HC Deb 10 November 1988 vol 140 cc587-610

10.1 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs (Mr. Eric Forth)

I beg to move,

That the draft Consumer Protection Act 1987 (Commencement No. 2) Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 28th July, be approved. The purpose of this commencement order is simply to put into effect the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act 1987, which repeal the Trade Descriptions Act 1972. I am aware of the widespread concern that the prospect of this repeal has aroused, both publicly and in this House, since it was announced in October 1986. The issues here are more complex than they might at first appear and have not always been perfectly understood. I hope, therefore, that it will assist the House if I spend a little time outlining the background.

The 1972 Act requires goods made abroad but supplied here bearing a United Kingdom name or mark, or anything likely to be taken as such, also to be marked with a conspicuous indication of their country of origin. I should stress that the Act does not require United Kingdom-made goods, nor imported goods without markings, to be marked with their country of origin. Nor does it require goods to he origin marked as a condition of entry to the United Kingdom. This has not been required since 1968.

The 1972 Act originated as a private Member's Bill in response to fears, especially on the part of industry, that imported goods would be widely supplied under well known United Kingdom brand names which could suggest that they were of United Kingdom origin. Those fears sprang from the ending of compulsory origin marking of imported goods as a result of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. That Act revised and reformed the then existing merchandise marks legislation, but did not re-enact the origin marking requirements of the Merchandise Marks Act 1926. The 1926 Act, first, required the origin marking of imported goods bearing the names of United Kingdom traders; and, secondly, conferred powers to require the origin marking of unmarked imported goods, either at point of sale or of import. By 1968 more than 100 such orders had been made in relation to specific goods. They were preserved for a transitional period of three years. The object of the Trade Descriptions Act 1972 was then to re-enact the principal requirement of the 1926 Act at the end of that transitional period.

That was supplemented in 1981 by the Trade Descriptions (Origin Marking) (Miscellaneous Goods) Order, which required virtually all clothing and textiles, footwear, cutlery and domestic electrical appliances to be marked with their country of origin at the point of retail supply, irrespective of whether the goods were made in the United Kingdom or abroad and whether or not they bore any brand names or trade marks. The order was made on the basis that such information was generally useful to the consumer.

Fairly soon after it was made, the order was the subject of European Community infraction proceedings and, although vigorously defended by the United Kingdom before the European Court of Justice, it was found to be incompatible with article 30 of the treaty of Rome, which prohibits barriers to imports between EC member states. In the court's view, the effect of that legal obligation was to enable consumers to distinguish between domestic and imported goods, and thus to assert any prejudices that they might have against products solely because of national origin. This was likely to have the effect of increasing the costs of imported goods and of making it more difficult to sell them on the United Kingdom market. The court also rejected the argument that the requirement was necessary to protect the consumer. If it were advantageous For manufacturers to indicate national origin, they were quite free to do so voluntarily and legal compulsion was unnecessary. The protection of consumers was adequately safeguarded by measures prohibiting false or misleading indications of origin and these measures were not called in question by the treaty.

As the House knows, two years ago the European Community Commission commenced further formal infraction proceedings against the United Kingdom on the ground that the 1972 Act was also incompatible with article 30 of the treaty of Rome. After careful consideration of the legal position, especially the earlier decision of the court, we concluded, reluctantly, that the United Kingdom could not expect to be successful in defending the Act.

I think that it is important that the current Commission challenge is seen against that background. Article 30 of the treaty prohibits quantitative restrictions on imports between member states or measures having equivalent effect. Case law has established that this includes any trading rule enacted by a member state which is capable, directly or indirectly, actually or potentially, of hindering intra-Community trade. The treaty provides certain exceptions to this rule, but they do not include the purpose of consumer protection other than the protection of health or life. Again, however, the case law has recognised this as a legitimate purpose for national measures provided that certain conditions are fulfilled. In the context of the 1972 Act, the major considerations are that a measure must serve a necessary consumer protection requirement; that it must be proportionate to that purpose, that is to say, it must go no further than is necessary to achieve it; and that there must be no discrimination between United Kingdom goods and those of other member states.

While we and the Commission fully accept the necessity of protecting consumers from misleading indications, I am afraid that the 1972 Act clearly exceeds those conditions. To begin with, it imposes no requirements in respect of British-made goods: it applies only to imported goods, including those from other member states. The original complaint triggering the EC's challenge was from a multinational company that was the proprietor of the same trade mark in all the member states. It produced goods in a number of member states. Because it applied its own trade mark to those goods—a "UK mark" by definition under the 1972 Act—it was obliged also to indicate the country of origin on those goods in order that liability to prosecution would be avoided when the goods were supplied in the United Kingdom. Clearly, therefore, the Act discriminates between United Kingdom goods and goods from other member states.

While the 1972 Act may have been conceived originally to prevent the consumer from being misled about the origin of goods, in this case by using the criterion of United Kingdom names or marks, it goes considerably further than that. Virtually any name or mark used in trade in the United Kingdom falls within the definition of United Kingdom name or mark, whether or not there is anything potentially misleading about it. Names such as Renault or Volkswagen are, as defined by the Act, United Kingdom names, and country of origin must be indicated even though there may be no question of the consumer being misled as to the country of manufacture. Such names applied to goods made here would not require origin markings. Similarly, a trade mark in the form of a logo or purely pictorial device is deemed by the Act to be potentially misleading as to origin, even in cases where it carries no such connotation. In those respects the requirement to origin mark goes further than is necessary to prevent consumers from being misled, which is a recognised consumer protection purpose.

I have spent some time explaining why it is not realistic for the Government to take this issue before the European Court of Justice. I have done so because I believe that this may not have been fully appreciated when the issue came to a head in late 1986, and in subsequent exchanges in the House during the passage of what is now the Consumer Protection Act 1987, when there was a feeling that the Government should have pressed the matter to that end. I hope that I have demonstrated to the House's satisfaction that this would serve no purpose.

More positively, however, when we accepted the Commission's view of the 1972 Act in terms of EC law, we also made it clear that the United Kingdom intended to institute a successor regime, compatible with treaty obligations, to take effect upon the repeal of the 1972 Act. My predecessors made this clear in answer to a parliamentary question by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) on 1 December 1986, in subsequent answers to other hon. Members and in the debates on the then Consumer Protection Bill.

A second order, the Trade Descriptions (Place of Production) (Marking) Order—which I will call the marking order—was also laid before the House on 19 October to fulfil this commitment. The marking order represents the outcome of wide and lengthy consultation with interested parties, and we have also secured the acceptance by the EC Commission of its terms. Although the marking order is not the subject of this debate, it may be helpful to the House if I explain what it does.

The marking order is made under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. This Act makes it an offence for a person in the course of a trade or business to apply a false, including misleading, trade description to goods, or to supply or offer to supply goods bearing such a description. A trade description is any indication given in respect of a range of characteristics of goods, including their place of manufacture or production. The Act does not, however, give any guidance as to the circumstances in which a possibly misleading, as distinct from a false, indication of origin should be corrected, or how that should be done. Section 8 of the Act, under which the marking order is made, confers powers to require the marking of goods with information.

The aim of the marking order is, therefore, to set out the circumstances in which a positive, corrective indication of origin is required in order not to commit an offence under the 1968 Act. The essential trigger mechanism is whether the presentation—that is, the packaging, marking, get-up or other indications—of goods would create the impression that they were made somewhere other than where they were actually produced or manufactured. Regard must be had of the totality of the presentation of goods, although certain relevant indications, such as flags, names, persons and so on, are specified in the schedule to the order. Failure to mark goods in the circumstances in which this is required would amount to an offence under section 8(2) of the 1968 Act by anyone supplying or offering or exposing for supply the goods in the course of trade or business.

I outlined earlier the limits imposed by European Community law on national measures of this kind. The marking order does not protect any one national origin. It would apply to misleading suggestions of, for example, German origin as well as of United Kingdom origin. There is, therfore, no element of discrimination against other member states' goods. In European Community terms, as I have said, the 1972 Act may be attacked on the grounds that it is applicable only to imported goods and is directed only to the potential for consumers to be misled as to United Kingdom origin. Moreover, the 1972 Act relates to the use of United Kingdom names or marks per se, whether or not they necessarily suggest United Kingdom origin. The marking order is intended to apply in any circumstances in which purchasers are likely to be misled, and is therefore concerned with the totality of the presentation of goods. The use of a particular language or trade mark is not in itself to be considered as necessarily indicating a particular origin, but, taken in the context of the presentation of the goods as a whole, it may be.

The marking order has been clarified and revised in a number of ways as a result of consultation on its terms. In particular, it now requires a statement of the country of origin of goods as distinct from any other expression of their place of manufacture if the latter could in itself be misleading. If, for example, goods were marked "Made in Sheffield" when they were supplied in the United Kingdom and in reality that marking refers to one of the Sheffields in the United States of America, then the actual country of manufacture would have to be shown. I think that this should allay the concern of manufacturers who pointed to the use of specific place names on goods made elsewhere with the apparent intention of misleading.

The marking order comes into effect on 31 December this year.

I think it is fair to say that, in consultation on the marking order, interested parties—industry, trade, consumer associations and enforcement agencies—have generally accepted that there are now very clear limits on the scope for compulsory origin marking and that the order represents the most that is workable on a national basis, within the confines of our European Community obligations.

I am well aware, however, of continuing concern about orgin marking in the wider context, primarily about goods made elsewhere in the world which are supplied here bearing well-known European names, United Kingdom or otherwise. While such names may not in themselves indicate origin, they may well be closely associated with goods from specific countries or places. Consumers might well assume from some brand names that, for example, electrical or electronic goods were of German or Japanese origin, simply because of such generalised associations. It is not possible, as I have indicated, to go this far in our national legislation on a unilateral basis, and the only possible solution to these outstanding concerns is a European Community regime.

Although the European Community Commission has not, in the more recent past, shown any positive enthusiasm for such an approach, it was not clear whether that reflected the views of the majority of member states. It appears that most member states have some form of regulation of origin marking. A number have modified their requirements as a result of infraction proceedings by the European Community Commission and we understand that several currently face such proceedings in respect of their national legislation. In the light of this, we decided that a way forward might be to establish whether there is any consensus among member states on the desirability of a Community origin marking regime. Such a regime might, of course, take one of a number of forms —for example, a Community-wide requirement, along the lines of the 1972 Act, requiring the country of origin to be indicated when imported third-country goods have the names or marks of persons carrying on business within the Community. I have received a good measure of support from United Kingdom industry for such an initiative, and it is one which I am pursuing. I have written both to the Commission and to my opposite numbers in the other member states on this issue. However, I have to warn the House that progress will be neither easy nor speedy. I have spoken at some length about the past, present and future considerations surrounding these developments—

Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

Before my hon. Friend leaves that point, and appreciating that it could take some time to get a European mark, will he confirm that there is nothing in the legislation to prevent a "Made in Britain" mark being applied? What efforts are his Department making to encourage a perhaps even better "Made in Britain" mark to be applied?

Mr. Forth

I am glad that my hon. Friend has raised that matter because it is important. I can confirm that there will be nothing to prevent companies that make goods in this country from telling the consumer that that is the case. They will be free to do so if they feel that doing that is in their interests. As people have confidence in the quality of British goods, I am sure that that will be the case. Whether or not it would be for the Department of Trade and Industry to play any part is quite another matter. I think that there is sufficient incentive for companies to do that, and nothing in the order would prevent them from doing so.

Within the constraints imposed by our Community obligations, we have achieved as satisfactory an outcome in this difficult area as it is reasonable to expect. I commend the order to the House.

Mr. Speaker

I should have announced to the House that I have not selected the amendment.

10.15 pm
Mr. Austin Mitchell (Great Grimsby)

I congratulate the Minister both on his appointment and on the passion and eloquence with which he moved this interesting order. He is positively becoming an oratorical Demosthenes of orders. It could not have happened to a nicer guy.

The order shows the reality of grovelling subservience to the Common Market that lies behind the Government's oratorical flourishes against the Market. We see the spectacle of the Prime Minister going round in the broad light of day making loud anti-Common Market and anti-communautaire noises so that she is becoming almost the football hooligan of Europe. It is reported that, when President Mitterrand was asked why he has bilateral talks all the time with the West German Chancellor and does not include Mrs. Thatcher, he said, "Because she disturbs us." That is the noise that the Prime Minister is making for home consumption to conceal the reality of grovelling subservience that we see in the order tonight.

We see that subservience in the abdication over the Cloft scheme for aid to the wool industry and we saw it when the aid for Rover was reduced. We see it in the VAT debacle because VAT has to be imposed on new construction. We see it in the increased taxation on beer to bring it up to the level of wine, in the way that the Single European Act was rushed through the House and in the way in which the increase in contributions has been conceded almost without a murmur despite the fact that last year our net contribution to the budget was £1.7 billion. All that is the reality of subservience behind the Prime Minister's loud anti-European noises.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham)

Why does the hon. Gentleman think that good cross-party democratic debate is right in this national Parliament and but that the Prime Minister should not be allowed to indulge in good, hard-hitting political debate in Europe even though she has a good vision of Europe and wishes to persuade other nation states in Europe of that vision?

Mr. Mitchell

The answer is straightforward. The Prime Minister is doing this as a tactic for home consumption in order to conceal her own subservience to the EC which is illustrated in this order.

Effectively the Common Market has got us by the rebates. A rebate was conceded to Britain as a gesture, but it was not accompanied by any reform of the fundamental financial basis of the Common Market. We can be threatened with revocation of that rebate and the Prime Minister can be kept in line. She gets that rebate quamdiu se bene gesserit. I use that Latin phrase in order to confuse today's Tory party, which has no noblesse and certainly no oblige and which almost certainly does not understand the language taught in the public schools. If Mrs. Thatcher does not obey the instructions—

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman must refer to the right hon. Lady as the Prime Minister.

Mr. Mitchell

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. If the Prime Minister does not obey the instructions and accept the humiliations that are forced on her by the EC, the rebate will be effectively revoked. Tonight, in this order, we are rushing to submit—without even being instructed to submit—to what we think the European Court will want us to do. There can be no procedure more humiliating than that.

The 1972 legislation that we shall eliminate through this order was right and fair, has worked well and is a vital piece of consumer protection. It is an opportunity for people to encourage domestic industry by discriminating in their choice against imports. It is a right for those who want to say, "I would rather support jobs in this country than pay increased taxation to support the large numbers of unemployed generated by the scale of imports, particularly from the EEC." The EEC has about 40 per cent. of the car market in this country and it is people's right to discriminate against that in their choices.

It is also people's right to discriminate against regimes of which they do not approve. I draw attention particularly to the question of the boycotts by individuals or Governments of South African produce. That is one way of bringing that country to make concessions domestically. South Africa needs a trade surplus to offset the huge cost of capital flight and its debt repayments. If Governments will not do that—and Governments should do that—the consumer should have the right, by knowing that the origin of goods is South African, to discriminate against them. We can discriminate through the 1972 legislation against manufactured articles that come into this country from South Africa—the kitchenware, plastic goods, paper, printing, textiles and finished garments. There is a right and a principle case for consumers to be able to discriminate against goods of whose origin they disapprove and thus bring effective pressure to bear on those regimes. That right is effectively eliminated by the order.

The order also eliminates information behind consumer choice. Consumer organisations have objected to the repeal of the 1972 legislation because the information that allows consumers to choose is important. Consumers need to know where the materials that they buy come from. All that choice, discrimination and educational information sanctioned by the 1972 Act will be struck down. Although that Act was a private Member's measure, it was actively supported by the Government. The Under-Secretary for Trade and Industry at that time, the right hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley), spoke of it as a Bill which is not in conflict with our international obligations or, indeed, the whole drift of thinking on world trade". He said that the Bill should be supported for the right reason because it would afford a greater measure of protection against deception of the consumer, and I commend it to the House. He also said: For example, a consumer might want to buy British goods instead of South African goods because he is patriotic or because he is antipathetic towards the country concerned. That is a valid reason for a consumer's choice". That reason for consumer choice is being removed. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say: As far as I know, the Common Market Commission has not proposed any common action on this and has no direction under consideration. It is a matter left primarily to individual nations. When the then hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough, Mr. Darling, commented I do not think that issues of this sort appear in the Rome Treaty. I am sure that if there is any contravention the Under-Secretary will tell us. the right hon. Gentleman replied:

No."—[Official Report, 25 February 1972; Vol. 831, c. 1682 and 1734.] I do not know whether that was a case of the right hon. Gentleman being his normal, helpful self and refusing to answer the question. I take it that he meant that that did not contravene the treaty of Rome, yet that is exactly why we are now repealing this legislation. It is humiliating for this country to have to repeal valid legislation in that fashion without even being told or instructed to do so. We are doing so voluntarily, as a submissive offering.

As it was projected in 1972, when we were told that it did not contravene the treaty of Rome—although we are now told that it does contravene the treaty of Rome—it was just another item on the agenda of deceit that was presented to the country to persuade it to join the Common Market in 1972. It was on a par with Lady Tweedsmuir in the other place saying that there would be a veto over fishing legislation. It was on a par with the pamphlets that were distributed saying how much better off we would be and how much better the weather would be if we entered the Common Market.

The Minister has told us the sad saga that has forced us to withdraw valid and important legislation passed in 1972. The order of 1981 was struck down under article 30 of the treaty of Rome. It is nonsensical because one of the countries that objected to that was West Germany which is foisting on the Common Market butter imports from East Germany, with no hint of their origin, as if they were produced in the Common Market. It is nonsensical because this country has a higher proportion of its domestic markets taken by imports—particularly EEC imports—than any other country within the EEC. Yet our legislation is attacked in this fashion and our Government rush to submit to the EEC before they have even been asked.

Mr. Keith Mans (Wyre)

Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that in 1972 his party opposed the legislation that he now supports?

Mr. Mitchell

My party supported the legislation in 1972 for a number of very good reasons which the hon. Gentleman will see if he reads the debate. Therefore, he is incorrect.

The Government are incorrect to submit to the Common Market before being asked. It is not as if the European Court which struck down the 1981 order was a body dedicated to the pursuit of abstract justice or to a serious consideration of the issue. The European Court, which this country has an instinctive tendency to obey, is machinery for pursuing European federalism, for advancing the case of a stronger, more united Europe. That is its commitment. It is not a legal court deciding on the abstract justice of the case. Its purpose is to advance European unity, and it is doing that through this kind of legislation. Therefore, we should not rush to submit to that court or to its decisions.

Other countries have a long backlog of judgments against them on which no action has been taken by the Governments concerned. As the Minister pointed out, other countries in the Common Market—and I wish that he had listed them—have origin marking legislation which has been left intact and which has not been struck down in the way that our legislation has, although our country imports most from the EEC. Other countries have various ways of getting around the decisions of the European Court, particularly through legislation passed at regional level or decisions taken at regional level by the German lander, for example, which the court is very slow to deal with. Yet we rush to obey the European Court as if it were some abstract decision on the justice and merits of the case. It is not, and we should not rush to obey it before being asked.

We have tied our own hands by passing the European Communities Act 1972. If we continued to enforce the law of 1972, and if an importer contested or defied that law, we could not bring him before our courts because our courts would have to rule that European law was superior to ours, because of the European Communities Act 1972. That is the humiliation. The Prime Minister should do something about that matter rather than talking a lot of hot air about her sentiments on the Community when our hands are tied. She should be tackling that issue. Only on that basis can she say what she does.

Mr. William Cash (Stafford)

Is the hon. Gentleman arguing for withdrawal from the Community? Effectively that is what he is saying. Is it not entirely at variance with what is being said by members of his Front Bench, the Leader of the Opposition and Jacques Delors?

Mr. Mitchell

Personally, I would take the cash in hand and waive the rest. But if the hon. Gentleman had been listening to what I was saying, he would have realised that that is not in any sense what I am arguing. The Prime Minister is beating the anti-Market drum and whipping up support at home while the Government are submitting to every humiliation that the Commission lays before us. The only way to create a certain amount of distance, which we will have to create if we are to rebuild British industry and make the economy strong, is to repeal section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972. It is the Prime Minister's decision, not mine. That action should be behind her words, particularly when we remember that we have turned the 1970 surplus in manufactured trade, which at today's valuation would be about £4 billion, into a deficit which is this year running at £14 billion on an annualised rate. That is a turnround of £18 billion in manufactured trade and represents the export of more than 1 million jobs to the EEC. In spite of that, the Minister is asking us to submit to the humiliation of repealing our own legislation before we are even asked to do so.

The Government have twisted and turned on origin marking. They have tried to decide what to do and have held consultations. The order that is still to come is the Government's fig leaf. They have been saying, "Don't press us on this issue. We shall produce something good." Fortunately, we shall have a chance to debate that issue again, and that is welcome. I am worried about what the Government will put in place of the Trade Descriptions Act 1972. I do not think that it will be adequate. An order under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 deals with goods only if they are presented in such a way as to deceive the purchaser about where they are produced. The new legislation might be called the Amstrad order. What will the order do about Amstrad or Ford cars which are not made in Britain? What will it do about Vauxhall—a British name—cars, most of which are imported from the EEC? We are worried about what the effects of the legislation will be. It will be no satisfactory substitute for the 1972 legislation, which we should not have rushed to strike down in this way.

The 1972 Act has served us well. It is humiliating for the Government to strike it down. We do not propose to support them in their humiliation. We are against the repeal of the 1972 legislation. Rather than voting against them, we propose to subject them to the more exquisite torture of letting them dangle in their own wind for their own supporters to deal with. I do not propose to embarrass the hon. Members who signed the amendment, which has not been called. I am sure that those hon. Members will have the courage of their convictions. I do not propose to embarrass them by bringing the Opposition into play in their support because that might frighten them off. They might be afraid that they will defeat the Government. I want them to have the guts to vote in support of the views expressed in the amendment, which is right. They can do it. They can resolve the Government's schizophrenia in the only way it can be resolved—within the Tory party itself.

10.33 pm
Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

Most of us are delighted to see my hon. Friend the Minister on the Front Bench, knowing that he has made some dramatic and impressive speeches from the Back Benches. However, he gave the impression tonight that perhaps his heart is not in his case. I may be entirely wrong. It is fair to say that having a debate of this magnitude late on a Thursday gives the impression that no one will be aware of it or take note of it, except possibly that splended organisation on Radio 4, "Yesterday in Parliament".

It is interesting to see the number of Conservative Members present at what would otherwise be a debate in the presence of three or four of the old faithful. That shows that Conservative Members are beginning to become worried—my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister spoke of this in Brussels—about the transfer of power to Brussels and decisions of Parliament being changed by foolish bureaucratic decisions.

We should appreciate what we are being asked to do. We are being asked to repeal, root and branch, an Act that was passed unanimously by Parliament in 1972. It was supported by Ministers because it made a major contribution to consumers. It provided them with information, it was not in conflict with our international obligations and, most important, it afforded the consumer a greater degree of protection against deception. We are repealing an Act that every hon. Member supported because it was good for consumers and because it gave information that would help them. We are chucking out that legislation and destroying it because of the views of the non-elected EEC Commission.

My hon. Friend the Minister will know that it does not matter whether the order is approved or rejected. The Government do not have the power to implement the 1972 law because of the Commission's views, and because of a decision of the European Court. To that extent, the order is irrelevant, but it is important constitutionally.

Why are powers being taken away from the people? Why should housewives not know where goods are made? Why do they want to know? Ministers have said that, for different reasons, people might want to support British industry. The marking of goods created jobs and helped our trade balance. It encouraged British industry, and we should be concerned about that at a time when the Government's economic policy is being put at risk by a trade deficit, almost all of which is with the EEC.

Some people have prejudices and do not like certain foreign countries. Some do not like the Soviet Union, or South Africa, and say, "Given the choice, I should prefer not to buy goods made in that country." Some, for good or bad reasons, think that goods made in certain countries are reliable, but that those made in others are not. Many of our constituents take such decisions daily.

Why is that right of choice being destroyed. The EEC Commission said that it enabled consumers to assert any prejudices that they might have against foreign products. If consumers are told the truth, how will it distort trade in Europe? If something is made in France, Germany, Japan or Taiwan, why should consumers be denied that information by the action that we are taking tonight? Why should the unanimous decision of Parliament be overturned merely because of the views of the EEC Commission?

There is another aspect of the matter about which colleagues will be genuinely concerned. We have recently witnessed the changes in the EEC's powers to deal with dumping. Dumping used to be selling goods cheaper than cost price or the price charged on the home market. The Commission has extended that to market share. Before the Trade Descriptions Bill was approved by Parliament on 25 February 1972, the Government were asked specifically, because we were contemplating membership, whether it would be contrary to the treaty of Rome. The clear and precise answer given was that it would not be contrary in any respect.

The action that we are taking tonight is important constitutionally. Whether we approve the order or not, the Act will be dead because of the Commission's decisions. What we do tonight does not matter at all.

On the other hand, it is vital for us to realise what is happening to our country and our sovereignty. EEC bureaucracy, which is non-elected, is requiring the British Parliament to overturn a measure designed to inform and protect consumers which we passed after weeks of debate. To that extent, what we are doing is serious and we are right to draw attention to what is happening.

I hope that the Prime Minister's words in Bruges will reflect a change in our attitude towards the EEC. We are in the Common Market and we really have no way of leaving. The only country to leave was Greenland, and it got out only by getting a Bill passed in every member state, and that could never happen to us. We must get away from the situation in which a non-elected body can tell individual member states, for no good reason, to abandon legislation. This is bureaucratic law rather than parliamentary law.

What is achieved by denying information to consumers? Does it restrict trade to tell people that goods are made in, say, Japan or Taiwan? People should be told the truth. That is what the previous measure did and, in doing that, it served a useful purpose. If a referendum were held in Britain asking people if they wanted to know where goods were made before they purchased them, the vast majority would say yes.

Tonight we are making a major change in our constitution. An encouraging aspect is that, while, sadly —with some honourable exceptions—Labour Members are not discussing these Euro issues, my hon. Friends are becoming greatly concerned about the way in which bureaucratic decisions are interfering unnecessarily with our affairs. We are getting fed up with the way in which the Common Market is more and more reflecting all those things against which our splendid Prime Minister is fighting.

While I am delighted to see the Under-Secretary my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) at the Dispatch Box, I hope that in future he will fight hard to get the EEC to reflect the true meaning of Thatcherism and Conservatism and get away from this nonsense of bureaucracy taking powers away from consumers for no good reason.

10.43 pm
Mr. Christopher Gill (Ludlow)

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) on his appearance at the Dispatch Box, I wish him every success in his new office.

We have been intent on increasing consumer protection, particularly in foodstuffs, and more and more the trend is for manufacturers to declare all ingredients. Until now, all foodstuffs consumed in Britain have been subject to inspection by the nation's health inspectorate. With the implementation of the single European market that will cease; imported food will no longer be guaranteed by our own inspectorate as being of the standard, quality and purity that we have come to expect. Such inspections will be made by the inspectorates in the various producing countries.

That presents us with a dilemma, for the public will undoubtedly wish to discriminate in the food products that they consume. They are bound to have reservations about the source of certain products, and particularly about whether the standard of inspection in the countries of origin are commensurate with the standards which have traditionally been enforced in this country, and which we shall continue to enforce for home-produced products. The order is inconsistent and poses a dilemma for the Government because it effectively denies the consumer knowledge of the original source of the food.

10.45 pm
Mr. ,Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, South)

The hour is late—

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The hon. Gentleman has only just come into the Chamber.

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman was not here for the opening speeches—[Interruption.] Order. No point of order arises. I decide.

Mr. Aitken

The hour is late and I shall not detain the House for more than a few moments. I simply wish to record my sadness at debating this order tonight. I sound that note of sadness on several different counts. First, I sound it in the direction of my hon. Friend the Minister. I well recall him in his former seat below the Gangway, unsheathing his sword so that, with measured tones, he could plunge its point into Minister after Minister who introduced measures that trod, by even a small margin, on British sovereignty.

I could hardly believe my ears tonight as I listened to my hon. Friend's high-speed, staccato delivery as he rattled through some amazing phrases. He said that Renault and Volkswagen were really United Kingdom names; that we were doing the most that was workable within the constraints of our European obligations; that progress would be neither easy nor speedy; that the totality of presentation did not need British marks upon it. It recalled to mind the opening words of Browning's famous poem, "The Lost Leader": Just for a handful of silver he left us, Just for a riband to stick in his coat. I do not mean to do more than treat my hon. Friend to the sort of treatment that he gave out in his day. He dished it out pretty well, and it is right that he should take it tonight.

I am sad not simply because of such a change of tone by my hon. Friend. He will have plenty to time of repent at leisure in due course. The sadness is that the order affects this sovereign Parliament, of which we are all so proud to be Members. The 1972 Act was a good Act. It was introduced by someone who I have not always praised for his goodness towards the British consumer—my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who is not present tonight. It was his Government who, in 1972, introduced a robust measure that was supported by both sides of the House. It was intended simply to defend the interests of the British consumer. My hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr. Gill) made the important point about the significance or origin markings on foodstuffs. That could apply across the whole range of consumer goods because it would be in the interests of the British consumer. It is sad that an Act of Parliament should be swept away at an hour of night when most sensible people are drinking their Horlicks or Ovaltine and saying, "Me for bed, so goodnight, darling." The 1972 Act has been ambushed and swept away.

Above all, what is happening tonight is sad for parliamentary sovereignty. The great British public has difficulty in understanding what is meant when we say that sovereignty is being eroded. They should witness this scene tonight, when an Act of Parliament that passed through all its stages only a few years ago is obliterated from the statute book, on the nod, and without any real pressure from Europe, simply because the Government are suddenly in a genuflectory mood, willing to bow the knee and get rid of the Act before anybody can cause any trouble.

What a sadness that must be for my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. In Bruges, she said: Europe will be stronger precisely because it has France as France, Spain as Spain, Britain as Britain, each with its own customs, traditions and identity. She might have added, "But no longer with its own origin markings."

Something of importance is going on the nod, quietly, and, frankly, in a rather humiliating way. A piece of British sovereignty is being thrown out the window. I am sad about it, and I wish to record my protest tonight.

10.50 pm
Mr. Roger King (Birmingham, Northfield)

I shall not detain the House for long, but one or two practical points in the legislation worry me. I expect that you will be aware, Mr. Speaker, that one growth industry is wine production, and we are rapidly becoming international experts in its development. The trouble is that we are running into a little competition from France and German wine producers. They put "Produce of France", "Bottled in France" or "Bottled in Germany" on their wine bottles. That discriminates against English wine producers who want their wine to have a fair share of the market and do not want to be discriminated against in preference to French or German producers.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister, whom I congratulate on his presence on the Government Front Bench, whether an English wine producer would be able to go to the EEC and demand that French wine producers remove the words "Produce of France" from their bottles.

Mr. David Nicholson (Taunton)

Is it not even more important that wine consumers should have some idea of where the stuff comes from? Wine from various EEC countries which most of us perhaps regard as undrinkable or wine that might possibly be regarded as French but which comes from north Africa might be discriminated against.

Mr. King

One could take that point of view, but labelling is surely a thing of the past. I am trying to establish to what extent the legislation will permeate through to everyday produce items.

I am intrigued also about what will happen when a cargo of Welsh lamb arrives in France. At the moment, lamb is clearly produce of Wales, but it will presumably become European lamb—Euro lamb. Is that another reason why the legislation is advantageous—that the French will no longer be able to stop the arrival of Welsh lamb, because there will be no such thing; it will be Euro lamb?

A more substantial matter relates to the car industry, in particular Nissan in Sunderland. One of the highlights of overseas investment in this country is Japanese involvement in much of our industry these days, be it video cassette recorders, television sets, electronics products or, in this case, cars. The difficulty arises in getting other countries to accept that such products are originally created in this country.

Presumably, under this legislation, that obstacle to our exporting cars throughout the EEC will be removed, because they will be considered Euro products. Therefore, France will not be able to stop the arrival of loads of Nissan Bluebirds, because it will no longer be valid for it to point the finger and ask where such cars originated. The cars have come from this country. There is no longer any need for them to be marked "Made in England with parts from Japan." They can simply be marked "Euro made."

Although there are some practical problems for the consumer, there are great opportunities for our wine makers, Welsh lamb, car and electronics producers to open new markets in Europe. Hitherto some markets have been closed to our products because the relevant countries were not satisfied that the goods were of United Kingdom origin.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, but hesitate to point out that he has got it all wrong. The order has no effect in the Common Market; its only effect is in this country, where it deprives the consumer of the weapons to discriminate against imports. People are increasingly resentful of the high proportion of our domestic market that is taken by imports and by the number of British firms that are being taken over by foreign firms. The order deprives people of the ability to do anything about that, and it has no effect on getting our goods accepted in Europe.

Mr. King

I am grateful for that intervention. What I am seeking to establish is the element of two-way traffic. If we are not entitled to put our country of origin on our products, it follows that, if it is to be a fair and stable market, neither can the country of origin be mentioned on products coming in from Europe. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will enlighten us on those points.

10.55 pm
Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

I am sorry that I was not here at the beginning of the debate. I am also sorry that the Government lost their hundred and did not move the business motion, which is what I had expected them to do. As the annunciator in my room is not working, I was unable to be here at the beginning of the debate because there was nothing to indicate that it was starting. If the annunciators are not providing the information, they should be ripped out throughout the House.

I accept that I should have been here—there were good reasons why I was not—because the order is important to the wool textile industry, which is based in Bradford. The industry has sent me a brief and a note from the chairman and managing director of Centaur Clothes of Leeds, Mr. J. D. Jackson, who is probably a supporter of the Conservative party. WOOLTAC—Wool Textile and Clothing Industry Action Committee—is supported by both Labour and Conservative local authorities, and both have expressed their concern; which is based on reality.

That organisation, which, as I have said, is supported by both major political parties, points out its concern at the repeal of the Trade Descriptions Act 1972, by stating:

This Act is being repealed because the European Commission have initiated infraction proceedings against it, and the Government believe it could not be successfully defended in the European Court. I am sorry that I missed the Minister's opening words, but I wonder why the Government did not try to act in the European Court and why they have given up before they have even got there. That suggests a different spirit from the view expressed by the Prime Minister in her Bruges speech. If the Prime Minister was expressing the view that the Common Market is becoming too federal and that we should stand up to it, surely the Government should be using all the machinery that is available to them.

The replacement legislation in the form of an order under the Trade Descriptions Act, the Trade Descriptions (Place of Production) (Marking) Order, is not as effective as the original legislation. Indeed, it is so soggy that the letter sent to me states:

Former Industry and Consumer Affairs Minister John Butcher gave a commitment to WOOLTAC earlier this year that more detailed guidance would be provided as to what constitutes a misleading presentation of goods under the new Order. Perhaps the Minister outlined the detailed guidance, but he will no doubt refer to it when he replies to the debate. I shall examine Hansard in great detail when it is published tomorrow. It is important to note that the guidance does not have any legal effect. The legal application is in the order, not in the Minister's guidance. The Minister's guidance can be ignored.

The truth is that the Department of Trade and Industry is scared stiff that the European Commission will threaten to take it to court again. So it has produced a soggy, vague, unsatisfactory order and tries to appease manufacturers, many of whom support the Conservative party, by saying that the Minister's guidelines will provide a satisfactory background. The Minister knows that that is so much window dressing. His guidelines have no legal effect and can be ignored.

Mr. Cash

I am a member of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which the hon. Gentleman chairs.

Does he recall whether we have referred to the provisions of the order in any of our reports, and especially to the fact that this is a "Henry VIII" type of clause?

Mr. Cryer

Many statutory instruments are published with a great deal of guidance. The Committee has said that statutory instruments should stand on their own and should not depend on guidance. The law is set out in the statutory instrument, and guidance—whether it is from the Department of Health or the Department of Social Security, which issue shoals of guidance documents, handbooks and leaflets, or from the Department of Trade and Industry—should not be relied upon.

The Prime Minister says that the Common Market is becoming stronger. She disagrees with the view of the President of the Commission that in 10 years' time 80 per cent. of legislation will emanate from the Common Market, not from state Parliaments. Yet she is allowing the erosion of legislation by the Government.

The wool textile industry has invested heavily. It is not antique. The textile and clothing industry is one of the largest employers in the country, employing more than 500,000 people, and is of vital importance to the economy. The industry, certainly in Yorkshire, is worried about the erosion of jobs by imports and about the fact that consumers will not now be able to make a fair judgment. If they wish to buy cloth made in Japan, West Germany or the Prato region of Italy, which is still producing subsidised woollen products because it can get round the social security provisions, thus producing a 10 per cent. price advantage—it has been investigated by the Commission, but with no positive result in terms of equality of competition—people should have that information of origin. But they are denied it because the Government have yielded to the Commission, which does not want a group of countries to work together. It wants a complete Euro blur, and that is what this order is about.

Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)

The hon. Gentleman suggests that the wool textile industry is worried about the order, but the brief that he received says: Overall WOOLTAC feel the Government have pressed the European Commission hard to achieve protection as near as possible to that available under the 1972 Act. Furthermore, having attended many meetings of WOOLTAC, which is supported by trade unions, the Labour party, Conservative authorities and employers, I must tell the hon. Gentleman that although there is anxiety about imports—especially unfair imports—there is a strong feeling that the new regime being introduced to replace the 1972 Act will be sufficient protection for jobs in the textile industry in west Yorkshire.

Mr. Cryer

The hon. Gentleman omitted to mention the four points of qualification in the briefing which follow that. First, WOOLTAC wants the approval of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 (Commencement No. 2) Order 1988 to move in parallel with approval, through the affirmative resolution procedure of the Trades Descriptions (Place of Production) (Marking) Order, to ensure no gap in protection. Secondly, WOOLTAC emphasises the desirability of a European Communitywide scheme of origin marking for imports to the EC. The Minister has been "sounding out" member states on that and we would expect him to make a statement of the results. Thirdly, WOOLTAC emphasises the need for adequate resources for effective enforcement of the new order, and the fourth part relates to the point I mentioned earlier about the former Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs. WOOLTAC has enumerated those four important qualifications. In his "sounding out", has the Minister received an assurance from Italy that subsidised exports to this country from the Prato region will stop? He may receive assurances, but they are not put into effect.

As the hon. Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) knows, the industry has been pressing the Department to do something about imports of Turkish acrylic fibre yarn, which have shot up to more than 4,000 tonnes from virtually nothing. The Government cannot take any action themselves, but must go to the Commission. The Commission wants to see greater damage to the industry before it will begin to take action, and that means either more unemployment or short-time working. The power to apply criteria for fair competition has gone from the Government, whatever the Prime Minister may say in her speeches in Bruges and elsewhere. It has shifted to the Commission, whose priority is not the United Kingdom textile industry or other United Kingdom industries which manufacture goods for sale, but the complete harmonisation of every standard it can lay its hands on inside the Common Market. It has been unsuccessful, as I showed with textiles in the Prato region of Italy, and there are many other examples which, unfortunately, I have not time to go into now.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that on 25 February 1972 the hon. Member for Cirencester and Tewkesbury (Mr. Ridley)—now the right hon. Member, which shows that selling people short pays off—agreed that this would never happen? Now it has happened. How many more times will we be promised that these things will not be changed, which in time will be changed?

Mr. Cryer

I shall conclude my remarks because I want to give the Minister a chance to make a few closing comments.

We are in great difficulty. The hon. Member for Keighley may say that WOOLTAC has been prepared to compromise and to say that it hopes that the new regime will be as good as the old one, but the reality is that it is unlikely to be so. The old Department of Trade had a strong element of Euro-fanaticism and made compromise after compromise to the Common Market. That was when I was a Minister in that Department, and no doubt it has done so ever since, so I am worried.

The wool textile industry has invested and is a modern industry. The workers have accepted all sorts of changes in working practices. They work 24-hour shifts and have accepted new machinery which covers a much wider range of output. Productivity has increased. Yet there has been a continuing erosion of jobs ever since 1970. Under the last Labour Government there was an increase in employment in the wool textile industry in 1978, but since that high point it has declined.

A passage in the action committee's letter reads: I write requesting your help concerning the provision of adequate origin-marking legislation, which as you may know has been of concern to the Wool Textile and Clothing Industry Action Committee for some time now. I fear that the cause for that concern will rear its head again. We are seeing another example of the Government's power to act being eroded by the Commission, and it will be followed by further examples that will further erode the rights of the elected Government of the day. I happen to disagree with the elected Government of the day, but they were elected and they have certain responsibilities to undertake. Their powers to act, however, are being eroded by the Common Market.

The erosion will continue until we repeal section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972. If that is not done, we shall continue to be confronted with orders of this sort. The Government's room for action is being limited by non-elected appointed commissioners, who put the interests of some vague, shadowy and amorphous notion of a United States of Western Europe before the interests of the workers of the individual states and their employers.

11.11 pm
Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Orders of this sort come before the House week after week, month after month. They will come before the House year after year. We have been promised by one Minister after another—it does not matter which party is in office, and that is one of the tragedies—that no contravention will be made without the authority of the House. However, we continue to approve orders and, as Mr. Delors said, 82 per cent.—[HON. MEMBERS: "80 per cent."] Does it matter whether it is 80 per cent. or 90 per cent? Mr. Delors has said that in due course 80 per cent. of our laws will be enacted as a result of what happens in Brussels.

Mr. Dennis Skinner (Bolsover)

The hon. Gentleman was the Eurofanatic who sat outside the House. If Jacques Delors came into the House now, he would wipe his shoes for him. He would grovel at his feet, as he has always done.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

Like the TUC did.

Mr. Skinner

Absolutely right. If I had been at the TUC, Jacques Delors would not have received a standing ovation from me. Over the past decade, and for longer than that, too many have grovelled to the Common Market and the commissioners, such as Jacques Delors. There are still a few members of the Labour party— Socialists—who will never surrender to people like Jacques Delors. We should remember that the country that is making all the money in the Common Market is West Germany. It has a balance of payments surplus this year of $40 billion equivalent. Britain has a deficit of $13 billion equivalent. By God, there are some who say that Germany lost the war. The Prime Minister and all the rest of them have helped West Germany on its way.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

It would have been better if the hon. Gentleman had made his brave speech at the Labour party conference instead of making it here.

Mr. Skinner

That is exactly what I did.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

It did not sound as brave then as it does at this hour of the night.

The point is—[Interruption.] Has the hon. Gentleman finished?

Mr. Skinner

I am not like the hon. Gentleman, who is a Eurofanatic.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

The most important consideration is where we shall finish. As hon. Members have said, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry used to sit proudly on these Benches and fight for this country, but what we have heard—

Mr. David Harris (St. Ives)

My hon. Friend was not here; he did not hear it.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

With respect, I have heard it so often—

Mr. Harris

My hon. Friend did not hear it.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

I have heard these brave speeches so often. People who sit on these Benches and then transfer to the Government Front Bench tell us why it is not possible. But in the end all the people of this country must decide where they stand. Do they stand for this country or for Europe? Surely we were elected to this Parliament to represent our people. Under regulation after regulation, this House is given solemn assurances that there will be no contravention of our rights, yet contraventions march on and on. Where will it end? It will end with this Parliament being a subsidiary of the Parliament in Brussels.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

From this Dispatch Box I have given the hon. Gentleman the opportunity to put his vote where his mouth is and to demonstrate to the Government what he thinks about this legislation. It is largely up to him.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

The Labour party always says that it is up to other people, not itself. I have not voted for similar European legislation year after year, and I will not vote for this legislation tonight.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

Or against it.

Mr. Beaumont-Dark

I am prepared to vote against it if the Opposition will put the Whips on. I believe that many of us would be prepared to do so. It is time to say that we are not prepared to accept one assurance after another that this country should be run from anywhere but Westminster. If the Opposition will put the Whips on, I shall vote against the order.

11.16 pm
Mr. Quentin Davies (Stamford and Spalding)

I shall not detain the House for very long tonight. My remarks will be in the form of a question to the Minister, which I ask him to answer in his concluding remarks.

On balance, I regret the disappearance of origin marking as enshrined in the Consumer Protection Act 1972. Nevertheless, I recognise that, if we are moving towards a single European market and if that single market is to mean anything at all, we must have one domestic market. Therefore, it does not make too much sense to distinguish between different origins within the Community, and it would not make much technical sense either. Given the immense amount of integrated manufacturing, subcontracting and consortium manufacturing that takes place within the European Community, origin marking by individual countries within the Community probably would not make too much semantic sense. Nevertheless, those considerations do not apply to goods imported into the Community from outside.

The Minister referred to the representations—which I know that he has received—from a number of industrial groups which are in favour of introducing some form of Community origin marking. There are various ways in which that can be organised, and I shall not detain the House by describing them in detail. My hon. Friend did say, however, that he was a little pessimistic about the chances of persuading his Community colleagues to accept a solution along those lines, and that he envisaged a number of difficulties. The Minister did not say what those difficulties were, but a number of people who will be listening to the debate, both inside and outside the House, will be interested to have his assessment of them. I should be grateful if he would enumerate them, at least briefly, and give us some confidence that he will not abandon the attempt to persuade his Community colleagues to move in that direction.

11.19 pm
Mr. Forth

This has been a revealing debate, not just because of the tributes that have been paid to me, for which I am grateful and which I accept with traditional humility from the Dispatch Box, but because of the attitudes and motives displayed by those who have questioned some of the elements of the order.

The expressions and words used by the hon. Member for Great Grimsby (Mr. Mitchell) and by my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Mr. Taylor) were especially interesting. The hon. Member for Great Grimsby based much of his argument on people's right to discriminate. I always thought that Opposition Members were rather wary of discrimination and were against it. When it comes to this matter, however, they are in favour of it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East based much of his argument on the right of people to exercise their prejudices. I am sure that my hon. Friend is one of least prejudiced of men, yet he based his argument on some sort of god-given right of consumers or housewives to exercise a degree of prejudice, or, as the hon. Member for Great Grimsby has said, discrimination, when distinguishing between goods originating from different countries of the Community.

Many references have been made to the Prime Minister and her stated views adumbrated at Bruges. I remind the House that one of the things that my right hon. Friend emphasised over and over again was her belief in the importance of a genuinely free market in the Community. She also emphasised the importance of a market that would be as open as possible to non-Community imports. Therefore, we do not believe in a "fortress Europe" approach. The order is at one with that desire as it attempts to improve the possibilities for the freest movement of goods within the Community without prejudice or discrimination. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East and the hon. Member for Great Grimsby will concede that that is an important element of the Community's aims. It is also what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister wants to see happen in the Community.

I made it clear that, at present, there is no universal origin marking requirement even under the terms of the Trade Descriptions Act 1972, which has been much praised by hon. Members. That Act requires imported goods to be origin marked only if they bear a United Kingdom name or mark. Many of the implications that have been made tonight are not true, even within the terms of the 1972 Act.

Much play has been made of the belief that what is going on here is unparliamentary and undemocratic and that this is some sort of sordid measure being rushed through late at night. My hon. Friend the Member for Thanet, South (Mr. Aitken) made such claims. The origins of the order, however, were contained within the provisions of the Consumer Protection Act 1987, which went through this House in the proper, full parliamentary manner. It was debated and democratically dealt with. The order is simply the culmination of what was set in place by the Act. To suggest that something unparliamentary is happening is ridiculous. The order has been given a generous amount of parliamentary time and many hon. Members have been able to make valuable contributions. The order has received the full examination of the House and, if it is approved tonight, it will have received proper parliamentary scrutiny.

Mr. Austin Mitchell

In 1987 the Consumer Protection Bill was rushed through a few days before the House was dissolved. It got a bipartisan reception because the Government then undertook that they would introduce effective control over origin marking. They have not done so and, therefore, the pretence on which that reception was based has been removed.

Mr. Forth

I am delighted by the hon. Gentleman's endorsement of the 1987 Act, which he said had bipartisan support, because it contains the provisions for the repeal of the Trade Descriptions Act 1972.

Mr. Cash

The provisions in the Consumer Credit Act 1974 which gave rise to the power to repeal this under the order were themselves contained in a European Community directive. That is the origin of the appeal.

Mr. Forth

As always, I defer to the knowledge of my hon. Friend in these matters. His knowledge of them is almost unparalleled in the House, and I am grateful for his guidance.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. King) asked whether wines and lamb could be labelled with their countries of origin. The answer is yes. Producers are free to identify the country of origin of their products if they think that is to their benefit. Nothing in the order will prevent British manufacturers or producers from proudly proclaiming that their products are British—

Mr. Austin Mitchell


Mr. Forth

I am not sure why the hon. Gentleman shouts that at me. He is probably saying that we must not confuse this order with the much discussed matter of contents and origin, particularly of vehicles. The definition of origin for that purpose is contained in section 36 of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968–I am sure the hon. Member for Great Grimsby is well aware of this—which defines the country of origin as where the goods last underwent a treatment or process resulting in a substantial change. I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Northfield is well acquainted with that definition. He and many others still struggle with it; it continues to pose difficulties. But it has nothing to do with this order. I mention it only to clarify that and to remind hon. Members that the order is different.

The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) made some uncharacteristically inaccurate remarks. He knows as well as I do that as soon as this country joined the European Community in 1973 we acknowledged the role of the Commission in Brussels in policing the measures passed by the other bodies in the Community. We also acknowledged the European Court of Justice as the ultimate arbiter of the relevance and validity of Community measures. Tonight, we acknowledge that again. As a member of the Community we acknowledge the role of the Commission. The hon. Member for Bradford, South has the great distinction of holding a dual mandate as a Member of this place and as a Member of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. Surely he would not deny the legitimate role of the European Court of Justice or the Commission. He is an elected member of the third great body of the Community and it would be remiss of him to deny the roles of the other two.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stamford and Spalding (Mr. Davies) made the relevant point that, given the degree of integrated manufacturing—Vauxhall may be a case in point—in the European Community these days, origin marking intra Community countries is probably irrelevant. It becomes even less relevant with increased integration. We are now going to try to persuade our colleagues in the Community to set about deciding on a workable origin marking regime that will apply to countries outside the Community.

This order essentially applies to the movement of goods inside the Community; the Government and the Prime Minister are committed to that. We shall strive—I have already initiated the process—to bring the Community together to devise the means of dealing with goods from outside the Community—

Mr. Teddy Taylor

We know what the order is about. Is my hon. Friend saying that he wants a regime that will enable consumers to know whether goods have been made in Japan but not whether they have been made in Germany?

Mr. Forth

What I am saying implies that. If the order is approved, I have undertaken to work with our Community partners to devise a regime that will go some way to meeting my hon. Friend's request. I have already initiated that process.

I have tried to satisfy hon. Members with answers. I commend the order to the House.

Question put:

The House divided: Ayes 69, Noes 13.

Division No. 489] [11.29 pm
Amos, Alan Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Arbuthnot, James Benyon, W.
Atkinson, David Boscawen, Hon Robert
Beith, A. J. Boswell, Tim
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter Lord, Michael
Bruce, Ian (Dorset South) McLoughlin, Patrick
Buck, Sir Antony Mans, Keith
Burt, Alistair Martin, David (Portsmouth S)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln) Maude, Hon Francis
Carttiss, Michael Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Cash, William Mills, Iain
Coombs, Simon (Swindon) Moss, Malcolm
Cope, Rt Hon John Neubert, Michael
Davies, Q. (Stamf'd & Spald'g) Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Day, Stephen Nicholls, Patrick
Durant, Tony Nicholson, David (Taunton)
Dykes, Hugh Sackville, Hon Tom
Fallon, Michael Shaw, David (Dover)
Forman, Nigel Shaw, Sir Michael (Scarb')
Forth, Eric Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)
Freeman, Roger Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)
French, Douglas Stern, Michael
Gale, Roger Stradling Thomas, Sir John
Garel-Jones, Tristan Taylor, Ian (Esher)
Gill, Christopher Taylor, John M (Solihull)
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles Thurnham, Peter
Gregory, Conal Waddington, Rt Hon David
Hanley, Jeremy Waller, Gary
Harris, David Watts, John
Heathcoat-Amory, David Widdecombe, Ann
Howarth, Alan (Strat'd-on-A) Winterton, Nicholas
Hunt, David (Wirral W) Wood, Timothy
King, Roger (B'ham N'thfield)
Knapman, Roger Tellers for the Ayes:
Lawrence, Ivan Mr. Stephen Dorrell and
Lilley, Peter Mr David Maclean.
Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Aitken, Jonathan Pike, Peter L.
Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE) Roberts, Allan (Bootle)
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Stott, Roger
Bevan, David Gilroy Taylor, Teddy (S'end E)
Fisher, Mark
Foster, Derek Tellers for the Noes:
Gordon, Mildred Mr. Dennis Skinner and
Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby) Mr. Bob Cryer.
Nellist, Dave

Question accordingly agreed to.


That the draft Consumer Protection Act 1987 (Commencement No. 2) Order 1988, which was laid before this House on 28th July, be approved.