HL Deb 04 May 1972 vol 330 cc858-81

3.40 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to move the Second Reading of the Trade Descriptions Bill. Before I talk about the Bill, there are three things that I should like to say in connection with it. First of all, this is not a Party political Bill, and in the other place the sponsors were Members from both sides of the House. Secondly, I have read the debate in another place with some care, and I think that there were no Divisions during the passage of the Bill, and the list of sponsors contained names of Members of both political Parties. There were criticisms, of course, during the Second Reading debate and the Committee stage, and I hope that in your Lordships' House there will be constructive suggestions put forward, which the Promoters of the Bill will be very pleased to consider. Thirdly, the Bill will be treated as part of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968, and will be operated by the weights and measures authorities, who have a statutory duty to enforce the clauses of the Bill. Any penalties incurred under the Bill will be dealt with as in Section 18 of the 1968 Act. In effect, there is nothing very new in the Bill, but I hope your Lordships will agree when I have presented the Bill that it does a useful piece of work in connection with consumer protection.

This Bill is a Bill to clarify the law to prevent people selling goods or articles in this country under false indications of origin. It is in fact a small addition to the consumer protection legislation which began as far back as 1887 with the Merchandise Marks Act. Forty years later, there came another Merchandise Marks Act. This was the Act under whose provisions Orders in Council were made making it necessary for goods brought into this country to bear the name of the manufacturer and trader, and an indication of origin. Then in 1953 the Merchandise Marks Act recognised that over the whole field of trade descriptions there existed a possibility that certain marks could not be interpreted as a direct or indirect indication of origin, but were likely to be construed as such by the shopping public. In fact, there was some uncertainty in the legislation. This was the background which led to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, then at the Board of Trade, appointing a Committee on consumer affairs, the famous Malony Committee. Out of their Report came the 1968 Act which your Lordships debated at length and which is now the law of the land and approved by all political Parties.

Now we come to the present Bill which I am presenting to the House. The case for this Bill is to give greater precision and certainty to the marking of imported goods so that the public will know for sure whether the goods are really made in the United Kingdom. It is not the object of the Bill to insist that all imported goods should have the mark of origin, but only those which might masquerade as British manufacture when they in fact are not. There is no doubt that there is a threat of foreign goods being passed off under United Kingdom trade names to-day. I can give your Lordships just two examples. One country with low labour costs advertised in this country that they had been exporting fine quality goods for years, but the fact is not known here because when the goods arrive in Britain they have on them a British brand name. Another firm in another country has written to a number of British manufacturers offering to supply them with goods to their own standards, and in their own form of presentation, so that they could be sold as if they were made in the United Kingdom.

It is to meet this threat, as well as the one whereby imported goods bear names or marks which, although not actually United Kingdom names or marks, are likely to be taken as such, that Clause 1 of the Bill provides that any United Kingdom name or mark, or anything likely to be taken for a United Kingdom name or mark, applied to imported goods must be accompanied by a conspicuous indication of the country in which the goods were manufactured or produced. Therefore, that clause would meet an important threat of that kind to manufacturers.

Clause 1(2) excludes from the Bill blends and materials and mixtures of the same kind. It seemed to me that this was the part of the Bill which in another place was more closely questioned. It may well be that we in this House may find a suitable Amendment to clarify the clause if any of your Lordships feel that it requires to be so clarified. Clause 1(3) excludes containers and labels used for other goods which are to be supplied commercially. The consumer is concerned with the origin of the goods and not with the packaging or the labelling. I feel that any label—and we used to be very strong on this in Consumer Council days—must give adequate information, and that is the important matter in connection with labelling. Clause 1(4) gives the Secretary of State power, by Statutory Instrument, to waive or relax certain matters if there are any particular circumstances which might cause difficulties.

There are some matters deliberately not covered by the provisions of the Bill. For instance, it is not practicable for the provisions of the Bill to embrace every kind of indication of origin. That would be an enormous task. Nor do I think it would be desirable so to do. For example, the inference the public would be likely to draw from finding goods in a container of all-over tartan pattern would almost certainly be insufficiently negatived by a statement of origin. It has been suggested that imported goods bearing any English words should also be required to bear an indication of origin. To do so, however, would present considerable difficulties. Here again, I think one must depend upon the label, because consumers in the present day hope to get very adequate labelling on all they buy; and also if the label is in a foreign language that there should be a translation of that language so that people can understand it. I think that the importance of labelling is very great indeed.

The important thing about this Bill is that it picks out things which are particularly likely to deceive the consumer, but much in the 1968 legislation will catch those people who deliberately try to deceive the public with the indication of origin, or in any other way. There are those who would like to see imported goods which bear no name or mark at all being required to bear an indication of origin. We do not think that that is necessary. If goods bear no name or mark they will not, of course, attract the provisions of this Bill as masquerading as United Kingdom products. In the absence of a name or mark people will not, or should not anyway, interpret them as goods made in the United Kingdom.

Clause 2 of the Bill deals with defences. I said at the beginning of my speech that this Bill will be part of the Trade Descriptions Act and anyone breaking the law will be subject to the penalties under that Act, but there are two special defences in Clause 2 of this Bill which I should like to bring to your Lordships' attention. The first is that the name or mark had not been applied by the person charged, and that he did not know, and could not, with reasonable diligence, have ascertained that the goods were manufactured outside the United Kingdom". This is the closest possible equivalent to Section 24(3) of the Trade Descriptions Act, which provides for the comparable offence of supplying goods to which a false trade description has been applied. The second defence is that the person, did not know and had no reason to believe, that the name or mark was, or was likely to be taken for, a United Kingdom name or mark. This provision is necessary to take care of the special problem of names which, although in no way British sounding, are the names of traders carrying on business obscurely in the United Kingdom and whose presence it would be very difficult for other traders outside the area to know about.

Under subsection (2) of Clause 4, a period of six months is laid down before the Act comes into force. This is to allow traders to dispose of goods already in the pipeline, or of imported goods of unknown origin which are in their hands. Obviously, people must have an opportunity of disposing of goods which they have obtained, but they will not be able to take in goods of a similar kind once the Bill has become law. This is a short Bill, which I think has the approval of all those Members of another place and here who are interested in consumer affairs. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Baroness Elliot of Harwood.)

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, I am sure that your Lordships would like to thank the noble Baroness, whose interest in consumer affairs and consumer protection is so well-known, for the way in which she has introduced this Bill. If what I say seems a little ungracious it is directed not at the noble Baroness but at the content of the Bill itself. As the noble Baroness has explained, this Bill will be embodied in the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. In that Act, there is a section which empowers the Board of Trade, now the Department of Trade and Industry, to make new origin marking orders if they think that that is in the interest of the person to whom the goods are to be supplied—in other words, the consumer—and it is in the consumer's interest that I speak on this Bill.

During the recent debate on consumer affairs it was made clear from all sides of the House that shopping to-day is a very skilled and complex business, with the seller being highly organised and the shopper having to make an arbitrary selection of goods or services in self-service establishments with very little back-up knowledge. Therefore labels and descriptions on any materials become vital. I heard recently of a group who visited a certain flour mill. They were somewhat taken aback to find that three well-known brands of bread—the advertisement for one of which shows a very large lady who, every now and again, comes along with a team of gentlemen to pat the bread—were all manufactured in the same factory, though displayed under separate labels. This was very disturbing to the shoppers, because they felt that it destroyed the illusion that an "own label" would provide something different. I quote that example to show how important to the shopper is the information on the label.

To take the example of textiles, the chain stores are displaying more and more imported garments. These do not at present need to hear any mark to show the source of origin, and even under this Bill the origin would not have to be revealed to the customer by the chain store. The customer would not know whether the garments had been imported or manufactured at home, and the store would decide what label to put on the goods it sold. So this Bill would be no solution to that problem. But I think that the intention behind the Bill is good and I do not intend in any way to obstruct it. At present there is nothing which specifically prevents goods from being sold under well-known trade marks which a shopper has always identified as being from British manufacturers, and the Bill will not deal with the misleading effect of goods not bearing names or trade marks. The noble Baroness made this point. It is rather reminiscent of the old days, when the butcher who put on his meat a label showing the price per pound and the weight could be caught if he put on the wrong weight; whereas the butcher who did not put anything on his meat could not be caught, because there was nothing to catch him on. That seems to me to be a complete analogy. If you put nothing on the goods, nobody can catch you; if you put something on them it must comply with the Bill.

In my judgment, the Bill does not go far enough. Will the Bill deal with goods of an overseas country using not a United Kingdom mark or name, but the name of another foreign country? For example, if one had a garment which was made in Israel and which carried a name like "Rivoli", which one associates with France, would that be caught by the Bill? Or is the phrase "Warranted to comply with the British standard", which is a very popular one, caught by the Bill? There is a very small point, in addition, on which I should like some clarification. It is not clear whether the source has to be mentioned every time on every packet. In other words, will the information relating to origin have to be stated more than once? In the case of a packet of cigars it appears that the same information would have to be stated ten times. I shall be glad to know about that.

The Sunday Times recently had a feature which it called, "The tarnishing of the 'Made in Britain' label". It gave details of a survey which was carried out by its Opinion Research Centre for its Insight Consumer Unit. It was interesting to find that 94 per cent. of those interviewed said that they wanted to know the country of origin—not merely whether something was made in the United Kingdom, but the country of origin. The opinion poll researchers said: Such a high percentage is very rare in polling. I have a letter here which is very typical of those which I receive all the time from women's clubs. This is from a group of young women shoppers living in Berkshire. The letter states: Our members are very concerned about the anonimity of our purchases. We feel that we are being deprived of our freedom of choice. If we buy items which we do not like and therefore we want to avoid them again, we would find it difficult, especially where food is concerned. I know that in another place the Minister has made a comment on food. The letter goes on: If things are not marked with any country of origin I think we are lulled into believing that they may be British, whereas in fact it could be a cheap imitation of an established British product being sold with a large margin of profit, thus conning the consumer and damaging the reputation and sales of the manufacturer of the original. That seems to me an overwhelming case for stating the country of origin.

In his reply, following the debate on consumer affairs, the noble Lord, Lord Drumalbyn, said that for most consumer goods there is no convincing evidence that quality or other characteristics can be reliably deduced from origin; there are good, bad and indifferent goods from every source. That may well be true, my Lords, but surely over the years the public have come to associate the country of origin with certain qualities; for example, Swiss watches and French perfume. I seem to recollect a certain chain store which said very proudly, "Ninety-nine per cent. of the goods in our store are British", and that is why many people purchased them. It seems to me that if a country produces merchandise of good quality and value, it will not mind its origin being stated. On the other hand, if the country of origin is not stated—that is, excluding the United Kingdom—those who have been producing inferior goods will be delighted to see the end of the origin Order. I do not accept the argument that as an exporting country we have to make sure we do not erect barriers. If an article has quality, and if the price is right, it will sell whether it is in a village store or in the international market.

I shall, at the Committee stage, try to widen this Bill. I would only say to the noble Baroness that I am grateful to her for introducing it in this House and for giving us an opportunity to air our views about it. But I still believe that it is a very small and a very narrow Bill, and in no way helps the point about which I am particularly concerned; that is, that all goods should be marked with their country of origin.

4.1 p.m.


My Lords, this seems to be a Bill regarding which we must keep in focus the fact that it applies to a great variety of imports. Therefore, to deal with it in a short time one is required to indicate more particularly the angle from which one approaches it. I say candidly that I approach it from the point of view of the textile industry. With regard to the general aspect, if we were discussing the highest grade of sporting guns nobody in the world would suggest that there is any other country's products which would be better than British. If we were discussing comestibles of all characters, well of course people may have different views as to the origins of the products they eat. If it were an object made of wood, I suppose that, if it was cedar, it would probably be much better if it was imported than if it was made in Britain. Or again, if tobacco were permitted to be grown in the United Kingdom and used for the making of cigars, it is unlikely that anybody would be deluded into thinking that the British-made cigars were better than the best of the imported types.

This Bill has passed through all its stages in another place (and I have taken the trouble to read the whole of the debates) and it produced no Amendment. But in coming here it enjoys the entire blessing of the Government. It has been introduced as a Private Member's Bill, and we all admit that no one is more qualified to pilot it than the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, with her varied public services, among which she has included much contact with consumer interests. That brings us to the fact that this Bill is frankly presented by the Department of Trade and Industry as motivated by considerations of the consumer and not of the manufacturer. The noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, helped us a good deal by going over the reasons why this Bill has been introduced, and by explaining its provisions; and, not surprisingly, the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, gave us good reasons why she thought it contained omissions. Of course, the Bill provides only partial coverage; it is a stopgap. It does not cover the point which Lady Phillips emphatically made, that all imported goods should be marked with their country of origin. From the point of view of textiles that is very desirable. It is emphasised that it is only a small category of goods that would be marked.

The curious thing is that the Government do not recognise at this moment that since the Bill was first introduced things have changed a good deal. This afternoon we have heard from Lord Boyd evidence of why imports of low-cost origin are increasing at a fantastic rate. I think the latest figures show that from Japan alone there has been a massive increase of more than 100 per cent. Therefore employment is vitally affected; and the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, speaking from the Opposition Benches, if I correctly understood her, naturally recorded disagreement with the Bill—not, I take it, with all its clauses, but because of its incompleteness and inadequacy. Speaking of employment, my Lords, I should like to remind the House that in. one industry, the wool textile industry (though I am not attributing this reduction entirely to imports), in the last twelve years, I think it is, the total number of employed persons has fallen from 180,000 to 102,000. That is to say, nearly 80,000 people have been taken out of one industry. That is a substantial drain on the income of the trade unions. That is one reason why, should this Bill apply to all imports, it would be achieving something that would protect labour in that particular field.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, said, there has recently been an opinion poll, and I think it is recorded that consumers, for whose protection this Bill is intended, have recorded over a 90 per cent. vote in favour of requiring all imported goods to be marked. That is the object of my intervention, because I believe most emphatically that they should be. Lady Phillips gave a very good instance. Naturally, large multiple stores prefer to have a larger proportion of imported non-marked goods on their shelves because presumably the profit would be greater than the likely profit on home-manufactured goods. It is argued that to impose such a requirement would be a masked tariff. What nonsense! Other countries look after themselves. Why should we not look after ourselves and protect our own labour? The cost of marking is negligible. This Bill requires all garments to be marked. I understand that suits are pouring into this country, sometimes at £5 for a man's suit, without a mark of origin. Would the average householder buy those goods if it was realised that they came from some origin about which the purchaser had misgivings?

The problem has already been provided for by the different Orders that followed the disastrous experience of the cotton industry. The wool textile industry is seriously perturbed, and has taken all steps open to it. But let us remember, if I may recapitulate, that the old Merchandise Marks Act, which was followed by the Trade Descriptions Act, required that certain arrangements then in existence should be continued for a certain number of years, and that they automatically lapsed in November of last year. There was anxiety by the industry that in the interval between that time and the time when anything could be done there would be this serious inflow of merchandise—and that has proved to be the fact: this increase of imports has been of a massive character.

To turn to the arguments as regards the steps taken to protect our industries, I rate those quite high, for the reasons that I have given. The Questions raised in this House this afternoon by the noble Lord, Lord Rhodes (put on his behalf by the noble Lord, Lord Popplewell) which were supported by the noble Viscount, Lord Boyd of Merton, emphasise the seriousness of the general situation and lead me to make these remarks. It may be that when all things are considered some Amendments may be suggested at the next stage; but I urge the Government to use all their available powers (and if they do not have enough to take steps to get more) to secure the fullest knowledge by the consumer of the character of goods displayed on sale. I submit that in making the case that full consideration be given to the position of manufacturers there should be adequate protection of the consumer.

4.12 p.m.


My Lords, this is a short Bill but one which has very far-reaching effects on some trades. I have been asked by the National Committee of Canned Food Importers, the London Chamber of Commerce and the canned goods section of the London Provision Exchange to oppose this Bill in its present form. As I am involved in companies which import canned goods I wish to declare my interest. I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lady Elliot on the reasonable way in which she introduced this Bill. Unfortunately, the trade has not received the same type of consideration from the Department of Trade and Industry. We in Britain import more of our food in proportion to our population than any other major country and we are therefore much more affected by the proposed regulations. For instance, we import over £300 million of canned goods all of which will be affected by this Bill. The Trade Descriptions Bill will, as I understand it, make it mandatory to state on the label the country of origin of the goods. On the face of it, and as expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, this seems reasonable enough; but it cuts right across long-established methods of trading which for practical reasons it is essential to maintain.

For instance, all canned salmon is imported and to the public it is known not by the country of origin but by its brand, John West, Libby's and so on. The housewife knows when she buys a tin of John West red salmon what its quality will be—irrespective of whether it comes from the U.S.A., Alaska or Japan. The quality is controlled most carefully by the owners of the label. Unfortunately, the salmon pack is unpredictable and it will now mean that the importers will have to amass millions of labels, printed in advance of the season, for each country of origin. This will increase costs. Under the old Merchandise Marks Act 1926 it was necessary to state only whether the product was "home produce", "Commonwealth produce" or "foreign produce".

This principle has been raised and discussed over the years, and in the past the practical difficulties have been recognised and accepted. I can assure the House that the canned goods trade is well aware of the situation and recognises that produce canned in the United Kingdom should be so marked. But after most careful consideration they have come to the conclusion that the Merchandise Marks Act, which has proved for almost 50 years to be satisfactory, should not be changed on this point. I am, of course, well aware of the argument that in the U.S.A. they state the country of origin on the label and that therefore it must be right for us to do so. First, I do not accept that what is good for America is necessarily good for this country; secondly, the U.S.A., which produces most of its own foodstuffs, has a very different situation. Again, taking canned salmon as an illustration, they may, in the U.S.A., wish, as they usually do, to protect their own salmon canning industry. The only argument which the Department of Trade and Industry can advance is that some consumers are interested in knowing the actual country of origin—a point which was made very well by the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips. This knowledge may be of interest to some people; but, on balance, is it worth increasing the cost of the product and disrupting the trade? I may be old-fashioned, but I still like the old description "Empire produce" which was subsequently changed to "Commonwealth produce". With our possible entry into E.E.C. and the lessening of our former preferences and ties, "Commonwealth produce" still has a pleasant ring.

May I give your Lordships one more example of the practical problems. My company is involved with the Citrus Company of Jamaica and British Honduras in the manufacture of grapefruit sections. Our cans are made and lithographed here in the United Kingdom and are then shipped out flat to the West Indies for reforming. This printed can has to be ordered at least six months before the packing season. At that stage we do not know how the crop will turn out in each of these developing countries. Quite often there is a catastrophe (such as the hurricane in British Honduras last season) and we have to switch some of the production to other territories to offset shortages. Our cans at present are marked so as to be interchangeable; but when this Bill becomes law this whole operation will not be permitted. This could have a very serious effect on these West Indian countries. This matter is not just an academic issue but vital to the trade, involving changes in millions of labels and printed cans. I do not accept that some importers or retail chains are trying to mislead or to hide information from the housewife. This would not work. The retailer in question would soon go out of business; and the owners of the nationally-known brands have to guard most jealously the quality of their products or they will lose their reputation and their business.

My second point is on the question of timing. Assuming that your Lordships decide to pass this Bill in its present form, then all labels must comply within six months. This illustrates a complete ignorance of the position. Goods packed in, say, Australia or in other far-distant countries take a considerable time to reach their final point of retail. Furthermore, most canned goods are bought with a spread delivery over a 12-month period. But if this Bill is approved as it now stands, six months after its enactment it will be an offence to retail goods not marked in accordance with this new law. Never before in the history of the canned goods trade has this sort of time limit on label changes been accepted in this country or, for that matter, any other country. Possibly in the past our Ministry experts knew something of the difficulties in the distributive trade, or at least they respected the advice of people who had spent a lifetime dealing with this problem. The manufacturers and importers recommend an absolute minimum of two years, and a longer period should be considered, in order to allow importers and home producers to use up some of their stocks of labels and for the goods to be cleared from the shops.

It must also be borne in mind that labels are printed many months in advance of the actual packing season. As already explained even more so with the printed cans which are produced and printed in this country and then have to be shipped abroad. The answer from the Department of Trade and Industry to the very reasonable request of the trade for a longer time limit is that they advised the trade 12 months ago that they intended to have the law changed. Just because a Government Department decides to change the law it now expects everybody to accept that as if the law had been changed. To me this is monstrous. Is our democratic Parliamentary system supposed to rubber stamp all their proposals without alteration? Up to now the trade and the public have not acted on this type of legislation until it has been passed by your Lordships and become law. I, as well as a great many other people would be most interested to hear from my noble friend Lord Limerick—and I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating him on his new appointment—whether the British public is now expected to take note of, and assume as law, recommendations which Parliament has not even considered.

I therefore suggest, my Lords, that imported canned goods, provided that they are clearly marked as such, be excluded from the proposed legislation. I am happy that, with the help of the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, suitable Amendments may be moved in Committee to adjust the position of importers, who do not wish to mislead anyone but who have genuine practical problems.

4.23 p.m.


My Lords, the object of this Bill could be achieved under the provisions of the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968. Whether those objects can be achieved more easily under the proposed Bill is a matter of political controversy. This was very fully ventilated during the Second Reading in another place and I do not propose to renew it. The plain fact is that our manufacturers and workers have a right to be protected against goods made elsewhere being passed off as British. Furthermore, there is a large body of citizens which expresses its patriotism not so much by waving flags but by giving high priority to British goods. Those people have a right to be protected against misrepresentation. Therefore I support this Bill. But, like my noble friend Baroness Phillips, I would go much further. I should like to see the name of the country of origin on all goods, because I want the consumer to have as much information as possible.

There is one point of detail which I should like to raise. It refers to the defences which may be made under Clause 2(1)(a). Under that subsection anyone who is charged with an offence has to show three things: first, that he did not apply the United Kingdom name or mark; secondly, that he did not know that the goods were imported; thirdly, that he could not have ascertained that the goods were imported by exercising reasonable diligence. I should like the House particularly to note that the word "and" is used and not the word "or", because that makes a very great difference. It means that a retailer who did not apply the United Kingdom mark or name himself, and who did not know that the goods were imported, could nevertheless be convicted on the ground that he did not show reasonable diligence. After long years of experience in a magistrates' court I have no doubt at all that it would be possible for different courts to come to different conclusions on the question of exercising reasonable diligence on the basis of the same facts.

The most obvious way of exercising reasonable diligence would be for the retailer to ask the supplier whether the goods were imported. But Parliament, surely, does not intend that the retailer should ask the supplier whether goods are imported in respect of all the hundreds of commodities which he may sell. I venture to suggest that what Parliament really expects is that the retailer shall show reasonable diligence, and that if he has reason to suspect that the goods were imported he should make his inquiry to the supplier. I suggest that if that is what Parliament intends then Parliament should say so and give proper guidance to the magistrates' courts to avoid the precarious position in which an innocent retailer might be placed if the Bill is left in its present form. During the Committee stage, therefore, I shall put forward an Amendment to Clause 2(1)(a), and I hope that the noble Baroness, with her collaborators, will give it sympathetic consideration.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Baroness Elliot and my honourable friend the Member for Leicester, South-East for having brought forward this valuable little Bill. Some of its shortcomings have been pointed out and I suppose one of the difficulties about any Private Member's legislation is that it is always possible to pick holes in it. But, taken as a whole, I think this may be regarded as a useful piece of legislation. This debate also provides me with a chance—although he has already spoken in a major debate—to congratulate my noble friend Lord Limerick on his well-deserved promotion to the Government Front Bench. It is very useful to have someone with practical experience of working in the City of London occupying his particular post.

In a sense, my Lords, this Bill is not dissimilar to the legislation which we were debating yesterday. I recall the very interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, who mentioned City Guilds. As a past Master of one of the livery companies of the City of London, I can remind your Lordships that it was largely through the City Guilds that the quality of British manufacture made its mark. In another place, my honourable friend the Member for Hallam, Sheffield, mentioned the question of steel in Sheffield. We all know that there have been difficulties over the protection of steel from imitation. I hope that this Bill will do something, in addition to the extensive consumer legislation of recent years resulting in the large-scale Molony Report, to give a reasonable protection to British manufacturers.

Quite a lot has already been said about the textile industry, which, in a sense, is most vulnerable. There was a case not many years ago of an Eastern country manufacturing, or attempting to manufacture, socks under the guise of a well-known British manufacturing firm. This kind of thing is quite intolerable. What I am not sure about under the Bill is the problem of component parts. On the market now there are a number of transistor radios. Some of these have on them, "Made in Japan". It could be argued as to which parts are made in Japan. Are the component parts made in Japan or elsewhere? Is the outer case made in Japan? The same argument may be raised on tape recorders. Mechanical and electrical goods present difficulties on this issue in these days.

Then there are the vagaries of what are Empire made goods. Nobody wants to split too many hairs on this, but "Empire" these days covers a very wide field. This is particularly true in the case of footwear. Some of these goods may be manufactured in Hong Kong, some in other parts of the Empire: some are well made, and some are distinctly shoddy. It seems unfair that the Commonwealth countries which produce the quality goods—and I speak as a strong supporter of the Commonwealth, old and new—should be branded with those who make the inferior goods. Therefore I think there is a case here for the country of origin being marked on Commonwealth goods.

The problem exists, too, in relation to men's suits, particularly lightweight suits. There are all kinds of materials with odd-sounding names nowadays—trevira, dacron and so on. Some of these suits presumably are manufactured in this country, but no doubt the material comes from elsewhere. What is the legal situation here if they are manufactured in Leeds, as many are, or in other parts of Yorkshire? They are British-made suits, although not all the cloth is necessarily manufactured in this country. This is a problem which I think will have to be considered within the ambit of this Bill.

One of the problems facing the Bill may well be, as in so many Bills, the question of enforcement. Where do we draw the line? Nobody in this country wants to be ultra protectionist. At the same time, there is an unwelcome move afoot to denigrate goods made in this country. We hear all kinds of snide remarks about British-made cars and British-made electrical goods. Of course some are faulty. But so are foreign cars and foreign electrical goods. If this measure does something to promote the quality of British goods, while at the same time making it quite clear that substandard goods will not be tolerated, then I think it will be worthwhile.

4.35 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to join other noble Lords in thanking my noble friend Lady Elliot of Harwood for bringing forward this Bill, which I am sure, after Committee stage, will have the support of the House. I am, however, a little concerned at certain implications which may have been overlooked, but which could have most unfortunate and unintended results in the publishing industry.

The Bill requires certain goods manufactured or produced outside the United Kingdom to be accompanied by a conspicuous indication of the country of manufacture or production. In the case of magazines or books published in this country (and here I must declare an interest, being myself concerned with publishing) there are, and have been for a long time, cases of publishers who print abroad—for example, in European countries such as Holland or Italy. Under present practice, it is usual and accepted that such publications bear a notation, "Printed in Holland"—or Italy or where-ever it may be. In the case of magazines, such an inscription generally appears inside the title page or on the back cover, and in books the printed notation appears on the appropriate page inside. My interpretation of the requirements of this Bill—and it is an interpretation that several publishers also feel could be read into the Bill—is that it would need the origin notation to be printed conspicuously, and this could mean in heavy print, on the front cover itself. Clearly, this would be ridiculous. I feel sure that it is not the intention.

In the absence of any definition of the classes or categories of goods, I feel that I must ask my noble friend Lady Elliot that magazines and books should be exempted or safeguarded, otherwise we shall have a most difficult situation here. I apologise for raising the matter at this stage, but it affects several publishers and publications, and I hope that the point can be more fully examined.

4.38 p.m.


My Lords, my noble friend Lady Elliot, in introducing this Bill, has given a very clear explanation of its purpose and operation. I should like to congratulate her and to thank her on behalf of the Government for her initiative in promoting this brief and valuable measure. As my noble friend has explained, its main aim is to reinforce and clarify the safeguards which the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 already provides against false indications of origin. That Act was a most effective and wide-ranging measure, the success of which has fully justified the support which it received from all Parties in 1968. But, of course, an Act which sets out to deal with so wide a range of possible abuses cannot hope to deal with every one of them in absolutely precise and specific terms, and one is apt to find out later that there is some particular point on which it is helpful—to business and to the enforcing officers—to be a little more specific. This question of United Kingdom names and marks applied to imported goods is one such point, and I am sure that it is desirable to establish—as the Bill seeks to do—a simple rule to cope with it.

I listened with much interest to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, but in my view it is one of the merits of the Bill that it does not set out to impose compulsory origin marking on imported goods either on doctrinaire or on protectionist lines. Discrimination against imported goods spreads rapidly. We need always to bear in mind that British exports are other countries' imports. The Bill singles out for marking only those cases in which someone has chosen to put a United Kingdom name or mark on the goods, and has thereby created—whether deliberately or inadvertently—the likelihood that people will wrongly suppose them to be British. Marking to counteract such a possibility is of course both desirable and internationally acceptable.

I am glad, too, that the Bill does not make the mistake of trying to tie up the whole problem of misleading indications of origin by some simple formula of marking. There are many ways in which a false impression of origin can be conveyed, and while that impression can effectively be countered by a statement of the true origin if it stems from the use of a United Kingdom mark, there are many other cases in which a mere marking with the name of the country of origin would be a wholly inadequate remedy. I have in mind, for example, imported goods such as my noble friend, Lady Elliot mentioned, in a carton gaily decorated with an all-over Scottish tartan pattern. But the fact that the Bill wisely restricts itself to certain specific forms of potentially deceptive marking certainly does not mean that protection stops there. We already have the Trade Descriptions Act's prohibition of "anything likely to be taken for" an indication of origin which is false, and deception as to origin which is untouched by the present Bill cannot escape that wider net.

We have something of a problem with Clause 1(2), which excludes from the Bill's requirements blends and mixtures of materials of the same kind. This closely follows some of the provisions in the Merchandise Marks Act 1926 on which the Bill is modelled. However, although no difficulties seem to have arisen under the earlier legislation, reconsideration in the light of criticisms made during consideration of the Bill in another place has cast serious doubt on the suitability of this subsection. The only real justification for some such exclusion arises not because the goods which bear a United Kingdom mark or name are mixtures or blends but because there is something which makes it unreasonably difficult to comply with the Bill as regards the particular blend or mixture: for example, where its constituents originate in several different countries or where the materials fed into an automatic blending and packaging plant are varied according to availability. It would be very difficult to frame a blanket exemption which dealt satisfactorily with these intricacies, and the proper course, which could be considered in Committee, might be to delete Clause 1(2) and to leave those specific cases which may merit exemption to be dealt with as and when they emerge by directions under Clause 1(4).

I should like to say a few words about subsection (4) of Clause 1, the exclusion provision. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and I recognise that under a measure like this, which is necessarily framed to apply right across the board, particular cases are bound to arise in which the difficulties of compliance are so great, or the benefit to buyers of the goods so slight, that it would be right to make exceptions to the general rule which the Bill would impose. Clause 1(4) allows us to make such exemptions and relaxations. Of course, in considering action under that clause we shall have to bear very much in mind the basic intention underlying the Bill—namely, that people shall not be led to suppose from the use of United Kingdom names and marks that the goods which bear them are British. And the more serious the risk of that misunderstanding in any particular case, the more severe we shall have to be in judging what degree of practical difficulty for the trade suffices to merit a relaxation.

On the other hand, I am sure that we shall find some classes of goods—for example, tropical or sub-tropical fruits—which no one could possibly suppose to be United Kingdom produce. Other goods are essentially for industrial use or consumption by trade buyers who, in so far as they are concerned about origin, are likely to establish it by specific inquiry. Or again, there may emerge particular circumstances in which, although the United Kingdom name or mark is technically "applied" to the goods by virtue of Clause 3, it is clearly unrealistic to believe that any customer would take the name or mark to have any direct connection with the goods—as, for example, where imported beer is served in a glass bearing the caterer's name. A blanket definition of exceptions and exemptions would clearly be an impossibility, and therefore such problems are going to arise and must be judged according to their merits. However, though the legal definition of an elephant might pose formidable problems for a lawyer, most of us would reasonably rely on being able to recognise an elephant when we meet one in the street. Other problems may not be so easy, but we shall simply have to do our best to reach sensible conclusions on them.

We have had welcome contributions from noble Lords who have had a lifetime of experience in very relevant fields. At the same time, I cannot help remarking that this debate has well illustrated the sectional interests which inevitably become involved whenever legislation is contemplated. The noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, and the noble Lords, Lord Jacques and Lord Barnby, would like to see all goods marked with the countries of their origin, whereas my noble friend Lord Macpherson of Drumochter wants no marking at all—at least not for two years.


My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend would allow me to correct that statement? I am not against marking: what I said was that if goods are marked as from the British Commonwealth, or as British or foreign produce, that is one thing. It is just marking with the actual country of origin that is the problem.


My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that correction. The trouble is that the law is universal and must be applicable equally to all. Points have been raised this afternoon which we shall obviously need to consider in Committee, and there will be time to do this before we reach that stage. But, subject to that comment I am glad on the Government's behalf to commend this Bill to your Lordships.


My Lords, before the noble Earl the Minister sits down, may I ask him whether what he has said means that the Government will not be contemplating introducing any marking Orders relating to country of origin?


No, my Lords. There is power under Section 8 in the existing Act; and this remains very much in force. This can be invoked whenever a case is made for it to be so invoked.


I am sorry, my Lords, but may I come back on this? Have we any idea of the Government's intentions? This is a small Bill, a very narrow Bill, even if it passes. Does this mean that for once this is all that we are going to get, or is there any possibility of enforcing the section in the 1968 Act which gives power to make marking Orders?


My Lords, there are cases currently under consideration under Section 8, and this, as I have said, remains very much an operative section. It will be invoked whenever a case is made for this to be done.

4.48 p.m.


My Lords, I should like to thank all those who have taken part in this debate, and particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, whose knowledge of these subjects is tremendous. It has been interesting that we have had from each side some speeches which have, so to speak, contradicted themselves. I entirely support the desire of Lady Phillips to see very good labelling—I am sure that is very important—rather than saying just what the goods are. However, I would not go so far as to say that in every single case goods imported into this country should be labelled with their country of origin. I do not think this would be possible; furthermore, it would probably be a rather retrograde step. Also, as we are a country with great trading propensities, it might recoil on us in some other way. I do not feel that it is necessary to have everything labelled.

Here I should like to take up what the noble Lord, Lord Macpherson of Drumochter, was saying, because I think that he has got hold of the wrong end of the stick. The object of the Bill is not to ensure that all imported goods should bear a mark of origin, but only those which might masquerade as British-manufactured when in fact they were not. I do not think that anybody could think that tinned fruit of the citrus variety could possibly have emanated from this country, since we do not grow oranges, lemons or grapefruit here. Therefore it would not be necessary for the interests which Lord Macpherson represents to bother to say that these should not come into this Bill, because nobody would say that they are United Kingdom-grown. If I may say so, I think the noble Lord is a little overanxious about the effect which the Bill would have on his particular interest of canned goods, since, unless they are masquerading as British goods in this country, they will not come within the scope of the Bill.

I will look into the matter of the printing of magazines abroad. If the magazine was a British magazine, published here but printed abroad, all that would need to be said was that the printing, the paper, or whatever it was came from abroad. So far as I know, this point would not be involved under the Bill. On the matter that my noble friend Lord Auckland raised about component parts, objects that are labelled "Made in Japan" and have a number of component parts manufactured here, I do not think that they would come under the Bill, since they would be labelled "Made in Japan". If there were no Japanese label and they came here purporting to be British goods, then they would come under the Bill.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Phillips, and other noble Lords have said, this is a small Bill, but it fills in a gap in the 1968 Act. We should study carefully all that has been said by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Barnby, is enormously experienced in the textile trade, and anything he says will certainly be studied very carefully. I think I can say that no one who has spoken is against the Bill. Therefore, when it comes to the Committee stage I hope that noble Lords will co-operate and see that if we amend the Bill we amend it so that it will be improved and not made narrower or more restricted. My Lords, I hope you will now give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.