HL Deb 01 July 1958 vol 210 cc439-42

4.47 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the Bill for which I am asking a Second Reading this afternoon is a short one. I venture to hope, and indeed I think, that it will receive your Lordships' approval, because it was introduced to meet what I believe has become a very real grievance which has sprung up over recent years. I refer to the door-to-door canvassing, and also the canvassing by post, for the purpose of selling articles by firms and traders under such names as "Blind Employment", "Blind Homework", "Disabled Ex-Servicemen", and other such trading names. Those names are obviously intended to give to the people called upon by these canvassers the impression that the articles in question have been made by blind people or by war-disabled people, thus very naturally evoking their sympathy and obtaining their custom for the articles in question. Quite a number of the firms and traders behaving in this sort of way are really not selling articles made by the blind or by disabled people at all: the whole thing has become very much a "racket".

Another aspect of the question was the selling of articles alleged to be for the purpose of providing money for the blind or for war-disabled people, though in some, at any rate, of those cases there was reason to believe that the blind or disabled saw none, or very little, of the money which was obtained in that way. The articles were often sold at high prices, prices a good deal higher than those for which similar articles could be purchased in the ordinary shops; and the whole matter is, I think, very much of a grievance. There were very seldom any profits for the blind; the profits, or certainly the substantial portion of them, went into the pockets of the unscrupulous people who were behaving in this way. A number of these cases were, I believe, brought to the attention of the police and of the Ministry of Labour, but it was usually found that under the existing law it was not possible to bring a prosecution, or, at least, to bring a prosecution with hopes of a conviction. Therefore, various Members of Parliament felt that it was necessary to bring in a Bill, and we have this Private Member's Bill which is before your Lordships' House this afternoon.

In effect, the Bill establishes a licensing system for this type of selling by requiring, subject to some exceptions to which I shall draw your Lordships' attention, that where selling or soliciting of orders for goods is carried through by house-to-house canvassing or by post, under the pretext that the people engaged in the making or preparation, packing or production of these goods are blind or disabled people, or alternatively, that the benefit from the sales is to go to such people, the persons carrying on the business must be registered. If they are not registered—if they do not come within one of the exceptions—they will be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding £100 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months. The penalties are based on the similar provisions of the Disabled Persons Employment Act, 1944, which was passed with the object of meeting a not dissimilar sort of situation.

The exceptions, which your Lordships will find in subsection (2) of Clause 1, are intended to cover all the existing nonprofit-making organisations which have been very properly engaged in work of this kind. Many of them have been so engaged for quite a number of years, and I am quite sure that your Lordships will agree that it is very right and proper that this sort of work should go on, because in this way inestimable and valuable results have been achieved by a number of these organisations in the interests of blind and disabled men and women. It was far from the object of the promoters of this Bill to wish to bring that to an end. Clause 2 deals with licensing, under which people wishing to carry on this type of work may apply to the Minister of Labour for a licence to be permitted to do so. Your Lordships will see that it is a lengthy clause, and I do not think that there is any need for me to go in detail into its provisions. It is lengthy because it is obviously, I think, necessary to prevent a colourable satisfaction of the requirements of the Act on the part of the unscrupulous people who have been engaged on this sort of work, as they might do by putting one or two blind people into a workshop or perhaps having one or two blind people on their staff who might be used in connection with canvassing and so on, thus providing a colourable case, but one which was not really genuine in any real sense of the term. Therefore, the clause goes into the requirements which will have to be satisfied before the appropriate Minister will grant the necessary licence.

My Lords, that is almost all that I need to say on this particular point, but before sitting down I should like to pay a tribute to the work which has been put into this Bill by the Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury and also by the Member for Mitcham, who at one time was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Labour and whose collaboration enabled Mr. Victor Collins, the first Member of Parliament in question, to produce this Bill and to get it through another place. I am sure that it meets the very real grievance which, as I have said, has been becoming apparent over the last months, and in those circumstances I am sure that your Lordships will feel that it should have a Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Chorley.)

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, on behalf of Her Majesty's Government I beg to commend this Bill to your Lordships' House. In doing so, I wish to congratulate the noble Lord opposite and the honourable gentleman, Mr. Victor Collins, who was responsible for promoting this Bill in another place. I am sure that your Lordships will wish this Bill Godspeed through its remaining stages, and will join with me in trusting that this measure will stamp out the wicked evil that has been the reason behind the introduction of the Bill which, as I say, I commend to your Lordships.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.