HL Deb 05 July 1961 vol 232 cc1457-62

7.24 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, perhaps your Lordships will think it a misfortune that it should be I who am moving the Second Reading of this Bill in your Lordships' House to-night because your Lordships are assuredly deprived of another of those remarkable speeches which my noble friend. Lord Denham made when he introduced a similar Bill in your Lordships' House in the spring of 1959. However, my noble friend has descended two steps below me, and I have no doubt he has had to reorientate his ideas on this Bill very considerably in the last week. Therefore, it is for me to explain the Bill to your Lordships, although I do not feel that much explana1ion is necessary.

Your Lordships will recall that this is a Bill for dealing with that pernicious practice, which has been so widespread in parts of London, and at many seaside resorts and fairgrounds, called the mock auction. The really pernicious and deplorable thing about these mock auctions has been that they are not auctions at all. They are highly organised, complicated and efficient confidence tricks on members of the public, and the victims have been the very last people your Lordships would like to see swindled in this way. None the less, it has been going on. Your Lordships will also recall that the essence of the mock auction is not that it tries to induce the members of the public to buy a shoddy article at far above its proper price, but that, by extremely clever manipulation of a crowd of would-be victims, the mock auctioneer succeeds in persuading them that, bid they never so high for these shoddy articles, they will not be required to pay the price they had said that they honestly would pay, but rather that there would be returned to them the whole or a very large part of their money; and although in the earlier stages this may be so, it is not then the public that benefit, and at later stages, when it is the public who think that they are benefiting, the money is not returned.

I do not think that I could let this occasion go by without repeating to your Lordships the memorable and everlasting description of mock auctions that my noble friend Lord Denham gave to the House in 1959. He said [OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 214, col. 1122]: 'The pitch-getter gets the pitch, and then hands over to the top man, who first nails the mugs, then runs out the Hinton lots and finally gazoomphs the sarkers.' That is the attitude, "gazoomphing the sarkers", that mock auctioneers have taken towards the public. And this Bill attempts to set it right.

The Bill is almost exactly the same as the 1959 Bill. It is a closely meshed measure, which will enable the law to prosecute the mock auctioneers. The difficulty has hitherto been that unless there was a conspiracy, or a Private Act of Parliament which dealt with the evil, it was almost impossible to bring these men to justice, because either the law was not sure enough or else the evidence of people who had been beguiled and misled had not been forthcoming. Now the essence of the mock auction is set out in the Bill and it has made it possible for the evidence to be brought before the courts, so that these men may be stopped from their nefarious practices. The only addition that has been made to the Bill since your Lordships last saw it is the swingeing penalties which have been very rightly inserted. These will be found in subsection (2) of the first clause of the Bill.

I am sure that your Lordships will join in congratulating my honourable friend the Member for Lewes, whose efforts and whose patience have piloted this Bill through another place; but of course he is not alone. In another place my honourable friend the Member for Stechford tried his best, and throughout the Bill has been supported by the honourable Member for Erith and Cray ford. I should not like your Lordships to think that this Bill has simply been devised by either House of Parliament without the consent, support and help of all the people who are going to be affected, who, of course, are primarily the proper and genuine auctioneers. Your Lordships will be glad to hear that it is largely as a result of their help and support that this Bill has been formulated.

The Incorporated Society of Auctioneers have been very helpful and so have the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors' and the Chartered Surveyors' and Estate Agents' Institute. Support has also been forthcoming from the National Chamber of Trade and the Association of Municipal Corporations, the latter being the people in whose areas the mock auctioneers operate. Your Lordships will also be glad to hear that the Stepney Street Traders' Association, which has long been campaigning for just such a measure as this, in order to wipe out from Petticoat Lane the pernicious practices of mock auctions which have so long gone on there, with enormous profit to mock auctioneers, likewise welcome it. Therefore I commend this Bill to your Lordships. It was received with acclamation on the last occasion, and I cannot think that anything else will occur this time. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Viscount Colville of Culross.)


My Lords, my noble friend Lord Crook, who had hoped to be here to welcome this Bill, has unfortunately had to leave on another engagement, and it falls to me again to congratulate the noble Viscount opposite on his exposition of this Bill. All of us will be glad to see this little friend that we thought we had lost for ever two years ago turn up again, and I think we should congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Denham, on the rebirth of this little child of his. We commiserate with the noble Lord at not having the opportunity of introducing the Bill again as ably as he did before, but we also have to congratulate him on his elevation to the Lower Bench.

7.32 p.m.


My Lords, I should first like to say a personal word of thanks to my noble friend Lord Colville of Culross for taking on this Bill at short notice and for the clear and masterly way in which he has performed the task; for making the acknowledgments that I should have wished to make to all those who have helped in the preparation and presentation of the Bill, and for his generous remarks about myself. May I also thank the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, for his very kind speech? When I introduced the previous Bill on this subject into your Lordships' House in 1959 my noble friend who then spoke for the Government was able to express on their behalf at best only a benevolent neutrality. I am spared some embarrassment over this, as their attitude has now taken on a more decisive form, and I can tell your Lordships, on behalf of the Government, that they fully support the Bill and recommend it for your Lordships' support.

As my noble friend has explained, this Bill is virtually the same as the one which left your Lordships' House in 1959. It has been strengthened in another place in order to make it possible to impose heavier penalties to deter those whose unscrupulous methods have brought in large profits. The need for this strengthening was demonstrated by recent prosecutions of mock auctioneers under the general law which showed that considerable profits could be made, and in those cases the courts imposed heavy fines. Accordingly, a provision has been added to Clause 1 (2) to make the offence punishable on indictment by a fine not exceeding £1,000 or two years imprisonment, or both.

This Bill is fairly complicated, but it should make the task of dealing with mock auctioneers easier than under the existing law. But I feel that I should repeat the warning given by my right honourable friend in another place. Although it is to be hoped that this particular method of fleecing the public by misleading them not only as to the quality of the goods, but also as to the price they are paying, will now be closed to its practitioners, these gentlemen, and others like them, will no doubt find other methods of earning their livelihood, and the general public should therefore be on their guard particularly at holiday resorts. The Government commend this Bill to your Lordships.


My Lords, again I must thank the noble Earl, Lord Lucan, for the welcome he has given to the Bill from that side of the House. It would not be right if I failed on this occasion to congratulate my noble friend Lord Denham on his first speech from the Despatch Box. There cannot have been a subject upon which he would rather make that speech and if anyone is to be congratulated on the whole thing, I am sure it is he. None the less, as I am now in charge of this Bill, I must thank the Government for all their help and guidance. It is a small matter at the very end that I now mention. It is not often that I as a Scotsman have anything to commend to your Lordships in the legislation of Northern Ireland. But your Lordships will see at the end of this Bill the words: The Act shall not extend to Northern Ireland. That is because Northern Ireland have beaten this country to it and already have their own Act in this matter.

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

House adjourned at twenty-five minutes before eight o'clock.