§ Mr. Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham)
I beg to move,That leave be given to bring in a Bill to establish a standard Made in Britain mark to be used on goods predominantly manufactured and foodstuffs produced in the United Kingdom; to provide for regulation of the use of the mark; and for connected purposes.
This is the penultimate ten-minute Bill over which you will preside, Madam Speaker, so I have made sure that it is a good one. I am sure that, like me, you choose to buy British on preference. I like to buy British goods: I have always driven British cars, which have never failed me, and I always endeavour to buy British-sproduced food in supermarkets, or, even better, at my local farmers market, or, better still, at my local Women's Institute food market—the epitome of middle Britain's good taste. In other shops, whether they sell electrical goods, furniture, tools or other products, I always opt for the British-made product, when it is competitively priced—much to the chagrin of my wife, who wants a Volvo.
Buying British should be a sign of quality—an act whereby people can be assured of certain standards, especially animal welfare standards in the case of meat and dairy produce; an act in support of British jobs and investment; an act wherein one can be reasonably sure whence the product comes. However, the act of buying British is becoming increasingly confusing and difficult. British companies wanting to promote the British origin of their goods are increasingly being frustrated, and my Bill seeks to address that problem.
My scheme should not be confused with previous attempts, particularly by Governments, to launch variations of buy British campaigns. Back in 1968, a few weeks after devaluation, Harold Wilson produced the "I'm backing Britain" campaign. That campaign was made that much easier because the pound bought less overseas. People were encouraged to sport tee-shirts and badges emblazoned with "I'm backing Britain" over a union jack. A group of Surbiton secretaries worked an extra half an hour a day for free and many thousands followed in the teeth of great opposition from trade unions. The Duke of Edinburgh even lent his support.
The composers Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent penned a song for Bruce Forsyth with these lyrics:
I can see you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, tapping your toes at that. A sensational hit it was.
- I'm Backing Britain, yes I'm Backing Britain.
- We're all Backing Britain.
- The Feeling is growing,
- So let's keep it going,
- The good times are blowing our way.
Predictably, the campaign failed, as did Harold Wilson's re-election prospects. A rival campaign set up by the late Robert Maxwell under the title, "Help Britain, Help yourself' was also a failure. How prescient that was.
There have been no fewer than seven exasperated attempts by Trade Secretaries of State over the past 20 years to promote buy British campaigns to reverse accelerating current account deficits. In 1985, support was given to the "Think Britain" campaign, which was fronted by David Jacobs and Ernie Wise. More recently, Lord Feldman promoted a "Better Made in Britain" campaign 918 with a consortium of manufacturers. Most notoriously, in 1992 the Labour party launched a party political broadcast that was fronted by Lord Puttnam, which bemoaned the scarcity of British goods. Perhaps those concerned had not shopped around enough. That buy British campaign was scuppered before it had even started by the backing music to the broadcast, which turned out to be the seventh symphony of a very unBritish Ludwig van Beethoven.
In 1997, the comments of Lord Haskins at the Labour party conference that the British brand is irrelevant in international markets and should be ditched hardly helped the cause. Most recently, such campaigns have been thwarted by the potential to fall foul of article 6 of the European Community treaty that forbids discrimination on the ground of nationality. Rather closer to home, we are aware of the recent lawsuit against the House because of the choice of a British-led contractor to provide the bronze cladding for Portcullis House, which allegedly constituted a buy British policy, which was not allowed.
I gather that an attempt to make a "Made in France" label compulsory was ruled out in a European court case because it would enable British consumers to exercise their natural prejudice against French goods. With notoriously misnamed goods such as French golden delicious apples, surely the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 would do the trick perfectly effectively.
A few months ago I was approached by a company in my constituency in Worthing. ETI is a leading manufacturer of quality temperature-measuring instruments. The directors wanted to include a logo on their products to indicate that they were made in Britain. They were proud to promote British products as a major provider of local jobs in Worthing, and because the made-in-Britain tag is seen as a sign of quality, particularly overseas. The directors saw it as a good marketing tool.
When they made inquiries to the Department of Trade and Industry about what made-in-Britain logos were available and what the Department would recommend, they were told, "We don't really go in for that sort of thing." Instead, they were steered towards using "Product of the EC" labels. Subsequently I tabled a parliamentary question to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry. I askedwhat "Made in Britain" emblems are available from his Department to British companies to mark the country of origin of their products—[Official Report, 11 July 2000; Vol. 353, c. 473W.]That yielded the untypically straightforward and underspun one-word reply, "None."
That is not good enough. Besides, we are missing a trick. The National Farmers Union has recently launched its red and blue tractor logo to act as a guarantee of high standards, farm assurance and competitive pricing on British agricultural products. My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) tried to initiate something similar in his private Member's Bill earlier this year. I commend the NFU and we can learn much from its scheme, but foreign-grown produce complying to British standards can still use the mark even if it is only finished off in the UK. We rely solely on the good will of multiple retailers to police the system. That is independent of Government enforcement.
919 My Bill, therefore, will establish a standard "Made in Britain" logo. It could be the equivalent of the simple lion mark on eggs or a union jack-vested British bulldog, for example. I suggest a national competition to come up with an appropriate and high-profile symbol. The logo would be administered by the Department of Trade and Industry, and firms with predominantly British-produced items could apply to use the logo on payment of a small subscription fee to cover the running costs.
The definition of "Made in Britain" would be determined by reference to the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 or the North American Free Trade Agreement's de minimis customs provisions, for example. The scheme would be entirely voluntary, but subscribing firms would have to undertake to maintain their qualifications for using the logo, and that would be policed by the DTI.
I believe that my scheme could operate without infringing single market competition law. It would have minimal cost, but the potential gearing effect for British firms could be considerable. The scheme has gained the support of the Federation of Small Businesses and other trade bodies, and the NFU has raised no objections.
My Bill would enable the British public to make informed choices and would encourage British firms to promote the Britishness of their goods as a strong marketing tool, both in the UK and overseas. I commend the Bill to the House.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Tim Loughton, Mrs. Angela Browning, Mr. James Gray, Miss Julie Kirkbride, Mr. Stephen O'Brien, Mr. Robert Syms, Mr. Peter Bottomley, Mr. Nicholas Soames, Mrs. Ann Winterton, Mr. Andrew Tyrie, Mr. Andrew Robathan and Mr. Graham Brady.