HC Deb 18 July 1973 vol 860 cc661-3

Lords Amendment: No. 48, in page 88, line 20, at end insert: ( ) Without prejudice to the exercise of his powers under subsection (I) of this section, it shall be the duty of the Director to encourage relevant associations to prepare, and to disseminate to their members, codes of practice for guidance in safeguarding and promoting the interests of consumers in the United Kingdom. ( ) In this section "relevant association" means any association (whether incorporated or not) whose membership consists wholly or mainly of persons engaged in the production or supply of goods or in the supply of services or of persons employed by or representing persons so engaged and whose objects or activities include the promotion of the interests of persons so engaged.

Mr. Emery

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

This is the only other amendment of substance that is new to the House in dealing with the Bill. Hon. Members on both sides will probably remember that when we debated this matter in Committee upstairs I indicated that, whilst I had some feeling of support for the proposal—and that was proved by a certain voluntary code which I was able to introduce later—I was not certain whether we should be able to spell it out in the Bill.

I pay tribute to an ex-right hon. Member of this House—now a right hon. Member of another House, Lord Diamond—who moved the amendment in another place. I have always had a liking not only for him but for his particular appreciation of impressionist art, which I have enjoyed on certain Commonwealth Parliamentary Association tours. In this instance he left the art gallery to come down to earth to consider the way in which this matter could be spelt out in the Bill. We have considered the question, and we believe that it is possible to spell this out in the Bill.

This means that we shall strengthen the director's influence in this specific area. The Government have always supported such codes, because the Government and both Houses believe that they should be encouraged. The amendment demonstrates that this type of code is a sensible and excellent way of adding to some of the powers of control over certain practices without necessarily having to legislate by statutory instrument immediately in order to deal with the matter.

I hope, therefore, that hon. Members on both sides of the House will be pleased that we have been able to come this far in spelling out the matter in the Bill.

Mr. Roper

1 am glad that the Government found their way to accept what is effectively the amendment which was moved by my noble Friend Lord Diamond and tabled by Lord Jacques in another place and which had originally been moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) in Committee in the Commons. We felt quite strongly about this point. We believed that it was possible, within the structure envisaged for the director general, to have the provision not merely for putting forward secondary legislation and getting the approval of the Secretary of State and coming to the House, but for making use of trade associations to draw up codes of practice of this kind.

I hope that, like many other provisions of the Bill, this one will be used energetically and effectively by the director general and the trade associations when the Act comes into effect.

Mr. Alan Williams

I, too, welcome the fact that the Government have been able to incorporate another of our Committee amendments within the Bill.

I should like to ask four specific and brief questions. What is the standing of such a code of practice? What requirement will there be for its observance? What will be the sanction for any breach of such a code? Is the code simply a formality, or will it have meaningful significance from both the public and the legal point of view?

Mr. Emery

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply.

I think that the hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Alan Williams) is probably fully cognisant of the varying effects of varying codes.

When we debated this matter in Committee, one of my worries was that we might need to standardise a code and not allow it to be introduced and used by those who wish to govern their own disciplines. Being judged by one's peers is often much harsher, as certain hon. Members know, than having to deal with ways round a statutory instrument or a piece of legislation. Therefore, codes of practice will be encouraged by the director general to be flexible enough to deal with whatever specific practice or practices there may be within a particular area.

I am not trying to avoid answering the hon. Gentleman. It is right and proper that we should ensure that, where a code of practice is brought in, the director general should be able to guide the body dealing with it. The body concerned may in certain instances have stricter disciplines than we might expect for minor infringements if dealt with by a statutory instrument. This is part of the benefit of the flexibility of such a code. Therefore, I hope that the House will agree to the amendment.

Question put and agreed to.

Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.

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