HC Deb 06 April 1973 vol 854 cc806-10


  1. (1) In this Act, unless the context otherwise requires, "approved hallmarks" means—
    1. (a) marks struck by an assay office in the United Kingdom, whether before or after the commencement of this Act, under the law for the time being in force, or
    2. (b) marks struck by the Wardens and Commonalty of Goldsmiths of the City of Dublin before 1st April 1923, or
    3. (c)marks struck by an assay office under the law of a country outside the United Kingdom, being marks designated for the purposes of this section by order of the Secretary of State as marks recognised pursuant to any international convention or treaty to which Her Majesty's Governmentin the United Kingdom is a party.
  2. (2)Marks within subsection (l)(c) above are in this Act called "convention hallmarks".
  3. (3)The Secretary of State may by order make such provision as appears to him appropriate for enabling articles submitted to an assay office in the United Kingdom to be struck with marks which, pursuant to any such convention or treaty, will, or will with other marks, be accorded recognition under the law of any other country, and for making consequential or incidental provisions, including provision for excluding or modifying any of the provisions of this Act.
  4. (4)For the purposes of this Act an article is unhallmarked—
    1. (a) if it does not bear the approved hallmarks and the sponsor's mark, or
    2. (b) if the article has been the subject of any improper alteration.
  5. (5) In this Act "improper alteration" means an addition, alteration or repair which was made since the article was duly marked and—
    1. (a) which contravened section 4 of this Act, or
    2. (b) which was made before the coming into force of that section, and would have required the consent of an assay office if that section had been in force, or
    3. (c) in the case of an article which bears a convention mark, would have required that 807 consent if the addition, alteration or repair had been made in the United Kingdom.— [Mr. Wiggin.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Wiggin

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

Mr. Deputy Speaker

It may be convenient to discuss at the same time the following:

Amendment No. 15, in Clause 6, page 9, line 26, leave out from 'an' to end of line 30 and insert ' improper alteration'.

Amendment No. 19, in page 10, line 22, leave out from 'any' to end of line 23 and insert' improper alteration'.

Mr. Wiggin

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

This clause, which is intended to become Clause 2 of the Bill, has also been drafted with the assistance of parliamentary counsel. It incorporates definitions of fundamental importance in an early part of the Bill. Subsection (1) sets out the definition of approved hallmarks which is at present in Clause 20, but with an important addition. There is now specific inclusion of reference to convention hallmarks, to make it clearer that the Secretary of State intends, by order, at some future time to provide for recognition of hallmarks prescribed by the Convention on the Control and Marking of Articles of Precious Metals, November 1972, to which the United Kingdom is a party, and to enable United Kingdom assay offices to strike such convention marks on articles submitted to them where appropriate.

It also has the "vice versa" effect under the convention that is to be ratified, of making other people's marks acceptable in this country. This provision represents an initial step taken by this country and to the credit of this country, and particularly to the credit of those officials of the assay offices concerned, particularly the two Assay Masters of Birmingham and London, who have put in considerable work, with the aid of DTI officials, to persuade other countries of the virtue of our system.

Under the old EFTA arrangements we obtained a considerable degree of approval, and a convention has been signed—or a draft convention: I am not fully cognisant of the machinery of such matters. It would be silly to pass a law now, knowing that ratification of the convention was likely in future, without taking into account our knowledge of the existence of this convention. One hopes that we can lead the European Community in hallmarking in future. France and Holland already have compulsory systems of well-proven and well-trusted credibility, and it is to be hoped that on some date in the long-term future we shall get other countries to agree to our system.

Amendments Nos. 15 and 19 are drafting and consequential.

Mr. David Watkins

The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) rightly said that the new clause introduces important definitions and defines much more clearly the position in relation to hallmarks. It defines our approved hallmarks in some detail and it is a welcome innovation. It is also welcome in that it introduces the recognition of convention hallmarks, because this brings in the subject of imports and exports and a much wider range than the United Kingdom alone.

Subsection (1)(b) makes some reference to Dublin hallmarks before 1923. I do not think that there is any particular significance in the City of Dublin Assay Office but there may be some significance in the selection of the date—exactly 50 years ago. Some explanation would be useful.

I also wonder about the multifarious regulations that exist in or are likely to come from the European Commission. The hon. Member has said that we have taken a world lead in hallmarks, which probably makes my question hypothetical, but some further information from the sponsor and, perhaps, the Under Secretary would be welcome. The Commission may not yet have got around to this, but it will do so sooner or later.

Mr. Cormack

One point that my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) did not dwell on is the fact that under subsection (4), if an article is significantly altered—if, for instance, a beer mug is turned into a cream jug. or a tankard into a coffee pot by the addition of spouts and different handles—an offence will be committed unless the altered article is sent back to the assay office for the alterations to be duly stamped. I regret to say that many unscrupulous dealers try to pass off unfashionable articles as genuine antique coffee pots, and so on, when they are no such thing. It may be useful to underline this in the House, so that if it is taken up and reported outside people will be aware that that sort of thing is a very real offence, and is caught effectively by the new clause.

Mr. Emery

In no way do I want to intervene in the position of the sponsor of the Bill. However, it seemed to me that the question put by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Watkins) was directed more to the Government than to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin). So that I may stay in order, I shall introduce the answer to the question. The new clause makes it quite clear that the definition marks which are applied overseas in conformity with an international convention to which the United Kingdom is a party would be included within the Bill. That obviously makes very good common sense. Indeed, the EFTA convention, which no doubt the hon. Gentleman has seen and studied, and to part of which we may be returning during the passage of the Bill, sets out standards of fineness.

The question I was asked was about what was happening within the EEC. There are no draft regulations or directives. However, a working party is working very much in line with the EFTA convention. It looks as though the method along which it would want to work is the use of the millesimal mark, which has become fairly widely understood throughout the world.

Therefore, the answer is that the United Kingdom will be taking a lead, with the basis of the EFTA convention as being the way in which this matter is most likely to go in the future.

Mr. David Watkins

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. This means that any developments are likely to follow the lines initiated here, which we are considering in the Bill. Although it is difficult to foretell the future, this matter is not likely to go contrary to the way in which we are dealing with it.

Mr. Emery

I cannot foretell the future. If I overstate the case, it may be misleading. It appears that this is the direction in which we are moving. I feel fairly confident that the Bill is, therefore, running in the direction of any future European decisions and not against them. It is very likely that we shall be taking a lead in some ways, so that what is in the Bill will fit automatically into the method which, perhaps, some of the Europeans will adopt.

Mr. Wiggin

The hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Watkins) asked me a specific question about the year 1922. This has to do with the Independence of Ireland Act. The year 1922 was its effective date. Prior to that time, Dublin had an assay office, in the same way as had the rest of the United Kingdom. Dublin still has an assay office which enjoys a close liaison with the United Kingdom assay offices, but because Eire is a foreign country we cannot include that in our legislation.

The hon. Gentleman rightly stated that we had a world lead in this matter of legislation, subject to the passing of the Bill.

As our existing legislation is antique, my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack) mentioned the question of alterations. It has become a great fad in America that the ordinary domestic chamber pot should be used as a punch bowl. Those Americans who are fortunate enough to come across such an article in solid silver may be pleased to know that we have them firmly in mind in the legislation at present.

My hon. Friend's point is correct. Substantial alteration is an important matter. An article that starts off as silver and is subsequently altered in a material way can fall without the law. The warning my hon. Friend gives is sensible.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary explained most clearly the Governments view on the future of these matters. I like to think that in this relatively small but nevertheless important piece of international co-operation we—I shall not say "for once" but "in a particular matter" —will lead the world.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

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