HC Deb 19 November 1973 vol 864 cc924-6
7. Mr. William Price

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry how many complaints he has received about the activities of firms dealing in trade directories.

Mr. Emery

The figure is 724, since 1st January, 1972.

Mr. Price

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that, despite legislation, firms which produce these directories—or do not produce them—are continuing to flourish and that many people who ought to know better are being fleeced by these rogues? Is it not apparent that, despite the decision of the Director of Public Prosecutions to take action against two of the larger firms, changes in the law are necessary? A simple change would do what is desired by making it illegal to demand money unless there is a written order.

Mr. Emery

We must await the outcome of prosecutions that have been launched. The Brandon Publications Company Limited was convicted, as were Wallis Deane Limited and McGraw-Hinds, Limited. I mention those names because I think industry has a right to know those who have been convicted. I should point out, too, that in the appeal made by Brandon Publications the Director of Public Prosecutions has intervened and has taken over the appeal on behalf of the respondents.

Mr. Rost

Can my hon. Friend confirm that the fines imposed on Brandon Publications and others were derisory? I understand that they amounted to only £25. Is it surprising, therefore, that these bogus trade directory firms are proliferating? Moreover, they seem to be getting away without charging VAT and without putting on their invoices details of how many publications they are printing and the publication date.

Mr. Emery

I do not know the case to which my hon. Friend is referring, but one company which was charged with five offences was fined £200 on each of four offences, while the fifth was dismissed. That was a first offence, and I believe that that is of some relevance.

Mr. Leadbitter

Is the Minister aware that most of these organisations are submitting to firms all over the country what purport to be invoices, with very small print, which clerks do not read, and that firms are paying these bandits large sums of money by default? As a result, firms are complaining to their chambers of commerce and trade. I should like to feel that, in addition to those companies which he mentioned, the Minister will look into the whole question of description and the state of application of the law to the firms involved in using this type of apparent invoice.

Mr. Emery

I am conscious of the situation. I have had to deal with 232 letters from hon. Members about this matter. It is important to know whether prosecutions will hold and whether the appeals can be dismissed. If that happens, the law will be biting. If it does not, the Government will have to consider the matter again.