asked the President of the Board of Trade the result of his investigation into the allegations made against the Supreme Supply Company by the hon. Member for Coventry, South; and whether he has decided to initiate a prosecution under the Merchandise Marks Acts as the offences complained of took place after 1st February last.
I have had a pair of the advertised gauntlets purchased by one of my officers and examined by experts. They were found to comply substantially with the description in the advertisement. I am advised that this description was not false or misleading in any material respect, that there is no prima facie evidence of a breach of the Merchandise Marks Acts, and that there are no grounds for instituting proceedings.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the word in his reply which demands attention is "substantially"? Is he further aware that I have here a pair of gloves which I bought, and which certainly conflict in every way with the advertisement? If I send these gloves to the President, will he have them examined to see whether or not they conform to the advertisement?
The word "substantially" appears not only in my answer but in the Act. The gloves which I have examined do not conflict with the Act. If the hon. Lady has another pair of gloves, perhaps she will institute proceedings.
In evidence before you, Mr. Speaker—as the right hon. Gentleman has spent a lot of time writing letters to me—may I say that I have these gloves in my hand now, and that I shall give them to the right hon. Gentleman after Questions?
asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that J. Radcliffe and Company, Limited, J. and S. Taylor, Limited, and J. J. L. and C. Peate (Guiseley) Limited, have been offering wool and camelhair cloth with a two per cent. content of camel-hair; that William Edleston, Limited, Job Beaumont and Sons, Limited, and Holywell Textile Mills, Limited, have also been offering one with a seven per cent. content of camelhair; and, as each of these six firms has also offered labels with the cloths concerned, if he will investigate the matter with a view to prosecution under the Merchandise Marks Acts.
My investigations have established that these cloths are manufactured to the specifications of customers. I am advised that in these circumstances there is not a satisfactory case for prosecuting the manufacturers, but I am investigating subsequent transactions.
Is the right hon. Gentle man aware that I have been informed that he had sent his inspectors to investigate these matters and that, in anticipation of his refusal, I have here a specimen of the cloth? Will he tell the House why, when I brought this serious matter to his attention some time ago, he told me that I had not sent him sufficient detail to investigate further and yet, when I sent him half as much information as I gave him the first time, he has decided to take action?
The hon. Lady does not always send me the evidence when she makes these charges. It would be helpful if she did. In this case, now that I have the facts, it is clear that no case would lie against the manufacturers, who are manufacturing these articles to customers' requirements, but I am investigating subsequent transactions, and it is possible that a case may lie there.
Miss Burton. I am calling the hon. Lady to ask Question No. 3, and I shall be greatly obliged if she will contrive to compress her supplementary questions.
On a point of order. I admit this is a conditional question, Sir, but if I were to ask a Question about nursery schools and their treatment of children should I have to bring along a child?
Order. I have called Question No. 3.
I am sorry if my supplementary question was lengthy, but I asked only one, Sir. On occasion, Mr. Speaker, you kindly allow two. May 1 therefore suggest, with great respect, that my supplementary question was not too long in the circumstances?
We must pass on.
On a point of order. Is it not a little unfortunate that only the hon. Lady who asked the Question is allowed to put supplementary questions, and other hon. Members who have an interest in the matter are not allowed the same opportunity?
When an hon. Member puts down a Question for answer in the House he should be allowed to pursue his own hare. It is not always proper for other hon. Members to join in.
asked the President of the Board of Trade what steps he proposes to take with regard to the Masnaga bedspread, about which he has been informed, which was made in Italy by Giuseppe Rossini of Como; whether he is aware that this was imported into this country bearing a ticket marked 90 by 100 although in fact measuring only 84 by 91½ inches; that the bedspreads did not bear a label securely attached to each article showing the country of origin; and whether, as these are contraventions of the Merchandise Marks Acts, he will initiate a prosecution against the importers.
The hon. Member referred me for further information to an organisation known as the Retail Trading Standards Association, but it was unable to give any assistance in the matter. I did, however, obtain enough evidence from other enquiries to satisfy me that there were insufficient grounds for prosecution.
I am sorry, but I must disagree with that information. The right hon. Gentleman has been misinformed by his advisers. [HON. MEMBERS: "Speech."] Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that when he asked me for further details, on 15th March, I referred him to the Retail Trading Standards Association, which has given him full details relating to these cases? Will he not, therefore, look into the matter, and withdraw his statement subsequently when he finds that I am right? May I have an answer?
I have nothing to add to the answer I have given.
Since it would appear that in this case the requirements that would have had to be complied with when the Utility scheme was in existence were not complied with, and as there would have been a deterrent through Purchase Tax on these items, does not the right hon. Gentleman recognise that a great many of the difficulties being created at present are the result of his having got rid of the Utility scheme?
This has nothing to do with the Utility scheme.
I beg to give notice that, as the replies to all three of my Questions have been very unsatisfactory, I shall raise the matter on the Adjournment.
There will be more time then.
asked the President of the Board of Trade if, in view of the present inadequacy of his Department to deal with complaints of infringements of the Merchandise Marks Acts, he will establish a new section of his Department for this purpose and to initiate prosecutions where necessary.
I do not accept the suggestion made in the first part of the Question. The second part does not, therefore, arise.
Is the President aware that the suggestion in the first part of the Question arises directly from what he has himself stated in the House: that it would be intolerable if citizens complained to his Department about infringements of the Merchandise Marks Act and his Department could not cope with them? I am suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman should set up a new section in his Department which could cope with them. Will he give an assurance, therefore, that he welcomes citizens complaining about infringements of the Act and that his Department will take action and, therefore, save a good deal of time which is taken in raising questions in the House?
I cannot accept the hon. Member's interpretation of what I said on a previous occasion. I do not feel that the public interest is served by ever greater increases in the size of Government Departments.
asked the President of the Board of Trade how many complaints he has received since 1st February last from members of the public about infringements of the Merchandise Marks Acts.
Is the President aware that the only people who will be satisfied with his pretence that, by and large, the enforcement of these Acts has little or nothing to do with him, will be the manufacturers and makers of shoddy goods which are falsely described to the public?
The Question asks how many complaints I have had, and the answer is that there have been 10. It has nothing to do with the activities of the Board of Trade.
What action has been taken on the 10 complaints?
Six of the cases proved to be unsuitable for prosecution and four are still under consideration.
Generally speaking, are not shopkeepers who sell inferior goods likely to antagonise their customers, and are not makers of inferior goods likely to antagonise those who buy from them? Is this not the best corrective in the long run?
Yes, certainly. The very small number of cases in which there are breaches of the Merchandise Marks Acts must be weighed against the large number of cases in which British manufacturers and retailers sell good quality articles.