HC Deb 25 February 1965 vol 707 cc580-2
4. Mr. Gresham Cooke

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether, in connection with his future plans for consumer protection in general and the possible licensing of door-to-door salesmen in particular, he will make a special investigation into the present methods followed in connection with the sale in this country of an encyclopaedia, whose name has been sent to him.

The Minister of State, Board of Trade (Mr. George Darling)

On the licensing of doorstep salesmen, I await the views of the Consumer Council. In considering the matter I, and no doubt the Council also, will take full account of all sales methods used, including those to sell encyclopaedias.

Mr. Gresham Cooke

Is the Minister aware that I have received a large number of complaints against the American high pressure method of salesmen selling the Encyclopaedia Britannica by gaining entrance and by pretending to be market research workers and so on, and also against the method of selling Collier's Encyclopaedia? Can the Minister say whether there have been any improvements in the methods of selling?

Mr. Darling

Not in regard to Colliers, but as far as the Encyclopaedia Britannica is concerned the company has told my Department that it has recently made a number of changes in its methods, including, for example, instructions to its sales staff to discontinue the market survey approach and the making of repeated telephone calls.

Mr. Shepherd

Will the Minister bear in mind that the best way of dealing with this situation is to license the firms and not the salesmen, and that the sanction which the Government could then have against misuse would be very much stronger?

Mr. Darling

This is a matter which the Consumer Council is investigating, and I think the hon. Gentleman knows that we are awaiting its recommendations I am sure that it has this point in mind.

Mr. Scott-Hopkins

Is the Minister aware that this is not only confined to the encyclopaedia salesmen but covers a greater field? I have already had correspondence with him about it. When does he consider that the Consumer Council will report; if it will be some length of time, will he consider taking action urgently, bringing legislation forward incorporating something in the nature of the 1964 Hire-Purchase Act whereby a certain period of time has to elapse before the agreement becomes binding?

Mr. Darling

The Consumer Council inquiry is very wide and will cover the points that the hon. Member wrote to me about. I hope that the inquiry will not take too long, but we must wait for it to be completed and see what its recommendations are before we move forward with legislation.

Mr. Francis Noel-Baker

Does not my right hon. Friend agree that one way in which the public can protect itself against hard selling methods of this kind is by supporting the various appropriate consumer organisations and, in this context, the Advertising Inquiry Council, which recently sent a deputation to his Department?