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Disposal Of Uncollected Goods

Volume 496: debated on Wednesday 20 February 1952

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3.42 p.m.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to authorise the disposal of goods left with shopkeepers for repair or other treatment but not collected; and for purposes connected therewith.
Until the matter was brought to my attention by the secretary of the Coventry Boot Trade Association, I had no idea that so many people left behind so many things. If we take the footwear industry to start with, the National Association state that their members today have at least 450,000 pairs of uncollected repairs on their shelves, and they estimate that these are worth at least £166,000 in labour and materials. Examples could be taken from all over the country. Last year there was a shop at Southend which had three sacks of uncollected repairs estimated at £400. In my own city, Coventry, today 24 traders are owed amounts varying from 25s. 6d. to £35, with an average of £13 11s. 2d. and a top figure of £100.

Various reasons are given for this non-collection of goods. Quite recently, a customer did not return for her child's shoes because the child had grown out of them. Going back a good deal further, some 23 years ago a shoe repairer in Rochdale had a pair of button boots brought in for repair and the unfortunate man still has them. The footwear repairing industry has always worked on a low margin of profit. It is essential therefore, that repairers should be paid for their work immediately. Today many small traders are running into debt because they have to purchase quantities of material and they are owed this money from customers who have not collected their goods.

During the past two months I have made it my business to go into various small shops and I have not found one boot repairing shop where the repairer had not uncollected repairs on his shelves.

This matter is not one that affects the footwear industry alone. Practically every jeweller in the country is faced with the problem of uncollected repairs. The National Association of Goldsmiths state that the position is that, as a bailee for reward, the retail jeweller is not entitled to sell goods left with him on trust. Indeed, only the other week a well-known watch and clock firm in London had a customer who came for a clock which it had held for 21 years. People leave tennis rackets behind after restringing, holiday makers' clothes are left uncollected and unpaid for at cleaners at holiday resorts long after the holidays are over, electric irons and radio sets are repaired in all good faith for the customer who just does not come back.

This Bill is an effort to remedy a position which is unfair to the trader. It is a general Bill, covering all repairers, supported by many trade associations and opposed by none, to our knowledge; it is a non-party Bill and is sponsored by both sides of the House. Legally, the position seems to be that where goods are left by a customer for repair, in the absence of any agreement to the contrary the property in those goods does not become the property of the repairer. Any attempt to dispose of the goods or to convert them to the repairer's own use would seem to be an unlawful act.

I know, of course, as do other hon. Members, that some traders print conditions on the back of receipts—conditions under which they are prepared to accept things for repair; but the general consensus of traders' opinion, and certainly of all the legal opinion which we have taken, is that those conditions are not enforceable as a result of their being printed. I have tried to find out the position from various trade associations. Each and all have informed me that their members are under no delusion and realise that if they dispose of goods after the expiration of the time limit on the back of those receipts, they are not immune from legal action.

Pawnbrokers, of course, can dispose of uncollected pledges. They are covered by the Pawnbrokers Acts of 1872 and 1922. Pledges of 10s. and under, if not redeemed within 12 months and seven days from the date of pledging, become the property of the pawnbroker. Pledges of 10s. and over, if not redeemed within 12 months and seven days of the date of pledging, may be sold by public auction by the pawnbroker. The House may be interested to know that within three years of the date of a sale the pawner may, on demand and on payment of a penny, see the books of the pawnbroker and receive any surplus produced by the sale.

The trade associations and the sponsors of the Bill have made every effort to safeguard both the trader and the customer. No goods may be sold under 12 months, and before they could be sold the repairer would have first to inform the customer that the goods were ready, and secondly, 12 months from that date, would have to inform the customer that the goods would be sold to defray the cost of the repair. It is suggested that the second communication should be by registered post as proof of postage. Records would be kept and the customer would be able to claim from the shopkeeper any surplus resulting from the sale. Equally, the shopkeeper would be able to claim from the customer any deficit resulting from the sale. I think this is fair. We have tried to make it so, and I hope the House will give leave for the Bill to be introduced.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. G. Lindgren, Sir Lynn Ungoed-Thomas, Mr. Robert Crouch, Mr. George Odey, Mr. Derek Walker-Smith and Miss Elaine Burton.

Disposal Of Uncollected Goods Bill

"to authorise the disposal of goods left with shopkeepers for repair or other treatment but not collected; and for purposes connected therewith," presented accordingly, and read the First time; to be read a Second time upon Friday, 29th February, and to be printed. [Bill 56.]