§ [SECOND READING.]
§ Order of the day for the Second Reading read.
THE EARL OF LYTTON
My Lords, I need detain your Lordships but a very few moments in explaining this Bill. Its object briefly is to secure that the mark which is required by the existing law to be placed upon all articles of gold and silver plate imported from foreign countries shall be of so distinctive a character as to fulfil the purposes which it was originally intended to serve. A casual glance at this Bill might perhaps lead some of your Lordships to imagine that it was an attempt to give some advantage to British over foreign-made plate. Such an opinion as that would be altogether erroneous. The Bill, it is true, has the support of, and is, indeed, largely promoted by the traders of Birmingham and Sheffield; but, nevertheless, it has no connection, however remote, with the now famous fiscal policy of Birmingham, or even with the milder, though not less famous, policy of Sheffield. If it had, I should not now be asking your Lordships to give it a Second Reading.
The law at the present moment is as follows. By an Act of Parliament passed in the year 1876 all gold and silver plate which is imported from foreign countries, and which is taken to an assay office to be stamped, has placed upon it the letter F in an oval shield to denote that it is of foreign origin. The Act which enforces this regulation distinctly laid down the objects for impressing this letter. It was stated that the object was to denote that such gold and silver plate was imported from foreign ports, and not wrought or made in the United Kingdom. But this letter 605 F has not been found to be sufficiently distinctive in character, because it is very easily confused with either the initial of the manufacturer of the plate, or even with the letter which denotes the year in which the plate was marked. Your Lordships will know that there are letters frequently placed upon gold and silver plate; this letter F is very easily confused with one of those letters, and the hall-mark which is placed upon articles of plate and was originally intended merely to denote the quality of the plate, has now been generally looked upon as an indication of British manufacture. The result of this is that large quantities of gold and silver plate of foreign origin have been imported into this country, and having received an hall-mark at an Assay Office in this country, have been sold in this country, and even exported to other countries and there sold, as plate of British manufacture. In other words, my Lords, the object of the Act of 1876 has not been carried out, and it is the intention of this Bill to remedy that particular matter.
There is no new principle involved in this Bill. No plate which is not obliged to be marked at present will have to receive a mark in future. In fact, the only result of the passing of this Bill will be that what has in the past been done inadequately will in the future be done adequately. The precise mark which in future is to be placed upon imported gold and silver plate is to be decided by an Order in Council, because it is a very technical matter, and no doubt the decision will ultimately be arrived at after consultation with the Assay officers and the members of the trade. One word as to the history of the Bill. The Bill was introduced last year into the House of Commons, and in March of that year a very large and influential deputation, representing the traders of London, Birmingham, and Sheffield, waited upon the President of the Board of Trade to urge its claims. The principle was accepted by the Government, and the Bill has since been redrafted under the direct supervision of the Board of Trade. It has been introduced into the House of Commons again this year, and has passed through all its stages, and in its present form it receives the support of all the members engaged 606 in the gold and silver trade in this country. The Association of Chambers of Commerce has passed a resolution in its favour, as also have the trades unions in this country. In fact, the Bill has the support both of the masters and of the men. In those circumstances I feel sure your Lordships will not hesitate to read it a second time.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a.— (The Earl of Lytton.)
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday next.