§ THE EARL OF DUNDEE
My Lords, I beg leave to ask Her Majesty's Government a Question of which I have given Private Notice—namely:
To ask Her Majesty's Government if they are aware of the effect which gas and electricity power cuts have now had on industrial firms and what action is being taken to remedy the situation?
§ LORD SORENSEN
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Shackleton hopes to make a Statement as soon as convenient after half past three, so perhaps the noble Earl will wait until then.
While I am on my feet, I would add that my noble friend Lord Shackleton also hopes to make a Statement this afternoon in regard to Spey engines for Phantom aircraft.
§ ADDRESS IN REPLY TO HER
MAJESTY'S MOST GRACIOUS
§ 2.56 p.m.
Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved on Tuesday, November 9, by Lord Francis-Williams—namely, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:—
Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament.
§ LORD HASTINGS
My Lords, I apologise for not having my name on the list of speakers yesterday, when it might have seemed more appropriate that I should be on my feet, but your Lordships will remember that originally the debate on Home Affairs was to last only one day; then it was extended to two days. As there were a number of important speeches on housing yesterday, we thought it appropriate that I should say something on this subject at the start of proceedings this afternoon, although I realise that none of the speakers who will follow will be dealing with this subject. But the noble Lord, Lord Champion, indicated yesterday that the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor would be prepared to say some words upon housing, if necessary, at the end of to-day's debate. Therefore, if I say anything with which he disagrees, it will be open to him to say so, and he will also be able to answer any questions which I may put to him. In view of the number of speakers, I should add that I do not intend to make a full-scale Front Bench speech. I shall be as brief as possible.
568 The noble Lord, Lord Champion, started off yesterday by describing the gracious Speech as a first-class programme for this Session of Parliament. My noble friend Lord Derwent indicated that more probably it was a first-class programme for a General Election. I hope that the Government will make up their minds about whichever it is, because if this is really to be the programme for this Session of Parliament, we have a lot of hard work ahead of us.
I should like to refer immediately to the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, on the Business of this House, and I am very glad that they were made. Obviously, if we are to get through at all, we must have Bills started in this House. There are plenty of precedents for this, including the Water Resources Bill, which I remember well. Your Lordships' House does its work efficiently and expeditiously. I would suggest that it is for the other place to do the same as we do. If, by any chance, we are refused the possibility of dealing with Bills in the first place, it can be due only to two reasons: a quite needless and foolish jealousy on the part of the other place—though I hope that such a feeling does not exist—or an act of deliberate cynicism towards this House on the part of the Prime Minister; and that would be unworthy of a man who is trying to build a national, as opposed to a purely Party, political image.
I was struck by another phrase used by the noble Lord, Lord Champion: he used it more than once, and it also found a place in some other speeches. It was that the purpose of the Government policies set out in the gracious Speech was to make the country more civilised and more humane. It has always intrigued me how successive generations of Labour politicians invariably fall into the trap of indulging in this particular self-delusion: that they, and they only, are the keepers of the public conscience. I suppose it is deeply rooted in the Fabian origins of Socialism, but it seems to me that the Labour Party are having as much difficulty in ridding themselves of this outworn psychological outlook as they are in ridding themselves of their outworn attitude towards nationalisation and so-called class warfare. I should have thought that during the thirteen so-called "wasted years" of Conservative 569 rule, the incredible increase in the standard of living, the enormously increased opportunities for education and the huge increase in the numbers of those owning their own houses were all milestones on the road to civilisation and more humanity.
Now let me turn to the gracious Speech. The noble Lord, Lord Champion, referred to local government finance, and in particular to the forthcoming Rating Bill and the reorganisation of the system of local authority grants and Exchequer subsidies. Of course we are all looking forward to the Rating Bill. Perhaps this will be a suitable candidate for starting in your Lordships' House. I do not fancy that it will be very controversial. We brought in an interim relief Rating Bill, and we set up the Allen Committee. We all realise that there has to be a rearrangement of the incidence of the rates upon various households in this country. I think that this idea of monthly instalments is most helpful; and we expect to see rebates for certain sections of the population.
I should like to ask the noble Lord about this change in the question of Exchequer subsidies and, I believe, the intended abolition of the general grant. This matter is not mentioned in the gracious Speech, although I think that it was mentioned in the gracious Speech of last year. It amounts to the reorganisation of central and local government finance. To this the Conservative Party were also committed, and we had already set up inquiries. I take it that the change in the housing subsidies mentioned in the gracious Speech does not come into this Bill concerning the reorganisation of local government finance, but will be a separate thing.
In connection with the change of the housing subsidies, which we on this side of the House are anxious to see, I would remind your Lordships, especially in view of some of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Brighton, about what the Government have done, and what the Conservatives have done and have not done, of a few excerpts from a leading article in The Times sometime in the summer. I thought that the article was worth keeping, and I am glad now that I kept it. It said:It is not to be supposed that the scheme to be presented to Parliament"—570 that refers to housing subsidies—has sprung, fully armed, from the department during Mr. Crossman's brief ministry. It will be the fruit of the inquiry launched by his predecessor, Sir Keith Joseph, rather more than two years ago.After discussing the problems that would arise out of this change, which is intended to give local authorities the subsidies they need to enable them to let houses at rents that tenants can afford, the article ends up with these words:The suspicion, in the meantime"—this was written after the Labour Party Conference, when Mr. Crossman made the announcement—must remain that the scheme will involve a general increase in subsidy in an area of economy where too much is already misspent.We shall have to examine this Bill, when it conies before us, in the light of those comments, and make sure that the subsidies will be to the best advantage of the people of the country and will not lead to an increasing waste of money.
I must mention the Land Commission, but not at too great length. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, dwelt upon this, and I was interested to find that he put forward an entirely new reason for creating this Land Commission. We have always understood hitherto that its purpose was to be, first, that of taking betterment in values for the community and for the State; secondly, to bring about cheaper housing, and thirdly, consequent upon this, presumably, more housing. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, thought that its prime use would be to facilitate positive planning. The noble Lord always produces interesting ideas. Sometimes I wonder why the noble Lord is no longer on the Front Bench, because he often seems to be far ahead of his own Ministers. We believe that this Land Commission will not make houses cheaper, and will not do any of the things it is really setting out to do.
There are one or two points in the White Paper, which we never had the chance to discuss but which I think are rather curious. One deals with the powers of compulsory purchase. It says:… the Commission will be required to seek confirmation of a compulsory purchase order from a Minister when an objection to it is made.In the next paragraph but one it says:a more rapid compulsory purchase procedure in which there will be some modification of the 571 requirements relating to the service of notices and the holding of inquiries into objections.will be brought about. If this means a short-circuiting of democratic procedures, again we shall have to go into this matter in great detail and with great care. I am not at all sure that the people of this country are going to be too pleased if this is the way in which the Government's mind is working. Another sentence in the White Paper says:When land is made available to local authorities or other public bodies normally the freehold will be sold.I know that there is a choice in other forms of disposal, but this is clearly indicative of the fact that it is all right for local authorities or public bodies to have freeholds but not right for private people or private enterprise to do so. There are all sorts of complications in this Land Commission which we believe will need careful discussion. Frankly, I do not think the Land Commission is in the least necessary; and it is going to build up to a quite ghastly bureaucracy, which in about one or two years will beat all records by making itself even more unpopular than the Inland Revenue have become over the last one hundred years.
I pass on from the Land Commission, and come to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Brighton. He made an interesting, long and forceful speech, but there are some things which I cannot allow to be said without making some comment on them. He reminded us on this side of the House that more houses would be completed this year than last year, and he put in parentheses:I hope it will be appreciated on the Benches Opposite."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 270 (No. 5), col. 499, 16/11/65.]It is very much appreciated, my Lords. In fact, this time last year, on a similar occasion, I said that we had left the Labour Government with 431,000 houses under construction when we went out of office, and that we had intended to complete 400,000 houses this year. And I then said that if they failed to do so it would be a disgrace. I am glad to hear that they will build more than we did—though only a few more, apparently; and they are not going to achieve the 400,000 target. I do not think there is a great deal of credit to be had there.
572 The noble Lord also talked at great length about the target of 500,000 houses a year. He did not say when this was going to happen. Of course, we all want to see it. The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, pointed out that we must cut our cloth according to what is available. This was the view of the previous Government. We have always said that we should get our priorities right, and aim eventually at 500,000 houses. I believe that this is the target aimed at by 1970—and a very good thing, too—but the noble Lord did not say so. He spoke as if this were all going to happen to-morrow, and of course it is not.
He pointed out that the building societies have been brought into consultation to carry out this National Plan. I do not mind whether the plan is national or not: the point is whether it is going to work. As yet, we have no knowledge of whether or not it is going to work, and that is what the Labour Government have to prove to the people of this country. The noble Lord said that a friend of his remarked to him that it was the first time the building societies had been consulted on a housing plan, but that is not quite true, because I would remind all noble Lords that we consulted building societies very early, officially and privately, when we set up the new Housing Corporation. We could not have set it up without their undertaking to provide the necessary two-thirds of the finance. In that connection, I hope that, when the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor winds up this debate, he will be able to give us a progress report on the Housing Corporation, because I have a feeling that it should be issuing an annual report fairly soon.
§ LORD COHEN OF BRIGHTON
My Lords, as the noble Lord has referred to my speech, may I intervene to point out that I said that it was the first time the building societies had been called into consultation with the Minister. When the executive left the Minister on that day, one of the members, who had been a member for many years, said to me: "That was the first time"—there may have been correspondence in the past "the building societies have been called officially to the Minister to discuss the question of the housing plan." I am glad to think that it arose under a Labour Government.
§ LORD HASTINGS
I do not want to take away the credit from the Minister in this matter; I merely wished to point out that we had consulted the building societies and got their co-operation on this very important matter of the Housing Corporation; and I hope that we shall have a report of what is going on in that direction, because it is now over a year since the Corporation was set up.
The noble Lord referred to factory building and to the Committee on what we usually call "industrialised system building"—the Committee of which I am delighted to hear he was chairman. I would remind him that a tremendous amount of work has been done in this respect before. The National Building Agency was set up by the Minister of Public Building and Works, and, before that Ministry was created, the Ministry of Housing and Local Government had also been working on this problem in their research department, who, I can assure noble Lords, are of a very high standard. A great deal of progress had been made, and it is all to the good that there should be, if it is considered necessary, a high-powered Committee concentrating solely on this aspect, arising no doubt out of the creation of the National Building Agency in the first place.
In that connection, I have another question to ask and a point to make. We set up a great many consortia of local authorities for the mass ordering of their building requirements. I reminded the House last year that 70 of these local authorities were already formed into such consortia, and 400 others were discussing the possibility. I should like to know what progress has been made in that field and how many of that 400 have been formed into yet further consortia in the year the Labour Government have been in office.
Finally, the point about the National House-Building Registration Council and the coupling of guarantees of sound building with loans from building societies. I think that this idea, particularly the guarantees of sound building, again originated with Sir Keith Joseph and the setting-up of a committee to examine this question. Sir Keith Joseph said that he would be prepared, if necessary, to introduce legislation to that effect. Therefore, all these things that 574 the noble Lord has mentioned, and all the things that have been mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Silkin and Lord Champion—apart, I am thankful to say, from the Land Commission—have all stemmed from previous Conservative policy, and have been laid on Conservative foundation stones. But when we come to examine them we shall hope to build well and truly, cutting out the faulty cement and mortar which the Labour Government may attempt to insert, and smoothing away the rough edges and making a really good job of what, after all, is our policy.
I should mention briefly the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Leatherland, but I am in some difficulty, because he reminded me of a person who was participating in a selective obstacle race. He took the jumps that he found he could get over very easily, and avoided the others which he thought were insurmountable. He used a great many figures, all of which I have used myself in the past: figures on which he fought the last General Election, and the one before that, and the one before that, and the two Labour ones before that. If I could use these figures, I could turn them and twist them in any way I pleased, and use them against him. I do not think there would be any value in doing so now.
His speech ranged between what he himself described, in his own words, in referring to the slums, as "sob-stuff" and another paragraph which on my reading (and I regret that I was not here to listen to his speech) became a rather violent attack on the unfortunate land-owner—yet another example of this peculiar hallucination that only noble Lords sitting on that side of the House are either civilised or humane. I must reject that suggestion entirely, and in rejecting it I feel that I need say no more and can leave it to my noble friend, at the end, to cross the "t's" and dot the "i's", and to make it quite clear that we believe the Labour Government are not only deluding themselves but deluding this country as well.
§ LORD LEATHERLAND
My Lords, the noble Lord has done me the honour of mentioning my speech, and he mentioned that he would be able to twist my figures. Let me please assure the House that that is something to which I myself would never stoop.
§ 3.18 p.m.
§ BARONESS BURTON OF COVENTRY
My Lords, I would apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, although I do not intend to follow him in his speech, for not having been here at the beginning of the debate. As a matter of fact, I was in the Chair at a conference, and had no idea that I had been elevated to so early a place on the list of speakers. The only thing I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, is that I want to jump a couple of difficult hurdles and, if I can, to persuade the Government to jump them with me, because it was something that the previous Government did not feel able to do.
First of all, I should like to say a few words, if I may, about the Parliamentary Commissioner. I should like to say how very pleased I was to see in the gracious Speech that a Bill will be introduced which would appoint a Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, with powers to investigate individual grievances. I should have hoped that this would be uncontroversial legislation in general, although obviously we might differ in details of implementation. I would agree that the title "Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration "is a trifle unwieldy. I would prefer the colloquial (if that is the correct term) "Ombudsman", and I think it is one that has found general acceptance in this country.
But I am wondering, having looked into it in some very slight manner, whether perhaps there is not a point in this title, because it would seem to me, looking at the position in this country, that emphasis on administration is probably necessary. So far as I can gather, we have not any system of administrative law such as the French possess on these particular matters and while, as will be perfectly obvious to the House and certainly to my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, I am no student of the law, I should have thought that a comment in The Times of October 13th last was correct, when they said, speaking of the position in this countryredress through the courts is impeded by technical and procedural snags, by the settled reluctance of the judiciary to be drawn into pronouncing on the merits of administrative disputes, and by the sheer expense of the process.576 I am sure we have all always felt that the last one, the sheer expense of the process, would deter most of us from going to law even if we felt we were in the right.
I believe that a Member of Parliament, with limited administrative resources, cannot match those of Whitehall, and I think he can well find himself baffled by a Government Department with such resources. I do not know what my colleagues here feel, but during my ten years in another place I found Government Departments helpful. Indeed, I found them on the whole to be most helpful, quite irrespective, as we would expect, of which Government was in power. I think they went to an enormous lot of trouble to try to help Members of Parliament, but wherever this was not the case—and there can occasionally be such cases—an Ombudsman would strengthen the powers of Members of Parliament to protect individuals. I would accept the position, for the time being anyway, that any such complaints must reach the Commissioner through a Member of Parliament, which I know excludes Members of your Lordships' House.
§ BARONESS BURTON OF COVENTRY
My Lords, I quite accept the correction, but as I understand it Members of the House of Commons are the only people through whom a complaint may be directed to the Commissioner.
§ BARONESS BURTON OF COVENTRY
Well, perhaps some noble Lord will interrupt me when he finds I am wrong, but I think that is the position and I will give way if somebody reads it and finds I am not right.
My Lords, what I have never been able to discover, and I do not know whether any Member of this House—perhaps the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor—could tell us, is the source of the story which is going around, that if we take New Zealand as an example we may expect some 14,000 complaints 577 annually. I have no idea of the number of complaints we may expect, but I cannot find any source for this story. In his last report, made to the New Zealand Parliament by Sir Guy Powles, the Ombudsman, early this year, it is stated that in the period covering eighteen months 1,100 complaints were lodged, 760 of them in the last year. I cannot make 14,000 out of 760.
It seems to me that even more important than the extent of the power wielded is the person who will be appointed as our Ombudsman. Quite obviously, this Commissioner, or Ombudsman, must command the highest respect from Parliament, from the Civil Service and the general public alike. I think that to do his job well he will need co-operation from all of these. Equally, of course, this paragon will not only have to be held in high respect by all those three estates, if I may call them that, but he will have to have a knowledge of how all three work. I think this is quite essential.
When this White Paper was published in October last I felt that here was at least a chance to experiment. It seemed to me, looking at what was in the White Paper, that the details had not been drawn too tightly, and that the proposed scheme would give us an opportunity of changing or developing in the light of what happened. Here I should like to leave one thought for possible consideration; and I shall be glad to know what the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor feels about this. I certainly want an Ombudsman, or a Commissioner, but I would ask my noble and learned friend: do we want one at local level, either as well as, or instead of, at national level? We may find, of course, in the way we do things in this country, in what I think is so irritating to foreigners—what we describe as our "middle of the road" way—that the Commissioner will deal with matters not only at national but at local level as well. However, I should like to know what progressive local authorities are likely to feel about this.
Your Lordships will be aware that in recent months progressive local authorities have been making entirely new types of appointment. I refer, for example, to the city manager. I should like to know whether those who are expert in local 578 authority matters, including possibly some among your Lordships, feel it will not be too long before the local Ombudsman joins the local city manager.
Having said that, I would come on to merchandise marks. I listened very carefully and enjoyed, as the rest of the House did, the speech of my noble friend Lord Addison when he seconded the Address in reply to the gracious Speech, and I read with great interest what my noble friend Lord Champion had to say yesterday on this matter. It occurred to me when Lord Addison was speaking that, quite obviously—as I think he himself would be the first to admit, consumer affairs are not necessarily a prime consideration of his—he had secured expert information on this matter from the Government, and therefore I am taking what my noble friend said as being indicative of Government feeling, and indeed I think this was borne out by my noble friend Lord Champion yesterday.
In speaking of consumer proposals, Lord Addison said that legislationis likely to go beyond the Molony Committee proposals in certain important respects".—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Vol. 270 (No. 1), col. 14, 9/11/65.]Of course, anything that will strengthen the law on misleading trade descriptions this House would quite obviously say was to be greatly welcomed, but I do not see my job here to-day purely as being pleasant—at least I hope I shall not be unpleasant—and I would go on from having been pleasant and approving to suggest to the Government that, in the respects in which they going beyond Molony, I disagree with them and think they are wrong, and in the respect where they are not going beyond Molony I think they should. But I promise to be brief on these matters.
§ BARONESS BURTON OF COVENTRY
The noble Earl the Leader of the House says it is difficult: I hope he does not mean that about my being brief. I really will try, my Lords.
In the first place, I want to refer to oral misdescription. I realise, of course, that the debate to-day is not the time to go into detail; we shall have an opportunity for this on the Committee stage of the Bill. But I do want to make some remarks on these two points in general. 579 I think I am right in these consumer matters, but when I say that, I always go back to the noble Lord, Lord Cones-ford, who I see is not in his place at the moment but who in another place had the job of dealing with me when I was very troublesome, I am sure, on various matters relating to the Board of Trade when he was the Parliamentary Secretary. I remember on one occasion when Mr. Strauss, as he then was, had borne with me for as long as he possibly could—he is an exceedingly polite individual—and when I said, "I am sure I am right", he got up and said, "I never knew the honourable Lady when she was not sure she was right". I make these remarks with some humility, bearing that in mind.
Now I am back to oral misdescription. It it quite explicitly stated in Government speeches in this Parliament that they intend to make oral as well as written misrepresentation an offence. I think this would be marvellous, if you could do it. The Molony Committee, at paragraph 600, took it as settled law that a description wholly by word of mouth did not fall within the definition of a false trade description as stated in the Acts, although nowhere was it stated that application is confined to written application.
I have not looked it up, but I think I am right; I believe that in their evidence to the Molony Committee the Trades Union Congress, probably among others, put forward in written evidence the suggestion that oral misdescription should be an offence and should be dealt with legally. Quite honestly I do not believe this is feasible. I did not believe it then; I do not believe it now. And although I have the very greatest respect for my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, it would require all his erudition to convince me that it is feasible. Whose word is going to be taken on this? It is all right if you have five or six witnesses listening, but anybody who has dealt with problems of consumer matters knows that the snag is you do not have witnesses and it is a case of somebody's word against another's. I think this is not going to work.
For the purpose of the Record, I should like to read paragraph 658 of the Molony Report, because I think this will show 580 I am not just saying this is a problem that does not exist or one we can ignore when in fact it is very real. That paragraph says:The most fundamental proposal canvassed in relation to what constitutes the 'application' of a trade description was that oral misdescription should be brought within the Act. This proposal merited close consideration because we do not doubt that oral misdescription is widespread. Some of it is merely careless, much of it is reckless, and a proportion consciously dishonest. We have equally little doubt that the consumer is frequently misled in this fashion as to the qualities of the goods bought and encounters difficulty in getting any form of redress. The Weights and Measures and Food and Drugs legislation and, additionally, the Fabrics (Misdescription) Act, 1913, do not hesitate to put the shopkeeper at risk for oral statements. On the whole, however, the utterances giving rise to complaint under these Acts are simpler and not so open to factual dispute as under Merchandise Marks law.I am not saying this problem does not exist; I think it does. But I think we bring the law and ourselves into contempt if we set out to do something impossible to achieve.
When I saw this T.U.C. evidence long before Molony reported, I think they probably thought I was being rather tiresome but I did not agree with it and said so on these grounds—I just could not see how it would work. Surely a better understanding of the law may lead consumers to ask for written confirmation of material points in the information given about the goods. The Molony Report reminded us that there is a substantial safeguard here in that inspectors can obtain written confirmation of the oral misdescription of a test purchase made after a shopper's complaint. I would make a plea in this House, and I think all sides of the House will agree with me: Do let us educate all of us shoppers rather than legislate on what cannot be enforced.
I have chided my own Government for doing something I do not think is feasible. Now I want to chide them for not doing something which I think is feasible, although they may not. We come to the question of guarantees. On general matters like this, I have a very great respect for the ordinary lay opinion of people like your Lordships and myself—in fact all consumers—and I think at times we who do the shopping (I am separating us from the legal experts) feel strongly that something should be 581 dealt with. If this feeling is widespread, then it is up to the Government of the day to decide how best to do it. I venture to suggest to your Lordships that this matter of guarantees should be dealt with. Nobody is going to convince me that it is beyond my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack—I keep referring to him, but I want to get something out of him on both these particular matters—to frame such regulations, if he thinks they are necessary; and I should like to convince him they are.
In this House in November, 1962, we had a debate on Molony. During that debate, obviously the question of guarantees came up. I am not proposing to weary the House with what everybody said on that occasion. However, I remember saying to the House that, having studied what Molony had to say on this matter, I felt the Committee had condemned guarantees as then existing in as strong words as any of us in this House could have used. They said in effect—and, although I am generalising, I think it is fair—that a good many of the guarantees were not worth the paper they were written on; not only that, but they took away from the customers' rights at Common Law and they were completely misleading. That was splendid. What I took exception to was the fact that the Molony Committee after that went on, at Recommendation 90, to say:The difficulties and demerits of any system of control requiring registration or approval would outweigh the benefits.They followed that, at Recommendation 91, by saying:In view of the potential value of guarantees for the consumer the proper course is for manufacturers to amend their terms so as to match legitimate consumer expectations.I was very scornful about that; I thought it was a lot of well-wishing that meant nothing. I did not think that was worth the paper it was written on.
In common with your Lordships, at the time Molony came out in 1962, obviously we all had conversations with all sorts of people, and the people with whom I talked—consumers, shoppers, I think, responsible people—took the view that this really had reflected trade opinions; I am not saying that Molony was unfairly influenced, but trade influence saying that this could not be done seemed to be taken strongly into account. I 582 am not myself competent to say whether it was trade influence or not, but I think something has got to be done now. I am wondering whether the noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor would feel able to comment on a suggestion that all guarantees should be registered and approved by the Board of Trade. I am perfectly prepared to be told that this raises difficulties, but I have made one suggestion and I am hoping that perhaps others will make alternative ones.
This morning I was in the chair at a conference of the Institute of British Launderers and Cleaners and the question of guarantees came up. I should like to read to the House what I certainly did not know I was going to get, the Good Laundering Guarantee. All of us, perhaps, have difficulties with laundries and dry cleaners from time to time—not always the laundries' fault, but we feel very often it is. I will read this guarantee to see what the House thinks. It is headed "Good Laundering Guarantee":We accept full responsibility for every article entrusted to our care. We undertake to re-process, free of charge, any article considered unsatisfactory, and to compensate fairly in any case of loss or damage.That is the guarantee recommended by the Institute of British Launderers and Cleaners to all its members. On seeing that this morning, it struck me that it is the type of guarantee that one can understand and that means what it says. I should like this Government to consider whether we cannot demand that, before guarantees are issued to customers for any merchandise whatsoever, they should be registered and approved by the Board of Trade. I think it is quite wrong to leave them in the position in which they are to-day.
I really have been brief. For me, I have been very brief. But in another place, in common with other Members on both sides, I spent years on the Merchandise Marks Acts. I think we have a considerable measure of agreement, and I do not think it is necessary to say that anything that I can contribute towards more informative and better labelling will be done very gladly. But I do not want to attempt something that will bring the law into contempt—I do not think any of us does. Legislation which cannot be enforced is, I think, 583 worse than no legislation at all; I am quite convinced of that.
I am not sure what noble Lords here feel about that. Looking back into the past, I am quite convinced that the trouble was not only, indeed I doubt if it was mainly, that these Acts were inadequate, but that they were not enforced. This has been one of the great problems. It has been my cry against the Party opposite for a great many years (I am quite sure they will disagree with me on this) that they were not really in earnest about these particular things. They can get up and quote a list to me. But, while not being offensive, I think this is the difference in our philosophy. I know perfectly well that certain things were done by noble Lords opposite. I know that we had the Hire-Purchase Act. But that was not a fundamental Act; it never got down to the fundamentals of the problem. We had the Resale Prices Act, concerned with restriction of prices. In my submission, this would have been worth a great deal more if resale price maintenance had been removed as from a certain date and traders enabled to make application for it to be restored, instead of it lasting until the case had been heard—perhaps two or three years. I think there is a fundamental difference of approach on this.
I thought it might be different this afternoon with the present Government, believing that they care about these things; and I am hoping that, when the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack comes to reply, he may perhaps find something to say on this matter of oral misdescription to convince me that I am wrong, or, if I am not wrong, say that he will look into it. But more than that, on this question of guarantees I want to assure him, (although I do not think he needs such an assurance) that it is something which causes great hardship to shoppers of every type who have come to rely on these guarantees, which are not effective. I should like this Government to do something about it. I hope that they will not think me too troublesome. I hope that, under the present Government, we shall get much further on this matter of consumer protection.