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Hire-Purchase Debt (Prisoners)

Volume 648: debated on Thursday 9 November 1961

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many people are now in prison as a result of debts incurred through hire-purchase agreements and their inability to pay the instalments; whether he is aware that this is becoming a national problem and creating overcrowding in prisons; and if he will hold an inquiry into the operations and methods of sale of the hire-purchase system.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department
(Mr. Charles Fletcher-Cooke)

It is estimated that on 3rd November, 1961, there were 84 civil prisoners in English and Welsh prisons who had been committed for failure to pay instalments due under a hire-purchase agreement. This figure, which has not greatly increased during the last twelve months, represents a very small part of a total prison population of over 24,000.

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that there are many unscrupulous canvassers who have an almost magnetic influence in persuading housewives against their judgment to purchase things they do not want? Can he do something to introduce legislation to deal with people of that character?

This is a matter for my right hon. Friend the President of the Board of Trade. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is only the gaoler in this matter.

Is the hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the figures which he has given are not the true figures in this respect, since there are many cases of fraud arising out of hire-purchase agreements? Is he aware that this is a very serious problem, particularly with women who fall for blandishments of some of the slick salesmen at the door? Is he further aware that when I have visited women's prisons I have found the women prison officers very much perturbed about this problem?

Certainly the hire-purchase ethos has many ramifications, but of the 84 civil prisoners imprisoned for failure to pay hire-purchase debts, only two are women.

Does not my hon. and learned Friend agree that in this connection no one is sent to prison unless he refuses to pay under a court order and it is proved that he has the means to pay?