§ Mr. Ridley
I bag to move, Amendment No. 1,in page 2, line 41, leave out from first 'a' to 'subsection' and insert:'payment in respect of a charge would, in the absence of a proper note of agreement to the charge, be recoverable from him in accordance with the terms of'.
§ whole subject of privacy. I believe that it would be wrong for us collectively to wring our hands this morning and then do nothing about it.
§ I suggest that the best course, if we are agreed on the objective, would be that, while accepting the weaknesses of the Clause, as a matter of parliamentary tactics we should add it to the Bill. It is, after all, a Bill to make provision for the greater protection of people receiving unsolicited goods. The Clause would then go to another place where it would receive further discussion, and there is nothing like a Clause in a Bill to concentrate the mind of the Government on an issue. Although at the end of the day it might not be possible to pass it into law, that is certainly the course I recommend, and I shall therefore not withdraw the Clause.
§ Question put, That the Clause be read a Second time:—
§ The House divided: Ayes 39, Noes 7.1895
|Division No. 261.]||AYES||[12.11 p.m.|
|Biggs-Davison, John||Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.)||Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred|
|Boyd-Carpenter, Rt. Hn. John||Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford)||Perry, Ernest G.|
|Brown, Bob (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne.W.)||Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.)||Richard, Ivor|
|Crouch, David||Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.)||Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)|
|Davidson, Arthur||Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)||Spearing, Nigel|
|Davies, Denzil (Llanelly)||Leonard, Dick||Stallard, A. W.|
|de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey||Lipton, Marcus||Taverne, Dick|
|Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston)||Longden, Gilbert||Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)|
|Freeson, Reginald||Marsh, Rt. Hn. Richard||Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy|
|Grieve, Percy||Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert|
|Grimond, Rt. Hn. J.||Moate, Roger||TELLERS FOR THE AYES|
|Hamling, William||Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.||Mr. John Farr and|
|Harrison, Walter (Wakefield)||Palmer, Arthur||Mr. Greville Janner.|
|Hattersley, Roy||Pavitt, Laurie|
|Driberg, Tom||Pounder, Rafton||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hill, James (Southampton, Test}||Ridley, Hn. Nicholas||Mr. Philip Goodhart and|
|Homsby-Smith. Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia||Rost, Peter||Sir Stephen McAdden.|
|Legge-Bourke, Sir Harry|
§ This is very nearly a drafting Amendment, but as it has a point of substance I will briefly explain it. Although an unscrupulous directory publisher might in certain circumstances ensnare a victim in what might, but for Clause 3(1), amount to a contract, this is certainly not the normal situation. It is, therefore, most important that subsection (2) should cover a case in which there is no contract and not just one in which there is.
§ On a second look, we have some doubt whether the existing wording adequately 1897 achieves this. At lines 40 and 41 the criminal offence is limited to a case in which a note of agreement to a charge is required by subsection (1), and there is a possibility that this might be construed as relating the offence only to the case in which there exists a contract. By dealing instead with cases in which a payment, if it had been made, would be recoverable by virtue of subsection (1), an issue which does not depend on the existence or absence of the contract, the Amendment, essentially one of mere drafting, avoids that risk. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree that it slightly improves the Bill by blocking up a potential loophole.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
§ 12.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, North-West)
May I first congratulate the sponsors of the Bill on an excellent and useful piece of legislation and draw attention to the Title of the Bill, which is somewhat misleading. The Title suggests that the Bill covers unsolicited goods and services in a broad sense. That is true of goods but not of services. The only services which are covered—and very well covered—are directory entries. It follows that the public should be warned that, while they will be acquiring a substantial benefit under the Bill, there are certain matters involving unsolicited services which are not covered. I will briefly quote three examples.
The first is the extremely common case of the man who takes his car into a garage for certain work to be done upon it. He agrees that a specified—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. The hon. Member is not entitled to talk about things which are not in the Bill but which he thinks should be in it. He can deal only with what is actually in the Bill.
§ Mr. Greville Janner
May I respectfully say, Mr. Speaker, that I was hoping to point out not what I thought should be in the Bill but, having regard to the Title of the Bill, what is in the Bill. It is important to note three simple items that are not there, so that the wrong impres- 1898 sion is not given. I appreciate that it is a nice point but I beg you, Mr. Speaker, as I shall be speaking for only three minutes, to allow me to do so.
Those who go into a garage, ask for work to be done, agree on the work that shall be done and then find that a great deal more work has been carried out than originally ordered but cannot get their cars back unless they pay for the unsolicited services must know that the Bill does not cover them. It is up to them to take care. The word "services", which stands in the Bill as part of the Title, does not cover that sort of service.
Secondly—and I appreciate that this is a matter which cannot be brought into the Bill—those who acquire goods under scandalous and spurious guarantees and warranties and receive unwanted services must recognise that the Bill will not assist them. Such a provision will, I hope, come later and I hope the Minister will be good enough to say whether the Government intend to bring in such Measures and, if so, when.
Thirdly and finally, I point out to the public that the rule caveat emptor still applies, even where goods and services are unsolicited, except in the specific cases covered by the Bill. It is still for the buyer of goods to make sure that he gets what he wants, and to beware of those unsolicited documents known as "guarantees" or "warranties" that come with them. It is still for the buyer to beware of extra work done when he does not want it. He is in the position that the repairer has a lien or a right to hold onto his goods, so that he cannot get them back until the work is paid for. Even though that work was unsolicited, in practice, if not in law, he finds himself in grave difficulty.
Subject to these matters, I add my congratulations, as well as my respectful thanks to you, Mr. Speaker, for having allowed me to add these few words.
§ 12.25 p.m.
§ Sir S. McAdden
I am glad that you have ruled, Mr. Speaker, that on Third Reading we shall discuss only what is in the Bill, because it is something in the Bill that I want to talk about. I also take the opportunity of paying my compliments to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) who 1899 inherited the Bill which was so admirably dealt with in the previous Parliament by the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson). They both deserve praise for the way in which they have proceeded with this legislation, and I congratulate them on having brought it to Third Reading.
I am glad that the hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Grenville Janner) has remained, because by his use of language I deduced that he was a member of the legal profession, which indeed he is. I see that two more members of the legal profession are also present, and they will be able to help me on a point which causes me some concern. I know, Mr. Speaker, that you are very learned in the law, but you are not in a position to help me with these problems, and I therefore have to seek help from my legal colleagues in the House.
Clause 4, which I support entirely, refers to a body corporate and goes on to talk about:…neglect on the part of, any director, manager, secretary, or other similar officer of the body corporate…In proceedings on the earlier Bill I raised this question, because I had been told that only two persons in a body corporate had legal significance, one a director and the other the secretary, and that people like managers do not exist in a legal sense in a body corporate. If this is so, I wonder why there is all this flapdoodle in the Clause. If the Clause extends to people other than the legal entities recognised in a body corporate, how far up and down the scale will this go?
I hope that my legal colleagues will be able to confirm or deny the accuracy of what I have said.
§ 12.28 p.m.
§ Mr. Palmer
I join in congratulating the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) on this useful and necessary Bill and on bringing it to what I am sure will be a successful final stage in the House. I should do less than justice to him if I did not also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson), whose Inertia Selling Bill was the close forerunner of this Bill. The Inertia Selling Bill was 1900 brought down by the General Election, but such is his energy and determination that I believe my hon. Friend still has a final point to make on this legislation.
I did not serve on the Standing Committee, but from reading the proceedings of the two mornings of debate it is obvious to me that this Bill, in many senses a simple one, was given the most serious consideration, although, broadly speaking it came out of Committee as it went in. If it is accepted that the processes of the House produce workable laws, it seems to me that that was a tribute to the soundness of the Bill's first principles. Those principles are, first, to give to the citizen in his home protection against the nuisance of having goods forced on him and being forced to pay for them, which I should have thought was even more irritating, and, secondly, to make illegal the practice of publishing fraudulent directories.
In consumer matters, as in life, we often get nearer to the truth of the description or the name on the packet if that description or name is relevant to understanding the contents. That is true of this Bill in relation to its forerunner, the Inertia Selling Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Accrington will forgive me for saying that "Inertia Selling Bill" was a somewhat puzzling and outlandish title. This Bill, having the same intention, has been named the "Unsolicited Goods and Services Bill" and, as a result, we know where we are.
It is often said against consumer legislation that it is over-protective and fussy and that if we leave the market economy to work out its processes all will be right in the end. My difficulty, as a Socialist, is that when people bring forward this morsel of theory and use the term "the market economy", I do not take to it very well. However, if it is referred to as "freedom of choice", I am certainly your man, Mr. Speaker, because freedom of choice in life fits my democratic instincts. Therefore, this is the true test of all good consumer legislation in a free society. If it adds to or restores freedom of choice it is by definition good consumer legislation.
The Bill satisfies that test because under its provisions one will not be obliged to pay for something which one 1901 did not want or did not ask for. It therefore adds to the freedom of the citizen and is good. I hope that the other place will take the same view.
§ 12.33 p.m.
§ Mr. Farr
I should like to add my congratulations to the sponsor of the Bill, my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), and his colleagues on their efforts on the Bill and on achieving for it, as they will do shortly, a Third Reading. It is a much needed measure and incorporates many improvements, not the least of which is the new Clause.
I should like my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State to explain a couple of points to me because, like my hon. Friend the Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden), I did not have the chance of serving on the Committee.
I am not sure why it is necessary to have paragraph (b) as well as paragraph (a) in Clause 1(2). Surely all a recipient has to do is to sit tight for six months, after which the goods become his. I am not clear about the recipient's obligation in response to a request from a supplier to return goods by post. If he declines to do so because, as is the case with many unsolicited samples, the postage would be very heavy, is he committing an offence and will he be considered under the Bill to have refused to permit the sender to regain possession?
I hope sincerely that the new Clause which we have added this morning is not removed in another place. It has several flaws and imperfections, but so has much of our legislation. [Laughter.] My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary laughs, but he is aware that one can still be hung for setting fire to a Royal Dockyard or committing piracy on the high seas but that penalty is never likely to be imposed. Nor is somebody likely to be prosecuted for distributing a leaflet describing the sex life of newts. The new Clause will do what the Lord Chancellor said at the last election the Conservative Party would try to do, namely, make life more difficult for the pedlar of drugs and the purveyor of pornography. I therefore hope that it will have the support of Members on both sides in another place.
I conclude by again congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham on his initiative. He has made a fine effort and I wish the Bill speedy progress 1902 and hope that it will receive the Royal Assent in an unaltered condition.
§ 12.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Percy Grieve (Solihull)
I should like to add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodheart) and the other sponsors on getting to this stage a Bill which is very necessary in the circumstances of modern life. Those of us who have been Members for a few years are well aware of the considerable nuisance, to put it no higher, suffered by large numbers of members of the public by being recipients of goods which they have not solicited who are subsequently dunned for payment of them and made victims of something which, in some cases, comes very close to money being demanded by menaces.
The Bill will meet that nuisance. In fact, it will go much further. It will be a salutary way of putting a stop to it altogether, because when it is passed, as I have no doubt it will be, the advantages which the purveyors of unsolicited goods through the post and in other ways gain by imposing their wares on people will no longer appear to them to merit the risks involved, particularly the risk which they will run under Clause 1. Our constituents will be saved from something which has been an increasing nuisance over a large number of years.
I should like briefly to say a few words about the new Clause which we added this morning. I share the reservations about its drafting of many of my hon. Friends and, I think, of the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel). However, I entirely applaud the principle and I was happy to go into the Lobby in support of it.
Those of us who have been Members during the period in which the Julian Press has been active in sending its literature, if that word can be used in the circumstances, to our constituents will be heartily thankful, as will our constituents, that at last something is being done to stop prurient material being pushed through people's letter boxes.
I am the last person, if I may say so, to wish to extend the field of censorship. The censorship laws have always to be on a knife edge, on the one hand taking the fullest regard for the liberty of the 1903 people and their freedom to read what it appears to them to be right to read; but at the same time the general public in this country must be protected against prurient, polluting matter being forced upon them, and although this Clause clearly needs to be rethought and polished in its drafting, the principle is one which I believe will not be disapproved by any Member of the present House of Commons—on either side. For that reason I believe that this morning's new Clause is a most useful addition to the substance of a Bill of which I heartily approve and which I commend to the House.
§ 12.41 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Rost (Derbyshire, South-East)
I, too, have followed the progress of this Bill with considerable interest and support and I wish to add my own word of congratulations to its sponsors and to the sponsors of the previous Bill which was similar in outline but did not quite make it.
I am particularly pleased that the Bill does not curtail the genuine, respectable activities of a fairly wide section of commerce upon which customers have come to rely—for example, the sale-or-return type of business, which is particularly valuable to a large number of people who are housebound. I think particularly of this form of trade in books, gramophone records, many household articles, which are sent with the option to return if they are not required.
Nor does the Bill curtail the public's right to impulse buying. We must accept that people like to look around the shops and sometimes buy impulsively. This is a natural instinct. It should not be curtailed, I believe, in a man's home if he wishes to do it. I am pleased that the Bill does not restrict the distribution of genuine, respectable catalogues of various types sent in a genuine attempt to tempt people to buy under this impulse buying. Many people enjoy having this facility, and this Bill does not restrict that facility, and that is an important point.
Thirdly, the Bill does not curtail the activities of the respectable mail order houses and their type of business. Here, too, we must be very careful. The Bill makes safguards so that genuine busi- 1904 nesses of mail order houses are not restricted, while safeguarding against abuses through less honourable activities which have been clearly outlined in the debates on the Bill.
Fourthly, the Bill does not restrict the genuine types of respectable directories. A lot has been said, particularly during Second Reading, about directories and, rightly, attention has been drawn to the abuses, but little has been said about the more responsible types of directories which fulfill a most important function in our society and our commerce. It would not be right to restrict them, and I believe that the Bill has safeguarded the rights of the senders of those directories to continue their respectable businesses.
Having said that, there is, however, one aspect of unsolicited goods and services about which I should like clarification either from my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) or, perhaps, the Minister. This is an aspect which is causing me a little concern and, I believe, a wide section of the public as well. It relates to important infringements of the privacy of the individual. I refer to unsolicited telephone calls.
I well appreciate that one cannot deliver goods, solicited or unsolicited, by telephone, but one can deliver services, and there is an increasing trend which, although not yet a major abuse, could become so, I believe. There is an increasing use of the telephone as a selling medium for solicited and unsolicited services. There was, fairly recently, fairly widespread abuse by an organisation trying to promote dancing lessons—selling dance lessons by telephone, offering by telephone to members of the public dancing lessons if they would come along on a certain date. These were completely unsolicited offers by telephone. There are organisations which by telephone offer wine tastings in one's home—again, unsolicited offers. Salesmen are increasingly making use of the telephone to attract the public in a captive market. We have to watch this very carefully. I should be happy if, before the Bill passes, I could hear a word about whether in some form or another the Bill takes care of the infringement of privacy which the increasing use of the telephone involves.
1905 After all, if something is dropped through the letter box it is not of itself disturbing to the individual in his home, unless the person dropping it through the letter box is particularly noisy. That is up to the individual when he opens the missive or whether he opens it at all. It is in his own time and at his own choice that he opens it. A telephone ringing is another matter altogether. If the telephone rings in one's leisure hours, in the evening, one is disturbed. One is inevitably obliged to answer the telephone. For one thing, it does not stop ringing till one does; in any case one does not know who may be telephoning and it may, perhaps, be a call from someone from whom one is expecting to hear and one never knows but that it may be about something important. This is a medium of communication which penetrates into the depths of one's home, and very often against one's will, and it can be an infringement of personal liberty and privacy. There is increasingly the danger of the telephone being used as a form of harassment and I think it right to draw attention to this, because I believe that it may not be long before we have to look again at this matter, perhaps with a view to amending this Bill, even when it has passed.
In conclusion, I would again offer my best wishes for the progress of the Bill through its Third Reading, and give it my wholehearted support.
§ 12.48 p.m.
§ Mr. David Steel
As one of the passive sponsors of the Bill, I should like to congratulate very warmly the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart), and his predecessor, the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson), on the tremendous amount of work they have put into this Bill and on the success which they have had in bringing the Bill to this stage. I have somewhat long and anguished memories of taking part in private Members' legislation, although this is a less contentious matter than that in which I was involved, but I recognise that this has not been a particularly happy Session for private Members' legislation, and I think that the hon. Members deserve our particular congratulations on their success with their Bill which, as a whole, will, I believe, be welcomed, although, in my 1906 view, it has not had the public attention and publicity which it ought to have had.
Many people have become increasingly disturbed and perplexed by the situation of finding themselves having to pay for goods which they have not ordered but which have been delivered to their houses. That this abuse will be ended is a great step forward in the long struggle for consumer protection.
It is also a step forward in the struggle to prevent unscrupulous people demanding money for services which have never been sought. A few months ago I was handed an example of this. It was an account sent to a garage in my constituency—and this sort of thing will be illegal under the Bill. The account was headed:Your entry will appear in our trade register classified as: 'GARAGES'.Beneath it was printed:To annual subscription—£13 10s. 5% discount if paid within ten days of above date.The final figure given was £12 16s. 6d. It had obviously been sent to many firms in the belief that those paying the accounts would assume that somebody else in authority had ordered such entries to be made in that fairly useless type of register. The fact that firms have been almost defrauded in this way shows that legislation was required
I accept that the new Clause should not be passed into law in its present form. One never knows what will happen in this House, and I was pleasantly surprised at the outcome of the Division. I hope, as a result, that the Minister will convey to his colleagues the concern that has been expressed today by hon. Members in all parts of the House on this issue. I trust that the Law Officers and the Home Office will get together and perhaps produce an acceptable solution to a problem which has vexed people for so long.
§ 12.53 p.m.
§ Mr. James Hill (Southampton, Test)
Although I come armed with an ill-prepared speech—because I was not aware that I would be called to take part in this debate—I wish at the outset to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) for submitting an extremely worthwhile Bill which 1907 we hope will proceed through its remaining stages at maximum speed.
I regret, however, that the new Clause represents a haphazard way of dealing with the problem. Any hon. Member who has canvased will know that the voting register is by no means a satisfactory document to use for this purpose. I have found many of the names on the register to contain the names of children younger than 18.
§ Mr. Hill
At the last election I canvassed two voters on the list, one aged three and the other eight. I could get neither to agree with my policies.
While we all applaud the principles of the new Clause, I went into the "No" Lobby against it not because I am against any legislation which would protect people from having the privacy of their homes breached but because the spokesmen on both Front Benches thought that the Clause was badly drafted and that, in any event, we should await the finding of the Younger Committee.
Perhaps I did not understand their remarks sufficiently well, perhaps I should not have stayed up so late last night —with others, I was here till about 2.30 a.m.—or perhaps I nodded off during important parts of their remarks. Be that as it may, I found myself in the "No" Lobby because I do not like the idea of badly thought out legislation being on the Statute Book. Having voted according to my conscience, I was surprised to find the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer). who had been an occupant of the Opposition Front Bench, coming out of the opposite Lobby.
§ Mr. Palmer
I was anxious, with others, not to lose the Bill. There was a procedural danger of that happening
§ Mr. Hill
Thank you for reminding me of that, Mr. Speaker. Having been 1908 brought into the debate at a late stage, there are certain difficulties which I must surmount, one of them being the need to keep in order.
As a new hon. Member, it was not my privilege to be here for the debates on the earlier Bill, though, as a candidate, I applauded what was said on the Inertia Selling Bill. I have the privilege of coming in at the tail end of this legislation.
I am rather worried about Clause 1 (2) (a) which refers tothe period of six months beginning with the day on which the recipient received the goods the sender did not take possession of them and the recipient did not unreasonably refuse to permit the sender to do so".If the article is, say, a small book, then that might be all right. If, on the other hand, it is a baby elephant, a vacuum cleaner or anything similar that has been misdirected, should one keep it for six months or must one go to the extra trouble of trying to persuade the sender to collect his goods? We know how difficult this is in the commercial market. Six months seems too long a period for this purpose and I suggest that three months would be adequate. Further, at no time other than when the first letter is received should any further communication with the sender be required.
I had the pleasure of receiving from Holland some Time-Life books. For my children's sake I signed the original order for three or four of these magnificent books at 50s. per copy, and the children tore open the parcels as soon as they arrived, so that it took me some time to find the invoice. We all read them, and I gained a lot of knowledge, especially about the animals of the New Forest. Thereafter, I was flooded with books from this very able and worthwhile company, complete with invoices produced by a very adequate computer invoicing system. I got four books on mythology and various antiquities and, again, the children tore open the parcels long before I got home, and the invoices were scattered about the house. When I received my computerised threatening letter I paid up.
When I reached the great status of parliamentary candidate, I sought to impress on the firm the fact that I did not wish to receive any more books, but no notice was taken of my letter—perhaps because I did not write in Dutch. 1909 Then I got four more books. By this time it was beginning to get expensive—12 books at £2 10s. a volume. Then we found that the books were becoming repetitive. The covers had changed, but some of the articles were identical with those in the first books. I began to get desperate. I tried to get home before the books arrived, but the kids were always there before me. I wrote several very threatening letters to Holland and London: I felt like writing to New York also, but did not know where that would end up.
If, once this Bill becomes law, I receive a book from Time-Life I will keep it for six months and then advise the firm. I hope that others of similar disposition will do the same.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost)—who has been doing excellent work in the Rolls-Royce crisis—mentioned sales by telephone. I do not know whether I am just a simple, gullible member of the public, but I was pestered by a Canadian firm to take out some fantastic life policy which would not only have beggared me but would have made me afraid even to have stepped outside my own front door. The telephone kept ringing on and on. The Bill deals with unsolicited services as well as goods, and should therefore include the selling of insurance by telephone.
In my business I was the victim of the false directory. It is very easy for a gullible young secretary to sign a form that certain entry particulars sent by post are correct. This morning, for instance, I got a letter from a Mr. Roth with some particulars which he wanted me to verify. I expect that all hon. Members have received that letter, but it would have been better had he visited each of us personally. However, that is a side issue. The point is that almost anyone receiving through the post a statement of particulars will sign that it is correct, if it is, and return it. Then, blow me down, one finds the entry in the most unlikely magazines one could think of. It is nothing for an estate agency entry to end up in a health magazine—
Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant Ferris)
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but he is wandering rather 1910 from the contents of the Bill, which are all that it is in order to deal with on Third Reading. Interesting as his remarks are, it is my duty to bring him to order.
§ Mr. Hill
It is kind of you to bring me back to the straight and narrow path, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Clause 3(3) requires information about…the proposed date of publication of the directory or of the issue in which the entry is to be included and the name and address of the person producing it…None of that protects the man who has sent back a corrected entry—which is, in fact, an order. He does not mind about the proposed date of publication or the name and address of the person producing the directory: his basic interest is whether publication will do the maximum good for his business. In December, hon. Members quoted directories based on about 100,000 names, but I am sure that none of those persons was particularly concerned about the details listed in subsection (3) but only that the directory was aimed at a particular class of business. Nowhere does the Bill say that the seller of space in any publication must state the type of magazine or publication he has in mind. A sufficiently calm and confident salesman will be able to sell space to a farmer on the pretence that it will do him most good if his name appears in a telephone area or another area. The Bill has overlooked this point. The seller of a product should ensure that he is doing a service to the client as well as to his agency.
It was pointed out in December that innocent persons like myself were being diddled of £1½ million a year by bogus entries in various directories. If the Bill goes any way towards curing this incredible wrong, which will have a small effect on inflation and on unemployment, it will be a very worth-while Bill.
I applaud the principles of new Clause 1. The wide-open drafting of the Bill created ambiguities. Accepting all that, I am its most fervent admirer.
§ 1.12 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
I hope that the House will forgive me, too, for not having been present throughout the whole of this debate on Third Reading. I congratulate my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) on having successfully, as seems 1911 likely, piloted a successful Measure through the House.
The problem with which the Bill aims to cope has reached the proportions of a menace. My hon. Friend and his associates are to be congratulated, not merely on having introduced the Bill, but also on having maintained a fairly robust attitude throughout its passage, a robust attitude which is perhaps consistent with the attitude of the present Government towards the country's problems.
I draw attention to that part of the Bill which will cover what might be known as deliveries as part of a hoax. In a previous incarnation I was a prospective parliamentary candidate. That is not a particularly happy state of existence, even in Orpington. In that capacity I found that a number of people, whether constituents or not, took some delight in entering my name and address on coupon reply forms and no doubt in other places. During the period when I had the honour to be the prospective parliamentary candidate for the Conservative cause in Orpington, which was about three and a half years, I was the unhappy recipient of a very large supply of bulky mail order magazines, books—some of them quite good—maps, pictures, and samples of all kinds. The menace grew to such an extent that items of furniture were being delivered and had hastily to be put back on the delivery vans. At one time there was a team of people from a double-glazing firm anxious to commence work on my house.
I suppose that this is a hoax of trio type to which people whose names and addresses are well known must be particularly liable. It was a nuisance to me, but it had to be accepted. I could not very well protest publicly about it at that stage without perhaps increasing the tendency for those who wished to play this form of practical joke on me to continue with their good work knowing that it irritated me. So I put up with it.
The Bill may help to restrain such activities. Because of its fairly robust approach to the problem, and by stipulating that any right of the sender to the goods shall be extinguished in circumstances covered by Clause 1(2), the senders will be deprived of considerable common law rights. Therefore, the onus will in future be upon them to ensure 1912 that their rights are safeguarded and that they do not suffer from the activities of those who wish to play practical jokes on others.
After the successful passage of the Bill, any firm which chooses to send goods—as a result of a hoax—to a person who has not requested them, will lose its rights to the goods. As I understand it, in future the only safeguard such a firm will have is to perform some check. The more valuable the goods, no doubt the more likely it is that the sender will want to perform such a check. Moreover, if having sent an invoice or demand for payment the sender does not receive a payment within a reasonable time, no doubt he will make inquiries; and again he will be covered by the provisions of the Bill.
I wonder whether all those engaged in this trade realise the desirability of their being very careful in future about the methods by which they intend to sell goods if it depends upon the receipt by them of a telephone call giving a name and address or of a sample coupon containing a name and address. In Committee there were references to the position of suppliers who were the victims of hoaxes, and references were made to the types of hoax which were the fraudulent type, where a person arranged in another person's name to have goods sent to him and appropriated them on receipt so that the person who would be chased by the suppliers would not be the recipient. No doubt that would be fraudulent and there would be appropriate means of pursuing it.
But in the case of an innocent party—an innocent supplier of goods and an innocent receiver of goods—where the perpetrator of the hoax cannot be discovered and probably will never be discovered, that seems to me to be a situation in which, as a result of the passage of this Bill, the suppliers will have to be very careful indeed about the property they send and about what happens to it after they have sent it.
I have shared the experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton Test (Mr. James Hill) in trying to persuade the suppliers of unsolicited goods to take them back or desist from sending correspondence and bills. I still have 1913 great stocks of the books and other articles to which I referred earlier in my speech. I have written from time to time and I have received replies suggesting that perhaps I had made a mistake and that, no doubt, I would send the remittance in payment for the property in due course.
It seems to be clear that the correspondence sent by suppliers of this kind is initiated by a computer which takes no account of messages sent to it, with the result that one gets an interminable supply of invoices and bills, and eventually threatening letters, and that is certainly a most undesirable business practice which I am sure this Bill will help to prevent in future.
My hon. Friend the Member for Test also referred to directory entries, and I agree with him about the difficulties. I am one of those who thought initially, for professional reasons, that it was undesirable to have one's telephone number and, therefore, one's address in the public telephone directory. This, however, seems to be regarded as undesirable for a politician. But if that is the case, and if every politician and Member of Parliament must have his telephone number and address in public telephone directories, it exposes them to this sort of practice, and perhaps they will correspondingly in future get some protection from this Bill.
It seems to me that, on the whole, the honest firms, firms of good reputation which are in the mail order business, will not suffer by this Bill because they will be anxious to protect the standards of their business, just as much as we are, and for that reason a certain tightening up of their trade practices and a certain anxiety to ensure that they do not run foul of the law would be a very good thing indeed.
For those reasons I welcome the Bill.
§ 1.24 p.m.
§ Mr. Arthur Davidson
I should like briefly to add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) on the way in which he has sponsored this Bill. I hope he has a little more success than I did in getting in on the Statute Book. As hon. Members know, my Bill was prevented from going through because of the General 1914 Election. Whilst I cannot promise the hon. Gentleman that I will use any influence that I have with the Prime Minister to prevent him calling an election at the moment, I none the less wish him every possible success with it.
It is unnecessary to go over the ground that was covered fully in two Committee stages, two Second Readings and two Report stages, but I am sure that the hon. Gentleman's Bill will put out of business many of the more disreputable owners of bogus directory firms. It will also protect the innocent customer who signs a form and then, to his horror and astonishment, finds that he was signing something different from what he previously thought. He finds that a form which he was told by a salesman was a cancellation form suddenly becomes an order form. He finds that a form which he thought meant that he was ordering only one item in a directory becomes an order for several items in a directory spread over several years, or indeed, several items in several directories spread over several years. He finds that the signature that he put at the bottom of a form, which he thought was merely authenticating certain particulars, in fact binds him to an expensive and long-spread-out contract for his entry to be included in another worthless directory.
I hope that the same technique that was used against me by the bogus directory firms to prevent my Bill going through will not be directed against the hon. Member. So worried were these firms at the loss of business which they would suffer if the Inertia Selling Bill became law that they even went to the lengths of trying to put up a candidate against me in the hope that it would draw sufficient votes from me, lose me the seat and thus the Bill would flounder. This was very naive because there was always the hon. Member for Beckenham waiting in the wings, and this was never, of course, a political Bill. It always had the support of the Government of the day and the Opposition of the day, as has been proved by the fact that the hon. Gentleman has so successfully had the support of the Government in his endeavours.
There is, however, no doubt that the owner of one of these directory firms which have been mentioned, and about 1915 which hon. Members have had many complaints from constituents, put in and and paid for an advertisement in The Times asking for an agent to act on behalf of an independent Labour candidate for Accrington. There is no doubt that the person whom they were going to put up was an employee of one of those firms, and there is no doubt that the expenses were to be paid for by a consortium of firms in the bogus directory business. There was equally no doubt that the platform upon which he was going to stand was, of all things, that of immigration.
Of course, there is absolutely no objection to anybody standing as a candidate in any by-election or election, as long as he reveals openly and honestly to the public the platform upon which he is standing and who his supporters and backers are. What is objectionable, I am sure all hon. Members will agree, is that it should be done in a sneaky, underhanded way and that the only purpose of the candidature is to prevent a Bill, which would have damaged some disreputable business interests, but none the less a Bill which had the support of all Members of the House and all of the public in general, from getting on the Statute Book.
I am sure that all hon. Members will agree that if this practice were to become widespread, if private interests were to put up and pay for candidates for private purposes, it would be a very dangerous trend and one which would be thoroughly deplorable. It would be back to the days of Chicago when gangsters put up private candidates and financed them to stand against law enforcement.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on the way in which he has piloted the Bill through the House. I hope it becomes law shortly and I hope it achieves its object, which is to put out of business those who try to milk the public.
§ 1.30 p.m.
§ Mr. Tom Boardman (Leicester, South-West)
I apologise for not being present throughout the debate, and, because of my absence, I shall confine myself to one or two of the main points which I wish to put on record.
First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Good- 1916 hart on introducing the Bill. Tribute is due also to the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) for initiating it in an earlier Parliament. It is a Measure which will command universal support save among those who have been exploiting the public by the practices which the Bill will now prevent.
All hon. Members have so much experience of the practice of sending unsolicited goods not only to themselves but to their constituents that one need not add to the list of examples, but I feel that it should be said that one section of the public has been particularly severely affected, that is, those who are least able to defend themselves, People who are not very literate and who worry greatly when they receive demands and threatening letters.
My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) spoke of the selection of people of some distinction for their names to be included in bogus directories. In fact, those who have been subjected to this sort of exploitation have by no means always been persons of distinction or ability. Many people—hon. Members know this very well—who have received unsolicited goods, followed by threats, have not been sufficiently commercial-minded to realise that they could deal with those threats as hon. Members themselves could do and have been put to great worry on that account. The threat of proceedings and the threat of the process of law coming upon them has added great anxiety to their lives.
Basically, we are a law-abiding people. The average citizen who receives a demand or threat, couched, very often, in pseudo-legal phraseology, has a natural fear and anxiety. To the extent that the Bill will do something to relieve the anxiety caused by exploitation of this kind, I welcome it with great satisfaction, and I feel that it reflects credit on all hon. Members who have participated in the work on the Bill during its passage through the House. Most hon. Members, and most people of commercial experience, who have received unsolicited goods of one kind or another would be inclined to tell the sender to "go to blazes", but, as I say, it is not necessarily such people who have been subjected to the sending of unsolicited goods in that way.
1917 My experience, unlike that of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington, has not been to receive things which I particularly like. Most of the articles which have been sent to me have had little appeal. If I had been sent nice articles of furniture, handsome pictures or the like, perhaps I should have felt tempted not to worry too much about it, but the things which I have received have merely littered my various shelves and cupboards or found their way into the dustbin.
I am delighted that there will be protection also against the directory racket. This has been a great abuse. The correspondence, as hon. Members know, is couched in ingratiating phrases, with flattering references and biographical details which, it is said, would appear in the published entry, and the recipient is, perhaps, only too delighted to acknowledge those references in some way as being correct, failing to recognise that by the small print he is placing an order for many years to come for repeat editions of whatever directory it might be. This is a particularly objectionable form of abuse, and I look forward to its being stopped.
As I see it, another form of exploitation may well come indirectly under the Bill—I have not considered the argument sufficiently closely to be sure—namely, that form of exploitation which is carried on by or through pseudo-students who call at people's houses on some pretext about their paying their way travelling round the country during the vacation, or the like. They manage to persuade householders to sign forms the ultimate effect of which is that they have a year's subscription to some journal.
As I say, I have not had the opportunity to consider whether those circumstances would be caught by the Bill, but it is a practice by which the sympathy of householders is exploited. The story goes that the young people are working their way round the countryside, seeing something of England while they are here, or they are trying to reduce the financial burden on their parents during the vacation. In this way, because of the sympathy which the householder feels, they manage to procure signatures on documents which commit the householder to obligations far in excess of anything which he had expected. I hope that that form of exploitation also will be caught by the Bill.
1918 The Bill has been welcomed on both sides of the House today, as it was in Standing Committee, where, I see, some very sensible Amendments were made. I congratulate my hon. Friend again on introducing it. I wish it a speedy passage to the Statute Book, and great success in achieving the worth-while objectives which we have set for it.
§ 1.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Goodhart
I thank the hon. Member for Leicester, South-West (Mr. Tom Boardman) and all other hon. Members who have said nice things about the Bill and its sponsor. The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West said that the fraudulent directory racket was an important matter, and the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) told us of how he was threatened electorally before the last election. I am personally if not politically delighted that he was able to withstand that assault. I hope that he remains the Opposition spokesman on consumer affairs for many years, indeed, for decades to come. His contribution to the preparation of the Bill has been most valuable.
In fact, the hon. Member for Accrington was a reasonable target to be chosen by those who sought to threaten him because it has been largely due to his individual efforts that the Bill is so strong on the fraudulent directory side. I hope that it will now put an end to that important racket. It has been estimated that fraudulent directories take more than Ell million from firms in this country in the course of one year. I suspect that that estimate is right, because even during the postal strike I used to receive almost every day examples that people had taken the trouble to bring up to London to hand in to me at the House, in letters of complaint about the way in which they had been done by bogus directory firms.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) said that he was not sure why Clause 1(2,b) was necessary if we had Clause 1(2,a). My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test (Mr. James Hill) took a rather different tack when he asked, "What should we do about baby elephants if they are unsolicited?" He cited baby elephants, but he clearly meant anything which was disagreeable to store. Clause 1(2,b) offers an alternative system of getting rid 1919 of the baby elephant or white elephant that one does not want on one's hands for six months.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough asked whether one would be required under the Bill to put unsolicited goods into the post. Being physically incapable of making up the smallest parcel, I assure him that I would certainly not wish to see any obligation put on members of the public to try to put unsolicited goods into the post in parcel form. The obligation in the Bill is to hand back to the supplier all the unsolicited goods if he calls for them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) referred to the growing practice of approaching people by telephone and offering unsolicited services, mostly, but sometimes goods. The Bill will not deal specifically with telephone calls, but it does strengthen the right of the public as a whole in dealing with unsolicited goods. It will make it more expensive and riskier for the person who wants to adopt this form of high-pressure salesmanship. All one can do in the legislation is to build up the defences of the recipient. It is very difficult to wipe out any commercial practice, however obnoxious, by absolute prohibition.
A reference to the unsolicited goods he had received from the Time-Life organisation was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test. The firm has its headquarters in New York and operates in Europe from Holland. It so happens that both New York and Holland have model unsolicited goods legislation. Yet it is curiously ineffective against one of the major practitioners of that form of selling. What the Bill does is to provide my hon. Friend with additional defences against it. I do not pretend that we can hope that all forms of unattractive selling will disappear as a result of it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) raised the question of hoax orders, which exercised my hon. Friends the Members for Oxford (Mr. Woodhouse) and Lewisham, West (Mr. Selwyn Gummer) both on Second Reading and in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Lewisham, West suggested that a number of reputable 1920 mail order firms might be driven out of business by the Bill if it reached the Statute Book, and that the number of hoax orders might escalate sharply to a level of 20 or 30 per cent. I think that those fears are grossly exaggerated.
After the Committee stage I asked one of the leading practitioners in the mail order business, a man who is no friend of Clause 1 (2) (a), what percentage of hoax orders he thought his firm was subjected to. He gave me the figure of 0.02 per cent. I am not sure whether that figure is right, but I have made one or two inquiries elsewhere and nobody I have met is inclined to dispute it. Now the losses through dishonesty in other forms of selling are very large. It is estimated that pilfering from food shops runs into more than £30 million a year and that the proportion of goods that disappears from all shops, either through shoplifting by customers or fraudulent activities by the staff, is substantially in excess of £100 million a year, which is about 1 per cent. on a turnover of £11,000 million a year. Most of the supermarket and retail shop organisations recognise that losses through theft are a major factor, certainly vastly in excess of anything that the mail order people have to contend with, and possibly 100 times greater than the burden of hoax orders on the mail order people at present.
In fact, it is fair to say that the mail order business probably is less vulnerable to dishonesty than any other method of selling, and I hope that that position will not be changed by the Bill because it is not our intention to try to penalise the many wholly reputable mail order companies which provide the public with such an admirable service.
I turn now to the Clause which was piloted into the Bill so skilfully by the hon. Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel). He succeeded in persuading the House that the distribution of pornographic circulars indiscriminately to the public as a whole is a menace and that, even if his Clause has a number of defects, at least it concentrates the Government's attention on a problem and brings home to them the fact that they will have to introduce an Amendment in the other place.
There is considerable merit in the hon. Gentleman's argument. We can now be 1921 reasonably assured that something will be done. But the fact remains that, if the Clause were to pass through the other place as it stands, it would have a curious effect upon the publishing business. In our efforts to do down the Julian Press, which is now dead, we would catch Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Oxford University Press and most other reputable publishers. For that reason, I hope that the Clause which has been added to the Bill will be amended in another place. But I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on drawing to the Government's attention so forcibly the nuisance which is caused to a lot of people.
The hon. Gentleman's Clause introduces one fresh peril for the Bill in that, if it is drastically amended as everyone agrees it should be, it will have to be discussed again in this House. That means that the Government may well have to find time for that debate. I hope that the widespread support which has been expressed throughout all the Bill's stages will persuade the Government to do so. I appreciate the enormous help that my hon. Friend and his Ministry have given in guiding the Bill so far. I hope that we may trespass upon their generosity at a later date and ask for additional parliamentary time. It would be a pity if this Bill foundered at a late stage. The last Bill on the subject foundered because of the General Election. That hazard is not likely to menace the further progress of this Measure. I hope that the general goodwill and wishes that have been expressed by hon. Members on both sides of the House will be translated at a later stage into the inscription of this legislation on the Statute Book.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Ridley
As the last contributor to the debates on this Bill, for the time being, anyway, perhaps I might draw together some of the threads which have run through this Third Reading debate. I begin by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Mr. Goodhart) for his very persistent and skilful piloting of the Bill through all its stages so far. As my hon. Friend said, an Assyrian came down from the fold at the last moment, and he has to some extent put the Bill at risk because it is not at all certain how time can be found in this House to consider any Amend- 1922 ments which may be made in another place.
However, these are matters for my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House. Having given my advice, I must accept the will of the House which is to accept a new Clause which may jeopardise the passage of the Bill, though I very much hope that my hon. Friend's Measure will see the Statute Book, without begging the question of whether it will contain the new Clause when it does.
My hon. Friend has deserved the full support of the House and the country in following the strenuous efforts of the hon. Member for Accrington (Mr. Arthur Davidson) to legislate on what, basically, are two separate subjects. The hon. Gentleman went through his hair-raising experiences at the General Election as a result of his sponsorship of the previous Bill. Although he was right to refer to these matters, I could not help feeling what an excellent political system we have whereby it is possible to consider standing for Parliament on the ticket of wishing to promote unsolicited goods selling. Equally, it is even more certain that one will be defeated by the good sense of the electorate, as happened in this case.
§ Mr. Arthur Davidson
In fact, the firms concerned did not intend their candidate to stand on the ticket of unsolicited goods selling. The ticket was an entirely different one. The only good that came out of the early calling of the General Election from my point of view was that they were not able to put their plans into operation since they were counting on an October election.
§ Mr. Ridley
Every person seeking to be elected to this House has at some stage found himself standing on ground which appeared to be a little shaky. There have been many instances' where the platform as a whole was not entirely to one's liking. One cannot be too fussy about these matters. The good sense of the electorate got the answer right in the hon. Gentleman's case in that it did not return a proper Tory. But it is a tribute to our system that these matters can be left to the electorate to decide.
Two or three questions arose in Committee and I am sure that the House would like to have them answered. My 1923 hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham asked whether I thought that the publication of entries in a directory amounted to a service for the purposes of Section 14 of the Trade Descriptions Act. He also asked whether I would draw the attention of the authorities responsible for the administration of that Act to the passage of the Bill, if it were passed, and the resulting legal position in relation to that Act. He is anxious that these advertisements should be brought to the notice of the local weights and measures authorities whose duty it is to enforce the Act.
The scope of Section 14 of that Act is ultimately for the courts to decide, of course, but the advice which I have conveyed is that it will certainly be within the scope of "services" for the purposes of Section 14. We would certainly consider helping to make sure that weights and measures inspectors were aware of this, but rather than circulating a Department of Trade and Industry circular, which is what my hon. Friend asks, it would be better to invite the Institute of Weights and Measures Administration to make the points in the circulars which it regularly sends to its members, and that I would do.
My hon. Friend was worried about whether the term "entry" in Clause 3 in relation to directories caught the case in which something more elaborate than a mere entry was involved. He argued that an advertisement, for example, might not be regarded as an entry. My view remains that an entry unadorned will catch all we want to catch. In Committee I undertook to consider again whether there was anything that could be done, but, on taking further advice, I am definitely of the opinion that "entry" is sufficient to the purpose and that to widen the term by qualifying or adding to it in any way might have the effect of weakening rather than strengthening it. It is thus right to leave the term unadorned.
The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Greville Janner) asked me about the provision of garage services. They would not be covered by the Bill, because they are not unsolicited goods, but work undertaken by the garage, and whether the work should have been undertaken by the garage, is entirely a 1924 matter for the garage and the customer to sort out between them. It would not come within the scope of the Bill. Nor would amendments to the Sales of Goods Act, which he and I have previously debated and which I have already said is a matter upon which the Government would like to legislate and will certainly do so when it becomes possible to find time within the Parliamentary timetable.
The hon. Member for Southend, East (Sir S. McAdden) asked a question which I owe it to the House to try to answer correctly. He was worried about Clause 4 and wondered how far an offence should be held to be the responsibility of the various officers of a company and whether it was right that the Clause should contain the words:or other similar officer of the body corporate, or of any person who was purporting to act in any such capacity …whereas normal company legislation puts responsibility on the officers.
This form of Clause exists in other legislation and has caused no problems. It cannot be confined to persons who hold positions as directors, managers, or secretaries, as it would be ineffective in cases where a person carried on the functions of one or other post without being formally appointed to it. In other words, the Clause is concerned with the actual way in which the business is run and not with the formalities of appointments. The secretary and the director may be the only officers legally necessary although an offence is committed by those who direct, manage, or run the business. The law does not say who should run the business, but merely lays down the constitution of the company which applies when matters have to be settled by voting.
The hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer) said that he firmly believed in freedom of choice, and I echo the sentiment, but then repudiated any suspicion of being connected with supporting the market economy, which seemed to be a contradiction in terms. However, I must not get involved in a philosophical argument with the hon. Gentleman. We welcome his support of the Bill. I believe that freedom of choice is one of the great freedoms which must be preserved at all costs.
§ Mr. Palmer
For the purposes of my argument it was a matter of calling things 1925 by their correct names; that it makes a lot of difference.
§ Mr. Ridley
I accept that from the hon. Gentleman, and I would agree with him.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harborough (Mr. Farr) asked whether it was possible to force people to return goods by post when they had been sent unsolicitedly. When he elaborated this question and the theory was taken up by my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham and we got to the point of considering whether baby elephants could be repacked in parcels and sent back to the senders through the post, I began to feel that the answer had been given. Of course it is not necessary, either under the Bill or under the present common law, for anyone to send back by post and return by post anything sent to him unsolicitedly. He is entirely able just to hold on to the goods for a period of six months, if he so wishes, answering no letter and making no other move to help the recovery of those goods.
§ Mr. James Hill
When I mentioned baby elephants, I was emphasising, probably over-emphasising, that some items are large and that there is no room for storing them and that people might be forced by the Bill to store them or return them.
§ Mr. Ridley
As my hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham said, it is always open to the recipient of such goods, white elephants, if I may so describe them, to apply under Clause 1(2)(b) by giving notice to the sender to come and take them away. The Bill will make it much more difficult to get payment for unsolicited goods which are deliberately sent, and therefore there will be less likelihood of the unsolicited sending of large and expensive items. However, this provision will discourage a practice which is a nuisance to those who have to suffer it.
My hon. Friend the Member for Derbyshire, South-East (Mr. Rost) asked about telephone calls, as did my hon. Friend for Southampton, Test (Mr. James Hill). Unsolicited services cannot be supplied by the use of the telephone. All that can be done by telephone when a telephone call is made to an unknown 1926 member of the public is to make an offer. One can make an offer to supply services or goods on the telephone, but before it becomes a contract, the person receiving the telephone call has to accept that it should be so done. This cannot in any way be confused with the purpose of the Bill. The hon. Member was getting at the extremely unpleasant experience of being rung up and offered goods or having one's time wasted with completely frivolous suggestions. I do not believe that there is a better way of stopping this than by putting down the receiver smartly, and it is not possible to deal with this, certainly not in the Bill.
§ Mr. Rost
I was emphasising the point of the invasion of privacy, particularly in one's leisure hours, but I was also concerned about the confusion that might arise if a service were offered on the telephone and the housewife or a junior member of the family on answering the telephone gave a misleading impression to the salesman which might lead to the delivery of goods or services, perhaps by accident or misinterpretation.
§ Mr. Ridley
If that were to happen, I think I am right in saying that if a child were to say "Yes", not realising the implications, and if goods were delivered or services supplied, that stilt would not constitute a contract. Therefore, the provisions of the Bill would protect the recipient. I am wondering what would happen if the telephone conversation had been tape recorded. I feel that that would not be sufficient evidence of the existence of a contract, but I say that not being a lawyer and not having thought about this problem before. So it would be difficult to bring pressure to bear on a person offering unsolicited goods or services over the telephone.
My hon. Friend the Member for Southampton, Test was concerned about Clause 3(3)(a) which deals with directory entries. He rightly said that there is no point in telling someone who is asked to make an entry in a directory the name and address of the producers, the date and matters of that sort. The person who is asked to make an entry requires to know the selling potential of the directory and the coverage, so that he will know whether it is commercially worth his while to make an entry in it. Clause 3(3)(a)(iii) states:(iii) if the directory or that issue is to be distributed free of charge (whether or not it is 1927 also to be put on sale), the minimum number of copies which are to be so distributed; andThat, I think, is the best guarantee that can be given of providing the relevant information. Before a directory is published, no one can say how many copies will be sold. It depends entirely on the acceptability of the directory and its reception on the market, and it is therefore impossible to predict accurately the number of copies which will be sold. To say the number of copies which will be distributed is a big commitment. Before agreeing to print and distribute a certain number of directories considerable expense is bound to be incurred, and one must be certain that one intends seriously to enter the directory business. The inclusion of that sub-paragraph in the conditions is a protection for the person genuinely wishing to make an entry in a directory by enabling him to have knowledge of the commercial possibilities.
My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) mentioned hoax orders, which were discussed at great length in Committee. I think the Bill strikes the right balance between protecting the recipient of unsolicited goods and the genuine firm which sends items through the post as a mail order business. One trouble in this argument is that the unsolicited goods sender is not necessarily the same person as the genuine mail order firm. In trying to discourage the sender of unsolicited goods, we may well be making things more difficult for the genuine mail order firm, and we want to make sure that does not happen.
Hoaxing must not be exaggerated but it is nevertheless a real problem. There are practical jokes hoax orders, and there are fraudulent hoax orders where someone orders goods for himself using another address or pretends that he has not made the order. Anything that encouraged that practice would be unfair on the mail order houses, and I do not believe that anything in the Bill encourages it. Equally, I do not think that there is any way of stopping it by legislation of 1928 this sort. I hope my hon. Friend will feel that this is as near right as possible.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-West (Mr. Tom Boardman) raised the question of pseudo-students who sell magazines and peddle round the country trying to get unsolicited subscriptions to journals. This is not the same sort of thing as the matters covered in the Bill because it does not involve sending things to people, and the purpose of the Bill is to define the rights of the parties who receive and send unsolicited goods through the post, or stuff them through the letterbox. The student is in a different position, and I would not expect the Bill to apply to that problem. The evil effects of this can be grossly overrated, but it is really a question of door-to-door salesmanship which most of us have learnt to resist.
To sum up, this is an important piece of consumer protection legislation. I am sure we are right to erect Acts of Parliament to define clearly the rights of the consumer and the citizen and to stop each abuse of the consumer, as it occurs, by an Act of Parliament. I regard this as one of an unfolding series of laws which will deal with abuses of the consumer as they arise. What is good about it is that the rights of the recipient and the sender and, in the wider context, the rights of the consumer and the manufacturer or trader, will be enshrined in an Act of Parliament. This is perhaps the right way to proceed rather than by too much publicity and excitement.
I again congratulate my hon. Friend for bringing forward this Measure—which has had the full support of this Government and the previous Government—and the hon. Member for Accrington. I hope the House will give the Bill an unopposed Third Reading so that it may proceed to another place from which we hope it will eventually emerge successfully on to the Statute Book.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.