HC Deb 01 July 1974 vol 876 cc24-5
55. Mr. Ronald Atkins

asked the Attorney-General what is his policy with regard to references to the Director of Public Prosecutions with particular reference to the prosecution of directory firms seeking payment for directory entries which have not been sought under the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act.

The Attorney-General

The dishonest practice to which my hon. Friend refers has been the subject of a number of successful prosecutions brought by local police and prosecutors. Where there is cause for complaint the public should bring it to the notice of the police, who will normally refer to the Director cases of unusual difficulty which require his advice. My policy is to ensure that the Director's limited staff is deployed to the best advantage.

Mr. Atkins

Does not my right hon. and learned Friend agree that his Department has a special responsibility here, in that the law is of little value unless it is enforced and, if necessary, tested in the courts? Does he not also agree that there is urgent need to deal with the illegal activities of directory firms, which have been rife in my constituency?

The Attorney-General

I entirely agree. I said that this was a dishonest practice, and it should be stopped. At the moment I am not satisfied that the local police and prosecutors are unable to deal satisfactorily with the offences, but, as I said, the Director of Public Prosecutions is always available in case of particular difficulty, and he will certainly use his staff to the best advantage to deal with this and other important matters that come before him.

Mr. Rost

As the bogus trade directory racket is flourishing more than ever, does not the Attorney-General agree that the law, even when enforced, does not provide a deterrent? Will he please consult his colleagues on the Front Bench to see whether legislation can be introduced?

The Attorney-General

I agree with the hon. Gentleman that there are borderline cases, and it is right to keep the matter under review. I shall see that my right hon. Friend is aware of the point which the hon. Gentleman made.

Mr. Bidwell

Has my right hon. and learned Friend's attention been drawn to a company that is operating from Hong Kong in an attempt to evade this law?

The Attorney-General

I understand that that company may be an invisible export from this country, and I have heard of it.

Sir John Hall

Is the Attorney-General aware that, despite prosecutions, the activities of these unscrupulous firms have not ceased? They overcome the problem by inserting in small print words to the effect that "this statement is not to be regarded as an invoice", which apparently places them within the law. Can nothing be done to stop the practice?

The Attorney-General

I entirely agree that there are borderline difficulties. When the statute has been in operation sufficiently long—and that stage may already have arrived—it will be right to look at it again to see to what extent it allows matters that should not slip through the net to do so. I shall ensure that my right hon. Friend is made aware of the view which has been expressed on both sides of the House.

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