HC Deb 08 May 1968 vol 764 cc499-501
Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody

I beg to move Amendment No. 8, in page 7, line 6, leave out 'for a substantial period'.

Mr. Speaker

With this Amendment, as they are connected, we could take Amendment No. 9.

Mrs. Dunwoody

The hon. and learned Member for Darwen (Mr. Fletcher-Cooke) put forward an Amendment in Committee which would have replaced the words "a substantial period" in subsection (3,a,ii) by the words "at least 14 days". My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Hillsborough (Mr. Darling) agreed that there was much to be said for specifying a definite period here and undertook to consider the matter further before Report. This we have done and have concluded that a change would be desirable in this provision.

As it stands, it provides that an indication of the previous price of any goods shall as a general rule—that is, in the absence of an express statement to the contrary—be taken as an indication that the goods were offered at the previous price for a substantial period within the preceding six months. We have recognised that the imprecision of the words "a substantial period" could create uncertainties for traders, and for enforcement authorities. A retailer would not be sure for how long he must have been offering goods at a higher price before he is entitled to draw attention to a price reduction, or for how long thereafter he could legitimately continue to make the claim.

We accept, therefore, that it would be preferable to specify a definite minimum period here. We feel that, for the generality of goods, the period of 14 days proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Darwen is too short a time to establish a genuine price from which it would be fair to claim a reduction without any qualification. In our view, an appropriate basis for such claims would be that the goods have been offered at the higher price for at least 28 days continuously in the preceding six months. This is what our Amendments propose.

The House will appreciate that, whatever form of words is used, a general rule will not be appropriate to every case. The special case, such as perishable articles whose price fluctuates rapidly, can be taken care of by the provision which enables the seller to indicate expressly that he is not claiming to have made the sort of reduction to which the general rule applies. He could always say something like, "Last week's price 5s". But for the general run of trades we believe that 28 days is a reasonably substantial, and readily workable minimum period. I hope that the House will agree.

Mr. Michael Shaw

We naturally welcome the Amendments. As the hon. Lady rightly said, we suggested the period of 14 days. This is rather longer, but obviously we will not quibble about it, because the principle has been accepted on both sides.

I must say—and this is probably the last time we shall refer to Clause 11—that we have got considerably less than we hoped for in changes in the Clause.

Mr. Speaker

Order. We are on Report. There is no provision for a debate on the Clause stand part.

Mr. Shaw

I apologise, Mr. Speaker. At any rate, we have got something. I feel that our words in Committee have been carefully thought over. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Gardner) did not manage to succeeed by his persuasive words in carrying our thoughts and desires even further. But, as far as it goes——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member must address himself to these Amendments.

Mr. Shaw

I will deal, first, with the words "for a substantial period". I agree that 28 days is a substantial period, but it does not cover the case of someone who received a newly packaged product at a price perhaps twopence less than he had previously been selling it only three months after the sale of the old articles, thus leaving only three months for the newly priced articles to be sold. This loophole would allow the shopkeeper to reprice all his stock or get rid of it at even more disadvantageous prices. This is a serious weakness, but I cannot develop it any more. We give the Amendment our limited blessing.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: No. 9, in page 7, line 7, at end insert: 'for a continuous period of not less than twenty-eight days'—[Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody.]

Forward to