HL Deb 16 March 1967 vol 281 cc422-4

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government when they will introduce the Protection of Consumers (Trade Descriptions) Bill.]


My Lords, I have nothing to add to the statement made by my noble friend Lord Rhodes on October 20 last, when he informed your Lordships that my right honourable friend the President of the Board of Trade intends to introduce this legislation as soon as Parliamentary time permits.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his reply, which is very disappointing. I had hoped that Parliamentary time—



— would have enabled him to answer my Question a little further. There is another new aspect. Does the noble Lord know that, while the abolition of resale price maintenance is in general of great benefit to consumers, one unfavourable aspect has been the great increase in the practice of marking down, or double marking, and that many retailers and manufacturers are anxious for this to stop? The only way to achieve this is by a Bill. Is it not possible, in view of the urgency of many matters in connection with this, that we could hear something more encouraging about Parliamentary time?


My Lords, I am sorry that I cannot he more encouraging than I have been in my Answer to the noble Lady, but I can assure her that the Government are quite aware of the need for this legislation. Although this may appear to be a stalling reply, it is an honest reply, and the hopes and intentions are to introduce this legislation as soon as Parliamentary time permits, which I hope will be, if not soon enough entirely to satisfy the noble Lady, at least soon enough to forestall her from coming back more often on this question.


My Lords, is my noble friend aware, and are my Front Bench aware, that we really do find it rather irritating that this is treated as an amusing matter? Is the House aware that I am really speaking to my noble friend the Chief Whip? Is the noble Lord aware that many of us, I think on all sides of the House and outside, are concerned about this matter and deeply disturbed that, whatever Government is in power, we never can get a definite answer to this sort of question? Is the noble Lord further aware that it is just not good enough to get up and tell the House that this will be done when Parliamentary time permits? We have had this so many times in the past, and we should like a definite answer on this occasion.


My Lords, I am sure my noble friend appreciates that it is impossible for me to anticipate the legislative programme before it is actually arranged and published. I would remind my noble friend that in fact legislation was introduced not so long ago, and unfortunately it fell by the wayside because of the last General Election. So it is not quite accurate to say that this is something which has been pressed on successive Governments without any result.


My Lords, there must presumably be some forward planning of these matters. Can the noble Lord therefore say whether this Bill will or will not be introduced during this Session? If not this Session, can it be introduced early next Session?


My Lords, before I reply to the noble Lord, if I may I should like to congratulate him on asking his first question from the exalted position which he occupies, and I am sure will continue to occupy, with such distinction.

I can give no promise as to when this legislation will be introduced. All I can say is that the Government are conscious of the need for this, as was evidenced by the fact that it was in fact introduced some 15 months ago. So there is no reason to accuse the Government of treating this matter lightly and as something which can always be pushed to one side. It will be given a high degree of priority.


My Lords, may I thank the noble Lord for his courtesy.


My Lords, would my noble friend agree that there is a considerable and increasing volume of opinion that is favourable to the early introduction of this Bill, both on the part of the trade and of the consuming public?


My Lords, I am well aware of that fact, and it will undoubtedly play a large part in the allocation of time for consideration of the Bill.


My Lords, may I ask the Government whether they are using this long interval to try to get a Bill which will be better drafted than the one presented to the House in the last Parliament?


My Lords, I can assure my noble friend that when the Bill eventually appears—and when I say "eventually" that does not mean that I expect it to be a long time—it will undoubtedly benefit from the experience and views of all those who have interested themselves in its passage.