§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
THE SECRETARY TO THE BOARD OF TRADE (Lord BALFOUR OF BURLEIGH)
My Lords, the Bill which I have the honour to present to the House and to ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading to is a very short Bill for the purpose of amending in two points the Merchandise Marks Act of 1887. That Act, as your Lordships are aware, imposes penalties for the fraudulent or improper use of trade marks and trade descriptions, and amongst other things gives power for the detention and confiscation of goods which are falsely and improperly marked. The Act was made the subject of inquiry by a Committee of the House of Commons last year, and they reported that its operation had been generally most beneficial to the trade of the country, and that the importation of fraudulently marked goods had been materially diminished. Several proposals for the amendment of the Act, some to make it more stringent, and 1014 some in the contrary direction, were put before the Committee, and, were almost in every case rejected by the Committee which, with practical unanimity, advocated the amendment of the Act in regard to two points only. Two defects were pointed out. In the first place, there are a certain number of articles of a perishable or consumable kind which cannot by their nature be the subject of trade marks, and there is, therefore, a difficulty in getting sufficient evidence to warrant the Customs authorities, in whose hands the enforcement of the Act is placed, in taking action with regard to them. There are also cases which do not affect individual trade marks, but which are cases rather of adulteration or fraudulent misrepresentation of the quality of the goods as being different to what it really is. In the second place, there are cases which do not so much affect individual interests, but rather the general interest of the community, or a considerable section of the community, or a large section of trade, and, therefore, it is unfair and improper that the onus of prosecuting should be placed upon individuals. The object of this Bill is to remedy those two defects. It has only two clauses, the first of which provides that the Customs' entry shall be held as sufficient evidence to prove the fraudulence of the trade mark or the trade description. The other clause enacts that regulations may be made providing that in cases which appear to the Board of Trade to affect the general interests of the country, or of a section of the community, or of a trade, prosecutions for offences under the Act may be undertaken by the Board of Trade. Of course, that is a power which must be exercised with great care and under definite conditions and regulations. The same clause provides a power to the Board of Trade, with the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor, to make regulations for putting in force this part of the Act. I may mention to your Lordships that this Bill has passed absolutely unopposed, and without any alteration whatever, through the other House of Parliament, and I think, therefore, I may appeal to your Lordships with confidence to give it a Second Reading.
Bill read 2a (according to order), and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday next.