch

I always enjoy giving way, particularly to my hon. Friend, but sometimes I spoil my own speech, because my hon. Friend has just robbed me of my peroration. My hon. and learned Friend, in introducing the Amendment to strengthen the Act, was prompted to do so as a result of a question he put to the then President of the Board of Trade, the right hon. Member for Battersea, North (Mr. Jay) on 26th April, 1967, when he asked the right hon. Gentleman if the Government would introduce legislation to change the mark "Empire made" to some more precise mark of origin, such as "Made in Hong Kong". The reply was: The Protection of Consumers (Trade Descriptions) Bill, which I shall introduce as soon as possible, would provide powers to require any goods to be marked with the name of the country of origin."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th April, 1967; Vol. 745, c. 1588.] That is what made us, as a good Opposition trying to be constructive, seek to help the right hon. Gentleman in strengthening the Bill.

But the right hon. Gentleman, although sometimes misguided, is undoubtedly a staunch European at heart and he reminded us of the Stockholm Convention and the working party of E.F.T.A. which in 1966 said, "Be careful about marks of origin. We want to be international, we do not want more markings of origin than are necessary" He reminded us of the G.A.T.T. working party of 1958. which had put some brake on his good intentions and those of the President of the Board of Trade. We, as an Opposition were wrong, the entire Committee was wrong not to press the Government over the Amendment and ensure that this requirement for a mark of origin was carried through. That is why I am pleased that my hon. Friend has come forward with the Bill.

Our first thoughts were right because we were putting the consumer first. It was only when we became confused and thought about all the cross-currents of Government, trade associations, manufacturers, importers, and international conventions that we said that perhaps we ought not to do this. The duty of Parliament must be to put the consumer first because the consumer is simply another name for our constituents. We are taking care of the mistakes we made. and all Parliaments and Governments make them. Consumers have the right to information to make purchases in freedom. They have the right to know the content of a product, its construction, fitness for purpose, the country of origin. That information may well determine the consumer's choice in the matter of quality. At least it is a choice which they should be able to exercise. The mark of origin also resolves questions in the mind of the consumer about whether the product has been manufactured in clean circumstances—this particularly applies to food—whether it is satisfactory with regard to health and safety, whether it is reliable and whether there is ease of maintenance and availability of spare parts. All of these matters are necessary to the consumer who does not shop in a vacuum.

He is receiving information in all sorts of ways—Press, radio and television and in general commentary and discussion. Countries have an atmosphere of quality or otherwise, and certain products are associated with particular countries as international trade grows. It is true that countries change their habits. Today the best textile available in the United States in competition with Huddersfield-made worsteds is Japanese textile, because the Japanese have so improved their quality control that they have changed their prewar image.

Mr. Darling

The hon. Gentleman is surely not suggesting that when we were discussing origin markings during the stages of the Act to which he has referred any suggestion was made that we should not have origin marking orders. The hon. Member has said that we want a lot more information given to customers. All of this is in the same section, and origin marking orders were only part of that. If the trade associations had accepted my broad hints—I was almost on my bended knees pleading with them—they could have made the right kind of applications. Would the hon. Gentleman quote the Molony Recommendation 167? He has quoted 165. This is where the trouble really began with this Government.

Mr. Crouch

I do not want to have words put into my mouth. Molony said a great many things, and it is true that he was concerned that the consumer should have someone to act as a guardian and watchdog. Recommendation 167 said: We recommend that a body representative of consumers should be empowered to procure the making or amendment of Marking Orders.

Mr. Darling

And the hon. Gentle-man's Government abolished the Con-sumer Council.

Mr. Crouch

I knew the right hon. Gentleman was wanting me to say that, but I do not see why I should because I have said I am sorry that it went. I played some part in my party, at the request of the Prime Minister who was then Leader of the Opposition, in keeping an eye on the problems of consumer affairs. That was probably why I found myself in Committee opposite the right hon. Gentleman. However, I would weary if I were to go into the whole history of the thing.

Unless we strengthen the legislation, as I have said, to insist on markings of origin being a part of trade descriptions and consumer protection, we could find ourselves in a position of actually encouraging the importation of the goods which would allow a "soft touch"; in other words, this country could become an easy market for imported goods which if they did not have marks of countries of origin could be passed on as of British manufacture. This, I believe, could grow very considerably indeed. I am not against the foreign product—I am all in favour of world free trade—but I want the consumer to decide whether he or she wants to buy a foreign product on his or her own judgment. Lack of essential information is against the whole spirit of the original Trade Descriptions Act. This nevi Bill would put the problem right. It would not only strengthen the Act but give the consumer the information she is entitled to have.

1.1 p.m.

Mr. Sydney Bidwell (Southall)

I think the House is always impressed by the depth and sincerity of any contribution made by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), but I am afraid that I cannot share his passionate enthusiasm for what he has described as a great step forward in the protection of the consumer. He has quite openly said that he did not share the view of the Government that the Consumer Council should be abolished. I think he agrees that that was a most regressive action. It is very difficult for hon. Members on this side who are concerned about the interests of the consumers to accept that action. It was a regressive step.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) has had a lifetime's experience of consumers' interests, and he is, of course, a Co-operative Member of this House and a member of the Co-operative Movement, which is substantially a consumers movement; although it is also partly a manufacturers' movement it is interested in the general interests of consumers as a whole in this country. As a co-operator I also have been involved in these matters and in the kind of thinking to be found among those interested in them.

When I first looked at this Bill it did not strike me as one which could greatly excite me, especially having regard to the debates which we had on the Labour Government's Trade Descriptions Bill of 1968. The reason is that I am much more interested, and I suggest that the hon. Member for Canterbury should also be much more interested, in quality protection, which is the supreme question—with, of course, price. Most of us, when we buy a shirt, are initially attracted by its price, and then we look at the quality. If the quality does not match with the price we are not very concerned whether the fact that the shirt was made in Hong Kong is indicated in small print on the tail, or whether it was made in Britain. That is the common reaction of consumers in this country. I hope that it will not go out from this debate to Hong Kong, which is a part of the Commonwealth, that there is no room in this country for goods from Hong Kong provided they are at the right price and quality. Hong Kong finds an outlet for its textile exports in the United States, where markings of origin are required in a much stronger way than we require them. I do not know what the up-to-date position is, but certainly Hong Kong finds a market there.

There are all sorts of thoughts which arise from a Bill of this kind. It seemed to me to catch my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough on one leg. From what he had to say I do not know whether he really likes the Bill or not. I shall be interested to hear from the Minister who replies to this debate how the Government see the Bill in its totality, whether they see it as of great or little significance, and how they see it in relation to our being involved in the Common Market and the considerable extension of free trade which comes inevitably from the Treaty of Rome.

The Bill reminds me very much of the old story of the 6 ft. 3 in. tall farmer who was regularly assaulted on Saturday nights by his wife. Somebody asked him why he allowed this every week. He replied, "Well, it don't do me any harm and it pleases her" It seems to me that this Bill is very much along those lines. The Minister wants to please a few manufacturing interests which are dear to his heart, and he knows that the Bill will not have very much effect at all.

I found the list of sponsors of the Bill quite curious. There are a few ardent Europeans among them. I would not put myself in that category. Although I am rather left of my party, I do not have any tremendous passions against joining the Common Market. I think we can find ways to bring about what are the desires of this side of the House, but I am not afraid of involvement in the Common Market for the Socialist ideas which are specifically the underpinning of the Labour Party.

When we were framing the 1968 Act we had to have very much in mind the requirements of G.A.T.T. It is generally regarded in the world arena as a retrogressive thing when one goes deliberately out of one's way to mark the country of origin. It would not be if consumers in this country were all that wise. They now lack the stimulation of the Consumer Council in being that wise.

Is it very well informed just to know that an article was made in the United Kingdom? When we talk of linen we think of Ireland. I do not know whether one thinks of Northern Ireland, which is part of the United Kingdom, or of Southern Ireland, but when one thinks of linen one thinks of Ireland and that it is good. I would say to my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough and to my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Eddie Griffiths) that when we in London buy Sheffield cutlery we regard ourselves as buying articles of quality, but I hope we shall not be induced not now and again to try an article of some other origin.

"Made in England" is the hallmark of English nationalism. It would not be good enough for some of my hon. Friends more interested in having whole days spent here on Scottish affairs. To say of a thing that it was made in England would not be good enough for Scottish Members on this side of the House. I am reminded, perhaps because this is a Friday, of the case of the "Scottish cook". I do not know how the Welsh feel about that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant) put forward a parochial rather than a United Kingdom patriotism. I do not know whether pottery is made in obscure corners of the country or whether if it is it is rubbish. If that were so, presumably my hon. Friend dare not say so. He is a powerful advocate for the Potteries, and his view was that free trade assists the Potteries. He gave figures to show that that industry intends to meet the cold blasts of international and even national competition. I agree with him. The label "Made in Stoke" might persuade me of the quality of the product, and I should not be persuaded of the quality of a cup marked "Made in the United Kingdom".

The Bill does not excite me as it seems to excite certain hon. Gentlemen opposite. Components in the motor industry are likely to be made in various countries. Under the provisions of the Bill there would have to be a wholesale labelling of component parts, even though the assembly of the complete vehicle for the domestic market might take place in this country. Although the Bill does not excite me, it provides an opportunity for a most interesting discussion.

Our future as a trading nation does not depend upon Measures of this kind. Our future lies in companies or sections of nationalised industries becoming a hall-mark of quality not only in the home market but abroad. A large number of my constituents are interested in whether India is the land of origin of an article. They are equally interested in the Leyland Group activities. Leyland is excited about the prospect of going into the Common Market, and I suspect it would not push for the labelling of its goods because it sees itself as an international entity.

A great deal of thought, energy and time was put into the debates on the 1968 Trade Descriptions Act, which I have been reading. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough and the hon. Member for Canterbury said that the provisions embodied in the Bill should have been embodied in the 1968 Act, but the absence of those provisions in the Act was not caused by any lack of thought on the part of the Labour Government.

I can well understand special pleading for Stoke and Sheffield if the provisions of the Bill are likely to be advantageous to consumers and protect jobs in this unhappy time, but. on balance, our future depends on our ability to sell British wares abroad and not on labelling our goods "Made in Britain". We know that that does not in every case mean that the goods are of the highest quality. It must not be thought that we do not welcome into the country high quality goods from abroad. We want our people to enjoy these goods, and it is possible that they will provide for our manufacturers a cool blast of discipline, although I do not think that will apply in the crudeness that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South-West (Mr. Powell) postulates.

I hope that when the Minister replies he will put the Bill into perspective

1.16 p.m.

Mr. John H. Osborn (Sheffield, Hallam)

The hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Bidwell) has touched on an important aspect which I hope to deal with later. We have heard from the Opposition the extremes of protection and free trade which cut across political boundaries.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) on presenting the Bill. I hope he will not take it amiss that I regard it as a drop in the ocean, and that I should have liked to see it cover much more ground.

As a Member of Parliament involved in industries affected by the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, I have been fascinated in today's debate by the post-mortem of what was and was not done in Committee on that Bill, and particularly by the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) when he outlined why Amendments which were not accepted should have been accepted.

To come back to quality, we must begin to realise what we mean by "Made in Britain". Is it a hall-mark of quality? If it is not, how will it affect our employment opportunities and our reputation? Sheffield has been spoken of, and my constituency of Hallam is in that city. I am a Junior Warden of the Cutlers' Company of which I have been a member for 20 years, and also an industrialist, so it is relevant for me to refer to "Made in Sheffield". The reputation of Sheffield since the war, if not since the beginning of the century, has been a major factor in promoting the wares of that city, including cutlery, special steels, and tools. The image of "Made in Sheffield" has eased the task of our salesmen and has been of enormous advantage. It would be a pity for that advantage to be lost.

Looking back to the consequences of the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, manufacturers were not alerted to the extent of the challenge that they would have to face. The marking orders under the Merchandise Marks Act, 1926, may have been oriented towards Imperial preference but were certainly oriented towards manufacturers. The Trade Descriptions Act, which resulted from the Molony Committee, was therefore inevitably designed to protect the consumer.

The mark "Made in Britan" now faces us with a challenge. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, and the Under-Secretary of State who is with us today have inherited an Act which they must implement. I must confess, from the correspondence I had with the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) that I had to reach the conclusion that I was "conned".

There has been an interesting debate today about whether applications for further marking orders would be favourably received. I am sorry that the right hon. Member for Hillsborough is now not present. He gave the impression that, had there been no change of Government, he as Minister would have continued marking orders and would have looked at this matter in a favourable light. My right hon. Friend, based on the legal advice he has received, obviously has a slightly different interpretation of the Act.

There has been reference to the advice received from civil servants. I assure my hon. Friend that this has caused some confusion among manufacturers. The advice I gave, as recorded at a Sheffield Chamber of Commerce meeting on 22nd May, 1967, I now have to admit was incorrect advice based on information I had obtained from Ministers.

What is the present position? Since 30th November more and more goods will have come into this country without a mark as to country of origin. It has already been pointed out that this can be counteracted by labelling goods "Made in Britain", but it has also been said that many people go into a shop to buy goods which they think are made in Britain but are, in fact, made elsewhere. This is the situation we face; namely, that to an increasing extent, although the consumer believes he is buying British, in fact he is not.

What is the problem facing manufacturers? Applications for marking orders are now not being considered because of the interpretation of the Act which is now before us. As my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State said to me in a letter: Compulsory marking was a feature of a particular attitude towards international trade, which is now obsolete, and what has become more of an issue now is the interests of consumers. I have before me the 1970 list, which extends to three or four pages and gives the merchandise marks which ought to be continued. I asked a Question about this matter on 26th July—the reference is column 10 in the Written Answers—and was told that the Department had received 15 applications, of which eight were still under consideration. A further Written Answer on 8th November, in column 52, showed that there were 22 applications for marking orders, many of which were being considered. On 19th October the House was given a Written Answer which was favourable towards mainly agricultural and horticultural products such as tomatoes, apples, poultry, bacon and ham, coming into this country. This debate provides my hon. Friend with an opportunity to inform the House of what has happened to these applications and to say how they are being treated.

I wrote to my hon. Friend about the Bill to tell him what I wanted to see in the legislation. If there is some doubt under Section 36 of the original Act as to the definition of the correct country of origin, could this matter be clarified in the Bill? Are components, made overseas, assembled for example in Holland, and finally packaged in Britain to be sold as "Made in Britain"? Obviously my hon. Friend has not been able to deal with that situation in this Bill. I drew his attention to the importance of the phrase "Made in Sheffield". The Cutlers' Company set up a defence fund to deal with this situation many years ago. Over the years it is amazing how many suburbs and villages in South America, Mexico and elsewhere have managed to acquire, or become associated with the name "Sheffield". This has involved legal action and expenditure by the trustees of this fund on behalf of manufacturers to combat the use of the word "Sheffield" where its use is not justified.

I welcome the fact in the Bill that if goods are marked "Sheffield Steel" because the steel has been made in Sheffield but the goods themselves have been made-up in Hong Kong, they must be clearly marked as having been made outside the United Kingdom. It is to be welcomed that anybody who seeks to supply goods in this country will be guilty of an offence unless such a mark is on the goods. This is a step in the right direction. I have consulted my advisers in Sheffield, and they welcome this step, though they have not had brought to their attention any instances of abuse in this respect. Sheffield and, no doubt, many other centres of British manufacture will wish to maintain and continue their reputation—a reputation which in the case of Sheffield has been built up during the last 75 years. I have no doubt that Sheffield's reputation has accounted for its past strength and prosperity.

Furthermore, the words "Made in Sheffield" have been in the past a provider of employment. Now, in face of a 4.5 per cent. unemployment rate, it is surely more important that "Made in Sheffield" should be proved to mean something. This denotes that the quality of the goods is guaranteed. It is equally important that low quality goods should not be able to go out from that city, associated with the name Sheffield, with the implication that they are high quality goods.

It might be said that Sheffield should promote this quality. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury referred to his part in devising a symbol for wool. But who is to say whether the quality is high or not? Should it be the Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, the Cutlers' Company, the Defence Fund or even the local weights and measures department? Therefore, it is a difficult matter for a city itself to undertake this task. But if poor quality goods go out under a good name of origin, then it is clear that that name will be tarnished. I have cited the case of Sheffield, but this consideration applies to the whole of Britain. For example, we are dependent on high quality and advanced technology for the goods we make.

Mr. Bidwell

Was this not where the Consumer Council came in to determine quality in the interests of the consumer and to examine in great depth the comparative goods?

Mr. Osborn

I am talking about the position of the manufacturer. Surely, unless he protects his own quality and reputation, the consumer will not be interested in what he has to sell. With regard to Molony, perhaps we were misled in this House five or 10 years ago, since the manufacturer should have an interest in protecting his own name and that of his industry.

There are two industries with headquarters in my constituency. First, there are the hand-tool manufacturers and the cutlery manufacturers. It was pointed out in evidence submitted by the hand-tool manufacturers that we in this country prefer to buy British tools because of our high standards of quality and finish, and this certainly applies to me. The existence of a marking order ensured that the consumer knew when buying tools they were British and not foreign. Now the consumer has no idea whether he is buying British or foreign tools unless the German or British manufacturer wishes to reveal that fact.

The corollary of this is that if the consumer does not see a good trade mark or country of origin on goods he should be suspicious. Secondly, the cutlery industry is faced with a large volume of cheap imports, either finished or part manufactured, over which there are no quota restrictions in this country; yet we all know that the United States and European countries have quota restrictions. I do not raise this today—the point was put to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary by deputations in August and December, 1971—but it must be pointed out that the fact that the goods can come into the country without any mark as to country of origin exacerbates the situation.

Reference has been made to the position of foreign manufacturers. About 25 years ago goods which were made in Germany or Japan were regarded as low quality, but certainly today the Germans and the Japanese do not need to be ashamed of their electronic products, cars and photographic equipment. The term "Made in Germany" or "Made in Japan" is a hallmark of the quality of such goods.

On another occasion it was put to me that next year it might well be the fashion to acquire Chinese shirts. I suggest that that is not a case for insisting that the shirts be marked with the country of origin. However, if it is a sales asset or advantage to have the shirts marked "Made in China", the seller is missing an opportunity if he does not stamp them to that effect.

I return finally to the question of quality. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary has referred in letters to me to the importance of composition, construction and performance, and in the long-term interest of the consumer I strongly support this approach. We have debated whether origin and quality have anything to do with each other. I learn from the C.B.I. that it has a committee dealing with standards and certification called the Production Committee. It has another committee dealing with marking orders under the Trade Descriptions Act called the Customer and Supplier Committee. In the minds of many of those engaged in manufacturing, quality and origin are not regarded as synonymous. I hope that my hon. Friend will take this opportunity to try to associate the two in the minds of manufacturers.

The British Standards Institution is the setter of standards of goods. Its new director, Mr. Feilden, has been in touch with me. It occurs to me to ask my hon. Friend what encouragement has been given to it to define better standards for the consumer and treat this as a matter of urgency. Sir Eric Mensforth, of the Cutlers' Company in Sheffield, has been chairing a committee which has considered "means of authenticating the quality of engineering products and materials". It is because I regard the relationship between origin and quality as being of such importance that I have used my position on the Steering Committee of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee to arrange that when the Committee next meets in the House Mr. Feilden and Sir Eric Mensforth should speak to it, I hope with this Bill and this debate very much in mind. When proper quality standards have been established, and are marked on goods, the question of origin becomes of less significance. Serviceability, frequency of maintenance and reliability are factors which must be better measured—for the benefit of the consumer.

I want briefly to touch on the value of brand names and the names of manufacturers. Of course, a great deal depends on the size of company concerned, bearing in mind that we have a great many international companies. International names like Ford, General Motors and Hoover are names of quality. Those companies have built up reputations wherever their goods are made or sold. I do not think that we mind whether they are made in the United States of America, in Europe or in this country.

Returning to Sheffield, some Sheffield cutlery firms are bringing in components or finished goods and packaging them in Sheffield. It is important that the consumer should know whether those goods are Sheffield or foreign goods or, as one producer has put it, "international". In the hand-tool and engineering industries, many British companies have set up subsidiaries all over the world. A bit of teaming and ladling may be necessary—there may be, for instance, heavy demand on a subsidiary factory—in Germany. In such circumstances it is reasonable for the German output to be supplemented from other subsidiary companies in, perhaps South America and the United States of America if necessary. The same applies to products sent to this country but made in other countries. But it has been asked what is meant by "Sheffield made". It could be a Sheffield company with an overseas subsidiary which might wish to sell its own steel or use Sheffield steel for the purpose. Provided that such a manufacturer ensures that the specification is to Sheffield standards, what terminology should he use for goods manufactured in his own subsidiary company? This is a problem that our industries must sort out, and they must work with the Government, which are deciding these issues. In this instance "Sheffield Quality" has some considerable significance. "Made in Sheffield" would be misleading.

What do we do now? I welcome this Bill. It is a step in the right direction. However, I ask my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary to make certain that quality is much better defined, that action is taken on the Mensforth Report, and that my hon. Friend does something to strengthen the activities of the B.S.I., bearing in mind that if quality is considered to be of the greatest importance we have laid down no reliable measure of this in far too many instances. Only this year I wanted to buy a hedge-clipper. I had a choice, and prices ranged from £10 to £50. Was I to assume that the £50 one was of a better quality than the £10 one? Admittedly, it was bigger. But so often there are no standards by which the consumer can make a judgment. These are matters about which we wish to know more, and I hope that the work of the B.S.I. will be accelerated and strengthened.

Until we have a better measure of quality, the country of origin is of great help to the consumer. I was appalled by the opinion of the right hon. Member for Hillsborough that in his view it still ought to be possible to continue and to review favourably applications for country of origin and yet find that the interpretation of the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary does not support this. This interpretation has been a setback to industry, and I hope it can be clarified.

Meanwhile, manufacturers in this country must be quite certain that there is an advantage in marking their goods "Made in Britain" and, in Sheffield, "Made in Sheffield" and keeping this so. If manufacturers are to retain their reputations, they must ensure that when the name of the country is marked on goods that they are selling they are manufactured to a quality of which they can be proud. There is collective responsibility to ensure "British Made" continues to be associated with quality and I hope that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will consider this aspect as well.

1.35 p.m.

Mr. David Clark (Colne Valley)

I have listened very closely to the arguments of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn), and I was interested to hear him say that he had slightly misinterpreted the 1968 Act until fairly recently—

Mr. J. H. Osborn

The word that I used was "conned". That is the word which has been passed on to me.

Mr. Clark

It may be that I was being a little more parliamentary in my use of the language.

I was also interested in the argument of the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch), who said that he wished that the then Opposition Amendment to the Trade Description Bill had been pressed in Committee. I suggest that the hon. Member for Hallam was not conned and that the hon. Member for Canterbury and his hon. Friends withdrew their Amendment in 1968 because the then Government gave them the assurance to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) has referred today in his quotations from the proceedings in Committee. The hon. Member for Hallam and the hon. Member for Canterbury were reassured that there was enough protection in the Bill to cover the consumer and for various industries to retain the origin markings. That is a view which is still held by many people.

What has happened is that the hon. Member for Hallam has been conned by the interpretation of his own Government. I have taken legal advice on this matter, besides consulting various trade bodies. All of them consider exactly the opposite interpretation to that of the Government is the true position.

However, taking this point a stage further, hon. Gentlemen opposite came to office more than 18 months ago, and if this was such a vital matter in their view, surely they could have brought in a Bill to rectify the position. It is fairly non-contentious after all. The Government could have put matters right themselves. The fact that the Government have taken no action is another indication of their policy of not wanting to interfere with "lame ducks". They are using this as an excuse for not interfering.

About a third of my constituents work in the textile industry. For that reason, I represent people who are concerned not only as consumers but as producers.

I welcome the Bill, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) on introducing it. However, it is but a palliative. It is not a panacea. Like other hon. Members, I give it a guarded welcome.

The hon. Member for Leicester, South East introduced the Bill concisely and clearly. He outlined its weaknesses as well as its strengths. It was a pleasure to hear him.

I have found a different reaction to the Bill in the country. It has been presented to the textile area of Yorkshire as the great cure-all. Conservative Central Office must have been sending leaflets to all their platform speakers instructing them to tell people that, although the wicked Labour Government stopped origin-markings, all will be put right by this Bill. However, that is far from the truth. The Bill is only a small step in the right direction. Even the Prime Minister, in reply to a Question by the hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Hiley) at the end of January, gave this reassurance. I took the right hon. Gentleman to task. I wrote to him protesting strongly that he had been saying things of this kind. He replied explaining what the Bill did. In his letter he said: But I do not think that we can seek to protect people against the unreasonable assumption that the absence of a name or mark indicates that goods were made in the United Kingdom. As has been said today, habits die hard in the textile industry. But, as consumers, we know that in the textile industry if a piece of cloth is not marked it is British. That was the situation until 30th November. Suddenly to expect things to change overnight is misleading. This sentence seems to be the basic philosophy of the Government. It shows how out of 'touch they are with many of the realities not only of the country, but of industry.

The Prime Minister, in his letter to me, went on to say: Indeed, if all home producers were to indicate where their goods were made, as so many do, this would reinforce the more natural inference that unmarked goods are probably imported. To argue that British-produced goods should be labelled "Made in Britain" is a sensible argument which implies that the general public should have the right to see where goods are produced, but we must also extend the logic of that argument. If we accept the view that British goods should be labelled "Made in Britain", we must also accept the argument that the origin markings on all goods from all countries should be adhered to.

I share the view of the Wool Textile Delegation and the wool textile unions that the Minister has power, under Section 8 of the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, to act if he so wishes. Indeed, he has acted in respect of about 10 or a dozen items. I believe that this action could be extended. It is in the interests of the consumer. As has been said today—it is worth reiterating—we are now beginning to see the absolute folly and stupidity of the Government in withdrawing support from the Consumer Council. This is a regrettable decision and we are now beginning to see the results.

The Wool Textile Delegation and trade unions gave their evidence to the Minister. They took evidence from the Women's Advisory Section of the British Standards Institute, representing no fewer than 31 consumer associations, all arguing that it was in the interests of consumers to know where various goods came from.

I accept that the country of origin is not always synonymous with quality. Some countries produce wool textiles of a very high standard and quality; others produce goods of a much lower standard and quality. Surely the general public have the right to know the quality, design, and so on, of the cloth or goods that they are buying. That point cannot be made too strongly. It is not made in the name of protection, but in the name of trying to give the consumer as much information as possible so that he or she has the freedom to choose.

The Under-Secretary hinted on 14th December, as reported at column 416, that there is a non-tariff barrier. This is a ridiculous argument. The extra cost involved, in whatever country, is negligible. This is a case of the Minister trying to find excuses for his interpretation of a particular Bill.

Turning to the Bill, which I welcome, I am disturbed about Clause 1(2) which clearly will have to be dealt with in detail in Committee. If there is any doubt that blends and mixtures could affect textiles coming into this country, in many ways the Bill could be worthless to the wool and textile industry. We are not sure about this, but it must be remedied.

The hon. Gentleman said in introducing the Bill that if stores which generally had a reputation for selling British goods put goods on sale unmarked, they might be caught by the Bill. I do not know whether this is so, but that is how I understood it.

Mr. Peel

I meant that if there were unmarked goods set out on a shelf or table with a clear indication on a notice, not necessarily attached but obviously referring to them, on which the name of the shop and the price was indicated, that would be sufficient to be covered by my Bill.

Mr. Clark

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. This point worries me. There are companies and retailers in this country which have names such as British Home Stores, and so on. My worry is that there might be only the name of the store on the goods. It depends how one reads the Bill whether they would be covered by it.

As I understand the Bill, shapes and motifs are not classed as trade marks. This also is quite worrying. The Wool-mark, perhaps wrongly, is generally interpreted as representing British produce. Therefore, if the Woolmark is not taken to mean the mark of origin, many people when buying woollen garments may take the Woolmark as indicating that goods have been made in Britain. We shall have to consider this matter in detail in Committee if the Bill is given a Second Reading.

I conclude as I began by congratulating the hon. Member for Leicester, South-East on bringing in the Bill, but regretting that he has to bring it in. I think that the Bill is unnecessary. The hon. Gentleman is doing the Government's dirty work, because they have been guilty of misleading the general public. I hope that the debate today will have got across to the general public the feeling that, although the Bill is welcome and needed, it is needed only in the light of the interpretation by the Government. In fact, it will not be a cure-all; it will help only a small section of importers.

1.48 p.m.

Mr. Adam Butler (Bosworth)

As one of the initiators of an early-day Motion on the subject covered by the Bill, I am pleased to take part in the debate.

I am also pleased to follow the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. David Clark) because of my interest in textiles through both my constituency and business affairs. Therefore, I support the hon. Gentleman entirely on what he said about Clause 1(2), about which I have already spoken to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel). It is absolutely essential that this matter should be cleared up in favour of including all textile blends and mixtures under the Bill.

The Bill is one element only in a necessary campaign to give better protection and improved choice to the shopper. It goes along with the need for comprehensive marking, including, for instance, the need for a full definition of fibre content, and for such matters as unit pricing. My criticism is that its principle of preventing misrepresentation does not go far enough, although I believe that its effects will be highly beneficial.

I, too, believe as a matter of principle that the consumer has a right to know where an article comes from. In that respect the Merchandise Marks Act, 1926, was not adequate, because to say the goods are foreign or from Commonwealth sources does not give the necessary information.

The Government have argued that the Trade Descriptions Act can be used in respect of foodstuffs and one or two other articles because of the variation in taste or quality which may occur according to origin. But the housewife has found from wide experience that quality can vary according to the country of origin and indeed that the low price of an article, provided that its origin is known to her, may indicate value and not trash.

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn) has already mentioned Japanese cameras. We would all agree that if we saw a low priced camera from Japan we would buy it but that if it had no mark of origin we would treat it with great suspicion. This argument applies to a whole range of other articles and is largely a matter of experience. A country which is proud of its value and quality, as Japan is, benefits its manufacturers by marking the origin of its goods. Conversely, if the marking of origin were compulsory right across the board, it would tend to force up quality. This is another justification for the Bill.

I believe that the consumer also has a right to know the origin because, for patriotic reasons, she may wish to buy British or alternatively because she may not wish to buy from a country to whose Government or political principles she objects to on conscientious or any other good grounds. I see no reason why she should not be supported in that intention.

The Bill does not claim all this as its justification, but I am concerned about its effect and the extent of its coverage. Under the umbrella of the Trade Descriptions Act, the shopper shall not be misled by English-sounding names into thinking that the goods are English. The Bill takes this very much further. As such, it is an advance. I cannot agree with the hon. Member for Colne Valley, for instance, that it is unnecessary.

The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) saw no difference between orders under Clause 1(4) of the Bill and under Section 8 of the Trade Descriptions Act. The difference is that, to cover the entire field under the Trade Descriptions Act, hundreds of orders would be necessary. In this case only the exceptions will have to be made out. It is a difference between hundreds and perhaps only tens. So the administrative argument, if nothing else, supports the Bill.

The Bill goes a very long way indeed, particularly if we accept that if the name of a store or its brand name appears on goods they must be origin-marked. In the High Street, now, brand names of every sort are spreading very strongly. The hon. Member for Pudsey (Mr. Hiley) said that chain stores could become full of unmarked goods. This is not what I would expect, because chain stores are becoming increasingly conscious of their own image and their own brand name. If they are branding all their goods, goods of foreign origin will have to be marked.

The secondary effect of the Bill has been mentioned. I am not ashamed to say that if the Bill helps in any way to safeguard our industries—whether textile or any other—and protects them from the low labour cost imports from which they are suffering, I will be delighted. Unemployment in the textile industry has been brought about in part by the increase in low labour cost imports in some cases of 50 per cent. or 100 per cent. over the last year. In the clothing and knitted goods industry, imports are now running at a value of about £210 million. The increase in the last year alone is the equivalent of 20,000 jobs in that industry.

I accept that the Bill will have only a marginal effect, but if it puts back one job into my constituency or 10 or 100 jobs into Lancashire, I shall be delighted to support it. That is not the prime reason for the Bill, but as a secondary one it is to be welcomed at a time of unacceptably high unemployment.

I would encourage three different groups of people to act on the Bill. I support those who have encouraged British manufacturers to mark their goods as being British made. Those who are not prepared to do so are sometimes those who are trying to get away with low quality. If they mark their goods, there is a chance that quality will be improved.

I encourage all those responsible to publicise to the consumer his rights under the Bill and to assist the weights and measures inspectors in their job of policing. The consumer should demand to know the point of origin of goods if they are not marked. Finally, I encourage the House to support the Bill. Although I have criticised it in some respects, I give it my own full support.

1.58 p.m.

Mr. Bruce Millan (Glasgow, Craigton)

It might be convenient if I were to intervene now, although I do not want to curb the debate, in which many other hon. Members wish to speak.

I too congratulate the hon. Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) on introducing the Bill. I will have some critical things to say about it—not so much about what it contains as about the fact that it does not deal with the main matter concerning manufacturers and consumer interests. This has been the theme of many speeches today: that the Bill, while welcome, does not go nearly far enough. At first sight it is comparatively simple, but to understand what it tries to do and to define one's own views towards it, it is necessary to some extent, as the hon. Member recognised, to go over the history of marks of origin.

The Merchandise Marks Act, 1926, was generally recognised, certainly by the Molony Committee, to be no longer a completely satisfactory way of dealing with the problem. First, the Act referred exclusively to imported goods and it was clear from the origins of the Act—indeed, from the way in which it was expressed—that it was basically a protection for manufacturing industry in this country rather than a protection for customers or consumers.

Although there was some consumer protection in the 1926 Act, that came about incidentally to the main purpose of the legislation. That was, of course, out of spirit with the obligations which this country took on under G.A.T.T. and E.F.T.A.

Second, a deficiency of the Act to which many hon. Members have referred was that the obligation, when it was imposed, to state a mark of origin was imposed only in terms that the words "Foreign" or "Empire" had to be stated. This was, of course, imprecise and although any manufacturer abroad who had this obligation placed on him could, if he wished, state the precise country of origin, there was no obligation in the 1926 Act so to do.

When the Molony Committee, having looked at this matter, reported in 1962, it pointed out the deficiencies of the Act and, among other things, said that the way in which the Act had operated had produced a rather untidy and in coherent range of goods covered by its provisions.

The Molony Committee looked at the point to which many hon. Members have referred—because representations had been made to it—that all goods of all categories should bear marks of origin. The Molony Committee took the view—and, as a matter of practical administration, apart from anything else, I agree with this view—that it would be wrong, and not really necessary in the interests of consumers, to have complete marks of origin for every class of goods, whatever might be concerned. As for precise countries of origin, the Molony Committee went into the idea of allowing the consumer the benefit of deciding, from the mark of origin, whether or not the goods came from a country which had a high or low reputation in producing the goods concerned.

It is important to draw attention to the fact—this has not been made sufficiently clear today—that the recommendation which Molony made on this point was in the context of the 1926 Act. It was really in the context of deciding whether one should make the obligation to mark goods "Foreign" or "Empire" into something more precise.

If one looks at the recommendation of Molony on this issue one sees that it was concerned specifically with that problem and not with the problem we are discussing today, bearing in mind that under the 1968 Act marks of origin disappeared completely. The reference in the Molony Report appeared in paragraph 708, in which—this is an argument against stating precise countries of origin—it was stated: If the manufacturer and the shopkeeper do not think it expedient to mention the actual country of origin, the consumer may draw the conclusion that it is one of low or indifferent reputation, whether the marking be foreign ' or ' Empire '. That might have been a valid argument in the context of the 1962 Act, but it is not relevant to the situation today. I hope that the Government will not, from the point of view of this Bill and the question of marks of origin generally call in aid the Molony Committee as supporting the attitude which they have been taking in relation to Section 8 of the 1968 Act.

Molony also accepted—this is the only bit of the controversy there has been over a period of years about marks of origin where virtually everyone agrees, including the Conservative Government—that some categories of goods should have marks of origin; for example, certain ranges of foodstuffs and certain goods about which it was important for the consumer to know whether if they turned out to be unsatisfactory it would be possible to get spare parts and replacements. It was, therefore, accepted that it was necessary to state the marks of origin on these foreign goods. I think that this is the only part of the Molony recommendations which the present Government have accepted to the full extent.

The 1968 Act—this is absolutely basic to what we are discussing today—eliminated the discrimination between foreign and British goods, a discrimination of the 1926 Act which had been a defect in view of our international obligations. Section 8 of the 1968 Act provided that if marks of origin were demanded by the Government, they would apply to British as well as to foreign goods; and I believe that this has general acceptance in the House.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) pointed out at some length, the Government at the time of the 1968 Act were anxious that the new legislation should conform to our international obligations. These obligations were really of two kinds, and it is important to stress both of them.

The first was an obligation not to discriminate, and this is well understood. The second was an obligation under G.A.T.T. and E.F.T.A. to reduce the categories of goods for which marks of origin had previously been demanded because this was felt under these treaty obligations to be in the interests of a freer movement of trade. The 1968 Act was, therefore, drawn in these terms.

Having said that, however, it is clear from reading the debates which took place while that Measure was going through Parliament that my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough gave every assurance that in particular industries the position would be protected under Section 8 of the Act. As I read the OFFICIAL REPORT of the debate on that Measure I notice that the industries mentioned were specifically those which have featured in today's debate, namely, textiles, Sheffield cutlery and pottery.

My right hon. Friend is justified in saying that he went as far as any Minister could reasonably have gone in giving assurances—"broad hints" might be a more accurate way of describing them—that if the industries about which hon. Members had legitimate concern were to exert themselves once the Measure had been passed and if they put up cases to the Ministry, they would be considered most sympathetically.

This must be said because the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn) said that he and other hon. Members had been conned by my right hon. Friend into accepting assurances which were completely invalid. My reading of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee's proceedings and my understanding of the present position does not bear that out.

In fact, the Committee stage of the 1968 Act on this point, although the matter was considered at some length, was not protracted because there was general acceptance of the assurances which my right hon. Friend gave. I think I see the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) nodding in assent. I take it that although he may have some regret about it now, he accepted those assurances at the time. I suggest that those assurances were not only honestly given, as one would expect from my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough, but that they were also validly given in the context of the 1968 Act.

This brings me to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. David Clark). What is wrong with the present position is not the wording of the 1968 Act but the attitude of the present Government, because the 1968 Act leaves the eventual decision to the Board of Trade, now the Department of Trade and Industry, to make the final judgment as to whether marking orders are necessary or expedient in the interests of persons to whom any goods are supplied". It was made clear, incidentally, when the 1968 Bill was going through the House that that phrasing applied not just to the retail customer, the consumer as we normally consider him in Britain, but to consumers in a wider context, other manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, and so on. What is wrong with the present situation is the highly restrictive attitude which the Government are taking to the powers they have under Section 8 of the 1968 Act, and that is coming out in the answers they have been giving to trade associations and others who have raised these points with them.

Before coming to that matter, I express agreement with my right hon. Friend about the attitude of the trade associations. "Futile" is perhaps too hard a word to use, but it seems to be very bad that some trade associations seem to have recognised the difficulties that they might be in only around last September, when the marks of origin were falling out at the end of November.

Then there is the attitude that comes out at least in some representations sent to me. Some of the trade associations' arguments are very much directed to the protection of industry exclusively, and that is not the kind of argument that has to be put to Ministers in terms of Section 8 of the Trade Descriptions Act. The trade associations ought to appreciate that, however much we sympathise with them, they have to direct their energies towards not just the question of the protection of the industry but the protection of the consumer. Some of the representations made have been inadequately argued from that point of view, although I do not, for that reason alone, believe that the Government are justified in their attitude towards those representations.

I received a letter from the Under-Secretary, as have, I dare say, many other hon. Members, about a particular case I put to him. The Government have made it clear that they intend to interpret Section 8 in a highly restrictive but, I think, completely unnecessarily restrictive way. They have taken the case of foodstuffs, for example, and the other case I mentioned of certain goods where the availability of spare parts may be an important factor. But, apart from that, they have resisted every argument and case that has been put to them, whether by the textile industry, the Sheffield cutlery industry or the pottery industry. That is the point to which hon. Members ought to be devoting their attention.

There has been a very considerable amount of trade representation to the Government over the last few months, and there have been in the House no less than eight Motions on the Order Paper by hon. Members on both sides of the House impressing on the Government the necessity for marks of origin to be made in a variety of industries, but principally the ones that have been mentioned today, in the interests of not only the industry but also the consumers of Britain. I hope that the Minister will go a good deal further in his reply than he has gone before in letting us know the Government's general intentions towards Section 8 of the 1968 Act.

From my point of view—a number of hon. Members have said similar things today—I start from the position that there ought to be, on the question of consumer protection, a very strong presumption that consumers should get the maximum amount of information. If we are interested in protecting them, we should start from that viewpoint. It may be that international obligations and so on will make it very difficult for that rather pure principle eventually to find its way in quite such a pure form into our legislation, but that ought to be our basic attitude. It is what consumers want. All the evidence is that consumers wish to be informed and want the information on which they can make their judgment.

This has nothing to do with the rather attractive but, I think, basically fallacious argumentation of the Government on this: that origin is not by itself an indication of quality. Everyone accepts that. We know that bad British goods exist, just the same as there are high quality foreign goods. But it does not breach the principle I have just indicated, that the consumer is entitled to know. That is a very much more important principle than the kind of argument advanced by the Government.

It may be that when we come to look at the question of marks of origin under Section 8 of the 1968 Act, the kind of attitude that the Government have taken would be an argument for restricting marks of origin to particular categories of goods rather than having them applied to every category. I would accept that as a qualification. But the argument used by the Government is, by itself, no argument for, for example, turning down the cases made by a number of hon. Members today; for the textile industry, very persuasively by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant) for the pottery industry, or for the cutlery industry and a number of other interests which could also be mentioned.

This is particularly so in the light of the abolition of the Consumer Council, because the 1968 Act was drawn in terms which made the voice of the Consumer Council in this matter a very important one. It was a body which could have been taken to represent the interests of consumers, having no particular axe to grind except those interests. But, once that has gone, an authoritative voice of that sort for the consumer is no longer available to us, as Molony recommended it should be. We have therefore to listen all the more carefully to the representations made by the various trade associations, although I wish that they would sometimes direct themselves more precisely to consumers' interests rather than to their own interests.

Another point I should like the Under-Secretary to deal with is the question of our international obligations. We have taken on these obligations. The 1968 Act was drafted in terms of those obligations. But, before we can judge how important is this consideration, it is important for the House to know how our various partners in E.F.T.A. and prospective partners in the E.E.C., and the G.A.T.T. signatories generally, have interpreted their obligations under these various conventions to which they are partners equally with us.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central gave some illuminating information about the pottery industries in the Common Market countries. I have no doubt that what applies in the Common Market countries also applies in E.F.T.A. countries and very many other countries on a very much wider range of goods. I do not interpret the international obligations that we had entered into before the 1968 Act as excluding marks of origin orders for quite a wide range of industry in Britain, and nothing that has been said since that Act, or in the debate today, has shaken my view that if the Government would change their attitude towards Section 8 generally the mischief could be remedied and we would not be in breach of our international obligations. But before we can accept anything about our international obligations, it would be useful if the Minister could indicate how other countries have interpreted these obligations and whether they are interpreting them—which, I think, is highly unlikely—in the most rigid and restrictive way in which the Government seem to be interpreting Section 8 of the Act.

Mr. Cant

Before my hon. Friend moves on from that point, while we are not concerned mainly with protecting industry—and in my case I mean the pottery industry—it seems incongruous to manufacturers in my constituency that at the very time we are opening the floodgates to imports, the United States has now clamped an extra tariff on all earthenware imports from this country. Because of a 1¼ per cent. penetration of the American market, the tile section of the pottery industry has been successfully indicted for dumping.

Mr. Millan

That is only another indication that most other countries have a much more realistic appreciation of where their trading interests lie than we sometimes have in this country. I wish the Government would be a little more realistic and a little less idealistic in this sphere. They are not idealistic in many spheres and it is a pity when they are that they tend to act against British industry and the British consumer.

I repeat my welcome to the Bill and I hope that nothing I say about it will be regarded as critical of the hon. Member for Leicester, South-East because the fairly narrow objectives of the Bill, so far as they go, are admirable. But I agree so much with what my hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley said a few moments ago. The Bill does not deal with the real problem facing us now and it would be highly misleading to give the impression to manufacturers and consumer organisations that it dealt with the serious problem arising under the 1968 Act.

The very fact that the Bill has been necessary and the very fact that the Government think it is necessary are in themselves an acceptance of the case for marking orders under Section 8 of the 1968 Act. The Bill implies that if this kind of protection is not given to the consumer, certain foreign manufacturers and certain interests in this country will be very anxious to pass off inferior foreign-made goods at British goods. Having faced that fact, we accept a large part of the case in many parts of industry for making origin marking orders under Section 8, and this is a point we must keep emphasising in relation to the Bill.

Clause 1(2) deals with the balance of mixtures and this is obviously a point that can be taken up in Committee. It was dealt with in the 1926 Act and it is referred to in paragraph 696 of the Molony Report. That paragraph is a guide to how we might improve the Bill. A further point has been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central. I am not the least convinced, looking at the definition of "name" and "mark" in subsection (5) of Clause 1, that it will deal with certain misleading descriptions. My hon. Friend mentioned "Woodland scene" as one example.

This brings me to the point of whether the Bill adds anything to what is contained in the 1968 Act, particularly Section 3. Under that, trade descriptions which, although not false, are misleading are caught and this seems to me very much what the hon. Member for Leicester, South-East is attempting to do in the Bill. It may be that the Bill strengthens the 1968 Act. I think the hon. Member and the Government believe this is so, and if it does it should be welcomed. But we should be told how it strengthens the Act, particularly the provision in Section 3. I hope that in Committee we will pay careful attention to some of the definitions because it would be ironic if we allowed something to pass which proved weaker than the 1968 Act.

For these and other reasons the Bill requires a good deal of attention in Committee on detailed points and to strengthen it generally. If the Bill obtains a Second Reading, as we are confident it will, I hope it will be possible in Committee to put some kind of backbone into the Government in dealing with applications under Section 8 of the Trade Descriptions Act and prevent the Government dishonestly but obviously, from the speeches of some Conservative Members, persuasively saying that they can do nothing about the 1968 Act. I do not believe that is so and it would be important for those of us who are worried about Section 8 to amend the Bill in Committee so as to impress upon the Government the necessity for taking firm action under that Section for a range of goods and industries in this country which are legitimately worried about the present position.

2.26 p.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Nicholas Ridley)

It might be convenient for me to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) now, but I do not in any way wish to terminate the debate. I would like to answer the many questions which have been put to the Government and attempt to argue the support which I confirm the Government will most definitely give to the Bill.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel), first, for his good fortune in the Ballot; second, for his choice of the subject; and, third, for his eloquent speech this morning. He gave us an extremely valuable paver to the debate in what he said and it has been an interesting debate. It is always interesting to look at the workings of a piece of legislation, which many hon. Members remember when it passed through the House, to see how it has worked and to re-examine one of its major provisions, as we have done today.

It is generally agreed in the House that this is a difficult subject in which the argument has tended to go round and round and not in any sense to polarise. The other area of common agreement is that we would all like to advance the protection of the consumer in every way possible. It is easy for hon. Members on either side of the House to suggest that their arguments must be right because they are good for consumer protection. It is also easy to hold the opposite point of view and say that counter-arguments are likely to be bad for the consumer. But generally we all wish this to be a Measure to protect consumers, and I believe it is.

I would like to go over the history a little and analyse the past position. After that I will focus my attention on the Bill. Therefore, my speech will be in two parts. I agree with the history that was put forward by the hon. Member for Craig-ton, and I do not need to waste time on that. One of the compelling reasons why the Trade Descriptions Act terminated the 1926 orders was that we had undertaken to modify the orders and change to a new basis for considering origin marking in the future.

I shall say more about the international aspect later. I thought I had supported the argument the hon. Genleman used, and still uses, that we should fulfil our international obligations. If I have missed saying so on one or two broadcasts, it may well be because opportunity did not present itself, but I think I have never failed to acknowledge the strength of those obligations. Therefore, I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman that it was right in the Trade Descriptions Act to repeal the 1926 Act. So far, I think we are on common ground.

Then the difficulty arises that I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman and several other hon. Members about the meaning of the 1968 Act. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch) recalled a stormy battle in Committee. I have studied the record of those Committee proceedings, when the right hon. Member for Sheffield. Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) gave assurances that he thought he would be able to make orders under Section 8 to allow certain trades and industries to claim an origin marking order. But I cannot pray in aid what the right hon. Gentleman intended or thought. Nor can I pray in aid Molony, because all that is before the Minister responsible for administering the Act is Section 8 itself.

Therefore, if we are to decide whether the Government were right or wrong not to make orders under the section, we can do so only upon the words of the section. The vital words are: … necessary or expedient in the interest of persons to whom any goods are supplied …". What does that mean? It can be taken straight away not to mean the interests of manufacturers, save that they are also purchasers, and where they are acting in their capacity as purchasers their interests are included in that section. But it cannot by any stretch of the imagination mean that we are looking to the interests of manufacturers.

The right hon. Gentleman said that when he invited the trade associations to make representations he used the words "beneficial to the trade concerned". The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant), was quite unabashed about it. He made it clear that origin marking was what the pottery industry wanted, not what its clients wanted. Whether the industry is right or wrong, whether that is a good or bad reason, there is no doubt that the legal meaning of the Statute forbids that being taken into account as a justification for making marking orders under Section 8.

Another thing the wording could mean—and this has been a frequent theme of speeches—is that consumers want to know where goods come from for reasons unconnected with quality, for reasons of loyalty, patriotism or prejudice. For example, a consumer might want to buy British goods instead of South African goods or goods from other countries because he is patriotic or because he is antipathetic towards the country concerned. That is a valid reason for a consumer's choice but it is not what the Statute says. It says: expedient in the interest of persons … ". That word "interest" is perfectly clear. It means interest in terms of quality and value for money. That is why that second possible category, to indulge patriotism or prejudice against a certain country's products, should not be included as a reason for making orders as the Statute is drawn.

Thirdly, the section could mean, and I believe does, that it is to enable consumers to assess the best quality or value for money. So the only ground upon which the Government could make orders under it is that it is demonstratable that all produce from a given country is of either very good or very bad quality, or that it has a special flavour or characteristic, or that the information is in some way vital to the consumer in assisting him to make up his mind on what is good value for money. That is why the Government have acted entirely consistently with that obvious interpretation of what the Act said.

Mr. Darling

The Minister is reading into the criteria that he is now putting forward words that do not appear in the Act. There was never any question that "interest" would apply so narrowly as the hon. Gentleman is now drawing it. If anybody had asked me at the time—this is not said with the benefit of hindsight—whether customers needed to know where the goods were coming from for some of the reasons the hon. Gentleman has given, including political reasons, I should have said Yes. They should have that information."

Mr. Ridley

Unfortunately, the right hon. Gentleman's interpretation is not shared by those who have given me legal advice upon this point.

Mr. Millan

Change it.

Mr. Ridley

One does not change the law by changing one's legal advisers.

Mr. Millan

There is no reason why we should not change the law. It is not immutable; it does not last for ever. If the hon. Gentleman wanted to adopt a less restrictive attitude, he would see that the law was changed. Is it a question of wanting a less restrictive attitude but being held back by the Act, or is he happy with the Act as it stands?

Mr. Ridley

I did not interrupt the hon. Gentleman. I told him that I would go through the history and then come to what should be done. I am merely answering the point made many times in the debate that Section 8 should have enabled me to make orders all over the place, and I do not believe that that is so. I believe that that is not a proper interpretation of the Act, that it is not what was meant by the words. Whatever hon. Members may have wished they meant, I believe that "interest" has a particular economic, value-for-money, quality connotation which it is difficult to deny.

The trade associations all put forward cases rather late in the day. It would have been helpful if they had come earlier. I tried to give publicity to the matter and to invite them to come earlier. When the case was presented it always began with the argument that it was in the interests of the consumers of their product that an origin marking order should be made, but by the end we were talking about unemployment in the part of the country concerned, the effects on manufacturers' profit margins, or opportunities for sales. Those matters, vital though I recognise them to be, are not described in the Act.

Mr. Cant

Haw can anyone argue, as the Minister is arguing, that there is a clear line of demarcation between the industry and its incipient protectionism and the interests of the consumer? I do not think the pottery manufacturers have ever argued in those terms. But let us consider an imported plate, cast in a certain mould, with a certain design and with a certain glaze, an inferior copy of something produced in my area. Is it not in the interests of the consumer and the domestic producer that that fact should be revealed, that the origin should be made known? It is not possible to draw this clear line of demarcation.

Mr. Ridley

I have not come to the substance of the matter. I am simply dealing with Section 8. I agree with what the hon. Gentleman says. The Bill meets his case. My point is that the powers bequeathed by the Trade Descriptions Act do not enable any Government to make orders solely to appease manufacturers as opposed to consumers. So far as we have opinion from the consumers—I am in no sense traducing the Consumers Association when I say that it has supported the Government's interpretation of Section 8 throughout—I am more fearful that my hon. Friend will find his Bill criticised by the Association for going too far rather than not going far enough. I hope that the association will make its views clear. This was the impression I obtained in an argument on the radio with a lady from the association.

Quality and origin are not synonymous. There was much that was attractive in the speech of the hon. Member for Southall (Mr. Bidwell) and to which we ought to give more consideration. It can be sometimes found that a particular place is synonymous with quality. "Made in Britain" can be applied to a cup but it does not necessarily mean that it was made by a very good quality manufacturer and it could be a lot worse than cups which might be imported with the title "Foreign" or "Empire" written on them. The Government stress two points. First, what can we do under the Trade Descriptions Act which will give more information to the consumer and, secondly, will this action lead to abuses which will deceive the consumer and which should be stopped?

We have made it known that we intend to make origin marking orders for electrical and other machinery for which spare parts and servicing could be important to the consumer and therefore, their origin should be known. Orders will be made for certain foodstuffs, apples, tomatoes, cucumbers, meats, poultry, bacon and ham, eggs in shell, honey and butter. We have also said that we will make orders relating to the composition or construction or performance of various items. We have in mind the amount of synthetic fibre in textiles, footwear and other goods. The orders require long and careful negotiation but I hope that they will be made in due course.

The hon. Member for Craigton asked me why we cannot rely on the Trade Descriptions Act to prevent dissembling.

Mr. Millan

If the hon. Gentleman is leaving Section 8, will he deal with the point I put in an intervention? Would he like Section 8 to be less restrictive so that he could help the textile industry or is he perfectly happy with it as it is?

Mr. Ridley

I will come to that point. We have to consider whether we should amend Section 8, make a new general requirement for origin marking or look instead to the purpose of the Trade Descriptions Act and the interests of the consumer who must not be misled. In all the representations I have received from trade associations the point that consumers should not be misled or deceived was paramount among their concerns and seemed to be valid.

To impose a universal marking order system by legislation or to so widen Section 8 that it could be used to impose virtually universal marking origin orders would, as the right hon. Member for Hillsborough said, be going against the trends of world trade. Only the United States and nine other countries impose general origin marking order requirements and those nine countries do not include large and important trading nations.

The hon. Member for Craigton mentioned the Common Market. In Italy there are no origin markings of any sort. In France there is a measure similar to the Bill; in Germany there is one, slightly different in that it mentions the use of the German language. That is an alternative that would not be very suitable for us because English is used by more countries than is German. As far as I know, the Common Market Commission has not proposed any common action on this and has no direction under consideration. It is a matter left primarily to individual nations although I am certain it would not like it to be used as a means of erecting tariff barriers to trade. If universal origin marking orders were proposed in countries within the Common Market I would not be surprised if the Commission were to turn its attention to that.

Mr. Bidwell

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that when we look at the British economy, so interlaced and intertwined, filled with trading patterns, it would be reprehensible of British manufacturers to stick "Made in the United Kingdom" on their products sold here yet not to say so abroad? To what extent is this done by other countries? The House will be interested to know how much it is done internationally and whether it is best to leave it alone.

Mr. Ridley

Every country has its own rules about how products sold within it should be marked. It is definitely against our interests, apart from any legal obligations, for more countries to require more complicated marking requirements because it would mean more production runs, different types of stamping equipment and so on. Extra stock would need to be held for each mark. That is why the fewer impediments there are, apart from the legal obligations which must be accepted and fulfilled, to the smooth and economic flow of trade, the better we as a nation shall be and the more our people shall prosper.

So we have the Bill. I am sorry to have taken so long to get to it but I thought the House would be as interested in the background as in the foreground. The Bill will be most effective as a major measure of consumer protection extending the Trade Descriptions Act to make certain that there can be no dissembling, no pretending that goods were made in Britain when they were not. I was asked why we need to extend existing powers and why the Trade Descriptions Act is not sufficient. The Act is totally imprecise. It refers to indication, direct or indirect, and by whatever means given … or anything likely to be taken as an indication of origin. That is a wide description but not a precise one. What my hon. Friend's Bill does is to specify exactly what are the indications which would be taken as indications of origin unless corrected.

I would ask those who say that the Bill would be of limited application or not effective, as did the right hon. Member for Hillsborough and the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. David Clark), among others, just to look through the telephone book or lists of trademarks and see the vast number of English names—British names—trademarks, place names, features or anything which would give an indication of where goods could come from. If those were accompanied by an indication of origin, then indeed it would make certain that a large quantity of goods would be origin marked and it would also mean that it would be extremely difficulty for the consumer to be deceived by anybody wishing to foist on the British market goods purporting to have been made in Britain but not made in Britain.

I must deal quickly with some of the points, which were raised during the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Hiley) quite rightly pointed out that goods not marked will not have to be accompanied by a certificate or mark of origin. This, I think, is as it should be. British manufacturers—I hope all—will write "Made in Britain" on their goods, or the name of the town or county where they were made. This would be a mark of quality which would sell those goods. Some foreign goods will be marked with the name of the countries where they were made. If, in between, there were goods not brave enough to declare where they were made, I should have thought the housewife would be asking some sharp questions about their origin.

We must not forget that if a shopkeeper is asked where goods he is selling were made, he has to give the correct answer. He is in breach of the Trade Descriptions Act if he gives a wrong answer, even orally, to that question. Thus the tact could always be found out, and in future, I hope, it will be a mark of dubious value if goods are sold without any mark on them at all.

Next, my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler) spoke about blends and mixtures. As I read the Bill, a blend of wool fibre and polyester fibre is a blend of materials of different kinds, and, therefore, is not subject to the exception in Clause 1(2). I see my hon. Friend is not present.

Mr. Darling

But we are interested.

Mr. Ridley

Then I will go on to say that a blend of two wool fibres of different origins would in theory fall within the exception, but at first sight is seems improbable they would be blended save as part of a process such as spinning leading to a substantial change from fibre to spun thread whereupon the thread comes from the place where it was spun. So, subject to probing in Committee, and to further opinion, I believe combinations of fibres would not be blends—not all combinations, not the sort of combinations my hon. Friend had in mind; they would not be mixtures excluded from the Bill under Clause 1(2).

My hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn) dwelt on the difficulty of definition of origin. We rely on Section 36 of the Trade Descriptions Act, and I think it has generally been accepted as the best known definition, but I would entirely agree with him that it is very difficult to define origin of goods which have many sources in different countries of the world.

The right hon. Member for Hillsborough asked me about the special circumstances in Clause 1(4). He felt that there would be a very large number of orders made under Clause 1(4) exempting certain parts of the goods. I do not believe this is so. The example we have in mind—it is difficult to think of any other—and which, I hope, will appeal to the House as the sort of example of where compulsory origin marking could be excluded, is if the German Ford Company sold a motor car here. It might have "Ford" written on it in a dozen different places, but to require each of those separate words to have "Made in Germany "accompanying them would be a tedious and pointless exercise when, surely, everybody knows that a German Ford is a German Ford and not a British Ford. That would seem to be the sort of goods one could exempt.

Next I was asked about the time of the coming into force of the Bill. This will be a matter for the Committee and the House, but I would point out that implementation of the Bill would cause problems for importers who would have to adjust work in progress and goods in stock to make sure that all those goods were properly marked for the requirements of the Bill, and I think it would be unfair to apply action of this sort too quickly, because that could damage trade already in progress.

I have answered some of the points which hon. Members have raised, and I think it would be wise to leave other points until the Committee. I will say in conclusion that I think my hon. Friend has a Bill which would make a very real contribution to the protection of the consumer, a Bill which is not in conflict with our international obligations or, indeed, the whole drift of thinking on world trade, a Bill which would to some extent meet many of the manufacturers' worries—although that is not, in my opinion, the right reason for the Bill. The right reason for the Bill is that it would afford a greater measure of protection against deception of the consumer, and I commend it to the House.

2.57 p.m.

Mr. Eddie Griffiths (Sheffield, Brightside)

Having spent 24 hours with the hon. Member for Hertfordshire, South-West (Sir Gilbert Longden) in Committee on the Housing Financial Bill, finishing at 6 o'clock this morning, I have not had a great deal of sleep, so my intervention will be short.

I thank hon. Members for giving me so much education. I thoroughly enjoyed the historical wisdom of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) and the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Crouch). I particularly welcomed, and agreed with almost in its entirety, the speech made by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn). He and I both represent constituencies in Sheffield and on many occasions have clashed in this Chamber, but today the hon. Gentleman was non-political and pro-Sheffield, a feeling which he, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hillsborough and I share. I was delighted to hear his Sheffield flag-waving speech. I have never in the 3½ years I have been here heard him make a better speech, and I compliment him on it.

I apologise to the hon. Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) for missing his presentation of the Bill, and congratulate him on his good luck in having the opportunity to do. I support the Bill entirely. Misgivings have been expressed on both sides of the House about the effects of the Bill, and I hope the hon. Member will not be too disappointed about this. In Committee on the Housing Finance Bill no hon. Member in Opposition has a good word to say about the Bill. In comparison, most of my hon. Friends were complimentary to the Bill presented by the hon. Member for Leicester, South-East.

The hon. Member for Hallam said that the label "Made in Sheffield" means, and has for many years meant, quality. It is incumbent upon hon. Members who have the honour to represent that city to make sure that industrialists and trade unionists working in engineering and cutlery workshops in Sheffield maintain the high quality which is synonymous with the name of that city. We cannot live on a name; the quality, price and delivery must live up to the name.

There are two interests which will benefit from the Bill. The first is the customer. As the Under-Secretary of State said, the protection of the customer is fundamental to the Bill. The customer will be enabled to get more comprehensive information so that he can make a more informed choice when he is purchasing goods.

The second interest is Sheffield cutlery. In common with the hon. Member for Hallam, I have an interest not commercial but political, in that industry. "Sheffield" cutlery is synonymous with the great city of steel. I cannot imagine life in Sheffield without cutlery. Within recent years the industry has taken a battering from Far Eastern competition in low value goods. The number of people employed in the industry has gone down, and is now about 8,000. The feeling of the trade, which I echo, is that what is required on cutlery to give protection to the customer is an identification mark, so that if the customer wishes to make a complaint he knows where to go. A person buying a low value canteen of cutlery often finds that he cannot trace its origin and does not know where to make a complaint. Sometimes part of a canteen of cutlery may be damaged and a replacement required. If the canteen has an identification mark the customer will know where to go.

It is suspected that dutiable items of cutlery are entering this country duty-free via Hong Kong, Eire and E.F.T.A. countries. The Under-Secretary of State no doubt will say that that is an offence, but at least if the source of origin is marked on the item it will be far easier to trace.

There could be violations of the Trade Description Act by shopkeepers who are not aware of the origin of the items they sell and give incorrect information. The Under-Secretary of State has touched on this. Perhaps he approaches these problems from a legal point of view and forgets the situation of the average shopper in places like Sheffield, or North Wales where I was brought up. Many of them are simple folk, and a shopkeeper or assistant who is asked where a particular item comes from may give a reply which, inadvertently, may contain wrong information. In such a situation distinct marking must help.

My fourth point relates to the phrase "Made in Sheffield", "Made in England", or "Made in Taiwan", or wherever it may be. If we do not have a clear definition of this situation today, perhaps we shall be able to have some further information in future. The present ruling is that imported items which are changed substantially once they reach this country can carry the "Made in England" label. The steel to be used for cutlery may come from Japan, the blanks may be made in Taiwan and a Sheffield firm may bring them into the country, finish them, pack them up and say that they are made in Sheffield. I hope that we are proud enough of our Sheffield products to ensure that if a piece of cutlery or engineering product has been machined or made in Sheffield the item is entirely made in that city.

Reference has been made to our responsibility under G.A.T.T., E.F.T.A. and other international agreements. I may be thought to be guilty of throwing aside international agreements, but I feel that there is a danger that we are opting out of manufacturing and, in a broad sense, becoming a dumping ground for materials from the Far East, such as Japanese radios and televisions, cutlery from Taiwan and Hong Kong and, indeed, for Japanese shipping. We spend our time being generous to other countries when we ourselves have an escalating rate of unemployment in Sheffield and in other great cities and when our craftsmen are rotting in the dole queues. Our first priority is to our own areas and people.

I am disturbed when Governments—and I do not blame the present Government; I mean Governments of both political complexions—because of the existence of international agreements will not afford any kind of temporary or permanent protection to certain industries. We have the ridiculous situation that families of steelmen who traditionally make cutlery are using in their homes cheap Far Eastern cutlery, when the men of the household are on the dole because they cannot get a job.

This Bill may help to maintain the 8,000 cutlery jobs in Sheffield and, indeed, even to increase them. To that extent the Bill will be well worth while. I also believe that the Bill will give traditional manufacturers a breathing space, so that items which are traditionally made in this country and which have been famous for many years will give our people employment for many years to come.

3.10 p.m.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I am delighted to be associated with this Bill, which, by any standards, has been clearly and well-presented by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel). However, it is but the first rung of a ladder. We have to climb a good deal higher, and the Government must help British industry a lot more than they are doing. In this respect, I echo the opinions and sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Eddie Griffiths). He and I will be meeting in another place at another time arguing about another subject. However, we are entirely in unison on this subject.

I agree also with the major points made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant), who is an ardent advocate of the interests of the pottery industry. I do not accept the party political sabre thrusts which he delivered so deftly, but I agree with him in every other respect.

It is the duty of this House to promote and safeguard the interests of the United Kingdom and its citizens. To that end, it is logical that the industries which form the base of our economic and social progress should receive fair treatment from the Government of the day. I regret that this has not been the experience of the British textile industry, which has been pummelled, punished and penalised by successive Governments over the years which have acted with blind disregard of the problems and needs of the industry.

In his remarks, my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary might have said that the Government have already announced their decision to retain quotas on cotton textiles during 1972 and that this must take account of the most immediate problems facing the textile industry. However, I believe that he should have said that the Government intend to extend them to man-made fibres and to knitted and made-up goods as well.

It is implied in many statements by successive Governments that the British textile industry is a "lame duck". Indeed, that expression is bandied about in this Chamber all too frequently. However, the facts are very different. The industry is being destroyed slowly but surely. It is in the grip of an agonising squeeze between the pressure of cheap foreign imports, often dumped, and the indifference and sometimes arrogance of British Governments. Althought the prevailing economic situation and the developments in paper and plastics have influenced the textile trade, the real cancer to the industry has been Government inertia. The sins and omissions of successive Governments have produced a frightening level of imports, which, in terms of cotton and allied textiles, have exceeded 53 per cent. of our total consumption. Imports of clothing and headgear have risen by £50 million in 1971 compared with the total in 1970. This must constitute not only a big loss for the British clothing and textile industry but a con tributory factor to the tragic level of unemployment.

The textile industry is not a lame duck. There has been no lack of efficiency and no lack of capital injection. The industry is second only to chemicals in its capital intensity. Gone, in the main, are the dark satanic mills which mirrored the industry in past years in so many parts of the country. Among the many dozens of mills which have closed in recent years are some of the most modern, streamlined and well managed in the country.

I have said that imports represent over 50 per cent. of our home consumption. This would be serious enough if it were a static percentage. However, import penetration is increasing at such a rate that there could well be no basic industry left in this country in approximately five years.

It would be right to ask: why, if other countries can produce textiles cheaper, cannot we in the United Kingdom? The answer is that other countries do not basically produce them much cheaper.

Further, one may ask: how do they manage it? It is because, in their proper determination to obtain sterling and exchange currency, countries of the Near and Far East and elsewhere are prepared to sell goods at special low prices, irrespective of cost—a practice which is commonly known as dumping. Cheap labour is not the root cause of the problems facing our industry and why we are not competitive with goods coming in from other parts of the world.

Let us look at the method of dumping used by one of the countries from which our textile industry is experiencing unfair competition because of Government inaction. That country operates a system of vouchers. The exporter may receive payment of approximately 60 per cent. in currency and the balance of 40 per cent. in export vouchers issued by his own Government under their export incentive scheme. Exporters in the country concerned can use these vouchers to import into their country other goods—usually expensive luxury consumer goods in short supply which fetch big prices. Vouchers in this country are in such demand that they can change hands at up to three times their face value. Therefore, the exporter of textiles can afford to sell his goods at a loss as he knows that he can recover on his profit on the sale of vouchers.

Successive British Governments have done nothing about the situation. Despite strong representations from many industries in this country, the Government last year announced their intention not to extend the operation of Section 42 of the Trade Descriptions Act—the marking of origin section—on a blanket basis, but to consider extending it only on a selective basis, the items to be made public from time to time.

Within days of the Government's decision being made public, information came to my attention of approaches being made to some United Kingdom manufacturers and making-up mills by Far and Near Eastern exporting agencies with the purpose of the United Kingdom companies importing made-up goods to their own standard and presentation, only minus label and mark and United Kingdom packing, and selling these imported items on the United Kingdom market giving the impression that they were made in their own mills.

So that there is no error, I intend to quote exactly from a copy of a letter sent by a manufacturer's distributor in Hong Kong to a company in my constituency: Dear Sirs, We understand that after November 30th, the United Kingdom Government will cancel the regulations insisting that goods have their country of origin clearly displayed on the goods sold in Britain. In view of the foregoing, we anticipate that certain shirt factories in U.K. would start importing Hong Kong made shirts in their own standard and presentation, and to sell these imported shirts in the U.K. market with the impression that the garments are made in their own mills, since nobody would know of the country of origin of the shirts. That is not the really important line. In business point of view "— I apologise for the grammar in this letter— and to beat the high cost of labour in U.K., we do think that the above would be a profitable venture. It would be a profitable venture for a small number of people, but it would riot be profitable for the many thousands of people employed in the textile industry.

A well-known Scottish hosiery company with a famous brand name reported that some knitwear which it sells at £4 is being matched by a garment from Hong Kong priced at 90p. It is suggested that some of the London stores which are selling this item are not necessarily selling it at very low prices, but that in keeping up the selling price they are taking a profit of 200 per cent. instead of 100 per cent. Is that to the advantage of the consumer? We must say clearly that it is not.

The problem is compounded in that some of the imported items carry a label which sounds English by using a brand name like "Buckingham" or "Windsor". From 30th November last there is no question that without the Bill the country of origin may not be marked on any item. The same misrepresentation, using typical English names and labels, has been used with men's shirts sold in this country.

I do not suggest that all foreign goods are of inferior quality, but the mere obligation to disclose the country of origin is a sufficent moral lever to foil the unscrupulous unloading of an anonymous article on the United Kingdom market.

The consumer should be able to exercise his rights to choose an item "British Made" if he desires, or, indeed, foreign goods if he knows them to be of foreign origin. Many housewives associate the phrase "Empire Made"—another title which has not been mentioned today—with cheap goods of a basically low quality. If goods are suitably marked, a housewife has no cause for complaint. If they are unmarked or bear a misleading mark, the housewife may belatedly regret her choice but have no redress.

We in this House have a responsibility to the consumer. The Bill provides for consumer protection and makes misrepresentation not only difficult but illegal. On this point alone, the Bill deserves the support of the House.

It is surprising that the present Government have left it to a Private Member's Bill to rectify a known and recognised injustice not only to the consumer but to an important industry which is merely asking for protection from unfair import penetration. This industry, unlike a number of other major industries, is not asking for charity. What leaves a nasty taste in the mouth is that the present Government, like other Governments, know the situation but do little if anything about it.

Can the industry and hon. Members be blamed for drawing the conclusion that Governments were continuing to use industry as a pawn in international trade bargaining and then do nothing effective to help? The textile industry and its principal customers in dyeing, making up, tie making, knitting and hosiery are suffering severely from an increasing flood of cheap imports.

In Congleton, an important town in my constituency, two mills have closed in recent months. In Macclesfield, another important centre in my constituency, many closures have occurred in recent years. The most serious was two years ago when William Frost and Sons, which had been established over 100 years and which employed over 250 people, closed down. The number of Macclesfield Textile Manufacturers Association members has fallen below 50 per cent. of the 1951 figure.

In a wider field, the Silk and Man Made Fibre Users Association has folded up with a clear indication of the serious position in the industry. A company in Congleton has expressed concern for the future, commenting that foreign manufacturers are queuing up to flood the British market with inexpensive goods, which will be disastrous for many companies in the United Kingdom who are concerned with providing full employment and reasonable wages for their employees. This company has for many years been genuinely assisting in development areas, having established factories in South Wales and West Cumberland employing over 500 people. These jobs are now in jeopardy.

British textiles are synonymous with high quality products. In this connection I refer to the ties worn by our taskmasters, the Whips on this side of the House. They were made in Macclesfield in my constituency; quality ties for quality persons.

Mr. Eddie Griffiths

I have only one criticism to make about the ties worn by the Whips opposite and, in particular, the one worn by the Whip who is engaged in the Housing Finance Bill in Committee upstairs. The knot is not tight enough.

Mr. Winterton

Hon. Members will obviously not expect me to agree with that.

The textile industry faces an uncertain future. In 1970 57 mills closed, and a further 59 closed in the period January to September, 1971. We gather from our local newspapers that 600 people are likely to lose their jobs as a result of the closure of the Eagley Mills in Bolton during the next few months. It is estimated, however, that there would be a loss of £467 million to our balance of payments if the British textile industry were to become extinct, which might be the case unless the Government take decisive and immediate action.

This Bill is the first of many steps that must be taken to assist to promote this industry. It will not stem the flood of imports. Nor will it remove all unfair competition. But at least it will restore some order into an otherwise confused market. The truth—I speak with a keen interest in the textile industry—can no longer be avoided or brushed aside by a responsible Government, from whichever party they are drawn.

3.27 p.m.

Mr. Tom Normanton (Cheadle)

It Rives me tremendous pleasure to follow in the so-to-speak verbal footsteps of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton). We are close geographically, as he is in a neighbouring constituency, we are close in terms of our industrial interest, as he has repeatedly expressed deep concern for and on behalf of the textile industry of the North West, and we are also close, I am glad to say, in our support of the Bill.

As part of our mutual interest in the textile industry, my hon. Friend and I, in common with many hon. Members who have this industry at heart, look forward to receiving in the next hour or so an answer from the Minister in response to Written Question No. 16 which appears on the Order Paper today. I have no idea what that answer will contain but we hope that it will be favourable.

I have been asked at this late stage to sum up and deal with a number of the points raised in this interesting debate. It is, of course, impossible in the time available to deal with all the matters that have been brought to our attention, particularly having regard to the interests of my hon. Friends who may wish to take part in the debate on another subject which will follow this one. While, therefore, I cannot hope to deal with all the matters that have been raised, I will do my best to cover as much ground as possible.

The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) referred to the difficulties which he foresaw in the operation of Clause 1(4), which entitles the Minister to give exemption from the Bill. I was delighted to hear my hon. Friend the Minister respond and declare as an example the kind of exception which logically and realistically he would be prepared to consider.

The right hon. Member for Hillsborough also referred to trade associations. There is no doubt that apart from the lengthy discussion of the operation of the 1968 Act prior to, during and since its enactment, the trade associations were undoubtedly slow to respond to the request for comments and observations. However, they were not slow to respond in 1969 and 1970 when they saw the almost certainty, if not inevitably, of the ending of the requirement to mark the country of origin on imported goods. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary knows that he was inundated with representations expressing grave distress and anxiety at the consequences of the ending of this marking of origin requirement. But consistently, though not, perhaps, with the agreement of many of my hon. Friends, he stuck to the principle that we have treaty obligations in the world and that these must be respected.

The right hon. Member for Hillsborough referred to the task imposed on the Weights and Measures Inspectorate for dealing with breaches of the 1968 Act. I for one ask the House, and the country as a whole, through the medium of the House, to express appreciation for the work done by officials of these very inadequately-staffed offices to look after weights and measures and problems of this kind; in other words, to look after consumers' interests. I earnestly hope that we may, perhaps on another occasion, be able to give consideration to expanding the size, scope and ability of the inspectorate to cope with the problem which the weights and measures officials currently face.

I understand that the size of their task is not appreciated and certainly the amount of work that they have achieved in bringing cases into court has not received the publicity it rightly deserves. Over 2,000 cases were brought before the courts in 1970. We should bear this in mind in the drafting, in Committee, and in the final debate on the Bill. We should ensure that their task is made clearer, easier and more effective by a most careful consideration of the detailed text of the Bill.

Two Clauses have obviously caused right hon. and hon. Members some concern. Clause 1(2) refers to the exclusion of blends. We should bear in mind that the word "blends" means different things to different industries and people. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) would agree that this may well be one of the Clauses which may have to have much more detailed consideration in Committee to avoid any possibility of ambiguity or misunderstanding by industry, importers and consumers. Clause 1(4), on which the Under-Secretary gave an example, is another difficulty. We may well have to be a little more explicit in the final terms in which the Bill, we hope, will be enacted.

The point referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. J. H. Osborn) about the pride which the citizens of Sheffield, whether employers or trade unionists, feel about the products of their community is one which gives considerable satisfaction throughout the House. I would hope that, by the same criterion, British industry as a whole will take pride in its products. It can do so only by being efficient and thorough in its production. I should like to believe that British were best not as an emotive, emotional flag-waving issue but as a factual statement. Regrettably, our industries would be the last to admit that "Britain" and "Best" is necessarily synonymous.

The hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. David Clark) said that the Bill is not and will never be one to operate as a cure-all. That is absolutely true. Some sections of British industry, like a drowning man clutching at a piece of straw, have looked upon the Bill as one way of easing problems and relieving anxieties. As my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield has said, they will not be preserved entirely by this Bill alone from some of the dangers with which they are faced.

An indication in general terms as to the extent to which imports will be affected by the Bill will vary considerably. I estimate that about 70 per cent. of all imported manufactured goods will fall within the province of what I hope will be the 1968/1972 Trade Descriptions Act. But the extent to which the Act will operate will undoubtedly depend on trade associations and representatives of industry, perhaps far more than people realise. This requires both employers and trade unions to be prepared to draw to the attention of the weights and measures inspectors glaring breaches of the law. I earnestly hope that this debate will underline the importance of public awarneness and public co-operation in making the Bill effective.

My hon. Friend the Member for Pudsey (Mr. Hiley) complained that we, as sponsors of the Bill, could not include in it a Clause which would bring it into force sooner than six months from its enactment. The whole procedure under which enactments such as this are brought into force will require considerable advance notice. The sponsors certainly welcomed the Minister's statement in December when the Bill was presented for First Reading that the Government welcomed the Measure. He also gave notice to importers that, although, technically, there would be a hiatus between the ending of the requirement for markings of origin under the 1968 Act and the coming into force of the Bill, they should beware of building up permanent links based on unrestricted entry of unbranded or falsely branded goods.

One hon. Member referred to the question of whether goods would be covered by the Bill if they were unmarked and yet were offered on display in association with other forms of advertising. This point is covered not by the Bill but by the 1968 Act, which relates to offer or display. I would hope that one of the points to emerge from the debate will be that the 1968 Act was far more comprehensive and potentially far more effective, were the public to use it, than the public generally and industry in particular have appreciated.

I would like to deal with many more points on behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East. I think the House has clearly shown that it recognises that the consumer—in other words the housewife—is highly vulnerable to misrepresentation and the false representation of goods in many forms. There is only one way in which the housewife, the consumer, can be better enabled to protect herself, and that is by making the provision of information obligatory. The disclosure of the origin of goods is, clearly, one necessary item of information.

Another extremely important point is that the Bill is not discriminatory. We are not discriminating against any product from any part of the world. We are discriminating on behalf of the housewife.

Although the Bill does not go as far as I would wish we are confident that at least it goes a considerable way and that it fills a gap, perhaps temporary, left by the ending of the marking of origin requirements under the 1968 Act at the end of last November. When it is enacted, the Bill must be read as part and parcel of the 1968 Act. Together they will give considerable protection to the consumer.

My hon. Friend the Minister referred to the difficulties of compromise between our treaty obligations and our obligations to our own public. Clearly, the Measure is a compromise between consumer protection and the perhaps idealistically motivated desire of many people to promote the freeing of trade. But what is the use of free trade enabling goods to be imported at low price, even if their quality is high, if the purchasing power of our people has been reduced by high unemployment?

I hope that the Government will give serious consideration to examining the certificates of origin that accompany imported goods. Many of us have experience of the importation of goods of various kinds. I can assure my hon. Friend, from my own inside knowledge of the textile industry, that I am being generous when I say that far too many of them are suspect, to say the least. I am not satisfied. I hope that the promotion of an investigation into the international system will go some way towards strengthening the effective operation of the Bill, although provision for such an investigation is obviously not built into it.

I am glad to note that the Government plan to introduce orders in respect of certain specific categories. All of us who support the Bill will urge upon my hon. Friend the need for the minimum of delay in doing that.

We welcome the indication that there is to be legislation to deal with consumer protection in another sense. This Bill may well form an extremely valuable addition to that legislation.

The hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, Central (Mr. Cant) quoted the findings of a public opinion survey. One clear message emerged from the analysis of a Gallup omnibus survey made last November. Of all those interviewed, 56 per cent. thought that the country where the garment was made should be stated on all items of clothing for sale in shops. Those results, with others from the analysis, show that a vast majority of people consider that origin markings are important, and that significant numbers attach importance to knowing from which country they are buying. That is part and parcel of the objective underlying the Bill.

I welcome, on behalf of the sponsors, the support given by the Government, and I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Peel.]

Committee upon Friday, 24th March.