HC Deb 13 May 1987 vol 116 cc358-60
Mr. Williams

I beg to move amendents No. 55, in page 38, leave out line 29.

The First Deputy Chairman

With this it will, be convenient to consider Government amendments Nos. 51, 52 and 53.

Mr. Williams

We had a dispute over this issue on Second Reading and would undoubtedly have had quite a lengthy discussion on this had the Bill been proceeding in the normal manner, because hon. Members on both sides object to what the Government are doing. The import of the Bill is that it will no longer be possible legally to require origin marking on goods in this country. Many organisations, particularly those concerned about South Africa and apartheid and so on, are deeply concerned that in the future there will be no possibility of imposing requirements on imported goods.

On Second Reading the Minister suggested that he was responding to a requirement of the EEC. We well understand the difficulties which he faces, but he went on to say also that further processes had been open to the Government: for example, they could have appealed, but they decided not to. Instead, they have capitulated at the first squeak from the EEC on this matter.

It is unfortunate that they have taken that course of action, particularly since, as yet, although it is many months since they first stated their intention, the promised form of a replacement for this protection has not been forthcoming. The Minister said on Second Reading that he was still looking for an alternative form of words. It has been a great many months. He said that one of the reasons for putting this provision in the Bill was that if we were good boys and showed the Common Market that we were willing to come to heel every time it scowled at us even slightly, it will no doubt be kinder to us when the Minister goes forward with his eventual proposal for an alternative. That is a dubious argument. It would be better to tell the EEC that, until we have an agreement, we are not willing to make any statutory concessions. We must have agreement on what is to replace the provision.

I have moved the amendment not to initiate discussion at this stage of parliamentary proceedings, but to give the Minister a last opportunity to reconsider. I notice that, instead of doing that, the Minister has tabled his own amendment to require at least an affirmative resolution. That takes up a point that I made on Second Reading or in Committee. The Minister's amendment is at least helpful. However, I still believe that the Bill would be better and our negotiating position stronger if the Minister accepted the amendment to withdraw the subsection.

8 pm

Mr. Howard

May I begin by outlining briefly the background to the amendments. The Trade Descriptions Act 1972 requires imported goods bearing a United Kingdom name or mark to be accompanied by an indication of the country of origin. It does not impose general origin marking requirements. It is intended to protect consumers against being misled by goods that are presented in certain potentially misleading ways. The Commission has said that it considers the 1972 Act to be incompatible with the treaty of Rome and has taken the first step in infraction proceedings that will lead fairly rapidly to a case in the European Court of Justice if we are not to repeal the 1972 Act.

In 1985, the European Court of Justice ruled against the United Kingdom's 1981 origin marking order in a case which the United Kingdom had vigorously contested. After careful study of that judgment, the Government reluctantly concluded that there was little prospect of successfully defending a case against the 1972 Act and that an unsuccessful United Kingdom defence could well have been counter-productive, since the terms of an adverse judgment might well have inhibited the scope for successful arrangements.

I am conscious of the widespread and strong feeling about origin marking. I am aware that many people feel that it would be wrong for the House to settle important changes in the law in this area without fuller debate than the present position allows. With that in mind, I have tabled an amendment which provides that the commencement order giving effect to the repeal of the 1972 Act will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

Although that is a somewhat unusual procedure, I believe that it meets the present situation. It will relieve the next Parliament from the burden of repeating the primary legislative process while at the same time ensuring that the implications of repeal can be properly debated before it takes effect and by reference to proposals for successor arrangements.

Our latest exchanges with the Commission lead us to believe that it is likely to be possible to introduce a successor regime acceptable in Community law. That would provide a valuable degree of continuing protection to consumers in the form of an obligation to provide a sign of origin in any case where goods are presented in such a way that they can reasonably be expected to create the impression in the mind of the consumer that they were manufactured or produced in a different place from where they were produced or manufactured. Arrangements on those lines could be introduced by order under section 8 of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 and the making and entry into force of such an order could be synchronised with the order bringing into force the repeal of the Trade Descriptions Act 1972.

Mr. Williams

I am glad to hear that at last some form of words has been arrived at, but I am afraid that it does not sound adequate to me. For example, where goods carry no marking, they will escape the provisions envisaged by the Minister. Therefore, for the reasons that I have put forward, I still believe that the Minister should have accepted the amendment. However, in this evening's circumstances, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn

Clauses 48 and 49 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

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