I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
For a long time past, there has been a keen demand for a Bill to make further provision for the marking of industrial products and foodstuffs. As far back as 1919, when the Merchandise Marks Committee was set up, there were very strong representations by many industries as to the importance of further powers of marking manufactured articles, and that Committee, reporting as long ago as 1920, recommended that there should be power to order marking where it was in the public interest. That demand on the industrial side has been urged ever since, and is, I think, keener than ever to-day. I have had many representations, not only from manufacturers, but from the Joint Industrial Councils. The demand for a more effective measure is almost universal in industry, not only among manufacturers, but among the workmen in their employ, and the majority of Chambers of Commerce also support the proposal. I have been asked from time to time since this Bill was printed what view the Chambers of Commerce take, particularly the Association of British Chambers of Commerce. As recently as 23rd April last we had an opportunity of ascertaining from the Association of British Chambers of Commerce al, the annual meeting the views of the Chambers in their most representative capacity, and that annual meeting passed a resolution—only last month—approving of the principles of this Bill.
When we pass from industry to agriculture, we find the demand for marking is no less strong. There is a general agricultural demand. There is a precedent for it, in the fact that under the Sale of Food Order of 1921, meat and eggs have to be marked on sale at the present time. The Linlithgow Committee, which reported in 1923, was strongly in favour of the marking, where necessary, of agricultural produce. I do not think it is too much to say that, what ever objections may have been made to it in any other quarter, the Bill which was introduced by Lord Irwin when Minister of Agriculture, was supported by a great body of agricultural opinion in this country. If we turn from this country to the Empire we find the demand is equally strong and universal. The Imperial Economic Committee, including representatives of every Dominion, of India, and of the Crown Colonies, in both their reports have pronounced unanimously and, if I may say so, vehemently in favour of the marking of Imperial produce in the British market. Therefore, you have in industry in this country, in agriculture in this country, and also throughout the Empire, a widespread demand for such provisions as are contained in this Bill.
The Bill seeks to make provision both for industry and agriculture, and for the marking of Imperial produce. It is not only necessary to have such a Measure in the interest of industry and agriculture, but it is necessary to have it as a complement and counterpart to the great national movement and desire to buy British goods. I do not suppose there is anybody, not even my right hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb), who would say that the marketing of British goods, British agricultural produce, and Empire produce is not a national aspiration and a national policy to which we all subscribe. But in order to market these goods, in many cases it is necessary to be able to mark them so that the purchaser in this country may know what he is buying. The object this Bill is to enable the purchaser in this country to know whether he is buying British manufactures, British agricultural produce, or Empire produce.
Let me now deal briefly with the provisions of the Bill. Clause 1 is general and universal, and will come into force without any preliminary inquiry. It makes the intention of existing legislation effective and complete. It is, at the present time, illegal to import into this country goods from abroad with British marks upon them, but what this Clause does is to carry that provision a stage further and make it complete. It prevents any person from selling goods in. the United Kingdom which bear a name or a trade mark which is or purports to be the name or trade mark of any manufacturer, dealer, or trader in the United Kingdom, unless those goods are in fact British, or unless they are marked with an indication of origin. I think that is simple justice. If a British buyer in this country buys goods which have a British name upon them, that man or woman thinks that he or she is buying a British article. If in fact goods sold with a British label, a British name, or a. British trade mark are not British, they ought to be marked as of foreign origin. There is no obligation under this Clause to mark foreign goods as such, unless they bear what is in fact a misleading mark, namely, a mark which purports to be the name or trade mark of a British manufacturer or dealer.
That Clause is universal. Other cases we propose should be dealt with by Orders in Council, made after inquiry, and that is provided for in Clause 2. By Clause 3 it is proposed to establish two Standing Committees to conduct inquiries, one dealing with agricultural produce and the other with goods of any other kind. The Committee dealing with agricultural produce is to be appointed by the Minister of Agriculture, the Secretary for Scotland, and the Home Secretary—the last because Northern Ireland is included in the Bill. The Committee dealing with other goods is to be appointed by the Board of Trade. It is important to have Standing Committees to conduct these inquiries and and not a number of ad hoc committees, appointed here and there, from time to time. By having the Standing Committees you get two things, namely, continuity of policy and rapidity of action.
Applications made for marking Orders will be referred to these Committees. The Committees will hear cases for marking and will hear any objections, but I want to make this plain at the outset, that if the House passes this Bill, as I am confident that it will, it approves in principle a policy of marking wherever there is a real case for it, and, therefore, in procedure before the Committees, if the applicants establish a prima facie case, it will be for the objectors to show that there are overriding reasons which make marking either impracticable or undesirable. I think it is very important to lay down plainly where the onus of proof rests, once the principle of marking is established.
The Committees will report to the appropriate Department from time to time those cases of goods which, after inquiry, they consider ought to be marked, and recommend the method and manner of marking. That is Clause 9, Sub-section (4). The provisions as to marking in each case will be laid down by an Order in Council, which will specify the manner in which goods are to be marked, and the date on which the Order is to come into operation, that date not being earlier than three months from the date of the making of the Order. That is Clause 2, Sub-section (5). Orders made under this Bill will be laid in both Houses for a period of 20 days, and will become valid unless a Resolution is passed presenting an Address against them. An Order, once it is made, may he revoked or varied by a subsequent Order, but in order that the House may retain control, any Order revoking or varying an Order in Council already made, will be laid in the same way as the origina Order.
Before the right hon. Gentleman leaves the question of those Committees, could he make some statement about the sort of persons of whom they will be constituted, whether they will be impartial, judicial Committees, or whether they will be constituted of people representing various interests?
Most certainly the former, an impartial and judicial committee. By that I do not mean a committee of lawyers; I mean a Committee of competent people. (Laughter.) I am sure it will not be supposed that I was seeking to make so ill-timed and so untrue a jest as that; I meant competent in other directions. Now I want briefly to deal with the scope of the Orders. Let me take, first, goods which are not foodstuffs. There, where an Order is made, it will require that the. goods should be marked on sale retail.
I beg to apologise, Mr. Speaker, if I was transgressing a rule. I was dealing with Orders for goods other than foodstuffs. There we shall require that the goods should be marked on sale retail or on exposure for sale retail, but in addition to that, the wholesaler will also be required to mark the goods on sale, unless he obtains an undertaking in writing from the purchaser that the goods will be marked by the purchaser or re-exported. The provisions as to that are contained in Clause 4, Subsection (1). As regards foodstuffs, the Order may also require that the marking should be done on importation or on exposure for sale wholesale. Let me pause here to add this: The question whether there should be a discretion to order the marking of goods other than foodstuffs on importation is a question which, I think, will require careful consideration in Committee. In the majority of eases, probably, the system which is proposed in the Bill will be the fairest and most convenient course. After all, there are two considerations which ought to weigh with us in deciding what is the most practical and useful system of marking. The first is that the British purchaser ought to know what he is buying. The second consideration is that while we try to ensure that, we ought not to do anything which will injure the entrepot trade, and that is important, not merely from a merchanting point of view, but in the interests of British shipping as well. I am certain, therefore, that any system of universal marking on importation in every case would be wrong and unjustifiable, and I am convinced that, if the House were to lay down that wherever there was an Order the marking should be on importation, Orders would not be made where an Order on internal Sale might otherwise be made.
There are no doubt cases—I do not wish to be dog- matic—for instance, cutlery and pottery, where, if marking is to be fully effective, it ought to be on importation. In such cases, the two particular cases I have cited, the entrepôt trade is not large, and, therefore, that consideration does not arise, and I think there is a great deal to be said for giving a, discretion to order marking on importation in special cases of that kind. That, I think, is a matter which may well be discussed in Committee, where it can be canvassed on its merits, and I shall certainly enter upon it with my mind not in the least prejudiced against giving such a discretion.
There are consequential provisions that where goods are ordered to be marked, advertisements of those goods must also indicate their foreign origin. That seems to me to be a reasonable provision. If the goods are to be marked and they are advertised, the person who buys them in answer to an advertisement ought equally to know what he is Buying. There are penalties imposed for the removal of indications of origin, and Clause 8 provides what words are to be used for the indication of origin. It lays down that they should be "Foreign manufacture" or "Foreign produce," "Empire manufacture," or "Empire produce," or a definite indication of the country of origin.
There is one broad line of criticism with which I should like to deal in advance. It has been said by some critics of this Measure that it would have been better to introduce a general Bill which said that everything had got to be marked, presumably on importation, unless some case was made out against the particular commodity; in fact, that you should mark everything, with exceptions. I am sure that any proposal of that kind would go much too far, and would not be practicable. Clause 1 is general in its terms, because that Clause deals with what I may call latent misrepresentation. But when you come to the wider field, there are many considerations which make a general marking Bill impossible. For instance, why order marking in industries where it is not asked for? Surely, that would do no good to anybody, and would occasion unnecessary trouble. Then, if there were objection where marking was proposed, an inquiry would have to take place. You would have to investigate the validity of the objections, and there would certainly be no saving of time. On the contrary, while making the preliminary investigation of objections to marking, you would prevent the marking rapidly in those industries where it is most demanded.
Moreover, there is another consideration. If you are to have an order as to the marking of goods, you cannot have the same mark in every case. Trade and trade differs. One form of marking may be convenient in one trade, and another form in another. Therefore, in order to ascertain in any industry where you want a marking order, what form the marking should take, an inquiry is necessary, and, therefore, a special order is necessary. Finally, the Committee which went into this so fully in 1919, emphasised the importance of the inquiry. I venture to think, therefore, that our method will enable us to deal with the important cases where marking is desirable, and where marking is needed, as rapidly as possible.
This Bill follows many inquiries, the recommendations of which, if they vary in detail, all recommend the same objective. They all tend to show that further marking provisions are desirable. It has formed the subject of much consultation with manufacturing and trade interests, and I hope it will receive, after its Second Reading, very careful consideration in Committee. When we go into Committee, I hope we shall go there with this intention. I say at once, that any proposals which are designed to wreck this Bill, or to make it impotent, I shall reject, and ask the Committee to reject, but any suggestions which are designed to make it a more effective instrument for its purpose, I shall welcome, and I hope the Committee will fully consider. That purpose, I think, is demanded, and almost universally demanded, by British industry, by British agriculture and by producers all through the Empire. I say more: I believe it is demanded by the great mass of the purchasers among the British public.
I beg to move, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof the words
whilst realising the necessity for protecting the purchaser from fraud with respect to the origin of articles exposed or advertised for sale, this House cannot assent to the Second Reading of a Bill
containing provisions which, by creating obstacles in the importation of certain classes of goods, would increase prices, encourage monopolies, and constitute another step in the policy of protection initiated by His Majesty's present Government.
The moving of the Second Reading of this Bill has been fixed at an unfortunate time, and I am sorry His Majesty's Government have not shown a little more consideration to the House by allowing the time to be taken up with some of the less controversial Orders. In the circumstances, I am afraid we shall not be able to subject this Measure to the Second Reading discussion which it deserves, and which we think is necessary. Of course, the minority in this House is necessarily in the hands of the majority, but I think, without further labouring the point about the Second Reading, we might really ask the Government to take into account the circumstances in which the Second Reading has, possibly, to be taken—although I do not see any necessity myself—and not hurry the Committee stage of this Bill. It seems to me, what with the crisis from which we are just emerging, and what with the approach of the Whitsuntide Recess, it would not be unreasonable that the Government should consider the question of not taking the Committee stage of this Bill until after the Whitsuntide Recess, in order that there might be adequate time for those considerations to be urged, which would otherwise he urged on Second Reading. I make that plea, obviously, not on behalf of myself, but I think the Government might very well take it into consideration. It is in their hands to do as they please. Just because it is in their hands to do as they please with this Measure, I think, possibly, there is a little higher obligation on them not to press it through all its stages without that consideration which it can hardly get in present circumstances.
This Bill, in my humble judgment, is a Bill which is not really called for, which cannot, in my judgment, be enforced in any effective way with the objects for which it purports to be promoted. But let me say at once that, as far as I am concerned, I think any Measure which was designed to prevent fraud, or any mis-description of goods of any kind, is a perfectly legitimate subject for legisla- tion, and to that I should have no objection. For instance, Clause 1, which comes to very little more than making effective the existing law, is merely designed so that it shall not be lawful to sell any goods bearing any name or trade mark purporting to be the name or trade mark of any manufacturer, dealer or trader in the United Kingdom, if those goods are not produced here, unless they are accompanied by an indication of the country of origin. That, obviously, is a provision, if it can be enforced, to which no sort of objection ought to be taken, because it is aimed at actions which are in the nature of fraud, and certainly it could be carried a little further.
Fraud is no worse if it be committed in respect of goods produced or partly produced in foreign countries, than if it be committed in respect of goods produced or partly produced in this country or our Dominions, and I see no re: son why it should not be applied to all goods. As a matter of fact, there are [...] urgundies sold in this country, without any indication of the source of origin, which by no means could be called Burgundy. I believe Canterbury lamb, which purports to the unknowing to be South-Down lamb, is, nevertheless, produced in a country, one small part of which happens to bear the name of Canterbury. That, I suggest, is an example of mis-description which ought not to be allowed, and which, as a matter of fact, has already been seriously complained of.
This Bill does not really real with that kind of thing; it only deals with goods which bear any name or trade mark purporting to be the name or trade mark of any manufacturer, dealer or trader in the United Kingdom, not being goods produced wholly or mainly manufactured therein, and so on. The goods must be accompanied by an indication of their origin. To that I have no objection, and this Clause may very properly become law. My only objection to it is that laws of this sort will be extremely difficult to enforce. and I do not know whether the Clause, as it stands, is quite adequate, as it contains no penalty, though I assume that there are to be penalties added in order to make Clause 1 effective. However, Clause 1 is not the essence of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman, the President of the Board of Trade, explained the Bill as though it were justified on the score of the public welfare, by a consideration, of advantage to the community. Later in his speech, however, I think he let out another reason in answer to an observation made as to why it should not apply to certain food-stuffs, when he said: "Why should the Bill be applied to industries which had not asked for it?" He would seem to infer, therefore, that the justification for an Act of Parliament was not the, welfare of the community, but because somebody asked for it. But I would submit to the right hon. Gentleman that whether an industry asks for a Bill of this sort or not is not the point. The justification for a Bill of this sort is because it is necessary in the public interest. In answer to an inquiry I would suggest that the right hon. Gentleman quite unwittingly let out the real purpose of the Bill, which is to satisfy the demand which has been made by the agriculturists and als, by a number of manufacturers. That, I say, is the real reason of the Bill, though as I suggest the test should be as to whether it is desirable or necessary in the public interest. Measures of the kind ought not to be dependent upon whether any industry asks for it. Does any hon. Member suggest that we ought to pass a Measure of protection for an industry because that industry has asked for it? [An HON. MEMBER: "The public."] That is another thing—the public interest; unless [...] is required in the public interest, and if it is that is quite another matter.
The hon. Gentleman does not seem to have taken my point. It ought not to be the province of this House to pass Acts of Parliament merely because they are asked for by any particular industry: its action ought to he dictated by the public interest. We are opposed to this Measure on two grounds. In the first place whilst there is a good deal to be said for the fact that the public is entitled to know the origin of all the goods it buys, it is obvious that the question of cost requires to be considered, and as between any two methods, it is purely a matter of public convenience. Then, again, a good deal might be said on the point that some articles are suitable for marking and some are not, whilst there is also the danger of misdescription, technical and otherwise. This Bill, whilst it does not protect the consumer against misdescription, as such, uses a method of marking on importation which is calculated to obstruct and hinder the importation of goods into this country, and as it is obvious you cannot have exports without imports, it will damage British exports in that way. Some hon. Members may think that what I am saying in this respect is nonsense, and that foreign goods coming into this country are injurious in various ways to British trade and to the people of this country. I was brought up in another school of thought, and I confess that I have continued in it. The Bill seems to suggest the curious principle that importation as such is injurionś to this country. I confess I have never seen it.
There is also a very grave objection to the Bill from a commercial point of view, because all these additional restrictions on the import and export of goods are bad in themselves. Anything that hampers goods coming into the country —Customs interference and the like—is an injury to our trade, and harmful to our prosperity. Hon. Members may think what I am about to mention a comparatively small matter, but a very large number of goods marked for importation involve additional Customs examination, and this involves additional Customs officers and additional restraint. This all means delay; a delay which I would like to remind the House may, in the case of a single ship, held up for one day, mean £100 demurrage. [Interruption.] Of course ! That is what I was saying just now. The object of hon. Members, or some of them, who are asking for this Bill is to put a check and a restriction on the importation of goods as such. This restriction on importation is a very serious objection to the Bill in the eyes of other people, and it has already been the subject of representations to the Board of Trade, and I am very much interested to find in the acclamations of Members of this House confirmation of the desire to put an impediment on the import trade of this country as such. I do not think any hon. Members will seriously deny that that is at the bottom of a large part of such de- mand as there has been for this Bill. Agriculturists would like to see foreign foodstuffs kept out as far as possible. They have not gone so far as to propose the re-introduction of the Corn Laws or the closing of ports to foreign food; and this is nothing more than a petty sort of attempt to hamper the importation of foreign food as far as it can be done. I do not suggest that the right hon. Gentleman who moved this Bill has fallen in with that policy or has entertained that prejudice; he probably knows a great deal better, and if he did not the Board of Trade would have taught him. But it is hardly a worthy thing for the Government to take up a Bill of this kind, which they know is open to such fundamental objections, merely in response to the clamour of the particular sections who have asked for it, and asked for it on the grounds which I do not think they are able to substantiate. There is such a thing as the operation known in common parlance as "selling a pup." I do not know whether the agriculturists who have asked for this Measure will be satisfied when they get it. It will be a fine thing to flourish at Election meetings, as something which has been done for agriculture, but whether it will ever have any material effect upon the profit and loss accounts of any farmers is very doubtful. What the agriculturists have asked for is legislation to require the Marking of all foodstuffs on importation. I have seen any number of resolutions to that effect. This Bill, however, does not propose to require the marking of all foodstuffs on importation; it proposes a Committee, which is to add article after article; and thus it escapes some of the worst effects of the proposal, while letting agriculturists think they have at last got something which they want. My own view, for what it is worth, is that agriculturists will find they have been deceived again, as they have in the past been deceived by successive Governments, not all of one colour, ever since the time of Lord Derby's Government of 1852. It will be remembered that a former leader of the Conservative party said on that occasion that the Conservative Government was an organised hypocrisy. I am not applying that remark to this particular Conservative Government, but it was applied by Mr. Disraeli to the 1852 Government, which, like this Government, was pretending to do things for agriculture and not doing anything at all.
Let us pass from agriculture. I think the right hon. Gentleman rather overstressed the amount of support which he has for this Bill. He gave the House to understand that not only agriculture but a number of other industries were in favour of this Bill, and Chambers of Commerce too. He referred to a rather ambiguously-worded resolution of the Associated Chambers of Commerce which if he will allow me to say so, is not exactly the best medium for the expression of the views even of commercial men. He will find, if he counts up the Chambers of Commerce, that the opinions of the commercial men in constituencies which return members of the party opposite are, on the whole, not only against this Measure, but strongly against it, on the very point which we have been discussing. On the one side the opinion of the London Chamber of Commerce has been quoted, and that does represent a City of some magnitude but on the other hand the Manchester and Liverpool Chambers of Commerce express strong opposition to this Bill, and if one goes to the trades themselves it will be found that trade after trade has passed resolutions against the Bill on the ground of the hampering Customs Regulations. They are willing that there should be prevention of fraud, but they object strongly to legislation which will necessarily impose some sort of barrier to the importation of goods. It is not only a barrier, but it involves additional expense, and therefore, by this Bill, the Government are undoubtedly going to cause an addition to the actual cost not only of foodstuffs but of other imported articles of consumption.
We cannot impose requirements of this kind upon different trades without causing expense to them, and that expense will have to be met by purchasers. I do not know why the Government should seek to raise the cost of living throughout the country, as pro tanto this must necessarily do. It will bring a demand to raise the wages of large sections of the community, to meet that cost of living, just at a time when we have complaints from so many manufacturers that the existing rate of wages is an obstacle in the way of expanding our trade. Unless it can be urged that all the requirements of this Bill can be met without adding to the expense of conducting business, we are not justified in passing it. An increase in the cost of articles to the purchaser will automatically raise the cost of living; and in this connection the House must not overlook the fact that the money wages of large sections of the population now rise and fall in proportion to the cost of living. Therefore, those manufacturers, and even those farmers, who ask for this Bill will have to take into account its possible effect in raising wages. That is only the first point I would raise against this Bill. We object, many of us, to the whole machinery of the Bill. We object to this machinery of Committees. I do not know whether the House or the Government are satisfied with their experience pf the Safeguarding of industries Committees. I do not believe that the people who want safeguarding arc satisfied, and certainly the people who object to safeguarding are not satisfied. Yet here is the Government introducing this machinery of Committees again. It is true there is a difference, but I do not know that the difference is any particular improvement. The right hon. Gentleman, asked whom he was going to put on these Committees, said with a smile, which perhaps was justified, that he was not going to put lawyers on them. He did not say, however, whether they were going to be people of impartiality.
It may be possible to find people of impartiality, but I venture to say that it is quite impossible to find people without bias. If you are selecting a Royal Commission, or a Committee, or anything else, it is practically impossible to find people so angelic as to be utterly void of bias. When I do find a man who appears to me to be without bias, my own impression is that he has a bias which coincides with my own. I am afraid, when the right hon. Gentleman proceeds to select the members of these Committees—I would not like to say that he will do as he did with regard to the Safeguarding Committees — whilst he will select people of competence and impar- tiality as far as may be, he will find it impossible to find people free from bias. If you are going to get a judicial tribunal, there are two methods of doing it. You may train one person as you trust a Judge, and train him to disregard his own bias. That is one method, not always satisfactory, but, on the whole, the best that we can find. You may take the other course, where, in order to guard against the influence of that bias which you cannot hope to eradicate, you are bound to put on to the tribunal people who have different kinds of bias so that to some extent they may counteract each other. I have not received any assurance from the right hon. Gentleman, and I do not think that the House will receive any assurance, that these ladies and gentlemen on these Committees will be free from bias. The right hon. Gentleman will find it impossible to get people free from bias, and his only proper course will be to take care that the bias will be balanced and not necessarily all on one side.
I want to say, quite frankly, that if this Measure is going to be put into operation I would rather trust the right hon. Gentleman himself on the responsibility of the Government to make such Orders as the Government may think fit, instead of having a Committee or Board to stand between him and the House. Of course, technically the right hon. Gentleman must take the responsibility whatever the advice of the Committees may be, but I do not think it is unfair to remind him and the House that over and over again in the long Debates about the Safeguarding of Industries, the fact that an Order has been recommended by the Committee concerned has been put forward as a reason why the House should not object to it. Does not that mean the use of the Committee or the Board as a screen? I would rather that this Clause about Committees were cut out and that the action had to be taken on the sole responsibility of the Minister concerned.
The House will notice that there is no provision for any appeal against the decision of the Committee. The Committee meets, there is no necessity for publicity, there is no particular necessity for their hearing witnesses, and there is no provision for their taking care to hear witnesses representing other interests than those immediately concerned. They make their recommendation, which is virtually their decision, and it is accepted by the Government without a word, and, as far as we can make out, without any pretence at consideration. That is the tribunal, chosen we do not know how, to whom, without any supervision by this House, is to be entrusted practically the power of making these Orders. I suggest that it is contrary to constitutional practice, and in all frankness I say it would be better that it should be done on the responsibility of the Minister unprotected by the board or screen. Let him take what advice he pleases, and then act on that advice, according to his own judgment, without interposing this screen between him and the House. These Committees will purport to make inquiries and to take evidence, but, even after an Order has been made on the representation of any Government Department, the right hon. Gentleman will have power, without publicity, without inquiry, without any hearing of objectors, to issue an Order varying the original Order in any way he pleases.
It is true that these Orders-in-Council, after they are made, have to be laid before the House, but it does not require any long experience of this House to know how illusory is that remedy. I have only been in the House four years, and I have known only one opportunity taken after 11 o'clock at night to object, in an analogous case, to an Order, and then Members naturally did not stay, and it was not properly discussed. It is a mockery to say that the laying of Orders before the House gives the House any effective control or any power of effective criticism.
It does not seem to me that the right hon. Gentleman has quite sufficiently explored the trade with foreign entrepôt ports which is a large part of the trade of this country. A considerable part is done by diverting, by telegraphic or wireless instructions, cargoes on their way to this country. Cargoes set out without knowing where they are going, cargoes which perhaps would go to some other country, hut they are instructed to call for orders, and they are diverted to this country by order of the importer. What will be the position if this Bill becomes an Act and is in full operation? These cargoes, which will have been shipped from all sorts of countries, and may contain goods which require marking for protection, will be prevented from being diverted to this country. It will introduce very considerable hampering effects upon the trade with foreign entrepôt ports and upon that shipping trade which has to call for orders or is diverted by wireless.
Take another point. There is a requirement that any advertisement of these goods has to indicate that they are of foreign origin. I cannot help thinking that the right hon. Gentleman does not give very diligent attention to the front pages of some of our great newspapers. Is it suggested that a large number of London stores and Liverpool stores which have full-page advertisements of innumerable articles, a considerable proportion of which are imported, must state in those advertisements, after every article mentioned, that they are of foreign origin? Can that really be intended? [Interruption.] I do not think it can.
I say nothing about the hon. Gentleman's knowledge being profound. It is only my ignorance which is profound. If I could realise the amount I do not know, millionaires would not be in it. I confess my ignorance, not only on this question, but on all questions, and I can only say, if there be anybody who does not feel his ignorance with regard to every question, that I myself am glad that I am not in that state. These advertisements cover a whole page, and they mention a thousand and one separate articles, a large number of which will come under this Bill, but which will be quite unknown to the proprietors of the stores. According to the Bill, however, unless it is amended, they will be required to add a line to say that these articles are of foreign origin.
I am not going to detain the House any more. I have had the duty of putting up as well as I can some of the objections which are felt to this Bill, not merely on points of detail, but also on points of principle. We shall have to oppose the Bill. I think it will excite considerable opposition in the country unless the Government rush it through, so that the country does not have an opportunity of expressing its objection. We shall have to oppose it on the ground that it will hamper the trade of the counrty, that it is not required in the public interest, and that it seeks to carry into effect the good part of the Bill, which is its only justification, in ways which are admittedly unnecessary with regard to a large part of the volume of goods. We say that if you are going to take steps to prevent fraud on the purchaser, which, I think, is a very laudable object, though you can carry protection against fraud and against misdescription too far, you ought to prevent fraud in connection with British goods as well as foreign or Dominion goods. There are just as many misdescriptions of British goods as there are of foreign goods. In fact, there are more, because the only point in the Bill is the origin of the goods and not the accuracy of the description of kind or quality.
That embraces a much larger field. If the Bill had been designed to cope with this fraud on the purchaser, I should not have opposed it, but it will not cope with that evil except to a very limited extent. If a person is sold an Australian or a Tasmanian apple I do not take that as a matter of fraud. Very often they are sold because they are considered to be the best apples. Hon. Members have no doubt heard of shopkeepers who have labelled English bacon as Danish, because people are willing to pay a higher price for Danish bacon. We all remember what happened when the Regulation went forth to label goods "Made in Germany." The result was that we were giving a wide advertisement to German manufacturers, and this inflicted a distinct injury upon British trade because we insisted upon goods being marked "Made in Germany." This bill proposes simply to repeat that particular mistake and the same result will follow, namely that you will be advertising these foreign goods. I know there is a sort of prejudice in seine quarters against foreign goods, but I have often discovered it to be quite unfounded, because there are foreign goods of the highest quality, some of which we have never been able to approach or equal as regards quality and on the other hand there are British goods of the most shoddy description. It is a common thing for all countries to sell shoddy goods. I know it is a dangerous thing to exalt and glorify this fact but it is done because it is the custom of the trade to do all sorts of things which are not worthy of honest men. We sometimes find dishonest manufacturers passing off their bad goods as being of good quality because it is the custom of the trade. I am willing to protect the honest tradesmen, and I would not object to dealing with those who adopt fraudulent descriptions, but this Bill does not deal with that point. There would be something to be said for it if the purchaser knew exactly what kind or quality of article he was getting.
It is claimed that you should put the obligation on the retailer of correctly describing the goods he is selling. I know this Bill attempts to do that with regard to a large number of articles. There are many difficulties in the way. For instance, I should like to see a wholesaler in Houndsditch trying to get such a guarantee from the men with barrows and pedlars. Fancy asking them to describe the goods they are offering as having been made in Czechoslovakia and places of that kind. It is obvious that the wholesaler cannot get any such guarantee from the retailer. It is impossible for a man in the warehouse in Houndsditch who supplies pedlars with articles for sale to get any guarantee from them that they will not fail to describe these articles as Czechoslovakian when they offer them to the public. Such a law cannot possibly be obeyed even if it is passed into law by this Bill, and it would prove to be a sham.
This Bill is brought in not with any real intention of preventing fraud but in order to satisfy the demand which has come from agriculturists and some other people. That is the real reason for attempting to pass a Measure which is strenuously objected to by a large number of people, because it is a Bill calculated to interfere with British trade, and will fail to make any improvement in agriculture or British manufactures. It seems to us to be founded upon bad constitutional machinery, and such a Measure ought not to be pressed on at this particular time when hon. Members cannot give the attention to it which it deserves. For these reasons I ask the Government to give further consideration to the Measure with a view to it being further amended in Committee
I am sure we all admire the heroism of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb); in fact, I heard one hon. Member declare that there had been nothing like it since the boy stood on the burning deck. We should [...]Ke to know how far the right hon. Gentleman speaks for the other Members of the Labour party who are not supporting him on this occasion. Some of us remember a Committee upstairs when a former Bill on this subject was under discussion, and on that occasion and although the discussion was pursued at a length and with an iteration of criticism which was worthy of a better cause that criticism did not come, for the most part, from Members of the Labour party but from the Members of the small party now sitting below the Gangway. I would like to say a word or two about some of the points raised by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. In the first place, he said it is not a reason for passing a Measure of this kind because the agricultural interests want it. In fact he went rather further than that, and he said that when he found the agricultural interest asking for anything of this kind it should be taken as a reason for abstaining from passing such a proposal. I hope that speech will be duly reported because at future elections in agricultural constituencies it will be of considerable service. The right hon. Gentleman dealt with the question of the, Committee and the appeals from the Committee. I am not so much enamoured with this system of Committees because I know that the same system under the Safeguarding of Industries Act has led to a certain amount of ill-feeling, and it is a very cumbrous method. Nevertheless there are many reasons for it, and the last accusation which should be levelled against the system is that it is too speedy a method and does not give these questions full consideration. I should say that our experience is just the opposite. There has to be an appeal to the Department to set up the Committee, and the Department has to issue an order before it is set up and then there is a further appeal to the House of Commons. I know the right hon. Gentleman opposite did not seem to think much of the appeal to the House of Commons, but after all it had this merit, that if there is a strong feeling in the country against any of these Orders, it will be reflected in the letters which hon. Members receive from their constituents, and if that feeling is strong enough, and an Order of this kind turns out to be really unpopular, then there is a reasonable chance of the House of Commons dissenting from the Order.
The right hon. Gentleman opposite also raised the question of our entrepot trade. I am given to understand that as regards agricultural produce the entrepot trade is practically negligent, and it relates almost entirely to manufactured goods. In that case there is no provision made that marks should be put on those goods when imported. If the goods come in without the mark they can be exported again without the mark, and therefore that point does not arise at all. Of course, the right hon. Gentleman brought up the old objections that we have heard time after time when previous Bills have been before the House, and when the last Bill was in Committee. There was the objection about the cost of marking, and there were the objections about the intolerable delay that would ensue. I do not believe that those objections have any real value at all. The cost of marking is really negligible. The right hon. Gentleman talks about it raising the cost of living, but I do not believe, it would raise the cost of living by any sum that it would he possible to calculate in any way whatever. That is a purely make-believe argument, and, as to delay, I do not think there would be any. Already a great many things that come over here are marked, and to make that apply to a few more articles would not cause any appreciable delay.
The fact is that that is not the real objection which traders have to these provisions. The real objection is that they do not want people to know whether they are buying things that come from England or the Empire, or whether they are buying foreign goods. We do not want to keep foreign goods out; we are not proposing to do that; but what we do want is that people should know which they are buying. We believe that that is in the interest of all honest traders. Undoubtedly it is a fact that there are traders who are not anxious that the public should know which kind of goods they are buying. There are traders who wish people to buy foreign goads under the impression that they are buying British goods, and, still more than that, they wish to mix the two together. That is a difficulty which we have come up against in connection with agricultural co-operative societies.
There has been a very hard struggle to start and keep going co-operative societies for selling agricultural produce. Those societies have almost always been failures, and the real reason in many cases, I believe, why they are failures, is that, while they are trying to sell British goods only, the ordinary merchant —I do not want to accuse all—the merchants who buy from them mix British goods with foreign goods and sell them to consumers who think they are all British. One has come across that more than once in connection with societies that are selling eggs, and it is really that, I believe, which has had more to do than anything else with the failure of these co-operative societies, which have tried to help the smallholder, the allotment holder, and the small agriculturist generally in the English country districts. That is a point that has been brought before my notice more than once, and I believe that, if this Bill has no other effect, it will give the agricultural co-operative society, if it can be stared again, a little better chance than it has had hitherto. Without doubt, this Bill is supported by the whole of the agricultural community. It is supported, not, only by large farmers, but, with even more enthusiasm, by smallholders, allotment holders, and especially market gardeners and men generally who are in a small way of business in the agricultural world.
My right hon. Friend referred to the importance that it would have in regard to Empire trade. There are many people at the present time who are doing all they can to push the sale of Empire goods, and they are up against the difficulty that people who, with the very best wishes in the world, wish to buy Empire goods, cannot tell for certain what they are buying when they go into a shop. This will help to a certain extent in bringing that about. Before I sit down, I want to congratulate the Government on the form which the Bill has taken. I think it shows an ingenuity which is not always to be seen as the work of Government draftsmen. I think the absence of a Schedule will have the effect of making reiterated and persistent discussion in Committee more difficult than it otherwise would be. I hope my right hon.
Friend will have a more easy passage with this Bill than was experienced in the case of previous Measures dealing with the, subject, and I am sure that on this side of the House we wish him every success.
I make no apology for opposing this Bill. I quite appreciate that the mind of the House is on other subjects at the moment, but on an occasion like this the House of Commons has the responsibility of exercising its duty of criticising Measures brought in by Government, and this Bill is undoubtedly a most controversial Measure. This is about the fouth time it has appeared, in one form or another, and on each occasion it has created a large amount of opposition. No Bill has had a more stormy passage through the Committees upstairs than the various forms in which the Bill has appeared within the last three or four years. I venture to prophesy that this Bill will he received with equal criticism and will have just as stormy a passage as its predecessors, and that, if it does weather the storm, it will come out very much from the form in which it appears before the, House to-day.
One of the difficulties that the House of Commons has in considering this matter at the present time is that a large amount of opposition was organised by large business and trading interests throughout the country, and it was intended to put the facts and information before the House, but, unfortunately, owing to circumstances to which I need not refer on this occasion, but which are well known to the House it has been impossible to get their circulars printed so as to enable them to be distributed and let Members know what the views of the trading community are. I do, however, see on the Order Paper—and I take this, opportunity of congratulating you, Mr. Speaker, on getting over the difficulties in producing the Order Paper, so that we do know, for the first time for some days, what the business of the House is—I see that there is another Motion for the rejection of this Bill in the name of two hon. Members who are supporters of the Government, and who, I think, are not very prejudiced in favour of Free Trade. That shows, at any rate, that the attacks on this Bill do not come from any one Quarter of the House only, but are representative of traders, business people and others, of all political opinions, who are concerned with the well-being of this country.
I object to this Bill on various grounds, but I must confess I am surprised that the Government produce a Measure of this character which, after all, does not achieve the object at which it aims. I recognize with respect that every Protectionist desires Protection, that he wishes to have a Chinese wall round this country, that he looks upon every import as an injury to our nation, that he desires that all goods as far as possible should be produced in our own country, and that an endeavour should be made to keep out goods by tariffs. That is an intelligible position. I do not agree with it, but I respect it, the argument there being that, if goods come in, revenue should be raised by means of taxes, and that those taxes should be put on either for revenue or to prevent imports. But this Bill is merely a clumsy, cumbersome means of interfering with the course of trade. It will injure our great position as a centre of international trade, it will make the cost of living dearer, and injure the industries of the country. I know it is very easy to think you can define what are manufactured goods. Take Clause 1 of the Bill. I do not object to its intentions; its intentions are strictly honourable, and I agree that nothing is worse than that goods really made abroad should be pretending to be British. Fraud of any kind ought to be punished, and I most respectfully suggest that to attempt to deceive the public by suggesting in any way that goods are British when they are really foreign is an offence that is punishable even under the present law. But, in the desire to achieve that most desirable purpose by means of this Bill, I very much doubt whether we are not doing more injury than good to British industry. Clause 1 says:
It shall not be lawful to sell, expose for sale, or distribute by way of advertisement, in the United Kingdom, any goods which bear any name or trade mark being, or purporting to be, the name or trade mark of any manufacturer, dealer or trader in the United Kingdom, not being goods produced or wholly or mainly manufactured therein…
Now, this country has a great name throughout the world for manufacturing
the harmless, necessary article of food called jam. British jam reigns supreme in almost every country in Europe, if not in the world, and British jam is generally made from imported foreign fruit. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wells (Sir R. Sanders), who has just spoken, no doubt thinks that that is a very bad thing, but., owing to the fact that there has been free trade in fruit, owing to the fact that we have been able to import cheap sugar and cheap jars, we have been able to put together cheap British jam which has been, advertised throughout the world and with which we have been able to compete in every foreign country. Under this Clause, as far as I can gather, it will have to be described, not as British, but as foreign jam, because it will be made from foreign fruit and foreign sugar, and put up in foreign jars; and a great industry which has helped our trade—[A laugh.] The right hon. Gentleman jeers; does he think the jam industry is beneath contempt?
No, Sir; I only smiled because the hon. Gentleman apparently has not read the Bill. If he will read Clause 8, which is the definition Clause, he will see that all his arguments about jam are quite irrelevant, because jam manufactured in this country would not have to be marked.
Yes, but the jar in which it is put up would have to be marked when it is of foreign origin. I am very glad, however, to have that assurance, but, if it does not apply to that particular article, why should it apply to any article of similar character? This, in fact, is only an unnecessary interference with industry. The manufacturers of this country have great difficulty in getting trade and in competing in various parts of the world, and yet the Government come in with these hindering regulations and all the cumbersome machinery of Committees of Inquiry, which, so far from helping manufacturers, will make it more difficult for them to carry on their trade.
There are very many other objections to this Bill. I am one of those who are still unrepentant in believing that trade is exchange, that imports are not an injury to this country, but a help to this country. Goods are imported because people want them, and anything that is done to make it snore difficult, more expensive, and more cumbersome to import, is not only going to do injury to our trade, but is going to injure the consumer and make it more difficult for people to get a satisfactory return from the money they earn as wages, which they have to expend in the most profitable way for their households. When we come to inquire into the machinery of the Bill, we realise how difficult a problem this is. The Bills produced last year and the year before were comparatively simple. They had long Schedules setting cut certain articles. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman who preceded me in the Debate welcomes the absence of a Schedule, but I prefer the presence of a Schedule, because then we know where we are. Parliament knows what it is passing; it knows what injury or what benefit is going to be done to the country. The absence of a Schedule means that we are passing this Bill completely in the dark, and are going to hand over the machinery to a lot of committees appointed by the President of the Board of Trade. I know he is full of good intentions, and he is, I am sure, most anxious to discharge his duty with impartiality and good will, but we had some experience of the committees he appointed under the Safeguarding of Industries Act. He assures us that they were chosen indiscriminately, without bothering what the political opinions of their members were. He appointed indiscriminately Free Traders and Protectionists; he dipped his finger into the lucky bag, and if by chance the majority of a committee happened to be Tariff Reformers, it was purely an accident. What guarantee have we that he will not follow the same procedure, because in most cases, although he was quite impartial and indiscriminate in his selections, the result was that most members of the Committee happened to Le Protectionist in sympathy and in action. We are told they are not to be lawyers. Who are going to man these committees? Are they going to he Government officials? Are they going to be men employed because of trade knowledge? At any rate, under the Bill we are going to hand over the whole regulation of our import trade to a series of small committees who are to decide what articles are to be branded, when they are to be branded, where they are to be branded, and how they are to be branded. There is, for instance, a large amount of glass imported into the country. Glass is a very necessary commodity, and in the main streets in the poor parts of London are to be seen hundreds of small retailers who carry on the business of supplying working men and women with necessary articles of use, like glass or china or enamel ware. This cheap stuff has to be branded. It is left to these departmentally selected committees to say which articles are to be branded and where they are to be branded. It may be that the word "Bohemian" will have to he stamped in the middle of a tumbler.
I am not quite sure that that will help British trade. It may be an advertisement for Bohemian glass. It is certainly going to add to the cost of the glass when it is imported and, what is probably more serious, it is going to interfere with our very important entrepot trade, which is still an integral part of our life and our industry and employs large numbers of people. We have realised only too unfortunately within the last 10 days how much we are dependent on foreign trade. The whole country has been paralysed not only by the transport difficulties inland but even move by the shutting of our ports and the cessation of our imports. This country, though an island, is connected with the Continent by the sea and has been the centre of the trade of the Continent of Europe. It has been difficult to explain and understand. It seems more natural that Hamburg or Antwerp or some other great Continental port should be the centre of European trade. Owing to the fact of our Free Trade traditions, owing to the fact that all goods can come into the country uninterfered with by regulations of this character, Great Britain, and in particular, London, has been the centre of the carrying trade and the entrepot trade of Europe. The last 10 clays, I am afraid, have done something to divert some of that trade to the Continent. Now the Government come along with these regulations and goods coming into our warehouses will have to be branded. It is impossible to brand them afterwards, and foreigners will say it is no use sending goods into London. Buyers and merchants will find it is no use importing them into our warehouses. They will disappear all over the world because the clumsy hand of the Customs official and the Board of Trade Committee will come in with its regulations requiring branding and stamping and all kinds of interference, which will not help industry and trade.
Another thing I object to about the Bill is the Clause that details a large number of new offences. This is the very last time when we want to manufacture crimes, yet the Government say the poor little shopkeeper in some back street may be haled before the police court because, in the very best faith, he has gone to some warehouse and failed to describe the origin of his goods and stamped them, or displayed their name. To carry out that law will be difficult. If it has to be carried out it is bound to make the goods more expensive and make it more difficult for the shopkeeper to carry on his business. I really doubt whether it is going to help us. Well-to-do people naturally buy the best goods they can find. If they want British goods they can afford to pay for them. If they want foreign goods they can buy their dresses in Paris or their luxuries in this or that part of the world, but the man or woman who is struggling to exist and has a limited income wants to be able to get as good a return for that income as possible and to get as many articles as possible so as to be able to feed and bring up in comfort his or her family. Now the State is going to make these regulations, and regulations of this kind inevitably press heaviest on those least able to afford them. This is a bad Bill. It is against the principles of Free Trade and good government. It is needless interference and it is the wrong kind of Mate interference. Hon. Members opposite, who are load in their denunciations of Socialism and everything it stands for, are here indulging in the worst kind of Socialism—State regulation and interference. This is a had Bill, and I hope it will be fought inch by inch in Committee. I shall be very sorry to see it become an Act of Parliament.
Mr. SANDEMAN ALLEN:
It is rather difficult to bring our minds back to the subject before us when there is such a serious state of affairs in the country. I make no apology, however, because I feel that the business of the nation must be carried on, and it is right and proper, if we are discussing an important Measure like this, that we should discuss it with a certain amount of care and detail. Therefore, I desire to offer a contribution to this Debate as one who has had many discussions in different quarters of the country with business men. I have listened with interest and some amusement to the hon. Member who spoke last, who has rather diverted us by setting up propositions in his own mind and knocking them down again, because nearly everything he has suggested is not in the Bill itself, but only in the imagination of those who think how the Committees may act. Be that as it may, there is a tendency in certain quarters to see Protection where it does not necessarily exist at all, and it certainly does not here. The main principle underlying the Bill seems to me to be the determination of the Government that the public is entitled to know what it is buying—whether it is buying foreign-manufactured or British articles or foreign or British or Empire food. At present I do not think it can be rightly said that the country is in possession of this information. I know there are a few who believe in encouraging and developing the sale of foreign goods rather than British. There are a great many more who say the question of price, quality and suitability are the only questions that matter. I think the character of our people is less limited than that. Given fair price and equal quality, I am convinced that nearly everyone wants to buy British-manufactured goods and to support home industries, certainly to buy Empire food rather that foreign. Therefore, we are entitled to know, and that is the underlying principle of the Bill. It meets the demand of agriculture and of industry and of a certain section, at any rate, of the commercial community. Apart from that, it is meeting the almost unanimous desire of the Dominions and the Colonies, and at the same time it will give the country what it is justly entitled to.
I think, however, it is only right to state clearly that there is a very strong body of opinion in the mercantile section of the community who oppose the Bill root and branch. Large majorities in the Chambers of Commerce of London, Liver- pool and Manchester are opposed to it, I believe, very largely owing to a preconceived misconception as to how it is going to be carried out, but partly, it must be frankly admitted, to the distinct and rooted aversion of the commercial community to any interference with trade by any Goverment whatever. I have the greatest sympathy with that feeling. It is a correct feeling in the interest of the country and its trade, but I do not admit that it applies to this Bill, which is not one to interfere with trade, but to protect the public and to assist trade, whether Emipre or home. The Association of Chambers of Commerce, by a very large majority—not merely by a majority of the small Chambers—decided in favour of the principle of the Bill, although they made certain reservations. They certainly are well qualified to speak for the mass of the country, and undoubtedly the opinion of the majority of the traders is in favour of a Measure of this kind, and the public generally will support it. I regret that the right hon. Gentleman did not pursue a practice which has been adopted in one or two cases recently of publishing an explanatory memorandum with the Bill. It certainly is desirable in matters affecting the-commercial community and people interested in local government. It would have been studied, and so avoided many of these preconceived misconceptions which, I think, have caused so much trouble in this case.
I want to speak now about some of the main objections which have been raised to the Bill by mercantile and shipping people. The first is the general objection that it is going to restrict overseas trade. Of course, any general restriction of overseas trade is undesirable, but we ought to analyse this and find out what is really at the bottom of it. The Bill proposes to deal with certain goods and foodstuffs and to give the public information in connection with them. If it has any effect at all, and the public want to choose British goods, they will choose British goods, so it will not restrict sales. If they do not, if they want foreign goods, the fact that foreign goods are marked is not going to restrict the trade in foreign goods. The whole question lies in this. It may merely be a transfer from foreign to British goods by those who now find out that they can buy equally satisfactory British goods, and by those who thought they were doing it, and that will thus develop the home market for our industries which we all desire. During one of the many discussions we have had on this matter, a certain representative of a Chamber of Commerce said: "I object to this Bill. We have been doing a very good trade for the last few years, and everybody thinks we have been selling British goods, although they were foreign goods. I do not think it is fair to put this Bill through." I do not think that any Member of this House would put that sort of argument forward seriously to the British public.
The more we analyse the general or vague objections to the present Bill, we have to reduce them to their proper elements, and there really are details and difficulties of operation which will require to be thoroughly discussed in Committee; but they do not constitute any justification for rejecting a Measure of this kind. In regard to the entrepot trade, the Bill is confronted with various objections, but as a matter of fact the machinery of the Bill is devised to protect the entrepot trade. The right hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) gave an illustration how the Bill would affect certain ships which at the present time are diverted to this country from other countries with cargo. He said that could not be done if these ships contained some cargo which had to be marked before importation in accordance with the provisions of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman overlooks the fact that ships that are. diverted from one country to another are ships with full cargoes of one kind, which is quite another matter. We know beforehand perfectly well whether they are the class of goods that are wanted in this country or not. So there would be no difficulty there. That is one of the bogeys raised against a Bill of this kind. I can understand certain people being anxious; but we must realise that most of these fears are fancies.
The President of the Board of Trade, who fully realises the value of this trade, has gone very far in regard to the provisions affecting the entrepot trade. I f hon. Members will follow this Bill very closely they will see that he has taken, as some people think, undue pains to protect that trade. I know that a certain section of the community are objecting to the extra care that has been taken in this matter. I think a word of ex- planation is necessary here. Some people seem to think that the entrepot trade simply means that we buy certain goods, which we import and then we export them. That. would be simple. If we bought and imported simply for reexport there would be no difficulty. The difficulty lies in the fact that when we import we may have no thought of export; later we find out whether this market or a foreign market is the better for the whole or part. In such a case, if the goods are specially marked in-between, they are embarrassing for the entrepot trade. What will happen, as provided by the Bill, will be this: That we shall only mark goods when they are sold for consumption in this country. Therefore, we can import, sell and resell and re-export goods which will remain unmarked. There is no difficulty in the way.
Does the hon. Member realise that if we have to buy large quantities of eggs from abroad, they would have to he unpacked, and each egg would have to be separately stamped in this country before sale?
Mr. SANDEMAN ALLEN:
We are discussing what the Bill is providing for. The Committee will settle what is best to be done. I do not understand why we should want to re-export eggs; we want them in this country. We are all aiming at the same thing. No one wishes to hinder trade. We want to give the people a fair deal. I ask the House and the country whether it is right, for instance, that Japanese salmon should be sold under the same brand as Canadian salmon, without the goods being marked distinctively so that the purchaser would know that one is Empire production and the other foreign; he may prefer the foreign article, but that is not the point. Is it fair that fruit should come into this country and be sold in such a way that people do not know whether they are buying foreign or Empire-grown fruit, especially when they wish to know whether they are buying foreign goods or Empire goods.
Of many matters of detail to be considered in Committee, there is the question whether containers, cases or wrappers ought to be marked, or whether the article itself ought to be marked. These are matters for con- sideration. The idea of having a Schedule is ridiculous. You must study each case and the needs of each case, and when the case has been studied, I hope and believe that the Committee in certain cases will come to the conclusion that it is not right to do it. They will take care to do what is best for the country. Why anticipate trouble. I hope that the Committee will not simply hear someone making out a prima facie case for, and other people in the trade arguing against, but that all trades affected, directly and indirectly, will have an opportunity of being heard. I hope that suggestion will be borne in mind, because it represents the view of a great many of those with whom I am constantly in touch.
Another objection, which is a very sound one, and on which I hope the President of the Board of Trade will be able to satisfy us, is the possibility of congestion on the quays. There is a fear that there will be a stoppage or holding up on the quays and in the warehouses. The Mersey Docks and Harbour Board and other authorities are thoroughly exercised about it, and the shipowners with whom I have been conferring are also very much troubled on the point, because if there is congestion of the quays and warehouses, it involves necessarily reaction on the shipping itself, also delays and demurrage, which is as bad as congestion of traffic. That point must be considered but, like the other points, it affects the administration and not the principle of the Bill. They are not points which should be regarded as making the Bill undesirable, but as points which it is very essential to consider in the working of the Measure.
We must, moreover, not overlook the point that the care that is being taken for the entrepot trade is apt to go so far as to place a burden on the retailer, an unfair burden at times, and sometimes an impossible burden. In Committee the point will have to be considered how far that is to go. At the present time my feeling is that if, as I understand, no system of inspectorship is to be set up, the burden will be on the honest retailer: the man who wishes to fulfil the law. I am speaking on behalf of a great many business centres when I draw attention to this. In regard to Clause 3, I would emphasise the necessity of our having competent business men on the Committees. It is possible for men with business experience to have impartial minds. Again I think it necessary to define what is meant by the power of the Minister to vary. I understand that he cannot order any marking except on the advice of the Committee, but he may vary this decision in some way. That point will require consideration. It is suggested that there should be power in connection with manufactured goods, as well as others, to insist on certain goods being marked on importation. That is reasonable, but great care should be taken, and it should not be done without very careful consideration in view of the difficulties I have indicated.
In regard to Clause 8 as to indication of origin the Bill gives an option either to have the goods marked as Empire goods or foreign, or to have them marked with the place of origin. Some people are taking exception to that, and some Chambers have taken exception to that option. If we do not have that option, we lay ourselves open to retaliation. One of the most valuable advertisements we have in this country is the phrase "Made in England." So much so, that some of our competitors have marked their goods in a similar way. If we insist upon every imported article from abroad being marked" Foreign manufacture," it may very easily mean that the same thing will be required of us. It is better to leave well alone in that matter and to have the option.
The Government, instead of hampering trade by this Bill, are doing their duty to the public and taking care that the public are informed. They are not interfering with the trade of the country. The Bill is in response to the needs of industry. It meets the demands of agriculture and of a large section of its commercial community, and does not interfere with trade. Indirectly, it develops the Empire market. By the marking of goods we shall encourage the development., not only of Empire markets in this country, but also of markets in the Empire for our own home products, which we so badly need. For these reasons, I strongly support the Bill.
I have to apologise to the House for not having been able to hear the Debate right through. I only propose, however, to say one or two things in support of the rejection of the Bill. Let me first of all take up the point mentioned by the hon. Member who has just sat down, that is the question of the appointment of the Committee. The hon. Member has pleaded for business men to be appointed. I suggest that the principle in this Bill is almost without precedent inasmuch as it sets up a paid Committee to legislate on matters affecting almost every branch of trade and industry in this country without any effective control by this House. That is a principle which should be opposed to the last. We have seen quite recently the effect of such legislation as this. We have not forgotten the first announcement of the Government, soon after the General Election, with regard to the procedure under the Safeguarding of Industries Act, and since then we have never had any real control over the decisions arrived at under that Act. I know it will be said that we have had constant Debates, but every time we have had an opportunity of debating the matter the Government reply has always been that they were advised by the Committee set up for this purpose, and that they were adopting the recommendations of the Committee.
Every one of the great and important trades which will be affected by this Bill are to be under the heel, not of a voluntary Committee, as in the past, but of a Committee which is to be paid, which is to be composed of people who may actually compete for places on the Committee because of the emoluments offered. This is a most vicious principle to introduce into any legislation, and if for no other reason than that we shall oppose this Bill to the last. I do not propose to go at length into the general objections we have to this Bill. They were given by an bon. Member who spoke below the Gangway, but it is perfectly certain that every artificial restriction you place upon trade is a hindrance to trade, and is bound to operate against a maritime nation like ourselves. If you have to check every article that comes into our docks it adds to the time taken to unload a ship—the cost cannot be less than £100 a day for the delay alone—and to carry out the detailed machinery of this Bill and the possible Regulations of the Committee will involve delays again and again; and a large in- crease in the army of Customs officials. I do not want to go into details on this matter, but I do desire to draw the special attention of the House to this point.
Let me say a word or two on the entrepeit trade. I was surprised at the views held by the hon. Member who has just sat down. He, above all people, with his maritime knowledge, ought not to under-estimate the value of the entrepôt trade to the British maritime industry. Will the hon. Member tell me a single line or Clause in the Bill, or any possible Regulation under the Bill, which will assist the entrôp trade? Is it not true, on the other hand, that every line and Clause will hinder rather than help the entrepôt trade? The hon. Member knows that the strongest pressure for the Bill comes from the agricultural industry. Hon. Members who represent agricultural constituencies are entitled by all means in their power to help the industry they mainly represent. I am not complaining of that, but it must be recognised that that is the chief dynamic urging this Bill forward. We have discussed it again and again. When we discussed the details of the agricultural hill to amend the Merchandise Marks Act it was found to be so impracticable and unworkable that it was practically reduced to two articles only, eggs and meat. The entrepôt trade in eggs will be affected, but nut in the way the hon. Member suggests.
Take the port of Marseilles. Here you have a great entrepôt At world market, where our ships go and collect produce. You have representatives there of British commerce. They have to buy for convenience. They do not always buy the exact quantity they require for their clients in this country. Sometimes they may have to buy a shipload, and some of the goods go to one part of the world, and some to this country. Does the hon. Member deny that if he buys a cargo in a market like that', and wants part of the cargo to come to this country, that if it is eggs that are to be sent here they will have to be unpacked, every one of them separately stamped, repacked, and sold with all that additional price in this country. Is not that true? Is it not the case that the agricultural industry which is the dynamic force of this Bill, wants higher prices for eggs? That is the position. People who are honest in regard to the agricultural industry do not make any secret of it. I am aware they raise the sentimental issue that they are desirous the consumers in. this country should know exactly what they are buying, but instead of having a restrictive Bill like this the agricultural industry should reorganise its production and follow the example of Denmark. I have considerable experience of the needs of the consumers in this country and also of the trade of this country. What is our experience in the North of England? Our cumtomers come in and say, "A stamped egg pleas3."What are these stamped goods? In the main they are Danish eggs. Denmark has created—
They bear the Danish trade mark, and country of origin, and the Danish trade has been so organised and created as to displace the demand for British eggs. Instead of agriculturists tackling their own job we get them coming to Parliament and asking for artificial protection of this character, for that is what it really is. That this is mainly designed to meet the wishes of the agriculturists is obvious because there is a curious difference in the treatment of agricultural produce and other kinds of merchandise. It is only agricultural produce wads has compulsorily to be marked before it is imported.
There are plenty of loopholes with regard to any other merchandise, and if the hon. and learned Member will read the Bill he will agree with me. Wholesalers are exempted from requiring any of their stock to be marked at all as long as they have a. guarantee from somebody else that it is going to be done at some other point, and entrepot trade of a certain character is exempt. If the hon. and learned Member does not think that leaves a loophole let him ask the President of the Board of Trade what the Sheffield cutlers said to him at a recent deputation. There are any amount of loopholes in the Bill for anything except agricultural produce.
The MINISTER of AGRICULTURE and FISHERIES (Mr. Guinness):
only optional. If the hon. Member will look as Sub-section (2) of Clause 2 he will find:
If it appears to a committee to be desirable that any imported goods being foodstuffs should bear an indication of origin at the time of importation.…
then provision may be made. There is no compulsion for this special marking. There is an option there.
Surely, if the dealers, producers, and manufacturers of goods think it worth their while to mark after importation there is no, reason to believe that that same provision may not be of great value in the case of agriculture?
There is no provision for that in regard to agriculture. My reading of the Bill is that there is a distinct difference between agricultural produce and other merchandise, and for that reason I am absolutely opposed to the Bill. There is another point I want to make. The Government have clearly included in this Bill some of the recommendations of the Imperial Economic Committee, and they are taking an opportunity in this Bill of dealing with specific recommendations which are designed to promote Empire trade. I think it should be made clear that the party for whom I speak are as desirous of promoting Empire trade as any other party in the House, but we make important reservations. We have made it perfectly clear that we are not going to lend ourselves at any time to the support of Measures which would increase the possibility of trade in sweated goods.
What is likely to happen under the provision of the Bill? You may get some general recommendation adopted, under which any goods that come from the Empire or any part of the Dominions, Crown Colonies or Protectorates, any place within the control of the British flag—will get a preference given to them by a special Empire mark. Members of the House know quite well that sweated conditions are not confined to foreign countries, that there are under the British flag to-day, in many parts of our Empire, plenty of sweated conditions, and those of the worst kind. If there is anything at all in the argument that the customer is to be given some special selection, that he is to have a choice which he will be able to exercise in favour of goods which are produced under the best conditions, then we shall need to have something far more than a general Empire mark; we shall need to have something which will indicate quite clearly whether the goods come from a part of the Empire which the customer will know is a part of the Empire in which good conditions are obtaining for the workers. The Labour party make a specific point of that, and I hope that we shall be able to deal with the matter in Committee.
I have read carefully the Reports of the Imperial Economic Committee, and I have listened to the announcements made from time to time by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Agriculture as to the setting up of a Special Committee for British agricultural produce, to be dealt with under the schemes which the Imperial Economic Committee has under consideration. If there is anything to be done under this Bill, I want the Minister to see that the Committee set up to deal with British agricultural produce pays special attention to the effect of any decision and recommendations upon Empire goods. I can foresee that, unless this matter is very carefully watched, there will be a clash of opinion and perhaps offence to the Dominions and other parts of the Empire, because of decisions reached by the British Agricultural Produce Committee. That would be most unfortunate.
I am doubtful as to the wisdom of the scheme which was originally inaugurated to deal with Empire produce, but I feel that if the grant of £1,000,000 a year was made for the specific purpose of assisting Empire produce as a substitute for the preferences which were not granted, the Empire should have the advantage of the whole of that scheme and the whole of that money originally voted by this House for that purpose, and that whilst it may be necessary to give some attention to British agricultural produce, the. decisions should be very carefully watched and the administation of the decisions in regard to marketing and so on, should be carefully watched, so that the full effect of promises made to the: Dominions shall be available to them for their trade and people. Otherwise I can see consider- able difficulties. I suggest to the Minister of Agriculture that he should have close personal contact with the Secretary of state for Dominion Affairs, who will be made acquainted with every one of the decisions of the Agriculture Committee, and that very careful steps be taken so to co-ordinate the consideration of the two bodies that there will not be offence given to the people who are concerned with the promotion of trade within the Empire.
If measures of this kind are designed specially to foster trade within the Empire and the production of British goods, let us not too quickly get away from the necessity of our country, a great maritime country, retaining its world trade. We shall make a great mistake if we think that we are compassing something magnificent by increasing a pound or ton or 100 tons of production in this country or increasing the volume here of Empire trade, if the only result to us is that. we lose a corresponding amount of our trade with foreign countries. The only way in which we shall be successful in exploiting measures of this kind will be if we can make additions to our Empire and British trade which will not displace any of the existing trade with the world markets. I am glad to see that. the hon. Member for the West Derby Division (Mr. S. Allen) accepts that statement., but I should be more persuaded that. he accepted it fully if he opposed a Bill of this kind, which by its restrictions, its many artificial barriers, will, in the judgment of many of us who have a business interest as well as the welfare of the country at heart, actually restrict our maritime trade and ultimately will not he of great benefit to the consumer.
The right hon. Gentleman who is in charge of the Bill for the moment will have to pay very special attention to the Regulations if he is to secure convictions under the Bill. The experience of all of us who were concerned with controls of various kinds in the War was that, however desirable some things were, they were harmful if your Regulations could not be carried to the point of getting convictions. Many of the proposals regarding things to be covered by marks under this Bill will be so unworkable that you will not get convictions in the end. It is very much to be regretted, moreover, that we have to go to a system of Regulations made by Order in Council. We should be able to criticise every one of those Regulations so as to help the Government to make the Measure workable.
I listened with the greatest attention and interest to the whole of the speech of the right hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb). There was one remark made by him to which I would direct attention, and that was his expression of the conviction that this Bill was being supported by a certain section of the House on this side because they believed it would diminish the import trade. I do not think that anyone who knows my views of trade, Free Trade and foreign trade, will accuse me of promoting anything which is likely to interfere with the free flow of foreign trade or of Empire trade. My belief is that there is nothing in this Bill which need necessarily diminish in any degree the movement of imports into this country. But I want to make a few remarks in regard to matters that are of interest to the Imperial Economic Committee, of which I happen to be a member. It has been stated that the Bill is presented to the House in this Session in order to give effect to some of the recommendations of that Committee. From the point of view of that Committee it seems a pity that a Bill of this nature, dealing with imported agricultural produce, should have been mixed up with a much more contentious matter, namely, a similar project in regard to imported manufactured goods. I have been a merchant most of my life and have dealt in many goods in other parts of the world, and I foresee that very many of the difficulties that have been referred to in connection with this Bill will inevitably cause stumbling blocks in its progress through Committee and later through this House. Therefore, I would have preferred that the imported agricultural produce side should have been dealt with either in a separate Measure or in a wholly separate section of the Bill.
Having said that, I want to disagree with one of the points that were made by the hon. Member for the West Derby Division (Mr. S. Allen). It is a fact, as he pointed out, that there is an option given by Clause 8 which to some people seems very objectionable, and particularly to the President of the Board of Trade,
but which to the Imperial Economic Committee seems absolutely essential. The first two Reports of that Committee were presented to the House some time ago. In the first, Report the Committee stated as their unanimous opinion,
that at the time of sale the simple words Empire produce ' or foreign produce,' as the case may be, should be attached to the goods.
The Committee considered that to be a very important principle. They were perfectly aware that the application of the principle may prove to be difficult in many cases or even impossible in some cases. Nevertheless, they think that the real intention that the Government had when they set up that Committee was to provide some method of substituting for the promise that was given in 1923 at he Imperial Economic Conference, something that was practicable, that this was one of the principles that ought to be recognised, and that an attempt ought to be made to carry it out. It will be said, and has been said, that it is quite sufficient to give an option either of marking the goods or displaying them with a ticket marked "Empire produce" or "Foreign produce," or to give the country of origin. I may tell the House that we listened for months to evidence from all quarters. We had indisputable evidence that on many occasions the poorer people, who buy a large percentage of produce in the shape of fruit and foodstuffs, are not sufficiently educated in many eases to know whether the country of origin is within the Empire or not.
I will quote you a number of cases. There is fruit from Colombia. It is always considered as having come from the British Empire. But Colombia is not the same as British Columbia. If fruit or foodstuffs are marked "Colombia" the buyer thinks it has come from within the Empire. Another extraordinary delusion is associated with the Sun-maid raisins of California. I do not wish to give them a free advertisement, but it is a positive fact that many poorer women are under the impression that those raisins are raised in a British province of California within the British Empire; there is no doubt about that. That is the reason why the Committee were very anxious that that particular principle should be established, and that option should not be given, in spite of the objections and difficulties that have been
raised by the President of the Board of Trade, the principal objection being his fear of retaliation in foreign markets by similar measures untended to "pay us back." I daresay that that argument does apply, or would be made to apply, in the case of manufactured goods, but I cannot conceive for one moment that it would apply in the case of foodstuffs in general. As illustrating that point, I may mention that while sitting here I received a letter from the Canadian representative in this country from which I will read an extract:
Only this week it has been reported to me that some of the large packing firms of Chicago are sending from America 'Wilt-shire cut, bacon' to the United Kingdom marked ' Canadian method of curing.'
There is a case in which they do not say that it is American bacon. They do not stamp it "U.S.A." but merely indicate that, it is cured by the Canadian method. That of course is intended to "take in" the buyer at this end. I might also point out that in the same letter it is stated that Canadian bacon of the same class is quoted at Liverpool at from 112s. to 118s. per cwt. and the quotation for the United States bacon on the same date was 102s. to106s. per cwt. Quite obviously the House ought to do all it can to protect the ultimate consumer of the goods from misrepresentation and I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham is tally in accord with that principle.
The Committee which is to be set up to deal with agricultural produce is to be nominated by the Minister of Agriculture, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, and the Secretary for Scotland, and we heard the President of the Board of Trade explain why these three Departments were named for the purpose. I should like to ask why, in this particular instance, the Secretary of State for the Dominions and Colonies should not also be named in the Bill as one of those to nominate this Committee. The main object of this Bill, in so far as it concerns agricultural produce, is to help the Dominions and Colonies. Another point is that of initiation of action. I have studied this Bill for a long time, wondering who is to initiate action under it. It is stated that the Board of Trade is to take action, but who is to move the Board of Trade to take such action? is it to be a private individual or a firm, or must it be an association which sets the machinery in motion? No action can be taken, apparently, except through the Board of Trade, but since the Bill has been circulated, many of those concerned have been wondering how action is to be brought about in the first instance. I snake these few observations in order that the House should be fully seized of the ideas and views of the Imperial Economic Committee, and, in conclusion, I will say that, provided these points are met in Committee, the Bill will have my support.
If this Bill did what sonic of its supporters claim it will I do, namely, give support and assistance to the. agricultural industry of this country, I, as the representative of a purely agricultural division, would be constrained to give it my support. But does it do anything of the kind? I agree with some of the remarks which fell from the last speaker. He said the Bill is going to make very little difference in the amount of agricultural produce imported. The goods that are now coming in from Denmark, and elsewhere, will continue to come in. There may be irritation at the Customs; there may be delay; there may he additional cost to the consumer; but it cannot be claimed that agriculture is going to benefit from the passage of the Bill. The Bill has more serious aspects than that. Assuming that it does confer some benefit on the agricultural industry, at what cost does it propose to do so l The machinery for the working of this new Measure is to he the machinery of a Committee about which the Bill tells us very little. This is an emphasis upon a method of legislation which is unutterably bad. We are not told how the Committee is to be set up or who is to constitute it. We are not told whether anyone can appear before the Committee on behalf of the parties interested. We are not told whether consumers will be entitled to appear before it or whether interested parties will be entitled to appear by counsel as was the case in regard to come of the Committees under the Safeguarding of Industries Act. We are not told whether information will be given as to when the Committees are going to be set up or whether proper notice will be given of their sittings, or how they are going to work. We are told nothing of that sort at the moment.
It does not appear that any appeal will lie from the decision of the Committee, which would be a very unsatisfactory position. Indeed, so far as this Bill is concerned, not only is the decision of the Committee, apparently, to be final, but even when the Committee has arrived at its decision the Minister, under Clause 5, Sub-section (2), without referring the decision back to the Committee or consulting them, can revoke the Order or vary it considerably. The result will be a great deal of uncertainty even when Orders have been made by the Committee. It will be difficult for traders here to place contracts abroad or to enter into definite arrangements when they will not know the exact position from time to time. It may be said that an Order of this kind will be placed on the Table of the House of Commons and that it will be for the House to decide finally. But we all know what this means in practice. It means virtually that the Minister legislates without the knowledge of the bulk of the Members of this House. Even if this Bill were to convey some slight benefit on agriculture—and I contend it has no real advantage to offer to agriculture at all—the principle which the Bill introduces is one which outweighs any apparent advantage, and I contend that-the Bill ought not to be given a Second Reading, especially in the circumstances in which it has been introduced.
I find that agriculture, has been very fully dealt with in the discussion on this Bill so far and I should like to refer to the commercial side of its provisions. Originally, the Merchandise Marks Act was introduced to prevent the fraud of foreign goods being palmed off as British on the consumers of this country and also with a view to protecting the manufacturers of this country from having their trade marks pirated. That Measure worked exceedingly well, but during the last year or two we have had Amendments of it which have not acted satis- factorily because they have been almost. impossible. The hon. Member for the Hillsborough Division of Sheffield (Mr. Alexander) referred to our entrepot trade. We did, in former days, within my own recollection, a very large—in fact, an enormous—entrepot trade in this country. The hon. Member attributed the falling-off in that trade to the Merchandise Marks Act, but the origin and commencement of that falling-off was the famous dock strike some time in the eighties, when British ships were diverted to Continental ports because the dockers refused to discharge them. in this country. Our foreign competitors realised their opportunity. They realised for the first time that goods which were then coming to Germany and France had formerly been sent to. the United Kingdom for transhipment, and the consequence was that legislation was enacted by foreign countries to deal with it. In France you had the Droit d'entrep[...]ts, and in Germany a line was started with a heavy subsidy to carry the goods direct to Germany instead of having them sent to the United Kingdom for transhipment.
That was the origin of the loss of the entrepot trade in this country. The War also did a certain amount of harm to that trade owing to the legislation and the Orders in Council which were enacted for the purpose of safeguarding this country and which, of course, were quite legitimate. We have undoubtedly lost a good deal of that business, hut. I cannot attribute any such loss or interference with trade wholly to the legislation of this country. We have an enormous direct trade in this country, and we have also the advantage of a large mercantile marine, and a Bill of this kind can in no way affect the international trade or the prosperity of our mercantile marine. However ridiculous some of the regulations may be, we cannot pretend that the Bill is going to affect our shipping trade. I am, and always have been an out-and-out Protectionist, but at the same time I believe I have a certain amount of common sense, and as a Protectionist I cannot see—excepting in the case of et.-tain manufactured goods and perhaps of agriculture of which others are more competent to speak than I—that any benefit is going to be derived from this system of marking goods. The right hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) stated that one of the reasons for the Merchandise Marks Act was to prevent fraud, but he stated—and with this I do not agree—that whether or not you had the Merchandise Marks Act, there were traders who would always perpetrate a fraud if they were to gain anything by it. I am afraid he knows very little of the commercial life of this country. I claim that the great majority of our traders are honest men and that there are many of them who, no matter what the benefit to be derived, would not condescend to perpetrate frauds or deceptions of any kind. The world trade, the bon. Member for Hillsborough said, was in jeopardy. I think I have stated that these regulations would in no way interfere with our world trade, but he said that one of the great fears was that this would lead to retaliation. I think hon. Members opposite forget the experience of the last 50 years. It was stated in this House more than 50 years ago, When Mr. Cobden wanted to introduce Free Trade, that if we adopted Free Trade, the whole world would follow. We have seen that that has not happened, and that the fear of retaliation has been the fear on our side that, 'whatever we might do, somebody would hit us very hard; and we have never taken the necessary steps to show our hands and to say to those who have piled up taxation against this country on manufactured and other goods that if they taxed our produce or goods, we would retaliate. I believe that if we were to say so, we should be able to get better conditions from our competitors than we are getting now, and that international trade, to the benefit of this country, would ensue if we were a little firmer in handling our opponents.
In regard to this Bill, I think the results will be rather farcical. I do not oppose the Bill. If the Government choose to make them selves look ridiculous, we cannot help it, but when they talk about the marking of produce from foreign countries, supposing, as is the case, we import something like 40,000 chests of butter from Denmark to London alone. It comes in cases, and the cases are to be marked outside, presumably, "Produced in Denmark," or whatever the terms may be. It goes to the retail shopper, and the shopkeeper breaks the case and takes out the contents in the form of a lump of butter. If every lump of butter has not been branded, the tradesman must put a ticket on: "Made in Denmark." The assistant will chop off a piece of butter and weigh out a pound, and it might be the piece which has the ticket attached to it. The consequence is that he will have to take the ticket off, and I do not know, but he may have some gum with which to stick it on to another piece, and that process will have to go on. Take a large cheese, It may come here with a mark on it, and, according to this Bill, it will have to show its place of production. Cheese is generally done up in gunny. A man may put a paper label on the cheese when he gets the gunny off, and the assistant may just cut that piece off and sell it, and he will have to have his gum bottle next to him and stick another label on.
Take eggs. The hon. Member for Hillsborough referred to Marseilles as the great entrepot for eggs. He may be correct. Personally, I do not know anything about the Marseilles market, but I do know that we get millions and millions of eggs in this country from China, and we get them from Egypt. The Egyptian egg is a very peculiar animal, because it is a very small egg, and I should like to know if the Board of Trade have kept a record of and have examined these millions of eggs to see if in each case the name of the chicken and the place it came from are put upon it. I should like to ask the Board of Trade whether, since they have been marking the place of origin of the eggs, the home production has increased, and what good has accrued to the farmer or agriculturist in this country through the marking of the eggs. In all those things, such as butter and eggs, it is notorious that we do not produce sufficient for the consumption of this country, and if the Government like to continue that system, I suppose there is no objection to it,
There is another article, in which I am very largely interested, and of which there is an import of something like 3,000,000 tons into this country. That article is oil, of which 3,000,000 tons come to this country, principally in bulk, and I would like to ask the Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Trade how he proposes that, when this bulk oil is dis charged from the steamers, it should be marked, because a great deal of that oil is distributed to the consumer to-day in bulk. It is a very curious fact in this connection that the Board of Trade should introduce a Bill which they say has for one of its objects the prevention of fraud. The Board of Trade do not realise that the Government themselves are perpetrating in the oil business the greatest fraud imaginable on the consumer. The reason of that is that everybody knows there is not any British oil produced, or not any great quantity of it. The whole of the petrol which comes into this country is produced in foreign countries, and the right hon. Member should remember that, although you blow off the petrol in Swansea and call it British, you are still defrauding the public, because it is foreign petrol just the same.
I saw that the Government advertised the other day, with a view no doubt to impressing the public, that they employed 20,000 people in the oil business. They wanted, presumably, to infer that those 20,000 people were employed in the refinement of the oil. If the Government in their business employ 20,000, the Anglo-American Oil Company must employ 25,000 at the very least. The bulk of these people employed by the Government and by the Anglo-American Oil Company are employed all over the country in the distribution and the canning of the oil and so forth, but my point is this, that the Government lose sight of the fact that, although all their oil comes from abroad, and they blow off the petrol in Swansea from same, they also import quantities from the United States, already refined, and, therefore, they also perpetrating a fraud upon the public, because they mark it "B.P." which means British Petroleum. Therefore, I think the President of the Board of Trade will realise—and I have spoken to him about it—that under Clause 1 this oil has to be marked, and nobody outside the Board of Trade, I should say, believes that it is British oil. All the other importers and everybody connected with the trade declare from the housetops that there is not any British oil, that it is all foreign. Therefore, why put the importers, or the consumers, or the retailers to the enormous trouble of marking their goods, which are not manufactured goods, but are natural produc tions, which they declare, and everybody outside the Board. of Trade knows, are not British products at all and never have been? I suggest, not only for the purpose of the oil, but for other purposes in the Bill, that Clause 1 should be deleted. You have in Clause 2 everything that is done in Clause 1. It is under Clause 2 that the Committees are to be instituted to which any demands for the marking of goods are to go, and I ask the President of the Board of Trade to consider the suggestion to delete Clause 1, because he has everything he wants in Clause 2.
I support this Bill primarily because I regard it as in the interests of the consumer, and as securing for this country for the first time that the consumers shall know that what they ask for they will get. Experience has shown that there is a great deal of substitution of foreign goods for British, and I think the right hon. Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) may rest satisfied that trade will not be unnecessarily interfered with, because, as I read the Bill, it will not be to the advantage of anybody, whether manufacturers or consumers, to apply the Measure to any goods, substances or products in which the substitution of foreign for British does not take place. I an free to confess that my real interest in the Bill is more in regard to agricultural produce than commercial goods, because my knowledge of the substitution that does take place in agricultural products is very considerable.
The House itself or its predecessors have already regularised this matter as far as agricultural products are concerned, because in 1923 they passed, by a large majority, the Second Reading of a Measure designed to deal with agricultural products. and to secure the objects to be attained by this Bill, and that Measure went to a Committee in which I took a very active part. We sat for 18 days, and listened to every objection that the ingenuity of hon. Members could imagine. At the end of that time the majority of the Committee were satisfied that there was no real substantial delay caused to trade or injury to trade by requiring goods to be marked before importation, and if it had not been for the accident of the dissolution at that, time, that Measure would have become law. In 1924, under the administration of hon. and right hon Gentlemen opposite, this Bill received, again by a considerable majority, a Second Reading as far as agricultural products were concerned.
I am not going to deal with the whole of the agricultural products—far from it. I will take two—meat and eggs. Is there anyone in this House who will deny that there is an immense amount of substitution now taking place of foreign meat, whether chilled or frozen, for British meat? Is there anyone in this House who will deny that at the present moment in this country, if you ask for English eggs you cannot make certain of getting them, and that in numbers of cases out of a dozen eggs, you will find some which are bad, because of the substitution of foreign eggs, which have come from all over the world and are sold here as British? Eggs come in almost hundreds of millions from China, Siberia and the North of Africa. They all come to this market. The trade is so carried on that they are. actually sent into our country markets, mixed with others, and sold as products of this country. It is a crying shame. On the Committee where we sat for so long, several Members of the party to which the right hon. Gentleman opposite belongs, supported us, because they said, as we said, that it is a monstrous thing that the working woman or the rich woman who does household shopping, when asking for British eggs, should have palmed off on her the foreign and inferior article. It is dishonest. This will put a stop to that.
I was rather surprised when I heard the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Morris) say that he did not believe this would benefit agriculture. It will benefit agriculture to this extent, taking the subject of eggs. The English egg is still the best egg you can buy, and English people believe it, and it has its sentimental and real value. It will not prevent the importation of foreign eggs, and no one wants it to do so. But what we do ask is that the foreign egg should be imported and sold as a foreign egg. The result will be that the English egg will command a better value, which the English producer does not get now, through dishonesty. We are told that this is going to interfere with trade. May I remind the House that in 1922, at a large international congress of farmers, held in Geneva, at which some 30 to 40 different countries were represented, a Resolution was passed by a very large majority that eggs before exportation should be marked with the country of origin. Before the Committee in 1923 we had statements from all sorts of producers that the mere cost of marking is a very small matter.
To-day, English and Scotch beef is still the best, and commands the best price in the British market. The farmer would benefit if he could make certain of getting that value. He cannot make, certain of getting it, because in a very large number of shops the English consumer who asks to be supplied with English or Scotch meat is palmed off with chilled or frozen meat from some other country. It is to prevent this dishonesty, and to secure that the consumer gets what he asks for, and, at the same time, benefit the British agricultural industry by giving full value and no more, that we, on behalf of the agricultural industry, are so strongly in favour of this Measure. My hon. Friend the Member for Putney (Mr. S. Samuel) made some observations just now about the egg industry. It has increased enormously in this country during the last few years. The. production of poultry and eggs is now a very large. industry in this country. It is a favourite amusement of cotton operatives in Lancashire to run a little poultry establishment of their own, and, to a man, they are the greatest supporters of this Measure for the marking of eggs imported into this country. I have not the slightest doubt that it will confer an immense benefit on the agricultural industry, as well as on the consumer. I have a little regret, as far as agriculture is concerned, that it is not made compulsory that the marking should he done prior to importation. My experience of the Bill we had before, and the discussion upon it, was that it would be practically necessary, certainly in the case of the two commodities with which I have dealt, that the marking should take place before importation. I do not propose to say anything further about that, but to ask the Minister of Agriculture very seriously to consider whether he will leave it to the decision of the Committee.
I have been in some doubt as to whether the Committees to be set up are the best for the purpose of securing the object the Minister has in view. If they are to be judicial, I do not quite under, stand, although, perhaps, on this point I am rather prejudiced, how you are to get a judicial frame of mind from people who have not had a legal training. If it is to be judicial, is there to be a legal inquiry, and are the parties to be represented by advocates, and a strictly judicial decision arrived at; or what is the form of inquiry to be? If they are to be laymen with trade experience, I should have thought that on the Agriculture Committee we ought to have somebody with knowledge of the agricultural industry, so that they might, from their own experience, know something of the value to the industry of the particular proposals coming before them, and I should be very glad to hear the fullest information the right hon. Gentleman can give us now as to the character of the gentlemen he proposes to put on these Committees, and the methods to be adopted. Particularly, I am very anxious to hear who, under this Bill, is to take the initiation of any movement to get the Committee set up or bring any substances before the Committee. Is it to be an individual, or is it to be some association or society, and how is it to be done, particularly in the case of agricultural products? The agricultural industry is not a well-organised one, and many of the people engaged in it are not very much used to appearing before Committees, or arguing their own case, or getting up their own case; nor have they the, means, in a very great measure, to do so. Is it all to be left to the National Farmers' Union? Is that the idea of the Minister? I do not think that would be satisfactory on the whole, although, no doubt, the National Farmers' Union would do it very well. I am rather surprised more has not been made by the commercial Members who have spoken on this point, as to who m to initiate the operation.
With these observations, I accept the Bill, although I should have much preferred the agricultural part kept separate from the other. In my experience of the agricultural community, it will do an immense amount of good, particularly to the smaller people in agriculture. It will not benefit the larger people to any considerable extent, but it will benefit enormously a very large number of people who live in our agricultural districts, and I hope the Minister will persist in carrying the Bill into law.
Earlier in the Debate, the hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris) seemed to derive a good deal of satisfaction from the fact that there was an Amendment in the name of the hon. Member for North Bradford (Mr. Ramsden) and myself as regards this particular Bill, but I should like to call his attention, and the attention of other hon. Members, to that particular Amendment, because it states quite clearly that, whilst approving of the principle of this Bill, we ask the House to decline to give a Second Reading to a Bill which would throw the onus of marking all goods, other than foodstuffs, on the retailers, and I am here speaking this evening on behalf of an organisation of retailers which embraces in its membership the bulk of the retailers of this country, who, while approving of this Bill in the main, do feel that this particular Clause of the Bill, which seems to throw the onus of marking upon the retailer should be deleted.
I once read a book on "Parliamentary Speaking" which told about the unfortunate Member who bad to sit hour after hour listening to a series of mixed speeches and hearing speaker after speaker steal his thunder and using up his arguments. Possibly I am in that somewhat unfortunate position this afternoon, but I am also in the fortunate position that many speakers, both from this side of the House where the Bill is being opposed, and on the other side of the House where it is being supported, have pointed out that this particular Clause ought to be reviewed, and, if possible, taken out of the Bill altogether. I want just for a moment or two to put the position to the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill as to how this provision will affect the retailer if it is carried out. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb), in a very careful and detailed criticism of the Bill, dealt with many sides of the question. With many of the things he said I do not agree, but I certainly do agree with the point he advanced that if the onus of marking the goods is on the retailer there is a great chance of a leakage through various people who attend our markets, who travel about and have no recognised place of business, and cannot, at any rate, be brought before any responsible inspector or official to discover whether they have marked the goods or not. There will be a distinct danger that a vast quantity of goods sold in these channels will never be marked at all.
Again, look at the difficulty the retailer will be in in marking certain classes of goods. In introducing the Bill this afternoon, the President of the Board of Trade did say that this difficulty was realised as regards cutlery and pottery. As to that argument, I want to point out that, though cutlery and pottery are very important, there are hundreds of other manufactured articles that will be just as difficult for the retailer to mark in his shop as cutlery and pottery. Take aluminium goods, for example, cast-iron hollow-ware, plated goods and others that could be mentioned. We are going to ask the retailers of the country, through their organisation, that these points should be considered. We say that the only sensible way is for goods to be marked at the source of manufacture. You get it then, and know what you are doing.
Take the case of textile materials. The only sensible way in which they can be marked so that the country of origin can he identified by the purchaser is for them to be marked at about every yard, for in dealing with dyed and finished goods it is quite a simple matter for them to be stamped with little superfluous effort, and no extra cost except the first cost of the die. If you put the onus of marking these particular textile goods upon the draper or retailer imagine his position! He will have to get a stock of hundreds of different kinds of dies to stamp his goods with, becauses he is dealing with goods from various places. On the other hand, the manufacturere in those places is only dealing with his own class of goods, and one stamp will do. Again, consider the great difficulty the retailer will be up against in dealing with other articles besides textile goods, and others that could be mentioned. I do hope that the President of the Board of Trade will give this matter very careful consideration. I believe that the arguments in favour of the retailer stamping are very few compared with the arguments against him having it to do.
I know what is really at the back of the whole thing. It is a question of trying to preserve the entrepot trade. The argument that has been advanced is that goods have been imported into this country marked with the country of their origin, Germany and so on, and having been re-exported to some other country, the people there have gone direct to Germany for the goods. I do not believe for one moment that that is a very strong point, particularly in view of the difference in quality between the goods of the two countries. But I do say this, that even if the right bon. Gentleman is desirous of doing something that will obviate that particular difficulty—if there is such a difficulty—it can be done without throwing upon the retailer of this country the onus of marking the goods. After all has been said and done, there are very few broken cases of goods re-exported. These are generally in full cases, and in bulk. It will be far easier to deal with them in this way: that the goods intended for re-export shall be packed in cases separate from those intended for sale in this country. I know something about importing and exporting. I know what I have said can be done quite easily. In conclusion, I do say this, that unless the President of the Board of Trade can give us an assurance that he will deal with this matter justly in Committee, that myself and other hon. Members associated with me will have to oppose the Second Beading of this Bill.
I desire to say that personally I very wholeheartedly support this Bill. I know that the scope of the Bill covers a great many industries. I want to deal with it as affecting the agricultural industry. I am aware, and I think others are aware, that the Minister of Agriculture has been subject to some criticism, and I want to take this opportunity of assuring him that the Government and himself, by introducing this Bill, have earned the gratitude of the whole of the agriculturists of the country. In my opinion this Measure, if carried, will beneficially affect the whole community both in their own interests as consumers and in their interests as producers. As consumers the people of this country desire the opportunity of purchasing their goods at the cheapest possible price. This Bill, since it does nothing to prevent the free importation of goods into this country, can do nothing to increase the price of foreign goods coming here. That is the first thing for the consumer to consider—cheapness. There is another desire to consider. What the consumers will desire is that they should get value for their money. When a consumer is paying money for an article that he buys, he wants to know that when he has paid for it, he gets what he is expecting to get—British goods. I submit that the consumer would rather pay a shilling for a good British article, and 6d. for an inferior foreign article, than pay 9d. for a mixture, in an unknown quantity, of the two.
I submit that this Bill is in the interests of the consumer. I suggest also that it is definitely in the interests of the producers themselves. I am prepared to admit this on behalf of the producer—and it is on behalf of the agricultural producer that I approach this Bill. The Bill will help the agricultural producer in this way: As I have just said, a consumer would prefer to pay is for a freshly-produced agricultural food than 6d. for a stale foreign article. This Bill will give the agricultural producer that shilling for his fresh article, and in that way it will definitely benefit the agricultural producer.
Some few years ago, I had the opportunity of listening to a speech by Mr. Bruce, the Prime Minister of Australia, in the course of which he suggested that the Legislature of this country should consider, first, the interests of the people of this country, secondly, the interests of the people of the Empire, and, lastly, the foreigner. I suggest that this Bill does consider first the interest of the people of this country. We on this side of the House, and I think hon. Members on the other side, have a keen desire to do all they can to help British industry. This Bill, as it is introduced to-day, will give the agriculturists that assistance which otherwise it would be impossible to give.
We agriculturists are in this position: We are producing agricultural products on the margin of the largest markets of the whole world. The English consumer buying foodstuff desires, and is prepared to pay for, freshly-produced foodstuffs. The British agriculturist can supply him with those fresh foods. This Bill is a legitimate and natural protection of the interests of the British producer in the fact that the consumer, after the passing of the Bill, will know, and be prepared to pay, a proper price for freshly-grown British agricultural produce.
I have no desire to prolong this Debate, but I have a great desire to see the passage of this Bill. In conclusion, I should like to suggest to the hon. Baronet the Member for Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) that this Bill does not only affect large agricultural producers, but it will give immediate benefit and help to those people whom all sides of the House want to help, and that is the smallholders of the country. It was mentioned by the hon. Baronet that the smallholder is producing eggs. I am not quite sure whether it is within the knowledge of the House that the value of the eggs and poultry produced in this country exceeds the value of the wheat produced in this country. I suggest that this Measure will help very largely the smallholder, and I want to say to the Minister that, in bringing forward this Bill, he has the unreserved and wholehearted thanks of the whole of the agricultural community.
It will doubtless be a relief to the House to escape from the agricultural atmosphere. I am neither competent nor desirous of dealing with that aspect of the Bill. It will be my duty to support the Second Reading of the Bill—though I hope to see it amended—and by arguments, I imagine, of a somewhat different character to those already used. I want to say one or two words about the first Clause and about other sections which have already been criticised by more speakers than one, including that section putting upon the retailer the duty of marking the goods. As the House will possibly anticipate, the subject with which I am most concerned in this matter is cutlery. This Bill does not go far enough to meet the case of the Sheffield cutler. The first Clause says only:
It shall not be lawful to sell … goods which bear any name or trade mark being, or purporting to be, the name or trade mark of any manufacturer … in the United Kingdom.
The way the Sheffield industry is hit is not by the forging of a Sheffield firm's
name or trade mark, but by placing upon the goods the word "Sheffield," because Sheffield is in this happy position, that owing to the excellence of its cutlery throughout many centuries it has acquired a reputation for its goods which does not depend upon the name of any individual manufacturer in the city, but upon the name of the city itself. It is well known that Sheffield workers, as well as Sheffield manufacturers, upon the whole, decline to produce rubbish, that what they produce is good stuff of good steel and well made. I dare say the Sheffield worker has his faults, like other people, but upon the whole he is a most conscientious worker. John Ruskin, when he wanted to present some of his treasures to some city in this country, presented them to Sheffield because, he said, it was the home of honest work. Now the honest Sheffield workman is being defrauded continually, and continuously, by the fact that the word "Sheffield," or some other mark which cannot be distinguished from the word "Sheffield," is placed upon cutlery sold both in this country and abroad. I would like to see the Government amend Clause I so as to include the cases which I am now quoting. I am putting this forward not in the interests of a handful of manufacturers. I was originally asked to say something about this by the past Secretary of the Cutlers' Trade Union. He told rile, and I have no reason to doubt it, that if all the cutlery which is going about the world with the name "Sheffield" on it had really been made in Sheffield, not only would there not be a single unemployed man in the cutlery trade there, but there would be a large addition to the number of workpeople.
We hear a good deal about the entrepot trade. I do not want to say anything disrespectful about the entrepot trade, but this not infrequently happens, that not too scrupulous people engaged in the entrepôt trade also continually defraud Sheffield. It is done in this way. Someone writes from, let us say, South America to a merchant in London, say, and asks for some English cutlery. English cutlery means, of course, Sheffield cutlery. What happens? The merchant finds that he can get cutlery, or stuff that looks like cutlery —the only fault it has is that it will not cut after the first time—from abroad, and he imports it. Perhaps it bears no name at all, or perhaps it has on is a name which looks like "Sheffield," but is not an infringement of the name or trade mark of any particular Sheffield cutler. The merchant repacks that cutlery in boxes bearing English words, and sends it, out to his customer, who imagines that he is getting Sheffield cutlery when, in fact, he is getting cutlery from Solingen or elsewhere. I consider that to be an absolute fraud upon the cutlers of Sheffield, and it does their city an enormous amount of harm.
The person abroad has asked for English cutlery because he believes that he will receive a good article, well worth his money, and better than any other cutlery. Some of this rubbish which has been imported from Solingen is sent to him at, if you please, English prices, for the entrepot gentleman has obtained English prices for his fraudulent commodities. When the buyer gets the cutlery home and uses it he says: "This is not very good; this is rubbishy stuff. The English are declining in the excellence of their wares. No more English cutlery for me. Next time I will buy German; it is much cheaper." And the next time he does buy German; and so we see how the transaction reacts to the detriment of the Sheffield cutler. I do not want to hurt the entrepot merchant, or whatever he calls himself, but I do object to his defrauding even a foreigner, who buys goods believing them to be Sheffield goods, and also to his robbing Sheffield of an order. I would like to see something introduced into this Bill to stop the activities of these entrepot traders. I do not know why it is that whenever we speak of the entrepot trader in this House even Ministers speak in hushed tones and with an awed voice. True, the entrepot trade is valuable, but we do not live on it. If the great mass of our people are to be fed and clothed, and to receive wages upon which they can adequately maintain their wives and families, we must look after our producers, and I am trying to look after my Sheffield cutlers.
There is also a provision in the Bill requiring goods to he marked by the retailer. As my hon. Friend the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) has said, how in the world can the retailer be expected to stamp a knife with its place of origin? It cannot be done. How can he be expected to stamp pottery or anything which is hard or brittle? Of course, he cannot be expected to. The onus of doing that ought to be thrown upon the wholesaler. I do not altogether absolve the retailer from blame. There are cases in which retailers palm off foreign goods of an inferior make as British-made goods of a superior class. I will not go into the delicate question of eggs, but it is a rather cruel thing, when a poor person with a sick child wants a fresh egg, and a really fresh egg can only be a, British egg, and pays a very considerable sum for it—it may be 3d. or 4d. at certain times of the year—that he should get an egg which has been laid by an emaciated hen in Siberia. I am surprised to find anybody defending that. However, I do not take up the case of agricultural produce, because agriculturists can take care of themselves; but I do say that I shall ask for, and I shall expect to receive, and I am sure I shall receive, sympathetic consideration from the President of the Board of Trade when amendments are proposed in Committee to meet the case that I, at any rate, have at heart, the ease of the honest Sheffield cutler.
In this Debate many hon. Members have spoken of this Bill as a Measure to prevent fraud on the general public. I fully agree with all, or certainly most, of what they have said but there is another aspect to this Measure. The hon. and learned Baronet the Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) pointed out the undoubted advantages of this Bill to the agricultural community, in that it will enable people very largely, and we hope entirely, to distinguish home produce from produce of an inferior quality. In that way it will greatly improve the trade of British agriculturists. That is one of the chief reasons why I support this Bill. In the past we may have suffered a good deal because we have not pushed our own produce as much as we could. The "Buy British Goods" campaign—this is the other side of the Bill, as contrasted with the fraud side—is a campaign which must have had the sympathy of every Member of this House. I am convinced it has had a very beneficial effect on industry, and I am sure will have still more beneficial results as time goes on. I am supporting this Bill because the marking of imported goods will undoubtedly back up that great campaign.
Certain hon. Members oppose this Bill, and on the Order Paper one sees their reasons set forth. All those reasons are based upon the worship of the fetish of Free Trade which, I respectfully suggest to them, is as dead as the Dodo. One of the Amendments talks about increasing the price of food. Our recent experience of tariffs, under safeguarding and other legislation, shows that they have not increased the price of goods to any extent. Those who worship this dead fetish of Free Trade seem to think that articles which may have a tariff put on them are the only ones likely to increase in price. They seem to think they are the only things which constitute the cost of living; they forget that there are such things as rates and taxes, which have a very considerable bearing on that fetish. There is another Amendment to the effect that this Bill constitutes another step in the policy of Protection initiated by the present Government. If this is a policy of Protection, then all I can say is "Excellent," and I wish it the very best of luck.
I want particularly to treat with that side of the Bill affecting agriculture. There are many foodstuffs sold in this country which are sold as made and produced in this country but which are entirely made up, when one comes to trace things out, of raw material which is not British at all but imported. I refer to such things as canned or glassed tongues, and there are also bacon rolls and hams, all made up in this country out of the carcases and raw materials imported from abroad. I respectfully suggest to the Minister of Agriculture that these commodities should be catered for. It has been pointed out to me that they come in under Clause 8 of the Bill, which defines imported goods. It refers to these goods, quite briefly, as goods which have undergone appreciable change by reason of manufacturing processes since arrival in the United Kingdom. That, if I may suggest it, looks like leaving the producer, in other words the farmer, absolutely outside the picture altogether. It does not seem to me to be backing him up or to be giving him quite a fair chance. What I suggest is that those sorts of goods, made up in this country out of imported raw materials, such as pigs' carcases, should be marked in some way so that the public may have a chance of knowing whether their origin is foreign or whether it is of best British.
That, I think, would very much stimulate the agricultural industry. Certainly it would very much stimulate the agricultural industry in the constituency which I have the honour to represent. The class of farming, namely, dairy farming and stock breeding, which goes on to a very large extent in that constituency, is a very suitable subject for the proposals of this Bill. I saw in one paper the other clay, for example, that the import of pigs' carcases for the year 1925 amounted to something like £50,000,000. But more important than that was that it was anticipated that in the current year that would grow. The mere fact of this importing of £50,000,000 worth of this commodity may not be of so much importance in itself, when one takes into consideration the enormous population we have to support, but what I view with a certain amount of apprehension is the fact that the authorities anticipate an increase in that import value. I suggest, therefore, that there is great room in that particular small branch itself for a great stimulus in home production, and I am quite certain that by marking such products as I have mentioned—those made up in this country out of foreign raw material—those who go in for this stock breeding and dairy farming would be very much stimulated in their industry. That is not only the case with agricultural produce, for one can mention a great many other products in this country to which the same thing applies. For instance, the other day I was shown a fountain pen which I wanted to buy, but which was made up of foreign raw material and assembled in this country, and it was passed off as of British origin. I think I need hardly say that it is still in the shop.
To turn once more to whether the Bill is for the protection of the public against fraud, it is a question of how the British purchasing public can help, and I think that is a not unimportant side. It may not be the very hard, business and economic side, but it is a side which I suggest is deserving of consideration by all concerned. I do not think that this Bill can really have the full effects which we hope to get and believe we shall get, unless the British purchasing public, whenever they can, insist on having our own home products. It is perfectly true, of course, that some of our British products cost a little more than the products from abroad, but it seems to me that everybody who can afford the more expensive British products should buy them. "Expensive," perhaps, is not quite the right word; perhaps "costly" would be better, because it is absolutely well known throughout the world that there is no country which can turn out better products than we can. Therefore, they are not expensive because they are much more lasting and better. But however more costly they may be than foreign goods, it is up to everybody to back up this Bill by buying the British product, and buying it always. That may seem to some people rather like trying to perpetrate on this honourable House a certain amount of sob-stuff, but I think it is a point which cannot be too often driven home. We have got to put this Bill through, and we must couple with it the strongest possible appeal to the patriotism and loyalty of the British public to back up their own people. Surely it is a good enough incentive, when you pay perhaps a bit more for the British goods, to feel you are doing some thing to further the interests of your own people and helping to reduce unemployment and to pay good wages. This Bill must be coupled with an appeal to the patriotism and loyalty of the people, and I am quite certain such an appeal will not be made in vain.
I wish to support this Bill, because I believe it is one of the few practical things which we in this House can do to help along the farmer in the very bad times he is experiencing. I believe that the produce of the British farmer to-day is the finest in the world, and that if we can only get his produce marked as British, there will be an increased demand, for directly you get that increased demand, it will help to get him over his bad time.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) said he did not think there was any hurry for this Bill. With all due respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I do not agree with him. Only about a fortnight ago, I was in my constituency, which is a very large agricultural one, and what nearly every farmer said to me was, "Whatever you do, try to persuade the Government and try to use your influence with the Government to hurry up this Bill and make it law." The right hon. Gentleman also said that there was no demand for this Bill in the country. There is a great demand for the Bill in the country. Every single farmer, and every single agricultural labourer in this country is demanding this Bill to be put on the Statute Book as quickly as possible. I believe the agricultural industry is just over 10 per cent. of the whole community, that is to say, between 4,000,000 and 5,000,000 people, or very nearly as many people who belong to the trade unions in this country. The right hon. Gentleman also said, or words to this effect, that we were toying with Protection, but I can only assure him that there is nothing in this Bill which anybody conscientiously could say had a smattering even of Protection in it. It is entirely advertisement. This Bill is an advertisement for British products, an advertisement for that great cry "Buy British Goods," a cry in which I am sure everybody in this House really believes.
The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham said that we were going to sell the country a pup. I quite agree with him, but what he forgets is that this pup one day is going to grow up into a big dog. Perhaps one day that dog may have puppies. I shall welcome every puppy that that dog can produce, particularly if those puppies are going to be of the old stock, the old Merchandise Marks Bill dog. What is more, when this puppy grows up into a dog I believe it will give the dishonest foreign importer a jolly good bite.
The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris) said he was glad that there were many cheap jam pots coming into this country. I deplore every cheap jam pot which is imported into this country, for I believe we can make those jam pots as cheaply or cheaper than any other country in the world. It was only two years ago I was informed by Mr. Tickler, who, I am told, is the biggest jam pot maker in this country, that if only he could get enough orders to put the whole of his machinery in working order he could produce jam pots cheaper than anybody else.
The hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) made a very wise remark—that the farmer should graze his land more than he does. I quite agree. What I do object to is the rotten Russian egg, about a fortnight old, being imported into this country, pretending to be a fresh egg laid by a British Buff Orpington or a British White Wyandotte. It is for this reason, and because I believe if we put this Bill on to the Statute Book we shall he able to help the farmer a little, that I ask all hon. Members to go into the Lobby in its support.
Lieut. - Colonel Sir FREDERICK HALL:
I want to join with those who have been welcoming the introduction of this Hill, and, although I am aware that the representative of the Government will not be able to commit himself to the extent we all desire in regard to our suggestion, I trust everyone will support the Second Reading of the Bill. I notice that in Clause 8 it is provided that "imported goods" does not include
(a) goods which since the date of their importation have undergone a substantial change by reason of a manufacturing process applied to them within the United Kingdom.
I would like some definition of what is meant by "a substantial change." Take, for example, the case of the importation of component parts of various machines or a motor car. When a motor car is brought over here in its component parts it is not really a motor car, but if the component parts are sent here, and the car is built here, you cannot call that a British motor car because the bulk, at any rate, of its parts have been manufactured in some other country, probably under conditions which my hon. friends belonging to the Labour party would not recognise in this country. I think that is a point which will require very careful consideration when the Bill is being considered in Committee. Although we have every desire to lay down that British goods should be sold as British goods, and see that they are British goods, I suggest that under the provisions of this Bill the danger to which I have referred could easily occur.
I appreciate what has been said that it is practically impossible for the retailer of goods in many of these cases to know where those particular goods have come from, and if all the penalties of this Bill are to be imposed upon a small shopkeeper who has not been able to ascertain where the goods were manufactured then it is a very serious matter, and it places the retailer in a. very invidious position. I see no difficulty about insisting that the goods should be marked where they are manufactured, and there would at any rate be no difficulty in carrying out this marking in the case of cutlery and pottery. Surely it is not difficult, when goods of this kind are being manufactured, to provide a stencil and have the goods plainly marked "Made in Sheffield." I think in that way you might overcome many of the difficulties. If you take the case of a small dealer in the country who wishes to offer wares for sale which he has bought from a British manufacturer, how is he to know whether they are really British goods or not? You cannot expect such a man to mark every one of his wares with a piece of chalk "Made in England." "Made in Ireland," or "Made in Scotland," as the case may be.
When the goods are being finished in the potteries surely it is an easy thing to stamp them as "British Made." I remember what happened when the previous Bill dealing with this subject was being dealt with in Committee, and I know it was afterwards pigeonholed. I am glad, therefore, that this Bill has been brought forward, and I hope every endeavour will be made in order that this Measure may be put on the Statute Book without delay. I suggest to the President of the Board of Trade that the point I have raised upon Clause 8 should be very carefully considered and remodelled, and I hope during the Committee stage the Government will give that point further consideration. I trust every hon. Member will support the Second Reading of this Measure because we all desire to do everything we can to help our own industries and secure that the goods offered for sale are what they purport to be.
I think the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb) may be presumed to have expressed the view of the Labour party on this Bill. The earlier part of the right hon. Gentleman's speech was devoted to an argument to the effect that, because the Bill did not prevent all kinds of fraud, he did not see his way to support it. Surely that was merely an argument against the Title of the Bill. This Measure deals with merchandise marks only, not with fraud. The right hon. Gentleman argued on the old lines of Free Trade and Protection, but I am quite sure I should not be permitted by the Chair to go into those arguments. I think, however, I am entitled to say that those on this side who are supporting the Measure are not quite so benighted as the right hon. Gentleman has represented in regard to this question. The right hon. Gentleman said that he and his friends objected to the setting-up of the two Committees provided for in the Bill, and he stated that he would have been quite satisfied if instead of these Committees being appointed all questions relating to merchandise marks and what goods those marks should apply to should be decided entirely by the Department concerned. It is an extraordinary doctrine that we should say that the executive Department of the Government should in fact carry out the legislation of this House. When I found that was the line of his argument I could not understand his objection to the Committees because I have always understood that right hon. Gentlemen above the Gangway have always regarded our Parliamentary machinery as cumbrous and slow. My view is that if they want a quicker method they could not have a better one than that which is provided in this Bill under which can be decided any great group of questions. My objection to this Measure is in regard to its form. So far as the objects of the Bill are concerned, that is, the marking of foreign produce to enable British citizens to know exactly what they are buying, I give it my wholehearted support.
I cannot agree, however, that it is satisfactory to empower two Departments to set up a couple of permanent Committees to whom are to be delegated the duty of deciding what classes of goods should be marked and what method should be adopted, and all this House will have to say in the matter would he by means of Orders-in-Council, copies of which are to be laid on the Table of this House for
the usual period. That is an abandonment of Parliamentary control over these matters. I understand that the members of these Committees are to be remunerated upon a scale decided by the Department, who have power to retain or dismiss them, and if there was a change of Government I see nothing to prevent a new Government dismissing all these gentlemen who have been carrying out these duties on the Committees, and substituting another set of gentlemen to represent the Government on these Committees. I find that in Sub-section (2) of Clause 5 it is provided:
(2) An Order-in-Council made under this Act may, on a representation to His Majesty by the appropriate Department, but without any inquiry by or report from a Committee, be revoked or varied by a subsequent Order made in accordance with the provisions of this Section.
That means that the Department have the power of deciding whether they are going to carry out what has been decided by the Committee, and what they will embody in the Orders-in-Council, and then the only method by which the House will be able to deal with such Orders will be when they are placed on the Table of the House for the usual period. Unless hon. Members are very much alive in this matter they will know very little about these Orders, and they will have no effective control whatever under the ordinary procedure of this House. Our constituents in all parts of the country are deeply interested in this Bill, and they are asking us many questions about it. They want to know how their trade will be affected under the provisions of this Bill, and in regard to these questions it is quite impossible for us to give them an answer.
I have had representations made to me by the furniture manufacturing trade in my constituency through the Federation of Furniture Manufacturers, and they asked me certain questions. I had to tell them that, although I have carefully read the Bill, it is perfectly impossible for me to tell them how its provisions will affect their particular trade. I understand if this Bill goes through it will be the duty of the appropriate committees to decide these points. These gentlemen wanted to know what special protection would be afforded the furniture trade, seeing that it had already suffered so much from furniture manufactured abroad, copying exactly English designs sent from this country. I was told of an instance where a suite of furniture was bought from a manufacturer in my constituency, and it was afterwards taken to pieces to get exactly the section of the mouldings, and then a full-sized detail drawing of it was sent out to Czechoslovakia where the design was copied and there was nothing on that furniture to indicate that it was manufactured abroad.
As regards that case, the question put by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Dulwich (Sir F. Hall) does arise It is more or less a Committee point, but it is a very vital one—the question as to what will constitute substantial change. People will not import, and do not now import, wardrobes and things of that kind into this country, occupying an enormous amount of space, in the form of a wardrobe. They come into this country in different parts, the sides, the back, and so on, and are just set up here. Does that constitute substantial change? If so, there is nothing in the provisions of this Bill to show that furniture and the furniture trades can have any protection from the Bill at all. Then there is the further question as to how these articles are to be marked. Will the Committee be satisfied with marking the packages in which they are imported, or how are they to be marked when they are sold by the retailer? We are in the position, which, I think, is an ignominous position, as Members of this House, of having to say that we cannot give anyone any information as to whether they will have the advantages of the Bill, or whether they will not, what the conditions as to marking will be, or anything whatever about it. I have here an advertisement of a large firm in London, which states: "The 1926 bedroom, in antique brown oak." There is nothing there to say whether it is foreign or whether it is English, but from the designs anybody looking at it would infer that it was an English suite of furniture. As a matter of fact, however, it is all foreign; not a particle of it is manufactured in this country; and naturally the people who are interested in this trade want to know what is going to be done under this Bill.
I would ask the Minister one further question. In Clause 3 it is provided that there shall be set up two Committees. One is going to deal with agricultural produce. That is a pretty big job, but it is nothing to the work the other Committee will have to carry out. One Committee of not less than three and not more than five gentlemen—I am glad it is a small Committee—is to consider all the manufacturing trades of this country. I wonder when that Committee will give its last decision. It will not be a question of months; it will be years, and I think that this provision alone shows that the Government cannot really have considered how vast will be the scope of the work entrusted to this single body of gentlemen. We know the delay that takes place under the Safeguarding White Paper procedure, but it is nothing to what would happen under this Bill. All trades will want to come before this one Committee and get their cases heard, and no doubt there will be—I know there will be—all kinds of complicated questions that will have to be decided. I should hope that the Government will set up at least half a dozen Committees, one or perhaps two to deal with agriculture, and at least four or five, sitting concurrently, to deal with the rest of the trades of the country. It is perfectly clear that nothing would be so unfortunate as that this procedure should be dribbled out for months, that people should be kept waiting, and that the whole of the trades of the country should not know whether or not they are to have any protection under this Measure.
I notice that my right hon. Friend the Member for Wells (Sir R. Sanders) congratulated the Government on the ingenuity shown in the Bill. There is a saying: "Once bitten, twice shy," and I think that probably that is what is at the back of the Government mind in this matter. We had in 1923 an agricultural Merchandise Marks Bill, and we know that it was kept upstairs in Committee for an unconscionable time by three hon. Members only, one of whom is now in the House, namely, the hon. and gallant Member for Central Hull (Lieut.-Commander Kenworthy). The other two were Mr. Pringle and Mr. Hogge. If the hon. Member for South-west Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris) is thinking of being on that Committee and filling the position that was occupied by those two gentlemen who are no longer Members of the House, I would direct his attention to the warning as to his probable fate if he follows the same line of obstructive tactics. It is rather significant, and I think the Government really ran away rather unnecessarily. Out of that triumvirate who kept the Bill for about 20 days in Committee, only one survived the Election.
I am certain that there is a strong demand, not only from the manufacturers and agriculturists of this country, but that I was right in saying, as I did to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham, that the fact that the productive industries of the country are demanding it is prima facie evidence that it is in the public interest. After all, manufacturing in this country means employment, and it is therefore in the interest of all classes of weekly and daily wage-earners. But, quite apart from that, it is in the interest of the consumer, and, after all, there are not two distinct classes, consumers and producers, because people cannot consume if they do not produce. They are one and the same people; they are all citizens of this country, and I believe it has been made perfectly clear what their desire is in their own interests, namely, that they should know what they are buying, and should have the opportunity of doing everything they can to direct their purchases in the direction of finding employment for themselves and their fellows in this country.
We do not support this Bill because we object to imports. We think that this Bill will have some minute effect—at least, that is my opinion—on the character of imports, but it will, on the whole, tend to make the sale of fully-manufactured, goods and of agricultural produce larger in this country if they are produced here. Therefore, it will tend—and this is all that is intended—to make our imports of such a character as to do less harm to the interests of the employed classes in this country, and it will make our exports more largely of such a character as to give the greatest amount of employment here. I fully support the Bill, but I do not like the method on which it is constructed. I do not like to see the House handing over its legislative duties to a couple of Commit tees appointed, remunerated, retained or dismissed, at the will of a single Department of the Executive. I do not think that that is a good prece- dent, and it is one which I sincerely hope will not be followed either by right hon. Gentlemen on this side or by right hon. Gentlemen on the other side, should they cross the Floor of the House and have the responsibility for the government of the country.
Those who have fought the long battle for the truthful marking of foreign competing products in our market must have felt encouraged by the reception with which this Bill has met this afternoon. There has been little criticism of it except on details; the mass of points which have been raised are points specially suitable to the Committee stage. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Seaham (Mr. Webb), who moved the rejection of the Bill, was surprisingly mild in his criticism. He accepted Clause 1. He said he wanted to stop fraud, and he spoke of it almost contemptuously as of no account. He may not realise that there is a very large business on the part of big and reputable firms in this country in bringing in foreign unmarked produce, and quite honestly selecting that produce and selling it under their own warrant. I think it is very important that that form of business should be controlled, and that where these foreign goods are selected, the purchaser, anyhow, should be told what he is buying.
The right hon. Gentleman complained that the Bill did not go further. He said it was wrong that people who bought Canterbury lamb should not realise that it came from New Zealand He surely ought to support the Second Beading of this Bill, because if a Committee inquires into the marking of foreign and Dominion meat, and recommends a method by which it can be done, the right hon. Gentleman in future will have no doubt as to whether the Canterbury lamb which he, eats comes from New Zealand or from the South Downs. He condemned the Bill chiefly for not going far enough. He said he wanted it to apply to all goods of foreign origin masquerading as British—
As the Bill stands, it cannot be done on importation, except in the case of agricultural produce, and by far the largest part of the field is left to he dealt with, as the Bill stands, after importation. If all that divides us is whether it should be done before or after importation, the right hon. Gentleman's doubtful criticism of the Bill may, I hope, be turned into wholehearted support if he is able to press and. get acceptance for his point of view in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman, of course, could not divest himself of his Free Trade prejudices. He imagined contrary to the view of other Free Traders who have spoken, that it was going to be a great interference with trade. I cannot agree in that view. There is no interference with trade except in regard to informing the purchaser of the origin of the goods with which he is supplied. It is not an interference with trade to prevent misrepresentation, and, surely, the purchaser is the best judge of his requirements. The right hon. Gentleman told us that from his experience he found that foreign goods were often best. If that be his view, there is nothing in this Bill to prevent him from buying foreign goods. On the contrary, he will find that it will be easier than it has been in the past for him to indulge that peculiar taste for foreign as compared with British goods.
Really, most of the criticism of this Bill from the benches opposite has been based, I think on misunderstanding. The hon. Member for Hillsborough (Mr. A. V. Alexander) talked of Committees legislating in this matter, which ought not to be withdrawn from the control of Parliament. There is no foundation for the suggestion that Committees are legislating, and this criticism of Committees comes strangely from hon. Gentlemen opposite, because day by day they are asking us to set up Committees, and they seem to think there is some peculiar virtue in getting a Committee together to decide on matters which they bring forward in this House. The Debate has, of course, produced the contradictory point of view that the work of these Committees ought not to be left to the Department, but that it should be laid down in the Bill once and for all what products shall be covered. That, I think, was the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Barnstaple (Mr. B. Peto). I know he is most anxious to see the effective marking of merchandise, but from his experience of these former Bills, which were narrow, I think he must realise that if we were to cover the wide field in which marking will probably be found to be advisable it would not be a matter of a few weeks in Committee but it would be quite impossible to get through a comprehensive Bill of that kind this Session. If it was not practicable to pass the modest proposal for the marking of meat, eggs and cheese which was brought forward last Session, far less would it be possible by Schedule to deal with the long list of articles and the details of how they were to be marked before a tribunal like a Standing Committee upstairs.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Grinstead (Sir H. Cautley) was concerned that the tribunal which we propose to set up is to be an impartial body, and not a representative body. We have carefully considered that matter but it is clear that you would be landed in endless difficulty if you tried to get a representative committee to consider all these points. It is certain that no Committee would, in its personnel, satisfy the various views that have been expressed in this House to-day. If you once begin to give representation to one side of the industry, you would be landed in great difficulty as to where to stop, and I am certain the only fair way is to set up an impartial tribunal and let the evidence of the various parties concerned be laid before it for its consideration. In that way only shall we get away from the charge of unfair representation in which we should inevitably involve ourselves if we tried to set up committees which would cover all the interests involved.
The Debate has produced a certain amount of doubt as to what these Committees would do. It has also been asked how the machinery would be set in motion. In the ordinary way, responsible trade organisations will probably make representations. When a case for consideration is brought forward by a substantial and representative demand from the industry concerned, the Department will give a remit to the Standing Committee asking them to consider the matter in all its, aspects, the practical possibility of marking and the methods of administration, to consider any possible prejudice to the interests of various sections of the trade and all other relevant circumstances. Naturally, evidence on all those matters will be necessary. I think that is obvious from the wording of the Bill, because clearly no Committee could advise us as to whether it is in the interest of the trade that foreign goods should be marked until they have heard all the sections of the industry concerned, and when the Committee has reached its conclusions, the responsibility will be first upon the Ministry concerned and then upon the Government. It is not to be expected that the remit which will be given to the Committee will produce a simple yes or no. We shall, no doubt, get a reasoned report, giving the difficulties and the solutions, and on that report the Department concerned will make their decision and come to Parliament.
The hon. Member for South-West Bethnal Green (Mr. Harris) was almost alone in voicing the interest of the foreign producer. I cannot understand the concern that is shown to give the foreigner an illegitimate benefit in our market. The foreigner has no squeamishness in this respect. He is not afraid of taking steps to prevent our goods being represented as of home origin in his market, and surely we are fully justified in doing the same. Foreign countries have far more stringent regulations in this respect than we at present possess. The United States of America, in Section 304a of their Tariff Act provide that
Every article imported into the United States which is capable of being marked, stamped, branded, or labelled without injury at the time of its manufacture or production shall be marked, stamped, branded, or labelled so as to indicate the country of origin—
and there are heavy penalties for any infringement. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will distrust the example of the United States as a Protectionist country. So let me come to Denmark, a Free Trade country like ourselves. Under the Act passed two years ago, the Danish Minister of Commerce, after conferring with the principal organisations of Danish business life, determined that certain goods may only be sold or offered for sale with a statement as to whether
the goods are Danish or foreign, or of their place of production or origin, and already many orders have been made. The following products among others are dealt with—electric machinery, electric meters, sheet iron, kitchen and household goods, matches, tombstones, and many other articles. If these other countries find it to their advantage to prevent corresponding unfair competition by foreign goods in their market, I really do not think we need be afraid of retaliation if we assume the same right.
The hon. Member for Blackburn (Sir S. Henn) asked why it was that we had not accepted the recommendation of the Imperial Economic Committee about marking Dominion produce with the Dominion of origin as well as the comprehensive and general term "Dominion product." The difficulty of accepting that recommendation is that we could hardly apply it to the Dominions without applying it to foreign countries as well. We should strongly resent the action of any foreign country that refused to let us put on our produce, and be satisfied by putting on our produce, that it was the manufacture of the United Kingdom. The hon. Member mentioned the case of California, and he said it was unsatisfactory that raisins came in just marked "Californian raisins." That case really does not supply any argument for the course he recommends, because, under the Bill, in the case of any produce from California which is made the subject of marking, it will not be possible to go on marking merely "Californian," because California is not a foreign country or State. If marks are applied to such produce it will be marked as either foreign produce or produce of the United States, and that, I think, completely disposes of the difficulty the hon. Member has in mind. After all, we cannot in this Bill hope to teach people geography. That is not the object of the Bill. All we want to do is to see that people know whether they are buying British, Dominion or foreign goods, and the system of marking proposed in the Bill should achieve the object. [An HON. MEMBER: "How do you mark raisins? "] Of course, they would be marked on the container.
The hon. Member also asked why the Dominions Office was not given a nomination to the Standing Committee for agricultural and horticultural produce. The reason for that is that the Committee is to be impartial. If it were a matter of representing all interests, there might be a case for giving a representative to the Dominions, but, as the Committee is impartial, the Dominions will get a fair hearing by putting forward evidence. Naturally, we shall see that the personnel of the Committee is suitable for hearing these cases, and we shall make sure that my right hon. Friend who represents the interests of the Dominion is satisfied as to our choice. The hon. Member for Putney (Mr. Samuel Samuel) raised certain difficulties with regard to oil. Those difficulties about oil are before the Board of Trade, and my right hon. Friend assures me that he is prepared to meet them in Committee. As to the other points of the hon. Member, most of them assumed that the Committee would come to very absurd conclusions, and I do not think that is a reasonable assumption. If we get the right sort of Committee, presumably they will avoid the foolish mistakes he suggests. The hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Womersley) mentioned the difficulty which would confront retailers if they had to mark goods themselves. The President of the Board of Trade, in his opening speech, made it clear that he was keeping an open mind as to the claim that had been put forward for extending the discretion of marking before importation so as to include manufactured articles, and I think really my hon. Friend's case is more suitable to be thrashed out in Standing Committee than on the Second Reading of the Bill.
The right hon. Gentleman who opened the Debate for the Opposition told us that this Bill was "selling a pup to agriculture." I think the answer to that is that agricultural Members ought to know their own business, and, after all, there is a long series of Measures, going, back to 1896, promoted by the agricultural interest to secure the marking of competing products. In 1896 a Bill received a Second Reading in this House by 239 votes to 86 for marking meat and cheese. Since then the agricultural representatives have never slackened their efforts to get this measure of justice for our own home products. Of course, the problem for agriculture is less easy than it is for manufactured articles. because manufactures grade themselves naturally, whereas in the case of scattered agricultural products, from the very nature of the case, the grading offers great difficulty. We are quite aware that the best British agricultural products cannot be surpassed by any in the world, but it is no solution of our problem to be told, as we were told by the hon. Member for Hillsborough, that if the agriculturists want to solve the problem, they should go to Denmark. Denmark, dealing as it does with the export trade, only sends to our market the very best of her products. Our problem is to dispose, not merely of the best of our products, but also the worst, and to see that in disposing of these products we are not injuring the reputation of the best quality we produce.
I do not think that anyone can grudge agriculture this little measure of assistance. It is not a measure of spoon-feeding, because agriculture must clearly put forth a real effort if they are to get the benefit from this Bill. I am convinced that there is so much interest at the present time in the question of markets that our agricultural producers will rise to their opportunities. I believe that they will take advantage of this invitation, for the first time, to be allowed to stand on the merits of their productions. They realise, just as well as anybody who has spoken in this Debate and pointed out the difficulties, that the British farmer can only profit from this legislation if in quality, in regularity of stipples and in uniformity he can convince the British consumer by experience that British agricultural products are better than the competing products from other parts of the world.
Lieut. - Colonel LAMBERT WARD:
I should like— [HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"] I have sat here for four hours, and, so far, no Member representing any of the big important centres of this country has spoken. Perhaps the sympathetic reception upon which the Minister of Agriculture has congratulated himself was due to the fact that no one representing a. big seaport town in the North of England had hitherto been called.
Although at the recent meeting of the Association of Chambers of Commerce a resolution was carried in favour of this Measure, I think I am right in saying that the representatives of Liverpool, certainly the representatives of Newcastle and Hull, voted against the motion. It is my intention to support the Bill, in spite of the opposition of many of my constituents, because I consider it fair that the consumer should know what he is purchasing; but I do ask, and I should like to have an assurance, that the Act will not be enforced ad absurdum. I will only illustrate my point by one particular case—the import fruit trade. I should like it to be definitely laid down in the Measure, by a Clause introduced in Committee, that it shall be considered sufficient if the container, the case or the box in which the fruit is packed, is marked plainly and legibly with the place of origin. Otherwise, we shall find ourselves in difficulties, and considerable hardship will be inflicted on the import fruit trade in deciding which articles are to be marked and which not.
Take the case of oranges. At the present time, it may not be necessary to mark them, but it is obviously the intention in future to differentiate between Empire products and foreign products. In that case they will have to be marked. Unless it be laid down that it is sufficient that the case shall be legibly marked, the question will arise whether each individual orange must be marked. The same argument applies to bananas and apples. In the case of eggs, each individual egg must be marked with the place of origin. If it is possible to mark eggs it is equally possible to mark apples. [HON. MEMBERS: "No!"] I admit that it would detrimentally affect the sale of apples, especially in the case of people who hold the apple in the hand and bite it. It is possible to mark apples, and that will have to be done unless it is definitely laid down in the Act that only the box is to be marked. If we are to mark apples, I suppose we shall have to mark potatoes. If we mark potatoes, then I suppose we shall have to mark asparagus—to mark each stick—and that would have to be done unless we get an assurance that it is not intended.
The only guarantee we have that this Act will not be carried ad absurdum is the protection that the Committees will give us. Committees which are nominated by the Minister of Agriculture are not always infallible, and in the past times Committees have been nominated by the President of the Board of Trade which have not been fool-proof. Unless we can get some definite assurance, we stand in grave danger of doing considerable injury to some of the most important
|Division No. 218.]||AYES.||[8.12 p.m.|
|Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel||Ford, Sir P. J.||Merriman. F. B|
|Alexander, E. E. (Leyton)||Foster, Sir Harry S.||Meyer, Sir Frank|
|Allen, J. Sandeman (L'pool, W. Derby)||Foxcroft, Captain C. T.||Mitchell, S. (Lanark, Lanark)|
|Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S.||Fraser, Captain Ian||Mitchell, W. Foot (Saffron Walden)|
|Applin, Colonel R. V. K.||Fremantle, Lt.-Col. Francis E.||Mitchell, Sir W. Lane (Streatham)|
|Astbury, Lieut.-Commander F. W.||Galbraith, J. F. W.||Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. B. M.|
|Atkinson, C.||Ganzoni, Sir John||Moore, Lieut.-Colonel T. C. R. (Ayr)|
|Balfour, George (Hampstead)||Gibbs, Col. Rt. Hon. George Abraham||Moreing, Captain A. H.|
|Balniel, Lord||Gilmour, Lt. Col. Rt. Hon. Sir John||Morrison, H. (Wilts, Salisbury)|
|Barclay-Harvey, C. M.||Glyn, Major R. G. C||Nall, Lieut.-Colonel Sir Joseph|
|Barnett, Major Sir Richard||Greene, W. P. Crawford||Nelson, Sir Frank|
|Barnston, Major Sir Harry||Gretton, Colonel John||Neville, R. J.|
|Beamish, Captain T. P. H.||Grotrian, H. Brent||Newman, Sir R. H. S. D. L. (Exeter)|
|Bellairs, Commander Carlyon W.||Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E.||Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn W. G. (Ptrsf'ld.)|
|Bethel, A.||Hall, Capt. W. D'A. (Brecon & Rad.)||Oakley, T.|
|Birchall, Major J. Dearman||Hanbury, C.||Oman, Sir Charles William C.|
|Bird, Sir R. B. (Wolverhampton, W.)||Harland, A.||Penny, Frederick George|
|Blundell, F. N.||Harrison, G. J. C.||Percy, Lord Eustace (Hastings)|
|Bourne, Captain Robert Croft||Harvey, G. (Lambeth, Kennington)||Perkins, Colonel E. K.|
|Bowater, Sir T. Vansittart||Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes)||Perring, Sir William George|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Major A.||Haslam, Henry C.||Pete, Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple)|
|Bridgeman, Rt. Hon. William Clive||Hawke, John Anthony||Pets, G. (Somerset, Freme)|
|Briscoe, Richard George||Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxf'd, Henley)||Pitcher, G.|
|Brooke, Brigadier-General C. R. I.||Henderson, Lieut.-Col. V. L. (Bootle)||Pownall, Lieut-Colonel Assheton|
|Broun-Lindsay, Major H.||Heneage, Lieut.-Cal. Arthur P.||Preston, William|
|Brown, Col. D. C. (N'th'l'd., Hexham)||Henn, Sir Sydney H.||Price, Major C. W. M.|
|Bull, Rt. Hon. Sir William James||Herbert, S. (York, N. R., Scar. & Wh'by)||Radford, E. A.|
|Burman, J. B.||Hills, Major John Walter||Raise, W.|
|Burton, Colonel H. W.||Hoare, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Sir S. J. G.||Rawson, Sir Alfred Cooper|
|Butler, Sir Geoffrey||Hogg, Rt. Hon. Sir D. (St. Marylebone)||Romer, J. R.|
|Cassels, J. D.||Hope, Capt. A. O. J. (Warw'k, Nun)||Rice. Sir Frederick|
|Cautley, Sir Henry S.||Hopkins, J. W. W.||Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)|
|Cayzer, Sir C. (Chester, City)||Horlick, Lieut,-Colonel J. N.||Roberts, Samuel (Hereford, Hereford)|
|Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth, S.)||Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S.||Ruggles-Brise, Major E. A.|
|Cecil, Rt. Hon. Sir Evelyn (Aston)||Hudson, R. S. (Cumberl'nd, Whiteh'n)||Russell, Alexander West- (Tynemouth)|
|Chadwick, Sir Robert Burton||Hume, Sir G. H.||Rye, F. G|
|Christie, J. A.||Hurd, Percy A.||Salmon, Major I.|
|Churchman, Sir Arthur C.||Hutchison, G. A. Clark (Midt'n & P'bl's)||Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)|
|Clarry, Reginald George||Inskip, Sir Thomas Walker H.||Samuel, Samuel (W'dsworth, Putney)|
|Clayton, G. C.||Jackson, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. F. S.||Sandeman, A. Stewart|
|Cochrane, Commander Hon. A. D.||James, Lieut.-Colonel Hon. Cuthbert||Sanders, Sir Robert A.|
|Colfox, Major Wm. Phillips||Jephcott, A. R.||Sanderson, Sir Frank|
|Cooper, A. Duff||Kennedy, A. R. (Preston)||Sandon, Lord|
|Couper, J. B.||Kindersley, Major Guy M.||Shaw, R. G. (Yorks, W.R., Sowerby)|
|Courthope, Lieut.-Col. Sir George L.||Knox, Sir Alfred||Shaw. Capt. W. W. (Wilts, Westb'y)|
|Craig, Ernest (Chester, Crewe)||Lamb, J. Q.||Sheffield, Sir Berkeley|
|Crooke, J. Smedley (Deritend)||Lane Fox, Col. Rt. Hon. George R.||Shepperson, E. W.|
|Crookshank, Cpt. H.(Lindsey, Gainsbro)||Leigh, Sir John (Clapham)||Skelton, A. N.|
|Cunliffe, Sir Herbert||Lister, Cunliffe, Hon. Sir Philip||Stanley Major P. Kenyon|
|Davidson, Major-General Sir John H.||Little Dr. E. Graham||Smith-Carington, Neville W.|
|Davies, Dr. Vernon||Lloyd, Cyril E. (Dudley)||Smithers, Waldron|
|Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)||Lord, Walter Greaves-||Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)|
|Davies, Sir Thomas (Cirencester)||Lougher, L.||Stanley, Lord (Fylde)|
|Dawson, Sir Philip||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh Vere||Steel, Major Samuel Strang|
|Dean, Arthur Wellesley||Luce, Major-Gen, Sir Richard Harman||Storry-Deans, R.|
|Drewe, C.||Lumley, L. R.||Stott, Lieut.-Colonel W. H.|
|Elliot, Captain Walter E.||Lynn, Sir R. J.||Streatfeild, Captain S. R.|
|Ellis, R. G.||Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.)||Strickland, Sir Gerald|
|Elveden, Viscount||Macintyre, Ian||Stuart, Crichton, Lord C.|
|Erskine, Lord (Somerset, Weston-s.-M.)||McNeill, Rt. Hon. Ronald John||Styles, Captain H. Walter|
|Everard, W. Lindsay||MacRobert. Alexander M.||Sugden', Sir Wilfrid|
|Fairfax, Captain J. G.||Maitland, Sir Arthur D. Steel-||Tasker, Major R. Inigo|
|Fanshawe, Commander G. D.||Makins, Brigadier-General E.||Templeton, W. P.|
|Fermoy, Lord||Manningham-Buller, Sir Mervyn||Thom. Lt.-Col. J. G. (Dumbarton|
|Fielden, E. B.||Margesson, Captain D.||Thompson, Luke (Sunderland)|
|Finburgh, S.||Metter, R. J.||Tinne, J. A.|
|Tichfield, Major the Marquess of||Wells, S. R.||Withers, John James|
|Turton, Sir Edmund Russborouph||Wheler, Major Sir Granville C. H.||Womersley, W. J.|
|Vaughan-Morgan, Col. K. P.||Williams, A. M. (Cornwall, Northern)||Woodcock, Colonel H. C.|
|Waddington, R.||Williams, Com. C. (Devon, Torquay)||Wragg, Herbert|
|Wallace, Captain D. E.||Williams, Herbert G. (Reading)||Yerburgh, Major Robert D. T.|
|Ward, Lt.-Col. A. L. (Kingston-on-Hull)||Wilson, R. R. (Stafford, Lichfield)|
|Warner, Brigadier-General W. W.||Winby, Colonel L. P,||TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—|
|Watson, Sir F. (Pudsey and Otley)||Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George||Mr. Frederick Thomson and|
|Watts, Dr. T.||Wise, Sir Fredric||Captain Bowyer,|
|Amman, Charles George||Jenkins, W, (Glamorgan, Neath)||Riley, Ben|
|Batey, Joseph||John, William (Rhondda, West)||Salter, Dr. Alfred|
|Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown)||Scrymgeour, E.|
|Clynes, Rt. Hon. Charles W.||Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd)||Scurr, John|
|Collins, Sir Godfrey (Greenock)||Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M.||Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)|
|Crawford, H. E.||Lawrence, Susan||Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)|
|Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)||Lawson, John James||Stewart, J. (St. Rollex)|
|Day, Colonel Harry||Lee, F.||Sullivan, J.|
|Duncan, C.||Lindley, F. W,||Sutton, J. E.|
|Edwards, John H. (Accrington)||Livingstone, A. M.||Thomas, Rt. Hon. James H. (Derby)|
|Garro-Jones, Captain G. M.||Lunn, William||Thomson, Trevelyan (Middlesbro, W.)|
|Gillett, George M.||MacDonald, Rt. Hon. J. R. (Aberavon)||Thurtle, E|
|Gosling, Harry||Mackinder, W.||Tinker, John Joseph|
|Graham, Rt. Hon. Wm. (Edin., Cent.)||Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan)||Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. C. P.|
|Greenall, T.||Morris, R. H.||Walsh, Rt. Hon. Stephen|
|Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)||Murnin, H.||Webb, Rt. Hon. Sidney|
|Griffiths, T, (Monmouth, Pontypool)||Naylor, T. E.||Whiteley, W.|
|Groves, T.||Paling, W.||Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)|
|Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil||Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan)||Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)|
|Hardie, George D.||Pethick-Lawrence, F. W.|
|Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley)||Potts, John S.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—|
|Hirst, G. H.||Purcell, A. A.||Mr. Frederick Hall and Mr. Warne.|
|Hirst, W. (Bradford, South)||Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring)|
Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.