HC Deb 22 July 1977 vol 935 cc2217-20

Lords amendment: No. 54, in page 15, line 13, leave out from "force" to end of line 14 and insert "on 1st February 1978".

Mr. John Fraser

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

Mr. Neubert

Since this is almost the last amendment, I shall take the opportunity to make a general comment on the passing of the Bill. I hope that it will not be invoking the wrath of the gods to suggest that the Bill might now be in sight of a safe haven. It has run a hazardous and chequered course which derives almost entirely from the fact that it was subject to the Private Member's Bill procedure. Perhaps it should be taken as an object lesson to the Lord President that a major Government measure should not be introduced in the guise of a Private Member's Bill.

In particular, the Bill has suffered from the outset from the handicap of having had only a formal Second Reading. That meant that many of the most important issues in the Bill were not brought to the attention of those most interested in them until a very much later date. That has been a serious drawback in the procedure.

However, I reaffirm that we welcome the passage of the Bill and support the principle of it. I pay tribute to the Minister for having recognised, in setting the date on which the Bill comes into effect, the difficulties that will be faced in implementing it. It is suggested that the date of implementation is 1st February, and I ask the Minister to confirm it. That date was chosen because of representation by the insurance industry, I believe. The industry asked for a delay of 15 months because of its year-round computer programme. It would have liked a longer period than it now has, but six months will be of greater assistance than three months for almost everyone who is affected by the Bill.

A doubt occurs to me and I should like to have the Minister's advice. Even with a six-months period of implemen- tation, many brochures and other printed commercial material will contain contracts with exclusion clauses. They will presumably be rendered invalid by the enactment of the Bill. Is there any question of people in that situation being liable at law under the Misrepresentation Act or the Trade Descriptions Act for something on which they may unwittingly mislead their customers due to the Bill having overtaken advance printing of promotional material?

6.45 p.m.

Mr. John Fraser

I can give the assurance that there would be no possible offence of misrepresentation in those circumstances. I think that the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) was less than fair to my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Ward) when he seemed to suggest that he had had a Government Bill foisted on him. Were it not for the persistence of my hon. Friend and that of the Consumers' Association and others outside the House, the Bill would not have gone through in the way that it has done.

We have never disguised the fact that the Government have given generous assistance in the dafting of the Bill and that the parts relating to Scotland were put in by the Government. However, had it not been for my hon. Friend hammering away, the Bill would never have seen the light of day. I want to pay my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough the most handsome tribute I can. I pay tribute also to those members of my Department who have advised my hon. Friend and have given unstinting assistance to him. There have been others too. This has not been a Bill over which the Government have had their own way.

Mr. Ward

I do not want to detain the House for more than two minutes. I wish to express my thanks to all who have been interested in seeing these Law Commission reports carried into legislation, particularly to those in my hon. Friend's Department. I thank the hon. Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) and his colleagues too. They have worked assiduously in Committee and have brought to light many aspects of the Bill which were properly considered outside although unfortunately, owing to the procedures of the House, we have not been able to have full Second and Third Reading debates.

I hope that the House will agree with Lord Denning, who described the Bill as: one of the most important reforms in our time in our civil law, both of contract and of tort…a great reform. I am sure the House will feel that the Bill is worth while and that, despite procedural problems, the House has performed its duty

Mr. Anthony Grant

I, too, wish to congratulate the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Ward) on his persistence and the vigour with which he has carried the Bill through. At the same time, I echo what my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Mr. Neubert) has said—that it ought to have been a Government Bill, introduced by the Government in exactly the same way as was the Supply of Goods (Implied Terms) Act 1973. There is no reason why the Government could not have done that. It might have made the whole procedure rather easier.

I welcome the Bill in principle. I hope that the hon. Member for Peterborough has not suffered a heart attack because of the last-minute excursions and alarms. He must realise that because of the foolish way in which the Government have handled the Bill it might have been killed had it not been for the kindness and the support of some Opposition Members. The Bill represents a major change in the law of contract. As a result, the Government and all those in future Governments—we on the Opposition Benches will be members of such a Government soon—should note that the Bill places a considerable burden on a large section of industry. There may be a great deal of litigation as a result of this.

Question put and agreed to.

Lords Amendments Nos. 55 and 56 agreed to.

Lords Amendment No. 57 disagreed to.

Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to certain of their amendments to the Bill: Mr. John Fraser, Mr. Graham, Mr. Anthony Grant, Mr. Neubert and Mr. Ward; Three to be the quorum.—[Mr. John Fraser.]

To withdraw immediately.

Reasons for disagreeing to certain of the Lords amendments reported, and agreed to; to be communicated to the Lords.