HC Deb 08 May 1970 vol 801 cc731-49
5 (1) A person shall not be liable to make any payment, and shall be entitled to recover any payment made by him, by way of charge for including or arranging for the inclusion in a directory of an entry relating to that person or his trade or business, unless there has been signed by him or on his behalf a note complying with this section of his agreement to the charge, and he has been supplied with a copy for retention by him of the note he is required to sign.
10 (2) A person shall be guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction with a fine not exceeding £400 if, in a case where a note of agreement to a charge is required by subsection (1) above, he demands payment, or asserts a present or prospective center to payment of the charge or any part of it, without knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that a proper note of agreement has been duly signed.
(3) The note required by this section of a person's agreement to a charge must state the amount of the charge immediately above the place at which it is to be signed by him, and—
15 (a) must identify the directory or proposed directory, and give the following particulars of it—
(i) the proposed date of publication of the directory or of the issue in which the entry is to be included;
20 (ii) if the directory or that issue is to be put on sale, the price at which it is to be offered for sale;
(iii) if the directory or that issue is to be distributed free of charge (whether or not it is also to be put on sale), the minimum number of copies which are to be so distributed; and
25 (b) must set out or give reasonable particulars of the entry in respect of which the charge would be payable.
(4) Nothing in this section shall apply to a payment due under a contract entered into before the commencement of this Act, or entered into by the acceptance of an offer made before that commencement. [Mr. Arthur Davidson.]
Brought up, and read the First time.

should have the opportunity of deciding this important point.

The Amendments raise the point that an obligation should not be put upon a person who receives unsolicited goods to take any action with regard to those unsolicited goods. In my view and that of many members of the Committee, that was the most important point with regard to the Bill. It has been considered and voted upon by the Committee but I submit that it should be considered by the House. In the circumstances, Mr. Speaker, I urge upon you that these Amendments should be selected.

Mr. Speaker

I assure the hon. and learned Member that I was aware already of everything he has said—that the matter was fully debated in Committee and that he regards it as important—but I have made my selection and I do not propose to vary it.

11.15 a.m.

Mr. Arthur Davidson (Accrington)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

The new Clause replaces the existing Clause in the Bill, which deals with what has rightly become known as the bogus directory racket. During its deliberations on the Bill, the Standing Committee generally agreed that the existing Clause was inadequate to deal with the problem and was far too weak. I undertook that on Report I would table a new Clause, which, I hope the House will agree, will deal adequately with this serious abuse.

The new Clause is similar to that which appeared in the name of the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) and which he courteously withdrew on my undertaking that I would produce a Clause which was as strong as his but, perhaps, in slightly better language. The hon. Member admitted that there were certain drafting defects in his Clause. I think that my new Clause adequately meets that undertaking.

The House will know exactly the form that the abuse in directory selling takes and I need not burden the House with a lengthy explanation of it. Briefly, what happens is that some of the unscrupulous, seedy and shoddy publishers send out to shopkeepers and businessmen forms inviting them to place their name and details of their business in their directory. The form is so confusing that it deliberately implies that it is some sort of official publication similar, for instance, to the reputable Thomson's Yellow Pages or Kelly's. Frequently, one of the sneaky little things that these publishers do is to include a deliberate mistake in the form so that the businessman or the shopkeeper will alter the mistake to the correct name and send it back. He then receives a bill, the publisher treating the amended form as an order.

There is never any detail on the form about when the directory is likely to be published, what the circulation figure is likely to be or the cost or charge of the entry. The invoice is then sent out, and many firms send back payment in the belief that it is a genuine and important directory. In the overwhelming number of cases only a derisory number of directories are published, simply to get round the law.

The method which I have used in the Clause to try to stop the abuse is as follows. The Clause makes it obligatory for a publisher who seeks to bill someone for the inclusion of his or his firm's name in a trade or any other form of directory first to obtain a signature and also to supply a copy of the form, upon which certain details must be included. The details are as follows:

  1. " (i) the proposed date of publication of the directory or of the issue in which the entry is to be included;
  2. (ii) the minimum number of copies to be published,
  3. (iii) if the directory or that issue is to be put on sale, the price at which it is to be offered for sale;
  4. (iv) if the directory or that issue is to he distributed free of charge (whether or not it is also to be put on sale), the minimum number of copies which are to be so distributed ".
It must also set out or give reasonable particulars of the entry in respect of which the charge would be payable.

If, after that, the publisher sends out an invoice—in other words, if he sends out an invoice without having obtained a signature and without supplying a copy of the form with the signature to the advertiser or firm—he will be liable to a heavy fine, £ 400, on summary conviction.

I think that this will certainly get rid of the worst of this abuse, which is the willy-nilly sending out, throughout the whole country, of invoices in the hope that firms will pay them in the belief that they are genuine and that they have entered into some sort of contract. It has become a con man's paradise with the whole of British businessmen to milk, and I hope that this new Clause will satisfactorily stop this malpractice.

I accept the fact that certain firms canvass orders and get signatures already. Some of the abuses which have come to my attention have been of unscrupulous, fast-talking, wily salesmen, dishonest salesmen, obtaining signatures by generally deceptive methods by implying, for instance, that there is already an existing order, or that the boss of the firm has agreed to pay for it.

Of course no amount of legislation in the world will stop crooks, and I have no doubt that some crooks will be prepared to take a chance, but I must warn them, I must warn firms, that if after including the particulars in the form they do not live up to them in a material way—for instance, if they say that they will publish the directory by a certain date, and do not do so—they will become subject, I am advised, to the Trade Descriptions Act, which already has heavy penalties in it.

I think I have adequately described the purpose of the new Clause. I think it will satisfactorily put out of business—this is certainly the view of members of the Fraud Squad who are investigating complaints in this field; they feel the same way as I do—some of the more unscrupulous firms. I hope the Clause will be accepted by the House.

Mr. Speaker

Does the hon. Member wish to say a word about the Amendments to the new Clause now or later?

Mr. Davidson

Later, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)

The hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) kindly referred to the new Clause which I proposed in Committee on the Bill on this very important subject. We are all agreed that it is a very nefarious practice with which this new Clause seeks to deal. The hon. Member has described it and I think it is clear to the House what the nature of the practice is.

I find it striking that the practice is still continuing in spite of the presentation of this Bill by the hon. Member now some months ago. A case has come to my notice as recently as a week ago of exactly the kind which the hon. Member has described where an alleged proof is sent to a firm of an entry to go into a directory without any previous request whatever from that firm. Clearly, the hope is that some subordinate member of the staff will sign this alleged proof and that this will be taken to be an order and that when subsequently an invoice is received payment will be made, probably by the subordinate member of the firm, on the assumption that a real order has been placed.

I have another example, too, of the activities of the companies which have been going in for this practice in relation to a firm which the hon. Member mentioned in his speech on Second Reading of the Bill. When a complaint was made recently by a constituent of his to one of my hon. Friends about this sort of practice he inquired for the report and accounts of the company concerned, which called itself Classified Directories Limited, and in response to his attempts to get in touch with the firm there was no answer by telephone. He put down a Question to the President of the Board of Trade and it was answered by the hon. Lady on 4th March this year. It showed that the last annual return made by the company related to the period up to 26th January, 1968, which is a pretty long time ago. By dint of pressure from my hon. Friend, and no doubt from the Board of Trade, the company has been persuaded at last to file an annual return up to 1969 and has undertaken to file within three months the accounts which should be annexed to it. That is an illustration of the methods of some of the companies which have been going in for this sort of practice.

I have also an alleged directory of the kind to which the hon. Member has referred. It is, as hon. Members will see, a fairly substantial document which is called the "Town and County Business Guide". It is a very interesting example of the way in which companies go in for this sort of practice. This important looking document of several hundred pages is in fact useless. I will give hon. Members an example of what it contains. It is allegedly a classified directory covering all sorts of trades, but if we look at the heading "Gravel Merchants" we find referred to there two firms, one in Nottinghamshire and one in Staffordshire, and nothing else. What on earth is the use of that? If we look at other categories of businesses we shall find a few firms mentioned in this or that part of the country. If one has a directory which mentions three firms, in Honiton, Devon, Staffordshire and Lancashire, and one is—shall we say?—in London and wanting to order gowns, then the directory seems to me to be patently and absolutely useless. But I have no doubt that many of the companies whose names are listed in this guide have paid money to be included. I cannot imagine that the business which has resulted to them from this guide has done very much good.

To confirm the seriousness of this practice, the Advertising Association, which is keen that the practice should be dealt with in the very firm and effective manner proposed by the hon. Member for Accrington, claims that hundreds of thousands of pounds are lost to genuine advertising business per year, and that it has identified in the last 12 months 80 publishers, apparently unconnected with one another, who have been going in for this practice.

The hon. Member referred to my new Clause which I put forward in Committee. I think it fair to remind him that both he and the Parliamentary Secretary said that they thought that a stronger Clause than mine should be brought forward and that it should be brought forward on Report. I welcome the hon. Member's new Clause, but it is certainly not stronger than mine. It is weaker. The Amendments which I have put down to it are designed to strengthen it. Of all the Clauses this is the most important. I am not saying that the others are unimportant; they are important; but this is the most important of the lot.

Perhaps I could take the House through my Amendments which, Mr. Speaker, you have called, and listed (b), (c), (d), (e) and (g). Before I do so I would say that there are other criticisms of the hon. Member's new Clause. For instance, it is not satisfactory to say at the end of subsection (1) that the signatory of the order shall have been supplied with a copy for retention by him of the note of agreement to the charge, as the hon. Member describes it, without saying at what point in time the signatory should have been so supplied. As the new Clause stands, the copy of the note could have been supplied to the signatory right up to the point where court proceedings might be taken —

11.30 a.m.

Mr. Speaker:

That Amendment has not been selected.

Mr. Blaker:

I observe that, but I am speaking to the new Clause and deliberately not to my Amendment, although it is the same point. As the new Clause stands, there is no need, for example, for a copy of the note of agree- ment to be supplied to the signatory even before a demand for payment has been made. It is desirable to say something about the point in time when the copy should be supplied, and one could perfectly practically say that it should be supplied at the time it is signed. One is familiar with cases where this practice is adopted.

Amendment (b) proposes to insert in line 9 of the new Clause, after "he", "or his agent on his behalf". The new Clause as it stands does not necessarily catch the principal, that is to say the nefarious company, if a demand for payment is made on behalf of that company by a debt collector. I may have misunderstood the position, but I think every hon. Member will agree that, if there is one person who should be caught by the penalties, it is the principal who has begun the whole process. I hope the hon. Member will say something about that.

Amendment (c) proposes in line 14 after the word "and" to insert the words in such manner as to be clearly legible". This Amendment is perhaps of less importance, although it is important that the particulars which are called for by subsection (3) of the new Clause should be clearly legible. The subsection requires that the charge to be made shall appear immediately above the place at which the note is to be signed, and that is a proper requirement, but the subsection says nothing about the clarity, the prominence or the legibility of the other particulars.

Amendment (d) proposes in line 15, after "give" to insert— the name and address of the person, firm or company publishing it and". The effect is to add to the requirements called for the requirement that the note of agreement should contain the name and address of the person, firm or company publishing the proposed directory. The hon. Member may agree that that is a desirable requirement.

Amendment (e) inserts a new paragraph in line 18 requiring that the note of agreement should mention the minimum number of copies to be published. The new Clause in subsection (3)(iii) requires that if the directory is to be distributed free of charge the minimum number of copies which are to be so distributed shall be stated in the agreement, but it does not require that the minimum number of copies to be published should be stated, and that is a requirement which should appear.

Amendment (g) is an important one. The new Clause fails in the intention which the hon. Member expressed in Committee that it would be stronger than the one which I there proposed. The hon. Member has adopted the general approach which I adopted. He imposes a penalty for demanding payment unless a document has been signed. But my new Clause went on to impose another penalty where in this document a person made a false statement knowingly or recklessly, and that is the purpose of Amendment (g). The effect would be, if a person knowingly or recklessly makes in the note of agreement a statement which is false to a material degree, he shall on summary conviction be liable to a fine not exceeding £ 400 and on conviction on indictment to a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years or both. That is a stiffer penalty than is proposed in the new Clause, which does not cover the possibility of imprisonment. Amendment (g) also imposes those penalties if the purported publisher fails without reasonable cause to publish the directory or publishes it in a nugatory form, that is to say, with so limited a content or in such a form that it is not capable of being reasonably regarded as a genuine directory. It deals not only with the making of false statements but with the actual failure to publish a genuine directory.

It is argued that the practice which I am attempting to catch by the Amendment is already caught by other Statutes. I hope that the hon. Member will spell this out. I have looked at the Statutes which appear to me to deal with this, but I am not satisfied that they do so satisfactorily. Section 14 of the Trades Descriptions Act, 1968, reads: It shall be an offence for any person in the course of any trade or business—

  1. (a) to make a statement which he knows to be false; or
  2. (b) recklessly to make a statement which is false;
as to any of the following matters …". All those matters relate to the provision of services. The Act deals not with the supply of goods but with the provision of services, and the Section was not drafted with the practice which we are discussing in mind but having in mind services such as hairdressers, laundries, hotels and so on.

The Misrepresentation Act, 1967, deals only with the right to damages of people who have suffered from misrepresentation and does not deal with the criminal law. It is not, therefore, useful in this case.

Subject to correction, the relevant section of the Theft Act, 1968, would appear to be Section 15 which says A person who by any deception dishonestly obtains property belonging to another … shall on conviction on indictment be liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years. It may be that Section would be useful in the case of somebody who puts into his note of agreement words which he can subsequently be proved never to have intended to carry out. But it is necessary to prove intention, which is a difficult matter. One would have to prove dishonesty.

My Amendment, in contrast, penalises the making of a dishonest statement, but goes further and penalises also the person who without reasonable cause fails to publish the directory or publishes it in a nugatory form. This seems to be a provision which is much more likely to be valuable in dealing with the cases we have in mind than a provision which relies on the proof of intention.

Moving on to the penalties imposed by Amendment (g), it is right that we should provide for imprisonment. The offence with which we are dealing is every bit as henious as many of the offences under the Trade Descriptions Act which was intended to protect innocent citizens from false descriptions by traders. Here we are trying to protect people from nefarious practices which are every bit as bad as those covered by the Trade Descriptions Act. That Act provides for penalties of imprisonment of up to a period of two years, as is set out in my Amendment (g).

The Amendment is also desirable because even if the Theft Act or the Trade Descriptions Act may have some value in this context, it would be useful, since we are dealing with a new offence, to have in the Bill a comprehensive statement on the penalties to which malpractice should be exposed.

11.45 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Trade (Mrs. Gwyneth Dun-woody)

Both hon. Members who have spoken this morning have made it clear to the House that we were extremely concerned in Committee to produce an effective Clause to deal with the whole problem of directory entries. When we left this aspect in Committee I gave the assurance that I would assist the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) in preparing a strenthened provision on directory entries to retain the basic formula put forward in Committee by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) and at the same time deal with a number of snags that in my view arose from his detailed wording. The new Clause now before the House achieves all this. Although naturally the hon. Gentleman has loyalty to his own wording, I hope he will accept that we are convinced the new Clause will prove to be a highly effective deterrent to the practices which have been causing so much difficulty.

Members will note that the basic formula put forward by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South has been retained. Unless the person concerned has signed a note agreeing to the charge demanded and containing various specified information, he will not be liable to pay for the entry, and a demand for payment will in the specified circumstances be an offence. This information is related to matters which will help the potential customer to evaluate the possible benefits which he may derive from the insertion of the entry in question, in other words what he is going to get for his money, and should prevent the proposed directory turning out to be something quite different from what it was alleged to be. The key piece of information relating to the charge for the entry, to which the customer agrees when he signs the note, is to appear directly above the space for signature. This is particularly important, because in the past many people have committed themselves to entries under the false impression that they were free of charge, as of course they are in the case of standard entries in the telephone directory.

Although this basic formula is similar to that put forward in Committee by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South. Hon. Members will have noticed that there are considerable differences of detail, some of them important ones. The most important difference is the omission from this new Clause of any reference to an offence of making false statements. I hasten to assure the House that this omission does not reflect any lack of appreciation by the hon. Member for Accrington or myself of the importance of this aspect, but I am advised that there already exists an adequate safeguard in the provisions of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. Section 14 of that Act makes it an offence for any person in the course of a trade or business either to make a statement which he knows to be false, or recklessly to make a statement which is false about the provision of services, their nature and other specified matters relating to the services.

I am advised that the publication of entries in a directory amounts to a service under the 1968 Act and that the specified matters covered by Section 14 are sufficiently widely drawn to cover those points on which the potential customer of the directory publisher is likely to base his decision as to whether to agree to the charge for an entry. I hope the House will agree that it would be inadvisable to duplicate this provision of the 1968 Act in this Bill; indeed to do so could have the great disadvantage of appearing to imply that the scope of section 14 of that Act is narrower than the courts could otherwise hold it to be.

Another important difference between this new Clause and that put forward by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South lies in the penalties. Here the penalties are somewhat stiffer. The maximum fine for making an unlawful demand is raised from £ 200 to £ 400; and of course for false statements covered by the Trade Descriptions Act the penalties are up to £ 400 on summary conviction and on conviction on indictment a fine or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years, or both.

Another minor point of additional strength lies in the civil provision in the first subsection entitling the recovery of any money paid in response to an unlawful demand. One other point worth mentioning lies in subsection (2) where, as in the case of Clause 2, the phrase "demands payment" has been strengthened by the addition of asserts a present or prospective right to payment". This has to be read in conjunction with the proposal to make invoices, which do not contain a disclaimer, count as assertions of a right to payment. It is a fact of course that the technique which has been used by the shady operators in the directory field is to send out invoices relating to unordered entries in the hope, which is only too often justified, that the recipients will regard them as demands for payment and will assume that they relate to a commitment which has already been entered into and will pay up.

I will just refer to one further point of difference. This is insertion in subsection (2) of the words without knowing or having reasonable cause to believe that a proper note of agreement has been duly signed ". This is a justifiable attempt to safeguard the genuine directory publisher from a situation in which he makes a demand in the belief that a proper note of agreement—in other words, a note of agreement which is in conformity with the provisions of subsection (3)—has been signed when in fact, unbeknown to him and contrary to what he had been led to believe, signature never took place. In these circumstances the publisher will have been misled and it would not be right to treat his demand for payment as criminal.

I am satisfied therefore that this is an effective provision which will soon rid us of the practices about which there has been so much complaint throughout the country. I hope the House will accept it as such.

I now turn to the Amendments moved by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker). As far as I can see, Amendment (b) is unnecessary. If the publisher demands payment through the agency of a debt collector or the like, it is still his demand or assertion that is being made, at his direct instigation, and on my reading he is nonetheless liable.

It would be dangerous to insert unnecessary words here, for by doing so we would infer that, at other places in the Bill where we simply referred to a "person" doing such and such a thing, it had a narrower meaning. I hope, therefore, that this Amendment will be withdrawn.

The addition of the words proposed in Amendment (c) is unnecessary. If any of the various particulars required to be given by this subsection are given illegibly, then the subsection will not have been complied with. There will be no "proper" note, and any ensuing demand for payment made without reasonable cause will be an offence. Anything which is not illegible is of course legible: there are no half-way houses, and I am afraid the meaning of "clearly legible" is obscure.

There is also the point that the Amendment makes no stipulation as to the legibility of the amount of the charge for the entry—line 13 of the new Clause 1—and perhaps casts some doubt upon whether the illegibility of that essential particular really matters. But my main point is that the words are unnecessary, and I must therefore ask the House to exclude them.

The hon. Gentleman makes a useful point in Amendment (d). It could well be of some help if these details had to be given in the note of agreement which new Clause 1 would require.

I hope that he will not think that I am being ungracious if I say that I think that the way in which he has framed the Amendment is wrong in two important respects.

In the first place, it must not include the words "firm or company". If one says nothing to the contrary, "person" in a statute includes "firm or company", so the words are not necessary here. But they are not only unnecessary; they are very dangerous, because, if at this one point, we spell out the normal statutory meaning of "person", we automatically imply that wherever else "person" occurs in the Bill it is used in some other and more restricted sense. None of us would want that.

Secondly, if the hon. Member will look at the sub-divisions of subsection (3)(a) of new Clause 1, he will see that they all recognise that the note of agreement is referred to future events—"to be included", "to be offered for sale", and so on. By the same token, we ought to refer here to …the person by whom it is to be published ". I think, moreover, that it would probably be better drafting if this particular element of the requirements were set out in a separately lettered part of the subsection. Everything in (a) is about the directory itself—this new piece of information is about the person publishing it, and, like the reference to the entry in (c), ought therefore logically to be separated.

I do not think we ought to put these words into the Bill in what is so obviously defective a form, but I feel sure that it will be possible to find the right form and to persuade the sponsor of the Bill in the other place to move the appropriate Amendment there. I hope therefore that the hon. Gentleman will agree to withdraw his Amendment, on the understanding that appropriate steps are taken elsewhere to deal with this point.

As for Amendment (e), I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it would be useful if the firm soliciting directory entries had to place on record the minimum number of copies which it was intended to produce. If we adopt this Amendment as it stands, it may well be thought necessary in the other place to add some words so as to make it read: … the minimum number of copies of the directory or that issue which are to be -published ". But, if the House wishes to adopt the Amendment as it stands, recognising that this minor surgery may be required elsewhere, I would not wish to resist it.

I turn finally to Amendment (g). I can understand the hon. Gentleman's desire to make this provision look as daunting as possible, but what he has done is to formulate three abuses which are already covered by offences under the existing criminal law. Duplication of this kind is of course dangerous, because it makes the existing law look narrower than it really is.

The existing laws in question are, as the hon. Gentleman has said, the Trade Descriptions Act and the Theft Act. The Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, covers false or reckless statements about the provision of services, their nature and certain other specified matters relating to the service; and I am advised that the term "service" in the Act covers the publication of entries in a directory. This is an adequate safeguard against false statements made in the note, and I should be very loathe indeed to duplicate it.

It is in fact Section 16 of the Theft Act which, I am advised, should be of application in the case suggested by the hon. Gentleman. It deals with dishonest attempts to obtain a pecuniary advantage by deception and would clearly cover a case where, at the time a publisher approached customers for entries, he had no intention to publish a directory. In cases where failure to publish is not dishonest, there is, I feel, no justification for applying a criminal offence; and the proposed defence here of "reasonable cause" anyway seems in the circumstances unwarrantably vague.

The concept here of something which is …capable of being reasonably regarded as a genuine directory is again excessively vague. But both the Theft Act and the Trade Descriptions Act would apply to, for example, cases where customers were attracted through the provision of false information about a directory, which, when it was published, turned out to be nothing like a directory at all.

I hope, therefore, that the House will accept that it would be unwise in the extreme to include offences of the kind put forward here, and that it will accordingly reject this Amendment.

Mr. Blaker

The hon. Lady has referred to Section 16 of the Theft Act, which I have before me. As she rightly says, it deals with the person who …by any deception dishonestly obtains for himself or another any pecuniary advantage …". As they stand, those words cover the point with which she has dealt. However, in subsection (2) the cases to which the section applies are limited to three. Can the hon. Lady say under which of those three cases this will fall? I am advised that it would not fall under any of them.

Mrs. Dunwoody

I am advised that it would be caught by Section 16. We have examined this matter carefully, because obviously one does not want any unnecessary duplication. In view of that, I hope that the House will reject this proposal, and perhaps I might study the exact provisions and draw them to the hon. Gentleman's attention later.

Mr. Arthur Davidson

I accept some of the criticism which the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) has levelled at the Clause. However, I assure him that it was my intention that it should be stronger than his Clause and, having listened to my hon. Friend, I feel that it is. Certainly I would not have put forward a Clause which did not contain sufficient penalties, either written into it or unwritten, which would not adequately stamp out this practice.

12 noon.

I think that my hon. Friend has fully answered the points made by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker). The legal researches that I have made and the advice that I have been given confirms that the Trade Descriptions Act and the Theft Act apply. In my discussions with the police, I found that they were of the view that, while it would not be right for them to comment fully on the Bill, they would be prepared to prosecute in suitable cases under the Theft Act. It is only on the assurances given by my hon. Friend and on the legal opinion that I have taken that I resist Amendment (g), which the hon. Gentleman has put forward in an honest and commendable attempt, as he feels, to strengthen the Bill.

Concerning the other Amendments, I accept his criticism about one weakness in the Bill, namely, that there is no provision for a copy to be supplied at the time. This could certainly be dealt with, and perhaps the noble Lord who is carrying the Bill through another place will put forward a suitable Amendment which will satisfy the hon. Gentleman and this House.

It would be superfluous for me to add to the remarks made by the Parliamentary Secretary.

The other points made by the hon. Member for Blackpool, South should certainly be considered. If they can be suitably incorporated in the Bill in another place, I hope that they will be.

Mr. Blaker

Before the hon. Gentleman sits down —

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Gentleman has exhausted his right to speak. We are on Report. However, he may speak a second time if Mr. Speaker requests the House to give him leave. In the special circumstances of this debate, I request the House to give leave.

Mr. Blaker

I am obliged, Mr. Speaker. I was trying to intervene in the hon. Gentleman's speech. I am grateful for what you have just said.

I am grateful for what the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) said about the early Amendments which I put down. But I believe that we should look a little further at Amendment (g).

The Parliamentary Secretary referred to Section 16 of the Theft Act. I have it here, and I explained, in an intervention in the hon. Lady's speech, what subsection (1) says. The House may like to be reminded that it says: A person who by any deception dishonestly obtains … a pecuniary advantage ". On the face of it, that is all right. But subsection (2) says: The cases in which a pecuniary advantage within the meaning of this section is to be regarded as obtained for a person are cases where "— and it lists three cases. In other words, nothing which falls outside the three cases which I am about to mention is caught by this section. The cases do not, in my view—I shall be glad to be corrected if I am wrong—include the kind of thing with which we are dealing.

Those cases are: (a) any debt or charge for which he makes himself liable … is reduced ". That clearly does not apply here. That is where a person gets a debt which he owes reduced by some dishonest deception.

The second case is where he is allowed to borrow by way of overdraft, or to take out any policy of insurance or annuity contract, or obtains an improvement of the terms on which he is allowed to do so ". That has nothing to do with what we are now talking about.

The third case is where he is given the opportunity to earn remuneration or greater remuneration in an office or employment, or to win money by betting. I cannot see where this case falls in relation to those three categories.

Mr. Speaker

We are drifting into a Committee debate.

Mrs. Gwyneth Dunwoody

I am loth to trespass upon your kindness, Mr. Speaker. I intervene simply to ask the hon. Gentleman's pardon most sincerely. It is mea culpa, mea culpa. The hon. Gentleman is quite right. I beg his forgiveness. These things happen in the best regulated households. The hon. Gentleman was right in the first place. It is Section 15, not Section 16.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time.

Amendment to the proposed Clause made:In line 18, at end insert:

() the minimum number of copies to be published '.—[Mr. Blaker.]

Clause, as amended, added to the Bill.

Forward to