§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Moved, That the Report be now received.—(Baroness Elliot of Harwood.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Clause 1 [Indication of origin of certain imported goods]:
VISCOUNT HANWORTH moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, line 16, leave out ("consisting of the word 'imported'")
§ The noble Viscount said: My Lords, in speaking to this Amendment the first point I should like to make is that this is a Bill of very limited scope, and although it may be of some value to consumers it is most certainly not, as has been claimed, a major measure of consumer protection. All it ensures is that where foreign goods are sold with a mark or name which can imply that they were made in the United Kingdom when in fact they were not so made, the country of origin or the fact that they are imported must be stated. When the Bill was received from another place it required that the country of origin of the goods to which it applied should be 246 stated. However, a Government Amendment, passed at the Committee stage by a majority of only 84 to 63, watered down this requirement so that it would be sufficient to state that the goods had been imported, without giving the country of origin. My Amendment seeks to put things back as they were and insists that the country of origin must be stated; not simply that the goods are imported.
I am sure many noble Lords will have read an article in The Times of May 18, but I should like to quote briefly from it, as it sets out some of the position rather clearly. The article says:
Unfortunately there are reasonable grounds to fear that a Government amendment, carried during the Lords Committee stage … seriously weakens the Bill.
The article goes on to say that the Department of Trade and Industry
firmly opposed all efforts to retain marks of origin in any shape or form, but under heavy pressure from interested trade associations and consumer bodies, the Government decided to support the present Bill.
Undoubtedly there is still a certain amount of opposition to the proposed legislation from the Department's die-hard free-traders, but it is worth pointing out that it echoes measures currently in force in the European Economic Community and the United States. Much of the pressure for the amendment seems to have come from the canned and preserved food industry.
§ My Lords, I want to make it quite clear that I do not advocate marking on all goods the country of origin. In a recent survey, 95 per cent. of consumers thought that a statement of country of origin was important and that it should be given where possible. In many cases consumers get little or no information about the performance of goods at the point of sale, and country of origin can often give useful pointers on this and on the need to check up on after-sales service facilities, which of course if the goods are imported may sometimes not be so good. Some countries have a particularly good reputation for certain types of goods. For example, Japanese cameras are, in general, very good value for money and have to meet certain Government quality requirements before being exported. I think that everyone, even those who oppose this Amendment, will agree that country of origin is very important for wines. As with wines, so with many other perishable goods, such as fruit. Another example—but not perishable—is canned fish, because there is no 247 other indication of what one is buying or how it will taste. But the Government tell us that it is with just these goods that packaging firms do not wish to give country of origin. Apparently the sources of supplies vary and they find it difficult to arrange for different markings on the packages. It is quite clear that if this Amendment is not accepted the consumer has no hope of having country of origin shown, even voluntarily, in one of the very areas where one feels it is most important.
§ Finally, may I put the issue before your Lordships quite simply and, I believe, fairly? If you think that some—and I repeat, some; not universal—marking of origin for certain goods is desirable, then I think you should vote for this Amendment. If by any chance it causes any difficulties with some industries, the Bill allows for some exceptions to be made by an Order in Council. Therefore let us show on which side we are counted. Because, make no mistake! my Lords, marking orders are not popular with the Government, and unless we show here that marking orders are, in certain cases, both necessary and desirable I am afraid that we have virtually no hope whatever of seeing any of these orders reinstated. I believe that there were some 100 or so cases where the country of origin was compulsory before the introduction of the Trade Descriptions Bill, and we have always been told that if a good enough case could be made the marking of the country of origin would be made compulsory. But, my Lords, I am afraid that, however good a case was made from the consumer angle, unless we pass this Amendment the Government are stubbornly resisting any argument as strong enough to convert them. I beg to move.
§ 7.21 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LIMERICK
My Lords, in moving this Amendment the noble Viscount has made it quite clear that his aim is simply to reverse the decision which this House took at Committee stage to allow the use of the word "imported" as an alternative to indicating the actual country of origin. The arguments he has advanced were substantially those that were recited and rejected on an earlier occasion, so I do not propose to repeat them. This Amendment is strange, 248 and I believe defective for its purpose. It would leave the paragraph reading:(a) the name or mark is accompanied by a conspicuous indication of origin or of an indication of the country in which the goods IA ere manufactured or produced.The second of the remaining "ofs" would make it virtually impossible to construe the meaning of the amended paragraph; and even if that "of" were omitted, the effect would be to allow as alternatives: first, an indication—not necessarily conspicuous—of the country of origin; or, secondly, a conspicuous "indication of origin"—of unspecific form but by clear inference from the word "or" not an indication of the country of origin. I do not know what any court of law could make of these ambiguities and doubts. For this reason alone, I should have to ask the House to reject the Amendment. Nevertheless, I think you would wish to have my views as the proposer of the earlier Amendment which this seeks in part to reverse on the principles at issue.
My Lords, I well know the sincerity of the noble Viscount's feelings and I appreciate the way he has moved his Amendment, but I must point out that his approach reveals a misconception of the purpose and effect of this Bill and also of the basic principles which should properly govern the imposition of compulsory origin marking. There are several arguments for origin marking, some good, some bad, but quite distinct from each other in their motivation and their implications.
I will start with its value as a counter to indirect false indications of origin. For it was that purpose—no more, no less, which, as the sponsors here and in the other place have consistently made clear—motivated the introduction of this Bill. They recognised the risk that shoppers will take a "United Kingdom name or mark", as the Bill defines that term, as an indication of British origin unless that inference is clearly contradicted. They recognised that, notwithstanding the wide-ranging prevision of the 1968 Act against misrepresentations of origin, there was uncertainty as to how and where those provisions would operate in this particular area. And so, with the Government's full support, they brought forward this Bill to clarify the situation and thus to ensure the better protection of the consumer against this 249 particular form of false inference of origin. That basic purpose is quite simply to put shoppers on notice that certain goods bearing United Kingdom names or marks were not, as they might have supposed, made in this country. And to achieve that contradiction of the false inference, it is as a matter of cold simple logic unnecessary to require any more than the declaration "imported".
Some Members of this House will go on to argue that origin marking should not be regarded solely as a counter to deception; that it can have a more positive role to play in giving consumers reasonably reliable guidance as to the quality or characteristics of goods, or in putting them on notice of the need to make special inquiries about the availability of spares and service. We may quite legitimately differ in our view of whether or not origin marking is a valid guide—or the most appropriate guide—to consumer choice in respect of this, that, or the other class of goods. But where a case is genuinely made out on those grounds then it seems to me that there are three propositions which become incontestable. The first is that we have a case in which the Secretary of State can and should exercise his existing powers under Section 8 of the 1968 Act to require that class of goods to be origin marked. The second is that in such a case it is hardly conceivable that the Section 8 requirement should be anything less than an indication of the actual country of origin. And the third is that in such a case it would clearly be right that the requirement should extend to all goods of that imported class and not simply—as is inevitable in the context of the present Bill—only to those which bear United Kingdom names or marks.
My Lords, we cannot have this both ways. Information about origin is far from universally a sound guide to consumer choice. Where it is, the need can be met, and would far more effectively be met, by a Section 8 order; and it is quite unrealistic to talk of tackling the need under this Bill whose requirements would at once extend unnecessarily to goods for which origin was not a reliable guide to quality, yet fall short of application to all goods of the kind for which the information was a reliable guide.
250 I have thought it right to spend a little time on this analysis because it seems to me that it is only by keeping these basic facts in mind that we can sensibly judge whether or not there is a case for requiring express country of origin statements under this Bill. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, gave us some examples of what he had in mind. I cannot imagine good wine coming into this country without an origin mark on it. I cannot imagine Japanese cameras or Swiss watches coming in without such a mark, because the producers are rightly proud of the quality of their product and they are proud to mark it with its origin. But my conclusion, as I hope I have made clear, is that there is no such general case because first as a counter to the false inference of United Kingdom origin which may be drawn from a United Kingdom name or mark—a counter which it is the declared and limited object of the sponsors of this Bill to provide—the word "imported" is clearly a fully adequate alternative. Second, where origin information is genuinely helpful to consumer choice, the alternative approach of an order under Section 8 of the main Act is not only available but the more appropriate and far more effective means of meeting that need.
Those are not simply the conclusions of the moment. I really must remind some of the noble Lords and Baronesses opposite that their own Party introduced the Trade Descriptions Act 1968, and I would simultaneously remind my noble friends that it was supported by the then Opposition. That Act, so far from imposing general origin-marking requirements, was a deliberate step in the opposite direction by providing for the repeal of existing requirements and, by the terms of its Section 8, putting any future imposition of such requirements firmly on a selective basis, geared to the principle that they should be necessary or expedient in the buyer's interest—I repeat, the buyer's interest—and not simply to the thought that he would rather like to have the information.
My Lords, so far from criticising that bipartisan 1968 approach, I strongly endorse it. It is wrong in principle that a statutory requirement should be imposed unless there is real evidence, which certainly does not exist across the board 251 in the case of origin-marking, that it will meet a genuine and serious need. To impose it does not serve the true interests of consumers, whoever else may stand to benefit; and there is a particular need in this kind of field to avoid what may be, or may be construed by others to be, an unwarranted obstacle to international trade. I have earlier reminded the House that as a matter of export self-interest, as well as on grounds of principle, this country has encouraged and subscribed to recommendations in GATT and EFTA to the effect that compulsory origin-marking should be limited to cases where it is indispensable for the information of the ultimate purchaser; and I need hardly repeat that our ability to influence others to respect that principle depends on the extent to which we ourselves observe it. If we require simple origin-marking without special justification, what will other countries say when we object to their requirements, which may be really onerous, including perhaps marking of an unusual nature in the language of the country of destination?
I repeat, my Lords, the Government's conclusion that where knowledge of the actual country of origin would be genuinely helpful to the consumer, the only proper and effective response is an order under Section 8 of the main Act. It is a concept which has no place in this Bill, which ought to be confined—as its sponsors have always argued—to countering false inferences of United Kingdom origin which may be drawn from the presence of United Kingdom names or marks—for which the word "imported" is clearly sufficient.
It has been alleged that by accepting the adequacy of that alternative marking, the Government have made a sudden about-face for inadequate reasons and sold the consumer down the river. That accusation is quite unwarranted. The simple truth is that, as a Private Member's Bill, this was not preceded by the extensive departmental consultations with affected interests which normally go on before a Government measure is introduced. In these circumstances we assumed at the outset that, except in one or two minor cases, such as blends or mixtures, if people had to apply indications of origin anyway, there would not be any significant problems if they were required 252 to state the actual country. It is common experience that affected interests are surprisingly slow to recognise how proposed legislation will affect them. It was not until after the Bill had left the other place —indeed, not until after Second Reading in your Lordships' House—that the strength of representations convinced us that there were problems far more serious than we had initially suspected—and not simply minor inconvenience—in disallowing the alternative marking "Imported". Faced with the prospect of these real and potential difficulties, we could not be confident that specific relaxations by direction would, in terms of speed and number, provide an administratively sensible and practicable answer. Nor could we justify, whether in terms of potential harm to the United Kingdom, or internationally, an obligation which presented difficulties unwarranted by the express, and in my contention the only valid, object of the Bill—namely, to counter false indications of origin.
My Lords, since leaving the Cross-Benches I have rapidly found that it is the fate of Ministers to have the worst possible construction placed upon their actions. That is something which my shoulders are broad enough to bear, though I confess that I was somewhat peeved to see the Shirt, Collar and Tie Manufacturers' Association seek to magnify a simple answer to a technical point on the meaning of the words in the Bill by taking one sentence quoted out of context in a three-page letter of laborious explanation and magnifying it into a renewed assurance that all goods would have to be marked with their country of origin. The truth is, as I have said, that we came to see that there were unforeseen difficulties in the face of which it would have been quite wrong to adhere to a formula which the proper object of the Bill could not possibly expect. I adhere to that view, and even if the noble Viscount's Amendment were not defective technically I should still feel bound to ask the House to reject it on the principle which it involves.
§ 7.33 p.m.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend in this Amendment. I rather expected the Minister to say that it was defective. Those of us who have sat on both sides of 253 the House get used to this as an explanation. But I am beginning to wonder whether the Minister can explain to me whether the Bill is going to be defective. I notice that the Bill, which we still have in its original form, is described as:An Act to require certain names and marks applied to imported goods to be accompanied by an indication of origin.I am not a grammatical expert (although I did teach English at one stage), but I am not sure that using the word "imported" is the same as an indication of origin. The Minister nods his head. That is very interesting. Whether the legal definition would be accepted would be equally interesting.
The Minister has pointed out to us that the purpose of this very narrow Bill was—and I use his own words in Committee stage:… to prevent any possibility that people are positively induced to buy goods by an erroneous supposition … that they are in fact British made. This is the central purpose of the Bill …".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16/5/72, c. 1311.]This we all accepted. I was one of those who were very disappointed that the Bill was as narrow as it was. But half a loaf was better than no bread, and we were willing to take the Bill, accepting of course, as we have all done, that if we want marking orders made they can be made under Section 8 of the Trade Descriptions Act—though I would remind the Minister that in fact no marking orders have so far been made, and at the time the Act was brought to the House it was certainly envisaged that marking orders would be made when the Bill finally came to the point of time when this would be necessary. So this is really no answer. We know the powers are there. We recognise that this Bill does not encompass the important point about certain goods being marked with the country of origin.
But since it is a narrow Bill. it was rather horrifying to discover that the Government introduced an Amendment to weaken still further this already very narrow and weak Bill. The Minister is rather surprised that he has been attacked about this, but surely he must have expected this. The Bill had gone through all its stages in the other place. I cannot think that these keen lobbyists were 254 not equally busy in the Commons. Why they waited until the Bill came to the Lords is rather a mystery to me, and why in fact the Board of Trade did not discover that this was going to be of some difficulty administratively again puzzles me.
We are told that the customer does not mind if goods are only to be marked "imported". The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, said that it is not really important to the customer to know where it comes from. I may be a very difficult shopper, but if I were buying a tin of canned potatoes—heaven help me! I hope that I never do—I should want to know that it was imported from Ireland and not from China. It is not that I have anything against China, but that it seems to me Irish potatoes would be better than Chinese.
So I think merely to have the word "imported" is a piece of nonsense that does not reveal anything to the customer. The customer is the individual we are all being so conscientious about. We are not talking at the moment about the needs of the manufacturer but about the needs of the customer, though I think the Minister has indicated that this is a very small part of his thinking. At Committee stage I mentioned the fact that in tableware and cooking-ware there are world-wide regulations for the control of toxic emissions from glazes and decorations, and these people have reason to believe that the Government will be forced to consider means by which they will be able to trace the offending manufacturers of these goods. How are they going to do this if there is no definition of origin, if a particular item appears to be marked with a United Kingdom mark and it simply says "imported"? Where is it imported from, and how do they discover this?
I would return, although it is not right to make a long speech at this stage of the Bill, to the constitutional point. This was a Private Member's Bill which had gone through the other place, the elected House, as we are constantly reminded by them and by Members of your Lordship's House. In this House a major change was made in the Bill. The Minister may decry this, but this does affect the total understanding of the Bill. I would also quote from The Times. I believe they 255 have mentioned this several times. I thought they put if far better than I could in the same article mentioned by the noble Viscount:There can be little doubt that the Amendment will allow unscrupulous businesses greater freedom to evade the intention of the Bill. The word 'Imported' and a slightly misleading brand name, say a Scandinavian sounding one, could be used for a cover for a shoddy product from an entirely different source.In any case—this is very important—those who base themselves on free trade may reflect that free trade implies not only easier access to national markets; it also means freedom of choice for the consumer.
§ LORD BARNBY
My Lords, to be consistent with what I have said and thought on the Committee stage, I must say I find myself considerably in sympathy with the Amendment. This is a peculiar Bill, because, as Lady Phillips said, it is a Private Member's Bill having the support of the Government. It has been changed a good deal in its character since it came into this House. I have much sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, because curiously enough this Bill deals only with a portion of the imported merchandise. That makes the situation more complicated.
We must all remember that on the Committee stage, Lord Macpherson gave a very good example of why the overall requirement of indicating origin would be inconvenient. He mentioned foodstuffs. In chemicals it has still more difficulty. As was said in Committee, the feeling of the country has been expressed by a very definite, overwhelming majority of consumer opinion in favour of the marking of everything. It can, of course, be argued, as I think Lord Sainsbury did, that there may be disadvantages in giving the country of origin because, to take the example Lady Phillips gave, some people may not like goods from China, others may not like goods from Russia or any other source. I should not have thought that that was very strong reasoning, but I can see that it might carry some weight with the Government.
This Private Member's Bill, brought in by the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, has now had further explanation and emphasis by the Minister in the 256 light of the Amendment of the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. I found myself unconvinced during the Committee stage, but though I expressed myself very strongly I abstained from voting. One cannot foresee the fate of this Amendment, but at this stage it is only right that we should say, "We must examine the explanation which the Minister has given us", though I must admit that I did not find it entirely convincing. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, said that in the U S.A. a requirement has recently been imposed which lays down that all goods shall bear the mark of origin. He laid particular emphasis on the fact that under Section 8 of the Act the Minister has power to issue orders covering certain types of merchandise. I have no idea what proportion of the total merchandise imported into this country would fall into one category or another, and the Minister may be able to enlighten us about that, but surely the fact that the Minister has those powers should make it much more easy to accept that the Bill should contain a requirement about the origin. I hope that at some stage—perhaps not today, but subsequently—the Minister will give us some explanation about why those powers should not be invoked.
Of course, there is the point that the powers in this Bill could be criticised since they introduce an element of protection which infringes the GATT. But according to the advice which I have been able to get from trade advisers, it will not contravene the GATT if the Minister does as the Bill provides. Even if it did, need we, rather cravenly, accept compulsion to sacrifice employment in this country when it has been demonstrated by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, and others, that a vast inflow of merchandise from certain foreign countries could do a great deal to reduce employment here? If that situation can be avoided, it is surely natural that many of us, at least, will be in sympathy with the Amendment. I suppose that all that Back-Benchers can do is to point out the difficulties, and it is up to the Government to find a way of circumventing them and producing results. I do not want to go over a lot of the ground which we covered in Committee, but I must say that the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, have set the Minister the task of giving us a clearer explanation 257 why the requirements of considerable sections of industry in the country, of complete marking of the country of origin, should not be met.
§ LORD DONALDSON OF KINGS-BRIDGE
I have often stood up in your Lordships' House to differ very strongly from the noble Lord, Lord Barn by, and it is a particular pleasure this evening to agree with almost everything he said. I am in a state of utter confusion. Every speaker begins by talking about goods which have a United Kingdom mark, but which are masquerading as United Kingdom goods when they really are not, and ends by talking about the problem of marking imported goods with the country of origin. May I say, for the twentieth or thirtieth time, that we are not in the least concerned with the Amendment of my noble friend Lady Phillips which was defeated last time, which suggested that all imported goods should bear the place of origin. We are concerned with a very specific and small group of goods which have a United Kingdom mark but which do not emanate in the United Kingdom.
I was hoping for a handsome apology from the noble Earl, Lord Limerick, because during the Committee stage he shut me up most effectively. I said that I had missed half the debate, and he told me that the question I had asked had already been answered, and said that I should sit down, so I did. But then I looked through Hansard and I found that the question had not been answered at all. The noble Earl gave examples of goods which could not possibly be United Kingdom marked, such as fruits from Canada, and said how difficult it was for a man who was canning fruits if he had to get them from somewhere else. The Caribbean example was also given. One had a picture of passion fruit grown in Huddersfield, which seemed to be absolutely meaningless. These foreign fruits do not come into this country with a United Kingdom mark, or they ought not to.
If somebody wants to sell me salmon under the title "Scotch salmon", then according to the Trade Descriptions Act it must be Scotch salmon. I admit that the advertisers have entirely destroyed the meaning of the word "finest", and they will say that it is "finest Scotch salmon". Nobody expects the word 258 'finest" to mean anything, but we expect both "Scotch" and "salmon" to have an exact meaning. I am entirely unable to understand what the argument is about. If a Bill comes to this House and a fundamental Amendment is made by the Government, then they must give some reason for it. I should like to have an example of something which presents greater difficulty than merely a question of printers' ink, in showing the country of origin other than by simply stating "Imported". I am still waiting for that, and I am waiting also for the apology which I look forward to having during the course of the debate.
§ LORD MACPHERSON OF DRUMOCHTER
May I try to answer the last point about the United Kingdom mark? As I understand the position, it is not a matter of confusing or trying to mislead the British public with a mark which could be thought to be a British mark. Most of the goods to which the noble Lord referred are imported under a trade mark, and the trade mark might be that of "Caribbean citrus". The trade mark is registered in this country and will therefore come under the Act. It is not proposed to mislead anybody in any way, but because the trade mark is registered in this country it will come under that description.
I do not propose to go over all the arguments which I put on Second Reading, but it appears to me from the Press that the textile trade is particularly worried about this Bill and about the question of origin. As I understand the Bill, if the material for a shirt is made in Hong Kong but is made into a shirt in this country, then that shirt can be sold as a British product. With or without the Amendment, that will still be the position, because the shirt will have been altered from the original imported material. I do not think that the shirt manufacturer is going to get any protection from the new Amendment if it comes in. I think those are the main points that I wanted to make, because I do not wish to repeat what I said on Second Reading.
§ LORD BARNBY
With no discourtesy, I rose before the noble Lord sat down, before he had regained his seat.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I hope my noble friend will sit down. I am very sorry to interrupt, but I think the sense of the House is that the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, had risen to her feet and was about to speak when my noble friend got up. I think it is only right that the noble Baroness should be heard.
§ LORD BARNBY
My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness. She will have noted my gesture was that I was turning to my noble friend and that I was blind to my right eye and could not see her. I readily extend to her my apologies, and also to my noble friend the Deputy Leader.
§ BARONESS BURTON OF COVENTRY
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. I shall be very brief. I believe that customers should have marks of origin on their goods. This is something I have always felt. Of one thing I am quite sure: I do not imagine the noble Earl, Lord Limerick, requires my sympathy, but I think the Department of Trade and Industry have got themselves into an awful mess over this Amendment and that it has really descended on to the shoulders of the noble Earl. There are one or two points which puzzle me very much indeed. I will not go into the matter of what the shirt manufacturers have had to say, because the noble Earl has explained that the sentence was taken out of context. I am quite sure that that was the case if he says so. But I really find it rather difficult, because, as I understand it, in another place Mr. Peter Amery, the Under-Secretary, opposed an Amendment to allow the word "Imported" as an acceptable substitute for a precise statement of the country of origin, on the grounds that it seriously weakened the Bill. He went on to say—and I think I am right here—that the mark "Foreign" does not give that clear indication which the consumer has the right to expect if we go forward with the Bill.
We then find, here in this House, that the noble Earl comes forward with an Amendment which says exactly the oppo 260 site. He said—and I take his point—that at the time when this Bill commenced its passage in another place, as it was a Private Member's Bill the Department had not (if I have the words aright) really given it sufficient attention, or had not been able to consider it sufficiently, to see where possible snags might arise. I think that was very bad of the Department of Trade and Industry; but let us leave that for a moment. If we could move on from that, it seems very difficult to accept, when it has been through another place, and particularly when it has been right through the Committee stage in another place, that the Department of Trade and Industry have still not considered what possible snags may arise.
What I want to ask the noble Earl is this. Perhaps the noble Earl may be able to help us when he replies, but apart from the much-quoted canned food manufacturers (and that information I got from the Press) I have not found any industry which supports the Amendment put forward by the noble Earl, and it very much disturbs me. I should like to know, if the noble Earl is in a position to help us to-night, whether he can tell us what is the weight of opinion in industry which has caused the Department of Trade and Industry to introduce this Amendment. I have not heard one single example. As the noble Earl said and as my noble friend Lady Phillips understood, it may be that in Opposition one does not always draft an Amendment exactly in tune with what the Government of the day would wish, down to the last comma and the last full stop, but I feel it would be useful if the Government were to consider this whole aspect of the matter.
There is really considerable disquiet, and I do not think that the noble Earl has dealt with it. May I say, with respect, that he read a statement that he had been given and which he had to read. I am sure one has to do that sort of thing from the Front Bench; but I do not think it got us very far. I should therefore like to support the Amendment which has been moved, but I really should like some information. Could the noble Earl tell us what is the weight of opinion which has caused the Government to introduce this Amendment, to which so many of us have taken objection?
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Limerick, denied that the Government were in any way guilty of a volte-face, but, as my noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry has said, this is a completely different line of aproach from the one adopted by them in the other place. It is often very easy, I know, to confront Governments with what they have said on previous occasions, sometimes in previous Parliaments, as the noble Earl did to us. But it was only last April—on April 14 last—when the noble Earl's opposite number in the other place, the Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, I thought gave a very good argument precisely demolishing the arguments put forward by the noble Earl to-day. Perhaps the two briefs were written by different sections of this enormous conglomerate of trade and industry; I do not know. But here is a case where the left hand does not seem to know what the right hand is doing. In the other place, the Government spokesman said:Although they would be more convenient for traders and some manufacturers, this proposal ignores the fact that the public are generally suspicious of wider terms or connotations such as 'foreign' or 'Empire', which terms were permitted under the old Merchandise Marks Act. Many people felt that these were cloaks under which a variety of origins could be hidden. For example, there may well be a lot of difference, in the public's mind, between a radio made, say, in Germany and one made in Hong Kong"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Commons, 14/4/72, col. 1596.]—and that, my Lords, seems to me to be absolutely the nub of the matter.
The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, quoted from The Times of May 18. I should like also to quote from another article in the business section of The Times of May 31, which reads as follows:Lord Limerick's amendment to the Bill provides three main grounds for disquiet. First, from the department's earlier statements, it seriously weakens a Bill, primarily intended for consumer protection. Second, from the department's statements on the subject, it was drafted after representation from only one sector of industry—the canned food manufacturers and importers. Third, the decision to put forward the amendment was taken after a very short period of consideration".As my noble friend Lady Burton said, one wonders how many representations have been made to the Government in this very short time, and from which sections of industry they have come. What I sus- 262 pect, really, is that the Government do not want to have marking regulations. For some reason that they will not tell us, they do not want to do this by Statutory Instrument, as is required by the Bill.
The Amendment may be defective; I do not know. It does not look defective to me, but we will have to study what the noble Earl has said. It is always very easy, I think, to prove that Amendments are defective; but I do not think that is a reason for rejecting them. The important thing is the spirit of the Amendment. What the House ought to do, if I may respectfully suggest it, is to come to a decision on the spirit of the Amendment and then, if it is carried, as I hope it will be, it will be for the Government to put it right.
§ 8.0 p.m.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
My Lords, I shall be brief because so much has been said in this debate; but there arc one or two points I should like to make. There are certain things in the Bill which noble Lords may or may not understand but one or two things have been clearly said to-night which I think are very good; and they are things which people outside do not seem to realise. First, as was said by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, and others, this Bill is a limited Bill, limited in Clause 1(a) and (b) and in Clause 2. It does not, and cannot, provide for the marking of all goods coming into this country. The noble Baroness, Lady Burton, who is entitled to her point of view, said that she is in favour of all goods being marked so that the buyer will know where they come from. I do not share that view. I think that the important thing is to get as much trade as possible with all countries, for that is to our benefit; and anything that in any way impedes that trade or makes it difficult is a mistake. However, I think that in dealing with goods which are United Kingdom-marked and could be interpreted as United Kingdom-manufactured but are not, the Bill is dealing with an important point and I strongly support it.
I also strongly supported the 1968 Bill which was put forward in this House by the Government of the Party opposite and which was supported by my noble friends on this site. In that Bill, as we all know, the question of origin marking 263 was practically done away with. In its place was put Section 8 which provides that special cases could be dealt with under the Act. I support that. That is the way to deal with the matter. I do not think that the best way is to have origin marking on everything coming into this country. In any case that could not possibly be done by this Bill; it would have to be done by a separate Bill altogether; so it is out of the question. I think that by allowing goods to come into this country one is allowing an increase of trade and making a wider market for our goods. It is a simple argument and it is one which works. One does not want to impede trade. I personally am not in favour of doing anything which could restrict goods coming into the country and thereby limiting the consumer's choice. I have spoken about mistaken identity and that is dealt with in the Bill.
In the clause that we are discussing it is perfectly possible not only to use the word "imported" but also to indicate the country in which the goods are manufactured or produced. We have these two alternatives; whoever wished to do so could put on the goods the word
§ "imported" or the name of the country from which the goods have come. I agree that there can be great prestige in so naming Japanese cameras, Irish linen, Israeli citrus fruits and so on. That is done now; and often it is done by the country that exports the goods. There is no reason why it should not be done; and as the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, said, displaying the country of origin can sometimes be a good selling point. So that can be done and the Bill does not stop it. It allows a variety of ways of dealing with the matter. I think therefore that the clause is drafted on the right lines and that it would be a mistake to make it compulsory for all goods to be marked. I propose to stick to the words of the Bill because in them is the variety necessary. In my opinion they cover the point about goods which are masquerading in any way as being made in the United Kingdom. I think it would be a retrograde step to do anything but support the Bill as it stands.
§ 8.6 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?
§ Their, Lordships divided: Contents, 45; Not-Contents, 49.265
|Amulree, L.||Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.||Maelor, L.|
|Avebury, L.||Energlyn, L.||Milner of Leeds, L. [Teller.]|
|Bacon, Bs.||Evans of Hungershall, L.||Phillips, Bs.|
|Barrington, V.||Foot, L.||Raglan, L.|
|Beswick, L.||Gardiner, L.||Rusholme, L.|
|Birk, Bs.||Garnsworthy, L.||Segal, L.|
|Blyton, L.||Goodman, L.||Shepherd, L.|
|Burton of Coventry, Bs.||Hale, L.||Somers, L.|
|Byers, L.||Hanworth, V. [Teller.]||Strabolgi, L.|
|Carnock, L.||Henley, L.||Strang, L.|
|Champion, L.||Hood, V.||Tanlaw, L.|
|Clwyd, L.||Jacques, L.||Wade, L.|
|Davies of Leek, L.||Llewelyn-Davies, L.||Wells-Pestell, L.|
|de Clifford, L.||Llewelyn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs.||White, Bs.|
|Diamond, L.||Loudoun, C.||Wynne-Jones, L.|
|Aberdare, L.||Emmet of Amberley, Bs.||Killearn, L.|
|Ailwyn, L.||Ferrier, L. [Teller.]||Limerick, E.|
|Auckland, L.||Gainford, L.||Lothian, M.|
|Balerno, L.||Goschen, V.||Macpherson of Drumochter, L.|
|Balfour, E.||Gowrie, E.||Milverton, L.|
|Belstead, L.||Greenway, L.||Molson, L.|
|Berkeley, Bs.||Grenfell, L.||Monck, V.|
|Bradford, E.||Gridley, L.||Mowbray and Stourton, L.|
|Courtown, E.||Grimston of Westbury, L.||Nugent of Guildford, L.|
|Denham, L.||Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)||Orr-Ewing, L.|
|Digby, L.||Rankeillour, L.|
|Drumalbyn, L.||Hertford, M.||Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.|
|Elles, Bs.||Kemsley, V.||Sandford, L.|
|Elliot of Harwood, Bs. [Teller]|
|Sandys, L.||Strathclyde, L.||Wolverton, L.|
|Savile, L.||Teviot, L.||Young, Bs.|
|Sherfield, L.||Vernon, L.|
|Strange of Knokin, Bs.||Vivian, L.|
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ 8.13 p.m.
THE EARL OF LIMERICK moved Amendment No. 2:
Page 2, leave out from ("that") in line 9 to end of line 16 and insert ("the interests of persons in the United Kingdom to whom goods of any description may be supplied or to whom goods may he supplied under any designation would not be materially impaired by his doing so and that").
The noble Earl said: My Lords, the purpose of this Amendment is to enable the Secretary of State to direct exemption from or relaxation of the basic requirements of the Bill in cases where, although no significant difficulties would arise in meeting those requirements, compliance would be of no particular benefit to purchasers of the goods. To that end, it removes one of the existing limitations on his power; that is, that he may act only where satisfied that,
owing to the special circumstances of any trade, difficulties would arise".
§ At the same time, however, it tightens his duty as respects the interests of persons to whom goods are supplied; instead of merely having regard for those interests, he is required to be satisfied that they would not be materially impaired by his direction—though now only as respects persons "in the United Kingdom". The change does not preclude him from acting in cases where significant difficulties would arise from compliance, but, in effect, he must have regard not for the difficulties as such but for their likely repercussions on the interests of customers; that is, by interrupting or reducing supplies of the goods in question.
§ My Lords, during Committee stage the noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, raised the question of the effect that the Bill would have on books and periodicals. There was, I think, no dissent among your Lordships from her proposition that here, for a variety of reasons, including existing marking requirements, was a special case in which the interests of consumers did not require the provisions of the Bill to apply. I expressed the Government's sympathy with that view, and when the noble 266 Baroness was good enough to accept my suggestion that an express exemption was not the most appropriate way of dealing with this, I undertook to have another look at what is now Clause 1(5) before Report stage to ensure that its terms would present no bar to an appropriate exempting or relaxing direction in this or in comparable cases.
My conclusion, unfortunately, is that Clause 1(5) as it stands is not in the right form to allow of such a direction. The problem can be very simply expressed. The present wording debars the Secretary of State from making a direction unless he is satisfied that,
owing to the special circumstances of any trade, difficulties would arise".
I am advised that, given the presence of those words, and the narrow interpretation likely to be placed on them, it would not be proper for my right honourable friend to proceed on the basis of mere inconvenience in complying with the Bill, nor merely of any nonsensical consequences of doing so. There would have to exist some special, distinctive, and more serious difficulty than Parliament might reasonably have expected to follow from such an enactment. The problem therefore arises that if a man is preparing to print and bind a book or periodical, and in the process to impress upon it at various points United Kingdom names or marks, there is no particular "difficulty" in arranging to impress accompanying indications of origin. So far as the purchaser's interest is concerned, those accompaniments may be superfluous; they may make the appearance of the thing less attractive, or even ridiculous. But there is no particular "difficulty" involved, in the sense in which the present wording will be interpreted.
§ Nor is this the only case of its kind for which the Secretary of State's powers would stop short of what I believe this House may be assuming. There is also, for example, the position in which many imported motor vehicles would stand under the Bill. Your Lordships will be aware that such cars are often handled in this country by companies which have 267 factories here or which include the names of the vehicles in their titles. It follows that "Fiat", "Ford", "Renault" and so on are, even if not the names of persons carrying on trade or business in the United Kingdom, obviously abbreviations of such names. And if your Lordships consider the combined effect of Clause 1(2) and 1(6), you will recognise that wherever such a name as Fiat, Ford, or Renault appears on an imported car, it must—if there is any chance of the customer seeing it before he buys—be accompanied by an indication of non-British origin.
§ My Lords, I think we would all accept that there is absolutely no benefit for potential purchasers of Fiats and such like in requiring that kind of marking on the hubcaps, the bonnet, the boot and the steering wheel—indeed, they would be more likely to regard it as an unwelcome disfigurement. Yet again one cannot seriously contend that there would be any special "difficulty" in attaching half a dozen or so stick on "Made in Italy" labels at the appropriate points—and so, as the clause stands, the Secretary of State would be powerless to waive a requirement which in those circumstances would be so pointless as to invite derision. If we can escape from the restrictions which the present reference to "difficulties" would impose, appropriate relaxations could in special circumstances be granted, either completely or perhaps—and I return to the motor cars only by way of illustrating, if for example the origin marking of cars were still considered necessary—by substituting a single prominent sticker on the windscreen.
§ It is with those problems in mind that I put forward this Amendment for your Lordships' consideration. You will observe that it would change Clause 1(5) in three respects. First, it would eliminate the reference to difficulties arising "owing to the special circumstances of any trade" and thus enable the Secretary of State to act in such cases as I have just mentioned, and in which I believe the House will readily agree that it is right and proper that he should be able to act. Secondly, it confines his consideration of the interest of persons in the United Kingdom to whom the goods may be supplied—as I think 268 the House will agree is appropriate, for we cannot presume to take upon ourselves the responsibility for protecting consumers overseas which belongs to their own Governments, and the problem at which this Bill is directed is a particularly domestic one. Thirdly, however, it prescribes that the Secretary of State must not merely "have regard" for the interests of the United Kingdom consumers, but must be satisfied that their interests would not be materially impaired by his direction—a more precise and appropriate indication of the way in which this judgment should be exercised.
§ These suggested changes do not, of course, mean that the Secretary of State would be bound to act whenever these conditions were satisfied. The power would remain a discretionary one, for exercise only when he was also satisfied that such action was desirable. Nor, on the other hand, would the changes prevent him from acting in cases where compliance gave rise to special difficulties; it would merely mean that in those circumstances his attention was focused not on the difficulties of suppliers as such, but on any adverse consequences which the necessity to overcome those difficulties might have for consumers—for example, by temporarily restricting supplies and thereby inflating prices.
§ I hope that I have made clear both the motivation and the effect of this Amendment in terms which will persuade your Lordships, as I am persuaded. that it is not merely a desirable but a necessary change. I beg to move.
§ BARONESS BURTON OF COVENTRY
My Lords, I should like to support this Amendment. During our Committee stage the noble Earl said that he wouldcertainly ensure before Report state that if any changes appear necessary in Clause 1(4) to enable us to make appropriate relaxations in respect of books and periodicals and any other such deserving cases, these will be placed before your Lordships."—[OFFICIAL REPORT. 16/5/72; col. 1336.]The noble Earl went on to say (column 1337):If there is any doubt about it we will take steps to ask the House to give us extra powers and we would expect then to be able to give the exemption for which the noble Baroness is asking in this particular case.The noble Earl has now tabled this Amendment to put the matter beyond doubt, and I am most appreciative.
THE EARL OF LIMERICK moved Amendment No. 3:
Page 2, line 22, after ("may") insert ("be given for a limited time or indefinitely and may").
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, the second Amendment I propose to Clause 1(5) is simple in its purpose as in its wording. Initially there is an obvious possibility that in some field or other a situation will emerge in which full compliance with the Bill's requirements, though it can be accomplished after an interim period, is not immediately practicable. Again, temporary shortages might occur in the future in which—say, in the case of drugs or foodstuffs—it was necessary at short notice to supplement existing supplies with imports, without there being time to modify the labelling. If relaxations for these special cases were found to be appropriate it would obviously be desirable to subject them to some express time limit within which those concerned would achieve, or revert to, full compliance. And in these circumstances those concerned ought to he able to see from the direction itself that there was a time limit on the relaxation, and for just how long it extended. The Bill already provides that a direction once given may he withdrawn by a later one; the words which the Amendment would add would simply enable a direction to be expressed at the outset as being of a specific limited duration. I beg to move.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
My Lords, it does not seem to me that these words are necessary. I should have thought that the existing wording, "may be withdrawn or varied by a further direction", covered all eventualities. On the other hand, there may be good reasons, as the noble Earl has explained, why the wording is an improvement, and certainly we on this side have no objection.