§ [The Question was as follows:
§ To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they are aware that the Southern Electricity Board has printed on its accounts the following phrase: "In view of the provisions of the Cheques Act, 1957, no receipt will be issued"; and whether this practice has their approval.]
§ THE FIRST LORD OF THE ADMIRALTY (THE EARL OF SELKIRK)
My Lords, I think the House would like to know the exact wording which is attached to their accounts by the Southern Electricity Board, which is not couched exactly in the words used in the noble Lord's Question. It runs follows:Section 3 of the Cheques Act, 1957, which came into force on 17th October, reads as follows:—'An unendorsed cheque which appears to have been paid by the banker on whom it is drawn is evidence of the receipt by the payee of the sum payable by the cheque.'Since, under this provision, paid cheques can now be regarded as evidence of receipt, the Board, in the interests of consumers generally, wish to take advantage of the opportunity to effect economies in administrative costs involved in the issue of receipts. They propose, therefore, to discontinue forthwith issuing receipts for all accounts paid by cheque. The Board will, however, be prepared in response to specific requests to issue receipts in special cases. They hope that consumers will be prepared to co-operate by not asking for receipts.There is no objection to this wording. It does, of course, contain a strong suggestion that a customer should not ask for a separate receipt if he pays by cheque; but it is, I think, quite clear that the Southern Electricity Board are prepared to send receipts if requested and, indeed, they are obliged to do so by law under the provisions of Section 103 of the Stamp Act, 1891, if the sum paid is two pounds or more. I need perhaps hardly add that the nationalised industries do not enjoy any privileged position whatsoever in this matter.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his Answer. I may say that the words on the Order Paper were 925 copied exactly from the bill I received from the Southern Electricity Board. Since then I have received a receipt from them, and the words which have just been read out have been stamped on a piece of paper since my original account was received. I have no quarrel with what is now on the paper, but I must say that my question, as framed, is correct.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, what is upsetting people is that recipients of these cheques have not the common courtesy to send an acknowledgement. It is not a question of a stamped receipt. Does not the noble Earl think that the Electricity Board—which, after all, is a large and responsible undertaking—might set a good example to other people by sending an acknowledgement on these occasions?
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, I am sure the words of the noble Lord will be noted. He is perfectly aware, being a member of the Committee which investigated it, that: an acknowledgement would not be valid as a receipt.
My Lords, may I ask Her Majesty's Government whether they, too, share the apparent confusion of thought from which the Board suffers, which confuses an acknowledgement of the payment of a sum with a settlement of a debt?
§ THE EARL OF SELKIRK
My Lords, I think that that is very much the same question. I appreciate that it is a point of courtesy.