§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Baroness Elliot of Harwood.)
§ On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, there are two Amendments down. I call the first one, but in doing so I should point out that the form in which I have now received it is slightly different from the form which many noble Lords may have. As now on my Marshalled List it reads:Clause 1, Page 1, leave out from beginning of line 16 to word ('indication') in line 17.
BARONESS PHILLIPS moved Amendment No. 1:
Page 1, leave out from beginning of line 16 to word ("indication") in line 17.
§ The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I should first like to explain to your Lordships that I stand before you in sackcloth and ashes, as you were first of all given an Amendment which contained a clerical error—I cannot say a printed error—and the attempt to put that right may have made it a little more difficult for your Lordships to follow what we mean. I shall do my best to explain. I apologise for the fact that you have had two Amendments put before you. Your 558 Lordships will recall that this Bill was amended at the last stage so that goods which have a United Kingdom name or mark, or what is likely to be taken for a United Kingdom name or mark, must be accompanied by an indication of the country of origin or by the word "imported". This Amendment seeks to leave out the words which give an option. In other words, the goods would have to be accompanied by an indication of the country of origin.
§ Your Lordships will probably agree—indeed, I sensed that a good number of your Lordships on all sides of the House were with me when we last discussed this matter—that the word "imported" does not really give any very clear indication of the origin of goods which will be subject to this very small Bill. Indeed, goods imported from the other side of the world can be very different from goods which have only crossed the Channel. This is particularly noticeable in the case of textiles. During the last weekend, I have been checking up in the large stores and I found—as I already knew—that a great number of textiles appear to be British goods. Indeed, they bear no indication at all so that one has no guide. But the customer particularly wants to know a little more about the origin. The customer wants the country of origin named and does not want the word "imported" merely to be used. I have in mind the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Macpherson of Drumochter, when he pleaded for his industry and I think his plea must have been heard by the Minister because the Amendment was introduced subsequently.
§ The second part of this Amendment would still leave the Secretary of State the opportunity to deal with this type of goods because in subsection (5) the Secretary of State is given very wide powers. Although on the one hand we are told that the goods must be accompanied by an indication of the country 559 of origin or the word "imported" we see subsequently that the Secretary of State can disregard this if he wishes or can say that something else must be inserted. So all I am doing here is taking out a mandatory provision and transferring it to the later subsection so that the Secretary of State, if he wishes, can still meet the case of the food industry which, so far as I can discover, must be the only industry that wants this word "imported".
§ As I have previously said, I am inundated with letters not only from customers and consumers but from manufacturers of all kinds who do not want to see enacted this rather casual piece of legislation which is so wide that it is practically meaningless. Nevertheless I appreciate that the Minister will need the powers to deal with certain classified groups, so in an attempt to meet this point the second part of the Amendment would transfer to subsection (5) a further right of the Minister to use the word "imported" rather than country of origin should he feel that it is desirable to do so.
§ BARONESS GAITSKELL
My Lords, I should like to support my noble friend in this Amendment. I have not previously taken part in this debate, but I thought that it was a very bad thing that the name of the country should not be put on the can or the textile or whatever it is. To do so would seem to me to be a thoroughly good thing and it is a great pity that only the word "imported" should be put on anything coming into this country. Let us take the opposite case. Should we like British goods in America or anywhere else to have the word "imported" instead of "British" on them? Surely it would be a bad thing and we should be offended if British goods had the word "imported" put upon them. We trade, and we are proud of our textiles and our machinery and we would want the word "British" on them. Before I close I want to apologise if I have rushed in before the noble Baroness. Lady Elliot.
Just over 10 years ago there was a Committee on Consumer Protection set up by the President of the Board of Trade under Sir Joseph Molony as he now is. I had the honour to serve on that Committee and one question on which we spent a considerable amount of 560 time was: should imported goods carry the name of the country of origin? The noble Baroness who spoke just now indicated that we all hate to be called "foreigners" when we cross the Channel. But we have to remember that we are foreigners and that in the United States British goods are "imported". I do not think that we need to wave the Union Jack when we send goods to the United States. The Molony Committee examined this point with great care and came to the conclusion that it was no protection for the consumer to be told that his goods came from Ruritania. So long as he knew they were imported, that was sufficient for him. The Committee said clearly that all that was necessary was to have "imported" or "foreign", and not the country of origin.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, I am generally in favour of this Bill, but I want to ask a simple question. There are people who are connected with the textile trade and the clothing making-up trade (I am connected with neither), and they are in the habit of buying large quantities of cloth in the roll from Asiatic countries. This cloth is brought here, put under the sewing machines and transformed into frocks, dresses, blouses and all kinds of other garments with which I am not personally familiar. What is to be the position of a garment of that kind sold in this country when the making-up has been performed in this country but the weaving of the basic cloth and the spinning of the yarn which went into the cloth have been carried out in a country 10,000 miles away? The second question is a more simple one. I understand that we shall still have Cheddar cheese from countries 12,000 or 3,000 miles away. Presumably this cheese will still have to be labelled "Australian Cheddar" or "Canadian Cheddar" to distinguish it from the genuine article which I believe comes from Somerset?
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ BARONESS BURTON OF COVENTRY
My Lords, I seek some information which I sought on the Report stage. I wonder whether, when the noble Earl, Lord Limerick, comes to speak, he will be able to give me information with regard to the Amendment which has been spoken to by my noble friend Lady Phillips. The Government and the Department of Trade and Industry have 561 brought this Amendment upon themselves. I am sorry that it has devolved upon the shoulders of the noble Earl because I do not think that it was his fault. When this Bill originated in another place as a Private Member's Bill the Government decided to support it.
I hope that I am not paraphrasing unfairly when I say that the noble Earl told us on the Report stage that as this was a Private Member's Bill the Government had not paid it the attention they would have paid it if it had been one of their own. I think that is what he said. He did not say this, but shall I say that he gave it support inadvertently? "Inadvertently" is my word and not his. It seemed to me that, that having been done in the first place, which I suggest was not good, it still held good while the Bill went through its stages in another place. Up to the Committee stage the Government had still not given the Bill the attention which it has subsequently merited. I think that I am correct in saying that during the Committee stage in another place the Under-Secretary, Mr. Peter Emery, turned down an Amendment which sought to use the word "imported". That is factual, but I am paraphrasing when I say that he turned it down because he did not think it gave the customer sufficient indication of the country of origin. We then move on and we find the poor unfortunate Lord Limerick (I hope that he does not mind me calling him that) being landed with an Amendment which is exactly the opposite to that which was put down in another place. It puts forward what Mr. Emery turned down. That is fact and it is in the past.
What I am concerned with is this. I have tried to find out which industries and which people agree with this Amendment, and I have not been successful. I can only find quoted in the paper the canned food manufacturers; I cannot find anybody else. It seems to me that if it is only one industry which is objecting to this a way could have been found to give it exemption if it was able to prove its case. All I am asking the noble Earl to tell us is which industries have spoken so strongly as to persuade the Government to change their mind or, alternatively, whether they have changed their mind merely because one industry has put in an objection.
My Lords, I have always been in favour of marking goods with the country of origin where it is practical. The noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, has just pointed out a weakness in that doctrine, because there are a lot of raw textiles imported into this country which are turned into all sorts of things; and the same remark applies to a certain amount of food canned in this country which is imported in exactly the same way. But when I am buying food I definitely like to see where it has come from. I bought a tin of corned beef this morning and I had a choice between Australian and some packed in Liverpool. I chose the Australian. They should otherwise, I suppose, both have been labelled "Imported" When I buy jam, I always want to know the country of origin, because I choose jam and marmalade from countries which do not have a great chemical trade and whose climate is not really suitable for the growth of turnips. I find that the South Africans produce the finest marmalade in the world; and the Bulgarians and the Poles produce the best jam from strawberries, and so on, as the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, well knows, although I do not think he stocks any of it. But it has certain difficulties, as I can see, and I should think that this Amendment gets over them by leaving it optional whether the Minister gives permission or does not give permission for the country of origin to be marked.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
My Lords, this debate has now been held three times in your Lordships' House. I think it is almost unique for the same subject to be discussed three times. This point was mentioned on Second Reading; it was discussed at great length on the Committee stage; and it was again discussed on Report stage. There have been two Divisions, both of which have been en Amendments in almost exactly the same words as the Amendment which the noble Baroness has put down to-day. Now we are at it again. I remain firmly of the opinion that the view which was expressed by the noble Earl, Lord Limerick, and which has been supported by the Government, is the right one. I do not want to bore your Lordships by making exactly the same speech all over again as that which I made on two previous occasions on exactly the same point; and the noble Earl, Lord 563 Limerick, can answer the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton.
I have had many letters, just as the noble Baroness has, about this subject, supporting the view which I take, which is that those goods coming into this country which can be (this is the word I used before) masqueraded for British when they are not British must be marked with the word "Imported". There is nothing to stop them from having the country of origin marked as well. The noble Lord, Lord Hawke, is quite right: if he wants to buy tinned beef and is offered one which says "Australia" and another which says "Argentine", if he prefers the Australian he buys the Australian; if he the prefers Argentinian he can buy the Argentinian. That can still go on under this Bill; there is absolutely nothing to prevent it at all. But what we are saying is that it is very complicated and inconvenient for a number of imports to come into this country if they must all be marked with the country of origin. It is exceedingly difficult in some cases, and it is not necessary, always provided that this business of masquerading is covered, as it is in the first clause of the Bill.
I therefore suggest to your Lordships that there is really no necessity to stress this point again, asking that the name of the country should be on every can, every tin, every bit of cloth—everything that comes into this country. In fact, as I said on Report stage, it is another way to make it more difficult to trade. What we want to do, especially when we get into the Common Market, is to trade as liberally, as freely and as generously as we possibly can for the benefit of ourselves as well as for the benefit of the people who are going to buy our goods. The noble Baroness, Lady Gaitskell, spoke about British goods being sold overseas as imported. If they are the best goods and people are buying them in the United States of America, nine times out of ten they will probably have a British mark: but if they did not have a British mark, if they were still the best goods and if they were sold, I should be perfectly happy. So long as they are sold, so lone as we employ our people in this country, so long as the standard we export is a high one and is a credit to this country, it does not worry me very much whether the Union Jack is stamped on them or not. What is important is that the goods 564 should be of a high quality and that people should want to buy them—and they certainly do. But to say that every single thing that comes into this country has to have the country of origin marked on it is complicating the matter enormously for a number of different industries, and I think it would be a great mistake.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness but I think that on a previous stage of this Bill she said this. In this argument I have never said that every article should be marked with its country of origin. We debated that matter on a completely separate Amendment. We are now dealing, with the narrow point which she herself has made in relation to goods which purport to have a British mark. This Amendment is not asking for the marking of all goods: it is only asking for the marking of these goods. It is important that she should know what I am talking about. It is not the same thing as she is talking about.
§ BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD
My Lords, I apologise if I am misinterpreting what the noble Baroness said, but in the debate which we had there was a great mix-up in people's minds about this question of whether goods should have the name of the country they came from. I pointed out at the time that the Bill affected only those goods that could be mistaken for goods made in this country. I said that that is what the mark of origin was for. I still take that point. I thought the noble Baroness was making the point (I may be wrong, and I apologise if I am)—and a lot of people want this—that under this Bill the country of origin should be marked. That is not in this Bill, and never could be; and I should not be in favour of it in any case. I think it would be a mistake to alter the words of the Bill. They do not exclude people from putting on the country of origin if they wish to, but they do not make it necessary. The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, reminds us that the Molony Report, which was brought out a long time ago, did not recommend that there should be this marking. That reinforces my view. I think it would be a great mistake to alter the words, which have been carefully considered three times now, and I beg your Lordships to support the Bill and to vote against the Amendment.
§ LORD BARNBY
My Lords, the noble Baroness who has just sat down is certainly categorical enough in her opposition to the Amendment. The distinction in this case as against the discussions at earlier stages is the difference between what is permissive and what is mandatory. To be consistent, I must find myself in sympathy with the Amendment; that is, that there should be an indication of the country of origin, not merely the word "Imported". We have had that discussed at great length at earlier stages, and it is very hard to see why it is still unacceptable. But this is a Private Member's Bill, sponsored by Lady Elliot, and we must wait and see what the Minister has to say in regard to getting over the reasonings which Lady Phillips has put forward.
On the remarks made by Lord Geddes, of course his argument was impressive. But again we come up against the problem of the different categories of merchandise to which this provision applies, and how discriminatory it inevitably is to cover some and not others. In fact, it needs to be discriminatory. In reasoning out the proposals, one can easily see the difficulties in the case of one class of merchandise as against another. But on the point that Lord Geddes made, speaking with great authority and knowledge on this subject, I suspect that others than the lady Members of this House who are purchasers of goods would feel that there was a distinction when they saw that a dress, attractive in appearance, was imported, as against a mark that it had been made in Yugoslavia or in Paris, because there is an attraction, I understand, among ladies for apparel made in Paris.
§ LORD GEORGE-BROWN
My Lords, would the noble Lord forgive me? Does he consider that the ladies would think the same if it were marked "Made in Hong Kong" or "Made in Taiwan"?
§ LORD BARNBY
My Lords, with respect, I did not quite understand the question. Does the noble Lord want to know the difference between Taiwan and Yugoslavia?
§ LORD GEORGE-BROWN
My Lords, let us treat it seriously. This involves hundreds of thousands of jobs in this country. If a lady sees a dress marked "Made in Taiwan" or "Made in 566 Hong Kong", would she feel the same about it as the noble Lord thinks she would feel if it were marked, "Made in Paris"?
§ LORD BARNBY
My Lords, I very much respect the line taken by the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, because it is in conformity with many of the arguments put forward in the earlier stage of the Bill. I agree that this matter has wide implications in regard to employment in this country. That is why those of us who feel strongly about this are very concerned. I myself shall listen with interest to what the Minister has to say.
§ 4.2 p.m.
§ LORD SAINSBURY
My Lords, unfortunately I was abroad when the Report stage of this Bill was passing through your Lordships' House. I have had the opportunity this morning to study the OFFICIAL REPORT and I am still in favour of the Amendment. It seems to me that throughout all stages of this Bill, as my noble friend Lady Phillips has said, people have been talking as though this marking applied to all imported goods or to a large number of imported goods. It is brought into question only if the product can be mistaken for one that is manufactured or processed in the United Kingdom. Since the Molony Report was published, I think some ten years ago, more and more people concerned with the interests of the consumer have said that the consumer needs more information. If we are consistent surely more information means accurate information; and when there is a possibility of mistaking the goods for United Kingdom goods then I believe that in the interests of the consumer he should know the country of origin.
It is not, as it was described earlier, chauvinistic to hold this view; it is extending the consumer freedom of choice. If certain consumers for whatever reason, wish to discriminate against goods from a particular country in my opinion it is their right as individuals so 567 to do. Therefore I support this Amendment. As has been said already, I believe that difficult cases—cases involving real and not imaginary difficulties—can be dealt with under the clause that gives the Minister the necessary power to relax the marking requirements. I do not insist that consistency is always a virtue, because on this side of the House on occasions we should like to see those on the Government Benches change their minds. But I think that in this case their inconsistency is wrong and I strongly support the Amendment.
§ LORD DONALDSON OF KINGSBRIDGE
My Lords, when my noble friend says that we have been discussing the wrong item, of course he is right. The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, says that we have been talking about this for three stages of the Bill. She exaggerates. What we have been discussing is something which has nothing to do with the case: which is whether all imported goods should bear the mark of origin. This Amendment was put forward by my noble friend Lady Phillips and was defeated and has never been referred to again by her. But by everybody else it is the only thing that has been discussed. It seems to me that there is a case for asking the noble and learned Lord who sits on the 'Woolsack to exercise his rights as Chairman, but I gather that he has none. But only a Chairman could keep this debate on the subject which is meant to be discussed. The noble Lord, Lord Geddes, spoke with great authority, but not on the subject; and this applies to most of the other speakers.
The position is quite clear and simple. There came to this House a Bill of a very limited kind which suggested that goods that were masquerading under a United Kingdom mark—and we shall come back to that—should have to indicate their country of origin. The Government produced an Amendment saying that for these goods it would be enough to say that they were "imported". Like others, I have asked for any single instance where there is a problem about this. No full explanation has been given. The noble Earl was good enough to write me a letter and to apologise for misunderstanding me; and I am not demanding a further apology. The only case given was that of somebody who cans 568 fruit in the Caribbean under a United Kingdom registration mark. It is suggested that if they run out of Caribbean fruit they might need to put in some fruit from, say, Finland. My Lords, if they do that, they can change the printing; it is not expensive. As I say, nobody has given any kind of example to show that it is necessary to make this alteration.
Personally, I think that my noble friend's Amendment is exactly right. It puts on the Government the onus of showing cause why the ordinary rule of indicating the country of origin should not apply. If there is a good reason, the Government would be able to do what is necessary under the second Amendment. I think that before going any further we must be given some reason for this change. So far, we have been given none whatever. Can we have a clear reason why it is difficult for somebody who is registered in the United Kingdom and who is importing goods from some other country to change the printing on the cans or on the packing to say where the goods come from? I cannot understand this. For the moment I think the onus is on the Government to give some reason.
§ VISCOUNT MASSEREENE AND FERRARD
My Lords, this Amendment raises a storm in a tea cup. Let us take the case of Japan. Japan is importing sewing machines in two parts into Eire. In Eire, they simply put a bolt in them, stick a shamrock on—and the machines come to this country under Commonwealth preference. I should have thought that the word "imported" was a perfectly sufficient description; because any foreign importers can buy for re-export to the Commonwealth and they can hide their identity.
§ LORD DONALDSON OF KINGSBRIDGE
My Lords, to come under this Bill the goods must have a United Kingdom mark. None of the examples quoted by the noble Viscount would have a United Kingdom mark.
§ 4.10 p.m.
§ LORD GEORGE-BROWN
My Lords, may I say that I think this brings out the problem. We are trying to protect our own people's position in this matter. If the Bill goes through in the form in which it is drafted you can bring goods 569 in through other areas, with some small print which has to be read very carefully, saying "imported". But, with respect, we are not really talking so much about canned goods as about textiles and made-up textiles. My noble friend Lord Leatherland talked about grey cloth which comes in, but now mostly what is coming in is made-up garments; and there is a lot of difference in putting in small print somewhere the word "imported" and actually having to say that the article was made up in Taiwan—that is why I interrupted the noble Lord, I gather inconveniently for my noble friend. It ought to be said that hundreds—well, maybe not hundreds, but tens of thousands of people's jobs here depend on this being known and said. I simply do not understand why we should pass a Bill in which we are unwilling to say it. I do not know why my noble friend Lord Sainsbury is not willing to say it, let us say it. Lord Sainsbury's firm—
§ LORD SAINSBURY
My Lords, the noble Lord is misquoting me. I understood my noble friend to say that I was against putting the country of origin and preferred "imported". I have been speaking previously in the opposite.
§ LORD GEORGE-BROWN
My Lords, may I tell the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor that one of the things I get most offended about is when noble friends of mine keep telling me who is on "our side" because sometimes I wonder what is in fact "our side"; and some speeches that I read at weekends make me bother very much about what is "our side". I should be a bit surprised if it does not also bother my noble friend Lord Shackleton. I just try to decide who seems to be going for the point that I want to be going for. If I misunderstood my noble friend Lord Sainsbury, I apologise. It is very easy to do in this Chamber where the acoustics are not so great. If he, like me, thinks that the 570 country of origin should be imprinted on everything, that is O.K. Then indeed he is on my side. The only side I know, may I tell my noble friend Lord Shackleton, is "my side". "Our side" is a very odd, peculiar kind of side at the moment. But I thought that the noble Lord was saying that he did not want too much printed on cans.
I confess my interest. I am employed by a very large textile and chemical outfit in this country, a very good one. We employ many many thousands of people in Lancashire and elsewhere and we are being put at enormous risk, not by our Colonies; not by poor people to whom we owe a special obligation, but by all kinds of people all over the world who are getting their goods here—I repeat, for the benefit of my noble friend Lord Leatherland not grey cloth as we know it in the trade, not rolls of cloth, but made-up garments. We get them here with just small print at the bottom which says "imported" and lots of British people are suffering as a result.
I support this Amendment because I think it would make it a little more obvious that these garments arc made up elsewhere; are made up where labour is cheap; are made up where certain obligations are not observed as they are here. And I think anything like that which would help would be a good thing. We are not arguing about the Common Market: the problem does not arise there. When we join the Common Market we shall find that we shall have to change many of the things we currently do, so that it is nonsense to introduce the Common Market. What we are dealing with are areas elsewhere where they do not observe the rules that we feel that we have to observe. I cannot see any reason at all why we should not imprint the name of the place where an article is made. How many this would discourage from buying it I do not know; but far better to do it than to invent all these fantastic arguments for not doing it. If it is Taiwan, Hong Kong, or Portugal let us say so. It may deter a few, but, for heaven's sake! do give a number of people in this country, in Lancashire and Yorkshire and elsewhere, the encouragement of knowing that we are trying to let other people know that these things are being made where ordinary normal rules, as we understand them, do not apply.
571 I find it exceedingly hard to understand why this House, and especially why the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, should not accept that this is a very sensible thing to do. I go so far as to say that I do not believe that any noble Lord or noble Baroness would oppose this Amendment unless they were trying to find some reason for encouraging people to buy from outside, and until we are in the Common Market where they observe all the rules indeed better than we do, that is O.K. I do not mind them being marked, I do not mind our saying "Germany", "France", "Italy"—anywhere you like. But I do not see any reason why people who are buying vests and shirts and blouses and suits should not be told that they are made up in places where British capital encourages them to be made up, but where rules that we observe do not apply. I simply do not understand why anybody, Conservative, Labour of Liberal, should oppose this. I should have thought this is one of the strongest Amendments one could possibly support.
§ LORD STRABOLGI
I want to say a few words before the noble Earl, Lord Limerick, replies. I do not want to add much to the very powerful speech from my noble friend, Lord George-Brown. I may, however, say to him that when we said "our side" we meant the side of all noble Lords in all parts of the House who have opposed the way that the Government have attempted to weaken the Bill ever since it came to us from the other place. This is entirely a non-Party affair. It has never been approached in a Party way at all. We have had support from all sides of the House and there have been sincere efforts to try to get the Bill back on to the right lines. My only reason for intervening at this stage is to say that I hope that we are going to have more explanations from the Government than we have had so far. The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, said that this matter has been referred to at various stages and that the same kind of speeches had been made. They have. It has been necessary to make them because we have never had a full answer from the Government. The Government have never told us why they cannot meet certain very genuine objections from certain sides of the trade, such as the canned food industry and so on, by bringing in orders, 572 and why they wish to change the whole conception of the Bill. It is for that reason that I am asking the noble Earl, Lord Limerick, when he comes to reply at this late stage in the Bill, to tell us exactly why the Government have changed their minds in June to completely contrary arguments to those which they were using last April.
§ LORD SOMERS
My Lords, I do not know whether it is in order for me to speak at this point, but I should like to raise one point which I do not think has been touched on very much. Many people bear, reasonably or unreasonably, very strong prejudices against certain countries. I remember that after the First World War my parents sternly refused to buy anything that was marked "Made in Germany". I dare say one will find to-day people who, reasonably or unreasonably, would refuse to buy anything that was marked "Made in South Africa". The public deserve a little consideration in knowing where the items they are buying come from, so that they can discriminate if they so wish.
§ THE EARL OF LIMERICK
My Lords, as my noble friend, Lady Elliot, has pointed out, we have already twice considered the principles underlying this Amendment, and I do not think the House will wish to hear for a third time the whole argument which leads me to oppose it. There can be little that is new to say and I fear it is unlikely that the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, and I are going to agree on this question. I welcome this Amendment for one reason, and one reason only. It gives me an opportunity to reply to two specific points put to me at the Report stage by Lady Burton, and repeated this afternoon, which I could not then answer as I had already spoken. They are directly relevant to our decision this afternoon.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, may I interrupt the noble Earl, Lord Limerick? Why did he say that he could not have answered? He can speak under our rules, and the House will bear with him. He is not restricted under Standing Orders. Still we welcome him now.
§ 4.24 p.m.
§ THE EARL OF LIMERICK
My Lords, I must accept that viewpoint from the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition, and I hope it will be borne in mind that I am relatively new to your 573 Lordships' House. The first point to which I am addressing myself concerned the difference of my approach from that of my Ministerial colleagues in another place, and it is of course a fair point to raise. My honourable friend Mr. Peter Emery expressed the view that marking with the country of origin, as opposed to a blanket term like "Foreign", would be preferred by the general public. That was said at Committee stage on Friday, April 14. The date is important because my colleague and I both came to Ministerial office for the first time on Monday, April 10, just four days earlier. Those who have held Ministerial positions—and there are many in your Lordships' House—will hardly forget their first four days. In those days there are other things to consider as well as Private Members' Bills.
Serious problems were brought to my notice shortly thereafter, both by direct trade representations and in this House on Second Reading. The consideration of this Bill falls within my own departmental responsibility and the decision, taken after careful thought, to introduce the Amendment permitting the word "Imported" as an alternative marking, carried at Committee stage on May 16, was mine. Naturally I talked with my honourable friend Mr. Emery about it, and in the light of the problems he fully appreciated what I was doing. If Ministers cannot have second thoughts when presented with new evidence, especially on a Private Member's measure, when there is virtually no opportunity to discuss principles with interested parties before it is debated in Parliament, then really I do not know why we bother to take Bills in measured stages through the two Houses. We might as well vote according to our prejudices on first introduction and without debate at all. In my own case these were not even second thoughts; they were first thoughts at the time that I first considered the Bill. Since that stage I have taken carefully into account the arguments of noble Lords and Baronesses with wide experience in this field—Lord Sainsbury, Lord Donaldson and Lady Burton—and I can make clear that these points have been considered, in sticking to the line which I am taking this afternoon.
574 I was secondly asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, who it was that wanted the change which my Amendment brought about. I received representations from food manufacturers generally, concerning frozen and prepacked foods as well as the canning of fruit and fish; also from the chemical industry who are concerned about bulk imports which are broken down before sale. It has been twice stated this afternoon that the only example given related to foodstuffs. I would draw the attention of the House to column 1327 of the OFFICIAL REPORT of the Committee stage of the debate in which I particularly referred to the chemical trade.
Having given the information asked for, I feel entitled to point out that those who have made the representations are not asking for changes. They are asking for no change, or alternatively the least onerous change from the law of 1968 which quite deliberatedly—let me remind you once more—did away with origin marking. It is this Bill which brings about the change, in the shape of the marking requirement that we are discussing. The protesters are quite reasonably asking that, in providing its limited protection against misrepresentation, an aim which none of them disputes, the Bill should not simultaneously impose unreasonable problems for them as traders. This is the point that I took.
May I just say that the noble Lord, Lord George-Brown, not once nor twice, but thrice, referred to the word "imported" appearing in small print. This may be a small point, but the Bill does refer to a conspicuous indication of origin.
§ THE EARL OF LIMERICK
It has to be comparable with the mark which it seeks to counter. This Bill, make no mistake, my Lords, will make life more difficult for some traders. We must therefore be wary of arguments really concerned with industrial protection, which are thinly disguised as consumer 575 protection. Consumer protection is the proper purpose of this Bill, but it should be accompanied by the minimum difficulty for traders consonant with the achievement of its aim of preventing misrepresentation.
I would repeat that the Bill before us is concerned solely with what should be clone to prevent consumers from being misled into thinking that imported goods are British because they bear a United Kingdom name or mark on sale: nothing more, nothing less. With this important but limited objective in mind, a clear indication that such goods are imported meets the case. If in certain circumstances there is a demand for more consumer protection, in the form of labelling goods with information about their country of origin, or their characteristics, or washing instructions, or anything else, this is something which my Department is always ready to consider and for which statutory powers have been provided by the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. If representatives of consumer interests consider that origin marking is desirable on textiles or any other goods then it would be quite wrong to rely on this Bill to provide it. The right way is to ask for an origin marking order under Section 8 of the existing 1968 Act, which would then apply to all imported goods concerned, and not only to this limited class of goods which bear a United Kingdom name or mark when offered for sale. Let the approach be made at the front door under Section 8 and not slipped in by this small side door, in a way so general as to cause avoidable difficulties yet so limited in the goods to which it applies as to fail to provide the protection sought.
This whole argument is an exercise of judgment. Here we are weighing two imponderables—the desire of some consumers to know the precise country of origin, against the difficulty for some traders in complying with precise origin marking and the effect which it may have directly or indirectly on our international trade. The law could start from the presumption that precise marking is obligatory unless a case is made for excusal (a view which was rejected in passing the 1968 Act), or it could start from the presumption that a general indication of the import of the affected 576 goods will suffice unless a case is made for precise marking under Section 8. That is what the argument is all about. My own preference for the second presumption is clear.
Let us finally examine what the position would be in relation to certain classes of trade which have worried me all along, if this Amendment were carried—although I sincerely hope that the House will remain of the same mind as on two previous occasions by rejecting it. I shall detain your Lordships with only two examples. There could be a situation in a drug factory or a chemical packaging plant where an emergency switch of source of supply has to be made and time does not allow precisely marked packaging to be obtained for the substitution. It would be no problem, however, for the firm to hold an emergency supply of packets or sacks marked simply "Imported".
Then there are the small shopkeepers who will have goods on their shelves six months after this Bill becomes law, goods which perhaps have already been there for some time and which they know or suspect to be imported. They probably do not know the exact country of origin and may by then have lost track of who supplied the goods. It is impossible to contemplate exempting orders in every such case, even if the Secretary of State could properly make them. Nor are such cases always covered by the defences in Section 2, the relevant one of which would not be available if the goods are of a nature which could only be produced outside the United Kingdom—say, the products of tropical countries. Are we, for no compelling purpose, to legislate so that these shopkeepers may be breaking the law with no statutory defence? Why should they not be brought within the law by means of a little sticker reading "Imported"?
If your Lordships ask me how many letters I have had directly from small shopkeepers, I reply that I have had none. That is just why I am worried. How many shopkeepers will have read and pondered this Bill? I am worried because those most affected by this type of legislation are often very slow to realise its implications, and it becomes all the more our duty in Parliament to reflect on their problems before, not after, they are faced with legal provisions which 577 they may be hard pressed to comply with and which the inspectors may have grave difficulties in seeking to enforce. This is not the way to keep the law in high regard. I have no hesitation in asking the House to reaffirm its already twice-taken view by rejecting this Amendment.
§ 4.35 p.m.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, I am sorry to say that I have seldom—and I say this with respect to the noble Earl—heard a more ludicrous explanation from a Minister in defence of a case which clearly has not satisfied the House. I fully accept—and I do not say this in a patronising way—that the noble Earl is new to the procedure of the House: he certainly could have spoken the other day. As I understand it, the reason why the Government changed their mind was that the noble Earl was suddenly appointed a Minister, and at that point the Board of Trade started to think about this Bill. This is the impression that the noble Earl has given to the House. I cannot believe that the present Government really work as incompetently as that. The noble Earl and other noble Lords will know that there is a proper procedure in this matter. As I understood it, the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, had already received the blessing of the Department. I can scarcely believe that the sponsors of the Bill in another place went ahead regardless of whether the Government were likely to support it or not. In any case, I am revealing no secret when I say that Private Bill legislation comes under the scrutiny of Government as much as Public Bill legislation. Sometimes I admit that there is a bit of a rush. This Bill had a Second Reading and there was a lot of publicity about it. In suggesting that the Department had no opportunity to consider it—I hesitate to say that is not true—I can only say that the noble Earl must have been misinformed or there must have been an extraordinary failure. I cannot believe that this Bill had not received the general blessing of the Department.
The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, suggested that it was wrong that we should argue this a third time, or a second time, according to how one looks at it. But the original Amendment that introduced "Imported" has been the subject of 578 growing concern in the Press and in certain sections of industry. On the last occasion the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, moved an Amendment which we all freely admit was defective. It is quite true that the noble Earl. Lord Limerick, objected to that Amendment not simply on the ground that it was defective, but on principle. None the less, noble Lords in this House on occasion dislike voting for defective Amendments, and it may be that the four votes by which it was lost might have gone the other way. In any case, this Amendment is different. I want to stress this, because it does not exclude the use of the word "Imported"; it merely means that the Government when they have received representations, which they consider seriously, can make an order—and they have great powers under this Bill to make orders—to substitute 'he word "Imported".
If I may deal with Lord Geddes's point, he referred to the Molony Report and mentioned that they came down against insisting on marking with country of origin. He has relied on Section 8 of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. But no orders, as I understand it, have been made under that section. What we are seeking to do is to transfer the responsibility for making orders for exclusions. It will still be possible to mark "Imported", but the Government, when they receive (he representations, will have to make up their mind. Here again, I am bound to say that the noble Earl, Lord Limerick, has not answered my noble friend Lady Burton of Coventry. All he has said is that he has had certain representations from certain industries. We do not know the details. We have had a peculiar example: that this might embarrass shop-keepers who already have goods on their shelves. But it is quite possible by amendment to provide protection for this event.
I realise that it is always difficult to get Private Bill legislation through, and I do not want to handicap the noble Baroness in this matter. I think we have reached a point when, if this was going to be the last stage of the Bill, there would be a strong case for moving that the debate be adjourned, so that the Government could give further consideration to this matter. However, I think the best 579 thing we can do is to adopt this Amendment, let it go back to the Commons, where it will have to go, anyway. Meanwhile, the Government will have a little more time to think the matter out. If when they get to the Commons the Government do not like the particular Amendment which most noble Lords in the House have supported, they will be able to substitute another one. I think this is a moderate Amendment. It is a permissive Amendment. It will still be possible to use the word "Imported", but it will not be done automatically. I hope therefore that your Lordships at this stage will vote for my noble friend's Amendment.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, I will not detain your Lordships long, particularly following my noble Leader; but I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Geddes, that certain recommendations of Molony were followed in the Trade Descriptions Act. I think he will agree that when the original decision was taken in the Committee it was certainly assumed that marking orders under Section 8 would be used. I do not think it was ever decided that it could be left in a vacuum. Referring to the small shopkeeper, for whom, like the Minister, I have a great feeling—and I have worked quite closely with small shopkeepers—this is a sad story that he has told us. I should have thought that Clause 2 provided a defence. The complaint is that in fact they did not know about this particular point. As my noble friend says, if this were not so it would be simple enough to deal with it. I am surprised to hear the suggestion that we are now going to have immediate legislation. It is said that as soon as something goes through both Houses of Parliament people are to be dealt with immediately under this particular type of legislation. This is rather new to me.
The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, has said several times, together with several other of your Lordships, that we have debated this matter three times. If I may say so, this is not the fault of the Opposition; it is because the Government have introduced in the middle of the proceedings on this Bill an Amendment
§ which would effect a major change. I think this is unusual—indeed from my search of the records it seems to be a most unusual procedure. If the noble Baroness is happy to have her Bill chopped about, I must say that several noble Lords on this side, and indeed on the other side, of your Lordships' House are not so happy about it. I do not want to refer to "our side" and "the other side" because the feeling seems to be on all sides, so far as I can discover. To take a simple example of this point as to the country of origin, the other day I saw a can—I believe it contained potatoes—which bore the lovely name, "Farmhouse". To my simple mind this implies an English farmhouse and not one in Iceland. But if it merely says "imported", I have then not the slightest idea whether what is referred to is a farmhouse in the wilds of Africa or one in the middle of Ireland—and as a house-wife I must tell your Lordships that there is a difference.
§ Only this morning I heard somebody asking about a dress in a large store. She wanted to know what material the dress was made of. Now this was an expensive dress and she should not have had to ask such a question. She was told what the material was and she then asked: "Does it come from another country, and where are the washing instructions?". I must point out that customers want this sort of information. But in addition may I say that the brush manufacturers want it; the ceramic manufacturers want it; the steel makers want it; the textile manufacturers want it; and the shirtmakers also want it. I would say that they are as important as the other two groups of manufacturers that have been mentioned. This very simple Amendment will not bring about the major change that some of us would like to see, but it will put the Bill back into the sensible realm in which it first started.
§ 4.44 p.m.
§ On Question, Whether the said Amendment (No. 1) shall be agreed to?
§ Their Lordships divided: Contents, 103; Not-Contents, 59.581
|Balfour of Inchrye, L.
|Beaumont of Whitley, L.
|Grimston of Westbury, L.
|Burton of Coventry, Bs.
|Howard of Glossop, L.
|Somers, L. [Teller.]
|Lee of Asheridge, Bs.
|Llewelvn-Davies of Hastoe, Bs. [Teller.]
|de Clifford, L.
|Lloyd of Hampstead, L.
|Donaldson of Kingsbridge, L.
|Douglas of Barloch, L.
|Taylor of Mansfield, L.
|Douglass of Cleveland, L.
|Massereene and Ferrard, V.
|Wright of Ashton under Lyne, L.
|Monckton of Brenchley, V.
|Mowbray and Stourfon, L.
|Alexander of Tunis, E
|Napier and Ettrick, L.
|Balfour, E. [Teller.]
|Green way, L.
|Hailsham of Saint Marylebone, L. (L. Chancellor.)
|Ruthven of Freeland, Ly.
|Harvey of Prestbury, L.
|Colville of Culross, V.
|Strathcona and Mount Royal, L.
|Elliot of Harwood, Bs. [Teller.]
|Macleod of Borve, Bs.
|Tweedsmuir of Belhelvie, Bs.
|Macpherson of Drumochter, L.
|Emmet of Amberley, Bs.
|Fraser of Lonsdale, L.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
§ Resolved in the affirmative, and Amendment agreed to accordingly.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I understand that my noble friend is now to make the Statement which was announced earlier. I was told that the House did not wish the next Amendment to be called until after the Statement.
§ LORD SHACKLETON
My Lords, since now we have carried this Amendment, I imagine that it would be for the 582 convenience of the House to move the next Amendment formally and finish this stage of the Bill.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, if that is the wish of the House. I do not know what my noble friend feels about that.
§ LORD ABERDARE
My Lords, I think that what the noble Lord the Leader of the Opposition has said has great reason, if the Amendment can be taken formally.
Page 2, line 20, at end insert—
("( ) Without prejudice to the generality of the last preceding subsection, any such directions given as aforesaid may provide, that the word 'imported' may be substituted for the indication of origin referred to in paragraph (a) of subsection (2) of this section").—(Baroness Phillips.)
§ THE EARL OF LIMERICK
My Lords, I am grateful for the generous spirit in which the noble Baroness now seeks to return, permissively, what the House has just removed from the Bill. She has made it clear in moving that, now that Clause 1(2) no longer permits the use of the word "imported" as a general alternative to the actual country of origin, she nevertheless wishes the Secretary of State to be able to allow the use of that word in cases where he is satisfied that to relax the provisions of the Bill in that way would not materially impair the interests of persons to whom the goods in question are supplied.
I appreciate the motives of the noble Baroness and would not wish to seem in any way ungrateful, but I am bound to add that I consider the Amendment to be unnecessary. If I may explain, Clause 1(5), as we amended it on Report, provides (on page 2, lines 13–17) that the Secretary of State may give directions for excluding or relaxing the provisions of subsection (2) in relation to goods of any description or goods supplied under any designation, either generally or subject to such conditions as may be specified in the direction. I am advised that this provision will now, as it stands (although this would not for somewhat technical reasons have been the case before we accepted the first Amendment a few minutes ago), enable the Secretary of State to give a direction relaxing the provisions of Clause 1(2) in relation to goods of a particular description, or goods supplied under any designation, by requiring any United Kingdom name or mark applied to them to be accompanied by the word "imported". The Amendment is therefore unnecessary in the new circumstances of this afternoon, since the power which it seeks to confer now already exists. Further, it would not help with the other problems which worry me and about which I have spoken earlier this afternoon. 584 I hope that the noble Baroness will accept my view that the Amendment therefore might reasonably be withdrawn.
§ BARONESS PHILLIPS
My Lords, in view of the Minister's Statement, and on his categorical assurance that it is not necessary, I will withdraw my Amendment. I should like to correct one small error that the Minister made. He said that the Government accepted the Amendment. If I may say so, it was the House that accepted the Amendment. With those few words, I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Baroness Elliot of Harwood.)
§ On Question, Bill read 3a, with the Amendments, and passed, and returned to the Commons.