HC Deb 16 February 1981 vol 999 cc4-5
4. Mr. Dubs

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what representations he has received about the distribution of unsolicited advertising material through the post.

The Minister for Consumer Affairs (Mrs. Sally Oppenheim)

We receive a number of complaints about such material.

Mr. Dubs

Does the right hon. Lady accept that there is concern about the way that organisations such as the Reader's Digest manage to assemble lists of names and addresses and combine the right to buy goods with free entry to prize competitions? Is she aware that people are unhappy about such stuff coming through the post? Will she consider responding to the Lindop committee by way of an impartial answer to this problem?

Mrs. Oppenheim

I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the majority of complaints that we receive about such material are concerned, not about the fact that it has been sent unsolicited, but about the advertising content. Prominent among the complaints that we have received are those about the Reader's Digest. We have received complaints about Leisure Arts, which gave the mistaken impression that the recipients had won something substantial. We have also received complaints about a company called "The Joy of Knowledge", which gave a mistaken impression about education in Britain. It implied that it was giving a £50 voucher. I have referred a number of these complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority. The Lindop committee was not conclusive that unsolicitied mail was disadvantageous and not wanted by the majority. It reached the opposite conclusion. However, we need carefully to watch the advertising content.

Sir Ronald Bell

Is my right hon. Friend aware that the London office of the EEC Commission is pursuing an intensive advertising compaign to spread the joy of knowledge to many people who do not want to have it?

Mrs. Oppenheim

I must tell my hon. and learned Friend that so far I have received no complaints about that enterprise.

Mr. Jessel

Would not it be simplest if the public were to follow the example of Members of Parliament and put quantities of printed material that they do not want into the wastepaper basket?

Mrs. Oppenheim

That is true of most people. It is where the content of such unsolicited communications is misleading in advertising terms that there is cause for concern.

Mr. Russell Kerr

Is the right hon. Lady aware that she is being much less forward looking than a previous Conservative Postmaster-General, who threw this concept out of the window and refused to countenance the idea of having unsolicited mail?

Mrs. Oppenheim

I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding me of that. However, he will know that a number of committees have considered the issue since the time to which he is referring. We have the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act 1971. I am satisfied that the balance that is struck at present is not unsatisfactory, but we must keep an eye on the content of these communications.