§ 5.52 p.m.
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE rose to move, That the draft Unsolicited Goods and Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1975, laid before the House on 2nd December, be approved. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it may be of interest to your Lordships to be reminded of the history of this Order with which I was very much concerned. The equivalent legislation in Great Britain was first introduced as a Private Member's Bill at Westminster by Mr. Arthur Davidson. It was called the Inertia Selling Bill. Although I got this Bill as far as your Lordships' House, unfortunately it fell at the Dissolution of Parliament in 1970. A Bill with similar objectives was then introduced by Mr. Philip Good hart in November 1970.
§ A number of significant Amendments were made by your Lordships and these were all accepted in another place. The Bill subsequently became law as the Unsolicited Goods and Services Act 1971. The purpose of the Order is to bring the law in Northern Ireland into line with that provided in Great Britain by that Act and the subsequent Unsolicited Goods and Services (Amendment) Act 1975. The Order will permit recipients of unsolicited goods to treat them as unconditional gifts if the sender does not recover the goods within 6 months or within 30 days of receiving a notice from the recipient. At present persons receiving unsolicited goods either have to return them at their own expense or retain them, taking care of them until they are collected by the sender. The Order provides that a sender of unsolicited goods who demands payment for such goods will be liable to a fine of up to £200. Moreover, if the sender threatens to bring legal proceedings against the recipient or to place him on a debtor's list he will be liable to a fine of up to £400.77
§ The Order also deals with entries in trade directories. In future only persons placing an order in writing in a prescribed form will be liable for payment. A person pursuing payment, where these conditions have not been fulfilled, will be liable in summary conviction to a fine of up to £400 or on indictment to an unlimited fine. The scale of fines is justified because it has been estimated that some organisations may have made up to a quarter of a million pounds from operations of this kind.
§ The Order will enable regulations to be made requiring invoices and other documents used in trade directory transactions to display disclaimers which are so prominent that they cannot be overlooked. The Order also makes it an offence to send unsolicited books and magazines illustrating human sexual techniques or unsolicited advertising material for such publications—a practice which can cause considerable embarrassment. This type of offence will be punishable by a fine of up to £100 for a first offence and up to £400 for subsequent offences and prosecutions will only be undertaken by the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland or with his consent. This Order will provide the Northern Ireland public with the protection already enjoyed by citizens in the rest of the United Kingdom, and deter unscrupulous operators from using Northern Ireland as a trading base for the Great Britain market.
§ Moved, That the draft Unsolicited Goods and Services (Northern Ireland) Order 1975, laid before the House on 2nd December, be approved.—(Lord Donaldson of Kingsbridge.)
§ Lord BELSTEAD
My Lords, I support the purpose of this Order. Article 3 puts a stop to the sending of entirely unwanted goods which may leave the recipient undecided as to what course of action to take. The noble Lord, who was closely involved in the early legislation, must welcome the fact that the Government which he serves are doing this and I wish to make it clear that I, too, welcome it strongly. Article 5 refers to directory entries. I think that I am right in saying that this re-enacts in broad terms the Unsolicited Goods and Services Amendment Bill presented to this House by my noble friend Lord Drumalbyn 78 last March which received general support as, I hope, will this Order today.
The noble Lord referred to the regulations which are needed by Articles 3 and 5. These regulations will be made under Article 6. Can the noble Lord give an assurance to the House that those regulations are going to be drafted with the utmost possible speed so that this Order can be implemented as soon as possible?
§ Lord DONALDSON of KINGS-BRIDGE
My Lords, I am grateful for the noble Lord's support. I cannot give an undertaking but I will press that this is the case. I have no doubt that it is everybody's intention and I will make it my business to see that the intention is carried out.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.