asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if, following representations made to him by the hon. Member for Croydon, South, he will seek to amend the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, so as to enable magistrates' courts to award compensation.
I would refer my hon. Friend to the answer I gave the hon. Member for Cornwall, North (Mr. Pardoe) on 15th November.—[Vol. 826, c. 20–21.]
Is my hon. Friend aware that I heard that answer and found it profoundly unsatisfactory? Would not he agree that one of the objects of the Act was to protect the consumer? That being so, would it not help the consumer if magistrates could award compensation in appropriate cases? Would he not also agree that an amendment of the law would also help the Government's professed intention to help the victim at the expense of the culprit? Finally, would he agree with me that people who suffer because they accept at face value representations about things subsequently found to be false ought to be compensated without having to go to the expense and frustration of civil proceedings?
I said that we would review this point when reviewing the working of the Act. I equally told the House on that occasion that if a trader was convicted under the Act he would be well advised to pay compensation voluntarily, because he would not have much chance of succeeding in a civil court in an action brought against him. That goes a long way to making sure that compensation will be available where it is due.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Act loses most of its validity and a great deal of its strength if he merely throws the victim of someone who has infringed it back on the civil courts? It becomes a reality only if the victim of the misdemeanour is compensated within the terms of the Act itself.
The hon. Gentleman must not forget the heavy deterrent effect of being convicted of a criminal offence under the Act and of the heavy fines which can and have been assessed on the convicted. That in itself is a major protection to the consumer.
Will my hon. Friend, when reviewing the matter in response to the Question of my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, South (Sir R. Thompson), bear in mind that, even with legal aid, civil proceedings may be costly and will certainly involve delay? Is not that a fact which should lead to the adoption, if at all practical, of my hon. Friend's suggestion?
Given the provisions of the Misrepresentation Act, 1967, and the Civil Evidence Act, 1968, it is almost certain that a trader would have to pay compensation and, therefore, civil proceedings should be obviated by voluntary payments.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there is a Criminal Justice Bill before Parliament which seeks to enlarge the area of compensation for those who are affected by crime? Will he not therefore organise his review immediately so that this suggestion can be incorporated in the Bill?
I have no doubt that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, who is in charge of that Bill, will have noted what the hon. and learned Gentleman has said.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what reply he has sent to the Scottish Knitwear Council further to its letter to him of 9th November dealing with Section 8 of the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968.
A meeting has been held when representatives of the council discussed the possible need for stronger general safeguards against the consumer being misled into believing that imported goods are British.
Would not the hon. Gentleman agree that what the Scottish Knitwear Council is after is a measure of fair trading and proper identification in the labelling of goods? Is he further aware that many consumers are being swindled by companies selling goods on the basis that they are genuine Scottish knitwear products? Will he give careful consideration to this swindle to which our consumers are being subjected?
I have a copy of the letter from the Scottish Knitwear Council before me. As I understand it, all the points it makes will be met by the Bill which my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-East (Mr. Peel) intends to bring into the House.
Will my hon. Friend agree that this question extends far beyond the issue of the Scottish Knitwear Council into the province of textiles and footwear?
It seems to me that it applies to all goods, that it should be impossible to deceive the consumer as to the origin of the goods and that legislation in this matter should apply to all goods and not to any particular category.