§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.6 a.m.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Wentworth Schofield (Rochdale)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
When I heard that I had won first place in the Ballot for Private Members' Bills I was not only surprised; I was rather amused. I think that hon. Members will understand my amusement when I tell them that just before putting my name in the Ballot Book I had been reading a newspaper in the Smoking Room and my eyes happened to glance at a feature headed, "What the Stars Foretell." There I read that my lucky numbers for the day were 3 and 9. When I went into the Lobby to sign the book, I saw that one line was still vacant—No. 39. I put my name against it. and here I am presenting a Bill today. If any hon. Member would like to know how to win a place in the Ballot for Private Members' Bills, the only advice that I can give him is that he should first see what the stars foretell.
In presenting the Bill for the consideration of the House, I should like to make it quite clear that I am not opposed to the practice of the hire-purchase and credit sale methods of trading. On the contrary, I feel that in many ways hire purchase is an excellent institution. There is a great deal to be said in favour of this method of doing business. Not only does it enable people to obtain the use of goods which they have not the means to purchase outright but, because of the special appeal which this form of buying has for the public, it assists in a very wide distribution of desirable and essential goods and, in so doing, also 1324 encourages mass production, with all the advantages of efficiency and cost reduction which mass production can entail.
Like all institutions, however, it has its weaknesses. One great weakness is that because the payments are easy the total amount which has to be paid by the purchaser is sometimes lost sight of, and advertisements which concentrate upon, or give special prominence to, the most attractive or easiest part of the easy terms encourage that tendency. The Bill prohibits misleading advertisements of the kind which are liable to tempt people to enter into hire-purchase or credit sale agreements before making sure what the commitment involves. The Bill is in no way intended to restrict or make more difficult the practice of hire-purchase and credit buying by the public.
In case any hon. Member is not conversant with the law governing hire-purchase and credit sale transactions, I propose to say a few words upon the existing relevant legislation. Hire-purchase and credit sale trading is governed by the Hire-Purchase Acts of 1938 and 1954, but for all practical purposes it is the Act of 1938 which lays down the requirements under which agreements of this kind are carried out. The principal punpose of the 1954 Act, which was an amending Act, was to increase the permissible limit for transactions of this kind up to the amounts operable at the present time of £300 for goods and £1,000 for livestock.
Perhaps, at this point, I should also explain the difference between a hire-purchase agreement and a credit-sale agreement. The basic difference between the two types of agreements is that in the case of a hire-purchase agreement the ownership of the goods remains with the vendor until the last instalment has been paid, whereas in the case of a credit-sale agreement the ownership passes to the buyer immediately the first instalment has been paid. In the case of a credit sale, there is no right of recovery of the goods by the seller except through the normal recourse to the courts for debt.
The Hire-Purchase Act, 1938, stipulates that before any hire-purchase or credit-sale agreement is signed the owner or the seller of the goods shall state in writing to the prospective buyer the cash price 1325 of the goods. That does not necessarily mean that he must give a written letter or a document conveying that information. The information may be given by means of a label or a notice displayed on the goods at the time of the transaction. It may be given by means of a catalogue, a price list, or an advertisement from which goods have been selected.
As a further safeguard, the law provides that the note or memorandum must be sent or delivered to the purchaser within seven days of the making of the agreement. That note or memorandum must contain the hire-purchase price of the goods, the cash price of the goods, the amount of each instalment and the date or method of determining the date on which each instalment is payable. It is not a criminal offence if the seller of the goods fails to comply with the Act and does not send that information to the purchaser. But if he does not so comply, then the seller is no longer entitled to enforce his agreement, nor has he any right to recover the goods except by first getting a decision in the courts that the goods shall be returned.
It will he seen from this that the intention of the 1938 Act is that a customer shall be quite clear what the goods will cost before he enters into a hire-purchase agreement to buy them. On the face of it, I admit that the Act may appear to provide a sufficient protection, but, in practice, it has been found that it does not always work out that way. Experience has shown that frequently the customers enter into hire-purchase or credit sale agreements on the basis of what they have read in an advertisement of the goods, and, believing what was stated in the advertisement were the full terms involved in the transaction, sign an agreement without discovering the full extent to which they have committed themselves.
It is because of happenings of this kind that representations have been made to the Board of Trade that the provisions of the Hire-Purchase Act, 1938, although they may appear to be fairly watertight, are still not sufficient to give the protection intended by the Act when it was passed. The principal complaint against the Act—at least, the complaint that I have—is that although it lays down com- 1326 prehensive rules as to what information shall be given in the agreement, it does nothing to control or lay down what information shall be given in the advertisements which offer hire-purchase terms. In consequence, many hire-purchase advertisements are framed in such a way as to be quite deliberately misleading. Some give only part of the terms while others select the most attractive part of the terms for publication in large letters or bold figures and give the less attractive terms in small type.
Advertisements are often seen stating, "Yours for £1" or "Yours for 5s. a week" without stating what deposit has to be paid or how many payments will have to be made. Many instances are known where customers have entered into agreements on the basis of an advertisement without discovering the full details of the hire-purchase terms. In some cases customers do not even read the agreement before they sign it. Many cases are known where agreements have been left blank or signed in blank by the purchaser, and where the particulars have been filled in later by the salesman.
It may be argued that cases of that kind are the fault of the customer and that the customer should have known better. But one must remember that many people who go in for this kind of buying are not accustomed to reading a legal document and find it difficult to understand these agreements even if they are given time to study them. I realise that I may be charged with underestimating the intelligence and perspicacity of those who enter into this form of buying, but the fact remains that cases of the kind I have mentioned actually happen.
Hon. Members will remember that several Questions have been asked from time to time about misleading hire-purchase advertisements. The Retail Trading Standards Association, in its annual report for 1955, referred specially to the serious increase in obscure and misleading statements in pamphlets and advertisements describing hire-purchase terms. The report stated that it was difficult to understand why, in the Hire-Purchase Act, 1954, the Government did not insert the same requirements in respect of postal and newspaper advertising as they insist upon at the point of sale, that is to say, that not only the 1327 price, but the amount of the deposit, the number of instalments and the amount of each instalment must be clearly stated in hire-purchase advertisements. The report submitted that the absence of these requirements has made possible all sorts of abuses in newspaper advertisements for hire purchase.
There have been claims that credit was being granted without charge and also that misrepresentations were being made to the effect that the instalment price quoted in the advertisement was on the basis of no deposit. In many cases, the customer has only discovered at the last moment that, in fact, there was a higher instalment rate if he decided upon no deposit terms.
Cases have also been reported of misleading advertisements, suggesting that no deposit is required. What actually happens is that, on going to the shop, customers are told that when they have paid a sufficient number of instalments the goods will be delivered. With this sort of thing going on it is not surprising that Questions have been asked in this House. It is not surprising that representations have been made to the Board of Trade, asking that something should be done to deal this question of misleading advertisements.
In consequence of the number of representations which have been made, the Board of Trade has actually held discussions with the various trade organisations concerned. It is interesting to note that these discussions revealed that there was a great deal of support from the organisations concerned for legislation to deal with the abuse. At these discussions the Radio and Television Retailers Association, the Retail Distributors Association, the Retail Trading Standards Association, the Parliamentary Committee of the Co-operative Union, the Scottish House Furnishing Federation and the Advertising Association all expressed themselves in favour of legislation.
The Newspaper Proprietors Association and the Newspaper Society were sympathetic, but doubted whether, in their own particular field, it was necessary to go beyond the voluntary control which they exercise at present. I should point out that this voluntary control consists merely of recommending that in an advertisement of goods on deferred terms 1328 the mention of any specific instalment figure must be followed by full details of the number of instalments required, the deposit and the cash price. I should mention, also, that it is only a recommendation, and that though many newspapers act upon it there are others who do not.
The Independent Television Authority has intimated that it would not object to the extension of general legislation on television advertising. But two associations, the National Association of Retail Furnishers and the Hire Purchase Trade Association, expressed themselves as opposed to legislation on hire-purchase advertisements. The basis of their opposition was that the Hire-Purchase Act already gives sufficient protection to the public, and also they contended that the regulation of advertisements would be an unnecessary interference with trade.
But if the Hire-Purchase Act, 1938, does give the necessary protection to the public, why should the majority of those organisations represented at the discussions support the suggestion that there should be some regulation of hire-purchase advertisements to supplement the existing Act? And if the regulation of advertisements would be an unnecessary interference with trade, why should the Advertising Association support the idea and be in favour of legislation?
Since the Bill was published I have received many letters and I have held many discussions with representatives of organisations concerned in advertising and the retail and hire-purchase trade. The majority expressed themselves in favour of the Bill, and some went so far as to express pleasure that it was being introduced. Among those who oppose the Bill the criticism is that it is invidious and unjustifiable for a Bill to aim exclusively at advertisements relative to hire-purchase and not at other forms of trade advertising. I cannot help feeling that those who pose the objection completely miss the point that there is a great deal of difference between the hire-purchase method of buying and buying for cash.
When goods have to be paid for outright for cash, the customer is much more careful about what he is going to buy. He examines it more carefully and also looks at the money that he is to spend; 1329 certainly more than when all that is required is to put down a small instalment.
Let us consider the psychological effects, because they must be taken into account. When a customer with £30 or £40 in his pocket goes into a shop to buy goods he is very careful to see that he gets exactly what he wants before he parts with his money. In a way, he feels that he is doing a favour to the shopkeeper by buying the article. The psychological effect is more or less reversed in the case of a hire-purchase buying, because then the customer is more impressed by the small deposit he has to pay and is inclined to feel that the shopkeeper is doing him a favour by allowing him to have the goods; so he is nowhere near so "choosey" about what he gets.
Another objection to the Bill is that it is superfluous and the particular protection it purports to afford is already provided by existing legislation. My reply is that existing legislation relates only to hire-purchase and credit sale agreements. It does not relate in any way to the manner in which the terms are offered in advertisements; not even if they are offered in a misleading manner. If the existing legislation is sufficient, why should Questions have been asked in Parliament? Why should so many complaints have been sent to the Board of Trade and representations made asking that something should be done to deal with this question of misleading advertisements?
The objections to which I have referred come from the National Association of Retail Furnishers. I know that it sent round copious correspondence to hon. Members in putting its case. But it is significant that in those notes it is stated that the Association, with all its objections to any form of statutory control of hire-purchase advertisements, admits that ethical standards of advertising are necessary. To this end it has actually had a committee sitting for quite a long time, drawing up a code of retail advertising and furnishing the public with information about price and conditions of sale. That is an organisation which is complaining about this Bill.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Schofield
I was about to say that the only difference between what the Association is seeking to do, and so far has failed to do, and this Bill is that the Association wants a voluntary control, whereas the Bill would make it a legal control. I have already pointed out that the newspaper proprietors have a voluntary control of that kind over their advertising, and, while some observe the control, others do not. What reason is there to suppose that the voluntary control which the Association would impose would be any more successful than that which the newspaper proprietors have at present?
I come now to the details of the various Clauses in the Bill. The purpose of the Bill is set forth quite clearly. It is to ensure that all hire-purchase or credit sale advertisements which quote part of the credit terms shall show clearly all the payments which shall be required, in terms of the deposit, the instalments and the period over which the payments are to be made.
Clause 1 sets out the type of advertisement to which the Bill applies. The Bill does not apply to advertisements which merely state that hire-purchase terms can be arranged or to the sort of advertisement which states, "Two years to pay," because an advertisement of that kind is just a plain statement of fact. There is nothing misleading in it; it merely states that hire-purchase terms can be arranged or that, whatever the terms that are arranged, there will be two years in which to pay.
However, I submit that there is a vast difference between an advertisement of that kind and one which states, "Yours for £1" or "Yours for 5s. a week," with no other indication of how much will have to be paid before the buyer becomes the owner of the goods or how long will be allowed for the payments to be made. That is the kind of advertisement against which the Bill is directed.
May I put it in this way? If, for instance, the advertisement which stated, "Yours for £1" also stated, "And £2 a month for a year", or if the advertisement which stated, "Yours for 5s. a week" also stated that a deposit of £10 was required plus 5s. a week for two years, then I submit that advertisements of that kind would not appear quite so 1331 attractive as just the bald statement, "Yours for 5s." but at least they would be a true representation of what would have to be paid.
I submit, therefore, that those who indulge in that kind of misleading advertisement are not only taking an unfair advantage of the unsuspecting type of customer who does not understand all that hire purchase involves, but they are also taking an unfair advantage of those firms which advertise in the spirit of the law governing hire purchase and which give full particulars of the relevant hire-purchase terms. The Bill will also cover the type of advertisements which feature the "No deposit" as an attraction.
Clause 2 gives the information which has to be included in advertisements to which the Bill applies and it prohibits advertisements which do not include that information. It also specifies that each part of the information required must be displayed clearly with equal prominence. The reason for that is that many advertisements, although they give the required information, give the less attractive part of the terms in small print, often squeezed into a small corner of the advertisement, while the most attractive part is displayed in large headlines; but as such things as the deposit, the amount and number of instalments to be paid and the rate of payment are all part of the price to be paid, I should have thought that each one of those matters was of equal importance. They are certainly of equal importance to the person who has to pay, so why attempt to make some appear more important than others by giving special prominence to any particular part of the price to be paid?
The only kind of advertisement which is exempted from giving all the particulars which go to make up the price is the one which is of a general character which quotes neither the cash price nor the amount of the deposit nor the instalments. In such a case the requirements are much less stringent. For example, an advertisement which stated, "Deposit 20 per cent. of cash price, and 24 monthly instalments," would be allowed.
Of course, those who oppose any control of hire-purchase advertisements by legislation protest that it is quite impracticable to expect advertisements to contain all the particulars required by the Bill. I agree that, at first sight, the infor- 1332 mation required to be given as set out in Clause 2 (2) does appear to be formidable, but it is nowhere near so formidable as it appears at first sight. It can, in effect, be given quite briefly.
I submit that all the information required can be given in seven or eight words of any advertisement. For instance there is nothing very inconvenient in stating, "£20 deposit and 24 monthly instalments of £1", or in framing an advertisement which states, "No deposit. 38 weekly instalments of 5s." There are seven words only in that, yet anyone reading an advertisement of that kind could easily see how much in total would have to be paid before the goods became theirs, as well as seeing, of course, at what stage each of the payments must be made and over what period payments must be made.
Clause 2 (2, e) lays down that if any instalments are payable before delivery of the goods, the advertisement must state quite clearly the number of such instalments. The idea is to prevent the public being misled by a trader who puts out an advertisement claiming to offer goods on no-deposit terms and, although he may not ask for a deposit when the agreement is signed, nevertheless he insists that a certain number of instalments should be paid before delivery of the goods is made. To me a deposit is payable in such a case. The only difference is that the deposit is payable by instalment. The customer cannot get the goods until he has paid five or six instalments, or however many may be required. It is completely misleading to say that no deposit is required. The whole idea of the deposit is that one puts the money down, gets the goods and pays the instalments afterwards.
Another type of misleading advertisement is frequently seen in those which refer both to hire-purchase and to credit sale terms. For example, it may be for an article or goods which the customer can buy either by the hire-purchase method with, let us say, a 50 per cent. deposit and 24 monthly instalments—in that instance there is a high deposit and low monthly instalments—or it may be for goods which may be bought by the short-term credit-sale method of, say, nine monthly instalments and no deposit. In that instance, there are large instalments and no deposit.
1333 The trick which is sometimes used by a trader in an advertisement is to confuse the reader by muddling together the terms which relate to the two different methods: that is, to present the low monthly instalments of the first method so close to the no-deposit method of the second that the reader is misled into thinking that he can obtain the goods by payment of low monthly instalments and without paying a deposit.
Clause 3 refers to penalties, and makes it an offence to display or issue advertisements which contravene the provisions of the Bill. It prescribes moderate penalties of £50 for a first offence and £100 thereafter.
It is a defence for anyone to prove that the advertisement did not relate to his business, or was not devised by him or by anyone under his control. The purpose of this provision is to cover such persons as newspaper proprietors, publishers, printers, television companies and others who may be responsible for the medium through which advertisements are exhibited but are not responsible for the contents of the advertisements.
Clause 4 contains a definition of "advertisement," which is that it includes every form of visual advertising but does not include advertising which consists only of the spoken word. The spoken words which accompany advertisements on the television or cinema screen would he taken as part of the advertisement.
In asking the House to support the Bill, I submit that the Bill does not require any more detailed information on hire-purchase and credit-sale advertisement than is already given by many reputable firms. The Bill will serve a useful purpose by compelling traders to set out their terms clearly and fairly, so assisting the public to find out what the goods offered would really cost. It will help to bring back competition from what is sometimes a deceptive basis of easy terms to its proper footing of price and quality.
§ 11.42 a.m.
§ Mr. R. Gresham Cooke (Twickenham)
I beg to second the Motion.
I do so with pleasure. I congratulate the mover, my hon and gallant Friend the Member for Rochdale (Lieut.-Colonel Schofield), upon his very excellent speech and upon his evident grip upon the 1334 goddess of fortune, following his reading of "What the Stars Foretell". The only misfortune is that for many years to come he may be the victim of the astrologers lobby in this House.
Like my hon. and gallant Friend, I am not criticising hire purchase. Far from it. I defend it. Hire purchase not only assists young couples to build up a home at a time when their income is low or they have children and find it difficult to raise capital sums, but it is also a modern aid and handmaid of mass production, with all the efficiency that that method of manufacture brings in lowered costs of production.
When people tell me that the public should not indulge in hire purchase I remind them that British industry has been built up on borrowed money. We might take an example from the engineering industry. During last century, if a village blacksmith had a bright idea for an invention which he wished to exploit, and he wanted to buy machinery to make it, he generally went to the squire or the local rich man and borrowed £500. If it was a sound idea he succeeded. We know that out of such a small beginning many great and romantic businesses have been built in many parts of the country.
Today, if an artisan in a works wishes to develop a little business of his own he goes down the street and finds two or three friends to lend him a few hundred pounds with which to start up. There is no objection in borrowing money for a proper purpose. The limited liability system of this country has so developed the borrowing of money that great companies and institutions now bring together a team of about 30,000 or 40,000 lenders of money as shareholders and supporters of the institution.
It is said that people with small incomes should not borrow, but the borrowings on hire purchase are really a form of compulsory saving, particularly where the purchaser is buying consumer durables which will be part of the capital of his household for many years to come.
We must, however, agree that there are abuses in the hire-purchase system. In order to protect the Shareholder in a limited liability company there is a mass of legislation in the Companies Acts laying down the form that the accounts should take and requiring disclosure of 1335 information to the shareholders so that they and the lenders of money can judge of the safety of their lendings and may know the terms on which they are lending.
I believe that the growth of the Companies Acts over the last 90 years has been forced on because the shareholder and the lender are in a weak position vis à vis the directors of companies. Equally today the hire-purchase customer is in a weak position vis à vis the seller of goods, as my hon. and gallant Friend has pointed out. For that reason the customer needs protection, like the lender of money, and that is the reason why a Hire-Purchase Act was found necessary before the war.
As one walks along the streets and looks at the shop windows or scans the local weekly papers, one cannot fail to be struck by the meagreness of the information on hire-purchase transactions. "Yours for £1," I read. I have often wondered what would happen if one walked in to the shop where that is stated and claimed the settee or the wardrobe to which the notice was attached. Would one be in a sufficiently strong legal position to claim the goods?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I am glad to hear that. One of the abuses is due to lack of knowledge of the hire-purchase terms. Customers should know at a glance how much money they have to pay, particularly when in present-day conditions the purchaser may suddenly suffer a reduction of overtime working, or have to work short time. We are confronted with those difficulties in the Midlands at present.
I have brought with me to the House a few examples of the advertisements which I have seen recently. Here is a pamphlet with displayed advertisements on furniture, with such announcements as "Only 5s. 6d. weekly," "Only 4s. 6d. weekly". Each advertisement gives the cash price but no other details.
In the middle is a picture of a wardrobe, a chest of drawers, and what looks like a commode. The prices are so mixed up that it is difficult to see whether the price is "1 s. 3d. weekly" or "6s. 1336 weekly". The advertisement does not say for how many weeks. Another advertisement says:Unrepeatable value in fireside chairs, covered in uncut moquette. Sale price. 79s. 6d. One shilling weekly.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Well, hardly ever.
I have here another example of what I think is an even more misleading series of advertisements. It is on a full half-page display in a local London paper published this week. In large type across the middle of the page are the words "No Deposit" and after that it is stated "38 weeks to pay". One would imagine, as that is stated at the head of the series of advertisements that it applies to all of them. The third advertisement is for a6 piece lounge suite. Selection of covers. Unbeatable value! Worth £49 10s. 0d. Only 39½guineas sale price. 8s. 6d. weekly.Having read that there is no deposit and there are 38 weeks in which to pay, one would imagine that one could go into the shop and have the suite and then pay 8s. 6d. weekly, but in fact that weekly payment refers to a contract covering two years and including a deposit, while the 38 weeks in which to pay refers to a different arrangement—a credit sale with very much larger instalments. That is the sort of thing to which I think we must take objection.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Not even a lawyer would understand that. I have received a letter from the Hire Purchase Trade Association which has painted a horrifying picture of what it thinks would happen after this Bill came into force. The first objection, the Association tells me, is that traders:will be left with no practical alternative but to delete the whole of this information"—about hire purchase—and substitute merely some such statement as 'Hire Purchase Terms available'. The immediate effect of the Bill will thus be to deprive the public of information, which it is both desirable that they should have, and which the trader wishes to provide.I cannot see why in a half-page advertisement of this kind it is not possible to put what are the terms of the deposit 1337 and what the weekly payments are and to say £5 and 8s. 6d. weekly for two years.
The second objection the Association makes to the Bill is:this Bill will place a very heavy burden on the trading community, who will find themselves compelled overnight to withdraw any catalogue, price list or showcard containing hire purchase or instalment terms…From time to time rates of money change and also Orders are approved by this House changing the arrangements on which hire purchase may be carried out. In such instances showcards, booklets and catalogues must be withdrawn. I cannot see any further difficulty occurring than would already occur for the trading community on the occasions when the rates of money change or we alter the terms and conditions of hire purchase as laid down by regulations.
I am afraid that the objections of the Hire Purchase Trade Association do not carry much great weight. I am delighted to learn from the speech of my hon. Friend that many reputable trade associations in fact back the Bill.
In case anyone should be under any illusion as to whether members of the public over-commit themselves under hire purchase, I should say that citizens advice bureaux have given me many examples which they have brought to light lately from investigations of families hopelessly overcommitted in this way. One example was the case of a man and his wife and two children with a total income of £7 a week paying 42s. rent and rates, 3s. 2d. insurance, 15s. coal clubs, 10s. clothing clubs, 34s. 6d. on hire purchase of furniture, leaving 36s. a week for food and other necessities.
Another case was of a man and his wife and seven children with a total income of £9 14s. 6d. and various charges and commitments who were paying 30s. a week for furniture. There are many other such cases of that kind in which members of the public have obviously gone too far in taking on hire-purchase commitments.
Many people consider that, in addition to the deposit, the instalments and number of weeks in which to pay which this Bill requires, the cash price should also be stated in the advertisement. I realise that there are objections to that because in many cases the cash price 1338 could be stated as merely being the sum of the deposit and the total of the instalments, but in the Committee stage I should like to see an Amendment that the cash price should be put down as well. I think that that is a suitable subject for argument on the Committee stage.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
I think that the hon. Member means that the cash price for an outright sale should always be inserted in the advertisement.
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
Yes, exactly, the price for an outright sale and not, of course, the total of the instalments. I think that that would be a suitable subject for an Amendment.
I am afraid that in the hire-purchase world a number of abuses are still going on. I have had examples given me of extraordinary proceedings whereby door-to-door salesman act as moneylenders. I had one example in which a salesman gave a woman £2, entering £2 12s. 6d. in his book and charging her 2s. a week.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
May I interrupt my hon. Friend and ask what that has to do with a Bill dealing with advertising?
§ Mr. Gresham Cooke
I was coming to that point. There are many other instances. The point is that there are abuses in the hire-purchase field, but this is a very narrow Bill dealing with only one part of hire purchase. I would consider that it cannot raise the general objections which might be made on the sort of abuse I quoted just now. I believe that the Bill has the support of the great majority of trade associations in retail trade. I do not think it is over-fussy or that we are trying to be "nannies" to the population any more than the House acts as a nanny to shareholders when it requires companies to make full disclosure of their accounts under the Companies Act.
I believe the Bill will do a service to the nation. It will be a service to the public to get it on the Statute Book.
§ 11.59 a.m.
§ Mr. James Dance (Bromsgrove)
I am rather loath to speak against this Bill which has been put forward so admirably by my hon. Friends, but I do not like the Bill and feel it is my duty to oppose it. I have a slight interest to declare to the 1339 extent that I am a director of a company which publishes theatre programmes that carry advertisements. I think it right that I should mention that.
I oppose the Bill on four counts. First, I oppose it because I think it is an unnecessary piece of legislation which will put more pettifogging restrictions on legitimate traders. It has been the policy of this Government for some time to try to remove controls and restrictions, not to add to them. I feel this Bill would do just that and would put further restriction on legitimate trading. I oppose on the second ground because I feel that this is an insult to the intelligence of the public. We are not a nation of fools; we are wise people. If we base our legislation on trying to protect fools there may be a danger of breeding a nation of fools.
I believe that it was Napoleon who called us a nation of shopkeepers, and so we are—and very good ones at that—but we are also a nation of first-class shoppers. I believe that the man-in-the-street knows what he wants and knows the price that he intends to pay for it and is not hoodwinked by these advertisements.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rochdale (Lieut.-Colonel Schofield) said that when one entered into a cash sale one gave a great deal more thought to it than one did to a hire-purchase transaction. I do not agree. I think that the reverse is the case. If one has money in one's pocket and likes an article that one sees displayed in a shop, one is inclined to take out the money and buy the article. On the other hand, when it is a question of hire purchase—
§ Mr. Osborne
Is my hon. Friend really suggesting that a man who has worked hard for his wages, has denied himself the pleasure of spending money, and has accumulated money carefully over months or years will throw away that money more easily and lightly than he will buy something for money that he has never earned?
§ Mr. Dance
It is a debatable point and we may differ about it, but the man has the money in his pocket, and if he wants to buy an article I think he will do so.
As to hire purchase, it should not be forgotten that it is not the advertisement which is the contract, and there is no 1340 liability until the contract is signed. It often happens that the man takes the contract home and shows it to his wife. Most wives will go through the contract carefully and ascertain what the terms and conditions are. The result is either that the man does not go back to the shop or that he goes back knowing what his liability is. A man can also take the agreement away with him and obtain legal advice if he wishes. Until the contract is actually signed, the man is under no liability.
My hon. and gallant Friend said that "Yours for 5s." is very misleading. I do not believe there is a single soul in this country who thinks he is going to get an £80 television set for 5s. I do not believe that those words are misleading.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Schofield
What interpretation does my hon. Friend place upon "yours"? Surely the meaning is that one owns and possesses the article. If an advertisement says "Yours for £1" that is entirely wrong, because under a hire-purchase agreement the ownership does not pass until the last instalment has been paid. Yet the advertisers imply that the ownership passes as soon as one pays £1.
§ Mr. Dance
That may be true from the legal angle, but I do not think that the public are being misled.
It is true that there are reckless, spendthrift people who will buy articles which they cannot afford, but I do not believe that the advertisement has anything to do with that. I believe that a person of that sort buys an article for one reason alone, because he wants it, and he completely ignores the consequences.
It is not very difficult to calculate what an article is going to cost. If people cannot make that simple calculation, a very grave reflection is cast upon our national educational system, which costs the taxpayers £600 million a year. If that is indeed the case, then the £600 million cannot be well spent; but I do not believe that it is the case.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Schofield
I do not want to keep interrupting my hon. Friend, but might I ask him how he would work out a calculation on the basis of a phrase which merely said "5s. 9d. a week"?
§ Mr. Dance
I should, naturally, make inquiries about it when I went to the shop. Anybody with any intelligence at all—I believe the majority of the people have intelligence—will go to the shop and find out what is his actual liability. I do not believe there is any great danger in the advertisement itself.
My next reason for opposing the Bill is that I do not think we have satisfactory proof that the nation is being exploited in this way. I agree there may be isolated cases where there are ambiguous advertisements—some have been quoted this morning—but surely we should not introduce legislation to deal with one or two isolated cases when it may be to the detriment of the vast number of honest, straightforward traders.
My fourth reason for opposing the Bill is that, even if it could be proved that exploitation is taking place, I do not think that the Bill would help. Indeed the reverse might be the case. Under the Bill an advertiser has to show the actual amount of the deposit and the actual amount of each instalment. It may frequently happen that a man who reads an advertisement may wish to enter into an agreement with the dealer on different terms. An advertisement might specify a deposit of 20 per cent. and the balance to be repaid over two years. A would-be purchaser might say that he wished to deposit one-third of the amount and spread the instalments over twelve months. Under the Bill, a dealer who agreed to that would be breaking the law.
§ Mr. Dance
I think he would, because he would not be selling the goods on the precise terms quoted in the advertisement. That is how I read the Bill at present, but I may be wrong. Perhaps we might discuss the point further in Committee. If I am wrong, I apologise to my hon. and gallant Friend.
There is one part of the Bill which greatly commends itself. I mentioned earlier that I am a director of a company which publishes programmes. Clause (3) 2 releases publishers of newspapers and television sponsors and the like from liability and places the onus upon the advertiser. That is absolutely correct. In producing our programmes, we take very great care to ensure that there is no un- 1342 pleasant or obscene type of advertisement, but it would obviously be impossible for us to be certain that an advertisement was not contravening the Bill. We hold our contracts and concessions in various ways. Sometimes we pay a straightforward rent, sometimes we work on a commission basis and sometimes we work on a sharing basis with the impresario or the producer of plays. It would be wrong if one of those men, many of whom have little or no knowledge of commercial advertising, were made liable under this Bill. Consequently, I am delighted to find this provision in the Bill, and I sincerely hope it will be retained.
Nevertheless, I oppose the Bill on the four grounds which I have stated; first, I consider it to be unnecessary legislation; secondly, it is an insult to the public's intelligence; thirdly, there is no proof that the public are being exploited; and, fourthly, even if exploitation exists, I believe that the Bill will not help and might even make matters worse.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Glenvil Hall (Colne Valley)
I know that on a Friday, when we are dealing with a Private Member's Bill, it is common form to congratulate the hon. Member who has been fortunate enough in the Ballot to bring in such a Bill, but on this occasion I can assure the hon. and gallant Member for Rochdale (Lieut.-Colonel Schofield) that the congratulations we offer from this side are sincere.
In our view, this is a useful Bill, and the House would be doing the right and proper thing in agreeing to let it go to a Committee where it can be looked at in detail and improved, particularly along the lines suggested by the hon. Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke). Certain phrases now allowed in advertisements, and which could still be put into advertisements under this Bill, should be disallowed.
There is very little that one can add to what has been said. The hon. and gallant Member put the case with great fairness. He did not overstate it, and the House would be very well advised, without a great deal more debate, to agree to this Measure and pass on to such other business as may be on the Order Paper.
Like many other hon. Members, I can remember the legislation of 1938, which 1343 we shall always associate with the late Miss Ellen Wilkinson. It is interesting to recall that she piloted that Act through as a Private Member's Measure. The 1938 Act is the main Act on the Statute Book now governing hire-purchase agreements, and I think that this Bill is a logical and necessary sequel to that Measure. Its prime aim, of course, is to protect small people, with little knowledge of the legal niceties of presentation by those who are gifted, if that is the correct word to use, in the compilation of attractive advertisements.
Another aim is to help young couples, with very little money at their command, anxious to furnish their first home. When they go into the furniture shop, the carpet shop, or whatever the shop may be, they often have not the courage fully to probe the financial effects of the offers which are made to them. If it is made legally essential that in the advertisements which first attract such couples to the shop the full and necessary details are set forth it should help such young people materially to know all about what they are about to buy. I think that it is highly desirable that that should be done.
One question that has been put in correspondence to me and, I am sure, to other hon. Members, is why should this Bill be limited to advertisements connected with hire-purchase agreements and credit sales transactions? I should have thought that the reasons were obvious. They were, in fact, given by the hon. and gallant Member. The first is, of course, the normal attitude of the buyers. Most of them, quite wrongly of course, go into the shop firmly convinced that the shopkeeper is doing them a favour when he sells them something on hire purchase. Normally, the shopkeeper does not finance the transaction at all. He, in turn, goes to a finance company, which carries it through and takes over the hire-purchase agreement. That being the attitude of mind, particularly of young people, we have to protect them, if we can, in that respect.
There has been an enormous growth of this type of business. The present cost of such things as furniture and carpets is so high that thousands of people cannot afford to get married and set up a home unless such facilities are available to them. It is the unanimous view on this side of the House that it is 1344 essential that additional safeguards should now be given to those, and they are the vast majority of our fellow citizens, who go in for this kind of transaction.
Experience has shown, I think, that the time has definitely come when such safeguards should be provided by Parliament. I hope, therefore, that the House will accept this Bill, send it to Committee, and that very soon it will reach the Statute Book. If it does so, I am sure that the House will be doing the right thing.
§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Mr. John C. Bidgood (Bury and Radcliffe)
I should like to join in congratulating my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rochdale (Lieut.-Colonel Schofield) on his success in the Ballot. He rather disappointed me this morning when he regaled the House with details of how he magically found No. 39 on the Ballot Paper. Ever since I knew of his good fortune I had been under the impression that he had put his name against that number which corresponded to his age.
I do not think that it is possible for a Bill to be devised which more successfully sets out to perform such a simple and necessary function. I am sure that all hon. Members are very anxious to see hire-purchase and credit facilities made as watertight and understandable to the public as is humanly possible. One thing that I find rather difficult to understand is that in relation to a Bill of this nature only one section of the community has approached me with any objections; and that happens to be the furnishing trade. I have tried to find out exactly why that trade, almost alone, should, in certain quarters, be so bitterly opposed to this Measure. I can only come to the conclusion that it is because that trade has most to fear from it.
I have had discussions in my constituency with those engaged in the sale of furniture. Almost without exception, they have told me that they welcome the Bill because, of course, there—as throughout the whole of Lancashire—they are reputable traders and have nothing to fear. Those constituents of mine who are in favour of this legislation are very anxious to see that those deceiving advertisements to which reference has been 1345 made this morning are blotted from the shop windows of—I use the term for want of a better—the more speculative furniture salesmen.
Let us see what the Bill seeks to do. First, it tries to achieve honesty in hire-purchase and credit-sale advertising. Secondly, it is an endeavour to protect the potential purchasers who may possibly he completely bewildered when a hire-purchase form is thrust in front of them and they are told, "Sign here." Surely nobody can object to these very desirable aims.
It is only right that I should give the main grounds of objection from the furniture trade as they have been communicated to me. First, they tell me that the primary idea of advertising, particularly for the sate of furniture, is to get people into one's shop, and that, therefore, they must make their display as attractive as possible, even though it may well mean that strict honesty is not observed in so doing. In any case, the fact remains that under this Bill they will all be in the same position. Nobody will have an unfair advantage over anybody else.
The second objection that has been put to me is that the large firms in the country would enjoy an advantage over the smaller firms because with the passing of this Bill more advertising space will he required in order that the necessary information should be provided, and one of their objections is that in those circumstances the larger firms with the more money to spend on advertising would be in a more advantageous position. But what they have probably overlooked is the fact that this applies to any form of advertising—credit or otherwise—and it is, of course, the large firms who have the most money to spend on advertising displays. Therefore, I cannot accept that as a valid objection.
The third objection that has been put to me is that invariably people are not interested in the cash price. I think we can say that there is a certain amount of truth in that reasoning, but the fact remains that surely those who are potential purchasers of a suite of furniture have the right to know, in simple terms, how many weeks they are to be called upon to pay a certain amount of money.
1346 I see my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) is not here, but I should be very surprised if he had not had certain problems to deal with in his own constituency relating to people who have, unfortunately, got themselves into financial difficulties by being talked into taking on more than their incomes warranted, either by a high-pressure salesman standing outside the door of a furniture shop or, alternatively, by misleading and deceptive advertisements.
Another objection raised by the furniture trade is that the Bill will have a very serious effect on those firms who issue catalogues, as frequent changes will be necessary. We all know that frequent changes do take place in the Hire-Purchase Acts, and, therefore, I cannot possibly see why this Bill should make any changes necessary in catalogues.
An interesting fact is that the main objection to this proposed legislation comes from the National Association of Retail Furnishers. I am interested to try to find out how far the Association is affected by this Bill in comparison with other industries dealing with hire purchase or credit sales. I have made some inquiries, and I was very interested to find that out of the total of hire purchase and credit sales in this country only 3 per cent. comes from the sale of furniture compared with 72 per cent. for vehicles and 8 per cent. for radios.
Personally, I have had no lobbying from the motor dealers who are responsible, as I say, for 72 per cent. of the hire-purchase and credit-sale transactions which take place, and I certainly have had no lobbying from radio dealers. The only lobbying has come from the Association to which I have referred. I fear that those who are raising the main objections to the Bill are doing so in the certain knowledge that advertising techniques which, at the moment, may be questionable will come to an end when this Bill is passed into law.
I should like to examine some of the detailed objections given by the National Association of Retail Furnishers. It claims first that the selection of hire-purchase and credit-trading industries for special attention out of the whole of the advertising field is invidious and unjustifiable. I would imagine that the reason why my hon. Friend has selected this form of advertising for attention is 1347 that it is the type of advertising which is most misleading to the public.
The second objection is that the weight of this Bill falls disproportionately on the furnishing trade when compared with the whole sphere of hire-purchase and credit trading. As I have already demonstrated. only 3 per cent. is represented by the furniture trade, and, therefore, nobody can reasonably say that this is an unfair proportion falling upon one industry.
The third objection is that the protection which the Bill seeks to afford to the consumer is already provided for by existing legislation, so that the Bill is superfluous. I fail to see how that can be a ground of valid criticism, because if the legislation on the Statute Book today is sufficient I am quite sure that my hon. and gallant Friend would not have been presenting this Bill today.
The next objection raised is that the effects of the Bill will throw an intolerable strain upon the general trading and advertising practice within the fields affected. I do not think that that suggestion requires very much detailed examination because, as I have already pointed out in reply to the previous objection, this cannot possibly be so.
This Association then goes on to say that the Bill serves no practical, urgent or essential public need. I am sure that if there had been a urgent or essential need for legislation of this kind the Government would have introduced it and would not have left it to a private Member, but the fact that the Government have not of themselves brought in the Bill does not necessarily mean that the proposed Measure is not practical, and that, I am pleased to see, is why it has been left to a private Member to introduce it.
The next point of criticism is one to which I think we can genuinely take exception. The Association says that the Bill is impracticable and incapable of enforcement and would bring the law into ridicule and disrepute. Quite frankly, I feel that for a responsible organisation to make a statement of that type is something to which we ought to take serious objection, because I cannot for a moment visualise it as a valid argument that it is wrong to bring forward certain legislation because on the lines proposed it would be incapable of en- 1348 forcement. In fact, a retail furniture trader told me, when he was making his representations to me, that if this Bill were passed into law he could drive a coach and horses through it.
When I asked him whether he was prepared to tell me how he felt that the Bill might be tightened up, so that he could not drive a coach and horses through it, he was peculiarly silent. I would have thought that he, as a member of the furniture retail dealing community, would have been doing himself and the community a better service by telling me, as a sponsor of the Bill, how best we could alter it and amend it in Committee to cover the points he was raising, rather than to adopt this mysterious attitude of, "Let it go through; you are wasting your time; we will drive a coach and horses through it."
I should not like it to be felt that I am launching an attack upon the furniture trade, because that is far from my intention. I should like to tell the House that in a speech made recently at the annual dinner of the House Furnishers' Association of South-East Scotland, at Edinburgh, the chairman called on furniture retailers to be more progressive and forward-looking in their attitude to new developments, methods and opportunities.
I am quite sure that anybody making a statement of that kind would not wish to get people into his furniture shop by false pretences and half-truths, either by notices exhibited in his shop or by advertising in the Press. In fact, I am confirmed in this view by the secretary of that Association, who said, at the same dinner:We are all members of a trade association, and I think these organisations give opportunities to men and women who are charged with the serious responsibilities of public life to contribute something to the common weal. Every person who is a member of a trade association has the honour of that organisation in his hands. The slick spiv is not for us. We want men and women of integrity, who will give a square deal in all transactions, who will look after their staff, and will encourage the active and discourage the idle, and thus making this world prosperous and happy.I felt it only right that we should not let it be thought that we were trying to tar the whole of the furnishing retail trade with the same brush.
Turning for a moment to the events of the last two or three years, as long ago 1349 as 1954 the Joint Advisory Committee of the Newspaper Proprietors Association and the Newspaper Society prepared legislation, or proposed legislation, similar to that which is now proposed in this Bill. I am sure that hon. Members will remember that during 1955 and 1956 the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton) was particularly active at Question Time, trying to pursuade the Government to bring legislation of this type into force. I remember that in 1955 the hon. Member for Coventry, South brought forward details of a dining-room suite which was advertised, and that the details of the advertising were both dishonest and misleading.
From what I have seen, reputable traders will welcome the Bill. I think that the House will not disagree with me when I say that the United States has been the pioneer of hire-purchase transactions and certainly has a very high reputation so far as its advertising ethics are concerned. I have always felt so, and it does not need me to explain to the House how much is bought on hire purchase in the United States. In fact, I have heard it said that the only reason why the average American family does not own an elephant is that elephants are not advertised in the shops at I dollar down and 24 monthly payments. That shows how efficient the Americans are when it comes to advertising and hire purchase.
I was looking at the Saturday Evening Post only a few days ago, in which was a very large full-page display entitled, "How to be a successful advertiser." I took a note of what points were required to become a success in that field. This is what that newspaper gives as the seven qualifications for success in advertising. One, make a quality product; two, constantly strive to maintain and improve that quality; three, price it at its true value; four, make it readily available; five, advertise truthfully and in good taste; six, advertise consistently; seven, advertise to the right people. If this Bill has the effect of endorsing the advice given under the fifth heading, namely, that one should advertise truthfully and in good taste, it will have achieved a very sound and substantial purpose.
May I quote an extract on this subject from a book called, "Advertising and Psychology," be Leslie E. Gill, lecturer 1350 in advertising? I quote from page 181, under the heading, "Truth in advertising":For well over a quarter of a century the organised bodies in advertising have sought to bring about a clear realisation that truth in advertising is sound psychology. It is encouraging that most of the improvements that have taken place during these years were inspired by members of the profession rather than through legislation. There are gaps, of course, but, on the whole, the moral standards practised in contemporary advertising are on the upgrade.I fully endorse those suggestions, but I feel that the advertising industry as a whole, if one calls it an industry, would probably enjoy an even higher reputation than it does today if this Bill, so ably proposed by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rochdale, is passed. It will close this gap and, perhaps, deal with the one side of advertising, small though it may be, which besmirches the good name of the advertising industry as a whole.
I have, therefore, very much pleasure in supporting the Bill and I sincerely hope that in due time it will find its way on to the Statute Book.
§ 12.41 p.m.
§ Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)
I am going to take about one-twentieth of the time taken by the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Bidgood) in saying what I have to say. It has been interesting to me to sit here and listen to such a long dissertation from the hon. Gentleman in support of the Bill which the hon. and gallant Member for Rochdale (Lieut.-Colonel Schofield) has brought before us, because it happens that we are colleagues, if not exactly in agreement with one another, on a Committee which is now sitting upstairs. That Committee has had eleven sitting so far, considering a highly controversial Measure, but we have yet to hear the hon. Member for Bury and Radcliffe make a contribution in relation to that controversial issue. Here we are discussing a Bill which has so far been supported by every Member who has spoken save one.
I should like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Rochdale on bringing forward the Bill. He had good luck in the draw, and we believe that he has brought before the House a Bill which will be of inestimable benefit to thousands of people in the country. We 1351 may assume that people who are able to read are able also to understand, but there are many who read very scantily, who do not stop to think of what the advertisement they are reading really means when interpreted. It is, therefore, necessary to emphasise more clearly than is at present required by law what in fact such people may be committing themselves to.
We on this side of the House welcome the Bill. We believe that it should be a great day for the hon. and gallant Member for Rochdale. I trust that it will be an even greater day for my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, South-East (Miss Bacon). We on this side of the House cannot really understand why we should be arguing about this Bill. We consider that it should have the unanimous support of all hon. Members, and could very easily be passed forthwith.
§ 12.44 p.m.
§ Sir Eric Errington (Aldershot)
I was interested to hear the remarks which the hon. Member for Bristol, South (Mr. Wilkins) made about my hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Bidgood), commenting on his speaking here but not upstairs. It might indeed be an advantage if some of the people who spoke upstairs did so a little less so that we might get our business through.
§ Mr. Wilkins
Will the hon. Gentleman permit me to say that that would be all right if we were merely playing politics? It would be a great advantage to do so, because it is political suicide for the Tory Party.
§ Sir E. Errington
That is a matter of opinion.
I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe with some trepidation, which was removed only when he said that he really was not making an attack upon the furniture trade. I have a rather tenuous connection there, because I happen to be an honorary member of an association connected with that trade, but I should like to say at once that I believe that every hon. Member, on whichever side of the House he may sit, must appreciate what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rochdale (Lieut.-Colonel Schofield) is trying to do. The reason that I have 1352 —which I hope to give in a comparatively few minutes—for opposing the Bill is this: I do not believe that it will achieve the object which my hon. and gallant Friend has in mind.
Everybody will agree that the sort of advertisement exemplified by such words as "Yours for 10s." is a most unsatisfactory advertisement, and one which has become remarkably less common as the years have passed. Indeed, it would be wrong for anybody to seek to suggest that that form of advertisement was either common or effective in achieving the objects which the people who used it had in mind.
Of course, there are still a number of misleading advertisements. My submission is that there is no way in which this House can prevent those misleading advertisements. No doubt the Board of Trade has had this matter under careful consideration for a long time, yet nothing has emerged from it. It is only now, when we have a Private Member's Bill, that the matter is being considered by the House.
§ Mr. F. A. Burden (Gillingham)
Would my hon. Friend not agree that the Clause in the Merchandise Marks Act to ensure that any advertisement shall not mislead the public and that any article which is sold—
§ Mr. Burden
I am sorry, Mr. Speaker —must fulfil the purposes given in the description, was a very great advance and will be linked with the proposals put forward today by my hon. and gallant Friend to his great credit?
§ Sir E. Errington
I am sorry that my hon. Friend had to be an acrobat in order to make the point which I was in fact just going to make, in rather different form.
For some period now there has been a very sustained and very proper effort to get legislation which will deal with the problem. As one of the Members who was in the House when Miss Wilkinson introduced the very excellent 1938 Act, the Hire-Purchase Act, I should like to point out, with reference to something which was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe, that the 1938 Act applies, of 1353 course, only to goods of under £300 in value. I would point out that the Bill we are now discussing has no limitation as to value in its reference to any advertisements.
The Wilkinson Act of 1938, the Hire-Purchase Act, was the start of the regulation of hire-purchase and credit-sale trading. Advertisements were to a large extent misleading not so much in regard to terms of sale as in connection with the quality of the goods. My hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham (Mr. Burden) has mentioned the Merchandise Marks Act, which has been of considerable value in that claims concerning certain descriptions of merchandise in furniture which could not be substantiated are no longer made. It has not, however, resulted in further information being given to the purchaser.
The tendency under the Merchandise Marks Act has, in fact, been to give only the most general of descriptions. In the old days, an advertisement for a suite of furniture would include a description of the filling, the covering, etc. Now, however, it is described merely as a suite.
§ Mr. Burden
I am sorry to interrupt my hon. Friend again, but that is precisely what is indicated as a result of the Merchandise Marks Act. If a suite is covered with a composition material of fibre and wool or rayon and cotton, it is necessary by law to specify exactly the components of the material. It does, in fact, insist upon specification, which before was avoided.
§ Sir E. Errington
It covers only the case where there is an inaccurate specification. Nobody is compelled to give an accurate specification, and what happens now is that no specification is called for or given. That is the reason for some of my opposition to the present Bill. Apart altogether from the question of overloading an industry or a series of industries and the hire-purchase business with additional heavy technical burdens, it does not seem to me that any real advantage will come from the Bill. As I have indicated, if it became law the likelihood would be that people would cease to advertise any terms whatever. They would cease to give prices of any kind and the matter would be left purely at large.
1354 The real protection to the public comes under the Hire-Purchase Act, 1938. I do not propose to repeat the elaborate series of arrangements to which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rochdale referred, but largely the 1938 Act has been a successful attempt to ensure that people who buy under these conditions know exactly what they are doing, what they are buying, and what the transaction means to them.
I would say that the first effect of the Bill would be that nothing would be shown by way of price. In other words, to quote the peculiar expression in Clause 1 (2), the average advertiser or dealer in furniture or any other commodity would not use the "said elements."
§ Lieut.-Colonel Schofield
Did I not express the view that any advertisement relating to price and conditions could be put into a matter of seven or eight words? I cannot see why it should now be alleged that because I have not specified that it has to be seven or eight words, nobody will put in anything about price.
§ Sir E. Errington
That is one of the problems. Clause 2 (2) contains the list given in paragraphs (a) to (e). I agree that some of them are alternatives, but each of them might be required to be put on, say, a price card, on the one side for hire purchase and on the other side for credit sales.
Under pain of criminal conviction, the Bill will force people who advertise, either in a newspaper or in a shop window, to put in a very large amount of information. In addition, my hon. and gallant Friend goes further and says that it will be a criminal act to give any "undue prominence" to any one part in comparison with any other part. Some of us who have a little experience of the courts know that the problem of saying whether something has been given "undue prominence" is a very difficult one. What will happen is that people will take every step they properly can to avoid bringing themselves within the terms of the Bill, and the simplest method will be to give no prices at all. That is what is likely to happen.
Let me give another illustration of the difficulty of operating the Bill. Suppose that full details, both for credit sale and for hire purchase, are given on the card or in the newspaper advertisement and a 1355 customer goes into the shop to discuss the matter. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rochdale, after chatting with the people in the shop, would probably be able to put down a larger deposit than a humble Member like myself could pay. At what stage would that become an offence so far as the Bill is concerned? Quite genuinely, the shopkeeper might say, "£10 down, 12s. a week" for a certain period. What would happen if my hon. and gallant Friend went into the shop and said that he wanted to put down £20 or £30? Would an offence be committed? My submission is that, as the Bill is drafted, that would constitute an offence.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Schofield
Is my hon. Friend suggesting that if somebody went into a shop, unconnected with hire purchase, in which an article was marked "£15," a criminal offence would be committed if it was sold for £12 10s.?
§ Sir E. Errington
Of course not. My hon. and gallant Friend scarcely realises the import of his Bill, which creates a criminal offence or offences in the way that I have described. This is a serious matter, and the House should think long before dealing with it in the way of a criminal punishment.
The Bill might catch one or two people but it will not deal with the main difficulties of untrue advertisements, because in advertisements terms are only one of the factors. One of the most difficult things to deal with—I will be frank about it; it is known everywhere—is the sort of advertisement which says, "Two suites at £20. Usual cost £30" or "£40". The Bill does not deal with that sort of thing, and yet that is a much more important sort of misleading and harmful advertisement. What happens is that when a person goes into the shop he finds that there are no suites to be sold for £20; he is told that they have already been disposed of.
Bearing in mind that the Bill covers only a very narrow sector of the problem; that it deals only with the preliminaries of a purchase, and that the 1938 Act lays down most rigorous, clear and definite rules about the conditions which have to be satisfied before a hire-purchase or credit sale transaction can be concluded, I believe that the effect of the 1356 Bill will be, purely and simply, to place a new and heavy technical burden upon an already overburdened section of the community.
§ 1.0 p.m.
§ Mrs. Patricia McLaughlin (Belfast, West)
I support the Bill. I feel very strongly that the point of view of the average person has not been completely put. We have heard a great deal of the points of view of the various associations and trades concerned in this matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) mentioned one or two individual cases of people having been misled into spending more for hire-purchase goods than they could rightly afford. The Bill is endeavouring to deal with the question of misleading advertisements only upon a very narrow front.
The whole problem of hire purchase is a very large one. It is generally agreed that this is an ever-increasing method of trading and that it is acceptable to the people as such, from the point of view both of the consumer and of the trader. Nevertheless we ought to remember that in spite of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) to the effect that everyone understands fully the terms of hire-purchase agreements and is fully aware of the commitment which he is undertaking, many people do not fully appreciate the terms and arrangements involved, and the total amount of money which they are being asked to pay.
The consumer has every right to be protected, and the Bill goes a certain distance towards achieving that end. I am connected with various bodies from which I receive much information in relation to this sort of problem, and all too often I find that homes are disrupted entirely owing to the fact that tremendous tension and argument have grown up between husband and wife because they have not fully understood to what extent they were committing themselves when buying articles which were sometimes necessary but which, on many occasions, were rather in the luxury class, because they were tempted by advertisements and notices in windows which were very exciting.
§ Mr. Dance
Does not my hon. Friend agree that it is not the terms of the hire-purchase agreement which persuade the person to buy an article; it is the article 1357 itself? I am convinced that in the majority of cases the people concerned want that article and want to buy it, and they do not really study the consequences. The terms of the agreement do not affect the question.
§ Mrs. McLaughlin
I must disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove. Many people may want a certain article, and many are persuaded into buying it when they cannot pay for it, and when they might possibly manage to avoid the temptation for some time if they fully understood just what they were letting themselves in for. I have come across many men and women who have found themselves in extreme financial difficulty because of the fact that, week by week and month by month, they have been gradually adding to the burden of hire-purchase commitments inside their own families.
It is very tempting to read an advertisement which says that only 3s. or 5s. a week has to be paid. In many cases the article is not received for some weeks, because the purchaser cannot pay a deposit. He may then have to wait six or even ten weeks, until the required amount of the deposit has been paid. The item then arrives, and he continues to pay for it. In an endeavour to solve some of these difficulties I have made inquiries, and I have found that in many cases people have no idea how much the article will cost them in the end, or how many payments they will have to make after they have paid the initial deposit. The whole business can be very involved. A citizen may go into a shop with a vague idea of buying a certain article. He may look at various items and then be subjected to heavy sales pressure. He usually comes out of the shop having signed an agreement. I wish I could be sure that everybody who took out a hire-purchase agreement took it home and read it thoroughly before signing it.
§ Mr. Douglas L. S. Nairn (Central Ayrshire)
If people will not read a hire-purchase agreement, or cannot remember what is in it, they are certainly not likely to remember what is put in the original advertisement.
§ Mrs. McLaughlin
But an advertisement can state in a few words the most salient points as to price and conditions of purchase. In many cases, however, hire-purchase agreements are lengthy documents, containing many phrases which are not in daily use. It is a strong-minded person who, having gone into a large store and been pressed very firmly to enter into a hire-purchase agreement, demands to take the agreement home and read it or obtain advice upon it first. In the usual course of events people sign these agreements without knowing what they are all about. If the Bill helps to make sure that a person going into a store knows before entering it what commitments are involved, it will be doing something very worth while.
In radio and television programmes nowadays, the mother-in-law as joke material has practically disappeared in favour of the "never-never" system. Something is needed to bring back a measure of respect for this form of trading. It should be placed on a basis which will enable everybody to understand it. We are not worried about people who are canny in their buying; we are concerned with the growing number of families earning high wages who are using this method to procure items which they cannot buy outright. Somehow or another we must make this form of trading as satisfactory as possible. No reputable trader will step outside the bounds of discipline in advertising, but there are some traders who have failed in that respect, and that is why it has become necessary to introduce the Bill. If we were to argue for very long about the merits or demerits of insisting that the price should be given in advertisements we should get beyond the scope of the Bill.
Many articles in magazines and newspapers have been devoted to the question of hire purchase. The Manchester Guardian Survey of Industry and Finance, 1956, contained an article headed "Nothing Stops 'Never-Never'," and the Financial Times Annual Review of British Industry, 1956, carried an article headed "Growth of the Hire Purchase Habit." All those articles show that growing attention is being focussed upon this method of trading, its financing, and the organisation of its retail and other sides, but very little is written about the 1359 consumer's right to be given clear-cut information. Despite the fact that education, in all its ramifications, should have enabled everyone to understand dearly what he is doing when he undertakes a transaction such as this, in practice that is very often not the case. The Bill will help many people to know where they stand before they commit themselves.
I know of one family where the husband bought three items on hire purchase and committed himself to a payment of approximately £1 12s. a week, while his wife, unknown to him, committed herself to paying for two other items. Finally, when yet three more items were jointly purchased, neither husband nor wife really being aware how much each item cost, they found that they were unable to maintain the total weekly payments, and that every week the payments on at least two items could not be kept up. The final result was that the wife was afraid and unable to explain to her husband how she had become involved. She eventually disappeared, leaving him with four small children. That is not an isolated case. We hear of similar cases time and time again.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
Is there any evidence in that case to show that the purchasers were induced into buying those bargains by advertisements and not by high-pressure salesmen coming to the door?
§ Mrs. McLaughlin
If my hon. Friend had allowed me to finish my observations on the point I might have made that clear.
When finally the wife in this case, which is only one of many throughout the country, was located and returned, and some of us were endeavouring to solve this family's problems, we discovered that quite genuinely she had not realised for how long each of these commitments would go on. She was paying for a certain length of time for one thing, but she was not sure for how long, and for a certain length of time for the next article about which, again, she was not sure. There was great difficulty because when she was paying the weekly amount for one item in the store she had pressure put upon her to undertake another commitment concerning which she was not very clear as to price, the terms or the length of the agreement.
1360 That sort of thing happens very often indeed, and this Bill seeks in some small measure to help people who are entitled to an understanding of what they are undertaking, people who are hoping to live on a budget and who want to know for how many months or years they are committed to these outgoings. Today one can even take a holiday on an instalment plan, and if hire purchase is extended it is possible that we may be paying for last year's holiday while taking this year's holiday.
Every transaction ought to be shown plainly in black and white so that the average person can understand it. We are not concerned with those who are technically clever and brilliantly able to understand all these things; we are concerned with the man and woman in the street who want fair play and in whose interest it is very necessary that this Bill should become law.
§ 1.13 p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)
I rise to support the Bill, although I do not think that it goes nearly far enough. Most hon Members have said that they are not opposed to hire purchase and do not believe that it is an evil thing. I think it is an undesirable development and I should like to see it curbed as much as possible. Therefore, because, in a small way, the Bill is trying to get rid of the less desirable aspects of hire purchase, I support it.
In opposing the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance) used some extraordinary arguments, if he will allow me to say so. He said that it was a pettifogging restriction on trade and that we could not save fools from their folly. But all legislation of this type is aimed at protecting the innocent or at saving the fool from his folly, whether it is dealing with pure foods, articles of a specific standard, or protecting people from being misled. It does not insult the public to lay down additional standards that will protect the unwary from making fools of themselves.
§ Mr. Osborne
My hon. Friend cannot have sat on a bench of magistrates, or he would have come across cases where he would have wished that some protection like this had been afforded to people who had fallen into this kind of misfortune.
§ Mr. Osborne
I do not want to develop the point much further. There are all kinds of advertisements of attractive pieces of furniture, stating, so that one cannot miss seeing the words, "3s. weekly." But it is not stated for how long the 3s. a week has to be paid, whether it is for ever and ever, or for what length of time, or what deposit is required. This is not fair trading at all, and I am sure that honourable and fair traders would not want to be associated with it.
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
On a point of order. Would it be possible, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for this extremely friendly and useful discussion to be adjourned to a Committee Room or conference chamber, or the Smoking Room? It hardly seems to be producing any contribution to the debate.
§ Mr. Osborne
I am much obliged, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. May I say, for my own protection, that I always listen to the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), and that no one has a greater share of the Floor of the House than he does. If we had fair shares the hon. Gentleman would be gagged for the next ten years. I think he is the last person who should object to our trying to put a point of view which seeks to protect our constituents.
§ Mr. Silverman
Further to that point of order. Is it proper, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) to accuse me of wishing to gag anybody when, in fact, all I wanted to do was to encourage hon. Members opposite to continue the discussion under more pleasant conditions.
§ Mr. John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
Would it be in order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, to suggest that if the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) is not willing to listen to the debate it is perfectly open for him to go to the Smoking Room himself?
§ Mr. Osborne
I am trying to show why this is a desirable Bill. Why the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, who quite rightly claims his right as a back bencher more often, more successfully and with greater brilliance than most of us, should object to my contribution, when I speak so seldom in this House, I do not understand.
I want to make one or two serious suggestions about the contents of the Bill. I am not interested in filibustering. My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove said that the Bill was a pettifogging restriction on the rights of the public. What we have to make clear, first, is that all legislation assumes that certain people need protecting against themselves. Therefore, the Bill is not a pettifogging piece of legislation; it is a necessary piece of legislation. All I say is that it does not go nearly far enough.
One of my hon. Friends said that advertisements were used as a kind of trap to get people into the shop. He said that they were induced to make purchases under false pretences or as the result of half-truths. As I see it, what this Bill proposes to do is to insist that more facts should be given in advertisements. It seems that the advertisement is the bait. It gets people interested in the possible purchase of an article. The Bill tries to show the hook behind that bait.
On my way home from the House last night I saw in a shop window a small motor car and there was a big card on it which said, I think, that the price was 25s. I should like to have it for 25s.
§ Mr. Graham Page rose—
§ Several Hon. Members rose—
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. This is a Second Reading debate, and I hope that hon. Members will be allowed to make their speeches in peace.
§ Mr. Osborne
I am obliged, Mr. Deputy-Speaker.
I am saying that the full details of the transaction should be made known to people who may not be as wise as they should be in looking after their own interests. There are three important points to be put in support of this Bill and in urging that the Government should go a great deal further than this Measure will take us.
Hire purchase generally is bad for the purchaser; it is harmful to the manufacturer; and it distorts our national economy. So far, no one has tried to define hire purchase. Were I asked to do so, I should say that hire purchase generally is taking a bit of discount before it is due. That is never a good thing to do in any sphere of activity. To take discount before it is due is bad business. The best business is cash business, and anything which can be done to stop the growing tendency to live on the "never-never" is a good thing from the national point of view.
The social evil behind this problem is well illustrated by a Question asked yesterday by the hon. Member for Coventry, South (Miss Burton), Over many months the hon. Lady has spent a good deal of time trying to expose the evils of this type of trading. Yesterday, she asked the President of the Board of Trade:whether he is aware of the financial difficulties in which workers unemployed in the present emergency find themselves concerning hire-purchase agreements; and if, because of the larger numbers involved today, he will reconsider his previous decision not to introduce legislation declaring a moratorium on the power of hire-purchase firms to repossess themselves of goods where the hirer becomes unemployed, or is put on short time, after the hiring agreement has been made."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 31st January, 1957. Vol. 563, c. 1152.]For thirty years Coventry has been one of the most prosperous cities in the country and the people working there have, on the whole, received much higher 1364 wages than those working elsewhere. A few years ago, when I was speaking in Coventry, before the present difficulties arose in the motor trade, I was told that men sweeping shop floors were getting £12 to £14 a week. That is an unskilled job. I remarked that agricultural workers, such as I represented, did a five-and-a-half day week for about £6.
The Question I have quoted came from an hon. Lady who represents a Coventry constituency, an area where there has been overfull employment for thirty years, and where people have been paid the highest wages for that period. Now, immediately they are on short-time, the hon. Lady who represents them so well puts down a Question concerning the difficulties of her constituents who have entered into hire-purchase agreements. That makes my first point, that the fewer hire-purchase agreements we have the better. I support the Bill because it makes a slight difference to the tendency for people to enter into such agreements.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove, in opposing the Bill, advanced a most extraordinary argument. He said that, on the whole, people spent their ready cash more easily than they spent it on hire purchase. That is a most unusual and extraordinary argument. In my opinion, when a man saves his money slowly, week by week, and puts £20 or £30 on one side to buy a piece of furniture, that represents toil, frugality and all that is best in our character. Such a man does not spend that money easily. But when he can go into a shop, having been enticed there by a lurid advertisement which tells him that he can have goods without making any effort at all, he is more likely to spend his money easily than if he has had to save it carefully over a long period.
The hire-purchase advertisements which we are seeking to correct are altering the pattern of trade in an undesirable way and causing people to buy things which otherwise they would not buy; and, in some cases, to buy goods of a poorer quality which, later, they wish they had not purchased. It seems to me wise that we should insist that these people should be warned and advised to look before they leap.
If it is possible I should like my hon. and gallant Friend to incorporate in the 1365 Bill that there should appear in an advertisement, side by side with the cash price, the hire-purchase price; how long people have to pay; how much they pay each week; and, what is most important, how much that all amounts to. In addition, there should appear how much interest per annum the purchaser is paying for the credit facilities he receives.
Some people would be astonished at how much they are having to pay for those facilities. If my hon. and gallant Friend desires evidence of this, he need only look at the fantastic profits made by some hire-purchase finance corporations. Over the last ten years they have made absolutely staggering profits out of this kind of trade. If people were made aware of what they are paying for credit facilities, I am sure that many of them would not enter into such transactions. Therefore, if it is possible, I should like to see in the advertisement. in addition to the cash price, a statement whether there is a deposit, how much is to be paid each week, and what it amounts to, so that the purchaser knows exactly what the total price will be under a hire-purchase agreement as against the cash price. Also, there should be a statement that this would work out at 50 per cent., 60 per cent., or 100 per cent. interest. That would scare a lot of people from going into this kind of trading.
There is another aspect which interests me, and that is the effect of this trading on our national economy. I believe that this kind of advertisement induces people to buy more than they should and, therefore, sucks into the home market a margin of goods which should go to the export market, in the case of those goods which can be sold either at home or abroad. Today our task is to sweep a certain amount from the home market into the export market. If we do not do that, we shall not survive.
From the manufacturer's point of view the temptation lies here. It is always more difficult to trade in the export market, because the competition is greater, more trouble must be taken and altogether it is a more difficult business. In the soft home market things are easier and, other things being equal, the tendency is for a manufacturer to allow his goods to go where it is easier and 1366 pleasanter to sell them, and where trade is more certain. But, from the national point of view, that will lead to disaster. If this Bill results, even to a small extent in moving goods from the home market to the export market, it will do a good service.
I do not think that any reputable trader would want to defend advertisements of the type we are discussing. There cannot be any real opposition to the Bill. That we have got to save the fool from his folly as far as we can, is accepted. That is the basis of much of our legislation, but what we want to do, as far as we can, is to make the public realise what hire purchase really costs them. That will help us to get back to the position that Sir Stafford Cripps, when he was master of this House, sought to put to us—that we had to go through a period of austerity at home in order to strengthen our position abroad; we had to forgo spending here so that we should be able to build up our own position and have a more secure and stable economy.
The Bill represents a small move in the right direction. I hope that in Committee my hon. and gallant Friend will be able to improve it and get more teeth into it, so that not only advertisements such as those I have here and those which appear in the newspapers may be touched, but the whole trade may be affected. Except for durable goods, hire purchase is a bad system.
My hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke), who seconded the Motion, said that hire purchase was a fine thing Traditionally, people had borrowed money and little village trades had grown and grown on borrowed money—which he likened to hire purchase—into great industries. That is a false analogy, because they were then borrowing money to build up capital goods and capital equipment. This hire purchase is not indulged in to build any capital. This is an encouragement to reckless consumption. That is what we must check, no matter which party is in power.
Therefore, it seems to me that, if it were possible for my hon. and gallant Friend to strengthen the Bill to make it more and more difficult for people to be enticed into agreements which later on are proved to be injurious to them and 1367 their families, he would be doing a great service to the country. I have pleasure in supporting the Bill.
§ 1.33 p.m.
§ Mr. John Eden (Bournemouth, West)
My hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) has delivered, as usual, a colourful speech but has rather tended to use the occasion, if I may say so without disrespect to the Chair, to advertise his particular hobbyhorse.
I wish to state briefly the reasons why I do not fully support the Bill, but first I would join with those, such as the right hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall), who have congratulated my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rochdale (Lieut.-Colonel Schofield) not only upon having been fortunate in the Ballot but also on the manner in which he introduced the subject and the clarity with which he supported the opinions which gave him reason to believe that such a Bill was necessary.
I find myself more in agreement with the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Bromsgrove (Mr. Dance), who opposed the Bill. I should like to say at once that I sympathise entirely with the ideas and ideals of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rochdale. I know that his sole aim is to try to improve the standard of advertising, to bring a greater degree of honesty to advertising, to make certain that only the truth is told, no matter how it may be portrayed. I understand, not only from his remarks but from the Bill, that he wants to make certain that it should be the whole truth.
It is on the question of the whole truth that I, for my part, find a certain amount of opposition to his views. I will come to that later, but first I wish to say that I do not quite agree with him, or with other hon. Members who have supported the Bill, that the would-be customer is a fly being ensnared into the web of the owner-spider. Any advertising is the means of the owner, or salesman, bringing attention to his wares, advertising the fact that he has goods available, that they are of such-and-such a quality, available at such-and-such a price or on such-and-such terms.
He must be able to advertise freely, otherwise he may well not be able to 1368 draw the attention of potential customers to his wares. The hon. Member for Louth misinterpreted another hon. Friend of mine by saying that he had declared that the advertisement was a form of trap by the advertiser in order to ensnare the unsuspecting client or customer into the shop. I would remind him that the word "trap" was not used, nor indeed was it implied. It is not a trap; it is an invitation. It is an invitation to inspect the wares that the advertiser has for display.
§ Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)
Has the hon. Gentleman ever read a Tory Party election manifesto?
§ Mr. Eden
For my sins, yes. I do not quite see what that has to do with the subject, except that it enforces my argument in that it is an invitation to people to join with others to support the Tory Party and its candidates.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rochdale said—I hope that I am not misquoting—that people enter into hire-purchase agreements as a result of what they have read in advertisements. I would say that they do not enter into these agreements as a result of what they have read in the advertisements. They may enter into the shop or they may pursue their investigations whether a certain television or radio set, a wardrobe or a car is the sort of article that they are willing to purchase.
All that the advertisement does is to attract them not only to the particular article but to the shop or advertiser who is offering the article for sale. In pursuing their investigations on arrival at the store or wherever it may be, they will undoubtedly be confronted with what terms they have to face, what amount of money they will have to pay. The hon. Member for Louth, in his colourful brochure, showed that somebody could get a wardrobe for 3s., or something like that. I cannot believe that there are people who are so utterly ignorant that they can really believe that they will get a wardrobe for 3s. without having to pay anything else at all. The very first thing that people do on trying to collect the wardrobe, or to take delivery of it, is to come up against the information given to them by the shopkeeper that they will have to pay this sum as a first instalment and that afterwards subsequent instalments will have 1369 to be paid. Before the hon. Member for Louth intervenes, I give way to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rochdale.
§ Lieut.-Colonel Schofield
I said that some people, not all, entered into agreements on the basis of what they saw in the advertisements.
§ Mr. Eden
The actual process of entering into an agreement is not simple. It is simple enough to sign, but it must be remembered that the majority of agreements are binding contracts. The owner of the goods requires safeguards that the would-be purchaser will not default and is a man of reasonable standing. The owner will investigate the background and qualifications of the would-be purchaser before permitting the transaction to take place. I do not think for a moment that anybody who simply reads an advertisement such as we may see particularly in the Sunday newspapers believes that he can automatically enter into a long-term agreement for the articles in question without further investigation.
§ Mr. Osborne
Since the hon. Gentleman has challenged me, I would say that the colourful brochure to which he referred is not mine. Would it not be fair to say in these advertisements not only "4s. 3d. for a wardrobe" but "for so many weeks"?
§ Mr. Eden
I do not dispute that it would be fairer but I say that no individual believes that he can get a wardrobe for 4s. 3d. and that even if he did believe it he would soon have displayed to him the conditions upon which he would be allowed to take it away after paying 4s. 3d. down. It would be made clear to him that he would not get possession until the terms of the contract had been met. He would also be told that if in the ensuing months or years of the contract he defaulted in his payments he would be liable to return the wardrobe to the owner, the shopkeeper or advertiser still remaining the owner of the article until the terms of the agreement had been completely carried out by the purchaser.
Indeed, the customer is not a purchaser but a hirer. My hon. Friend the Member for Louth may desire to hire a taxi but not to purchase it. He pays the driver in recognition of the services he 1370 receives, according to what the driver thinks is an adequate sum.
§ Mr. Eden
My hon. Friend could go further and have a guarantee that, after a certain number of payments extended over an agreed period, he could take full possession of the taxi. What the taxi driver is concerned about in hiring it is that his expenses are covered and that he gets a reasonable income. If the driver felt that he could sell the taxi to a hire-purchaser, with a guarantee that at the end of an agreed period he would have received sufficient money to cover his sale price, he might be prepared to let my hon. Friend not only hire the taxi but have the use of it while the money was being paid.
That is all that hire purchase does. It gives the use of an article to a would-be purchaser during the time taken to pay for it. The hirer is then asked to contribute something in recognition of the fact that he has had the use of the article. He not only gets possession in the end but the use of the article while he is paying.
§ Mr. Osborne
Surely my hon. Friend would agree that the would-be purchaser is enticed into a bargain without all the facts of the bargain being made clear to him. Is it not only fair and reasonable that the seller should say, "You have to make payments of so much per week for so many weeks"? The would-be purchaser ought to have all the facts put in front of him before he is enticed into the bargain. Surely that is reasonable.
§ Colonel O. E. Crosthwaite-Eyre (New Forest)
I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) for lending me the colourful brochure. In the front page is first the statement.No deposit. Thirty-eight weeks to pay. Part exchange.Then, underneath, for other bargains,Full two years to pay.Finally there is the phrase,On easiest of easy terms. Three shillings in the £ deposit.I would have said that we get all the facts there on which a reasonable purchaser can make up his mind.
§ Mr. Eden
My hon. Friend the Member for Louth said that before the would-be purchaser is enticed into agreeing to the terms of payment all the relevant facts should be before him. I absolutely agree, but I do not agree that all those facts should necessarily appear on the advertisement. Let us remember that this is an advertisements Bill.
If my hon. Friend would study the 1938 Act he would see that all the information that a would-be purchaser should have is required by law to be given to him before he signs the agreement. Section 2 makes it clear that the cash price must be known to the hirer or purchaser before he can enter into that agreement.
I would quote one part of the Act, because my entire case for opposing the Bill rests upon this. Section 2 (1) says,Before any hire-purchase agreement is entered into in respect of any goods, the owner shall state in writing to the prospective hirer, otherwise than in the note or memorandum of the agreement, a price at which the goods may he purchased by him for cash.The owner is required to state the cash price of the article which the hirer intends to purchase by contract or hiring. The subsection continues:Provided that this subsection shall he deemed to have been sufficiently complied with—(a) if the hirer has inspected the goods or like goods.…I can summarise the remainder of that paragraph by saying that the hirer must have received information about the price either by seeing it displayed on a ticket or some such notice attached to, standing on or adjacent to the article so as to be necessarily understood to refer to the article. Such an omission would not be covered by introducing another Bill. The subsection is also to be deemed to have been sufficiently complied with(b) If the hirer has selected the goods by reference to a catalogue, price list, or advertisement, which clearly stated the cash price.That is already in the Act. If that is what my hon. Friend the Member for Louth wishes to achieve, I point out that it is already legislated for in the Hire-Purchase Act, 1938.
§ Mr. Eden
There must be something wrong with the 1938 Act if its requirements cannot bring about the conditions 1372 which Parliament evidently desired that it should. If there are contraventions of that Act those contraventions should be investigated. They will not be put right simply by bringing in an additional Bill and requiring further legislation providing further grounds for people to investigate, to snoop, to criticise, and to report.
When we have an Act on the Statute Book we should make every possible inquiry to be certain that it can be enforced, and when there are contraventions we should make them known and have them brought to judgment. I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Louth will find on investigating further that all the requirements which he wishes to see introduced by the Advertisements (Hire-Purchase) Bill are already met in the Hire-Purchase Act, 1938.
I understand that my hon. Friend is principally concerned with protecting the would-be purchaser and making quite certain that someone not gifted with his intelligence, or indeed with average intelligence. should be able to enter into these agreements knowing full well what are his liabilities and to what he is committed when signing on the dotted line. He says that it is all too easy to sign these things and to be bamboozled by slick talk and clever salesmanship Of course that is easy in any walk of life.
If the would-be purchaser does not take sufficient trouble to investigate these things—[Interruption.] We on this side of the House can be talked into anything by hon. Members opposite if we are not fully alert and conscious of what they are trying to do. They try to bamboozle us by an argument that what they are trying to do is for the benefit of the people, but we have to be alert about all these things.
My hon. and gallant Friend, I can quite understand, and doubtless hon. Members opposite, are concerned to protect someone who may be an unsuspecting client who is less industrious in investigating all the various clauses and terms by which he enters an agreement. I would again refer my hon. and gallant Friend to the 1938 Act because it definitely covers that contingency. I have referred to Section 2 and read part of subsection (1) of that Section. I would also refer to the other part of the Section because that declares very clearly that all 1373 the necessary information shall be given to the would-be purchaser entering a hire-purchase agreement. Subsection (2) says:An owner shall not be entitled to enforce a hire-purchase agreement or any contract of guarantee relating thereto or any right to recover the goods from the hirer, and no security given by the hirer in respect of money payable under the hire-purchase agreement or given by a guarantor in respect of money payable under such a contract of guarantee as aforesaid shall be enforceable against the hirer or guarantor by any holder thereof, unless the requirement specified in the foregoing subsection has been complied with, and—This is relevant to the argument I am making. Paragraph (a) says—a note or memorandum of the agreement is made and signed by the hirer and by or on behalf of all other parties to the agreement, andThe Section goes on to pursue other relevant factors. Section 2 (2, b) covers a contract of any would-be purchaser or client. It is laid down in the Act that
- (b) the note or memorandum contains a statement of the hire-purchase price and of the cash price of the goods to which the agreement relates and of the amount of each of the instalments by which the hire-purchase price is to be paid and of the date, or the mode of determining the date, upon which each instalment is payable, and contains a list of the goods to which the agreement relates sufficient to identify them."An owner shall not be entitled to entorce a hire-purchase agreement or any contract or guarantee relating theretounless the items that I have listed are first made quite plain and understandable to the would-be client.
I say quite sincerely that, having that Act already on the Statute Book, if it should appear that the position is not fully met, we should examine that aspect and see what strengthening of the Act is required. We shall not help these matters by introducing an extra Bill and causing further trouble and conflict with traders. The difficulties which traders are likely to encounter should this Bill become law have been referred to by certain of my hon. Friends. I will not go over that ground again, but in bringing to a close my opposition to this Bill, I say that we have quite enough people in Whitehall offices and elsewhere looking after the interests of the people of the country.
To investigate whether or not someone has been foolish enough to think that he is going to get a wardrobe for 5s., a tele- 1374 vision set for 10s., or a car for 15s. and to investigate whether an advertiser was right or wrong in giving all the details in the advertisement or not, who has to go thumbing through all the catalogues put out by advertisers? Hon. Members opposite or on this side of the House may not appreciate that a tremendous number of goods are sold by catalogue purchases. Those who are aware of that will have seen the size of the advertisements in those catalogues. If every advertisement were to have attached to it a full description of the terms and everything else that is suggested, pages and pages would be covered. The additional cost to the advertiser would be such that the offer would not be so attractive to the would-be purchaser as if the advertiser were spared the extra expense.
My hon. Friend the Member for Louth took the opportunity to speak against hire purchase altogether. I do not condemn hire purchase at all. I only condemn its excessive use. I also condemn its use by those who are not aware of what they are entering into when they sign a particular contract. It is their responsibility and in their own interest that they should investigate the contract before they are enticed or ensnared by slick trading or salesmanship to enter such an agreement. I cannot believe that their interests would be served by having additional armies of snoopers advancing on them from Whitehall or anywhere else to try to protect their interests.
If I may say so to the shade of my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rochdale, who introduced the Bill but has now left the Chamber, this is a Socialist Measure. It is a Socialist Measure designed once again to bring more and more interference with the activities and free trading actions of individuals. It is a typical example of the sort of thing which hon. Members opposite would like to introduce if they had thought of it themselves. They wish to extend their influence and control over the activities of the ordinary citizen. It is the responsibility of the ordinary citizen to see what he signs and what agreements he enters into.
§ Miss Alice Bacon (Leeds, South-East)
If this is a Socialist Measure, can the hon. Member explain why the Conservative Whips have been put on and why 1375 they are so anxious to bring in all hon. Members opposite to vote for it?
§ Mr. Eden
I am trying to explain that it is a Socialistic Measure because it seeks to widen the degree of influence which officials have over the activities of private citizens. That is one reason why my hon. Friends should oppose the Bill. Even those who have spoken in support of it should appreciate what it will mean if they support it in the Lobby. They must recognise that it will result in an extension of the Socialist State system. It will be an extension of the grandmotherly legislation of which we got sick when the Labour Party was in power.
It is far too much to expect the Government to legislate to protect every single action or thought of our citizens. I should like to see a complete reversal of that trend. Far from wishing to see the degree of control of the central authority over the lives and day-to-day activities of our private citizens being increased, I should like it to be reduced. Far from State authorities having power to investigate whether or not a shopkeeper or advertiser is complying with the Bill, I think that such people should be left alone. The more investigation and snooping that we have, the worse it will be for those persons whom the promoters of the Bill seek to protect, for the more we take away from them their ability to think for themselves and the more we give the State responsibility for thinking for them, the less likely will those people be in future to understand hire-purchase agreements and the commitments into which they are entering.
It is for these reasons that I strongly oppose the Bill. In case it should not be absolutely clear to hon. Members opposite why I oppose it, I should like to summarise my reasons.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. Is it possible for you to offer any guidance to the House as to the precise point at which repetition becomes tedious?
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Repetition very often does become tedious, but it does not really count as tedious until I have drawn the attention of the House to it, and, after that, I can ask the hon. Member to sit down, but I have not taken that step up to now.
§ Mr. Eden
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) is very expert in the art of tedious repetition. We have heard him on other subjects almost to the degree of nausea. He manages on every possible opportunity to get to his feet and make his voice heard, and when his voice is heard it is by no means acceptable to this side of the House. Indeed, more often than not it is in a particularly objectionable manner that he makes his voice heard. [HON. MEMBERS: "Nonsense."] I do not want in any way to be controversial. However, since certain hon. Members opposite including the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, seem not to be fully aware why I wish to oppose the Bill, I should like to conclude by giving my reasons briefly.
My first reason is that I think the Bill is unnecessary. We already have on the Statute Book the 1938 Act, which ensures that full information shall be given to would-be customers before they enter into hire-purchase agreements. Surely that gives individual citizens the kind of protection desired by the promoters of the Bill.
My second reason is that I think that the Bill is an unnecessary form of Socialistic legislation, giving rise to further interference on the part of the State in the lives of ordinary citizens. I intend to divide the House on the Bill, for those reasons.
§ 2.5 p.m.
§ Mr. Graham Page (Crosby)
I find myself in entire agreement with my hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. J. Eden) and in disagreement with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rochdale (Lieut.-Colonel Schofield).
I must at once declare a slight interest in that I am a very minor director of an advertising agency. Perhaps because of that, my hon. and gallant Friend might have thought that he would have my support for the Bill because, on first reading, it appears to increase the volume of advertising if one has to include in future advertisements all the things set out in its Clauses.
In listening to the speeches, I have not quite been able to gather the purpose of the Bill. I do not know whether it is to restrict advertising, whether it is to make 1377 a general attack on advertising, whether it is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) expressed it, to curb hire purchase. or whether it is a rather grandmotherly effort to protect customers from themselves. Some of the speeches developed into an attack upon advertising, and I think I ought to remind the House how advertisements find their way into newspapers. Newspapers receive their advertisements from advertising agencies. The greater part of the advertisements in newspapers and periodicals come through the recognised advertising agents.
I was very grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe (Mr. Bidgood) for his kind remarks about the ethics of advertising, but there is rather more to it than that. The recognised advertising agencies are very extensively and thoroughly disciplined by several associations of their own and also by the associations of those receiving the advertising matter, such as the Newspaper Proprietors Association and the associations relating to periodicals and screen and television advertising.
About 87 per cent. of the advertising received by national and London evening newspapers comes from organised and recognised advertising agents, and no less than 88 per cent. of the advertising material reaching the magazines and periodicals comes from the same source. I obtained my figures from a thesis entitled "Advertising Expenditure, 1952" by a gentleman of the same name as the hon. Member for Nelson and Come (Mr. S. Silverman), but I do not think that they are the same person.
These advertising agents, through their associations, are very highly disciplined, and only a very small percentage of advertisements reaching the newspapers, periodicals and magazines do not come through those advertising agents, who have a very high code of ethics. A very long time ago an international code of standards of advertising practice was laid down. Today, there are associations controlling advertising, such as the Advertising Association and the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising. The Advertising Association has an advertisement investigation department, whose job is to investigate evidence of malpractice and to take whatever steps are most effective in stopping it.
1378 In addition to those professional bodies looking after the ethics of advertising, there are, of course, the Newspaper Proprietors Association and the Newspaper Society, which have a joint copy committee whose members are advertisement managers of the national and provincial Press. That committee scrutinises advertisement copy which, for one reason or another, may offend against the self-imposed standards, which are of a very high order.
I am making these points because I want to show that this Bill is quite unnecessary; that the voluntary discipline of both the professional associations controlling the advertisers and the associations controlling the media through which the advertisements are given, is very strong. The Periodical Proprietors Association, deals with periodicals and magazines. The London Poster Advertising Association has a system of voluntary censorship of all posters appearing on hoardings. The Screen Advertising Association operates a strict code of standards in close co-operation with the other bodies in these professional fields. There are also the Association of Specialised Film Producers; the Display Producers and Screen Printers Association, and the Proprietary Association of Great Britain, all of which control advertising and see that there are no malpractices in it.
§ Mr. Richard Body (Billericay)
I am trying, most carefully, to follow my hon. Friend's argument. I appreciate the standard of ethics in the advertising profession, which, we all know, is very high indeed. My hon. Friend has given a list of the various organisations dealing with that aspect, but do these shopkeepers, and there are many of them, who advertise in their windows articles such as wireless and television sets for a single payment, such as "Yours for 5s.", belong to any of the organisations mentioned by my hon. Friend, or is there any means by which those organisations can influence those traders?
§ Mr. Page
I am obliged for that instructive intervention. I was dealing with the advertisements which reach the newspapers.
As I have pointed out, 90 per cent. of them came through organised and recognised advertising agents subject to those 1379 codes of ethics. Display cards at the point of sale, that is, in the shop window or inside the shop, are the responsibility of the shopkeeper himself and of whatever retail trade association he may belong to, but I suggest that there is not nearly so much danger from the advertisement at the point of sale as there may be from newspaper and periodical advertisements.
Where the advertisement is displayed in the shop window, or on the shop counter, the customer immediately finds the true facts from discussion with the salesman. [Laughter.] The hon. Member for Bradford, South (Mr. George Craddock) laughs, but I shall deal with high-pressure salesmanship in a moment. There is, perhaps, not so much danger to the customer from the show card as there might be from the newspaper and the magazine advertisement. I was trying to show that in the latter case, 90 per cent. are controlled, and the percentage where there is any malpractice must be extremely small.
§ Mr. John Barter (Ealing, North)
But would not my hon. Friend accept that the shopkeeper depends for continued business on good reputation and trading habits, and that that is an important deterrent to his going astray?
§ Mr. Page
I would entirely agree that many of them belong to reputable trading associations and have their own code of ethics.
I pass from that aspect of the Bill—as being a possible attack on advertising. which I was trying to defend in general —to the aspect mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Louth, who desired the Bill to be restrictive of hire-purchase trading altogether. He told the House, quite honestly, that he did not like hire-purchase trading and that we should curb it. If this Bill is intended for that purpose, it is an extremely clumsy and cumbersome way of doing it. I would not agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Louth in his antagonism to the hire-purchase system as a whole, but if he really wants to attack it and really thinks that it should be curbed, this is not the way to do it.
There are already a number of Orders restricting hire purchase. In fact, we have at present four such Orders: the Hire- 1380 Purchase and Credit Sale Agreements (Control) Order, 1956; The Control of Hiring (No. 2) Order, 1956; the Control of Hiring (No. 2) (Amendment) Order, 1956; and the Hire-Purchase and Credit Sale Agreements (Control) (Amendment) (No. 2) Order, 1956.
The argument advanced by my hon. Friend the Member for Louth against hire purchase in general was as inappropriate to the Second Reading of this Bill as was his example of the car advertised for 25s. I do not think that he intended the House to think that he was misled by seeing that car advertised in a showroom window saying, "Yours for 25s." He cannot honestly have been misled by that statement into thinking that if he put down 25s. in that showroom he would have the car entirely for himself. That is the sort of thing which has been put before the House as a misleading advertisement, and it seems to me that such examples defeat their purpose.
For example, a rather highly coloured pamphlet was produced. and the argument against that pamphlet fell to the ground when one looked at the front of it and found that it gave all the facts which my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rochdale required to be given. The cash price, the amount of the instalments, the number of instalments, the amount of the deposit, and so on. were all stated in the pamphlet. It is true that on the inside sheet only the cash price and the instalments are mentioned, but all the facts are given if one reads the pamphlet.
My hon. Friends the Members for Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) and for Belfast, West (Mrs. McLaughlin) mentioned some very sad cases, but although I intervened when my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, West was speaking, in none of those sad cases was it shown that they had resulted from an advertisement of hire purchase, an advertisement which had misled the customer into taking on more hire-purchase liability than he had anticipated.
I believe that the high-pressure salesman is a far greater danger than anything which a customer may read in an advertisement. If one studies these rather tragic cases of families who have taken on more than they can pay for in hire-purchase instalments, one usually finds 1381 that the high-pressure salesman at the door or in the shop has been responsible for this state of affairs.
I recollect a cartoon in an evening newspaper, not many weeks ago, which showed this extremely well. It illustrated the husband reading his paper in a chair beside the fire, and in the doorway was the wife festooned with those peculiar shaped brushes—clothes brushes, hair brushes, brushes that went round bends and other brushes. The caption was, "He said that I looked like Marilyn Monroe." [An HON. MEMBER: "What?"] If the hon. Gentleman wishes, I will start the story all over again. If he did not hear the first part of it, he did not get the point. That cartoon exemplifies the high-pressure salesman at the door who persuades the housewife to take on more liabilities than she can manage. It is not the newspaper advertisement or the magazine advertisement, but high-pressure salesmanship which is responsible
I took the trouble, before this debate began, to read the Report of the Second Reading debate on the Hire-Purchase Act, 1938—the late Miss Ellen Wilkinson's Act—and I read her speech. It was a very thorough analysis of the dangers of the hire-purchase system and it was a great justification for that 1938 Act. But throughout that speech she was blaming the salesmen, the training of the salesmen to get the wife to sign the agreement while her husband was at work and to pay a deposit when she had not really considered it with her husband. That was the sort of person whom Miss Ellen Wilkinson was blaming when she introduced that Act; and, indeed, the 1938 Act does protect the public to a great extent against those sorts of malpractices.
If the danger from hire-purchase advertisements were rife, one would have expected more public outcry against it than we have seen. One would have expected Parliamentary Questions every week, representations from associations protecting consumers, and so on. In introducing the Bill my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rochdale said that representations had been made to the Board of Trade. What are these representations? We have heard nothing about them as yet, and I hope that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade will tell us something about them.
§ Mr. Page
It is rather astonishing that there have not been more Parliamentary Questions if there really is a public scandal to be overcome. In fact, I could trace only two Questions, one on 21st July, 1955, and the other on 12th July, 1955. In both those cases the Answer by the Minister was to the effect that the 1938 Act was sufficient to cope with any difficulty about misleading advertisements. Indeed, I am very puzzled to know what are these discussions which my hon. and gallant Friend said had been going on at the Board of Trade with various associations on this subject. If that has been happening, why have we not heard anything about it in answer to a Parliamentary Question?
§ Mr. Silverman
The hon. Gentleman will be able to hear about it if he will give the Minister a chance to speak.
§ Mr. Page
I shall be obliged if the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) will allow me to continue my speech and finish it, so that my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary may answer this point. At present, I am considerably puzzled about it.
The annual report of the Retail Trading Standard Association for 1955 was quoted by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rochdale. That Association has campaigned very successfully against misleading the public by means of misleading advertisements, but I do not think that he quoted the whole of the relevant passages of the report. As I read the report, it said that there was no evidence of abuse of public confidence in advertisements relative to hire purchase. That is an association which would have come out strongly against this type of advertisement had there been any public scandal about it at all.
Like my hon. Friends the Members for Twickenham and for Louth, I, too, before this debate, looked at a few advertisements to see whether I could find anything which could be described as misleading. I have taken one page from a newspaper which sets out "Weekend opportunities." This is the type of advertisement which obviously attracts the housewife. If it is suggested that there is anything misleading in any of these 1383 advertisements for hire-purchase transactions, it may be that we in this House ought to do something about it.
In over half a page I found only two advertisements which advertised articles on hire purchase. I compared these with the Clauses of the Bill to see whether, if this Bill got on to the Statute Book, these advertisements would be illegal; whether the newspaper or the advertising agent or the artist or the advertiser would be committing a crime. Indeed, I found one here which would be a criminal offence if the Bill became law. But would it really be misleading? It advertises garden sheds, £8 10s. from 2s. weekly. After that, it gives a list of greenhouses, garages, scooter houses and poultry houses. Against each of those items it sets out only the weekly payments— 4s. 6d. for a greenhouse; 5s. 6d. for a garage; 3s. for a scooter house; and 2s. 6d. for a poultry house.
To set those down in that form would be insufficient under the Bill, and whoever was responsible for that advertising would have committed a criminal offence in respect of which, under the Bill, he would be liable to a fine of £50 on first conviction and £100 on a second or any subsequent conviction—a very severe penalty. But could hon. Members honestly say that an advertisement like that was misleading?
Here it sets out clearly that one can have a greenhouse for 4s. 6d. a week. I have a clue as to the number of instalments, because we are told that the greenhouse shown in the picture is £8 10s. In honesty, that cannot be described as misleading. I will not detain the House by referring to other advertisements which I examined to see whether they would be misleading if they did not comply with this Bill.
Undoubtedly, the 1938 Act gives sufficient protection against those sort of acts, which we can deal with by legislation. It is not possible, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe said earlier, to legislate for good taste in advertising or to legislate on how an advertisement shall be set out —that this or that shall not be given undue prominence, that this or that shall be displayed clearly. We can, however, legislate, as we have done in the 1938 Act, for certain matters to be disclosed 1384 before an agreement is entered into. That is what the 1938 Act did.
It provided two vitally important things; first, that there should be a disclosure of the cash price before a hire-purchase agreement was entered into; and, secondly, that the agreement should be set out in a memorandum in writing. It required that the disclosure of the cash price before the contract was entered into should be in writing or on a label, ticket, or show card attached to the goods, or in a catalogue through which the goods might be bought. That is real protection. That is preventing a contract coming about without proper information being given.
Indeed, the 1938 Act did not go so far as my hon. and gallant Friend wants to do in making a section of the community criminal. It only said that if the cash price was not disclosed, or if the memorandum in writing was not provided, the contract should be unenforceable. It did not go so far as the Bill suggests in imposing penalties of £50 on the first conviction and £100 on any conviction thereafter. It did, it is true, make certain action on the part of hire-purchase traders an offence in that, if the trader was asked by a customer for a copy of the agreement and a statement of the amount already paid under the agreement and that was not forthcoming, it was an offence under the 1938 Act.
There again, the customer is protected by being able to discover at any time what he has paid under hire-purchase agreement, what are the terms of that agreement, and how many more payments he has to make. He must be supplied with a copy of the agreement which he signed, so that he may look it up again and see what are his liabilities. Even in that case the 1938 Act only went so far as imposing a maximum penalty of £10 on the trader if he failed to comply with the provision requiring him to provide a memorandum.
I submit that there is plenty of protection under the present statutes. The Hire-Purchase Act, 1938, has amended the Hire-Purchase Act, 1954, increasing the value of the agreements caught by the Acts up to £300, except in the case of livestock, which is £1,000; that is in respect of horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry.
1385 Turning from the existing legislation to the Bill, the Bill applies not only to hire-purchase agreements limited to those figures—hire-purchase agreements not exceeding £300 and £1,000 in the case of livestock—but to advertisements for any hire-purchase sale, the advertising of any goods being goods available for disposal by way of hire purchase.
When one looks at the definition of "advertisement" in Clause 4—and this is not a Committee point, because the whole Bill depends on this description of "advertisement"—we find that'advertisement' includes every visual form of advertising (whether or not accompanied by spoken words or other sounds), whether by way of the display of notices, or by means of catalogues, price lists, labels, cards or other documents, or by the exhibition of cinematograph films or photographs, or by way of television, or in any other way, but does not include any form of advertising consisting only of spoken words, with or without other sounds.…I do not quite follow the meaning of "advertising consisting only of spoken words, with or without other sounds." That includes even the cards placed on goods, or on the counter or in the shop window. On those cards the trader is to be obliged to set out the considerable number of things required under Clause 2 (2).
§ Mr. Page
I am obliged to my hon. Friend. Should it be decided by my hon. Friend to describe his goods by sky writing and should he say, in the sky, "No deposit", he would have to add, presumably in sky writing, not only the five items required by Clause 2 (2) but also—and I would draw the attention of the House to this—the requirements of Clause 2 (5). These are very extensive. Subsection (5) of Clause 2 reads:Without prejudice to the generality of subsection (1) of this section, where an advertisement relates—If the goods are subject to those provisions, there being two or more alternative schemes, then all the particulars of each 1386 of those schemes have to be set out on the advertisement.
- (a) to goods available for disposal alternatively by way of hire-purchase or by way of credit sale, or
- (b) to goods available for disposal in accordance with two or more alternative schemes of hire-purchase or two or more alternative schemes of credit sale.…"
§ Lieut.-Colonel Schofield
On this question of sky-writing, from which my hon. Friend has just slipped away, may I say that the Bill provides that if an advertiser by aeroplane went to the extent of saying, "Instalment 5s. 3d. a week", then he would have to indicate them all. If he mentions any figures at all, he must put in the lot; and, if I may say so, if someone using an aeroplane wanted to go to that extent, I think he ought to put the lot in.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)
This matter of sky-writing is very important. There may be danger caused to the life or limb of Her Majesty's subjects because the pilot runs out of smoke-making material. Should there not be an Amendment to my hon. and gallant Friend's Bill to cover that?
§ Mr. Page
I do not want to prolong my speech to the House unnecessarily; I am sure that there are other hon. Members who wish to speak.
I was developing the argument as to the information which has to be given. It is not only if the aeroplane user or other sign-writer chooses to put a figure about an instalment or deposit in the advertisement that he has to give all this information as to the actual amount of each instalment, the total number of instalments, length of the period in respect of which each instalment is payable and, if any instalments are payable before delivery of the goods, the number of them.
If, in another part of the country, these same goods are set up for sale under some different hire-purchase payments, some other scheme, then, according to subsection (5), the trader must send out the terms of that other scheme, also. It is perfectly clear that if there be two or more alternative schemes, he must set out the particulars of all those schemes.
This does seem to be fantastic. It may be a point which can be corrected in Committee, but it is a basic consideration as regards the Bill, because anyone who does not comply with that requirement is made a criminal under Clause 3.
Of course, the example of the aeroplane and sky-writing was exaggerated and farfetched. But this is to apply to the unfortunate shopkeeper who will have to put 1387 all this information on a small show card. Suppose, for example, a man is selling jewellery or other small articles of any sort: is he to put all this information on the card which he has to stick in his shop window? He has to do that, according to the definition of "advertisement" in the Bill.
§ Mr. Burden
There is a very important word in Clause 1, which, I submit, should be very carefully considered, namely, the word "available". The subsection (1) says:This Act applies to any advertisement of any goods as being goods available for disposal by way of hire-purchase.I submit that, as it stands, that would apply to almost any goods whatever which have been sold or may be sold in the future. Consideration of that provision from a technical, legal point of view leads us into very deep waters.
§ Mr. Page
I am much obliged to my hon. Friend for drawing my attention to that. I will tell him that in the definition Clause the word "disposal" is defined, but the Clause does not clearly say what is intended by "available for disposal."
Let me come to an even more material question as regards Clause 2. Here again, this is not a Committee point, because on the wording of Clause 2 depends the whole of Clause 3, which creates the offence. We are by this Bill endeavouring to create a new offence, evidently a very serious offence, to judge from the amount of the penalty imposed. Clause 2 provides thatAn advertisement applies"—such as those which already described—shall not be displayed or issued…Who issues an advertisement? Is it the newspaper? I see that in another part of the Bill newspapers seem to get out of liability, though I am not sure why they should. If the rest are to be criminals under Clause 3, why should the newspapers be let out? But who is it who issues an advertisement? Is it the newspaper, the advertiser, the advertising agent, the lay-out artist, or the copywriter? Who is to be responsible under this Clause?
The Clause provides that certain information must be displayed clearly, and 1388 no part of it given undue prominence. Reference has already been made to this matter of undue prominence, and I have endeavoured, by looking at some advertisements, to see whether, by giving undue prominence to any particular statement of figures, those advertisements might be misleading. I have before me an advertisement for a popular motorcar. At the top of the advertisement, in large print, appears, "£83 first payment for a brand new Ford Popular." That does not comply with the terms of the Bill. It certainly sets out with very undue prominence, if one may express it in that way, the figure £83 at the top of the advertisement; but can anybody really suggest that the advertisement is misleading?
Will it be suggested that anybody reading that advertisement will think that he will get a Ford Popular for £83? On the terms of the advertisement, however, the makers of the car, or whoever would be responsible for displaying the advertisement, would be criminals under the terms of the Bill if it became law. The advertisement, although referring to £83 deposit, does not say how many or how much the instalments to follow would be.
Only if such an advertisement were really likely to mislead the public seriously and cause real hardship, or be a real public scandal or danger to domestic stability, ought we to interfere with it by using the sledge-hammer of legislation to swat this gnat.
I have other advertisements here which give the same sort of undue prominence to certain items. I have here an advertisement for fur coats, which says, "Send only 5s."—the 5s. being shown in large figures—"and wear your furs now". In smaller print in the advertisement there are set out the number of weekly payments, the amount of weekly payments, and the cash price. But it does show the 5s. deposit in very large figures. That is the most prominent part of the advertisement.
Undoubtedly, under the Bill, that would be a criminal offence, but can it honestly be said that it is misleading or is a scandal? No woman reading the advertisement would believe that she was getting a fur coat for only 5s. In the advertisement there is all the information which is required, but it is not given as the 1389 Clause in the Bill requires; it is not given equal prominence. The deposit is given undue prominence. Therefore, under the Bill, the person who inserted that advertisement would be guilty of a criminal offence, despite the fact that such an advertisement is not misleading.
§ Mr. F. P. Bishop (Harrow, Central)
Before my hon. Friend leaves the question of advertisements, has he considered the effect that the Bill would have on, for example, classified advertisements, especially in relation to motor cars—the sort of advertisements in which a list of cars are offered for sale, with one line in small type given to each model—in which it would be quite impossible to give in detail all the information as required by the Bill? Would my hon. Friend think it proper that that should be made illegal by the Bill?
§ Mr. Page
Those advertisements—the "smalls"—which set out in a very small space a list of motor cars, surely cannot mislead the public, because they merely set out, perhaps, the instalments payable per month or whatever it may be. It is a very common and usual form of advertisement and is a great service to the public. In that way, people can make their choice from a number of items. Otherwise, it would be necessary for the advertiser to take the same amount of space and set out only one item and give all the particulars which are required.
The sort of list of advertisements which my hon. Friend had in mind was the one I quoted earlier about garden sheds, setting out a list of greenhouses, garages, scooter houses and poultry houses, and stating the weekly instalments against each item. If the Bill became law, it would not be possible to continue that type of advertisement. It would be a great loss to the public if that type of advertisement were not continued. It would not be continued because traders would be so terrified of the Bill that they would not give any information at all about hire purchase in their advertisements. I am sure that that would be the result. They are told in Clause 2 to set out a great number of things. Provided that they have mentioned in their advertisement the deposit or the instalments—
§ Mr. Boyle rose in his place, and claimed to move, That the Question be now put, but MR. SPEAKER withheld his assent, and declined then to put that Question.
§ Mr. Boyle
On a point of order. May I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, that the debate has had four-fifths of the time available today and that by the very character and nature of the debate, and the methods used in the course of it, it is right for me to submit to you that the Closure might be accepted?
During the course of the day's debate, there have been only two speeches from this side of the House. The remainder have been from the Government side. The Minister has been in his place since 11 o'clock this morning and at nearly 3 o'clock he has not sought to intervene. I submit Mr. Speaker, that you might accept the Closure Motion at this stage.
§ Mr. Speaker
I do not think that that is a point of order. The decision rests with me as to whether I accept the Closure. As to the observations of the hon. Member, this is a matter on which there is a division of opinion and on which hon. Members seem anxious to speak. I would not myself, on a private Members' day, regard the matter as one between the Opposition and the Government side. There is evidently a division of opinion. Normally, the Chair does not accept the Closure on a private Members' day as long as there are hon. Members wishing to speak on the first Order.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
May I submit two things, Mr. Speaker, in support of what my hon. Friend has said? One is that it is evident from the Minister's attitude that there is really no desire to continue the discussion on the Bill at all. It is a most unusual thing, in a Private Member's Bill Second Reading debate, on a Friday, for the Minister in charge to wait so long as this before offering any advice whatever to the House. One cannot help suspecting that his object in that is to encourage talk but not discussion, for other purposes which seem good to him.
§ Mr. Silverman
The other point which I submit to you, Mr. Speaker, with great sincerity and great respect, is this. Of course, it is entirely in the discretion of the Chair whether a Motion for the Closure is accepted at any particular time, and that is in order to protect the rights of Members to have free and full discussion. I say again, with great sincerity and certainly with great respect, that that power ought not to be used to stifle or prevent discussion. The weapon is intended to preserve the rights of Members and not to enable other people to deprive other Members of their rights.
For four hours the Bill has been debated, from both sides. Arguments have been advanced for and against. There has not been a new argument advanced in the last two and a half hours. It is quite plain what hon. Members opposite are doing.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have listened to the hon. Members who rose to a point of order, but there is really no point of order at all. As to references to another Bill—
§ Mr. Speaker
—we are dealing with this Bill and it is on this Bill that I gave my decision that I cannot accept the Closure. Normally, on a private Members' day, I would not accept the Closure Motion until 4 o'clock as long as there were hon. Members willing to speak.
§ Miss Bacon
I agree with my hon. Friend that no new argument has been put since 12 o'clock, and while I appreciate, as I am sure we all do, Mr. Speaker, your remarks about preserving the rights of private Members, I submit that what has been happening today has been a deliberate attempt to stop a private Member from introducing a Bill.
§ Mr. Speaker
I cannot allow this matter to be discussed further. I have stated my view on the matter, which is the view that has always been accepted by my predecessors.
§ Mr. Page
My argument on Clause 3 was directed to the fact that it will make people criminals. I was suggesting that traders and all those responsible for 1392 advertising would be so frightened of the Bill, so frightened of stating in their advertisements the deposit or the amount of the instalments, that they would not give any information whatever about hire-purchase terms in their advertisements. That would be undesirable from the public point of view. It would merely mean that the customer would be enticed into the spider's web, as it were, of the high-pressure salesman and be subject to high-pressure salesmanship from the door or from the inside of the shop rather than be able to consider the terms of the hire-purchase at leisure from an advertisement in a newspaper or magazine.
I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend was wrong in being persuaded to take this Bill out of the pigeonhole where I suspect it has been since between 1945 and 1951. This is not a Bill which will be received with the blessing of hon. Members on this side of the House. It endeavours to control in a "nanny-like" and grandmotherly fashion both the customer and the trader. The present protection given to the customer is entirely sufficient. It is insufficient to say, as has been said by one hon. Member, that customers do not read agreements and do not know what is in them.
We cannot legislate to force a person to read an agreement. If we do that, are we not in jeopardy of going much further. and saying that we will legislate for people to read the conditions on which they buy a railway ticket? That is just the same position. If one buys a railway ticket, one is subject to a number of conditions which, of course, one never reads. If one puts a bag in a cloakroom, one is subject to a number of conditions which one does not read. But one is subject to them, having entered into a contract. We cannot legislate to force people to read the contracts which they sign.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bury and Radcliffe attacked the furniture trade and read out certain arguments advanced by the furniture trade. He attacked those arguments and I think I may be permitted to quote from a statement made by the National Association of Retail Furnishers:The Advertising Sub-Committee of the N.A.R.F., over a series of years, has dealt with complaints which have been made, from time to time, by members of the public and of the trade itself with regard to furniture 1393 advertising. During this time, comparatively few complaints have been received, and, of these, only a negligible proportion have dealt with the question of the advertising of hire purchase terms. On investigation it has frequently been found that the person raising such a complaint has lacked knowledge of what the trader in question has been able to do in the light of legislation in current operation. Furthermore, when it has been necessary to take up these matters with the Joint Copy Committee of the Newspapers Proprietors Association and the Newspaper Society, cooperation from these bodies has been immediately forthcoming.It is clear from that quotation that the furniture trade has in its association an advertising sub-committee which deals with these complaints and that the report of that sub-committee—there is no reason to doubt the truth of it—is that complaints about hire purchase have been very few. Such as there have been are investigated by the sub-committee. It was a little unfair of my hon. Friend to charge the furniture trade with certain malpractices in connection with hire purchase.
A similar charge was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Twickenham. He produced an advertisement which he said was confusing; which, in one part, advertised furniture for sale with no deposit and, in another, advertised it at a weekly payment of 8s. 6d. Of course, when the customer goes to the shop in such a case, he is immediately told, "This is the deposit, if you are going to pay 8s. 6d. a week, and that is the instalment if you are going to pay without a deposit." There can be nothing misleading about that.
If all these particulars have to be given in advertisements in the future it will be extremely harmful and detrimental to the small trader. Price is only one of the details which he has to set forth in his advertisements. He will want to set forth the quality of his goods, their size and make up, and tell his customer not only their price, but all about them generally. If he has to clutter up his advertisements with details about price it will be extremely harmful to him.
In conclusion, I want to quote the Hire Purchase Trade Association.
§ Mr. Godfrey Lagden (Hornchurch)
Before my hon. Friend concludes his argument, would he not agree that it would be completely misleading to everybody for certain hire-purchase particulars to appear on the centre page and then 1394 to expect the prospective purchaser to search the rest of the newspaper to find out the full terms?
§ Mr. Page
I do not know whether my hon. Friend is thinking of the highly coloured pamphlet to which reference has been made several times during this debate. On the front of the pamphlet there are particulars such as would he required by the Bill. I should have thought that was the right place to put them so that the customer would see them immediately the pamphlet was before him
§ Mr. S. Silverman
Would the hon. Gentleman agree that if one were really looking for instances with which to illustrate what is a fraudulent advertisement hon. Members might very well turn their attention to the Rent Bill, or to the speeches made in support of this Measure?
§ Mr. Page
I would have thought that, having at last an intervention from the other side of the House, it would be relevant and to the point. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) is usually relevant and to the point, but I cannot see the relevancy or the point of his intervention. He seemed to be enticing me to embark upon a discussion of another Bill rather than the Bill now before the House. I am sure that if I endeavoured to answer concerning the Rent Bill you, Mr. Speaker, would at once call me to order. I am speaking to the Advertisements (Hire-Purchase) Bill.
§ Mr. Royle
When the hon. Gentleman refers to "another Bill," is he referring to the Cheques (No. 2) Bill, which appears to have a wonderful chance of receiving its Second Reading this afternoon?
§ Mr. Page
If the hon. Gentleman does not wish to listen to my speech any more perhaps he might depart from the Chamber and then he will not be here to raise any objection when that Bill is called if, in fact, he has any objection to it at all.
Before I was interrupted I was about to quote from a statement made by the Hire Purchase Trade Association which, after all, is a body which ought to know most about hire-purchase trading. It is a reputable Association. In referring to whether advertisements do serious 1395 damage or, indeed, any damage at all, the Association says:We are not aware of any evidence in this regard nor, so we believe, has anybody produced evidence that the existence of an Act on the lines of this Bill, in the past, would have prevented the occurrence of hardship to some individual in any single case.Those who study the question of hire-purchase trading say that there is no evidence of malpractices, or that anybody has been seriously misled by advertisements. Of course, we can produce sad stories of people taking on too much hire-purchase.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)
If the hon. Member believes that report he will believe anything.
§ Mr. Page
I am puzzled to understand the value of that intervention. If the hon. Member had an example to give I might have dealt with it. Throughout the debate no examples have been given of anybody suffering from reading hire-purchase advertisements. It is true that sad cases have been quoted about families who have taken on too much in the way of hire-purchase payments, but nobody has said that they have taken on too much because of reading an advertisement.
The Association goes on to say:It seems to us that before employing the full power of Parliament, before creating yet further technical offences, it ought surely to be shown that there is not merely a theoretical need to do something, but also a genuine practical need.We have nothing to show that there is any practical need for the Bill.
The Association continues:In our submission, before an Act is passed, there should be evidence, firstly, that there is a real need for such an Act, and secondly, that the Act will achieve possible advantages to the public. As it seems to us there is little evidence on the first of these points, and as far as we are aware, none on the second.That is from an Association which studies these matters. It is true that it is an interested party, but the House should pay attention to its opinion. I submit that the House should not give a Second Reading to the Bill, that it is unnecessary, and that there is quite sufficient protection under the 1938 and 1954 Acts.
§ 3.12 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mr. F. J. Erroll)
It might be helpful to hon. Members if, at this stage in the discussion, I gave 1396 some indication of the Government's attitude towards the Bill. Before I do so I should like to add my congratulations to those tendered by other of my hon. Friends to the promoter of the Bill my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rochdale (Lieut.-Colonel Schofield), both on his good fortune in the Ballot and on his skill in selecting as the subject of his Bill a matter of great social importance which affects the lives and prosperity of many millions of our people.
We have had a most interesting debate so far, which I am sure will be read widely throughout the country, because it has revealed that there are two different points of view on the matter. I am only sorry that there should have been such a slender contribution from hon. Members opposite. When the summary of this debate is heard on the radio tonight I am sure that many listeners will be surprised to find that so little has been said by Members of the Labour Party. They might well find it worth while to intervene after I sit down in order that the country may know exactly where the Labour Party stands on this important matter of hire purchase and its proper regulation.
In order to see where the Bill fits into the developing pattern of hire-purchase trading it is necessary to examine briefly the progress of hire-purchase trading so far. My hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) was strongly against its present development because he felt that it weakened our economy and exposed the individual to unnecessary risk and hazards.
It is perhaps necessary, therefore, to remind the House that hire-purchase credit is now a well-established feature of most highly-developed countries. Furthermore, it has a long history behind it. The earliest reference that I have been able to find to hire-purchase transactions is in a book written by the Countess of Blessington describing her visits to France and published in 1841. She described the advantages of a system of hire with an option to purchase which was employed by Paris furniture dealers at that time.
It is estimated that in this country as long ago as in the early 1880s there were more than 1 million hire-purchase agreements in operation. During the early 1397 period there were undoubtedly many abuses of the system, but in more recent years hire purchase has been on a sounder footing.
There are, of course, many differences of opinion among economists as to the advantages and disadvantages of hire purchase. Clearly, it encourages, advances, and makes easier the acquisition of domestic equipment, such as furniture, vacuum cleaners, washing machines and refrigerators, and of the means of domestic entertainment and pleasure, such as radio, television, gramophones and private cars—in short, what are known in modern jargon as consumer durables.
Moreover, hire purchase enables the consumer to acquire these goods long before he would have been able to have them without its assistance. Indeed, in many cases—
§ Miss Bacon
On a point of order. Is the Minister addressing himself to the subject of the Bill—advertisements—or is he giving us a dissertation on the whole of hire purchase?
§ Mr. Royle
Further to that point of order. May I suggest to you, Mr. Speaker, for your consideration, that within the terms of the long Title there is not much room for the discussion of hire purchase in itself. It would appear to me that what the Minister is now saying is outside the scope of the Bill, because he is discussing hire purchase rather than the advertisement of hire purchase.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that that would be an unduly narrow interpretation for me to place upon what is relevant and what is not on the Second Reading of a Bill. After all, the Bill does deal with one aspect of hire purchase, and I think it is relevant. I cannot rule that it is out of order to have some discussion of hire purchase as a background to the particular aspect of it which is covered by the Bill.
§ Mr. Erroll
I was saying that without hire purchase in many cases the individuals would never have succeeded in saving up the necessary money for the goods themselves. Hire purchase com- 1398 pels the consumer to set aside part of his income for a specific purpose. It can be argued that his standard of living is raised by the acquisition of durable goods, provided that the acquisition takes place on fair terms, and the Bill helps to provide that it should. It may well be too that some of the goods acquired may be, in a sense, productive, in the way that a refrigerator reduces the waste of foodstuffs. Washing and cleaning machines, and articles such as sewing machines of themselves increase domestic productivity.
It might be worth mentioning to the House that the great Adam Smith himself was a great believer in consumer durables. In "The Wealth of Nations" he said:Were two men of equal fortune to spend their revenue one chiefly in one way, the other in the other, the magnificence of the person whose expense had been chiefly in durable commodities would be continually increasing, every day's expense contributing something to support and heighten the effect of the following day; that of the other, on the contrary, would be no greater at the end of the period than at the beginning.Taken too far, this is perhaps a rather dangerous argument. The possession of a television set may be a symbol of improved standards, but it is surely the satisfaction of wants, whether achieved by getting a television set, by smoking or drinking, by having a good holiday or by giving one's children an expensive education, which is the only valid criterion of prosperity.
Hire-purchase credit increases a person's spending power beyond the limits of his current income and thus raises his present standard of living but only at the expense of the future. One of the valuable features of hire-purchase in these modern times, and one of particular importance at present, is that it helps individuals to acquire means of personal transport, such as bicycles, motor bicycles or motor cars. We increasingly recognise the need for greater mobility of labour, and we all want to see people taking on better jobs whenever the opportunities offer. The problem is sometimes to get to the new job from one's existing home.
In the old, lower-paid job it is perhaps impossible to save up enough to acquire the motor bicycle or perhaps the small second-hand motor car which is necessary in order to take up the new employment. Hire-purchase makes it possible—
§ Mr. Speaker
I know that other hon. Members wish to speak and I do not wish in any way to interrupt the hon. Gentleman; but perhaps he would consider that the exordium of his address has now been sufficiently accomplished and that he may come a little closer to the subject of the Bill.
§ Mr. Erroll
As I was saying, Mr. Speaker, hire purchase makes it possible for people to acquire goods which they would otherwise not be able to obtain. It is the purpose of the Bill to ensure that the goods shall be acquired on fair and known terms. I hope that you will allow me, Mr. Speaker, to make some reference to earlier legislation on hire purchase. That is rather important if the place of the Bill is to be seen in its proper perspective.
One of the theoretical dangers of hire purchase is the ease with which families can obtain goods which they can really not afford and so saddle themselves with heavy and onerous commitments. In practice, although in some cases great pressure is put on housewives, and indeed on others, to enter into hire-purchase agreements, the public manages to look after itself pretty well, Hire purchase has a very low rate of bad debts, and where the housewife cannot manage to keep up payments she has the protection of the Hire-Purchase Acts themselves.
Those of us who are accustomed to domestic budgeting on a monthly or annual basis and are accustomed, therefore, to paying for an article in a single transaction, are unnecessarily apt to condemn a system of weekly payments on the grounds that the true cost to the purchaser is thereby concealed. I think, however, that we have to remember that the vast majority of people in this country are receiving their earnings once a week, and therefore must do their budgeting on a weekly basis. Similarly—
§ Sir Leslie Plummer (Deptford)
I am sorry to interrupt this interesting discussion, but the hon. Gentleman has said that the percentage of bad debts on hire purchase is very small. Can he please tell the House exactly what the percentage is?
§ Mr. Erroll
I could not give the exact figure without notice but it is generally understood that the figure is very small indeed, and that hire-purchase debts are among the safest which can be contracted in this country.
§ Mr. Erroll
For the creditor, obviously. I am surprised that the right hon. Gentleman does not appreciate that point.
§ Mr. Erroll
Since the domestic budget is worked out on a weekly basis for things which are only purchased occasionally, it is of great importance that the true amount which must be paid each week should be clearly and definitely known to those who are about to enter into hire-purchase transactions.
There is a great deal of sound sense in looking at things in that way, namely on the basis of a weekly budget, because in making the estimate the family will be able to offset against the additional expense certain weekly savings on expenditure which perhaps will no longer be required.
§ Mr. Royle
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am sorry to protest again, but it seems that the hon. Gentleman is taking no steps at all to come within the terms of the Bill we are discussing. He has now discussed at great length the question of hire purchase with all its ramifications and not once has he mentioned advertisements in regard to hire purchase, which is the very heart of the Bill introduced by the hon. and gallant Member for Rochdale (Lieut.-Colonel Schofield). I do protest. I can well understand that once the hon. Gentleman gets away from the brief which has been prepared for him he might be completely lost on the question of the Bill itself, but I submit to you that at least three-quarters of his speech has been out of order.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Before you give your Ruling, may I submit that surely it is perfectly within order for my hon. Friend to do his best to clear the good name of hire-purchase traders? If I had happened to catch your eye earlier, I should have wished to go line by line through agreements that I have with me in order to explain to the House the high standards maintained by hire-purchase companies. Surely it is quite within the rules of order 1401 for my hon. Friend to do the best he can to see that the good name of those businesses is protected.
§ Mr. Speaker
I have listened to what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I have found nothing out of order. The hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) must exercise something of the patience which I frequently have to exercise whilst waiting until the approaches have been completed. I counsel patience in these matters.
§ Mr. Erroll
There is one danger in the practice that I have described, that of budgeting on a weekly basis. The danger is that the individual might over-commit himself, but as I have indicated, experience has shown that relatively few people in fact take on too many obligations. Since it is the amount of the weekly payment which is predominant in the mind of those would-be purchasers who are on weekly budgets, it is important that the terms of those payments should be clearly and unequivocally stated in any advertisement. It is also important, so that the purchaser, in assessing his weekly outgoings, might not lose sight of his total liabilities, that we make certain that any advertisement shall contain a plain statement of the deposit and the number—I particularly underline the words "the number"—of instalments which the purchaser will be called upon to pay.
This Bill, of course, must be considered in relation to hire-purchase legislation already on the Statute Book. During the inter-war period hire purchase acquired a rather bad name. A number of sharp practices grew up, particularly what were known as "snatch back" arrangements, whereby hire purchase was brought into something like disrepute. Hon. Members will remember that the Hire-Purchase Act, 1938, was introduced by Miss Ellen Wilkinson. Hire-purchase seems to have been a fruitful field for private Members' legislation.
Miss Wilkinson's Bill was largely instrumental in putting a stop to those practices. The Act, as it now is, lays down requirements as to the information to be given by the owner to the hirer. It gave the hirer the right to terminate the agreement when one half of the hire-purchase price had been paid. It also 1402 gave the hirer peaceful possession of the goods. Previously, the owner's "thugs" often forced their way into a hirer's home and took away the goods under duress. The Act also provided implied warranties as to the condition of the goods.
The main provision was to restrict the owner's right of repossession once one-third of the hire-purchase price had been paid. The owner now has to go to the courts to obtain possession, and the courts can also make an order for delivery of the goods, postponed on condition that the unpaid balance is paid on terms which the court itself lays down. That provision has, so far as we at the Board of Trade are aware, worked very well, and when the 1954 Measure, introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) was being considered, only certain minor amendments to the procedure were thought to be necessary.
The information provisions of the Act would certainly be more effective if people read their agreements or did not sign them before they were filled in. Our inspectors—they have acquired a good deal of evidence through visiting customers in connection with the hire-purchase controls—tell me that the vast majority of customers are very hazy about the terms of their agreements, and even about the most important terms in those agreements. When introducing the 1938 Act, Miss Wilkinson reminded the House of the county court judge who had said that the only way to get someone to know what was in an agreement would be to compel him to write out the agreement line by line in the shop in which the agreement was being settled.
My hon. and gallant Friend has explained, in introducing his Bill, why it is necessary to supplement the information provisions of the 1938 Act. This was all along recognised by Miss Wilkinson in respect of the 1938 Act, but she realised that she had to give way on some minor provisions in order to achieve the main principle of her Bill.
I should like at this stage to make it plain that the present Government have not at any time taken any antagonistic attitude towards hire purchase, although we realise that hire-purchase credit is an important factor in the economy and that, therefore, it is necessary at times 1403 to place temporary restrictions on hire purchase as one, and one only, of the Government's anti-inflationary Measures.
So far as the social aspects are concerned, the Government supported Sir Wavell Wakefield's Measure in 1954.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
We do not refer to hon. Members by their names. We refer to them by their constituencies.
§ Mr. Erroll
Perhaps you will be good enough to advise me, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I understood that, when an hon. Member had died, one afterwards referred to him by his name. My error arose through my referring to Miss Ellen Wilkinson by name rather than by the constituency which she represented when she was a Member of the House. I apologise if I have caused the right hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) any confusion.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
The Minister was correct in referring to Miss Wilkinson by her name, but he was wrong in referring to the hon. Member for St. Marylebone by name.
§ Mr. Erroll
I am very grateful to you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, for clearing up the matter.
So far as the social aspects of hire-purchase legislation are concerned, the Government supported the Bill introduced in 1954 by my hon. Friend the Member for St. Marylebone. That Measure extended the scope of the 1938 Act in keeping with the increase in prices and the decline in the value of money since pre-war. Certain criticisms have been made of the present Measure by trade associations, criticisms which we believe will be proved to be exaggerated and somewhat misguided.
1404 We do not believe that the requirements of the present Bill will place any more onerous restrictions on hire purchase than the provisions of the 1938 and 1954 Acts, provisions which are now generally accepted as desirable by the traders themselves.
§ Mr. J. Eden
Would not my hon. Friend agree that if this Bill is passed it will impose much more onerous conditions on those who advertise, and it is the advertisers with whom we are here concerned rather than actual hire purchase?
§ Mr. B. T. Parkin (Paddington, North)
The hon. Member for St. Marylebone (Sir W. Wakefield) will be dead by then.
§ Mr. Erroll
My hon. Friend the Member for Bournemouth, West (Mr. J. Eden) referred to the additional difficulties which will be placed on advertisers. I think that it must be recognised that this Bill will add to the work of advertisers, but it will not add to the work of conscientious advertisers, who will, of course, already be accustomed to making this information available in most of their advertisements. In fact, this Measure will save a lot of effort on the part of unscrupulous advertisers, because they will no longer have to devote their energies and efforts to devising misleading and deceiving descriptions of hire-purchase terms.
One of the great merits of the Bill is, indeed, that it will restore competition to its proper place. Without any control whatsoever, competition tends to be based on the easiness of the terms rather than on the goods themselves. All that this Bill seeks to do is to limit to reasonable bounds the description of the easiness of the terms. We can, therefore, hope that if this Bill becomes law it will enable advertisers, and the suppliers behind them, to concentrate on the quality of the goods being offered rather than to concentrate over-excessively and overzealously on the easiness of the terms which they are offering.
My hon. Friend the Member for Louth was outspoken against hire purchase, but I should like to take up one of the points which he raised. He felt that it was particularly desirable that the cash price 1405 should be disclosed, and that such disclosure should be made obligatory. Having read the Bill carefully, I should say that it is clear that it does not attempt that more controversial object of making advertisers reveal what is being charged extra for credit, which is just another way of pointing out that the cash price need not be shown.
§ Mr. Osborne
Does the Parliamentary Secretary really not think it desirable that the purchaser should know, and should be made to know, what he is having to pay extra by way of credit for the goods that he wishes to buy? Does he not agree that that is the one protection that we should force on people who have not the wit to demand it for themselves?
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
And will my hon. Friend deal with the type of agreement which a person signs before he gets the goods? It is clearly laid down that the cash price and the total hire-purchase price must be put in the agreement and, as I understand it, by the 1954 Act the cash price must be disclosed to the purchaser in some way other than by the agreement. Surely, there is ample protection.
§ Mr. Erroll
I must bear in mind that there are other hon. Members who wish to speak on this Bill today. I do, however. want to make it clear that it is one thing for the cash figure to be shown in the agreement—that is right and proper—but I think that it would be too great a temptation if the cash price had to be shown in all advertisements. Those concerns which do the bulk of their business by hire purchase or by credit trading and do only a very small amount of cash trading, would be tempted to raise the cash prices on the sales cards, knowing that they would lose very little thereby, but would, on the other hand, by so doing, be able to mask the true cost of the credit facilities. While I have a good deal of sympathy for what lies behind my hon. Friend's suggestion, I suggest to him, with his business experience, that it would not work out satisfactorily in practice.
§ Mfr. Osborne rose—1406
§ Mr. Glevil Hall
I am very much obliged to the hon. Gentleman for giving way. This is a point which interests many of us and it arose, as the hon. Gentleman knows, earlier in the debate. I hope that I do not understand from what the hon. Gentleman has said that the Government would oppose this Bill in its future stages if, when we reach the Committee stage, we sought to insert some sort of provision such as that which is favoured by the hon. Members for Louth (Mr. Osborne) and Twickenham (Mr. Gresham Cooke) as well as others of us.
§ Mr. Erroll
I should not care to anticipate the decision which the House, I hope, will reach at four o'clock this afternoon. Therefore, the right hon. Gentleman's question is a hypothetical one which I am not prepared to answer at present. In any case, we are scarcely likely to take a view on the Bill as a whole over a matter which is essentially a Committee point.
As I have said, there has been some criticism of the Bill today. I shall not attempt to meet or discuss those criticisms in detail. Indeed, it would be inappropriate for me to try to do so. I would only add that in the experience of the Board of Trade, so far as we can tell, this would seem to be a desirable Measure and one which we would be glad to see on the Statute Book substantially as drafted, although of course should this Bill go to a Standing Committee there will be opportunities for hon. Members to revise the textual detail in such ways as they think fit.
The House will, I think, realise from what I have said that the Government welcome the introduction of this Bill and hope that the House will accord it a Second Reading.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams rose—
§ Mr. W. R. Williams rose—
§ 3.44 p.m.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams (Manchester, Openshaw)
I take it, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, that you called the only Williams who matters in this House at the moment.
1407 I do not think the Minister has the right to assume that we on these benches have not got some very firm views about what is happening in the realm of hire purchase, but we have been almost lulled to sleep by the long, monotonous and repetitive speeches that we have heard from the other side—speeches which have obviously been calculated not to deal with this Bill as such but to make quite sure that the next Bill on the Order Paper—a Bill of great importance to the country—will not be reached.
When I see hon. Members behaving as I have seen them behave today, I feel that they are prostituting Parliamentary procedure. Having listened all the morning to these boring, repetitive and, many of them inaccurate, speeches, I almost hesitate to think that Parliamentary procedure should allow such a thing to happen.
§ Mr. Osborne
Surely it is not fair of the hon. Gentleman to say that all the speeches have been boring and irrelevant, when his right hon. Friend the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) has said that he is going to take up some of the points that I raised in my speech and insist that they should be included in the Bill?
§ Mr. Williams
I do not feel that there is any relevancy at all in that remark. It seems to me to be a completely stupid intervention. I do not think that I need take any further notice of it. I shall be coming later to what I regard as the "Holier than thou" attitude of the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne).
Speaking on my own behalf and, I think, on behalf of a substantial number of hon. Members who sit on these benches, I should like to say that we shall support the Bill. I have not had an opportunity yet to ask every one of my hon. Friends is he supports it, but I have an idea that they will support the Bill for this very simple reason. Anything that is likely to inculcate integrity and fair dealing in our commercial and industrial life, whose integrity and square dealing has been suspect in many quarters, to say the least of it, is something that we should like to see. Anyone present in the House today would find it very difficult to put his hand on his heart and say that he did not believe that there were any malpractices in connection with hire purchase.
1408 Anyone who goes into any of the large multiple stores which are dealing in these hire-purchase transactions and sees the way in which some of these transactions are made and the way in which the so-called agreement is discussed between the salesman or the proprietor and the victim who has gone there to sign it can only come to the conclusion that any Bill which is calculated to make for integrity and honesty, and an open transaction between the seller and the buyer, is worthy of our fullest consideration.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
Does the hon. Gentleman realise that if this Bill goes through there will be a great temptation put upon shopkeepers not to put any terms at all on the article, but just to say, "Hire-purchase terms available"?
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
I do not know. The hon. Gentleman deals so much in these transactions, which, of course, up to now I have been regarding as rather shady transactions, that possibly he knows more about them and what to anticipate from the people who deal in them.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
I think, Mr. Speaker, that you will have heard me correctly. There was no suggestion of my saying anything about any hon. Member being shady at all.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams rose—
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
There was, Sir, a Speaker in this House a long time ago who was supposed to be cross-eyed and it was very difficult for hon. Members to know whom he was calling, but I gather from the way in which you were looking in my direction that you were calling me 1409 and not the hon. Member on the other side. I should—
§ Mr. Dudley Williams
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The point that I want to raise is that I do not feel at all strongly about the remarks of the hon. Gentleman, as I know that he was not referring to me as shady but to some other transaction. I owe him no grudge.
§ Mr. Speaker
I think that that is very satisfactory. I should have been very surprised if the hon. Member who has the Floor said anything that was disorderly in the House.
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
I am very glad to hear hat statement of your faith in me, Mr. Speaker, and I am equally pleased to accept the apology of the hon. Gentleman the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams).
I listened to the hon. Member for Louth giving expression to his "Holier than thou" attitude in his speech this morning. Contrary to what he says, I believe that a good deal of merit and benefit accrues from the hire-purchase system. I believe that it has brought a great deal of happiness and comfort and labour saving into the homes not only of ordinary working-class people but into the homes of the middle classes, also, during a period when there have been great difficulties for them.
I am not disposed to accept the view of the hon. Member for Louth that we should do away with the hire-purchase system as such. I believe that it has to be regulated and controlled, and restricted and limited in its scope, but that is to take a view very different from that taken by the hon. Member for Louth.
I should like to express my disappointment that the Minister—
§ Mr. J. Eden
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for the honourable and no longer gallant Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) to read a newspaper in the Chamber?
§ Mr. Lipton
May I say, by way of explanation to you, Mr. Speaker, that I was refreshing my memory by looking at a hire-purchase advertisement which appears in this newspaper? I may have occasion to refer to it if time permits.
§ Mr. James Simmons (Brierley Hill)
On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Is it in order for a Member who advertises his gallantry to denigrate a gallant Member who hides his gallantry?
§ Mr. Speaker
I took the original remark to be more of a jocose nature and not conveying any imputation on the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton).
§ Mr. Williams
I should like to assure my hon. Friend the Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton), who is sitting beside me here, that I have always regarded him as hon. and gallant and still regard him as such, despite anything said from the other side.
I was about to consider certain abuses of the hire-purchase system. Any hon. Member of this House who cares to walk along the main street of any big town, on a Saturday afternoon in particular, can see at any time the way in which ordinary people are inveigled into some of these stores, how they are almost caught hold of by the scruff of the neck. Anybody who is able to come out of some of those places without signing one of the abstruse agreements to which reference has been made is indeed a very lucky fellow.
§ Mr. Barter
Many of us have some sympathy with the remarks made by the hon. Member for Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams) concerning some of these advertisements, but would he not agree that this Bill may not necessarily be the most desirable way of dealing with the matter, and, also, that it may produce consequences which have not yet been envisaged in this Chamber?
§ Mr. Williams
No, I think not. I always take the view that any legislation which goes in the direction I favour, however imperfectly or inadequately, is well worthy of consideration.
I would not care to say that this Bill represents what I should like to see in the way of legislation to deal with these malpractices and abuses. But surely, when an hon. Member like the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Rochdale (Lieut.-Colonel Schofield) takes the trouble to bring the Bill here, we cannot say that he has not thought of making some progress in the matter. I agree with him that if this is only a first step towards what we want to do in the matter, 1411 it is a very important and very significant one.
About the only part of the Minister's speech that I was pleased with was the fact that, in the end, after a most tortuous argument, he came to the conclusion that at least the Government could give their blessing to the Bill. For that we are grateful, because he did not give us anything else in the course of his pre-Roman review of the hire-purchase system which helped us at all in our examination of the Bill.
I was talking about the salesmen in some shops. I reiterate that it is almost impossible for an ordinary person to know what he is signing, first, because of the jargon used in the agreements, and secondly, because of the high pressure that is brought to bear upon men and women and the time factor involved when they are in the shops. I suggest that this is worthy of very close examination.
Incidentally, hon. Members opposite have been talking about some of the agreements as if they were simple matters. I have looked at some of the agreements. Believe me, people who are not educated reasonably well would find great difficulty, on the spur of the moment, in being able to assess what they are up against or how much they have to pay.
I want to close—[HON. MEMBERS: "Go on"]—by expressing surprise that the Minister has not given us evidence, which he must have in the Board of Trade, of the many malpractices in the hire-purchase system. I challenge the Minister to say to this House today that his Department has not had repeated cause for complaints in recent years, and, in some cases, in recent weeks and months, in connection with the mal-
§ practices that are arising out of the hire-purchase system. I will give one example which the Board of Trade now has before it.
§ A man in my constituency sought to buy a carpet. I do not know whether this has any connection with Kidderminster, but he went out to buy a carpet. According to the agreement and the conversation about it, the carpet was supposed to be a grade I carpet. The price was supposed to be £x and the hire purchase terms were supposed to be £y, and £x plus £y was a sum which my constituent thought was reasonable for the carpet.
§ Mr. Dudley Williams rose—
§ Mr. W. R. Williams
It is too near 4 o'clock for me to give way to the hon. Member.
When the carpet for my constituent was delivered, the wholesalers made the tragic mistake of allowing part of the bill relating to the transaction—
§ Lieut.-Colonel Schofield rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.
§ Mr. S. Silverman
On a point of order —before you collect the voices, Mr. Speaker. I understood you to say at an earlier stage in our proceedings, exactly an hour ago, that it was not the practice on a Friday, on a Private Member's Bill, to accept a Motion for the Closure while any hon. Member was ready to speak.
§ Mr. Speaker
I said nothing of the kind. I said that I would accept a Motion at four o'clock, which is customary.
Question put, That the Question be now put:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 83, Noes 80.1413
|Division No. 50.]||AYES||[4.0 p.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Craddock, Beresford (Spelthorne)||Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.|
|Allan, R. A. (Paddington, S.)||Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Hill, Rt. Hon. Charles (Luton)|
|Amory, Rt. Hn. Heathcoat (Tiverton)||Crowder, Sir John (Finchley)||Hill, John (S. Norfolk)|
|Ashton, H.||Cunningham, Knox||Holman, P.|
|Baxter, Sir Beverley||Currie, G. B. H.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.|
|Biggs-Davison, J. A.||Drayson, G. B.||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.|
|Body, R. F.||Eden, J. B. (Bournemouth, West)||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.|
|Bossom, Sir Alfred||Erroll, F. J.||Hulbert, Sir Norman|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hon. J. A.||Farey-Jones, F. W.||Hyde, Montgomery|
|Brooke, Rt. Hon. Henry||Finlay, Graeme||Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry|
|Browne, J. Nixon (Craigton)||Fisher, Nigel||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)|
|Bryan, P.||Fraser, Hon. Hugh (Stone)||Jennings, J. c. (Burton)|
|Burden, F. F. A.||Freeth, D. K.||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)|
|Campbell, Sir David||Godber, J. B.||Joseph, Sir Keith|
|Cary, Sir Robert||Grant-Ferris, Wg Cdr. B. (Nantwich)||Keegan, D.|
|Channon, Sir Henry||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Lagden, G. W.|
|Clarke, Brig. Terence (Portsmth, W.)||Harvey, Air Cdre. A. V. (Macclesfd)||Linstead, Sir H. N.|
|Lloyd, Rt. Hon. Selwyn (Wirral)||Pike, Miss Mervyn||Speir, R. M.|
|Low, Rt. Hon. A. R. W.||Powell, J. Enoch||Studholme, Sir Henry|
|Lucas, Sir Jocelyn (Portsmouth, S.)||Price, David (Eastleigh)||Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)|
|Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Redmayne, M.||Thompson, Lt.-Cdr. R. (Croydon, S.)|
|McLaughlin, Mrs. P.||Renton, D. L. M.||Ward, Dame Irene (Tynemouth)|
|Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Ridsdale, J. E.||Webbe, Sir H.|
|Manningham-Buller, Rt. Hn. Sir R.||Rippon, A. G. F.||Williams, Paul (Sunderland, s.)|
|Marlowe, A. A. H.||Robertson, Sir David||Wills, G. (Bridgwater)|
|Nugent, G. R. H.||Robinson, Sir Roland (Blackpool, S.)|
|Oakshott, H. D.||Russell, R. S.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Ormsby-Gore, Rt. Hon. W. D.||Simon, J. E. S.(Middlesbrough, W.)||Lieut.-Colonel Schofield and|
|Osborne, C.||Smithers, Peter (Winchester)||Mr. Gresham Cooke.|
|Bacon, Miss Alice||Hunter, A. E.||Silverman, Julius (Aston)|
|Barter, John||Hynd, H. (Accrington)||Silverman, Sydney (Nelson)|
|Benn, Hn. Wedgwood (Bristol, S. E.)||Hynd, J. B. (Attercliffe)||Simmons, C. J. (Brierley Hill)|
|Beswick, F.||Janner, B.||Skeffington, A. M.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs, S.)||Sparks, J. A.|
|Black, C. W.||Jenkins, Roy (Stechford)||Stross, Dr. Barnett (Stoke-on-Trent, C.)|
|Bottomley, Rt. Hon. A. G.||Johnson, James (Rugby)||Summerskill, Rt. Hon. E.|
|Bowden, H. W. (Leicester, s. w.)||Jones, Rt. Hon. A. Creech (Wakefield)||Taylor, John (West Lothian)|
|Boyd, T. C.||Key, Rt. Hon. c. W.||Thomas, George (Cardiff)|
|Brockway, A. F.||King, Dr. H. M.||Thomson, George (Dundee, E.)|
|Butler, Herbert (Hackney, C.)||Kirk, P. M.||Warbey, W. N.|
|Callaghan, L. J.||Weitzman, D.|
|Castle, Mrs. B. A.||Lipton, Marcus||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Cove, W. G.||MacPherson, Malcolm (Stirling)||Wheeldon, W. E.|
|Craddock, George (Bradford, S.)||Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfd, E.)||Wilkins, W. A.|
|Dance, J. C. G.||Marquand, Rt. Hon. H. A.||Willey, Frederick|
|Deer, G.||Mikardo, Ian||Williams, R. Dudley (Exeter)|
|Donnelly, D. L.||Mitchison, G. R.||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Ede, Rt. Hon. J. C.||Nairn, D. L. S.||Williams, W. T. (Barons Court)|
|Edwards, Robert (Bilston)||Oram, A. E.||Willis, Eustace (Edinburgh, E.)|
|Edwards, W. J. (Stepney)||Owen, W. J.||Wilson, Rt. Hon. Harold (Huyton)|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon, P. C.||Page, R. G.||Yates, V. (Ladywood)|
|Greenwood, Anthony||Pannell, Charles (Leeds, W.)||Zilliacus, K.|
|Griffiths, Rt. Hon. James (Llanelly)||Parker, J.|
|Grimond, J.||Parkin, B. T.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hale, Leslie||Popplewell, E.||Mr. Royle and Sir Leslie Plummer.|
|Hughes, Cledwyn (Anglesey)||Randall, H. E.|
|Hughes, Emrys (S. Ayrshire)||Robinson, Kenneth (St. Pancras, N.)|
|Hughes, Hector (Aberdeen, N.)||Rogers, George (Kensington, N.)|
§ Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER declared that the Question was not decided in the Affirmative, because it was not supported by the majority prescribed by Standing Order No. 30 (Majority for Closure).
§ It being after Four o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.
§ Debate to be resumed upon Friday next.