§ 2.34 p.m.
§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will consider introducing legislation for the compulsory labelling of the fibre content of textiles described as wool, in view of the fact that the wool industries of the Common Market countries are already discussing a similar proposal in their own countries to facilitate international trade in wool textiles.]
THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY, MINISTRY OF AGRICULTURE, FISHERIES AND FOOD (EARL WALDEGRAVE)
My Lords, the British Standards Institution has already made some progress in this matter by devising for woollen cloth a British standard known as B.S.2020 of 1953, and I understand that it is the general practice in the trade to have regard to this standard in describing woollen cloth. The British Standards Institution is, of course, alive to the importance of harmonising British and European standards in this as in other fields. I understand that the discussions referred to by the noble Lord have not so far been conclusive, and that the Commission of the European Economic Community have no immediate plans for making compulsory the labelling of the fibre content of textiles. In the United Kingdom—as I expect in Continental countries—the misdescription of goods exposed, offered for sale or sold is already against the law, and this applies to textiles described as wool.
§ LORD CASEY
My Lords, while thanking the noble Earl for his reply, 454 might I ask whether it is not true to say that the popular descriptions that have been traditionally associated with woollen textile goods in the past—that is, such things as tweed, worsted, flannel and, in other connections, Axminster and Wilton—no longer have their old significance, in that they do not necessarily indicate any given percentage, high or low, of woollen content, and even, in fact, may not contain any wool at all? In to-day's circumstances, would the noble Earl agree that it is possible for the purchasing public to be unintentionally misled as to the content of the goods that they are buying?
Might I also ask the noble Earl whether Her Majesty's Government believe that, even against the background of what he has been good enough to say, further and more specific legislation is needed, under which the traditional descriptions of woollen goods should be reinforced by mandatory instructions, to indicate in any given woollen textile description the actual percentage of wool, in addition to the popular description, against the background of the importance of wool to the wool-producing countries of the world—
§ LORD CASEY
—and to Her Majesty's Government, with the export trade in our woollen textiles? Would the noble Earl agree that this matter is worthy of consideration by the Government, both from the United Kingdom's domestic point of view and also from the point of view of her export trade?
My Lords, there is a large volume of legislation under the Merchandise Marks Acts, which range from 1887 to 1953, and I would remind the noble Lord that the main sanction in the whole of this matter is that misdescription is actionable under the law of this country. Since the beginning of 1959, I am told, the Board of Trade have prosecuted in fourteen cases in respect of suspected offences involving the use of the word "wool" or "woollen" in a way which was believed to constitute a misdescription, and thirteen convictions have been obtained. So I would wonder whether further legislation is actually required at the moment. The only further thing I would say is that the British standard is a voluntary standard but when there is an allegation 455 of misdescription the existence of the British standard, which has been accepted by the trade, is a very strong inference and guide as to what the particular commodity should, in fact, contain.
VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLS-BOROUGH
My Lords, how does this apply to so-called "woollen stuff", which is purchased in the form of suits or costumes composed of what I believe in the trade is termed "shoddy"? Are there any special merchandise marks for shoddy?
§ LORD BARNBY
My Lords, would the noble Earl bear in mind that this matter has been for long considered by the International Wool Textile Organisation; and, in connection with that, would he make recommendations that the labelling, if and when it comes, should include the proportion of the content of synthetic as against animal fibre? Secondly, since the noble Earl's reply referred specifically to woollen textiles, may I ask—so that there shall be no misconstruction of his words—whether it is right to understand that he intended to include worsted fabrics, which are of an entirely different structure from the woollen fabrics, and could not possibly contain any shoddy.
My Lords, as to whether there should be mandatory labelling, this matter is very much more far-reaching than the adoption of standards, and I cannot say whether or not in the view of Her Majesty's Government it will be desirable to introduce legislation for compulsory labelling. In answer to the noble Lord's second supplementary, the Questioner was of course asking about woollen fabrics, and I was answering, to the best of my ability on behalf of my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade, on the subject of woollen fabrics.
§ LORD BARNBY
My Lords, the noble Earl did not take the opportunity of confirming that his intention was to cover worsteds as well as woollens.
My Lords, I was not trying to deal with any intentions. What I was doing was quoting the fact that for woollen goods, woven 456 apparel fabrics containing wool, there is a British standard, No. 2020 of 1953. That is as far as I went, because that is as far as I thought I should be required to go from the Question that was on the Order Paper.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF BARLOCH
My Lords, is the noble Earl aware that the customary labelling of woollen goods is extremely misleading to the consumer? For example, an article which is labelled "pure wool" contains nothing but wool, whereas one which is labelled "all wool" can contain other things.
My Lords, I should have thought this was indeed a matter on which we may find guidance (I notice that the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, is not here) when—not "if and when"—we receive the Report of the Molony Committee.
§ LORD CASEY
My Lords, could I pursue the noble Earl a little, and ask what would be the situation in respect Of British exports of woollen textiles from the United Kingdom to, say, Belgium, which has, as I understand it, quite precise legislation to the effect that the actual percentage of wool in any allegedly woollen garment is to be stated on the textile itself?
My Lords, I really do not know the regulations in force in Belgium but I do know that there is Belgian legislation existing on this subject. I understand from our delegation in Brussels in connection with the Common Market negotiations that discussion is going on about this matter.