§ APPROVED HALLMARKS
§ Mr. Wiggin
I beg to move, Amendment No. 48, in page 22, column 2, leave out lines 16 to 18 and insert 'Standard of fineness'.
§ Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this Amendment it will be convenient to take also Amendments Nos. 49, 50, 51, 52; Amendment (a) to Amendment No. 52; and amendments Nos. 53, 54 and 55.
§ Mr. Wiggin
This is a matter on which we shall be having something of a debate as it is fair to say that there has been a considerable debate already outside the House with myself as sponsor of the Bill, the retail trade, the manufacturing trade, antique dealers and almost anybody interested in the subject, including considerable comment in the specialist and trade press.
827 What we are going to fall out over, I fear, is the question of millesimal marks for silver and platinum. I will say a word about the standard for 22 carat gold. It is a technical matter, but I think it will be helpful if I explain it. The translation from carats to millesimal means that 22 carat gold is a 916.6 recurring parts per thousand of pure gold and therefore in the Bill we are to show the figure as 916 to make it a little clearer than 917 which would be rather more than 22 carat gold.
The rest of the amendments are formal and are dealt with either on the advice of Parliamentary Counsel or in order to clarify the schedule. The argument about the millesimal mark is one, I fear, on which I must tell the House that I propose to be somewhat ambivalent. In my view this is a matter which is not as important as either the trade or the Government believe. I am sure that I shall get into trouble with all sorts of people for saying that, but I do not believe it to be a crucial matter. Both parties seem to think that it is, and it is only fair that I should say what I feel about it.
In the original proposals and at certain times in the past consumer associations, among others, and Government officials have come to the conclusion that the ancient symbols are perhaps out of date and therefore for one dreadful moment they proposed that the lion, the worldwide symbol of British silver, should be removed from the mark and that the more soulless millesimal number should be used to indicate the standard of purity or fineness of the article. [HON. MEMBERS: "Shame!"] There has been a long time convention that imported wares should have a different mark from home-produced wares. I suppose that critics of trade protection legislation could say that this is a small example of it. I do not see it in that light. British silver is world renowned and it would be rather like seeing Rolls-Royce change the shape of its radiator. It is more than just trade protection; it is a symbol of purity, quality, manufacture, design and metal, and it would have been a desperate tragedy had the lion not been allowed to remain.
Therefore, it was put to me during the trade—or perhaps that is too strong a 828 term, and I should say the "give and take" in these matters, where points have to be made on each side of the negotiation—that were I to leave in the millesimal mark for silver and platinum the authorities would not frown on the inclusion of the lion and imported mark as previously.
§ Mr. Wiggin
That is very much overstating the case. There are arguments on both sides. I have listened carefully to them in private and I am glad that we shall have the opportunity of ventilating them on the Floor of the House this afternoon.
§ Mr. Adam Butler (Bosworth)
Is my hon. Friend saying that he was offered the choice of having the lion plus the millesimal mark or the millesimal mark on its own?
§ Mr. Wiggin
I shall get into terribly deep water if I go into that. The original proposal, several years ago, when the negotiation started, was that the millesimal mark only should be shown, and after a good deal of persuasion the assay offices made the case that it would be a great pity to have only the millesimal mark. But in the course of negotiating more detailed points on the Bill I have found, as would anyone who produces legislation, that there has to be considerable negotiation. I think the Government felt—and I believe they are perfectly entitled so to do, and no doubt the Undersecretary will justify the case—that if we had symbols and the millesimal marks both points would be met. In order that we could keep the lion and so that the other points could be included, I felt that this was not an unreasonable compromise. Little did I know the storm which would descend upon my head from those whose business it is to manufacture silver and platinum articles.
I must be careful to get right the functions of the British Jewellers Association and the National Association of Goldsmiths. It seems that I interposed their functions in Committee. The National Association of Goldsmiths represents the retail trade and the British Jewellers Association the manufacturing trade. The manufacturers felt quite strongly about this, for a number of reasons, as I can understand. The major 829 one is that the inhuman-looking number does not contain artistic merit, which is a feature of the traditional hallmarking system. In the current edition of the Connoisseur there is a picture of a fine silver bowl in which the hallmarks have been made a decorative feature of the design. I am sure that hon. Members have seen, in retailers shops all over the country, ashtrays with four marks placed in a way that gives them a decorative function. Equally, it may be argued that the millesimal mark is like the octane rating in petrol—to the mathematically minded, a definitive and easily understood indication of purity. I have therefore made it clear to the Government behind the scenes that I, as sponsor of the Bill, have a completely open mind on the matter.
I am not prepared to table an amendment to remove millesimal marks. I have made it clear to the trade that I believe that it has obtained substantial concessions in the marks agreed with the Government to date. Therefore, I shall remain outside any Lobby if there is a Division. I can see arguments on both sides, but I have made it clear from the start that as the sponsor of the Bill I shall not take a position on the matter.
§ Mr. Cormack
This is rather a sad moment for me, because up to now I have found myself completely in agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin). I am grateful not only to him but to my hon. Friend the Minister for all he has done to assist the passage of a necessary and sensible piece of legislation. But now the crunch has come for me, and I know that I speak for my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler). We are being asked to accept a compromise that is both untidy and thoroughly undesirable.
I could accept without any grave misgivings a stipulation that silverware exported from this country must bear a millesimal mark, because I could be persuaded that in other countries the British lion would not be recognised for what it is. Even that argument does not hold up very well, certainly not among those who know silver, who love it and who realise that some of the finest silver in the world has been for centuries produced in these islands, and has gone out 830 with the lion proudly proclaiming its origins and with the other marks showing the assay office where it was stamped and the man who fashioned it.
I could accept the millesimal mark for export. What I cannot accept in any circumstances is that it is necessary or desirable for silver produced in this country and sold on the home market. The amendments in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth would remove these abortions. The assay officers, who have been spoken about in such glowing terms several times today, and the trade all feel very passionately that the proposal is unnecessary and undesirable.
I should like to talk of some of the very valid objections raised by Goldsmiths' Hall, and in doing so to refer entirely to silver. In a letter that I received a little while ago it was pointed out that the assay offices are not in favour of millesimal marks for silver, nor for platinum. The first reason is the lion, the recognised mark for sterling silver since 1544. Over the centuries, wherever silver has been bought people have turned it up and looked at the side to see the lion and the leopard's head, or the thistle if it has come from Edinburgh, soon to be the lion rampant. The marks have been the guarantee of authenticity, an absolute standard of purity for the buyer. The marking is the oldest form of consumer protection at a high level that we have.
We must remember that silver bears not just one mark but several. Let us take the London mark, the leopard's head, not as noble as it was before 1821, when the crown was taken off. There is the lion, and there is the date letter from which it is possible to tell at a glance when the article was made. There is also the maker's mark. If a further mark is added the whole matter is complicated to an unnecesary and untidy degree, and it is likely to make identification more rather than less difficult.
If we stick to the same marks as have been used for over 400 years on English sterling silver, the continuity will make for easy identification by the public. Many little handbooks that can be bought for a few new pence give an adequate guide to British hallmarks. Hardly a jeweller's shop or an antique dealer does not have some of them on sale. Two or three years ago a petrol company gave 831 away tens of thousands of them, and they were very popular. To say that the public are not aware of the existing marks is not entirely realistic. The public can identify silver.
If the millesimal mark were adopted, some articles would have it and others would not. As my hon. Friend pointed out, silver articles last and are treasured for many years, and frequently change hands. We are legislating for perhaps 200 or 300 years. In 200 or 300 years' time those collecting and treasuring their silver would to some extent be confused by millesimal marks added some time in the 1970s in honour of a convention formulated by a now dead grouping.
Hallmarks are struck on the articles at the assay office either by single punches, one for each symbol or mark, which are normally used when large marks are required, or by means of a combined punch containing all the symbols or marks if the article is small. The addition of the millesimal mark to the lion would mean that single punches would have to be used in many cases where a combined punch is now used, and that would increase the cost of marking, a factor that the assay offices tell me causes them real concern. For the larger marks involving the use of single punches, an additional punching operation would be required, which would also increase the cost.
Important as those arguments are, there are others that are more significant. British hallmarks are themselves things of beauty, admired by collectors and others all over the world, and frequently made a feature of the silver article. My hon. Friend referred to the picture of the silver bowl in this month's issue of the Connoisseur. When we look at some of the priceless articles in the Victoria and Albert Museum or in some of the shops of Bond Street, or at the pictures in any book of English domestic silver, whether Jackson's monumental work or others that have appeared in recent years, we frequently see that an outstanding feature of their beauty is the bold punch mark or the series of bold punch marks on the bowl, goblet, salver or whatever it may be. That is recognised.
Will the little numbers 925 be destructive of the harmony and the cohesion of the marks which have been used for centuries or will they add to the beauty of 832 the article?—[Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State laughs insensitively as if he does not care. That is unfortunate. For some people with aesthetic views that is a serious consideration, even if it does not appear to be so on the Treasury Bench. Perhaps that is an indication of the soullessness of monolithic departments of modern government. The numbers will make the process cumbersome and, to the sensitive person, will detract from the aesthetic appearance of an article.
An argument which may appeal to the Under-Secretary of State, as it involves cost, is that there is in this country a considerable trade in reproduction antique silver. It is one of the principal export lines in the trade. That should appeal to the Department of Trade and Industry. It is of great significance that the modern hallmark is struck prominently in the same position as the original hallmark. That is a valuable selling point. An additional symbol, which never appeared on old marks, would lessen the value of the modern hallmark and could lead to significant diminution in a valuable trade. I hope that that argument will appeal to the cost-consciousness of my hon. Friend.
I shall not say very much about platinum as we are introducing the marking of platinum for the first time. However, it would be remiss of me not to make the point that has been made to me by the assay officers that the 950 mark seems unnecessary because there is to be only one standard of platinum. Most platinum articles are likely to be small. Some will be very small because of the low exemption weight of 0.5 grammes. An additional symbol would make the task of marking more difficult. Smaller and less easily readable markings would have to be used than otherwise would be the case. That is a valid point although I should not want to go to the stake on it. I rest my case on silver. Gold does not come into the argument because it is accepted that different standards of gold are sold.
It is important that people should be thoroughly and absolutely aware of what they are buying. The fact is that sterling silver—and most of the silver sold in this country is sterling silver—is known the 833 world over. There is another standard of silver—namely, the Britannia standard. The hallmarking of that standard is a splendid mark. It represents the seated figure of Britannia with the lion's head erased. That mark, which is not so well known, signifies a higher standard. The public is in no way being duped, deluded or deceived. If somebody buys Britannia standard silver believing it to be sterling silver, he has a better buy because the silver is of a slightly higher degree of purity.
From whatever way the matter is considered, unless a person is dedicated to the idea of compromise or if it is felt that a convention drawn up by a new dead group is binding upon us, there is no case for additional marking. Holland and France have a similar system of hallmarking to our system, although it is not quite the same. They do not have millesimal marks, and there is no need for us to have them.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Undersecretary of State will enhance his already lofty reputation by heeding our words and desisting from what would seem to me to be an untypical piece of obstinacy.
§ Mr. Adam Butler
I must declare an interest in this matter as I am a Liveryman of the Goldsmiths' Company. We had a considerable debate in Committee about millesimal marks. My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) made a fine and frank speech concerning his feelings on the matter. I disagree with him only in that he did not find it a crucial and vital matter. I agree that it will not shake the world if we proceed with millesimal marks on silver, but for the reasons which my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock (Mr. Cormack) has given, the matter is of some significance and should not be taken lightly.
I appeal to the Government—perhaps this is not a final appeal—to consider the purpose of the marks which are placed on silver and the two other precious metals. Their purpose is to tell a story. In no other case is such history, such description, such evidence of quality and standard, such guidance to the consumer and such protection of the consumer given in such a clear, simple, brief and adequate way. Why are we 834 now being asked to include numbers which are entirely superfluous to the description of the article and its history and standard? The lion tells all. It tells us the quality of the silver. It tells us that it is British sterling silver.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock seemed to accept the possibility of using millesimal marks for exports. He may have meant imports. The British lion is recognised overseas, and for that reason there is no need to consider millesimal marks for export business.
§ Mr. Cormack
I said that I did not think it was a very good case, but I made the point from a personal point of view. I accept that international convention may demand or require it, but for our domestic market, not at any price. I agree with my hon. Friend.
§ Mr. Butler
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for clarifying the matter. I still suggest that the lion is sufficient for the world as well as for this country.
§ Mr. Butler
A considerable part of this matter involves bureaucracy, or civil servants who are concerned to use 10 words when one will do. The figures are superfluous. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock has referred to the aesthetic nature of the present mark, and to the cost of putting on additional and unnecessary marks. It is unproductive of labour to do so, and it is unaesthetic. It is also impracticable for small articles.
My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare referred to long life. He said—I think that I took down his words correctly—that a hallmark stays with an article all its life. The more marks we put on, the smaller they may have to be. Inevitably silver is rubbed and polished during its existence. It is inevitable that smaller marks will become indecipherable more quickly. At least there will be a risk of that happening. Anybody in the trade know many instances in which marks have become undecipherable over a period. Why make that more likely by adding other marks which will often have to be presented in smaller characters?
§ Mr. Ronald King Murray
The hon. Gentleman is making a strong case for his point of view. But, apart from the possibility of marks rubbing off, do not 835 millesimal marks have an advantage for the ordinary consumer, although perhaps they are unnecessary for the connoisseur, such as members of the livery company to which the hon. Gentleman belongs? Would not these marks be a great asset to the ordinary consumer?
§ Mr. Butler
That is a useful point to raise, but I am not sure that millesimal marks, as such, would mean anything to the consumer. Indeed, I think that the contrary would be the case. The lion represents silver to the consumer, but in practice pieces will be examined by the retailer through a glass, and the retailer is well aware of the meaning of the lion.
§ Mr. Wiggin
Perhaps I may point out, for clarification, that there is a provision in the Bill that at every retail point an explanation of the hallmarks concerned will be available for inspection. I think that to some extent this will deal with the point made by the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh, Leith (Mr. Ronald King Murray).
§ Mr. Butler
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin).
I want now to refer to amendments Nos. 49 and 50. There is here a mathematical technicality. If we are going to use 916.6 recurring, mathematically, I suggest 916.7, or alternatively my hon. Friend could use a dot after the "6", which implies the recurring. But that is only a very small technical point. If we must have millesimals, 1 am at least grateful that for Britannia silver we are not going to have 958.4, which would be the end of the run.
I have suggested that millesimal marks are unnecessary, unaesthetic, superfluous, and unproductive, and will be less durable. Why cannot the lion passant stand on its own feet, as, one might observe, the European Parliament has discovered that the lion is not passé? Is it necessary to write the word "lion", across the figure of the lion, which is what is suggested? For all these reasons I support sub-amendment (a), and unless we have some response to our appeal at this eleventh hour my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock and I must consider dividing the House.
§ Mr. David Watkins
It was not my intention to intervene on this group of amendments, but this is an important matter so I had better express the point of view of the Opposition Front Bench. The hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare (Mr. Wiggin) indicated that he was taking an ambivalent attitude on the question of millesimal marks—that he was not prepared to introduce anything into the Bill to remove the provisions for millesimal marks but that in the event of there being a Division he would not take part in it. In saying that he expressed something of the dilemma with which he and the House itself is confronted in dealing with this complicated matter.
The hon. Members for Cannock (Mr. Cormack) and Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler) spoke from a committed point of view, and placed interesting and knowledgeable points before the House. In quite properly declaring his interest, the hon. Member for Bosworth also disclosed his knowledge of the subject and its background by speaking in such a convincing manner. Both hon. Members presented strong arguments, especially in regard to the vexed question of hallmarking in millesimal marks for silver.
It is true that outside the House trade and trade institutions feel strongly against this proposal. I hasten to say that no member of the trade or representative of any trade institution has approached me, but I am nevertheless aware that there are strong feelings, and, of course, this also came out in Committee. It seems as though the Government are the only people who want millesimal marks established, but we must remember that we have certain international obligations. I imagine that that will be one of the Undersecretary of State's arguments.
In Committee there was a Division in which the Opposition supported the Government against some Conservative Members who argued, as the hon. Members for Cannock and Bosworth have argued today, against millesimal marks. But it is no part of the Opposition's duty automatically to support the Government, and if I also take a somewhat ambivalent attitude I am doing no more than following in the admirable footsteps of the hon. Member for Weston-super-Mare. I hope that a Division can be avoided on this issue. Perhaps the Under Secretary of 837 State can give an assurance. I look forward with interest to hearing what he has to say.
§ Mr. Emery
This matter obviously creates high feelings. It is right that we should examine it carefully. I think that it needs to be examined in a reasonable and sensible manner and not with high oratory. It is not a matter of, "Once more unto the breach, dear friends", and all that is perhaps implied in some of the rather extreme descriptions we have heard on the question of millesimal marks for silver.
Some of the amendments we are dealing with relate to the standard of fineness and others to the method of assessment which is widely accepted throughout the trade and the assay offices. This is a matter of considerable concern to the consumer, who should be able to know the fineness of the metal used in the article he is buying. If that were not so, the whole concept of hallmarking would become a nonsense. Therefore, we shall all agree that there is a concern that the consumer should know the fineness.
I think we all also agree that the public interest demands the adoption of a readily intelligible system of marking to convey that information. It is not in the consumers' interest to indicate the fineness in one way on one article but in a different way on another, particularly when the method adopted in one case is a readily understood system of millesimal marking but in the other case is a symbol. The millesimal system of marking is to be adopted for all gold articles and there has been no suggestion that this would be unhelpful. Since it is to be adopted for imported silver it would be a nonsense to adopt an entirely different system for silver or platinum articles which are declared to the assay office as being of United Kingdom origin.
§ Mr. Cormack
My hon. Friend is guilty of several confusions. Not every country produces silver of 925 fineness, so the millesimal mark can be a real guarantee and help, and is my hon. Friend suggesting that people buy gold and silver indiscriminately? Is he suggesting that these metals are used to make similar articles? This is not true. Gold is used almost exclusively for small items of jewellery, and silver for domestic items.
838 Is he suggesting that people who invest in a piece of silver, even if it is under £10, do so without care and thought? People like to choose their silver and have the hallmarks explained to them. Usually the first silver article which they buy is a new piece from a jewellery shop or silversmith. Millesimal marks are necessary for gold and imported silver but he is guilty of telescoping the argument in suggesting that they are necessary for domestic silver.
§ Mr. Emery
There is no confusion in what I am saying. This is just one of the nonsenses we hear in the arguments of those who wish to do away with millesimal marks. People want to be able to compare one thing with another. Take, for instance, imported silver and British silver. The position will be absolutely clear if a single millesimal mark is common to both. It will be confusing if one is marked and the other is not. My hon. Friend is grossly overstating the case if he claims that most people, other than those with a particular interest in silver, would know the difference between Britannia silver and sterling silver. It is a gross misconception to believe that people who buy silver in small amounts and of small value know the difference.
§ Mr. Emery
I will not give way at the moment. I will deal with some of the other arguments which the hon. Gentleman used in his speech. It is true that the hallmark in certain expensive pieces of silver is used decoratively. This is on expensive silver and not that which is bought by the ordinary person. The hon. Gentleman failed to realise that the dispersal of the marks is such that it is not necessary to use the millesimal mark as part of the design. The designer could have the millesimal mark positioned in such a way that it would not spoil the design. The concept that this is, as he puts it, an abortion, is an overstatement.
There is one aspect of this which has not been mentioned. One reason why the trade does not want millesimal marks is bound up with pure protectionism for British silver. It is right that this should be brought out. The hon. Member for Cannock argued that if the Government had to do something because we were arguing that British silver was sent abroad then such silver could be 839 specifically stamped. It is the Government's belief that the millesimal marks will more and more become an accepted standard throughout Europe and America. It will become a common stamp which all will be able to understand. Not all silver leaves the country as official exports. Much of it goes with families and as personal gifts. Once it is out of the country there will be no common mark for comparison purposes.
My hon. Friend will also realise from the remarks I made on Clause 1 that the vast majority of silver articles, about 95 per cent., retailed 15 years ago at less than £10. Perhaps by now that figure has doubled. The arguments about auctioneers and duty do not concern the basic consumer. They concern the rich collector. I am not interested in protecting the rich collector as against the 95 per cent. of the population buying silver articles.
§ Mr. Cormack
I am sorry that I have ceased to be the Under-Secretary's hon. Friend, so strongly does he feel about my arguments. While it is true that the majority of articles are of a low value it is perfectly possible, contrary to what he said, for the hallmark to be an important part of the design. Spoons are a good example of this. He talks about trade protection. What is wrong with trying to protect something which many people, including assay offices, believe to be of real value? As for Britannia silver, that is of a higher standard, so that even if there were any confusion—and very little silver is made to Britannia standard now —the customer would be getting a better deal.
§ Mr. Emery
The hon. Gentleman—no, my hon. Friend; there is no feeling against him other than that he is overstating his argument. The assay offices should be arguing, as they say they are arguing, for the protection of the consumer, not for the protection of the trade or of the auctioneer.
My hon. Friend says that gold does not come into the argument, but, whichever way one looks at it, it does. His concern is that the extra mark will be obliterated more easily. That point was made by my hon. Friend the Member for 840 Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler). That applies to an even greater extent to gold, yet it was not thought to be a basic reason for finding some other way of dealing with the matter of gold.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth suggested that the lion tells all. But if we talked to people outside—not people like him who love gold and silver and who are associated with them, as he frankly admitted he is—I think we would find that they did not know what the lion told. I do not think that they would understand from the mark of the lion what the fineness of the silver was.
§ Mr. Adam Butler
I should have thought that there was no question but that if we went into the street and showed a selection of people the lion on a piece of white metal and asked them what they thought it meant, the majority of them would say that it meant pure English silver. They would be wrong about the pureness, but they would say "English silver". On the other hand, if we put to them the figure of 925 for gold or the four new millesimal marks, they would not know what we were talking about.
§ Mr. Emery
We are not suggesting— and I am pleased that we are not suggesting—that the lion mark should be done away with. We are suggesting that the degree of fineness—and when I mentioned this matter at the beginning of my speech we were in complete agreement—should be that indicated by the assay marks.
It has sometimes been represented that only the Department of Trade and Industry is in favour of universal millesimal marking. That was the main point made by the hon. Member for Consett (Mr. David Watkins). Nothing could be further from the truth. The degree of support for a millesimal indication of fineness in all cases, including silver and platinum, was demonstrated by the replies which were received to a consultative paper circulated by the Department at the beginning of our exhaustive inquiry into the form of a reformed hallmarking law. I should like to indicate the strength of that support.
The Consumers' Association said:We support the adoption of the millesimal system to indicate fineness for all precious metals.841 The Institute of Weights and Measures Administration said:The suggestion that the millesimal indication of fineness is the most understandable method and the one least likely to confuse the ordinary customer is strongly supported.The Design and Research Centre said:The DRC take the view most emphatically that the standard of fineness in all precious metals involved should be indicated by the millesimal system as part of the hallmark.
§ Mr. Emery
The letter from the council indicated exactly what I have said.
The British Antique Dealers Association said that the… present system should be retained but using a symbol combined with the millesimal system.None of that has been put forward by the hon. Gentleman. It has been dismissed as though it did not matter and did not exist. That is why I believe that he has been more than one-sided in presenting his argument.
The County Councils Association— and local government became concerned in these matters when the weights and measures inspectorate was brought into them—said:There should be a common method of indicating fineness for all metals…. A percentage marking would probably be easier … but whatever system is chosen its use should be compulsory".The Corporation of Glasgow said:Millesimal indications should be applied across the board".I do not believe that the assay offices, which say that what is suggested is unnecessary, or those in the trade, who plainly have a vested interest in these matters, are necessarily the best people to make judgments. It is interesting to note that the Stone Report also indicated that millesimal markings should be adopted.
Therefore, there is an overwhelming amount of evidence for the millesimal system.
§ Mr. Adam Butler
My hon. Friend suggested that the trade did not want millesimal markings because it had a vested interest. But it is not a vested interest to want to reduce the cost of applying the marks for the benefit of 842 one's customers and, therefore, ultimately of the consumer. It is not a vested interest not to wish to have an additional mark which will be more difficult to apply and which will suffer the risk of being removed in time. These are not vested interests; they are the interests of the consumer.
§ Mr. Emery
I do not see the matter like that. The cost factor is a matter for consideration in relation to the consumer. But as most of the marks are put on by machine nowadays, except in the very expensive cases, I do not believe that the cost argument, while I accept it in part, is overwhelming.
The millesimal system of marking is nothing new. It is already widely used in the United Kingdom hallmarking system. The two lower standards of gold wares are marked in this way, whether or not they are imported, and all imported silver is marked in this way at present and will be in future.
The Bill provides for millesimal marking throughout. The sponsors of the amendments do not seek to change the way in which gold will be marked, nor do they wish to prevent a millesimal mark from appearing on imported silver or platinum. The amendments affect only home-produced silver and platinum. Study of Amendment No. 55 will, in any case, show that it is technically incorrect in its drafting.
Such a course, therefore I think is not only illogical but clearly prejudicial to the interests of consumers at large who would be confronted by some articles marked in one way and some marked in another with no ready way of being able to make comparisons. In other words, what I am saying is that the Government, in dealing with consumer affairs, as the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Alan Williams) knows, are trying to make things as simple as possible rather than make them complicated. In no way do we want to have a structure which would be confusing when it is possible here and now to set up a system which could be much simpler.
We do not dispute that the significance of the lion is important and that those who buy large pieces of silver may be quite content if a millesimal mark is not present, but most people do not buy 843 large pieces of silver. The average purchase is small and not worth more than a few pounds. Moreover, the purchasers are not usually very knowledgeable about hallmarking and these are the people with most to gain from a readily comprehensible system of marking, and moreover a system which is used on all goods and precious metals.
It ought to be recognised that as time goes by we cannot expect to see articles of precious metals in our shops and made overseas and marked overseas without having millesimal marks on them because the international convention prepared by the EFTA countries, a convention which is open to signature by all other countries and which is not, as an hon. Member was suggesting, defunct, will require articles to bear a millesimal indication of fineness. That has been decided because it is the only possible form of international marking. Surely it would be nonsensical for us as participators in the EFTA convention to pass legislation which obviously runs against a provision which is likely to be adopted widely throughout the world.
It is sometimes suggested that overseas countries with hallmarking systems do not include a millesimal mark in their official hallmarks. Generally speaking, it is sometimes unnecessary for them to do so because their national law already requires the maker to have applied a millesimal mark before the wares are submitted for hallmarking. This was not altogether clear from the arguments put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock.
Therefore what I am saying is that the Government are not being bureaucratic about this. We have sensibly assessed the views of the consumers and the methods and ways likely to be used internationally and we have looked at our international commitments. I have to say to my hon. Friends that it would be impossible for the Government to move in their direction. It would be impossible for the Government to have legislation running contrary to certain obligations and certain lines which we have already taken.
Therefore I hope that in what has been not an emotive approach—although in 844 some ways I think the whole debate has been exaggerated to some extent beyond its importance—and because of the strong feeling of my hon. Friends, I have dealt comprehensively with the matter. I hope that they will see fit not to press their sub-amendment to the amendment because it would be very unfortunate if we had a Division.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Cormack
By leave of the House, I should like to say that both my hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Adam Butler) and I are grateful to the Minister at least for replying at length, but that both of us, having listened to him, feel just as persuaded by the force of our own argument and the weakness of his.
We are in somewhat of a quandary. We feel that we would like to have a Division, but the House is not exactly full. We are conscious of the fact that for many of our colleagues this is a slightly esoteric subject and that therefore, they are busying themselves in their constituencies, and that if we were to have a Division and there were not 40 Members voting, progress on my hon. Friend's Bill, which we both emphatically support, could be impeded. It is not our wish to stand in the way of what we consider to be a vital and necessary piece of legislation.
We do, however, hope that our arguments will be taken up in another place, where there will be opportunity for further debate and for the Government to have further thoughts. So, as it were, passing the lion down the Corridor we shall not move our sub-amendment.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Amendments made: No. 49, in page 22, line 23, column 2, leave out '917' and insert '916/'.
§ No. 50, in page 22, line 23, column 3, leave out '917' and insert '916'.
§ No. 51, in page 22, line 23, column 4, leave out '917' and insert '916'.845
No. 52, in page 22, line 24, column 3, leave out from beginning to end of line 28 and insert:
'A lion passant and the figures 925.
In the case of the Edinburgh Assay Office, the mark is a lion rampant instead of a lion passant'.—[Mr. Wiggin.]
§ Amendments made: No. 53, in page 22, line 29, column 2, leave out '958' and insert ' 958.4.'.
§ No. 56, in page 23, line 26, leave out 'white'.
§ No. 57, in page 23, line 28, leave out 'white'.
§ No. 58, in page 24, line 17, leave out from beginning to 'and' in line 22.— [Mr. Wiggin.]