HC Deb 06 April 1973 vol 854 cc787-806


  1. (1) Subject to the provisions of this Act, any person who, in the course of a trade or business—
    1. (a)applies to an unhallmarked article a description indicating that it is wholly or partly made or gold, silver or platinum, or
    2. (b)supplies, or offers to supply, an unhallmarked article to which such a description is applied,
      • shall be guilty of an offence.
  2. (2)Subsection (1) above shall not apply to a description which is permitted by Part I of Schedule (Unhallmarked Articles) to this Act.
  3. (3)Subsection (1) above shall not apply to an article within Part II of the said Schedule.
  4. (4)Notwithstanding section 3(1) of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 (definition of false trade description as one which is false to a material degree) a trade description which indicates the fineness (whether in parts per thousand or otherwise) of any precious metal shall be a false trade description if that indication is false to any extent or degree (except by overstating the fineness).
  5. (5)Part III of the said Schedule shall apply for construing descriptions relating to the fineness of precious metals.
  6. (6)The preceding provisions of this section have effect subject to Part IV of the said Schedule.
  7. (7)For the purposes of this section—
    1. (a) "advertisement" includes a catalogue, a circular and a price list,
    2. (b) "applies a description "shall be construed in accordance with section 4 of the 788 Act of 1968 (which defines "applies a trade description "),
    3. (c) a person exposing articles for supply, or having articles in his possession for supply, "offers to supply" them
  8. (8) Where in an advertisement a description is used in relation to any class of articles, the description shall be taken as referring to all articles of the class, whether or not in existence at the time the advertisement is published—
    1. (a)for the purpose of determining whether an offence has been committed under subsection (l)(a) above, and
    2. (b)where articles of the class are supplied or offered to be supplied by a person publishing or displaying the advertisement, also for the purpose of determining whether an offence has been committed under subsection (1)(b) above,
  9. (9) Section 39(2) of the said Act (descriptions in publications or broadcasts) shall apply for the purposes of this section.—[Mr Wiggin.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

11.5 a.m.

Mr. Jerry Wiggin (Weston-super-Mare)

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

Mr. Speaker

With new Clause 2, if it is for the convenience of the House, we are to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 1, in page 1, line 5, leave out Clause 1.

Amendment No. 36, in Clause 19, page 17, line 28, leave out ' section 1 or '.

New Schedule — "Unhallmarked Articles ".

Amendment No. 47, in page 21, line 2, leave out Schedule 1.

Mr. Wiggin

The clause replaces the existing Clause 1 in its entirety. The reason is that, gratefully, we have l|ad the assistance of parliamentary counsel in amending some of the drafting of the Bill. We had to employ private parliamentary draftsmen to write the Bill, and it is only right that I should pay tribute to their work. They prepared the Bill from scratch in almost record time. That we have today 80 or more amendments on the Order Paper is no reflection on their skill. Rather, it shows their flexibility in being able to accept a large number of drafting amendments to try to make this complicated legislation as near perfect as possible.

The new clause is germane to the whole purpose of the Bill. It deals with the whole new principle that the Bill introduces. Therefore, it might be helpful if I explained the purpose of the Bill as set out in the clause.

Why should hallmarking be of interest and importance to the general public? I should like to divide the reasons into four separate items.

First, although not many individuals possess very much gold or silver, scarecly a family in the land does not have one piece of precious metal in its possession, even if it is only the wedding ring of the mother of the household. Little trinkets, such as studs and cuff links, are also possessed by almost everyone. Added together, they constitute a substantial amount of national wealth.

The second reason for the Bill is that the wealthy are fully able to protect themselves when purchasing valuable articles. The man who spends thousands of pounds on a piece of silver, gold or jewellery can well look after himself. He can employ professional advisers to advise him on the quality and purity of what he is buying.

In 1959, when the Stone Committee reported, it was apparent that 95 per cent. of all articles of gold or silver purchased were of a retail value of under £10. In view of the change in the value of money, I am inclined to say that today about 90 per cent. of all articles of gold and silver purchased are of a value of under £25. It is the smaller purchasers that require the protection given by hallmarking.

In the hallmarking process the article, usually in an unfinished state, is taken to one of the four assay offices, where it is sampled by scraping off pieces of metal and testing them, ensuring that they come up to the approved standards of purity. In dealing with various later amendments we shall have a good deal to say on the subject of fineness and purity.

Having ensured that the article is of the correct standard, the assay office puts marks on it—the mark of the maker, the mark of the office, the mark of the metal and standard and, finally, the mark of the date. That is the world-famous British hallmark. That hallmark lasts throughout the life of the article. While many other things—for example, furniture—decay and are forgotten, pieces of gold and silver have an exceptionally long life. They are often handed down from father to son or sold and bought again as secondhand goods. In some cases that process may continue for many hundreds of years. The hallmark, as a sign of quality, stays with the article throughout its long life.

The incidental benefits of hallmarking that come from putting a special mark on a precious article—for example, the date of the article for collectors' purposes —serve to identify an article that has been taken in a burglary. Many other incidental benefits come from an article's having upon it a British hallmark. To the manufacturer the interest lies in a cheap, reliable and independent form of quality control. The assay offices are well trusted by the trade. I know that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State feels that on occasions they are too well trusted by the trade. However, after about 300 years of working together it is scarcely surprising that an excellent relationship has been built up.

Let no manufacturer try to pass a substandard article, or he will find a penalty imposed upon him. If the article concerned is substandard it is smashed, and the workmanship and time put into creating the article is lost. If a brass blank passes by mistake through a sample of gold rings—I have known this happen —it will be found that the sample will take an unconscionably long time to be assayed. In the meanwhile the manufacturer will have his money tied up in articles held in the assay office.

The retailer can be certain that if he buys a hallmarked article for sale in his shop it is of a quality and standard that is acknowledged to be correct. In the granting of makers' marks the assay offices pay attention to the standard of the makers' workmanship. Although that is not an official function of the assay offices, over the years that they have been in existence it can be accepted that the standard of British gold and silver and the craftsmanship which has been maintained over the last few hundred years have been such that they are acknowledged world-wide to be as good as any.

Other interested parties, such as Government Departments and consumer protection associations, have a subsidiary interest in the preservation of the hallmarking system.

The general purposes of the Bill are fairly simple. First, it consolidates more than 30 statutes. It updates existing legislation and includes platinum, with which we shall be dealing in a later clause. It also sets up the British Hallmarking Council, on which I assure the House there will be a debate later.

Clause 1 sets out the main offence under the Bill. There is some departure from previous practice. At present it is illegal to manufacture and sell substandard articles of gold and silver. That now has certain ill side-effects on such people as exporters who wish to sell substandard silver abroad but are not allowed to do so under our present laws. Therefore, a slight but crucial alteration has been made in the method by which hallmarking is applied in this country.

11.15 a.m.

We have made it an offence to offer for sale in the course of trade or business gold, silver and platinum unless—first, and most important—the article has been assayed and found to be up to standard and marked, and unless the article falls within the list of exemptions as set out in the schedule—namely, if the description "plated" or "rolled" is used as a qualifying description of the article or, unless beyond reasonable doubt, the description gold or silver does not apply to the article.

There are all sorts of problems in connection with the latter point. Let us consider, for example, a Golden Delicious apple or a box of All Gold chocolates. Such articles can hardly be hallmarked. Equally, no one purchasing those articles seriously believes that they are made of gold. I noticed with interest on my journeys on the underground last week some advertisements describing a silver-plated vitality pill. I am assured that those advertisements fall within the present law.

The possibility of misunderstanding that might take place should be explained. An article of gold or silver can still be sold if it is substandard gold or silver. The offence is not to describe it as sub- standard. That means that there is a deliberate loophole to allow innocent parties who have a gold coloured article to sell it. However, they must not delude the public into thinking that the article is of the standard of gold or silver. We have all seen articles abroad that are made to look like gold and silver and that are sold as such. That will not be allowed when the Bill becomes law. The words used in new Clause 2 are: … in the course of a trade or business— There has been a considerable amount of criticism from third parties that those words will allow a loophole, and that the unscrupulous jeweller, who has in his hands an article which is of substandard gold or silver, knowing that in the course of a trade or business he cannot describe it as such and sell it, will perhaps ask a friend to go down the road to see whether he can sell it privately. I pressed that this provision should be included in the Bill, but I have been subsequently convinced that there is no specific need for it. The Trade Descriptions Act has been the law of the land for some time. The Department of Trade and Industry has gained considerable experience in the working of that Act. It has been found, particularly in the selling of secondhand motor cars, that a second offence or a subsequent offence has been interpreted by the courts as in the course of a trade or business. Let there be a warning to the unscrupulous. Let them not think that by sending an individual to do their dirty work they can get away with it. They may get away with it on the first occasion, but they will not do so subsequently.

Mr. Ronald King Murray (Edinburgh, Leith)

Has the hon. Gentleman considered the different case of the perfectly innocent pawnbroker who receives a forged gold cup and who writes down on his pawn ticket, "Gold cup"? Will that broker be committing an offence under the new clause?

Mr. Wiggin

I do not think that he will be committing an offence if he writes, "Gold Cup" on the pawn ticket. If he puts the article in his window for sale and describes it as a gold cup he will, as I understand it, be committing an offence. The hon. and learned Gentleman is a far better lawyer than I am —indeed, I am not a lawyer. I am sure that he will be fully capable of interpreting the Bill.

The other and valid argument against including the words "any person knowingly" is that there could well be an occasion when an innocent individual, such as a solicitor responsible for an executor who is selling up a house or something of that nature, was unwittingly caught. I am sure that no hon. Member would wish to introduce legislation that might catch the purely innocent. Moreover, it is scarcely administrable. Who. for example, would be able to oversee individuals in this way? Thus, perhaps somewhat reluctantly, I have bowed to legal advice and I have tabled an amendment to this effect. I think that this aspect of the matter is now closed.

It might be helpful to the House if I explain briefly new Clause 2, since the matter is one of substantial detail. If I use some legalistic language, it is because we are all anxious to ensure that hon. and learned Members should in no way be deluded by the complexity of the wording which, I acknowledge, is extremely complicated. I am the first to admit that I cannot take in every single line. A parliamentary counsel has kindly given his attention to the Bill and the amendments to the new clause reflect his advice. The gist and meaning of the new clause are exactly the same as new Clause 1, which has passed through the House to this stage.

Subsection (1) of new Clause 2 is the basis of the Bill and is in form similar to Section 1(1) of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. This was another reason for leaving out the words "any persons knowingly". The Act does not contain those words. We owe a substantial debt to the Act in this Bill, but it is because hallmarking is a rather special form of consumer protection and of a highly technical nature that, over the years, both Labour and Conservative Governments have been persuaded of the necessity for having special legislation for hallmarking and not including it in the Trade Descriptions Act.

The permissible quality descriptions in Part I of the new Schedule were formerly in the old Clause 1. Part II of the new Schedule down to paragraph 14 is virtually the same as in the former Schedule 1. However, articles exempt subject only to their being of certain fineness are distinguished more clearly by being included under the sub-heading of paragraphs 10 to 14— Articles exempt subject to fineness. Paragraphs 15 to 17 of the new Schedule reflect what was formerly in Clause l(2)(a), but to assist the reader of the Bill it describes a number of articles presently exempt from hallmarking by virtue of past legislation. It is one of the major faults in the present legislation that exemptions built up over the centuries have become out of date and useless for practical purposes. Indeed, I go so far as to say that the present list of exemptions is a substantial hindrance to certain manufacturing industries. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State is aware of this, and it is one of the reasons why the Government have lent their support to the Bill.

Unfortunately, in connection with exemptions, because of the complexity of altering them at one fell swoop, we have been forced to introduce legislation which can only be enacted by order, because there are very good reasons for allowing the trade to have time from the passing of the Bill to the time when an order might be introduced to reorganise so as to take account of the change in the law. We shall, I hope, within the next three to five years be able to persuade the Department of the necessity of introducing the order under the Bill.

Part III of the new Schedule is a provision new to the Bill and is intended simply to provide that if a person describes the fineness of an article in carats he shall, for the purposes of the Bill, be deemed to describe it in the equivalent millesimals. A millesimal is shorthand for parts per thousand. A pure article is 1000 and anything less is a fraction of a thousand. A carat is a 24th part and it is felt by some people that transferring from carats, which are to some extent less intelligible, to millesimals will be of assistance to the consumers. I see the hon. Member for Erith and Cray-ford (Mr. Wellbeloved) laughing. I cannot blame him, since these matters even bemuse the experts on occasions.

We feel that it would be wrong to drop altogether the very well-known and accepted word "carat". While perhaps it is not fully understood by the public in all its complexities, there is no doubt knowledge that a 9-carat piece is half as good as an 18-carat piece and that a 22-carat piece is the best available on the market. I shall not get involved in discussing the quality or otherwise of 9-carat gold. We deliberately avoided dealing with this difficult matter in the Bill because, although it is only one-third part pure gold, it is well accepted and has been in existence for more than 120 years and a number of manufacturers rely for their prosperity on making 9-carat articles. Therefore, we declined to grasp the bull by the horns, as was recommended by some consumer interests, and remove it as a standard.

This Bill is more about the testing of standards than about laying down standards. We have introduced no new standards except that for platinum. Platinum is an ultra precious metal more than twice as valuable as gold. It has been in use as a jewellery metal for a good number of years now. Until recently, it has presented a problem to assay offices in tests for purity. But new methods of metallurgical analysis enable them to carry out such tests quite easily and reasonably cheaply, and it was therefore felt that the introduction of the Bill was a suitable moment at which to introduce platinum into the hallmarking laws.

These remarks have to some extent not only introduced new Clause 2 but have explained to the House the background and the purposes of the Bill. I have done this because the Bill obtained its Second Reading "on the nod". I hope hon. Members will feel that the Bill, although complicated and lengthy in its content, is simple and worthy in its objective.

Mr. Ronald King Murray

I am sure that the House welcomes the initiative of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) in introducing the Bill, and provided that he can give an undertaking that the next private Member's Bill he introduces is not one to start millesimal coinage, I think he will get general support for his amendments today.

I am still left with one doubt in regard to new Clause 2. It is one which I expressed in Committee. The hon. Gentleman will remember that I indicated a certain affection for the BBC television programme, "Going for a Song". I am anxious to maintain that no one appearing on that programme should inadvertently be guilty of an offence under Clause 1 as it is or as it may be altered by these amendments.

I have already aired the example of the perfectly innocent pawnbroker. I am doubtful about this aspect. I can see that one cannot stop every possible gap and there has to be some point at which one relies on common sense and so on. But I wonder about these examples. First, there is the pawnbroker who in good faith describes as a gold cup what has been lodged with him as a gold cup. New Clause 1(1) says: … any person who, in the course of a trade or business— (a) applies to an unhallmarked article a description indicating that it is wholly or partly made of gold … and so forth.

It seems that a pawnbroker would be acting in the course of his trade or business and would be applying to an unhallmarked article a description indicating that it was made of gold. That is my worry. As for the programme "Going for a Song", I still have the worry about whether the compere or chairman of the programme, who is presumably conducting a trade or business, namely that of entertainment, may be technically guilty of an offence in saying, "This is a gold cup. What do you make of it?" This may be a remote instance but it is worrying.

What about the situation when forged articles are provided for educational or entertainment purposes? The hon. Gentleman will remember that he came very close to the wind under the clause when he supplied to the Committee certain forged metals and asked us to distinguish them from genuine metals, which he also supplied.

11.30 a.m.

Mr. Wiggin

I am sure that the hon. and learned Gentleman would be prepared to accept the privileges of the House on such an occasion.

Mr. Murray

The question is whether these privileges should be extended to perfectly innocent business men who are doing something quite properly in the course of their trade or business.

The other example concerns the solicitor who, in dealing with the executory articles, describes something as gold when it is forged. Another example that occurs to me in the same vein is that of the banker who receives a forged, or at least not hallmarked, gold article to lodge in a safe deposit. Both these gentlemen would be running pretty close to the terms of the clause.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)

I echo the opinions of the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Ronald King Murray). In a sense we have been here before, because we discussed this at some length in Committee. I am grateful for the close scrutiny that my hon. Friend for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) has given to the points that have been raised.

This is an extremely complex subject and I am still deeply troubled about this business of "knowingly for gain", because that is the criminal offence. If a person knowingly does something for gain, if he is fully aware that an article is not what it is purported and represented to be, that is a criminal offence. These points were developed in Committee but it is no disservice to the House to repeat them briefly.

As the hon. and learned Member said, when we are dealing with articles which demand a certain specialised knowledge the problem is that we are venturing outside the normal area of consumer protection. We can expect the ordinary man in the street to be able to tell whether most articles are real or fake. Let us consider antique silver. There is a tremendous boom in this at present. People collect it avidly and treasure it. Because of this the counterfeiters have exploited the market to some degree.

I do not wish to exaggerate the situation but there are a number of counterfeit pieces on the market at any one time. Those who perpetrate the crime should be properly punished. But, by the same token, when these articles, as occasionally happens, fall into the hands of collectors who through inexperience, naivety or anything else believe them to be genuine, it would be rather unfair if they were put in the position of having committed a criminal offence in selling such pieces. We have to recognise that collectors are buying or selling from time to time to enhance their collections.

We come back to this question of "knowingly for gain". I do not believe it is the function of the House to put, say, a solicitor, a pawnbroker or a doting grandmother making a gift to a grandchild, in peril of being put into the dock as a criminal if they believe an article to be genuine and sell it or make a gift of it. This troubles me but I understand what my hon. Friend said and why he said it. With these words of caution and anxiety, I will not press my objection further at this stage.

Mr. David Watkins (Consett)

As the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) pointed out, in moving the clause, it replaces Clause 1. It is linked with other amendments and the new Schedule, Amendment No. 79. It redrafts those important parts of the Bill considerably but does not basically alter it in any fundamental way. It seeks to clarify a very complicated position. There are matters of degree in the clarification of complicated positions. The hon. Gentleman said these were matters which bemused even the experts. I accept that they are highly technical amendments to what is a highly technical Bill and that clarification must be a matter of degree. But I welcome the clause as a successful attempt to clarify this situation.

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare said in Committee that it had taken 400 or 500 years of legislation to reach a state of confusion. He said then that he had listened to representations made by all the interested parties. In bringing forward these amendments he has shown that he is continuing to adopt this attitude. He warned hon. Members in Committee that a number of amendments would be likely on Report. We entirely accept that situation and recognise that the Clause and the associated amendments which arise from further advice and representations are designed to meet the requirements expressed in Committee. I welcome this clause.

The clause retains the expression in the course of a trade or business ". The hon. Member dealt in detail with the reason for retaining that expression. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Ronald King Murray) expressed some reservations, as did the hon. Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack). The phrase was discussed in great detail in Committee. I do not wish to repeat that discussion but it is right that hon. Members should have expressed some reservations about whether these words should be retained. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare moved an amendment in Committee to delete these words but after detailed debate it was withdrawn.

Thus the clause retains these words and all that they entail. Much of the whole principle of the Bill is contained in the first clause. As hon. Members are aware this is not an unusual situation. There have been many occasions, when most of the basic principles of a Bill have been dealt with once the first clause has been disposed of.

It is worth while putting on record what is the fundamental principle of the Bill. It is to protect the ordinary consumer in the light of modern conditions. The Bill is valuable in bringing up to date what has been described as 400 or 500 years of legislation which has merely resulted in a state of confusion. There is a need to protect the consumer and this is what the Bill is about. The Bill has the support of all parties in the House with, I presume, the exception of members of the Liberal Party who, not unusually, are absent from their places. The Bill certainly has the support of the Labour Party. We shall seek to facilitate its progress on Report as we did in Committee. However, we shall not abrogate our duty to make all sponsors of amendments justify all aspects of the amendments. We shall reserve our position in all cases until we have heard all the argument.

However, new Clause No. 2 is clearly justified. It has been put before us in a clear and able manner by the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare, and I hope that it will receive the support of the House.

The Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Peter Emery)

This is the first time that the Bill has been debated on the Floor of the House, and I am sure that it would be the wish of everyone to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) on bringing forward a long and complicated piece of legislation dealing with a necessary law reform which has been needed for some time.

It was decided in 1955 to set up a Departmental Committee to consider the state of the law on the subject of hallmarking and precious metals and to make recommendations for its revision. Subsequently invaluable work was done by the committee under the chairmanship of Sir Leonard Stone. His report, published in 1959, shed new light on a subject often obscured by mystique and revealed a fairly chaotic state of the law which had been allowed to grow up, rather like Topsy, over the centuries, accumulating not only serious inconsistencies but a good deal of plain nonsense on the way, with the result that a considerable amount of it was not enforced. Many of the committee's recommendations plainly inspired some of the Bill's features, and the completeness of the work done by my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare deserves congratulations.

The Department was about to issue certain conclusions on the subject of hallmarking when, as a result of the ballot on Private Members' Bills, my hon. Friend announced that he intended to deal with this subject. I immediately made available to him the results of our inquiries, and I am glad to see that many of our ideas are reflected in his Bill. I am also happy to indicate, although it was obvious in Committee, that the Government are ready to give their support to the Bill, with one or two exceptions, which will be dealt with today.

Hallmarking has been with us for over six centuries and can well lay claim to be the oldest form of consumer protection. Some people think that consumer protection is a new phenomenon, brought about only perhaps in the last 15 or so years. But that is not the case. Articles made from precious metals, particularly gold, have long held a special place in people's minds, although it seems clear that in the past, as now, the decision to create special laws to govern such articles stemmed mainly from perhaps more mundane reasons. Unless alloyed with base metals, precious metals may be too soft to withstand wear and, therefore, mixing of precious metals and base metals is usually a necessity. That is the reason for the need to be able to assess the fineness of the article.

11.45 a.m.

But debasement of the precious metals can be carried to fairly considerable lengths before it becomes readily apparent to the eye. This opens the door for the dishonest worker or trader to mislead his customer. In the days when wealth was commonly stored in articles of precious metal it became essential to have some guarantee that the article contained the proper proportion of precious metal—the trouble today perhaps is that there are not as many gold coins in circulation as many of us would like to see—but those days are largely past. I do not know anybody who buys or sells by using gold or, for that matter, silver.

Few people nowadays buy articles of precious metal worth more than a fairly small amount of money. I was interested to see figures issued by the London Assay Office about assays which it had carried out during December last year which indicated that the average weight of a gold article was five grammes and the average weight of a silver article was 40 grammes. In other words, the precious metal content averaged in value no more than about £2.

The Stone Committee noted the phenomenon that most articles of precious metal are of relatively low value. As it concerns the new clause, may I remind the House of part of paragraph 12 of the Stone Report, which reads: Whereas it might be suggested that anyone who can afford to buy an antique can also afford to pay for expert advice, that argument does not apply to the purchasers of the vast majority of gold and silver articles which are sold today… the evidence is that about 95 per cent. of the new gold and silver articles sold today retail at less than £10. This is the market in which the public need the most protection and in which standards of fineness and the prevention of adulteration … are most essential ". That was stated 14 years ago, but the passage of those 14 years has not affected the validity of the argument.

Although we have the Trade Descriptions Act, which offers protection against misdescription and contains powers under which we could lay down statutory meanings for gold, silver and platinum and under which we could require articles made from them to be marked with their composition and millesimal marks or other marks, we could not require those marks to be applied only by the assay offices. Here I wish to pay tribute to the work which the assay offices have done over the many centuries. Therefore, under this Bill, or the Bill of my right hon. and learned Friend, when it becomes an Act, we shall be able to retain the hallmarking system which commands universal respect at home and, equally important, overseas.

I am glad to note that in the new Clause the basis of law is to be the prohibition of the use of the descriptive words "gold", "silver" and "platinum" unless the descriptions are supported by a hallmark. The problems which the absence of a definition of these terms created formed one of the features of the Stone Report. I am glad that the Bill abandons the principle that it is illegal to produce goods which fail to meet the legal minimum standard for the metal concerned. The reason for this is that such provision is clearly ineffective in preventing the circulation of such wares. Coupled with the provision on sub-standard wares it applies to many pieces of historical or artistic merit or even of sentimental value would be at quite unjustified peril of destruction.

The Bill at last, therefore, frees our manufacturers to produce whatever goods the consumer wishes to buy provided that at the same time they do not mislead as to the amount and the standard of fineness of the precious metal they contain.

I in no way want to take away from the sponsor of the Bill in speaking in this debate but it would seem to me that it might be helpful, since the problem about "knowingly" has been raised, if I were to try to give certain assurances which I have obtained from a considerable amount of legal advice as this matter applies within the Bill.

As I understand the situation, the legislation would obviously be able to catch the man who fraudulently does this. There is no doubt about that. Then comes the factor or the person who may be in league with a jeweller of rather low repute who is attempting continually to bring on to the market articles which he knows to be sub-standard and which he is describing as gold or silver. The position here, I am assured, is that the law in a number of different areas will deal with the problem of anybody who commits the offence more than once. There may be a difficulty—I undeline it no more than that—in catching the person who does it the first time, and prosecuting him as thoroughly as some people would like, but the moment the offence has been committed twice, the Trade Descriptions Act has already proved that that—as my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare made clear—is considered to be in the course of trade or business. When it is committed the first time, we would have to be able to establish that the man was an agent. The agency factor goes much further than might have been expected judging from some of the speeches of hon. Members in Committee. The agency factor would again allow a method of being able to prosecute the individual.

What we are doing is trying to ensure that people do not unwittingly commit an offence without ever knowing about it. It seems to me that we make the law an ass if we try to suggest that people commit offences who unwittingly are breaking the law while having no knowledge or realisation of the fact. That is why I believe my hon. Friend has been so wise to draft this provision in this way. It seems to me that he has gone all the way round to be able to deal with a situation where there is fraud or an agency or liaison while meeting the point about, say, the old-age pensioner or somebody perhaps even selling a wedding ring—a ghastly thought—and then suddenly finding that that was an offence. The idea that he would be committing an offence in such a circumstance is terrifying and I am certain that no hon. Member of the House would want it to be an offence.

I welcome this new clause because I believe that it goes a long way to setting the matter right.

Mr. Cormack

I am most grateful to my hon. Friend for meeting one of the points which the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Ronald King Murray) and I raised. I am most grateful for this categorical assurance which has gone a long way to removing my anxieties and doubts.

Mr. Emery

I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. I know he was con- cerned about this matter and it was for this reason, I thought, that, although this is not a Government Bill, it would be helpful to him and to others concerned with the Bill if I examined this matter in some depth and, if the occasion arose, as it has, made the knowledge available to the House.

Mr. Wiggin

With the leave of the House, I would comment on two matters since I was asked a direct question.

I refer the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Ronald King Murray) to subsection (9) of the new clause, which refers to Section 39(2) of the Trade Descriptions Act and it may be helpful if I read it out: For the purposes of this Act, a trade description or statement published in any newspaper, book or periodical or in any film or sound or television broadcast shall not be deemed to be a trade description applied or statement made in the course of a trade or business unless it is or forms part of an advertisement. That rather conclusively deals with the hon. and learned Member's point.

I am most appreciative of the kind remarks made by hon. Members and the support of the Opposition, as stated by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Watkins).

There is a rather important matter which perhaps should have been mentioned in response to previous representations by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack), namely, the change in date in the new schedule which we are debating with this new clause. Knowledgeable hon. Members will appreciate that circulating in this country is a good deal of antique silver which for one reason or another escaped the net of the assay offices in previous generations. In particular, a considerable amount of imported silver brought over by immigrants has escaped the attention of Customs or of individuals failing to observe the laws of the day. Much of this silver has now acquired an antique value far in excess of its value as gold or silver. It is not marked, and its sale at the moment is illegal. This has put considerable difficulties in the way of the antique trade and auction houses. The Government have been most helpful over this and we have now agreed that the date before which exemption shall continue shall be 1900. Queen Victoria's death, which took place a year or two later, marked a substantial change in design of gold and silver. The date 21st December 1902 is not a very tidy date, and we feel that 1900 is one everybody can remember. The onus of proof is dealt with in the Bill. I will not take up the time of the House by dealing with it now, but we are providing that silver made before 1900 can be sold without a mark in the normal course of trade or business.

I should be abusing my privilege if I were to reply in any greater detail, but I must thank my hon. Friend the Undersecretary for his kindness towards me as sponsor of the Bill, for the help that his Department has given, and for his part in Committee in helping with a lengthy and complex Bill. I know that this extra work makes an especially heavy load for him. His explanation of the reason for excluding the words "any person knowingly" was far more enlightened and conclusive than mine. I am sure that the House must now be convinced of the reasons— [Interruption.] I am reminded by my historian friend behind me that Queen Victoria died in 1901. Nevertheless, the point is the same; that is still not a particularly tidy date.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time.

Question proposed, That the clause be added to the Bill.

12 noon.

Mr. Cormack

On a point of order. Is it possible to move a manuscript amendment at this stage? With my hon. Friend's help, I have noticed that in line 16 of the new Clause there is a mistake. The word "overstating" should be "understating". This is an important matter and I would, with your help, Mr. Deputy Speaker, like to move an amendment to correct the position.

Perhaps I may explain. If a 9-carat article is sold as an 18-carat one, that obviously is—

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. E. L. Mallalieu)

Order. Perhaps a long explanation here is not called for. I have had very little notice of this amendment, and I am not empowered to accept a manuscript amendment.

Mr. Emery

Further to that point of order. Since this is merely a drafting error, we could conveniently deal with it in another place. That would seem to me the easiest answer, with your approval, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am obliged to the hon. Gentleman.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause added to the Bill.

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