HC Deb 24 April 1964 vol 693 cc1784-8

3.30 p.m.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

I beg to move, in page 2, line 41, to leave out "holder" and insert: other person who obtained it otherwise than by purchase or exchange in the way of trade and". Hon. Members who were members of the Standing Committee will recollect that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North (Sir Ian Orr-Ewing) endeavoured to deal with this matter in a rather different way. In reply, my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary said that the effect of the Amendment in Committee could be to deprive some people holding stamps legitimately of the right to cash redemption, because it would enable stamp companies to lay down conditions about who should be considered the rightful holder. It would limit the freedom of the original recipient to pass them to other people in a perfectly proper way."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee C, 11th March, 1964: c. 29.] That was a perfectly fair objection to make to that Amendment. Today's Amendment is an attempt to meet the objection.

We all recognise that, as a result of the right which this Bill gives to trade in stamps, there will be a considerable opportunity and perhaps an additional attraction for a traffic in these stamps to build up, which can hardly be regarded as desirable. This has happened in the United States, where encashability has been permitted. It is done, I understand, by touting, often outside the big shops which are offering stamps to customers. A sort of spot check bid is made by the tout to get the stamps at a price below that for which they could be cashed. He then makes a profit by trading them in as though he were the holder, whether he goes to the redemption shop to buy a gift or to change them for cash. Most of us would agree that that is not a practice which should be encouraged by the Bill. It was for this reason particularly that my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North moved his Amendment in Committee.

I thought that the point which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary made in replying to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, North was perfectly fair when he said that we did not wish, as a result of trying to stop that practice, to prevent one neighbour from letting another neighbour have her stamps or perhaps even to do a swap between, say, Sperry and Hutchinson stamps and Green Shield stamps if they have been given some of the wrong house. It is for this reason that we have included in the Amendment the words other person who obtained it otherwise than by purchase or exchange in the way of trade". No one would suggest that two neighbours indulging in the sort of interchange which I have just suggested would be indulging in trade. It would be an exchange, perhaps—cash might pass—but it would not be in the way of continuing trade. I understand that there is a fairly clear legal definition of what "in the way of trade" means. It is for this reason that we feel that this is a fair attempt to meet the objections of my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary.

I can well understand the anxiety which some hon. Members may have that the result of passing this Amendment will be that the stamp promoters will use it as a lever to decline to honour stamps when presented. While superficially one might say that that is within the bounds of possibility, I suggest that it would have to be a very unscrupulous and stupid operator who would do any such thing, because if he were to make a practice of it he must at once show that he is a person who will browbeat and take advantage of the ignorance of some of his customers for, I am afraid, a corrupt purpose. I do not believe that the average stamp operator would do this. I am sure that the most reputable ones would not think of doing it. They would know perfectly well that if they did so, they would rightly lose custom very quickly.

I hope that I have succeeded in allaying the perfectly genuine fears of some hon. Members lest we give a loophole for traders not to honour the stamps. I do not want to do any such thing. I hope that my hon. Friends will accept my good intentions in this as absolutely sincere. I remind hon. Gentlemen that there are restrictions on the transfer of National Savings Certificates with exactly the same purpose in view. I honestly believe that the better stamp operators art as anxious as we are that the saver should derive full benefit from the scheme, preferably by redeeming stamps for goods, but also for cash value if the saver so decides, but that they do not wish to see the Bill resulting in the introduction of a parasitical growth on the scheme at the expense of stamp savers.

Mr. Buck

This would be an interesting Amendment to discuss at great length, but we do not have very much time left and I shall try to confine my remarks to a narrow compass.

It would be a very foolish Member who ever in any way doubted the good sense or sincerity of my hon. Friend the Member for the Isle of Ely (Sir H. Legge-Bourke). The promoters of the Bill and every other hon. Member recognise his complete sincerity. The fact remains that the Amendment provides a loophole whereby not the good and reputable trading stamp company but one which was none of these things could just refuse quite summarily to encash these stamps, saying of stamps which were sent in a perfectly regular and proper way, "We take the view that you must have got these by way of trade". If that happened, the person with, say, £5 worth of stamps would have to go to the trouble of bringing an action against the trading stamp company, and this would create manifold difficulties.

We do not take the view that reputable stamp trading companies would do this, but we have to look at the broad picture which would contain a spectrum in which there were stamp trading companies of lesser repute. It would be wrong to have this tremendous loophole for such companies to be able to refuse stamps.

There are other difficulties. There are the difficulties of the definition "by way of trade". Although this can be interpreted quite well legally, none the less one gets into difficulties of the sort of thing which might happen with the housewife who makes a £ or two by trading in stamps. There would be nothing very reprehensible about this, but she would be caught, and I do not think that my hon. Friend wants to catch the sort of person who is indulg- ing in exchanging Sperry and Hutchinson for Green Shield stamps and so on in a small way.

The remedy of any mischief here is in the hands of the stamp companies themselves. If they want to prevent trafficking in stamps, their best remedy is to keep the cash value very similar to the value of the redeemable goods. If they do, the profitability in trafficking in stamps would be largely ruled out.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

Can my hon. Friend tell me when stamp companies will be able to get £5 notes wholesale?

Mr. Buck

That question was put to me in Standing Committee. If my hon. Friend ever finds the answer, perhaps he will let me know.

Mr. du Cann

I fully understand my hon. Friend's point, but I feel obliged to say a few words on this issue. I realise that it is not his intention, or the intention of the Amendment, to rule out transactions involving the sale or exchange of stamps between individuals which do not amount to a regular trading operation.

Secondly, the real purpose of the Amendment is to discourage traffic in redeemable trading stamps on a commercial scale. I am not entirely convinced that that is necessarily so bad, because one can imagine a discounter of trading stamps, leading a normal respectable life, eventually becoming chairman of the discount market in London. I should like to think that people can get their commercial experience in that way in their early days. I do not think that that is as bad as my hon. Friend envisaged.

The third point—and this is important and has properly been referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester (Mr. Buck)—is that the distinction between small and large-scale trafficking, or what one might call private and commercial operations, is not easy to draw in legal terms. I am advised that it is doubtful whether it would be achieved by the words used in the Amendment.

I think that the decision whether Clause 3 as at present drafted provides sufficient protection is a matter of opinion. I would not like to suggest that the Board of Trade has firm opinions on this particular matter, but, on the whole, we are not convinced that it would be reasonable to impose further conditions which would restrict the stamp collector's freedom to dispose as he wishes of stamps which have been properly delivered under a trading stamp scheme.

Extensive though our researches have been, we have not been able to discover any American State legislation which has a similar provision. Whatever the feelings of the House about the objectives which my hon. Friend is seeking to achieve, I must point out that we are bothered about the Amendment. We think that it is not perfect. For that reason, whatever my hon. Friend's views may be, and whatever his intentions may be for the future, I hope that he will not see fit to press the Amendment this afternoon.

Sir H. Legge-Bourke

I am not entirely convinced by what has been said. I realise that there is a difference of opinion about this matter, and I think that perhaps we need a little more time than we have today to sort this matter out. I do not want to hold up the passage of the Bill today. I hope, therefore, that it will be gone into in more detail in another place. In the circumstances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.