§ 2.51 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD MANCROFT
My Lords, the Merchandise Marks Bill, to which I am going to ask the House to accord a Second Reading in due course, is the fulfilment of a promise made in another place on March 13, 1952, by my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade. I am afraid that the Bill is a very technical one and also a very dull one. I have little optimism in my own powers either to explain the technicalities or to dispel the dullness, but I hope at least that I shall be able to persuade your Lordships that it is a not unimportant measure, a beneficent one, and one which may have large domestic and commercial effects. May I begin by trying to explain what are the general purposes of this Bill? The first purpose is to attempt to widen the legal definition of the expression, "trade description." 264 and, by so doing, to give greater protection to honest traders against those traders with fewer commercial scruples. The second purpose is to try to afford greater protection to the public generally and to the shopping public in particular. The third purpose is to do everything that is possible, within the terms of reference of this measure, to afford better protection to the good name of British craftsmanship throughout the world.
As I understand it, the general practice in this matter at the moment is this. There is no obligation on a trader or manufacturer, or, indeed, on a shopkeeper, unless he so wishes, to apply any description to his goods. He can describe them in his own language, or he can refrain from describing them. In the course of preparing my remarks upon this measure, I had occasion to resort to a form of literature which I must confess had not previously come extensively my way—I refer to the popular women's magazines which, as I now discover, have a fantastically wide circulation and of which there are many different kinds. In studying the advertisements therein, one of the things that struck me most, and would, I am certain, strike your Lordships if you were to follow my example, was the number of advertisements which, to the uninitiated, contained no clue whatever as to the purpose or content of the goods advertised. I am told that the housewife would readily understand what all these patent names and patent packages convey, but to the uninitiated they convey nothing. There is no objection to that whatever. That is, with one or two obvious statutory exceptions, perfectly in accordance with the law. The Pharmacy and Medicines Act,1941, concerning patent medicines and similar things, is one obvious exception; the Seeds Act, 1920, imposes upon the merchant certain obligations to describe his goods; and, of course, the various Hall-Marking and Assay Acts, a study of which is a fascinating lesson in England's commercial growth, lay a special charge on those engaged in that trade. If you, as a manufacturer, see fit to describe your goods, you immediately bring yourself into the purview of the Merchandise Marks Act, 1887. It is that measure primarily which this Bill before the House to-day sets out to amend.
265 Perhaps the title of this present Bill is a little misleading: possibly it should be the Merchandise Marks and Descriptions Bill, because the original Act was concerned much more with trade marks than is this present Bill. Under the 1887 Act, as I understand it, the law is this. If a trader chooses to describe his goods, and if the characteristic to which his description relates happens to fall within the terms of any of the legal definitions, then it is a trade description within the meaning of the Act. If that trade description is false in any important feature, then the trader has committed an offence. That is to say, if he describes a coat as being a mink coat, well and good; but the purchasing public are entitled to understand from that that the coat is made from mink, and if the trader puts into it any of the other innumerable furs, with innumerable fancy names, which a few animals seem to assume the moment they become dead then, under this Act, he is committing an offence. If you describe a ring as a gold ring, you are thought to be referring to a gold ring, and not to a gold-plated ring. If you describe a dress as an all-wool dress, you are not—or were not; but this is a bone of contention—supposed to include therein any other material. That is the law, as I understand it, at the moment, and it has been found for some time in the past that the law as it stands is not wide enough for ordinary commercial and everyday purposes.
The reasons why that is so, and the reasons, therefore, why it is considered that the law needs amending, are not without some interest, both commercial and academic. The first reason is the great contrast in the method of describing trade goods exercised by manufacturers to-day, and exercised by the manufacturers before the year 1887, the year of the original Act. In the course of my studies, I have also had occasion to examine the advertisements common in the everyday journals before the year1887, and to compare them with those of to-day. The contrast is striking. In those days, nearly all the advertisements were directed towards the contents of the product; now, the interest seems to be directed towards the performance of the product. That is a most important contrast. By "performance" I mean such expressions as these: "heat-resisting glass." "silent typewriter," "unbreakable 266 doll," "unshrinkable mackintosh," and so on. It is the performance to which attention is drawn, and that is quite a new development in our commercial practice.
The second change which has come over our commercial life, quite unrelated to the first, is also in a marked way responsible for the need for this change in the law. I refer to the high-pressure salesmanship and advertising, to the mass-production and the mass-distribution of goods, to which we are all now becoming accustomed. I suppose that there are few of us who do not carry somewhere in the affectionate recesses of our memory knowledge of some example of that most English of all English institutions, the village shop. Your Lordships will remember its familiar smell of paraffin oil and bulls-eyes, the shelves and the dark recesses stocking almost everything—"ships and shoes and sealing-wax"—and in the front the inevitable tortoiseshell cat sleeping on a sack of potatoes. In the year 1887, if you walked into a shop and asked for three-pennyworth of candles, a bundle of wood, a bar of soap and the Morning Post, you undoubtedly got the whole lot, because the village shop always stocked everything. If such a shop exists in your Lordships' villages to-day, you would ask for some commodities, and you would get them. But you would ask for nearly everything by a branded name. The result is that the relationship between shopkeeper and customer is dying. No longer, in a small shop, does the customer depend upon the integrity and the skill of the individual shopkeeper; he depends much more upon the integrity of the big manufacturer, the big distributor and the big advertiser. That has had a very marked effect, because advertising and the spread of these popular goods down to the smallest level has completely changed the commercial relationship between the producer and the shopping public.
The third reason why the 1887 Act is out of date is this. As is common knowledge, within the last fifty years, and particularly within the last ten years, there has been a great development in synthetic materials. I suppose that the chief one, to common knowledge, would be artificial silk, which raised great problems from the point of view of the law, in that it was neither artificial nor silk. Now we have reached the stage with nylon, where the artificial fabric nylon itself is by some 267 people, and for some purposes, considered of even greater value than the original material which it was supposed to supplant. Therefore, with all these synthetic products, with various degrees of synthetic material in various made-up garments, great difficulty is experienced in getting an honest and fair description of what the article really contains. The last reason, perhaps, why the need for this change exists lies in the fact that the British Standards Institution, which has a great influence in these matters, was not itself founded until the year 1901.
The effect of all these changes is this. Even while sticking faithfully to the letter of the law, it is perfectly possible, because circumstances have changed to such a marked degree, for rogues to prey upon innocent people in the most scandalous way and yet not bring themselves within the terms of the Act. That is happening, I am afraid, with increasing commonness, and that is largely the reason, for the introduction of this measure. Let me give your Lordships several examples—I am sure you will have many more in mind. You will have followed in the course of the last few weeks the long and interesting correspondence in The Times on the subject of textiles. I have looked into the matter carefully, and I believe it to be almost impossible to define textiles in such a way that everybody is satisfied. I have an example here of a child's dress offered for sale in a suburban shop in London. The ticket alongside it reads as follows: "Less than half the price you would normally pay for an all-wool dress." Now that statement is perfectly true. It would, in fact, be true if the ticket had said, "Less than half the price you would normally pay for a Christian Dior model," because the dress offered for sale was neither an all-wool dress nor a Christian Dior model. The statement literally was perfectly true, but it was equally true that it was calculated to deceive, and probably did deceive.
I will not give your Lordships other examples of cases like this, where the intention is to deceive but no breach of the law has actually taken place; where a false description has been applied but not one which brings the offender within the confines of the law. In the course of the preparation of my remarks, I was happy to receive from an interested party in this matter a present, a bottle of 268 whisky. I am sorry to say that it was only half full—I am speaking as an optimist. Were I a pessimist I should, of course, describe it as half empty. But it was not the contents so much as the label on the bottle which led to my being given this present. The label was printed upon a background of what I now understand, from certain friends sitting recently behind me, to be the Clan MacGregor Tartan. In the left-hand corner of the label, a stalwart gentleman, with a broadsword in one hand and a shield in the other, is declaring defiance to all corners. On the right hand side of the label is written, "Pride of the Glen, Gold Medal Liqueur Whisky." Then in very small letters, at the bottom of the label, there were the words, "Made in Japan." As I understand the law at present, no offence is committed by that label. The word "Scotch" does not appear anywhere in it, but that is, of course, the impression it is intended to convey upon the unwary drinker. The law, as we now intend to amend it, will catch such a case. I am sorry to end the story on a disappointing note: the whisky, regret to say, was really quite drinkable. There are a multitude of other cases where there is definitely an intention to deceive as to the purpose and quality of the articles.
Turning to the Bill itself, Clause 1 (1) extends the existing definition of "trade description" to bring within its scope additional characteristics by which goods are now commonly described. It does this by introducing into the wording of the clause the words, "quality" and "fitness for purpose." Those are the important words. That means that if a dish is now described as "heat-resisting" it must be fit for the purpose for which, to a reasonable man, it is obviously intended. If a carpet is described as mothproof, it has to be reasonably mothproof. Subsection (2) extends the meaning of "false trade description" to include misleading trade description. It now becomes an offence to describe goods in a manner calculated to mislead, even though there is no positive falsehood conveyed in the description. That deliberately and completely catches the whisky label which I have just been discussing. It is suggested that this ban on these misleading trade descriptions may endanger existing trade marks which are themselves also trade descriptions. "Veno's 269 Lightning Cough Cure" is one example. This mark is well known, and it is accepted as being not seriously misleading or false, and the prohibition of a mark such as that would probably cause more injustice than justice. A special exception is made for that particular type. The coming into force of the clause is postponed for six months, therefore, in order to give traders the opportunity of clearing existing stocks of any material which they think is likely to offend in any grievous way.
Clause 2 of the Bill, I am sorry to say, is very technical indeed, and is designed to prevent the risk of double prosecution. The clause deals with exceptions to certain statutory descriptions applied to agricultural goods, which are subject to special legislation. Your Lordships will remember that I referred a short while ago to the Seeds Act, 1920. Subsection (1) excepts from the 1887 Act statutory descriptions which sellers are required by the Seeds Act, 1920, or the Fertilisers and Feedingstuffs Act, 1926, to give on the sale of seeds and seed potatoes and certain fertilisers and feedingstuffs. The effect of this clause, as I understand it, is to leave it to the Ministry of Agriculture to decide whether persons, authorised under any of the relevant agricultural grading Acts to apply a grade designation mark to any particular product, should be free from the normal penal liability under the Merchandise Marks Act in the event of applying the mark wrongly. Clause 3 applies only to imported goods, and is intended to close a minor gap in existing legislation on indications of origin. Clause 4 increases the fines on summary conviction, which are at the present moment £20 for the first conviction and £50 for a second or subsequent conviction. I think this was probably good enough value for money, even as far back as 1887, and I think we are fully justified in increasing the fines to £50 and £100 respectively.
That, therefore, is the Bill. I do not pretend for one moment that the Bill is either watertight or foolproof. I think it would be undesirable if one attempted to make it so. If we were to clutter up the trade with so many regulations and so many niceties of definition, the whole Act would be brought to naught. As I have already suggested, we have some major types of merchandise, such 270 as textiles, for which it would be almost impossible to draft a clause that would be 100 per cent. watertight. Furthermore, one must be reasonable in these cases. Nobody suggests that a glass dish is really completely heat-proof. If you throw it into a furnace it will obviously not be heat-proof. Nobody suggests that a doll is really unbreakable. Indeed, anybody who has small children is probably prepared to agree with me that nothing has yet been made which is completely unbreakable. It is fitness for purpose which is now the governing factor in the Bill. I think a reasonable excuse must be made for the legitimate "puff"—the legitimate trade boost.
Early on, some well-wishers of this Bill were kind enough to suggest an Amendment to it which, on the face of it, appeared very plausible. We found on closer examination that it would have the effect of immediately making it a criminal offence to assert that "Guinness is good for you," and to seek to suggest for one moment that a glass of that beverage would give a man the necessary strength to lift an iron girder. If the Bill were to be as wide-sweeping as that, it would obviously defeat its own objects; but all such reasonable "puff"—all advertisers' and producers' backslapping—is excluded and will not he caught or brought within the purview of this Bill. After all, there is the old maxim, caveat emptor—it is impossible to protect everybody from his own foolishness. All that can be done, and all we are seeking to do in this Bill, is to protect a man from something of which he could not reasonably have knowledge, or of which he ought to have been put on his guard by a scrupulous producer or a scrupulous manufacturer.
The need for such protection is more evident now that the public have become more quality-conscious. Perhaps the war did that, or perhaps the high price of goods now makes people more than ever determined that they will get good value for their money. Perhaps this is due to the propaganda of such organisations as the Retail Trading Standards Association, and indeed the B.B.C. and the women's magazines to which I have referred, all of which have put the public on their guard against shoddy material and fraudulent misrepresentation. Many people, therefore, have gone shopping determined to see that they get value for their money. I think that this Bill goes far to offset 271 many of the evils which, alas! are becoming prevalent in our commercial life. It does not seek to do anything more than it sets out to do. It is limited in its scope but I think its scope is wide. The Bill has met with a favourable reception from the public, and I think that all the trade concerns who have already been consulted are not unfavourably disposed towards it. I trust that I have said enough to persuade your Lordships that it is worthy of your approval also. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read2a.—(Lord Mancroft.)
§ 3.11 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, before I address myself to the subject of the Bill, I feel I shall be speaking for all your Lordships if I say how pleased we are to see the noble Lord, Lord Man-croft, back again after his rather serious illness. We hope that the next Bill he has to introduce in this House will not be quite so technical or so dull as this one—although nothing could be really dull in the hands of the noble Lord. The noble Lord was quite right: this is a good Bill as far as it goes; but it does not go very far. It only brings before us the dire necessity of doing something in 1953 which was impossible and not necessary in 1887.
Now what does this Bill purport to do? The noble Lord has condensed it: it widens the scope of the Act of 1887. I have here a copy of that Act. I believe it is the only copy in existence, and it bears the mark of age upon it. Section 3 of this Act defines "trade description" as:any description, statement, or other indication, direct or indirect,(a) as to the number, quantity, measure, gauge, or weight of any goods"—and many other things. This Bill inserts at that point:as to the quality, fitness for purpose, strength, accuracy, performance or behaviour of any goods.The operative words are "direct or indirect" and, as the noble Lord has rightly said, "fitness for purpose."
Now, it is necessary at the present time for the public to be safeguarded. It is a popular supposition that the public can take care of itself. But the public cannot take care of itself against the cleverness, 272 the slickness and the sharpness of some producers and sellers of goods. Her Majesty's Government are rather on the horns of a dilemma. If they try to catch all the "wide boys"—I think that is the present-day description—they will make the position of the honest trader practically impossible. Nobody wants to penalise the honest trader, who is by far in the majority. But some of the subtleties of the advertiser to-day are beyond description. Advertising, inspite of all that is said about it, is a prostitution of the art of good selling. Advertising to-day, by and large, does not purport to give a description of the goods which it seeks to sell. It is not informative; it is persuasive. Practically the whole of advertising to-day—as the noble Lord has rightly illustrated—really seeks to persuade the buyer that the advertised article is better than the one which he might otherwise have thought of buying. The mail order business is the chief offender which this Bill seeks to catch. After all, personal inspection and personal discussion with a salesman can in a majority of cases satisfy the potential purchaser; but some of the descriptions that appear in the Press from these mail order houses are, in my view, to be condemned. As for the Press itself, it is true to say that a great part of the reputable Press will not accept some of these advertisements; but I am sure that ere noble Lord or the Board of Trade, or both, have in their possession some very disreputable advertisements from the disreputable sections of the Press.
I am going to ask the noble Lord to try to persuade Her Majesty's Government to go a little further. The first thing I am going to try to persuade him to do is to consolidate these Acts. We have the Merchandise Marks Act of 1887, the Merchandise Marks Acts of 1911 and 1926, the Trade Marks Acts, the Registered Designs Act, and the Copyright Act, all touching the fringe of this problem. I ant going to ask the noble Lord how he intends to deal with some of these particular cases which I think should be dealt with: and I am going to suggest a way in which I think they can be. Take the case of a man who goes into a shop and says, "I want to buy a waterproof." He buys one; and the first time he goes out in a thunderstorm he gets wet through. He goes back to the 273 shop and says, "This is not a waterproof." The salesman says, "No, sir: it is only a shower proof." "But," says the customer, "I wanted a waterproof." Has he been given a false description? The noble Lord nods assent.
Or take pictorial licence, with which I am sure the noble Lord is as familiar as I am—the beautiful catalogues of motor-cars of very small horse-power but said to seat five. I am sure that if, say, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, the noble Lord, Lord Shepherd, and I were to sit in one of those cars, we should find that it would hardly hold two of us. Such is the skill of the pictorial artist in advertising. Is that a false description? Does it come under this Bill? Or take another kind of case. A woman goes in to buy a gown in a very expensive West End shop. She is asked a very high price. She asks the saleswoman, "Is this a model?", and she is told that it is. She pays, perhaps, a hundred guineas for it. Then at the first function she goes to she sees two other women wearing an exactly similar frock or one very much like it.
Now under what does that come? Is that a false description? The words are "fitness for purpose." The purpose for which that woman bought that frock was for her to be the only one in that kind of frock. She goes to the shop and complains that she has seen two other women wearing a similar frock, and the saleswoman says: "We are very sorry madam, but we made only one of these." But they know very well, and any good gown shop in the West End of London knows very well, that, if they dare to put a frock in their shop-window, it is copied within forty-eight hours. Knowing that copying is prevalent, did they give a false description when they said it was a model? And against whom has the woman redress? That is what I want to ask the noble Lord. Does it come under the Merchandise Marks Act or the Registered Designs Act, is it a copyright, or what is it? Who is going to reimburse the poor, unfortunate purchaser?
These are some of the questions that occur to me on reading this Bill, and I think that many of these cases will be caught under it. The British Standards Institution, as the noble Lord says, are doing excellent work, and perhaps in fifty years' time everything will have a standard mark upon it. There is a great 274 need for standards. Now, the "Utility" mark has gone and the "Kite" mark is coming in. The "Utility" mark was not a mark of quality; it was a mark to tell people that the price of the article was controlled and they should not pay above that price. The "Kite" mark is coming in to give a standard of quality. I do not think that this Bill will touch it. I do not think the Bill will have any effect. In passing, if I may digress for one minute, I am so afraid—and I ask the Board of Trade to watch this most diligently—that the common denominator agreement as to what the standard shall be to warrant this "Kite" mark being issued by the British Standards Institution will be so low that it will not really be as valuable as it should. This mark is going to be applied to furniture. Let us assume that the "Kite" mark is put upon a suite of furniture and a purchaser comes in to buy that suite. The salesman says: "Yes, sir, it is solid oak; it has the British Standards mark upon it." But very likely it is only oak veneer over plywood. That is a false description. Does it come under this Act? Is the case sheltered by reason that the furniture has upon it that standard mark?
There is always one thing to be said in favour of brand: it is some guarantee to the public. The branded article has brought many complexities into our economic system, but at least the manufacturer who puts his brand upon his article will endeavour to keep up the standard of that article. But a brand mark is no guarantee against a false description. The noble Lord is quite right and he has all my sympathy: loads and loads of regulations will not get us anywhere in this matter. One of the greatest deterrents the noble Lord can use—and on the Committee stage I intend to put down an Amendment to this effect—is that in certain classes of goods (and I do not expect the wit of man to devise a definition for every class, but, at any rate, they include textiles) it should be obligatory for the manufacturer to put his name upon the article. That will be the greatest deterrent against the production of shoddy goods. It will, at least, allow the public to be caught only once, if they have any sense.
I want now to ask the noble Lord how he intends to enforce this Act, be- 275 cause it is no good merely widening the scope of it. It is no good the noble Lord being merely so wonderfully persuasive as he has been—and never has he handled a case better in his long experience as a barrister. Mow is he going to enforce the Act? He has not told us that. The Bill before us to-day is sponsored by the Board of Trade. It should be the responsibility of the Board of Trade to police this. I want to ask the noble Lord how many prosecutions the Board of Trade have instituted under this Act since 1887? I know that the Board of Trade are not very happy in bringing cases before the courts. I should not think that their latest experience in the courts over the Cinematograph Films Quota Act will encourage them to go into the courts again for a number of years. The fact is that the Board of Trade shirk their responsibilities and leave the prosecutions to a voluntary association, the Retail Trading Standards Association, the funds for which are supplied by people in trade—manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers who have an interest in honest trading. The Board of Trade let them do the job without themselves standing any of the cost. That is quite wrong.
I have here an instruction. It is a regulation made in 1913 by the then President of the Board of Trade, Sydney Buxton, and is countersigned, by the way, by the then Lord Chancellor, Lord Haldane. The first paragraph reads:The prosecution of offences under the Merchandise Marks Act, 1887, shall, subject to the conditions hereinafter prescribed, be undertaken by the Board of Trade in cases which appear to the Board to affect the general interests of the country, or of a section of the community, or of a trade.I should like the noble Lord to tell your Lordships how many prosecutions the Board of Trade have instituted since 1887. I shall be surprised if he tells us of even one. I want that state of affairs to be altered, because the noble Lord will appreciate, from his position not only as a Minister but also as a barrister, that to bring a successful prosecution under this Act one must have expert witnesses. All these cases are brought and tried before courts of summary jurisdiction. I make no complaint whatever against lay magistrates, but my experience of lay magistrates has been that they need a cast-iron case before 276 they will convict. To get a cast-iron case is expensive. Expert witnesses are required and very often test purchases have to be made, because these cases do not arise only through advertising. Any association that has to stand £150 costs and rely upon an award from a test case of about £15 cannot prosecute its job very successfully. On the Committee stage, we shall move Amendments in that direction.
We shall also move Amendments in one or two other directions, not in any way to impair the efficiency of the Bill but to try and widen its scope and make it a better Bill within its admittedly very strict limits. We shall give the noble Lord his Bill; at least, we are not going to do his first off-spring irreparable damage. But I hope he will persuade the Board of Trade that, at some time or another, they must widen their scope; they must really accept their responsibilities. If they are not prepared to accept their responsibilities and prosecute, at least they must stand the financial cost of the prosecutions. It is not fair, in this one isolated case—when I believe that in all other like cases, such as the Weights and Measures Act and other Acts of that description the cost of prosecutions falls on the public purse—that the enforcement of this Act should fall upon the private individual and the private association. My Lords, with those observations, and again thanking the noble Lord for his very agreeable speech, I can say that we on this side of your Lordships' House shall not oppose the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ 3.32 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, I should like to support the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, in his congratulations to the noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill. We are grateful for the clear and charming way in which he explained its somewhat complicated provisions. I think that, by and large, this is a useful and necessary improvement in the code of our industrial legislation. The Bill should be looked at against the background of the economic tasks which. Her Majesty's Government have asked the nation to surmount, and its introduction is, I feel, peculiarly appropriate at the present time. These tasks are indeed formidable, and I all the cleaning up of malpractices which 277 this Bill will assist in bringing about, will not make them any less formidable.
We are soon, I hope, to debate the result of the Commonwealth Economic Conference and, in a sentence, I would say that the Government could have followed one path. They could have followed a path of concentration of sterling area development of the Commonwealth and Western Europe, of deliberate and progressive restriction of dollar purchases, of the renouncement of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and of trade controlled along sterling area channels. Let me say at once that there is a body of public opinion which still thinks that we should have set our sights on that objective, and that we may yet have to come to it. But the Government have committed this country to the support of the revival of world multilateral trade, low tariffs, eventual convertibility, acceptance of the challenge of entry into the dollar markets and, most important of all, acceptance of the challenge in our home markets and in our export markets, of German and even Asiatic competition. So we have indeed formidable tasks ahead of us, and if this Bill can assist in the safeguarding of legitimate trade and in achieving those tasks, then, I submit to your Lordships, it deserves our support.
My Lords, fair trade conditions for all goods coming into our home markets are more than ever important when we realise that this policy of Her Majesty's Government means that British manufacturers will have to compete with Japanese products, made by a labour force of, say, 37 million, working some fifty hours a week, with an average wage of £11 a month, and even down to £5 a month in the textile industry. There is no need for me to stress the vital importance to British trade, at any rate, when we are having to face that competition, of seeing that it is on a fair and honest basis. Your Lordships are fully familiar with the publicised examples of malpractices by those who import foreign goods into this country—the "Hercules bicycle forks" made in Japan; the "Raleigh-type hub" made in Japan. The Manchester Guardian last June cited no fewer than seventy-six trade violations by Japanese traders in a period of eighteen months. This Bill will not stop many of those. There is nothing 278 in this Bill to stop the pirating of designs. Those seventy-six malpractices include design and patent violations, trade marks and copyright.
I have only three points to make on this Bill—not perhaps of criticism, but in the hope that they may be looked at again by Her Majesty's Government. First, I regret that this Bill is confined to markings, and that there is not some protection for designs, such as for pottery and textiles, which, despite all the protection given by this Bill and by other legislative provisions, can be pirated by foreign competitors. Secondly, I regret that the penalties are not being increased. To make a penalty of £20 in the old Act into one of £50 to-day, and to make a penalty of £50 in the old Act one of £100 to-day is, I submit, not enough in relation to the damage done to British trade by those people who will be found guilty under the provisions of this Bill. I would ask Her Majesty's Government whether, between now and the Committee stage, they will look again at that matter and consider laying down greater penalties for these particular crimes.
My third point concerns the extension of the definition. The noble Lord who moved the Second Reading of this Bill said it was neither waterproof nor foolproof. That is true. I understand that it will give better protection for shoppers. We are all for that. But let us be quite sure of what we are doing. I should like to ask the noble Lord whether these instances that I am about to give would or would not come within the provisions of the Bill. I know that the stock answer of Ministers is, "It is not for us to interpret what the courts do," but, as I understand it, under this Bill it would be for the Executive, on complaint by the citizen, to initiate action in the courts. Therefore, it is not an unfair question to put to the Government, and I do not think the noble Lord will endeavour to take refuge in that ancient line of retreat. I do not think it is unfair to ask whether the noble Lord can give us some view on such instances as I shall give to your Lordships. Certainly the legitimate trade "puff" is to be accepted, though I do not know who is to interpret what is or is not a legitimate trade "puff."
I would ask, would sales of goods described as "Government surplus stock" constitute a misdemeanour 279 under this Act if in fact the goods were not ex-Government stock? We see endless supplies of boots, duffle-coats, wrist watches and so on, labelled as "ex-Government surplus stock." The noble Lord will be able to tell me whether, in the event of these goods being proved to have been at no time owned by the Government or sold by the Government, such a description would be a false description. Then there is the question of things which are called unshrinkable. My Lords, nothing is unshrinkable. Therefore, if something is advertised as being unshrinkable, will that constitute a misdemeanour? Then with regard to antiques, I must say that I am rather worried as to the position if somebody sells an "old Tudor chest." If it is proved that it is not an old Tudor chest, and has never known Tudor times, or any times except those of the 20th Century, does that mean that it has been the subject of a "false description"?
Then, to turn to somewhat more personal matters, I saw an advertisement the other day which said:Take this and you will not get influenza.That is a positive statement; it is not in line with an advertisement for a patent medicine which says that it will help to prevent your getting influenza; it is a positive statement that if you take this you will not get influenza. If I took it, got influenza, and then complained to the Board of Trade—assuming this Bill had become law—would the noble Lord arrange for the Executive to initiate a prosecution? Then there are those advertisements which give positive promises of a cure for baldness. They are sometimes most attractive. But I believe that no cure for baldness is known. I hope, in the interests I will not say of most of your Lordships, but of some of your Lordships, that one will be discovered. In the meantime, I trust that these advertisements will come under the provisions of this Bill. One could go on at length giving examples in this connection, but I do not wish to weary your Lordships. Quite seriously, however, I wish to put it to the noble Lord that the definition in this Bill seems extraordinarily wide. Perhaps between now and the Committee stage he will look into the matter and see whether there should not be some tightening up, so that we shall not be passing legislation 280 with loose ends and which depends upon common sense only for its proper working.
My final point, and the most important one, to me at any rate, is that this Bill applies only to the home market. We are now going to help to protect the home market against malpractices. But unfair practices could nearly ruin some of our traditional, Colonial, overseas markets. I believe it is just as necessary to have this protection in Colonial markets to which our export manufacturers send their products. If Dominion Governments would look sympathetically on the question of introducing similar legislation, that, I think, would be an excellent thing. As regards the Colonial Empire, if we cannot actually impose legislation, we can, at any rate, suggest to Colonial Legislatures the passing of laws, and I would ask Her Majesty's Government to consider reviewing this matter with Colonial Legislatures and impressing upon them that such protection would be particularly useful to British industry. Through the Colonial Office, Her Majesty's Government might well suggest to these Colonial Governments that they should take unto themselves the same protection as we are endeavouring to provide for our own industry in this country. With those words, and stressing that main point as to the importance of similar protection in respect of Colonial markets, I should like to give my support to the Second Reading of this Bill.