HC Deb 02 December 1930 vol 245 cc1989-91

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Law with respect to the hire-purchase system and the law of distress in its relation to the hire-purchase system. I have tried to obtain the presence of a Minister, but they are engaged at the moment. It is not, however, my business to try to convert Ministers, but to convert the House. The Bill which I am introducing is one which has become important because of the unemployment crisis. It has made acute the defects in the hire purchase law which have been admitted for a very long time, but now that so many people are becoming unemployed, their instalments cannot be kept up. As the law stands at present, if someone has paid practically the whole of the instalments on furniture—and furniture is the main item so far as the working classes are concerned—or on any other kind of goods, if the last few instalments are not kept up, the hire purchase company can come in and take the whole of the goods back, without giving to the purchaser one penny of surrender value. This has been brought to my notice by a local solicitor in my constituency, who pointed out a case where, on, £80 worth of goods, £60 had been paid, £10 was in arrears and £10 of the instalments remained. Not only did the hire purchase company come in and take the whole of the good, but they were able to prosecute for the £10 of arrears, and although only £10 of instalments were actually outstanding, the poor person not only did not get a penny, but had to pay the costs as well. My Bill hopes to meet that sort of case.

I am not against the hire purchase system as such. I have myself taken advantage of it on frequent occasions. It certainly enables people to buy goods which they can afford out of their general annual income, but which they cannot afford out of the weekly or monthly income. But these scandals which have surrounded the name of hire purchase have militated against the extension of that system. They have made people ashamed to admit that they buy goods under the instalment system, and it would be for the good of the trade itself if we could remove this stigma, and make it possible, if instalments cannot be kept up, for the hire purchaser to have surrender value. I have put certain figures in my Bill, although I am not dogmatic about these figures. I am perfectly prepared to consider Amendments in Committee, but, for the sake of the Bill, I have put in the following figures, namely, that if 25 per cent. of the instalments have been paid, if the goods seized are in good condition after reasonable use, the hire purchaser shall be entitled to 50 per cent. of the instalments that have been paid as surrender value. As I say, I am not. wedded to these figures as such.

The second Clause of the Bill makes it possible for a hire purchaser, after goods have been seized, to recover possession of those goods, provided that, the remainder of the instalments are tendered, and a reasonable sum is paid for the cost to the company of actually seizing the goods. I have a case where only £15 remained due on a music-teacher's piano, on which £70 had been paid. The piano was seized, and the music-teacher despairingly went everywhere to try and get the £15. Finally, it was lent to her, and when she went to tender the money to the hire purchase company, she was told: "No, you have not continued your instalments, and therefore the piano is mine." That seems a very real scandal which no one can defend, and this Bill will make it possible, if the instalments are paid, plus a reasonable sum for the cost of seizing the goods, for the goods to be returned to the purchaser.

This is not a one-sided Bill. It is an endeavour to meet a real grievance which the hire-purchase companies themselves have. As things are at present, a tenant can fill a house with hire-purchase goods, can run into arrears for rent, and although only one instalment has been paid for the goods, the landlord can distrain on the whole of those goods, and leave the hire-purchase company with, perhaps, £10 or £20 paid on £100 or £150 worth of goods purchased. I claim that that is not fair to the hire-purchase company. I have, therefore, tried to be fair to both sides. It takes some doing, but I have tried, and I think the Bill, as drafted, if the House will give me leave to introduce it and allow it to go to Second Reading, will meet what is an admitted difficulty at the present time. We are legislating for the best companies. They have made their own arrangements to meet the difficulty, but they themselves are hampered by these admitted scandals of other hire-purchase companies. We do not legislate for the decent companies, but for the really bad companies, and I do think that, as things are at present, many people who can very bady afford it are being unfairly treated. If the House will grant me the First Reading of this Bill, it will do something towards meeting a very real grievance.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Miss Wilkinson, Mr. West, Mr. Horrabin, Mr. Shepherd, Dr. Forgan, Mr. Griffiths, and Lady Noel-Buxton.