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Trade And Commerce

Volume 526: debated on Thursday 8 April 1954

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Merchandise Marks Acts (Complaints)

1.

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?

2.

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?

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?

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.

3.

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?

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?

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.

12.

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.

19.

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.

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.

Japanese Goods

4.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what further assurances he has received from the Japanese Government that the promises made when the Japanese peace treaty was ratified, regarding fair trading, improvements in workers' standards and other matters, are being fulfilled.

Japan has acceded to all the international conventions which she undertook to join at the signing of the Peace Treaty, including the Madrid Agreement for the prevention of false indication of origin of goods. The Japanese authorities have been co-operative in putting a stop to the copying of designs.

Does that mean that they have also carried out their undertaking about the development of trade unions? Are they allowing democracy and trade unions to develop in Japan, in the way we understand them?

Yes, I think they have now subscribed to the International Labour Organisation. They have joined all the organisations they undertook to join and signed the conventions they undertook to sign at the signing of the Peace Treaty.

Since the signing of these conventions have there not been reports made by our Commercial Attache in Tokio of infringements of designs? What action has the right hon. Gentleman taken to draw the attention of the Japanese authorities to those cases?

There have been some reports, and I would urge any hon. Member, no matter in what quarter of the House he sits, who hears of a case that can be substantiated not by rumour but by solid evidence, to draw it to my attention.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that one of the reasons why Manchester merchants, at any rate, are not reporting some cases to him is that they have no confidence that he will follow them up adequately? Does he remember that when, through his good offices, a conference was convened in Manchester, the only proposal that came out of it was a proposal that merchants should send copies of all their registered designs to the Japanese so that they could look at them and ask traders not to copy them?

I am quite certain that merchants in Manchester, if they know of cases, will draw them to the attention of the Board of Trade.

10.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what types of brooms and brushes are included in the permitted imports from Japan into this country and the Colonial Empire under the sterling payments agreement of 29th January, 1954; and by how much he estimates the needs of this country cannot be met by the production from existing home industries.

All types of brooms, and brushes, other than those containing precious metal, can be imported into the United Kingdom within the recently established quota for Japan. The Trade and Payments Agreement contained no special provisions for imports of brooms and brushes into the Colonies.

As regards the second part of the Question, the United Kingdom exports many more brooms and brushes than she imports.

Why is it necessary to import brooms and brushes if our home industry is capable of supplying our own needs and more?

We could not carry on very long as a trading nation if we adopted that commercial principle. We export many more than we import.

Imported Products (Marking)

5.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, on imported articles, stick-on labels which bear the name of the country of origin comply with his regulations; and whether he is satisfied that they are a proper method of indicating the manufacturers and country of origin.

Orders in Council made under the Merchandise Marks Act, 1926, always specify the manner in which the indication of origin should be applied. In some instances an adhesive label is allowed. The law does not require manufacturers' names to be indicated.

Does that mean that it is in order to import pottery and textiles with no stamp showing the country in which they were manufactured?

Each article of pottery has to be marked indelibly by stamping, printing, embossing or impressing.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that a large quantity of pottery is being exported from Japan to the American market with different markings of origin? Will he consult the interested organisations with a view to making representations to the authorities in the United States about this?

6.

asked the President of the Board of Trade to what extent under his regulations merchants and manufacturers abroad can import into this country pottery or textiles marked "Foreign," "Empire," or with the country of origin, to suit their own convenience; and whether he will amend the Merchandise Marks Acts to enable a stricter control to be exercised.

These alternatives are permissible under the Merchandise Marks Act, 1926, and the Orders in Council issued thereunder, requiring marking of origin on imported textile piece goods and pottery.

Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied with the administration of the Merchandise Marks Act?

Yes. I think the law as laid down in the Merchandise Marks Acts is administered satisfactorily.

Does the President not remember that we raised this very point during the passage of the Act and tried to insist that the name of the country of origin should be marked on the goods, and that we were given an assurance that the situation would be much improved? It seems that these practices are still continuing.

Revolving Fund For Industry (Applications)

7.

asked the President of the Board of Trade how many applications have been received for loans from the Revolving Loan Fund established with counterpart funds in accordance with Command Paper No. 8918; how many have been approved; and what has been the average size of loan granted.

Three hundred and twenty-one applications for loans from the Revolving Fund for Industry had been received up to the end of March, and the Advisory Committee set up to examine them had recommended loans in 32 cases, subject to negotiation of the necessary agreements. These negotiations are in various stages and in a few cases are approaching completion. The average amount of the loans recommended is approximately £10,000.

Can the right hon. Gentleman say why the number of loans approved is such a very small proportion of the total applied for? Can he indicate the types of industries to which loans have been granted?

I could not answer the second part of that supplementary question without notice. There are a great number of industries that would feel that they would benefit from certain facilities for borrowing money, but I think it is right to concentrate lending to those cases from which real advantage to productivity may accrue through lending.

Ulster Commercial Vehicles (Irish Republic Import Duty)

8.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that owners of commercial vehicles in the Irish Republic can bring such vehicles across the border into Ulster on payment of an annual fee of 2s. 6d., whereas owners in Ulster have to pay an import duty of one-third the value of the vehicle even if only one journey is made; and whether he will take action to remove this anomaly either by raising the import duty or by making representations to the Government of the Irish Republic, with a view to achieving reciprocity.

9.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he will make representations to the Irish Republican Government, with a view to achieving reciprocal treatment for commercial vehicles crossing the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic.

I am aware of this anomaly and I regret very much that the authorities in the Irish Republic, who know our views, have not so far corrected it.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the duty on Ulster vehicles going into the Republic may amount to £1,000 or even more and that it is not recoverable? Is he aware also that the Board of Trade has been pressing the Dublin authorities, by correspondence, to give equitable treatment to Ulster for many years? Does he not consider that it is about time that he addressed them in the only way they can understand, and that is by the imposition of a quid pro quo on their vehicles coming north? Or are we to allow this injustice to be perpetrated in perpetuity?

I have some sympathy with my hon. Friend. I understand that there are some difficulties about treating imports from Southern Ireland in the same way as it treats imports from Ulster, but I will communicate with the Northern Ireland Government to ascertain their views on this subject.

While not wishing to do anything to disturb normal trading relations between the United Kingdom and the Irish Republic, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that this is a glaring example of inequitable treatment, and whether he will consider pursuing the action proposed by my hon. Friend?

Film Quota Defaulters (Prosecutions)

11.

asked the President of the Board of Trade how many prosecutions have now been initiated against film quota defaulters for the year 1951–52.

Proceedings have begun in three cases. Counsel is advising in a number of further cases and some are receiving consideration in Scotland.

As there were over 1,000 cases of exhibitors failing to fulfil in this year the quota of 30 per cent. of feature films, does the right hon. Gentleman regard this as satisfactory action?

I think the hon. Gentleman is mixing up failure to fulfil the basic quota with offences under the Act. They are separate things.

Overseas Countries (Subsidised Exports)

14.

asked the President of the Board of Trade the policy of his Department when the interests of this country are adversely affected by the action of another signatory of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in subsidising exports.

The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade does not prohibit export subsidies, but provides for consultations if these cause or threaten serious prejudice to the interests of other member countries. We should invoke this provision of the Agreement where-ever this seemed likely to help us.

To what extent has this been invoked in the past, and what occasion has there been for invoking it?

It has practically never been invoked. It is of very limited application. It is necessary to show some serious prejudice to the trader in the country into which the goods are imported. Of course, the maximum damage always operates in third markets.

Lisbon Fair

15.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in view of the failure to stage a British trade fair in Lisbon, he will make a statement on the steps to be taken to prevent the financial burdens of such projects abroad falling entirely upon a few private firms and individuals.

The decision not to hold the Lisbon Trade Fair was taken not because the firms concerned objected to the expense, but because it seemed unlikely that the Fair would be a success. It is usual for expenses to be covered by receipts, so the second part of the Question does not arise.

Does the right hon. Gentleman not take the view that these trade fairs play an important part in building up British exports and prestige? Does it not seem a pity, for the sake of £8,000, not to hold this fair, which, in the face of growing German competition, might well have made a useful contribution to our export markets?

I certainly agree that fairs can play a useful part in the promotion of our exports. We have to be guided by industrial advice, and particularly the advice of local businessmen on the spot, as we were on this occasion.

Preparations, Birmingham (Complaints)

16.

asked the President of the Board of Trade what steps he has taken to secure evidence that certain medical and cosmetic preparations, recently exposed as worthless by the Birmingham City analyst, have been on sale in shops; and whether he will now announce that proceedings are to be taken under the Merchandise Marks Act.

These preparations do not appear to be on sale in shops, but by mail. I am continuing my inquiries.

Why did the President not get in touch with the people who made the original investigation? Is he aware that I have found out by a simple inquiry that this stuff, which he knows to be composed mainly of Epsom, Glauber and common salts, is called "Slimswift" and is made at 3, Grand Parade, Brighton, where there are three rooms, where, yesterday, I had a relative go along and offer to buy some of the stuff, and where it was on sale? Why does the right hon. Gentleman not take action? Why are his officials so dilatory that Members of the House have to do his work for him?

I am not being dilatory. I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving me the benefit of his inquiries. I am making my own inquiries, and if satisfactory evidence is available I shall consider a prosecution.

Why have no inquiries been made of the city analyst, who could have given the right hon. Gentleman this information in the first place, in the same way as it was given to me? That is how I was able to follow up the investigation.

The same thought had occurred to me, and inquiries have been made.

Light Industries, Barry

18.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will take steps to encourage light industries to come to Barry, in order to meet problems due to the absence since the war of the large coal shipments upon which the prosperity of the town and port was based.

A considerable amount of new industry has been established in and near Barry since the war. We should be glad to see further suitable developments in the area, but we have also to consider the needs of other parts of the Development Area and what resources are available.

Departmental Prosecutions

20.

asked the President of the Board of Trade how many prosecutions have been initiated by his Department since 1st February last; and for what breaches of the law these prosecutions were initiated.

Between 1st February, 1954, and 5th April, 1954, my Department initiated criminal proceedings in 95 cases. These involved offences under the Companies Acts, the Bankruptcy Acts, the Cinematograph Films Acts, the Statistics of Trade Act, Hire Purchase and Credit Sale Agreements (Control) Order, the Deeds of Arrangements Act, the Larceny Act, and the Registration of Business Names Act.

Will the President amplify that reply and indicate what proportion of these prosecutions related to his duties under die Companies Acts and the Registration of Business Names Act? It seems clear that in the other fields where he could be active the right hon. Gentleman is showing a degree of inactivity which would justify an even bigger cut than £1,000 a year in the Ministerial salary.

I do not think that my success as President of the Board of Trade can be judged by the number of prosecutions I institute.

Traders (Stop List)

21.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he will make a particular reference to the Monopolies Commission of the practice whereby trade association's fine traders for giving a discount upon articles sold, and exact this fine by threatening to place the trader upon the association's stop list.

This practice falls within the scope of the general inquiry which the Commission are already conducting under Section 15 of the Monopolies and Restrictive Practices (Inquiry and Control) Act, 1948.

When does the right hon. Gentleman expect the result of the inquiry, which has now been under way for a considerable time?

Gloves (Imports From Hong Kong)

22.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that many of the gloves imported into this country from Hong Kong have previously been imported into Hong Kong, where their trade marks have been removed and some embroidery added after which new labels marked made in Hong Kong have been added; and if he will take steps to prevent such goods from flooding the market here to the detriment of English manufacturers.

I have received no evidence to support the allegations to which the hon. Member refers. If he will provide me with details of any specific case I shall gladly investigate it.

Has the Minister made any inquiries in this matter? Does he not know that the quantity of knitted gloves now being sent out of Hong Kong is in excess of any that can be fully manufactured there? How does he account for the fact that gloves of this nature are coming in marked "Made in Hong Kong," when many of them are undoubtedly made outside Hong Kong?

I have made very close inquiries and am informed that knitted woollen gloves made in Japan and merely embellished or embroidered in Hong Kong would not enjoy Imperial Preference.

Will the Minister make further inquiries, and, if he finds that these gloves have been sent to Hong Kong, and only 25 per cent. value has been added there, will he stop this practice?

I have made very close inquiries. If the hon. Member has any further evidence, I shall be glad to consider it.

23.

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that cheap labour plus a freedom from Customs tariffs result in gloves made in the Far East being sold at prices below those charged for British manufactures, and what steps he proposes to take to assist British manufacturers.

I have received complaints that knitted woollen gloves made in Hong Kong are being sold here at lower prices than gloves made in the United Kingdom, but have no evidence of malpractice in this trade. It would be contrary to the policy of Her Majesty's Government to impose protective quotas or duties on imports from Hong Kong or any other Colonial Territories.

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that his reply as to comparison of prices is an understatement and that these gloves are being sold at less than half the price at which they can be manufactured in this country? Will he also inquire into the position regarding employment, figures having been given which, in the view of Leicester manufacturers, are not correct? Will he also assure the Leicester manufacturers and others that he will take steps to stop this practice?

The hon. Member is raising separate points. I am not concerned here with the question of price at which the gloves are sold, but with whether they are manufactured in Hong Kong. If they are manufactured in Hong Kong, of course they qualify for Imperial Preference.

In view of the unsatisfactory answers which have been given, I shall seek an early opportunity of raising this matter on the Adjournment.

Savoy Hotels, Ltd (Directors' Observations)

24.

asked the President of the Board of Trade if he is now in a position to state what steps he intends to take about the observations received from the directors of the Savoy Hotels, Ltd.

I am sure the President will agree that this matter ought not to be left in suspension much longer. He has had these observations for about a month. When will he be able to make a statement to the House?

These matters raise complicated points of company administration and law. I am pressing on with these investigations as quickly as I can and I should hope to be able to make an announcement about it fairly soon.

Is this yet another example of what the Prime Minister called the fanatical activity of the President of the Board of Trade?

I hope it is an example of the cool, calm and calculated consideration that I give to all matters.