HC Deb 13 June 1967 vol 748 cc462-8
Mr. Edward Short

I beg to move Amendment No. 2, in page 13, line 6, at the end to insert: 3. In the case of a sale, whether the price is payable by instalments and, in the case of a letting, whether it is a letting on hire or hire-purchase. The object of this Amendment is to put right a defect in Part I of the Schedule to the Bill. The main continuing feature of the new dealer scheme to be introduced by the Bill is that in future my Department will be notified by dealers of their sales and lettings of television sets. The particulars they will be required to notify are set out in Part I of the Schedule.

One of the things we want to find out from the dealer is whether the transaction is by way of a contract of hire purchase or rental or credit sale, as opposed to a cash sale. The advantage of knowing this is that if we lose track of a person who holds a set under such a contract we can, under Clause 3(1), ask the dealer whether the contract is still in force and what is the present or last known address of the hirer or buyer, as the case may be.

If hon. Members will look at Clause 3(1) they will see that the Postmaster- General can require a television dealer to furnish to him specific information of a specified credit-sale contract, hire contract or hire-purchase contract, but not an ordinary cash sale.

Well, obviously, unless we have some way of knowing what kind of a sale it is we cannot serve a notice of that kind. Without the Amendment which I am now proposing it could be argued that strictly speaking Part I of the Schedule does not require the dealer to tell us under which particular category the transaction falls. Without this it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to identify transactions in requests for information under Clause 3(1). It is to remove any possible doubt that this Amendment has been put down.

I do not think that the Amendment is in any way controversial, but one never knows. However, I commend it to the House.

Sir Myer Galpern (Glasgow, Shettleston)

I have listened with interest to what my right hon. Friend has been saying. I wonder whether he has given any consideration to an anomaly which may be created here. There is a growing practice of dealers now receiving vouchers from cheque companies, and as far as that dealer is concerned he is carrying out a cash sale. When he hands over the apparatus to the customer, he receives at the end of a month or two from the cheque company the cash, less discount, for the payment on the sale.

Nevertheless, it is a continuing hire purchase agreement in so far as the cheque company may be collecting the instalments on the set for a period varying from 100 weeks to probably three years. The question arises of whether the dealer who has sold the set and has received payment from the voucher company is to regard this as a cash sale or, in addition, to notify the fact that this was a cheque transaction and that continuing instalments are payable. So far as the dealer is concerned, there is no further information he can contribute and this aspect may create some difficulty for dealers under the new system of vouchers.

Mr. Edward Short

My hon. Friend will find that this point is covered by the interpretation of Clause 6(1).

Amendment agreed to.

11.5 p.m.

Mr. Edward Short

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

There has, I am glad to say, been no disagreement about the objects of the Bill. They are to bring to book the dishonest minority of people who do not take out licences for their television sets; to put a stop to the manufacturers and import of wireless telegraphy apparatus which I am not prepared to license; and to make a number of miscellaneous improvements to the Wireless Telegraphy Act, 1949.

I thank hon. Members for the generally constructive manner in which they have dealt with the Bill. We had some difficulties about three aspects. First, are we sure that the machinery which Part I provides is really necessary to stop evasion by the licence dodgers? Secondly, do the provisions of Clause 7 threaten the interests of the radio amateur—a threat which none of us wishes to make? Thirdly—a difference we have now happily resolved—what should be done about forfeiture under the provisions of the principal Act?

Before we part with the Bill I want to say a few words about these three aspects. First, we all agree that there must be a sustained and successful effort to stop the licence dodger. I have no doubt that hon. Members opposite believe that as firmly as we do. However, they have shown some doubt about whether information from dealers is the best way of tackling the problem and whether other methods, not involving dealers, would be sufficient. We have been into all that at great length and I do not want to detain the House on it tonight.

There is, however, one main point to which I would like to return and which seems to me to be at the heart of much of the debate on the Bill. In the end, if my Department is to be able to beat the evaders, it must be able to hold the initiative against them. I hope that I have been able to persuade the House of this. As things are, the boot is too often on the other foot. In effect, Part I of the Bill will give my Department the initiative. It will enable it to say to an evader not only, "We know you haven't a licence", but also. "And we have every reason to believe that you have a set."

As things stand, my Department cannot say the second of these things. While my Department is thus handicapped, it cannot hold the initiative against the great majority of determined evaders. The Department must be able to address itself not speculatively to those who might have sets and do not have licences but positively to those who almost certainly do have sets and do not have licences. This is why we need to turn to the people, that is, the dealers, who have the information which will give our inquiry work precision of aim. This is why we need Part I of the Bill.

In relation to Clause 7, I should like to repeat the assurance I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Mr. Wallace) in Committee—and I know that he will be much interested in this—that the Post Office will continue its close contact with the Radio Society of Great Britain, the amateurs' representative body. Before I make any Orders specifying apparatus on which the manufacture is to be banned, I will discuss it with this body. This will give full protection to legitimate interests of the amateurs. It would not make sense for me to exempt amateurs from any ban on making apparatus which I cannot license anyhow. Clause 7 is a worthwhile measure of consumer protection to keep off the market apparatus which I will not license because it will interfere with the use of radio which is licensed. Amateurs stand to gain from this Clause, as do other licensed users of radio apparatus.

I am glad that the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir E. Errington) is here. On Second Reading, I regarded liability to forfeiture as an important deterrent against licence evasion. But since then the representations of a number of hon. Members—in particular, the hon. Member for Aldershot—and the representations of the trade have led me to change my mind. I say that quite frankly.

In the result we have amended the Bill so as to abolish forfeiture as a penalty for the unlicensed use of receiving apparatus, leaving it only as a penalty for the unlicensed use of transmitting apparatus, where its appropriateness is not in dispute.

In conclusion, I emphasise that new and effective measures against licence evasion are the main theme of the Bill. It should bring to an end the era in which 12s. of each licence fee has been subsidising the selfish minority who got away with it. With the new powers I seek in the Bill we can get on with the job of putting a stop to evasion. I am grateful for the way in which the objects of the Bill have been generally welcomed and I invite the House to send it on its way.

11.12 p.m.

Mr. Paul Bryan (Howden)

I would like to thank the Postmaster-General for his agreeable comments about the cooperation which has been shown by both sides of the House throughout all stages of the Bill. At this late hour, I shall not continue the debate much longer. I can sum up our attitude by saying that we are sending to another place a Bill which will certainly have a marked effect on licence evasion at the price of considerable and probably necessary extra work by dealers and rental companies. We think that at the same price a better Bill could have gone from the House, but it would be churlish of me not to acknowledge that the Postmaster-General has achieved a considerable measure of success towards the abolition of licence evasion.

We are grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the various concessions which he has made, especially regarding the forfeiture of sets. As to Part II, we have expressed doubts on Clause 7, but I shall not express them again. We can only hope that the assurances which have been given by the Postmaster-General will be taken to heart by his successors, because everybody knows that they are necessary to benefit the amateur radio enthusiast, whose rights we all wish to safeguard.

11.14 p.m.

Dr. Winstanley

I rise briefly to make two points. First, I want to complete a sentence which I endeavoured to make, quite improperly, at an earlier stage on Report when Mr. Speaker called me to order, a sentence which is more relevant to this stage of the Bill.

My right hon. Friends and hon. Friends on this bench welcome the Bill, as I was endeavouring to say then, because, in part, it implements a suggestion put about 12 years ago by a very public-spirited citizen named Mr. E. R. Lubbock, of Derby, to the then Postmaster-General, when he recommended precisely the steps which are envisaged in the Bill. The then Postmaster-General, Earl De La Warr, while appreciating the suggestion, said that there were difficulties and the suggestion of my hon. Friend would require legislation.

We are happy to welcome the proposed legislation, but we regret that it has taken 12 years finally to produce it. I remind the Postmaster-General of his words: This is the central problem in broadcasting in this country, and it arises from the dichotomy in our television arrangements which the Conservative Government established. Half the system, when it improves its service, makes a greater profit; the other half gets into deficit."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 13th July, 1966: Vol. 731, c. 1433.] I refer to that because the Bill relates to extracting every penny out of the licensing system. While I welcome the Bill, I ask the right hon. Gentleman not to give up his inquiries and investigations into every other possible method, however successful he is in extracting every penny from this.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.