HC Deb 23 June 1961 vol 642 cc1833-56

11.5 a.m.

Colonel Sir Tufton Beamish (Lewes)

I beg to move, in page 1, line 14, after "fine", to insert: not exceeding one thousand pounds". Would it be in order, Mr. Speaker, if I moved both this Amendment and the next, in line 15, after "both", to insert "such", together? The second one is consequential.

Mr. Speaker

No, the hon. and gallant Member cannot move both Amendments together, but he may discuss them together.

Sir T. Beamish

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

The Bill had a quick passage through the Committee stage. In fact, there were only two Amendments. The first one which was in my name, added paragraph (b) to Clause 1 (2): on conviction on indictment, to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or to both a fine and such imprisonment. The Committee accepted this Amendment without a Division since it was agreed that it is sensible and in accordance with normal practice to make higher penalties available to a higher court. By increasing the penalties which can be given for the offences described in the Bill, its deterrent effect has been strengthened. Put in another way, it was thought by the Committee that the penalties in the Bill were not sufficiently severe to match the seriousness of the crime. There was no limit on the fine imposed on conviction on indictment.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East (Mr. Doughty) who is unable to be present this morning, for which he has apologised to me, moved a starred Amendment during the Committee stage which I did not see until about ten seconds before the sitting commenced, I having been caught in a traffic jam in Birdcage Walk, and having arrived in the Committee very much out of breath.

The Amendment of my hon. and learned Friend sought to impose a limit of £300. As originally drafted, his Amendment did not refer to a maximum penalty at all and therefore a verbal Amendment to his starred Amendment was moved. All this was done at very short notice. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Surrey, East has told me that he is willing to accept the Amendment which I have moved.

The short debate which we had on the starred Amendment moved by my hon. and learned Friend was interesting and rather learned. But the attempt to impose a maximum fine failed, after a Division, by one vote. I opposed the Amendment mainly because I had had no time to consider it. However, I did give an undertaking that I would examine the problem with great care before the Report stage. I have done so and reached the firm conclusion that, while there are good arguments for both points of view as to whether or not there should be a maximum fine, I much prefer in the circumstances to lay down a maximum.

Then I had to ask myself what the maximum should be. In order to try to decide this correctly I looked first at some precedents in other legislation, and in particular at the fines which were imposed in two recent cases, both at Bournemouth, where there were successful prosecutions. I found that in the first of them the ringleader was fined £500 or a term of twelve months' imprisonment, with costs, and the second most important man concerned was fined £400 or twelve months' imprisonment. In the second case, the ringleader was fined £600 or twelve months' imprisonment and he also had to pay costs. In fact, if I remember aright, he had to pay four-fifths of the costs, although that is an immaterial point. In both oases, the charges were conspiracy to defraud at a mock auction, and in both cases the smaller fry had smaller penalties imposed upon them. It seems, therefore, that we can gain something from studying the sort of fines which have been imposed in past cases and considered appropriate.

Some mock auctioneers have made themselves rich men by their swindling methods, and the courts must have power to teach them a real lesson. Mock auctioneers have been known quite often to make as much as £1,500 in one week, incredible as that may seem, and £1,000 in a week is by no means uncommon. When we bear in mind that practically all this is clear profit because of the shoddy nature of the goods sold, we realise that people who indulge in these practices have been able to make themselves rich. This offence is a serious one. It is a coldly calculated false pretence. I have come to the conclusion that the maximum fine should be fairly high and I have put it at £1,000—hence the Amendment, which I commend to the House.

Mr. Norman Dodds (Erith and Crayford)

I am very pleased that the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) has made this proposal. I hope that the House will accept it, because I am certain that as the Bill stands provision for a fine not exceeding £100, in view of what the hon. and gallant Member has said, would be mere chickenfeed. It certainly would not in any way stop these people taking the risk, because the fine would be so small.

The hon. and gallant Member has mentioned some of the fines which have been imposed following prosecutions. My regret is that the suggested amount is not more than £1,000. We should bear in mind that many years ago when these penalties were first imposed mock auctioneers ran their own stalls in various market places. Usually they sold goods which they got from reputable manufacturers. The goods were often damaged or marked in some way. That has now altered and for the last few years a handful of people have been doing this trade in a big way, not running the stalls themselves but engaging many people to work on them. They do not take damaged goods from reputable manufacturers, but engage in manufacturing shoddy goods themselves, and do this in a big way.

In the best interests of the public and for the good name of the country, the House should accept these Amendments, modest as they are. I am encouraged to accept them, because the vagueness of the law dealing with mock auctions will be so considerably altered by the Bill. I believe that there will now be less temptation for people to go in for these practices. Under the circumstances, possibly £1,000 is a reasonable amount for a fine. I therefore support the Amendment and hope that the House will accept it.

Mr. Dudley Williams (Exeter)

I wish to thank my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) for the way in which he has dealt with the criticism which was made in Standing Committee. I did not like the original suggestion that there should be no maximum limit, although I understand that that proposal would have found favour with the Home Office. I think that for all offences there should be an upper limit to the penalty.

I do not think that the £100 which was suggested would be in any way adequate for offences of swindling the public by these shady practices. The amount of £1,000 is probably adequate. It is a considerable sum for a fine and if a person is charged on indictment he could also be imprisoned for up to two years. He could also be forced to make a contribution to the costs of the prosecution if he did not have to pay all the costs.

I think that this is a reasonable suggestion and I commend it to the House. It would do much to discourage this type of individual. I believe that the Americans have a saying that there is "one born every minute". Other authorities maintain that three or four are born every minute. They are likely to be caught by such rascals as those we are to deal with by this Bill. Any legislation which we can pass effectively to discourage these malpractices should be given support. I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend and hope that the House will see fit to pass the Amendment.

11.15 a.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Dennis Vosper)

I must claim some responsibility for this Amendment, because it was I—and I think only I—who on Second Reading suggested that the penalty in the Bill when it was read a Second time would probably not be adequate and that the only way to deal with the matter was to make this an indictable offence. To that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) responded in Committee.

We then had the discussion about whether there should be a limit to the penalty on indictment. I took the view then that both the limit of £300 which was suggested and the £100 were inadequate to the gravity of the offence. I said that in recent years it had been the tendency not to impose a limit for the penalty for indictable offences unless it was desired that the courts should fix a low penalty. For offences of this nature it was not desirable that the courts should fix a low penalty and, therefore, it should be open-ended. We had a somewhat controversial discussion and I agreed to examine the precedents again.

I have done that and found that the precedents are very divided. Numerically, they are more in favour of a limit than otherwise, but in recent years the tendency has been to do what I suggested in Committee, to impose no limit. I cited the Radioactive Substances Bill. There was also the Building Societies Bill, 1960, and the Obscene Publications Bill in 1959. In none of those did the House seek to impose a limit to the penalty on indictment. I realise that it is a very arguable matter, although in the Obscene Publications Bill the then Solicitor-General took the view very forcibly that no limit should be imposed.

My hon. and gallant Friend has suggested that the limit should be imposed in this case. He has raised it from the very modest figure of £300 to £1,000. That suggestion has been supported in the House today and, under the circumstances, I have no wish to oppose it. The penalty would be raised to a reasonable figure. Numerically the precedents support his view, but in recent years the trend has been the other way. It is very arguable, but I suggest that the House should support the Amendment.

Mr. Dodds

Does not the right hon. Gentleman agree that now, when the law will be much clearer, it will therefore be much easier to bring these people to book, and that the question of the amount of penalty does not matter so much, provided it is fairly substantial?

Mr. Vosper

I agree with the hon. Member that, now that the law is much more definite, the deterrent effect will be what matters.

Mr. George Darling (Sheffield, Hillsborough)

We were in some difficulty when the starred Amendment was put before us in Committee in an attempt to put in a limit. I think that in the circumstances, with the agreement which is obvious about these two Amendments a satisfactory conclusion has been reached following a very difficult and rather confused debate in Committee. I am pleased that the Bill will go through with this maximum fine stated in it. After consideration of the debate in Committee, I came to the conclusion that there should be a maximum figure stated in the Bill.

Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)

Hon. Members may have seen that at the beginning of last week another Amendment on this subject was put forward in my name. It was for a smaller penalty. Naturally I withdrew that Amendment when my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) proposed this more substantial fine. I wish to explain to the House that I support the general concept. I had proposed £500 as the right figure, but I am glad to support my hon. and gallant Friend because I think that the higher figure is more satisfactory. After conversations I have had outside, I am almost inclined to think that the figure should be still higher. I warmly support the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In line 15, after "both", insert "such".—[Sir T. Beamish.]

11.20 a.m.

Sir T. Beamish

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This Bill was introduced in another place by Lord Denham who did an immense amount of work on it. This is frankly his Bill. It was passed in another place in the 1958–59 Session. In that Session, after it left another place, I took the Bill over, but there was not then time for it to be passed through the House of Commons. It was, however, reintroduced in this House by my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford (Sir S. Storey), who is today one of my supporters, but he held a low place in the Ballot and the Bill failed to make any progress.

I am very glad to see the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) in his place, because he is a supporter of the Bill, and I am only surprised that he has not appeared wearing the false moustache that he is alleged to have worn during the investigations that he made into the racket which this Bill seeks to stop.

The intention of the Bill is to prohibit certain practices adopted by mock auctioneers as a means of persuading the gullible to bid for shoddy goods at a price much above their true value. It closes a gap in the law which has enabled mock auctioneers to swindle many thousands of people for many years past. Mock actions as such—I emphasise the words "as such"—are almost certainly not illegal and that has accounted for the very rare successful prosecutions. There have been, I think, only six in this century.

In accordance with normal practice, I shall describe the Bill very briefly. Clause 1 (1) makes is an offence to permit or conduct or assist in the conducting of a mock auction. Subsection (2), as amended during the Report stage, sets out the penalties, and subsection (3) defines a mock auction by describing very clearly the three practices which distinguish the mock auction from the genuine action. Subsection (4) ensures that, where the practice described in paragraph (a) occurs at a genuine auction for one or other of the justifiable reasons specified in the subsection, it does not convert the auction into a mock auction.

Clause 2 deals with offences by bodies corporate and follows the common form for this type of provision. Clause 3 is the interpretation Clause, which is easy to understand and quite straight-forward, and Clause 4 states the Short title.

The Bill, therefore, is modest in size, deliberately narrow in its application, but by no means unimportant. Great care has been taken not to interfere in any way with bona fide auctions and no attempt has been made to protect the public against the sale of shoddy goods by normal persuasive methods.

The Bill does not make Dutch auctions as such illegal. The hon. Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards), who is not in the Chamber today, was very anxious about this point. I can say that I think that I have been able to set his mind at rest. I looked at this point very carefully. I took the best advice available, and I am satisfied that "competitive bidding"—the words used in the Bill—whether upwards or downwards, is against the law "if, but only if"—I quote these words from line 19—any of the practices described in the three following sub-paragraphs, all of which practices characterise mock auctions, take place. None of these practices as described in the Bill is ever used by genuine auctioneers.

The Bill, as I explained on Second Reading, has widespread support. It is an all-party Bill. It has the Government's blessing, and I should like to thank the Minister of State for the help he has continuously given. The Bill is backed by the Association of Municipal Corporations, the Urban District Councils Association, the National Association of Market Authorities, the National Association of Goldsmiths, the National Chamber of Trade, and many others, and I have had hundreds of letters from individuals, every one of whom welcomed the fact that this legislation was before the House, and not one of them was critical. Further, and this is an important point, the Bill has the support of the Incorporated Society of Auctioneers, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, and the Chartered Auctioneers' and Estate Agents' Institute, the three bodies which represent the auctioneers and surveyors in this country.

The strength of the demand for the Bill and the support for it are therefore unquestionable. So, I submit, is the need for this legislation. Through the years, serious uncertainty in the law has led to a widespread racket. How many foreign visitors, fleeced by mock auctioneers, have been surprised that such obvious swindling could be conducted in such brazen and open fashion? The doubt about the law, furthermore, must very often have put the police in thoroughly invidious positions, knowing that such a serious offence in the form of a calculated swindle was going on under their noses, yet knowing, at the same time, how difficult, if not impossible, it would be to prosecute successfully.

I have high hopes that the Bill will soon become law, and that the highly successful and widespread confidence trick carried on by mock auctioneers will no longer be practised, not at any rate without the law breakers running the clear risk of prosecution and heavy penalties if found guilty.

11.28 a.m.

Mr. Darling

I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) on choosing this important subject when he was successful in the Ballot for Private Members' Bills, and particularly on the way in which he has conducted the proceedings up to this stage. As he said, if we are to congratulate those responsible for the Bill, our congratulations must cover a slightly wider field. He mentioned Lord Denham, the hon. Member for Stretford (Sir S. Storey) and my hon. Friend the Member Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds), all of whom have worked hard to get this very desirable Measure on the Statute Book.

I think that all in the House today would agree that this Measure should have been on the Statute Book some time ago. I am sorry that our procedure did not allow it to be on the Statute Book before this year's holiday season began, because it is at holiday time that the worst offences are committed. If, as the hon. and gallant Member said, the Measure could be put quickly on the Statute Book, it might be in operation before the beginning of the school holidays in August. I do not know whether that is possible, but I hope that it will be. I think that, in time, mock auctions—this form of fraud and sharp practice—will be remembered only by those who have been fleeced by persons practising these frauds. Future social historians will remember this unfortunate form of trading only by the very clear and interesting exposition of it given by the hon. and gallant Member during Second Reading. That is one of the pieces of exposition on the record that social historians of the future, when examining how people behave, particularly on their seaside holidays, will find of great interest.

I do not want to go over the ground again. I merely congratulate the hon. Member for Lewes on the way that the Bill has been conducted and for the speed with which he has helped us to get it on the Statute Book.

11.30 a.m.

Mr. Dudley Williams

I should like to add my congratulations to those of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) for having piloted the Bill so far along its way to the Statute Book. At the same time, I join with my hon. Friend in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Denham, on the great work he did in another place to get the Bill forward. It was regrettable that we were not able to get it on the Statute Book in time last year.

Nobody will regard a few remarks about the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr Dodds) as amiss. The hon. Member has done a tremendous job in uncovering this fraud. I do not know whether hon. Members generally know that he has taken considerable risks in finding out all that he has discovered about this practice. He has been threatened with assault and in many ways his life was made unbearable for a considerable time when he was getting the evidence that was necessary to compile the Bill. The House and the country owe a considerable debt to the hon. Member for his tenacity in getting all the evidence which he managed to extract.

I am well known for not being very keen on Private Members' Bills. One of the attitudes I always take in examining such a Bill is to find out whether it is the product of the hon. Member who presents it or whether it is a concealed Measure coming out of either the Opposition Whips' Office or the Government Whips' Office. I am perfectly satisfied that in this case the Bill is the result of private Members' efforts. I do not know whether they have been assisted by Parliamentary Agents. Whether they have or not, they have produced a fine Bill which will bring great benefit to the people. They have achieved a nice balance between protecting the individual and not being grandmotherly.

I was interested to hear from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes that I shall still be permitted to buy shoddy goods. If I am stupid enough to buy shoddy goods, I cannot expect to be protected by legislation from this House. What the people have a right to expect, however, is protection against deliberate fraud and swindle. That is what the Bill seeks to give them. I am happy that the practice known as mock auctions will receive a severe setback when the Bill is finally passed through another place and becomes the law of the land.

One of the other reasons why I give my support to the Bill is that I notice that there is no power under it for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to issue regulations. That is a matter about which I feel strongly where private Members' legislation is concerned. We all know what happens in such cases. Regulations are issued by the Government with the Whips on. I do not like that happening as a result of private Members' legislation. No criticism of that nature can be made about the Bill. It defines precisely the powers which are available to the courts; it is a thoroughly worth-while Measure and it deserves the support of the House.

I hope that the Bill will be rapidly passed through its final stages and receive the Royal Assent so that, as the hon. Member for Hillsborough, speaking from the Opposition Front Bench, said, it can be in operation by the time that the children go on holiday. It is not the younger children, however, who are usually caught, but rather the stupid, older children. I should like to see the Bill pass through all its stages and in operation by 1st August. Once again, I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes on introducing it.

11.35 a.m.

Mr. Dodds

For me, this seems to be the end of a long road. Today, we are discussing one of the most unhealthy swindles ever devised, a most cruel and heartless way of parting quite simple people from their holiday savings. It is not only simple people, however, who have been caught in this way. I know of some intelligent people, prominent in public life, who, when on holiday, because the inclement weather has prevented them going to the seaside, have walked into the streets, found themselves in one of these run-outs—that is the name by which they are known—and then, inside, have listened to the patter and, without ever wishing to spend money, have found themselves, by the web that is woven around them, unable to refuse to put their hands in their pockets and, as a result, spend all their holiday money. Therefore, this is a very happy day.

I thank the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) for the generous remarks he has made about me, but there is one other thing that must be said. The Bill would never have come into being as a consequence of my own efforts, for the simple reason that I am never fortunate in the Ballot. For sixteen years, I have not even been in the first twenty to be drawn out. I must therefore thank the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish), who had many good Bills to bring forward but who saw from his own experience and from what he had been told that this would be a great social work if he introduced it. I join my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) in congratulating the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes on the way in which he has handled the Bill in this House. It is a great credit, and the hon. Member will go down in history when many of us who are supporting him have been forgotten. He is carving a niche in history for himself, and millions of people will be able to thank him for helping them.

I wish also to pay tribute to Lord Denham. I cannot help thinking what a remarkable picture it is that I have been associated with a Member of another place and also a prominent Tory on the benches opposite. This shows what can be done in this House, even where party politics are the dominant factor. Lord Denham is a remarkable young man when one considers the tenacity with which he has fought this matter and the way in which he went into mock auctions to get first-hand information. I shall never forget the picture of him dressed as for Ascot, wearing his topper and with his cricket-type bag full of the shoddy goods which he demontrated downstairs. With the qualities that he possesses, Lord Denham could, but for the Bill, make a fortune in this way.

When the hon. Member for Exeter speaks of my experiences, I must say that I went into it as a greenhorn. I should never do it again. I have some amazing pictures. Night after night, morning after morning, telephone calls disturbed us at home with the most dreadful threats. I remember being lured into a room behind Shaftesbury Avenue, in Lisle Street, put down in a chair, the door locked and then being told that I would be so bashed up that my mother would not recognise me. But for the wits of a mock auctioneer saying that there was a detective in the street downstairs and that if anybody knocked a Member of Parliament about there was a fairly heavy penalty, I should not have been allowed to get scot-free without getting what, I believe, in their minds, I thoroughly deserved.

I shall watch the application of the Bill with great interest. I have been offered police protection. I have been given all the threats. I have been interviewed here by Scotland Yard. I have gone into police stations and told them of the technique, which was an absolute fraud and swindle. It is a matter of great amazement to me that in this London of ours, these people have been able to get off scot-free. Even Bournemouth has caught up with them. The same man, Allan Gershon, practises every week in Petticoat Lane, where he cannot be caught, yet if he uses exactly the same technique in Bournemouth, he can be fined £500. The Bill has been acclaimed by the Home Office. I welcome that, because it must be certain about this. It believes in the Bill. It believes that either the City of London Police or the Metropolitan Police will now be able to deal with the tactics which I have brought to light time and time again.

When the Bill becomes law I shall make at least one visit, probably several, to Petticoat Lane where these practices are rampant. I shall see whether at long last the efforts of Lord Denham and the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes have brought fruit. If people still carry on these practices, I hope that they will quickly be brought to book. My hon. Friend the Member for Stepney (Mr. W. Edwards) was a little worried about this, but the Stepney street traders have been clamouring for the Bill for a long time. There is no doubt that one of the greatest attractions in Britain is Petticoat Lane. The first week I came to London I visited Petticoat Lane. I went there every Sunday for weeks. It is a terrific attraction. There are men there who give a good deal to the people who go there. They are proud of the good name of Petticoat Lane. However, in recent years they have been appalled at the type of people who have been fleecing visitors to Petticoat Lane.

Therefore, I shall have great pleasure in visiting Petticoat Lane when the Bill becomes law. I hope that the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes and Lord Denham will accompany me to see the way in which these practices are being cleaned up. I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes. He must be very proud today, because he must know that in another place not one voice was raised against the Bill when it was brought up by Lord Denham before a crowded House. The hon. and gallant Member can look forward to the appointed day when the people of Britain will be protected when they are on holiday from these unscrupulous parasites.

11.42 a.m.

Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)

This is indeed a rare occasion. Previous speakers have indicated why it is a rare occasion. I join with them in so describing it, but for two other reasons. First, this is one of the few and far between occasions on which anything with which I have been associated, in however humble a way, looks like reaching the Statute Book. I am very proud of the fact that I am one of the hon. Members whose names appear on the back of the Bill as sponsors. This Measure is long overdue and the utmost credit is due to the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish), and to my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds), whom we are delighted to see here today still in good health and good form, which condition we hope will endure for many years to come, after the threats of violence to which he has been subjected as a result of the Bill.

I am sorry that the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) is not in his place, because I want to pay a tribute to him for his support of the Bill. This is one of the rare occasions on a Friday when I have not viewed his presence in the Chamber with my usual alarm and despondency. The fact that he was caught on at least one occasion by a mock auctioneer shows that even the most intelligent person can be hooked up. The whole process of the mock auctioneer is diabolically ingenious and creates such an atmosphere of mental confusion that I am surprised that brainwashing techniques have not incorporated some of the practices of mock auctions. If it were a question of creating a confused mental approach to any day-to-day problem, I am sure that the technique employed by mock auctioneers would stand very high in the scale of efficiency.

There is one other angle of the mock auction business which I view without any regret. Certain landlords of shop property will not now be able to make undesirable and immoral earnings by letting their shop premises to these shady adventurers. This has happened in many cases where leases have had short periods to run. I remember occasions when shops in the Strand and Oxford Street were placed at the disposal of mock auctioneers for certain periods. These people tend to nip in wherever there is property on the verge of being demolished or at the end of a long lease. Certain owners of shop property in the centres of towns and on seaside fronts have made unholy profits out of short lettings to these undesirable persons.

This is a great day. It will clip the activities of these undesirable people. I know that the general law of the land is caveat emptor: let the buyer beware. But there are certain circumstances in which it is necessary that the State should step in to protect the simple, average citizen against the activities of these sharks. It may be argued by very doctrinaire advocates of absolute individual freedom that people should reap the consequences of their own folly, but this is a case in which the caveat emptor principle—let the buyer beware—should not be carried to its logical conclusion. The mock auction business represents a very ingenious combination of fraud, psychological trickery, and all that sort of thing, against which the public is entitled to be protected.

For these reasons, the activities of the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes and my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford deserve the highest possible praise. This will enable both of them to occupy the niche in history—social history, if that expression is preferred—which they fully deserve as a result of the work they have done on the Bill. I welcome the Bill. Undoubtedly many people will, without knowing it, live to be thankful that the Bill is coming on to the Statute Book. It will enable their hard-earned money to be devoted to much better objects than the pockets of these fraudulent mock auctioneers.

11.49 a.m.

Mr. J. Wells

I am very glad to have had the opportunity of catching your eye, Mr. Speaker, because I, too, want to congratulate the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) on the very hard work he did on this subject before the Bill was introduced. I have an interest in common with him, because we both come from Kent and represent considerable interests in the fruit-growing part of our county.

I am glad that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) made specific mention of the safeguards he envisages for the Dutch auction by virtue of the fact that honest bidding may go down as well as up in accordance with the Dutch auction principle. Those of us concerned with horticultural products and the various agricultural ideas which are coming into being, think that in the near future there is likely to be considerable changes in the methods of marketing this produce. So I am very glad that there are safeguards in this excellent Bill relating to this new type of auctioneering.

I am glad that my hon. and gallant Friend mentioned conventional auctioneering, because the auctioneer plays an essential part in the world of agriculture and horticulture. We could not get on without him, although frequently he is misunderstood. Auctioneers perform one of the most valuable secondary services to agriculture and horticulture.

This Bill will be widely welcomed in all holiday areas. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford and I see many people going to the Kentish coast. We both go there for part of our holidays. I consider it most important that we get this legislation on the Statute Book before the school holidays this summer. My hon. Friend the Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) made a remark about the folly of older children, and I agree with him. But there are some young people who may have the bitter experience of being caught by "sharks". Many young persons have only a limited amount of spending money. They are made to feel foolish when they have to go to ask their parents for more money. There is nothing more unpleasant for a young person than to be made to feel a fool. I welcome the safeguards in this Bill and look forward to its early arrival on the Statute Book.

11.52 a.m.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)

I welcome this Bill and congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) This is one of the few occasions on which I have the pleasure of agreeing with the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton), who is my political neighbour and is a strong supporter of the Bill. I think it is the first time that I have had the pleasure of agreeing with him in this House. The hon. Gentleman did say that it was not always a question of lack of intelligence on the part of people caught at these auctions. I was grateful to hear that because, as I told the House on an earlier occasion, I was caught by a mock auctioneer in the Tottenham Court Road in 1946.

One of the important things about this Measure is that it will clean up certain areas, such as the Tottenham Court Road and other important thoroughfares and streets, which are visited by tourists. They are impressed by the first things they see. They may discover a crowd standing outside a highly decorated shop front. They may go in only to find that any impression which they may have formed is wrong. These places are an extraordinarily bad advertisement in every respect.

I understand that the same practices are carried on in South coast towns, and for that reason I welcome the provisions in this Bill. One aspect which pleases me is the fact that the Amendment introduced this morning places a ceiling on the amount of the fine which can be imposed. I am sure that when laying down penalties we should take account of the need to make the maximum adequate.

I know that this Bill will be generally welcomed. It in no way interferes with the proper business of auctioneers carried out by respected bodies. It will operate only against unprofessional and unfortunate practices which have crept into our society and which have not been exactly illegal until now, where even the most sensible and intelligent people may become the victims of a cleverly concealed fraud. I congratulate my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes on all the hard work he has put into this Measure. Its introduction today proves that once again the efforts of Private Members in this House may improve the legislation of our country.

11.56 a.m.

Mr. George Wigg (Dudley)

I wish to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) and to the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish). My tribute is not only in what I say but in what I have done. I was interested in the principle contained in this Bill which, I thought, might be applied over a wider area. I turned my mind to drafting two Amendments to that effect. I shall be out of order if I pursue this matter too far, but I would add that after an agreeable conversation with the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes I was convinced that it was desirable that this Bill should not be delayed in its passage to the Statute Book. Had I put down my proposed Amendments a delay would have occurred.

I wish sincerely to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford and to pay tribute to the fact that he has run risks, and perhaps is still running risks in dealing with the vicious crowd which operates this practice. They operate not only in London but at some of our seaside resorts. I congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes on his good luck in the Ballot for Private Members' Bills and on producing such a sensible Measure. Not only has the hon. and gallant Gentleman done a useful job, he has vindicated the principle of allocating time to Private Members in this way.

I wish to turn now to something which I consider important about the Bill. There would have been another way to tackle this problem. It seems absolutely vital for the proper functioning of the commercial life of this country that auctions should be retained and run by competent people in an honest manner, and, if I may say so, by professional standards. One could have sought here to put the matter right by imposing such standards. But my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford has tackled the problem in the other way, by clearing up a particularly nasty mess. He has done it in a way on which he was congratulated by the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) without being "grandmotherly".

My hon. Friend recognised that "there is one born every minute." Probably one was born when I was born. But it is certain that there is an unlimited number of people who can be easily separated from their money because their weakness is their fundamental honesty. It is beyond their comprehension that any human being can behave in the despicable and heartless way in which these rogues undoubtedly do behave.

Last week I was in the constituency of the hon. Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn), when I gave a lift to someone who was concerned with the purchase of a house. A lady and her two daughters came to the house where the "for sale" sign was still exhibited outside. This poor soul was in great distress because she had gone to an estate agent and parted with £500 without, so far as I could ascertain, obtaining a receipt. The man concerned—

Mr. Speaker

Order. This would appear to be out of order here as well as in Clapham.

Mr. Wigg

I readily agree, Mr. Speaker, that it would be out of order but for the fact that I am trying to relate this matter directly to the Bill. If I may be allowed to finish my illustration, I was trying to prove an added need to protect by legislation those people whose gullibility makes it neces- sary that they should be protected, and the need to devote some part of Parliamentary time to Private Members so that they may devise Measures to protect such people without being "grandmotherly". Perhaps this matter might be drawn to the attention of the police; that £500 was parted with, without a receipt being given, to an auctioneer who was not even the agent for the house. This unfortunate person handed over £500 as a deposit on a house, the auctioneer concerned having promised to get in touch through the man who was the agent and thence to the owner. This £500 possibly represents this person's life's savings. Certainly it caused great distress.

What happens at these mock auctions is only another facet of the same problem, that is going on all the time, namely, parting unwary people from their money, particularly when they are in a state of distress or in need of a house. Perhaps they have been turned out of their lodgings, maybe on a wet day. Perhaps they have a little extra money in their pockets and are trying to find another place to live. But the last thing they want to do is to lose that money.

I realise that in what I have to say I must be careful, but the principle with which I thought to amend this Bill stems from the knowledge that there is another aspect of auctioneering which is used to separate members of the public from their money and which is called the "painless extraction system"—taking money from people who enjoy having it taken. I see from the expression on your face, Mr. Speaker—

Mr. Speaker

The expression on my face was not due to any difficulty in understanding painless extraction. My difficulty is to ensure that the hon. Member remains within the rules of order.

Mr. Wigg

While I consider this to be an appropriate matter, I shall not press it, for it would be wrong for me to dwell upon the subject. It may be that my ignorance of the law is such that the Bill will apply to the matter anyway. But I would like to have added two words to make certain and, after "goods", to have inserted "or animals" in Clause 3 (1).

Mr. Dudley Williams

I may be able to help the hon. Gentleman. I do not think that the question of goods can necessarily be related only to inanimate objects. The Bill, therefore, possibly covers the point he has in mind.

Mr. Wigg

I had been so advised. Even unamended, the Bill will, I believe, cover the case I have in mind. The reason why I wanted to include animals was to make sure that the Bill would be concerned with selling races, where horses are entered to be sold and the last thing those who enter the horses want to happen is that they should be sold. Thus, after their horse has won, they go along and offer a contribution so that their horse will not fall into other hands and to prevent a bid being made for it.

This selling race matter is causing widespread anxiety, and I hope that the Jockey Club will take steps to prohibit selling races for two-year-olds. I also hope—

Mr. Speaker

I hope that the hon. Member will be kind enough to take the hints I have been giving and will keep in order.

Sir T. Beamish

I think I can help the hon. Gentleman. In the interpretation clause, Clause 3 (2), he will find that the Bill clearly covers plate and plated animals, glass animals or pictures of animals.

Mr. Wigg

While I had no doubt and had accepted that it could apply to animals, if I had tabled the Amendment I had in mind it would have made the position perfectly clear. I hope that the stewards of the Jockey Club and the National Hunt Committee will carefully read the Bill and will note the principle it contains and will apply that principle. The work of my hon. Friend the Member for Belvedere—

Mr. Dodds

May I inform my hon. Friend that the people of Crayford will be disappointed if my hon. Friend keeps on saying "Belvedere". My constituency is, in fact, Erith and Crayford.

Mr. Wigg

When I was in Kent I thought that they were one and the same place.

I was going to say that the principle enshrined in this Bill, and the way the whole subject has been tackled, is so valuable that others should take notice of it. I hope, therefore, that the stewards of the Jockey Club and the National Hunt Committee will carefully read the Bill and will note the principle contained. I also hope that when the luck of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Crayford changes he will go further and clear up a racket—

Mr. Speaker

I do not want to have to order the hon. Member to sit down.

Mr. Wigg

I expressed myself badly, Sir. I was merely expressing the hope that the hon. Gentleman would turn his attention to other rackets.

Mr. Speaker

I cannot conceive that proposition to be in order on the Third Reading.

Mr. Wigg

In that case, Mr. Speaker, I shall end as I began, by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Frith and Crayford on the good work that he has performed, and I hope that this good work will continue for many years along similar lines.

Dr. Alan Glyn

Since the hon. Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) referred to my constituency with regard to the subject of the "painless extraction racket", I hope that he will let me have the details of the case he mentioned.

Mr. Wigg


12.5 p.m.

Mr. Vosper

I am tempted to follow the hon. Gentleman the Member for Dudley (Mr. Wigg) in the last point he raised because of my interest in that field, but I shall not do so. With respect to the point he raised relating to the constituency of Clapham, he may be interested to study the reply I gave yesterday to the hon. Member for Manchester, Openshaw (Mr. W. R. Williams).

I would like to be associated with all the tributes that have been paid not only to my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Sir T. Beamish) but to his predecessors in this field over a period of three years. The work that has been performed in this regard can be seen in the files of the Home Office. I consider this to be a good example of Private Member's legislation, because this has required a great deal of work, research, inquiries and drafting which has all been undertaken by hon. Members of this House and of another place. Then they had to win the support and interest of the Government Department. They then had to secure a place in the Ballot, and then they had to persuade the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Dudley Williams) and some of his hon. Friends that this was a desirable Bill.

In all respects, therefore, I am sure that this is a good example of the use of Private Members' time. All that the Home Office has done—and I can re- assure the hon. Member for Exeter on this point—is to help in the drafting of this piece of legislation. I thought that the hon. Member for Exeter was revealing about his attitude towards Fridays, and I have no doubt that my hon. Friends and hon. Members opposite will take heed of the words he used.

The hon. Member for Sheffield, Hills borough (Mr. Darling) hoped that this Bill would become an Act before the holiday season starts. I see no reason why it should not be on the Statute Book by the beginning of August. I hope, equally, that another Bill, to which I gave my blessing this week, will also be on the Statute Book by that time. The Bill we are today discussing has already been through another place in almost exactly its present form. It has an eager sponsor in another place, and, in view of that, I am sure that there need be no fear about time being wasted in its being passed.

It is interesting to note that the reason why more prosecutions have not been undertaken is because there is a great deal of uncertainty involved, and this Bill will help to make these prosecutions possible. The hon. Member for Erith and Crayford (Mr. Dodds) was right when he said that the mere fact that the law is now more certain will be a deterrent to those who might undertake these practices. Prosecutions, as I say, will be very much easier. The difficulty in the past has been the securing of witnesses who would be prepared to come forward to give evidence in these cases. That will, in future, be far less difficult.

Therefore, in every respect, this is a desirable Measure. I am sure that it will be welcomed by all those engaged in the trade, because if we can eliminate the disreputable elements in any practice, the more reputable people will be hardened and strengthened in carrying out their practices. I said on Second Reading that those who had been carrying out these sort of disreputable activities are very resourceful and that they will, no doubt, endeavour to find a loophole through this piece of legislation. I cannot say with complete conviction that it will be impossible. Therefore, the vigilance of the public in this respect is still very necessary.

I am glad to hear that the hon. Member for Erith and Crayford and his Friends are going to Petticoat Lane. No doubt, if they find any abuse of the law or any new practices introduced they will bring them to the notice of myself and my hon. Friend the Member for Lewes, who, no doubt, would be ready to introduce a further Measure.

The Bill has been well debated in this House and a similar Measure has been through another place. I wish it well, and I feel convinced that the deterrent effect will put a speedy end to these practices.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.