HC Deb 27 March 1928 vol 215 cc999-1001

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law with respect to auctioneers, and to prohibit the holding of mock auctions. The object of this Bill is to protect the public, particularly the members of the working-classes, against a form of fraud practised by men who hold Inland Revenue licences to trade as auctioneers who are a disgrace to an honourable profession, and are exploiting the public in a way that, I think, ought to be prohibited. Many Members will have noticed these gentlemen and their operations in the main streets of London, in the main streets of many of, our large towns and cities, and particularly at the seaside resorts during that portion of the year when large crowds of visitors are attracted thereto. The system they adopt is to pretend to have a bankrupt stock or pawnbrokers' forfeited pledges, or to offer some other pretext. They have their own touts, who mix amongst the crowd, and, by misrepresentation, big prices are obtained for apparently worthless goods. These men are practising this trade throughout the country day in and day out.

It may be said, why is not the law put into operation to deal with them? As a matter of fact, there is a case, but as it is sub judice I cannot mention it here. If hon. Members, however, will only take the trouble to read the evidence in that particular case, they will realise how very difficult it is to get a successful prosecution, because, under the present law, you can only prosecute for selling by false pretences. There is a difficulty in getting a person who has been "had" to come forward and give evidence, because people do not like to expose their foolishness and ignorance to the public. I have the testimony of chief constables of various towns saying that it is indeed most difficult to get a prosecution, and asking that a Bill such as I am introducing should be passed by this House. Let me read the opinion of the chief constable of Blackpool, where, undoubtedly, this matter is becoming a public scandal. He says: The existing law is inadequate to deal with this matter, and I am quite satisfied that the proposals in the new Bill would effect a definite improvement in the present position. I have also letters from the chief constables of Edinburgh, Great Yarmouth, Southend-on-Sea, Hastings, Margate, Southport, Brighton and Plymouth, all asking that something should be done by this House to amend the law as regards this particular form of fraud. There is also another kind of operation with which this Bill seeks to deal, namely, rigged sales of this description: An empty house is taken and stocked with goods, and bills are displayed announcing the sale of household goods in that particular house. People are induced thereby to come along and to bid probably very high prices for the goods. This practice has been in operation a great deal in the Brighton district, but it is not by any means the only district where it is being practised. It is being practised all over the country. Let me give an instance that came under my own notice. It is the case of an old-fashioned inn in a country district on a road passed by a number of motorists. A smart man got hold of this inn. It was not doing very much business. He took it, and stocked it with dummy antiques, such as what were supposed to be old glass and old Sheffield plate. I am reminded that the term "dummy" is not a correct one; I will therefore amend it, and say "sham" antiques. Motorists who passed saw those things, thought they were genuine and admired them. Shortly afterwards a large bill was posted outside the inn, and advertisements were inserted in London newspapers that these goods were to be sold by auction. I can assure the House that the innkeeper made more money out of that sale than be could have made in 25 years out of selling beer. He retired, and went to another district.

I suggest to this House that, bearing in mind that these frauds are being perpetrated on the public day in and day out, it is time an amendment of the law took place, and I suggest that the Bill I have asked leave to introduce will meet the case. It has the support of the Incorporated Society of Auctioneers and Landed Property Agents, the Auctioneers and Estate Agents Institute, the National Chamber of Trade, the National Association of Goldsmiths, the Scottish Association of Watchmakers and Jewellers, and the London and Suburban Traders' Federation. The Bill is backed by 12 Members, and I could have got many more if the Rules of the House had permitted.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Womersley, Mr. Duckworth, Lieut.-Colonel Gadie, Mr. Grotrian, Mr. Hayes, Lieut. - Commander Kenworthy, Mr. Templeton, Sir William Perring, Mr. Looker, Mr. Fenby, Colonel Applin, and S0ir Cooper Rawson.