HL Deb 03 May 1971 vol 318 cc98-104

7.33 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Report be now received.

Moved, That the Report be now received.—(Baroness Elliot of Harwood.)

Clause 1 [Rights of recipient of unsolicited goods]:

LORD BEAUMONT OF WHITLEY moved Amendment No. 1:

Page 2, line 12, at end insert— ("(5) Paragraph (a) of subsection (2) of this section shall not apply if the sender can show that within the period therein stated the recipient has been served with a separate notice requesting him at the sender's expense to inform the sender whether or not the recipient ordered the goods and the recipient has not so informed the sender.")

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the first Amendment standing in my name. Noble Lords who are interested in this Bill may remember that at the last stage of the Bill I spoke in support of an Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale. It became evident in the course of that debate that the Amendment as then framed by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, was not quite comprehensive enough, and that certain amendments needed to be made to it to meet quite genuine objections which had been brought forward during the Committee stage. At the same time, I was not at all happy to find myself, on a matter of consumer principle, speaking on a different side of the debate from the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood, the noble Lord, Lord Donaldson, and other supporters of the consumer cause, because I myself had always until then counted myself—and, indeed, I still do—on that side. But on taking away and reading the debate, and after consulting with various people, I still came to the conclusion that we had not really had a satisfactory answer to the points of substance put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, and, to a lesser degree, by myself. I therefore put down this Amendment, which is a more complicated and more complex Amendment and which meets some of the points that were raised. I also prepared, and have in reserve, an even more complicated and complex Amendment which I was prepared to put before your Lordships on Third Reading, if necessary, to meet some other points which had been raised with me in private conversation and in various discussions on the Bill.

The argument behind this Amendment and behind the Amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, at Committee stage is that in fact to a degree unexpected by its proponents this Bill opens the door to an increase in fraud on mail order companies; and I am still convinced that, although the legal machinery is adequate for dealing with cases of fraud, nevertheless an Amendment to this Bill rather along the lines of that I have put forward, to make it quite clear to prospective committers of fraud that the way is not clear for them and that this Bill does not provide them with an open door to fraud, would be a great advantage, or would certainly be an advantage of some kind. I have, through the courtesy of the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot, and other Members of your Lordships' House, had a very full discussion of this point with a number of people concerned—those who have been putting forward this Bill over quite a long time, and those who have been concerned to amend it. In the result, although I do not move from my position that I think the Amendment as put forward would be an advantage to the Bill, I must take into account the fact that a great number of people, and not only the proponents themselves, have come to the conclusion that if an Amendment such as I have put down, or the even more complicated one which I have in reserve for Third Reading, were to be added to the Bill, it would in fact detract considerably from the clearness of expression of what the Bill aims to achieve, and which it will to a certain extent achieve (and I certainly take this point) merely by being in existence rather more than by enforcement.

I apologise to your Lordships for detaining the House, but I thought your Lordships were entitled to an explanation of my actions. I also thought it was worthwhile publicly to say to the proponents of this Bill that I hope they will take seriously some of the points put forward when dealing with and thinking about other matters in this field. It is my intention, having made this statement, to ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw this Amendment, and not to move the second Amendment standing in my name. Having moved it, however, it is obviously up to any noble Lord who wishes to comment to do so. I merely say I hope that we may not detain your Lordships any longer, and as soon any anyone who feels they must speak has spoken. I will ask your Lordships' leave to withdraw the Amendment.


My Lords, I think we must get ourselves in order. Does the noble Lord beg to move? He has not yet done so.


I was under the impression, my Lords, that I had done so at the beginning of my speech; but I do beg to move, yes.


My Lords, I rise merely to make the point that noble Lords on these Benches find these Amendments repugnant simply because they place in the hands of recipients of goods duties which should not be placed there. It is up to the senders of goods to look after themselves if they are so foolish as to have got themselves into a position where their past practices make it possible for people to perpetrate cheats upon them. I will not delay the House any longer: I merely say that I am gratified to hear that the noble Lord is going to withdraw these Amendments.


In asking your Lordships' permission to withdraw, I must say that I think the noble Lord. Lord Brown, has greatly over-simplified a tremendously complicated point. But I beg leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clase 3 [Directory entries]:

7.40 p.m.

BARONESS ELLIOT OF HARWOOD moved Amendment No. 3: Page 2, line 35, leave out from ("behalf") to ("before") in line 37, and insert ("an order complying with this section or a note complying with this section of his agreement to the charge and, in the case of a note of agreement to the charge").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, during the Second Reading debate noble Lords will recall that the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, moved certain Amendments to Clause 3, which deals with directory entries, the purpose of his Amendments being to ease the stringent demands of that clause in order to meet the needs of legitimate directory publishers who would otherwise be in some difficulties in the way of running their businesses if the clause were left unamended. There were certain deficiencies in the drafting of his Amendments, although everyone supported the spirit of them. I agreed to look at them again and to discuss the matter further. At that point, the noble Lord withdrew his Amendments. With the help of legal advisers I have drafted Clause 3 and with the permission of the House, as all the Amendments refer to the clause in toto, I should like to discuss all four of them.

Clause 3 of this Bill is aimed at putting to an end the activities of bogus directory publishers, who have, so we are told, made millions of pounds by extracting money by subterfuge from mainly small tradesmen for worthless entries in trade directories which do not exist, or are useless. There are many ways in which they operate, and I would not trouble the house with the details. Suffice it to say that the Bill deals with the evil of bogus directories by requiring details about the directory, and the cost of having an entry in it, to be disclosed to a person whose name is to appear in it, in advance, and by requiring that person to sign an order form, before he can be asked to pay anything for having his name in a directory. That is the way this clause works. But it has been pointed out that this gives rise to a difficulty for the publishers of legitimate trade directories, such as Kelly's, the Yellow Pages of the telephone directory, and such like. If they have to get a signed order for every entry in every case, they will have to go through the rigmarole laid down in this clause in every case, otherwise it would be illegal to ask for the cost of having an entry in their directory.

In the general run of cases they do not mind about this; that is to say, in those cases where they go to the small trader and ask him whether he would like to have his name in their directory, they perfectly accept the necessity there of going through the requirements laid down in this clause. The cases, however, which these Amendments I have put down are designed to cover are these. Where a man, say a builder, or an electrician, or the proprietor of a restaurant, takes the initiative himself and writes to a directory publisher—off his own bat, so to speak—asking to have his name included, it is suggested that it would be absurd to require that the directory publisher—and here, let me remind the House, we are thinking of the respectable directories, and not the bogus ones—to write back to the man who has already placed an order without being asked, and to require him to fill in a formal order complying with the stringent demands of this clause. In most cases, the builder, the electrician or the restaurateur, or whoever it is, would be very annoyed, having already placed his order for the directory entry, to have to confirm it in this formal way. Many of them will perhaps refuse to sign a complicated looking form in such cases, and would regard it as an annoyance.

These Amendments therefore allow an alternative way of placing a directory order. The essence of this alternative is described in Amendment No. 6, which adds several lines to the beginning of subsection (3) of Clause 3. Your Lordships will observe that what is to be allowed is an order for a directory entry: … made by means of an order form or other stationery belonging to the person to whom, or to whose trade or business, the entry is to relate and bearing, in print,"— these are the important words, my Lords— the name and address (or one or more of the addresses) of that person". So you will see that if the small trader writes a letter on his own printed note-paper and in that letter he places an order for a directory entry, that will suffice. That is the essence of what these Amendments achieve.

Noble Lords may wonder why we require that the order should have to be on printed notepaper. The answer is that we had to draw the line somewhere, and we consider that this is a suitable place to draw it. It will cover the majority of cases of those who place an order for a directory entry on their own accord. It will not cover a case where the small builder writes in on an ordinary piece of notepaper, with no printing on it. And I will not pretend that it will cover every situation or difficulty that the legitimate trade directory publishers may have to face. The Advertising Association, who were responsible for bringing to light the harshness of the provisions of this clause so far as the responsible directory publishers are concerned, and who sought the assistance of the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, at the Committee stage of this Bill to ameliorate the demands of the Bill, are, I am assured, content with this compromise, and those of us who have been involved in promoting this Bill are content also, content in the sense that we do not feel that by easing the stringent demands of this clause we have allowed a loophole to be created, which might be exploited by the bogus directory racketeers. We did, in fact, have some little anxiety at first that the effect of these Amendments might be to make things too easy for those bogus operators this clause is designed to drive out of business. Now, however, we are satisfied that this will not happen. I beg to move.


My Lords, we on this side of the House have admired the noble Baroness's continued support of measures which seek to protect the consumer. We believe that the Amendments now proposed will very satisfactorily tidy up the original clause of the Bill and are happy to support them.


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 4.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 41, leave out from second ("of") to ("be") in line 42, and insert ("an order or note of agreement to the charge complying with this section").—(Baroness Elliot of Harwood.)


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 5.

Amendment moved— Page 2, line 46, after ("that") insert ("the entry to which the charge relates, was ordered in accordance with this section or").—(Baroness Elliot of Harwood.)


My Lords, I beg to move Amendment No. 6.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 1, at beginning insert ("for the purposes of subsection (1) above, an order for an entry in a directory must be made by means of an order form or other stationery belonging to the person to whom, or to whose trade or business, the entry is to relate and bearing, in print, the name and address (or one or more of the addresses) of that person; and").—(Baroness Elliot of Harwood.)

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