§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE FIRST COMMISSIONER OF WORKS (VISCOUNT PEEL)
My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of the Merchandise Marks (Imported Goods) Bill. For some time there has been a demand both from industry and agriculture for merchandise marks legislation and there are, I think, two main reasons for this. First of all, there is a desire to remedy the defects in the existing Merchandise Marks Acts. The Bill is also based on the assumption that the consumer will give the preference to British goods and Empire goods if he knows they are British and Empire goods. This view is based both upon sentiment and upon interest. I need not enlarge to your Lordships on the question of sentiment because you are very familiar with the great campaign that has gone on lately to urge our people to purchase British goods, to assist British manufactures and to purchase Imperial goods and assist Imperial development. Perhaps the sentiment is partly made up of interest, and no doubt the two things are so closely bound together that it would be difficult to disentangle them; but on the pure basis of interest, where you get two comparable goods and where the prices are fairly the same, if the British consumer knows that one set of goods is British and the other set is foreign, I think, knowing the quality and the durability of British 1075 goods, that he will probably think it to his interest to buy the British goods in preference to the foreign.
Before dealing with the details of the Bill, may I say a word about its history? This Bill, like many others, has a long history behind it, but I will only touch on two points in that history. Going back to the year 1919 during the life of the Coalition Government, I must refer to the appointment of a Committee by that Government to go into the whole question of marking foreign goods. In 1920 that Committee reported against a general marking of all foreign goods but in favour of a system of indicating the origin of certain classes of imported goods after there had been a careful official inquiry into the matter and after a Committee had recommended the marking. In 1922, in consequence of and based upon the Report of that Committee, a Bill was introduced into this House by the noble Lord, Lord Gorell, who was at that time, I believe, a Liberal. Later on I understand he took service under the banner of the Labour Party. I think I may therefore conclude that I have some measure of support both in the Liberal camp and in the Labour camp.
Not only is the Bill supported by industry but also by agriculture and by the Imperial Economic Committee. I should like to give your Lordships some idea of the extent to which that support is accorded to the Bill by industry in this country, and not only by industry but also by chambers of commerce as well, which of course represent the merchant side as well as the manufacturing. The Association of British Chambers of Commerce on April 23 last passed a resolution approving the general principles of the Merchandise Marks (Imported Goods) Bill. The Federation of British Industries expressed their general approval of the Bill subject, I believe, to the marking of goods in certain cases on importation. The National Union of Manufacturers passed a resolution supporting the Bill, which was also supported by the National Federation of Iron and Steel Manufacturers. The National Council of the Pottery Industry, the Sheffield Cutlery Manufacturers' Association, the Walsall and District Chamber of Commerce and the Wolverhampton Chamber of Commerce also support it. It is supported 1076 also by the Electrical and Allied Trades section of the London Chamber of Commerce who passed a resolution urging the stiffening of the Bill. Therefore, from British industry and also from British trade, as noble Lords will observe, there is a tremendous body of organised and representative opinion which supports this Bill.
Turning for a moment to agriculture, meat and eggs, I understand, have been labelled since 1921 and the Committee under the noble Marquess, Lord Linlithgow, in 1923 strongly urged that, further action should be taken. A Bill was introduced last year dealing with imported agricultural produce which contained a provision to make marking compulsory in the case of meat, eggs, cheese and honey. I am going to deal rather lightly with the agricultural side of the case because my noble friend Lord Bledisloe, who as your Lordships know is so well armed on all agricultural points, is prepared to turn his artillery on to the agricultural question.
Then I come to the other great contributory influence which supports the Bill and that is the Imperial side. The Imperial Economic Committee, which, as your Lordships know, combines representatives of this country and of the Dominions, strongly urges in its Reports—I need not quote them because it is all set out in the four Reports the Committee has issued already—marking for meat, canned fruit and fish, fresh fruit, cheese and butter. The Committee also suggests that any concerted action for marketing Empire produce in this country must have the assistance of compulsory marking on sale so that the consumer may be able to distinguish between foreign and Empire produce. Your Lordships will also remember that not long ago it was decided that £1,000,000 a year should be devoted to the improvement of the marketing of Empire produce in this country and to some extent of British produce in this country. These two things go together and the spending of this considerable sum on the marketing of Empire produce will be immensely assisted if the consumer knows whether he is buying Empire produce or foreign produce. I need not remind your Lordships that the larger consumption of Empire produce 1077 will greatly enlarge our market for the consumption of manufactured goods in the Dominions themselves. Thus we have in favour of this Bill these great bodies of opinion to which I have alluded, British industry, the agricultural industry and what I may call briefly the Dominion and the Imperial interest.
Let me say one word about any possible opposition to the Bill. I understand that there is some apprehension in shipping circles about the entrepot trade. I shall show in the course of my remarks how very carefully the entrepot trade is safeguarded by the provisions of the Bill. There were some fears of delay being caused in the case of perishable produce in circles in Hell and in Liverpool, and the fears of importing merchants from foreign countries are represented, and strongly represented, on the Chambers of Commerce in London and Manchester. After all, I think this is very natural. Some of these importing merchants are naturally afraid that if British or Empire goods are substituted for foreign goods they may import fewer foreign goods. Perhaps they are afraid, too, that they may have to reduce the prices of foreign goods in order to compete with the British goods and that their profits may to some extent be reduced. But if that is so the price to the consumers will be reduced, and in weighing the interests of the great mass of consumers and a certain number of importers I think your Lordships will consider that the balance weighs on the side of the consumer.
I pass now to a very brief description of the chief provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 deals with what I may call cases of latent misrepresentation. This clause provides that if a trader sells imported goods in this country under a British name or trade mark he is bound to indicate that the goods are foreign and not British. This, I understand, is merely an extension of Section 16 of the Merchandise Marks Act, 1887. But I should add that where there are special circumstances and it can be shown that difficulties might be caused by the provisions of this Clause 1, the Board of Trade have been given an exempting power. I should add, too, that for obvious reasons this clause only 1078 becomes operative six months after this Bill becomes law.
Clause 2 is the most important clause in the Bill. Under certain conditions imported goods of any class or description are to be marked with an indication of origin, either at the time of sale or exposure for sale or at the time of importation, but before any Order is made subjecting these goods to the necessity of being marked certain conditions have to be complied with. First of all, an application has to be made to the appropriate Department by some substantial interest. The application has then to be referred to a Committee, every reference must be published and no Inquiry by a Committee can commence until twenty-eight days after such publication. Then the Committee have to hear all persons representing the different interests which may appear to the Committee to be substantially affected. They may, if they choose, report to the Department specifying the classes or description of imported goods in respect to which they consider an Order in Council ought to be made and the goods must be goods which it is possible to mark effectively and without damage to the goods.
After that the Report of the Committee is published and the Department may then recommend the making of an Order unless—and I would call your Lordships' special attention to this proviso—unless they consider that the trade of the United Kingdom, or the trade generally of other parts of His Majesty's Dominions with the United Kingdom, would be thereby prejudiced. The Department may recommend marking on importation unless, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, including the re-export trade of the United Kingdom in that class or description of goods, they consider that such action is undesirable. Before an Order can be made the Order has to lie in draft before both Houses for twenty Parliamentary days—that practically means six weeks—and if no Address is presented against it the Order may be made, but it is not to come into force until three months at earliest from the date on which it is made.
So much for goods other than agricultural. As regards inquiry relating to agricultural and horticultural produce and the produce of the fishing industry, 1079 which is always united for some reason with agriculture, that would be dealt with by a Committee appointed jointly by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Home Secretary on behalf of Northern Ireland. Every other Inquiry will be dealt with by a Committee appointed by the Board of Trade. The Committees are to consist of not less than three and not more than five persons. As has been already abundantly made clear, these Committees are to be of a quasi-judicial character. The penalties for infringement of Clause 2 or an Order in Council under Clause 2 are laid down in Clause 5. They are, I understand, rather lighter than the penalties for offences laid down under the Merchandise Marks Act of 1887.
The only other point in the Bill I would like to call your Lordships' attention to is Clause 10, which deals with definitions. Certain classes of imported goods are excluded from the scope of the Bill. If, since importation, they have undergone any substantial change in the United Kingdom, they are exempted from the marking requirement; further goods made in the United Kingdom which, after exportation, return to this country without any substantial change are also excluded. As regards the indication of origin, the word "foreign" or the word "Empire" may be used, or the indication may state the country where the goods were manufactured or produced. Blends or mixtures are excluded from Clause 1 and from Clause 2 also, unless the Order expressly states that they should not be so excluded.
That is a very short summary of the method by which the Orders are made relating to different classes of goods, but I want to deal for a moment with safeguards which are provided by the Bill against any possible injury being done to British trade through these provisions. First of all, the obligation is laid upon the person or persons who sell the goods. Generally speaking, goods may come in unmarked and be re-exported unmarked, but if they come under the provisions of Clause 1 or under an Order made under Clause 2 they must bear an indication of origin. The Bill, therefore, in its general framework does not affect the entrepot trade at all. Clause 2, subsection (5), does give the power to mark 1080 on importation. The appropriate Department has got to consider not merely the question of the United Kingdom and of the trade of other parts of the Empire but especially the re-export trade of the United Kingdom in that class or description of goods. Quite apart from the statutory obligation to consider the interest of the entrepot trade, the proviso in Clause 2 lays down that an Order is not to apply to the transhipment trade of the United Kingdom or to goods declared on importation to be for re-exportation.
I should like, if your Lordships will allow me, because this is a very important part of the Bill, to read proviso (a) in subsection (5) of Clause 2:—Subject to compliance with such conditions as to security for the re-exportation of the goods as the Commissioners of Customs and Excise may impose, an Order under this subsection shall not apply to goods imported for exportation after transit through the United Kingdom or by way of transhipment or to goods declared on importation to be for re-exportation.Then, if I may return to the question of safeguards, the Committees must hear at the public Inquiry all the interest substantially affected. The parties have plenty of time to make out their case, the Report of the Committee is to be published when the Inquiry is over and, as I have said, the draft Order is to lie on the Table for twenty days, giving to critics ample time for raising any objection which they may have to the Order. But, in addition to these safeguards, and after all this elaborate care has been taken, if any difficulty does arise which might cause some hardship and is brought to the notice of the Department, the latter has power by direction to relax the Order and give effect to such direction at once, but such direction cannot continue for more than twelve months unless confirmed by a Special Order. Therefore, I think your Lordships will see that really the danger of any interest being affected prejudicially is indeed very remote.
I want to allude very briefly to one or two criticisms that have been passed upon this measure. It has been said that the object of the Bill is protective and that its intention is to exclude foreign goods. At the same time it is also said that the effect of this Bill will be to advertise foreign goods and to 1081 stimulate their sale. It does not need very much acumen to see that these two propositions contradict each other and I think we may safely leave the professors of these schools to fight out the subject among themselves. The Bill, of course, does not exclude foreign goods. It merely gives to the consumer the opportunity to say whether he shall buy foreign goods or whether he shall buy British goods.
If he prefers British goods he probably will purchase less of foreign goods. That is a necessary result of his operations of purchase. But if the foreign article is consistently good and cheap and the British article consistently poor in quality and expensive, then perhaps the foreign article may be assisted by the Bill. But after all British manufacturers as a result of that may be put upon their mettle, may improve their manufacture and possibly sell their goods rather cheaper. The Imperial Economic Committee itself observed that marking carries with it obligations as well as privileges, but in spite of that they still strongly pressed for the marking of Empire and foreign goods as essential to a systematic effort to develop Imperial trade.
The next objection that has been raised is as regards the entrepot trade, but I think I have dealt sufficiently fully with that already. I have shown the numerous safeguards there are to prevent any interference with the entrepot trade. The Government, of course, are extremely well aware of the importance of the entrepot trade and would not commit themselves to any proposition or any rule which had the remotest suggestion that it might hinder that great trade. There are some minor objections which I may perhaps notice. It is said that the free flow of trade may be hampered in two ways. One of those ways is by causing congestion in the docks. But I would observe first of all that not all goods coming in are to be marked in this way but only certain selected classes or descriptions of goods which have passed through the tremendous sieve of examination by these Committees, and I would also say that in the United States, where all goods are marked on importation, there is no congestion at all.
Another point is that British traders may be checked to some extent in 1082 buying freely goods abroad because they may not know the origin of the goods. I understand that that charge is a libel on British traders and that they are perfectly well aware by inspection of goods from what country they come. The objection, therefore, is a purely theoretical objection. It is also said that it may increase the expenses of traders, but it certainly has not done so in those cases where goods are already marked. For instance, I have never heard that Danish and Dutch bacon, Empire fruit, and butter were hindered in their sale in this country because they come in as they do already marked in the countries of origin. Then we are threatened also—and that is a very familiar charge—with retaliation in other countries. But even if they did retaliate and insisted that our goods should be marked when going into their countries, I think we might hug the suggestion to our souls that the superior quality of British goods would not suffer and that we really might get an advertisement in that way in foreign markets.
There is, further, the fear of some increase in the cost of the goods, but I suggest to your Lordships that really the opposite effect will be observed, because the merchant may have to lower his prices and diminish his profits in the case of foreign goods which he has bought perhaps cheaply abroad in order that they may compete with British goods of the same class and description, and induce the British consumer to put aside for the moment his affection for British goods and to buy the cheaper foreign goods which have been decreased in price in order to compete with the British goods. In that case, as I suggest, the consumer will have the advantage both ways: If he wants to buy foreign goods he will get them more cheaply, and he, can buy British goods if he wishes. That, my Lords, is a short summary of some of the objections which have already been stated to this Bill. I would ask your Lordships, in the interest of British manufacturers and in the interest of Imperial trade, to give a Second Reading to this Bill.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Viscount Peel.)
§ LORD ARNOLD had given Notice to move, That the Bill be read 2ª this day 1083 six months. The noble Lord said: My Lords, the noble Viscount in moving the Second Reading of this measure has devoted most of his remarks to an explanation of what, in the view of the Government, will be its advantageous effects. He has not said a great deal about the difficulties which the Bill will create or about the harm which it will do. In moving the rejection of the Bill I propose to supply these omissions. The fact is that this Bill is likely to do a considerable amount of harm, and any advantages that may come from it will be far more than outweighed by the injury that it will cause. This Government has done so much damage to British trade and has thrown so much grit into the industrial machine that nothing that it does occasions surprise, though practically everything that it does ought to be opposed. The best that can be hoped from its measures dealing with trade and industry is that they will not do a great deal of damage. That is the position to which we are reduced under Conservative Government.
§ The noble Viscount explained to your Lordships that this is not a new Bill. It is not. Since the War I think three or four attempts have been made to pass a measure more or less upon these lines. Those attempts have not succeeded, partly because the case for each Bill was so weak and partly because, when it came to be examined closely, it was subjected to such devastating criticism. Indeed, this Bill has had the same experience, because, just as with the Safeguarding of Industries Act, it is the fact that the President of the Board of Trade has proved quite unable in another place to meet at all adequately the criticisms that have been made. There is no real demand for this Bill from any widespread section of the manufacturing community. I quite admit that there is a demand from certain interested parties. There is a demand from some manufacturers, and there is a demand from some agriculturists; certainly there is a considerable demand from poultry farmers. The noble Viscount has put forward as impressively as he could an array of support from various bodies, such as chambers of commerce and so forth, and the President of the Board of Trade has claimed that this measure has the support of the Federation of British Industries. Of course it 1084 has the support of the Federation of British Industries. Most of the members of that body are Protectionists, and anything that is likely to stop the flow of foreign manufactures into this country has their support. This Bill will help in that direction.
§ The statement that the noble Viscount made and that has been made elsewhere, that this measure has the support of the majority of the chambers of commerce of the country, is very misleading. It may be nominally true, but it is not the case that this Bill has the support of anything like all the important chambers of commerce in the country. It has not the support of the London Chamber of Commerce, which was at the outset in favour of the Bill but which, as the Committee stage went on and the Bill became worse and worse, became entirely antagonistic to it. The Manchester Chamber of Commerce—and I think Manchester is entitled to some consideration in this matter in view of its position with regard to industrial interests—is strongly opposed to the Bill. The noble Viscount quoted a resolution which was passed in April by the Associated Chambers of Commerce. It would be very interesting to know whether the Associated Chambers of Commerce would pass that resolution now. I have told your Lordships that at the outset the London Chamber of Commerce was inclined to be favourable to this Bill but that they have changed their view, and I would call attention to the fact that this resolution of the Associated Chambers of Commerce was passed as long ago as April.
§ This Bill purports to protect the purchaser from fraud with regard to the origin of manufactured articles or of agricultural produce which is advertised or exposed for sale, and the method, as the noble Viscount has explained, is to make it compulsory that certain goods imported—I do not say all goods—shall be marked with the name of the country of origin, as for instance: "Made in Czecho-Slovakia," "Made in France," "Made in the United States of America."1085
§ LORD ARNOLD
Or possibly marked "Foreign." I should like to put a very simple question to the noble Viscount, and I hope that he will reply, because I submit that it goes to the crux of the whole matter. Is it not the case that the ostensible object of this Bill can be equally well attained and with far less difficulty and interference with trade by marking British manufactures "Made in Britain" or by marking, if it is so desired, agricultural produce as of British origin? If that be so—and it is so—how is it that this simple and effective method has not commended itself to the Government? The reason is that, if that were done, if goods were simply marked "Made in Britain" or if agricultural produce were designated as of British origin, the real object of this Bill would not be achieved, because in that way you would not stop foreign imports coming into the country and it is really to stop foreign imports coming in, or to lessen the quantity that comes in, that all this machinery is set up. It is hoped by the very elaborate and complicated provisions of this Bill and by the prejudice created against foreign goods in some degree to stop the import of foreign goods. That, I repeat, is what this Bill is really for.
I say nothing about the dishonesty of this policy, though I could say a good deal, except to remark that the Bill is not in accordance with the pledges given by the Prime Minister at the General Election in order to get the votes of persons who were opposed to Protection. The contention of the Government with regard to Clause 1 that the main purpose of the Bill is to prevent fraud or deception as regards the character of goods sold is really a piece of window-dressing. The fact is that there is no need for additional legislation as regards fraud of this description. All that is really necessary can be done under existing legislation and, as a matter of fact, existing legislation is by no means fully enforced at the present time.
The Bill, as I have said, purports to give the consumer security in the way that I have described and that the noble Viscount has described, and, as he has said—he was quite plain and honest, as was the President of the Board of Trade in another place—this 1086 Bill is really part and parcel of the "Buy British Goods" campaign. That campaign has to a large extent been fathered by the present President of the Board of Trade; and that is not surprising, because it is not very long ago—in fact it is only a few months ago—since the President of the Board of Trade went so far as to say that every time a person in this country entered a shop and bought a foreign article he was depriving a British workman of a job. That statement is so foolish and so opposed to the simple laws of economics that one scarcely has the patience to deal with it, but consider for a moment what would happen to our trade if other countries began to do this sort of thing, to institute campaigns against British goods and to attempt to stop their countrymen buying our goods.
What would be the effect of that on the export trade and on the shipping trade? This Government, as I have shown your Lordships more than once, has done very little indeed to help the export trade. On the contrary, it has done a great deal to injure it though, considering the parlous condition of that trade, it ought to be one of the first objects of the Government to try to help and foster it. The Government has not done so, and in this "Buy British Goods" campaign we have one of the factors which is only too likely indirectly to injure that trade. The fact is that the "Buy British Goods" campaign is really founded on very fallacious economic reasoning. It would be of enormous advantage to the trade of this country, and especially to the export trade, if the President of the Board of Trade would come to realise that the great thing you want to do is to sell British goods. This Merchandise Marks Bill is another instance of these perverted economics. The objections to the Bill are so numerous that it is quite impossible for me, without making an undue draught upon your Lordships' time, to state them fully now, but we shall have a Committee stage and we will take advantage of it.
I will on this occasion content myself with stating some of the main objections, in our view, to the Bill. First I take the question of the expense which will be involved to manufacturers and merchants, and of the labour which will be involved in seeing that goods are marked, the 1087 actual marking of them, and the examination to see that they are marked when they arrive at our ports. Whatever the noble Viscount may say, and I feel bound to state that I found his remarks singularly unconvincing, it is humanly certain that this Bill will mean additional cost and expense, and that that expense will come back upon the consumer. So far from the Bill making goods cheaper for the consumer it is bound, in the end, to make them dearer; but about the last thing which this Government ever thinks of is the interest of the consumer, and so they will not be much concerned about that.
As regards machinery, the noble Viscount has described the method of Committees, and I submit to your Lordships that this policy of giving these very important powers to Committees is being carried altogether too far. I do not object to Committees doing their proper work—inquiry or executive work—but they should not have such a, big say in policy as they will have under this Bill. Who are these Committees? They are to be set up we do not know exactly how, and composed of persons we do not know whom. All we know, judging from Committees under the Safeguarding of Industries Act, is that they are bound to be biased and that there is no power of appeal from them. They are irresponsible Committees and there is no power of appeal. The noble Viscount seems to think that there is a safeguard, though I personally do not attach great value to it, in the fact that the President of the Board of Trade, or the Minister of Agriculture, as the case may be, has some say before the final decision is taken.
§ LORD ARNOLD
The noble Viscount has been in Parliament a good many years, and so have I, and I am afraid I have not got his touching faith in the procedure of Orders in Parliament. I cannot remember, in all my long experience, a single instance in which effective action was taken in that way. Coming to the consequences of the Bill, and the harm which will be done to trade, I must point out that a fundamental change was made in the Committee stage in the other place. It is highly important that I should make that clear, because it was this change which caused 1088 the London Chamber of Commerce to turn round and become antagonistic to the Bill. When this Bill was introduced goods coming to our ports need not be marked when they arrived, although they might have been ordered to be marked by the Committee. They could, if necessary, be marked afterwards. In the Committee stage, however, the President of the Board of Trade accepted a very fundamental Amendment, by which goods which have been ordered to be marked must be marked when they arrive at a port in this country. That is to say, they have to be marked before they leave the country from which they have come, and it is no good the noble Viscount dismissing in an airy way the difficulties about the entrepot trade. This entrepot trade amounts to £165,000,000 in identifiable re-exports. Goods come to this country from foreign countries and are re-exported, and a profit is thereby made, and profit also accrues for our ships.
Altogether this trade in identifiable re-exports, and articles which have come here or goods incorporated in manufactures which are exported, amounts, taking it altogether, I should think to nearly £200,000,000 a year. Think what consternation there was in the minds of the people carrying on this trade when this Amendment was accepted. It is true that the Government, in order to safeguard this very serious state of affairs, accepted an Amendment, or at any rate undertook, that when the importers could prove to the satisfaction of the Customs House authorities that the goods were intended for re-export then they need not be marked. But we have, I suppose, all had some experience of Customs House officials. It is not always easy to satisfy them about very obvious things. Here let me digress. I understand that since the Silk Duties were imposed, owing to the inquisition which goes on at our ports and the obstruction which occurs, an appreciable percentage of the Americans who otherwise would have come to this country are going straight to the Continent, and are going back from the Continent, without coming here, in order to escape from the rigorous Customs examination to which they are subjected in this country. That causes loss of valuable custom, and loss to our shipping trade.
1089 As to the entrepot trade, it is only necessary to have very small knowledge of that trade to know that very often, in the case of goods that arrive here, the merchant may not know exactly which are going to be re-exported and which will be retained here. He may not know when the goods are coming here, and if under this Bill it is necessary to have all these goods marked with the country of origin think what that means. The noble Viscount made certain humorous observations about this. It means that in future, under that procedure, a merchant abroad who buys from this country goods which may not be made in this country will know that those goods do not come originally from this country—he may not have known before—and with a view of cutting out intermediate profits it is only too likely that, in many cases, an attempt will be made in the future to buy direct. That again means loss to this country and loss to our shipping both ways.
These really are some of the results which will come from this measure; and it does not do for the noble Viscount to dismiss these matters in an airy way. They are very serious and there is great consternation about them. When he replies I should like the noble Viscount to confirm what I have said—namely, that it was the acceptance of this Amendment about marking on importation which caused the London Chamber of Commerce to change its mind. Consider what this marking on importation means in another way. The noble Viscount suggested that there need not be any delay at our ports, and no congestion, because he said there was none in the United States. However that may be, the fact does remain that in this country, with our enormous over seas trade, and with our shipping arriving not with clockwork precision, there are times of congestion and times of comparative slackness. That means that at times of congestion there is bound to be delay, because Customs officials cannot be kept in such numbers as to deal with any goods which arrive at any time.
This means delay, and it is no use saying that all the merchant or importer has got to do is to satisfy the Customs officials that the goods in question, or some of them, are intended for re-export. It will often work out that owing to congestion 1090 there will be no Customs officers available immediately. There are delays, and delay means loss. So it is quite wrong, and it is really misleading your Lord ships—I do not say deliberately—to suggest that no harm will be done. Great harm will be done, and that is why it is that we, and the Government also, have had these representations from bodies like the London Chamber of Commerce. This huge entrepot trade has been largely built up because we have not had difficulties with Customs officials, because goods have been allowed to come in and go out freely. We have had that great advantage over other countries, and that great advantage is in course of being frittered away and destroyed by the present Government.
This point about the congestion at the ports has a great application in respect of foodstuffs of a perishable nature, because this Bill gives power to mark all kinds of things, some of them perishable, and any delay there may be very serious. The Bill is likely, indeed, to have no small adverse effect on the food supply of the country. I will not go further at present into the precise things that may happen at the ports, because we shall have opportunities in the Committee stage to consider them, but I should like to call attention to an important resolution sent to the President of the Board of Trade by the Scottish Federation of Grocers and Provision Merchants' Associations. I have no reason to think that this is in any way a Party body. I should be very much surprised if any of its members belonged to the Labour Party—I should think most of them support the present Government. They are not Party, but business men.
The Resolution states:This Federation has very carefully considered the Merchandise Marks (Imported Goods) Bill, as amended by the Standing Committee, and, while anxious to be of all possible assistance in the matter of food distribution, and willing to assist the Government in framing and carrying out any useful legislation which would be beneficial alike to home producers and consumers, has very great fears that if the above Bill becomes law in anything like its present form it will have a very serious effect upon the food supply of this country. While quite willing to provide detailed reasons for this opinion we think a more useful purpose would be served"—1091 and it is to this that I want to draw attention—by suggesting that the Board of Trade, before proceeding further with this Bill, should remit it to the Food Council in order that that body could go fully into the whole matter and report as to the effect the Bill would have upon the volume and price of the various staple food commodities.That resolution has been sent to the President of the Board of Trade, and I presume it will have been sent on from there to the Ministry of Agriculture. I should like to ask whether anything of that kind is going to be done, whether this Bill is going to be remitted to the Food Council for their consideration as regards its effect upon the volume and prices of the various food commodities. Because there is no hurry; there is no reason why the Bill should come into operation very quickly.
There is one point which I do not think the noble Viscount touched upon at all, but it is a very extraordinary thing in this extraordinary Bill. It is with regard to the marking of advertisements. It is actually laid down in this Bill that, where specific articles of foreign origin are ordered to be marked, the advertisements of those articles must also set forth that they are of foreign origin. Consider what that means, for instance, in regard to a full-page advertisement, perhaps at Christmas time, of one of our very large shops. Consider the amount of work and trouble it will mean to go through the goods advertised and find out whether a clock, or something or other, is of foreign manufacture and must be so specified in these advertisements. But the mischief does not stop there. Advertisements in trade catalogues have also, in the adjudged cases, to show that specific articles are of foreign origin. These trade catalogues are, in many cases, as big as books, and are very expensive to get up. All this will mean in future great worry and trouble and labour.
Apart from that—and I want to ask the noble Viscount whether this is so or not, because I think your Lordships will agree that it seems almost incredible—as I understand this Bill, what I am saying is perfectly correct, that under Clause 1 in the case of a trade catalogue which contains advertisements of some specific article made by a manufacturer abroad, 1092 if that foreign manufacturer's name happens to be the same as that of one single person of the 45,000,000 living in this country an offence will be committed under this Bill if that catalogue is still circulated. I believe that is correct. That would mean that the minute this Bill is passed many persons will be committing illegalities if they continue to circulate expensive trade catalogues some of which may have been prepared months ago. We shall have opportunities of going into many other details in Committee. We are going to take those opportunities, and we shall be able to show some of the absurd results which this Bill will have.
I will only touch upon one more at the moment. It has to do with agricultural produce. I notice the noble Lord, Lord Bledisloe, here and I would put this to him. As I understand this Bill it gives power to order the marking of crates of imported bananas, tomatoes, cabbages, and so on. I do not say that every individual cabbage has to be marked, although I do not see anything in the Bill to prevent that being made compulsory. But the crates have to be marked. These crates go, we will say, to Covent Garden market, and the goods are divided and sub-divided, but there is laid upon the retailer the legal obligation to show which of these cabbages or tomatoes are of foreign origin or of Empire origin. How on earth is that to be done? How on earth is the retailer to know? The obligation, I believe, is partly on the wholesaler to see that it is carried out, but you are laying down provisions here which it is impossible to carry out. If a Bill with provisions like this had been presented to your Lordships by Labour Government it would never have had the remotest chance of passing, and the noble Lord, Lord Banbury, would have been speechless with indignation.
A NOBLE LORD: Not speechless.
§ LORD ARNOLD
At any rate he would have been extremely indignant, and he would have strongly disapproved. The fact is that again and again in the passage of this Bill through Committee in another place the President of the Board of Trade was compelled to fall back upon the defence that the fears entertained were groundless because the Committees set up under the Board of 1093 Trade or the Board of Agriculture would see that nothing of the kind was done in view of the harm that would be produced if it were done. That is the defence which has been put up more than once. I am sorry to say that I find these assurances of very little value. We had similar assurances in regard to the Safeguarding of Industries Act. Your Lordships will not have forgotten the White Paper which was to be a direction to the Committees in that case, and was to provide some kind of guarantee. Has it done so? It has not done so. It has furnished no reliable security at all. That White Paper very soon became a "scrap of paper."
§ LORD ARNOLD
Yes, but the point is that things have been done quite contrary to what was to be done in legislation and therefore the safeguard was of no real value. There is no confidence to be placed in these Committees of the President of the Board of Trade. So it comes about that this Bill creates for our already harassed trading community more uncertainty just at the time when business very much needs stability and certainty, because, owing to the War and the unsettlement which followed therefrom, anybody who knows anything about business is aware that there has been very great uncertainty and chaos, and this Bill is deliberately going out of the way to create more.
The noble Viscount touched on the question of retaliation. It is not very often as a matter of fact, that Protectionists trouble about retaliation. As a rule they leave it out of account, and that is a very serious danger. This Bill is likely to lead to retaliation. That retaliation need not take the form of counter-provisions about the marking of foreign goods. It may take other forms. Indeed, I understand it was stated in another place, and as far as I know it has not been disputed, that already in connection with this Bill something of the kind is being brought about. I refer 1094 to Italy. There is in Italy I think at the present time something being done; measures are being taken to discourage foreign imports, and, since the introduction of this Bill, have been taken with special reference to this country. The Government will no doubt say, and they are right if they say, that some other countries have Bills like this and, therefore, why should not we have them. But we get back there to the eternal dispute about tariffs, and the reply to that is that because other countries do unsound fiscal things and resort to unsound fiscal expedients is no reason why we should do the same. It is mainly because we have not done the same that we have built up our overseas trade of unparalleled dimensions.
In conclusion, I should like to make this point. I do not think it can be denied that Europe at the present time is suffering severely owing to trade barriers and trade restrictions. As I say, I do not think that can be denied; in fact, there are many competent judges who foresee catastrophe unless something is done to ameliorate the present conditions. The manifesto published recently, signed by very important commercial magnates and other business people in most of the important industrial countries of the world, calling for the lessening of tariffs and trade restrictions was a document of historic importance. The so-called Safeguarding of Industries Acts passed by this Government have been a decidedly adverse factor in the movement against tariffs. They have been regarded abroad, and not unnaturally, as a sign that Great Britain is at last departing from her historic Free Trade position. Therefore, that legislation has been a great discouragement to the minorities, abroad who are struggling to bring about freer trade.
Now, on top of these Safeguarding of Industries Acts we have this Bill which will restrict imports and which, undoubtedly, has a protective influence of a serious character. And that is done just at the moment when, as I have said, there is only too much reason to believe that Europe is heading for calamity unless there is a freer interchange of commodities. I think then I am entitled to say that the time chosen for the introduction of this Bill is as unpropitious as it is 1095 possible to conceive. At the last General Election this Government got many votes on the ground that it would inaugurate an era of better trade, of confidence and of industrial peace and harmony. That has not happened, and, so far from that having happened, there has been in the last two years in this country worse trade and more industrial unsettlement than at any period in modern times, and the blame for that in no small degree rests upon the present Government. In my view it is scarcely less than a tragedy that the commercial interests of this country should be committed to the present President of the Board of Trade and that he should be free to come down with his bludgeon crashing into the delicate and complicated mechanism of our trade and industry; because that is what he is doing and that is what this Bill does. There is no real demand for it from the manufacturing community. There is, as I have admitted, some demand from agriculturists and poultry farmers who want foreign eggs branded or painted black or something of the sort.
§ LORD ARNOLD
That has been taken out, but the eggs can still be branded. Even the Government had to recognise that they were going too far and took it out. Yet because the poultry farmers of this country want protection against foreign eggs, vital and important trading interests are going to be placed at the mercy of an irresponsible Committee and a Protectionist President of the Board of Trade. Shortly put, that is what this Bill comes to.
Leave out ("now") and insert at end of Motion ("this day six months").—(Lord Arnold.)
LORD STANLEY OF ALDERLEY
My Lords, I listened to the speech of the noble Viscount who introduced this Bill with, if I may say so, some amusement. It seemed to me that the speech was not one such as would recommend this Bill to those who were not whole-heartedly its supporters. Those of us who have heard the Bill discussed, particularly in agricultural circles—I am not speaking of Protectionist circles which, no doubt, support the Bill—know that the driving 1096 force behind it is not the desire to protect the consumer against misrepresentation and is not really a desire to protect the individual producer against unfair attack; but it is really a desire to secure what is known as Protection for the producer by placing some barrier or obstacle in the way of his competitors meeting him on equal terms. It is certain that the driving force behind this Bill is a Protectionist force, a desire that by some means, by hook or by crook, foreign competition, an admittedly fair competition, should be handicapped for the benefit of the home consumer.
The noble Viscount's introduction of this Bill sounded very plausible upon the subject. He would have us believe that it is a mere regulating Bill to protect the innocent consumer against being misled by the absence of labels; yet I think it is certain—and I believe your Lordships will agree with me—that the driving force behind the Bill is something very different. Had the speech of the noble Viscount to which we listened this afternoon been delivered at a farmers' club or in the market place on a Saturday afternoon, I wonder whether it would have been received with enthusiastic applause by the farmers and agriculturists there assembled. The speeches made by supporters of the Bill have been a great deal more full blooded than his speech. He minimised as far as he could the effect of the Bill. He suggested that there would be but little, if any, interference with the trade of this country; that this Bill could only be applied under most stringent safeguards; that the re-exporter is protected on every hand by the carefully devised safeguards which the Bill contains. He would have us believe, in fact, that but few Orders would be issued under the Bill, and that most articles would continue to come in untouched by regulations and unhampered by any Order in Council issued after Inquiry.
For my part I hope that will be the case. I would not have it thought that we on these Benches or in the Liberal Party are in any degree unsympathetic with the desire to protect the consumer against fraud and misrepresentation and against buying an article other than that which he expects to buy. Nor would I have it thought that we are indifferent to the effect on producers of articles competing unfairly and masquerading as 1097 British when they are not British. Free Trade does not imply that Free Traders are indifferent either to the interest of the producer or of the consumer. We are concerned with the interests of all. We are concerned to see that no man has an unfair deal in the markets of this country or of the world. But the driving force behind this is the request that some obstacle shall be placed in the way of those who import into this country perfectly honest articles, not misrepresented in any way, in competition with British articles. The British article now stands on its own merits and ought not to be bolstered up by any undue interference on the part of a Government Department. It may be said that this Bill does not give unfair interference, that it merely lays down that foreign articles shall be sold as such. That is true as regards the Bill, but one cannot leave out from one's consideration what; is in the minds, I will not say of the present Government but of a good many of those who support this Bill. It is thought that somehow or other, if you cannot get Protection at the present moment, you can at least get something equivalent to Protection, some sort of obstacle—it may be a small one, though I think the whole-hearted supporters of this Bill think it is going to be quite a substantial one—put in the way of the foreign trader.
I will do the present Government the compliment of believing that they do in fact hold by the pledges they gave at the last Election, that they do not go beyond the promises they gave. Promises are often given by political Parties seeking office that certain questions shall be left out of account in the ensuing Parliament if they come into power. That has happened to every Party in the State. They have excluded themselves from dealing with certain points in their programme (points in which they believe) because they hold that there are more important points, more vital points in regard to which the country needs the services of the Party immediately, and they do not wish to complicate the electoral position by bringing in a question, important in itself but which may prevent them getting that power to deal with other questions which they consider to be of more immediate urgency. I cannot blame. I never have blamed the Con- 1098 servative Party for having done what they did at the last Election—postponed or hung up the question of Protection until a future date. By so doing they have not abandoned their principles; they have merely declared that for the present there are other questions of more immediate import. I believe the present Government desire to live up to, and on the whole have lived up to, that declaration; that, with some exceptions perhaps, they have avoided giving a handle to those who would say, "You are now bringing in protective legislation." Even in this case it may be said that the Bill is hardly in itself protective. I believe that the Board of Trade in its administration will leave the protective aspect of the question out of account.
This Bill is composed, as the noble Viscount; explained to us, of two parts. Clause 1 deals with one point and the remainder of the Bill deals with others. May I deal with the second part first. Clauses 2 and 3 of the Bill I think provide for elaborate machinery for the imposition of these markings on imported goods, subject to a considerable number of provisos. In the first place a request has to be made by a substantial body of persons representing producers, consumers, importers and so on, and a Committee has to be set up in response to that request. Whether the President of the Board of Trade can decline to set up the Committee, even if requested to do so by a substantial body, I am not quite clear. Perhaps we shall be told whether that is so or not. But granted the Committee is set up, the President of the Board of Trade is perfectly free to disregard the advice of that Committee and can neglect it altogether. Further, the President of the Board of Trade can after he has accepted the advice, impose restrictions by means of marking, and he can withdraw those restrictions subject to his referring his action to the Committee which advises him.
The whole thing is made up of the discretion of the President of the Board of Trade from beginning to end. The President of the Board of Trade can, subject to getting, as I understand, the advice of the Committee, impose such restrictions, limitations and markings as he thinks fit with regard to the recommendations of the Committee, or he can impose markings in diminution of the recommenda- 1099 tions of the Committee. He can take off part or the whole of a Regulation. It is obvious that with an option such as the Bill contains at every turn, an option in the hands of a Government Department, you are bound to have less application of this Bill. I know the Government will not use this in a protective sense, that the regulations they impose will be reasonable and will not have any protective effect, but one must remember that this Bill will not be for the period of the lifetime of this Government but will be available to any future Government and that it will be possible under this Bill for a President of the Board of Trade to go a great deal further and to impose many more difficulties in the way of our foreign import trade than will be imposed by the present President of the Board of Trade.
Then, as to the Committee, it is most difficult to know what is impartiality. Who can say what it is? It is almost as difficult as to say what is truth. Who can say whether the Committee, honestly believing it is desirable to exclude foreign goods, will not come to the conclusion that it is desirable to impose marking obligations on every sort of article imported. The Committee will declare itself and honourably believe itself to be impartial, but there is such a thing as innate belief. The Committee will believe that they are acting impartially, they will desire to be impartial, but the trend of mind of a Committee will affect the recommendations which any Committee makes. You may get a Committee made up of high Protectionists who will approach the question in a different atmosphere and in a different way from that in which it would be approached by another kind of Committee.
As to Clause 1, I understand it is very little more than a re-enactment of the existing law. It is illegal now to pass off a foreign-made article with a British name; to sell Danish butter as British butter is already illegal. The whole clause is, I think, practically covered by the existing law, with this exception, that there are words in this clause which provide that to distribute a foreign-made article by way of advertisement shall be an offence. The words are: "It shall not be lawful to sell or distribute by way of advertisement any," etc. Surely under that clause there is a possibility of misleading people. Take, for instance, the case of a British 1100 aerated water manufacturer who desires to distribute ashtrays to his customers as an advertisement of his trade as an aerated water manufacturer. He buys the ashtrays from abroad and, therefore, there must be on the ashtrays, as I understand it, a statement that they are of foreign manufacture. That in itself is likely to give rise to a wrong impression in the minds of the recipients of the ashtrays. They may well think that it is the aerated water which is advertised as of foreign manufacture. Take the firm of Schweppe, if it is an English firm. It does not sound very English but I believe it to be purely English. Would people be able to distinguish Schweppe aerated waters from waters manufactured abroad if Schweppe were to issue as an advertisement ashtrays which contained the words "of foreign manufacture"? It is easy to see that such a thing might be a great detriment to the Schweppe firm if customers thought they were being invited to consume aerated water of foreign manufacture.
I must say it seems to me that it would be a considerable hardship on a British firm to insist that they should do themselves harm by the possible implication that they are advertising their water as foreign water or else be restricted to employing British manufactures for the purpose of advertising. Who is injured by such an advertisement? Clearly not the recipient of the advertisement for he does not buy the advertisement and he is not misled. It is sent to him whether he likes it or not. We all of us get calendars, catalogues and almanacs sent to us about Christmas time by firms who have dealt with us or who desire to deal with us and we are not injured by the fact that we get one which has been printed abroad. We are not deceived by it. The only person who could be said to be injured is the competing English porcelain manufacturer or the printer of the catalogue who does not get the business from the advertiser, presumably because the advertiser finds that he can get his articles cheaper or better or more conveniently from a foreign market. But surely to compel a manufacturer to go to a British advertising contractor to get his articles is simply the imposition of Protection. It is practically saying to him: "You must either misrepresent your articles 1101 by printing on your advertisement 'Made abroad' or 'Foreign made' or you must buy your articles from a British advertising agent." It seems to me that that might very well be subject to further consideration in Committee.
The Bill really leaves one very much in the dark as to what it is going to do. One does not really know how much it will be used, or whether it will be used to the same extent by one Government as by another; whether the present Government is going to use it largely or with discretion, or whether the next Government that comes in will not make an entirely different use of it. The Bill contains the possibility of every sort of use. The Bill is, in fact, one which really does not inform us as to what is going to happen under it. All we know is that interests will go to the Board of Trade and will request the appointment of a Committee, the Board of Trade will appoint the Committee and after the Committee has reported the Board of Trade will be free to act on the Report or not. I do not much like that sort of legislation. I like greater certainty as to what is to ensue if the Bill is passed into law. I prefer to know what the Bill really involves us in. Does it involve us in general irritating little obstacles in the way of imports, or is it to be used in a mild, inoffensive, harmless way? The noble Viscount suggested the latter, but we have no guarantee and can have no guarantee that such will be the use to which the Bill will be put hereafter.
We hear objections to legislation by reference. Legislation by reference confuses the layman for he finds when he reads the Bill that it is impossible to understand what it means. But there is something worse than legislation by reference, and that is legislation by Order in Council which gives freedom to the Executive to do nearly what they please, freedom to impose provisions to the full or to relax them, freedom to enforce the Bill to its full extent or to enforce it to some extent. The whole Bill is nebulous and uncertain and I do not know how it may be used. For that reason I agree with the Motion which has been moved by Lord Arnold.
I do not wish to accuse the Government of any fraudulent intention in the introduction of the Bill—I do not think they have any fraudulent intention— 1102 but the Bill can be used in a way that is oppressive and hard. That convinces me that it would be desirable either greatly to amend the Bill—though I doubt whether the Bill in its present form can be amended—or to ask the House not to give assent to a Bill which is full of danger, which is full of uncertainty, and which has behind it the support, not of the honest producer or of the honest consumer, but of those who wish to alter the system under which the country has existed, the Free Trade system which has been the great bulwark of the general prosperity and the financial and commercial prosperity of this country.
§ VISCOUNT INCHCAPE
My Lords, may I mention a small personal matter before speaking to your Lordships on this Bill? I found myself a little time ago out of sympathy with many avowed intentions of the Liberal Party as now constituted, including a certain "land stunt" and a certain support given to the man who has wrought infinite danger to the country and the people and who is now urging the miners who return to work to break their agreements. I found myself on this side [the Government side] of your Lordships' House for a few minutes some little time ago as a matter of convenience after a Division beside a Conservative noble Lord. He said he presumed I should be sitting where I was but for one thing—the menace to Free Trade. I agreed with him and though I have now moved over for what I consider adequate reasons it does not mean that I have abandoned or will ever abandon my belief in Free Trade for this country. Under Free Trade the country has prospered for the last century beyond all bounds. I am getting on in years and if the catastrophe of Protection comes it may not come in my time, but I venture to say that in my humble judgment, if the Government interfere with the free exchange of commodities between this country and the world, Great Britain will become a mere cypher, unemployment will increase, taxation, if we are to stand up to our obligations, as I hope we will, will wipe out the country's wealth and these little Islands in the North Sea will sink to a place of no importance in the world. Some weeks ago I told my noble friend Earl Beauchamp what I had decided to do and a few 1103 nights ago he came over to me here and chaffingly remarked: "So you have joined the Protectionist Party." What I have just said is my reply.
We are not a self-contained country and we never shall be unless our population diminishes by three-fourths of what it is at present. We live by what we manufacture and send abroad and by the ships we build, and these are paid for by international trade. The result of this Bill when it becomes law, so far as I can see, will be to hamper trade. Think of the Committees and the machinery which the noble Viscount has just told us will have to be brought into force to carry through this Bill. The whole thing, to my mind, is absolutely preposterous. It will involve a huge increase of functionaries who will fatten on the people until such time as the people will rise and rend them. I am convinced that those who are behind this Bill have nothing but the interests of their country at heart, but I am equally convinced that if their policy succeeds and leads to the people of these Islands purchasing and consuming only the products of this country and of the British Dominions it will bring disaster to that world-wide trade and those exports which have been our sheet anchor for nearly a century. Do you believe that the people of these Islands, or even your Lordships, will refuse to buy Danish butter or China tea if they are cheaper than and as good as British butter or Indian tea, or that they will refuse to buy oranges from the Levant if they are cheaper than and just as, good as oranges from any of our Dominions? Would your Lordships or the people refuse to buy eggs laid on the Continent if they are as fresh as and cheaper than eggs which are laid by our own barndoor fowls? I do not believe it for a moment.
The noble Viscount, Lord Peel, referred to the advertising of foreign goods. I remember that many years ago in India a Merchandise Marks Act became law, following a British Act. Everything had to be stamped with the country of origin. The consequence was that the goods that were coming into India from Germany were thereafter stamped "Made in Germany." These articles permeated all the bazaars, they were bought by the million and when the million came to replenish their stocks they had got accustomed to good stamped "Made in Germany" and 1104 would buy no others. It was the very best advertisement German goods ever had. The proposal of the Government in this Bill may sound all right to those who know little or, it may be, nothing of business or political economy. To them it has an attraction; to me, if I may venture to say so, it has none. It is getting us on to the slippery plane of Protection and that, if it eventuates, will kill many industries and will inflict untold hardship upon our people. I have no personal axe to grind. By dint of industry and, I hope, honesty during a long period of years, some of which have been spent in working for my country and India, I have all that I shall ever be likely to need. No doubt the Second Reading of this Bill will pass your Lordships' House but, although I am sitting upon these Benches, I cannot support it.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
My Lords, we who are opposed to this Bill may well congratulate ourselves upon the admirable speech to which we have just listened. We could not have had from any Bench in this House a more thoroughgoing denunciation of this measure than that to which we have just listened from the noble Viscount. I only wish that I had persuaded him, as I have tried to persuade him on previous occasions, to make similar speeches from these Benches. As for the noble Lord who has in charge the whipping of the Conservative Party, I do hope, if I may venture to say so that he will not find all his new recruits as recalcitrant as the last and that they will be sometimes found voting in the Lobby with the Party that they have just joined. On this occasion I look forward with much pleasure to the first vote given by the noble Viscount since he joined the Conservative Party being given against the measure that they have just introduced.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
If the noble Viscount will allow me to say so, I think that the speech that he has just delivered will be far more effective than twenty or even a hundred votes given in support of or against this measure. His speech will be of very real influence. It is quite evident that your Lordships have had a thoroughgoing examination of the Bill, 1105 and I do not propose to add at great length to the criticisms of the measure that have proceeded from both sides of the House. I quite agree that there was some real reason for the existence of the original Merchandise Marks Act and that, supposing people wished to mark their goods as having a certain origin and then found that other goods were marked in the same way by fraud and forgery, there is every reason why the offenders should be penalised, and if those penalties do not prove to be sufficient their further measures may well be introduced into your Lordships' House increasing them until the fraud or forgery is completely stopped. Unfortunately we know that this has been the case in the past. People have been prosecuted for giving false descriptions, and I should have thought that the original Bill was really sufficient.
But the intention of punishing fraud is not really the reason for the introduction of this Bill. His Majesty's Government wish to go a great deal further than to strengthen the law or increase the penalties. They want to make producers mark their goods and to encourage purchasers to make their choice as to the goods which they wish to purchase, at any rate in cases where this is desired. This Bill may lead—I do not say that it will—to the compulsory marking of all foreign goods brought into this country. A Committee may be appointed and the President of the Board of Trade may agree, and in that case the requisite Orders in Council will be made. I confess that I regret this reference to Committees, especially Committees ad hoc. I do not think that it is really a sound method of procedure to isolate one industry and make it a subject of Inquiry without going into the question of its relation to the industry of this country as a whole. It would be very much better, I believe, if all these things were discussed on the floor of the House of Commons, where all the interests of the nation have complete representation and where the competing interests of different trades would have an opportunity of being heard and the situation would be reviewed as a whole rather than the situation as regards one special and particular industry.
I am tempted to repeat an electioneering story which shows the harm which may be done by having too tender a regard 1106 for one single industry at one moment. It is the story of a Scotsman in a convalescent hospital who did not seem to get any better. A sympathetic doctor who came along thought that he might be improved and inspirited if he were confronted with some of the sights and sounds of his native land and very kindly arranged for a Highlander with kilt and bagpipes to go one afternoon and play up and down the ward. Next morning the doctor came and asked how the Scotsman was getting on. He was very much better for this encouragement, but unfortunately all the other patients in the hospital were dead. What we need to do is, not to regard too intimately the interests of one particular industry or one particular individual, but rather the industry of this country as a whole.
The importance of the entrepot trade has already been dealt with, as also the importance to the mercantile marine of that trade itself and also of the imports coming into the country. I can well understand the feeling of the noble Viscount who has just spoken in this matter, because everything that hampers trade and prevents imports coming into this country is certain to be a blow to the mercantile marine. Just as we always find that where trade is most free you get the best mercantile marine, so also the opposite theory holds and the mercantile marine is never so successful as in a Free Trade country. There are many technical difficulties to some of which I may perhaps make reference. The difficulty, for instance, of marking pineapples. How, if it is requested, can a pineapple possibly be marked? Your Lordships may have seen, in the course of this week, a very interesting exhibit in the Bishops' corridor of this House, showing the tariff walls which exist between one country and another, and I suppose there are few of your Lordships who were not shocked by the height of those walls, in some respects. This Bill may go some way in increasing the height of the walls which exist against goods coming into this country, and it may give some encouragement to people in other countries still further to raise the walls which exist around their own countries.
There are other difficulties than those which have been mentioned. What about a dressing-case, of which the component parts have been collected from a number 1107 of different countries. What about the case of the bottle of beer, the bottle coming from Czecho-Slovakia and the beer from this country? How are the labels to be fixed, and what degree of prominence is to be given to them? I heard only yesterday of a friend who went into a shop in Victoria Street and asked for a pencil. He was given a pencil stamped with "Made in Czecho-Slovakia." He asked whether he could not be given a pencil made in this country. The reply was: "Oh, it is all right, Czecho-Slovakia belongs to this country now, and has done so since the War." I am not sure that it may not be necessary to add lessons in geography for the people who have to sell the goods in future. I look with a good deal of dread also to the increase in the number of bureaucrats which this Bill is going to bring about in this country. I look with dread to the fact that you must have a large number of officers to administer this measure. The object of this Bill, I confess, is ostensibly that people may know what they are buying, but I cannot help thinking that the result will be great hindrance to our trade and real damage to employment in this country. For that reason I shall certainly give my vote against the Second Reading to-night.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
My Lords, if your Lordships will allow me I should like to say one or two words in reply. May I first of all reply to my noble friend behind me, because I naturally take great interest in his observations as he now belongs to the Party to which I also belong. I always have listened with the highest respect to observations which he makes, especially upon trade matters, and may I say that that respect is enhanced now that I find him sitting on the same Benches. It is a matter of profound regret to me that he should find it necessary to signalise his entry into my own Party by a speech critical of the Bill of that Party which he has just made. May I respectfully hope that this will be the only fault that he has committed in joining the Party? I think my noble friend, if I may say so without disrespect, took rather too melancholy a view of the effect of this Bill. He really did treat it, I think, generally as a Protectionist measure and as part of a Protectionist scheme. I think he is putting it rather high, and 1108 that all that it really means is that the British consumer should be able to see, when he buys goods, whether he is buying British or foreign goods. It is rather difficult for me to see how that can be translated into what I call the language of general Protection.
Then Lord Stanley of Alderley, who made, if I may say so, a very moderate and careful criticism of the Bill, mostly took the view, I think, that although he had a good deal of confidence in the wisdom of the Conservative Government he feared that other Governments might possibly misuse the measure.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
And I hope also in their intelligence. I share his view very much. I think it is quite possible that in administration some of the measures passed by the Conservative Government may, I will not say be misused, but possibly may not be so well administered by other Governments as they will be by the present Government. That, however, is a general criticism, is it not? It applies not only to this Bill but to all the measures which are being produced by the present Government. The noble Lord also, I think, took a serious view of what he called entrusting so much power to Committees, and he said that he would prefer—I think it was also said by Lord Beauchamp—to have matters thrashed out on the floor of the House. No one has a higher respect for the House of Commons than I have, but I think that the House of Commons, and your Lordships, would be a great deal assisted in your criticism of any of these proposals, when they come before you, as they must do, if you are reinforced by the labours of (I hope) an impartial and certainly a quasi-judicial Committee. I need hardly say that an independent House like your Lordships' House is not necessarily moved by the Report of a Committee. You form your own opinions, but nevertheless I think you are glad to get information from a Committee which has thoroughly discussed and considered the matter.
Then Lord Beauchamp was afraid that this Bill might lead to the general marking of all goods. I suppose it might lead to that but I think, looking at the general probabilities of the case, it is extremely 1109 unlikely that such a wide application of the Bill could possibly be made. Anyhow, that is entirely within the power of this House and of another place. The noble Earl also suggested that it was a mistake—I quite agree with him—to consider the interests of one particular industry or trade without considering the interests of the whole. May I say that the same thoughts occurred to the Government, and that they have provided that the Department, in considering the interests of particular trades, shall have reference to the whole trade of the country and to inter-Imperial trade. I think that that point has been to a certain extent safeguarded. The noble Earl has given interesting examples such as of pineapples, dressing cases and pencils. Perhaps he will allow me to reserve my detailed examination of those points until we get into Committee. May I point out, however, that these Orders under subsection (6) are only to apply when the Committee "consider that it is practically possible to apply an indication of origin effectively and without injury to the goods." I am not a sufficient judge of pineapples to know whether you can apply such a mark to them without injury to the goods, but that is a matter which the Committee will have to consider.
The noble Lord, Lord Arnold, also raised several points. In effect he challenged me on one case. He indicated what I suppose would be the policy of the Labour Party. He said, in effect, "Why mark these foreign and Imperial goods? You have a much simpler plan, mark British goods, and then you will know that other goods are foreign." Of course that would not apply to the distinction between foreign and Imperial goods. I will give him one reason why it might be a great mistake to proceed by his method, and why I trust the Labour Party will not bring in a Bill on the lines which he has indicated. Of the total production in this country six-sevenths, or possibly a little less, is consumed in this country, and the balance of one-sixth or one-seventh is exported. Therefore obviously it would be a great mistake. You would have to mark the whole of the production in this country, and that would be a very considerable business. Surely it is very much simpler to mark the more limited quantity of 1110 goods, or rather a portion of them, imported from foreign countries. If the noble Lord talks about bureaucrats I think he would have to develop his bureaucratic system very considerably if the contrary course were taken.
§ VISCOUNT PEEL
I was only dealing with a very kind suggestion of the noble Lord, in which he said that we might attain the same object by what he said was a cheaper system. In fact, I do not understand the attitude of the noble Lord at all, because what is the object of this Bill? It is to permit the Briton to have a choice whether he buys British or foreign goods, that is to say, whether he buys goods made by well-paid labour or goods made by foreign labour that is less well-paid. I should have thought that many of the noble Lord's colleagues in the Labour Party would have agreed to a proposition of that kind, and I cannot help thinking that it is some of his old Liberal garments which are hanging to him when he denounces this Bill, and not the new robes which he has recently put on.
I think I. dealt in anticipation with a good many of the points he made, and many of them, I think, were in the nature of Committee points. He threatened us with rather dire results in other countries, and he said campaigns were already being set on foot to keep out British goods. I think they have been set on foot for some time; one speaker, indeed, referred to that very interesting exhibition showing the heights of foreign tariffs, which proves that the process has already been in operation for some time—long before this Bill was introduced. As regards Italy, the noble Lord was rather general but he told us that a number of operations, stimulated by the introduction of this Bill, were proceeding against British goods. I have made inquiries on that subject, and I have not heard of any such attack being made on British goods. It is perfectly true that, owing no doubt to Fascist principles, Italy has been recently raising its tariffs, but that is against all the world, and I can assure the noble Lord that it is not in any sense directed against British goods. Then he betrayed great distrust of Committees and also, I think, 1111 of discussions, both in your Lordships' House and elsewhere. He said he had been fifteen years in political life and he did not think very much of Parliament.
§ LORD ARNOLD
No, that is a mistake. The noble Viscount was referring to Orders, in Council, and I said that, although there have been during the last fifteen years—the period in which I happen to have been in one or other House of Parliament—a very large number of Orders in Council, I could not at the moment recall a single case in which effective action had been taken.
§ Resolved in the affirmative and Amendment disagreed to accordingly.
§ Bill read 2ª and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.