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.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what new plans he has for increasing public investment in the regions.
Since the hon. Member tabled this Question my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced many helpful new measures on 23rd November, 1971.
Does not the hon. Gentleman recognise the great contradiction between the statement of the Chancellor last week and the determination, as pronounced in the White Paper of October, 1970, to cut public expendi- ture? When will the Chancellor's belated announcement last week about increasing public investment in the regions have its effect on the unemployment figures?
I do not acknowledge a contradiction for the very good reason that the timing is quite different. One has to be cautious in making forecasts as to the effect of my right hon. Friend's announcement, but I would expect that it would be certainly within the next six months.
Will my hon. Friend accept that already in the North, I am glad to say, some commitments by local authorities have already been brought forward and that I am grateful for this? At the same time, will he convey to the Secretary of State for Social Services and the Secretary of State for Education and Science that I am looking forward to some very good announcements from them for speedier procedures to meet commitments which could be brought forward? I am looking forward with keen anxiety to hearing good news in this connection.
I am always grateful for my hon. Friend's gratitude and I will convey her feelings to my right hon. Friends.
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on the progress being made in the development of Turnhouse Airport at Edinburgh.
Substantial development of Edinburgh Airport must await the outcome of the British Airports Authority's planning application about which a public inquiry is now in progress.
Can the hon. Gentleman indicate whether progress can be made meanwhile in improving the terminal facilities for passengers which have been a disgrace for far too many years?
If the improvements which the hon. Gentleman has in mind require planning permission, the answer is "No". If improvements internally can be made without planning permission, the answer would be "Yes".
Steel Industry (Oil Exploitation Equipment)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what discussions he has held with the British Steel Corporation regarding its ability to tender for equipment in connection with the exploitation of North Sea oil.
None; this is a matter for the Corporation to determine in consultation with the oil companies concerned.
May I crave the indulgence of the House to say how sorry we are to hear of the death of Mr. Hugh Stenhouse? It is a great loss to Scotland and to Scottish industry generally.
In relation to my Question is the hon. Gentleman aware that we are extremely perturbed about the possibility of loss of jobs in Scotland due to the lack of initiative, for example, of the British Steel Corporation in relation to supply facilities such as steel construction for the exploitation of North Sea oil, and about the direct loss of jobs in Glasgow because of the closure of the Tube Division office? What is the hon. Gentleman going to do about it?
I join the hon. Gentleman's expression of regret at the untimely death of Mr. Stenhouse.I understand that the Corporation has obtained a large Gas Council order for large diameter pipes and I see no reason why it should not compete for these other orders in the same way.
Has not the Department had some discussion with the corporation on the question of much of this equipment and the reports which have appeared recently? Can the hon. Gentleman confirm that discussions are now proceeding between British Petroleum and the British Steel Corporation on the specifications required and that there is every possibility that the Corporation could meet these specifications? Will he also confirm that the stories that have been published in, for example, the Glasgow Herald are grossly misleading? Surely the Government have shown some interest in the matter.
The Iron Steel Act, which the hon. Gentleman's own Government brought in, expressly forbids Ministers from interfering in the commercial management of the corporation.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the present Government, for purposes which we do not approve, have established quite different relations between Government and the steel industry from those which were laid down in the Act? Can he not use this possibility to discuss matters of major importance about which a Question was put on the Order Paper? Surely the hon. Gentleman should be able to give the Government's view on such an important question.
I can only give the Government's views about matters for which I have statutory authority. The hon. Gentleman knows very well that this Government, like the last one, have no power to intervene in commercial decisions of the corporation of this sort.
Rolls-Royce Sub-Contractors (Development Assistance)
asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry whether he will now take further measures to aid sub-contractors to Rolls-Royce (1971) Limited following the liquidation of Rolls-Royce Limited, in view of their need to fund new technical development and expansion.
No, Sir. It is for Rolls-Royce (1971) Ltd. to arrange for continuity of supply of components for its future programmes.
While thanking my hon. Friend for that reply, and reminding him that the renegotiation of the RB211 contract assured continued employment in the regions in the sub-contractual sector, may I ask my hon. Friend whether he could expedite the price negotiations for the assets of Rolls-Royce Limited, because many millions of £s and the expansion capability of sub-contractors are involved? These are two important questions.
My hon. Friend will appreciate that my power to influence the speed of these negotiations is limited. I assure him that the Government will do their best to help in any way they can. But it is a very complex calculation and it will take time.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that it is not good enough to leave this matter to Rolls-Royce entirely but that the Government should give some indication of future prospects? Is he further aware that the anxieties of the hon. Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Wilkinson) are shared by many employees of sub-contracting firms and Rolls-Royce itself and that it would help to give assurance if we could have the early issue of a White Paper?
The White Paper will be issued very soon. I simply do not follow what the hon. Gentleman implies about giving assurances. I am not in a position to put a value on these assets, and that is the crux of the problem.
asked the Attorney-General how many prosecutions have taken place in November against people accused of drug peddling; and if he will make a statement.
The figures for November are not yet available. In the first six months of 1971, the latest period for which information is available, 238 persons were proceeded against in England, Wales and Scotland for unlawful supply of drugs.
Whereas those who are suffering from drug addiction need treatment and help, may I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether he is satisfied that even with 238 peddlers having been brought to prosecution everything possible is being done to identify drug peddlers at the earliest possible moment?
As the hon. Gentleman recognises, there are difficulties in identifying the peddler. When it is possible to bring a prosecution, that is done. I assure the hon. Member that those who peddle drugs will indeed be subject to police inquiries and, wherever possible, prosecutions will be brought.
Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman appreciate that it is 21 months since this House gave a Second Reading to the Misuse of Drugs Bill, which incorporated in its provisions a new level of penalties for those who push and peddle drugs? When will these important provisions be brought into operation?
I cannot advise the House about that, but if the hon. Gentleman will table a Question on the subject I will certainly answer it.
Mr S Brett
asked the Attorney-General whether he will direct the Director of Public Prosecutions to accede to a police request to prosecute prisoner S. Brett, in view of the admission by Brett that he and others had planned to carry out a robbery on 3rd September, 1970 at the Great Eastern Hotel, Liverpool Street, and the fact that the police investigations proved this to be the case.
No, Sir. I am satisfied that it would not be in the public interest to institute such proceedings.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman look at this case again because this man, who is a convicted criminal—the facts can be verified by the Attorney-General if he consults the police—claims that there should not have been a prosecution because he is innocent of the crime which he allegedly committed and for which he was convicted? Despite his criminal record, should he not be given a chance to prove his innocence of the crime for which he was convicted, although he admits to being guilty of the other crime?
The prisoner referred to in the hon. Gentleman's Question was convicted of conspiracy to rob premises at Brentwood and was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment. He made application for leave to appeal and that was refused. He is now applying to the full court and that matter is awaiting hearing. I understand that the grounds of appeal are that he was not conspiring to rob at Brentwood because he was conspiring to rob the Great Eastern Hotel.
Judge Michael Argyle, Qc (Threats)
asked the Attorney-General what action he has taken or intends taking in the light of threats against Judge Michael Argyle, Q.C., and his family.
The police have investigated the deplorable threats against Judge Argyle and his family but have not been able to identify the persons responsible for those threats. It has not, therefore, been possible to take any action against such persons.
May we have an assurance that the police will continue to make investigations into this matter because it was reported in the Press that there was at least prima facie evidence to show that the police knew who were at the back of these threats? Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that if that is so, the police should continue with their investigations?
The police made investigations and inquiries at the time these calls and threats were made, but there is no evidence against the person who was responsible for them.
Will my right hon. and learned Friend also investigate the matter of the besetting of the judge's house and the siege which Mrs. Argyle and her family had to endure for many weeks if not months?
My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely correct. Considerable distress and annoyance was caused to the judge and his family, and in particular to Mrs. Argyle, on 6th, 7th and 8th August. As I have said, this deplorable activity is obviously to be condemned by everybody.
Domestic Properties (Registration)
asked the Attorney-General if he will introduce legislation designed to require the registration of particulars of individual domestic properties.
No. The Government's policy is to extend registra- tion of title under the Land Registration Acts.
Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that I am fully conversant with the Land Registration Act, 1925, under Section 130 of which he has power to extend registration? Is he not failing in his duty by not so extending it, remembering that the effect of doing so would be to cut the conveyancing costs of solicitors by one-third, according to my information? In view of the difficulty which particularly youngsters face in buying houses, would not this make a substantial contribution?
The Law Society made recommendations in 1965 on what might be called the log book principle, which the hon. Gentleman probably has in mind. However, the Law Commission advised against them and the Government of the day did not take the recommendations up. It is the proposal to continue with the substantial progress that is being made, and now some 22½ million people live in compulsory registration areas, which is about half the population.
Naturally the Law Commission would give that advice because it has a vested interest in the matter. Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman reconsider this matter, because if both sides of the House are in favour of home ownership and really want to encourage it, this would be a reasonable way to go about giving that encouragement?
The hon. Gentleman must have misunderstood me. It was the solicitors who made the suggestion to the Law Society but the Law Commission, which was established by the Labour Government, rejected it. The solicitors made the proposal but the Law Commission said the best way to proceed was in the way that is now being done.
While for once I regret that I must repudiate what my hon. Friend the Member for Salford, East (Mr. Frank Allaun) said in his observation about the Law Commission, for which we are immensely grateful in all parts of the House, may I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman to accept that there is a case for speeding up the process of registration, which would make speedier and cheaper the task of conveyancing?
I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman and it was the method about which I was disagreeing with his hon. Friend. I agree that the procedure and movement forward on land registration is of great advantage.
On a point of order. In view of the Minister's unsatisfactory Answer. I beg to give notice that I shall raise this matter on the Adjournment at the earliest possible moment.
European Economic Community
asked the Attorney-General what increase in the staff of the Lord Chancellor's Department will be required for the scrutiny of European Economic Community legislation and giving effect to harmonisation therewith; and what will be the cost of such increase.
Firm estimates are not yet possible, but at the most half a dozen additional staff may be required; the tasks referred to by my right hon. and learned Friend do not primarily fall to the Lord Chancellor's Department.
As the amount of work that will be required to be done is not yet ascertainable and in view of the possibility that it may be very heavy indeed, may I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to be astute and avoid the dangers both of improper scrutiny and undue strain and overwork on the part of these learned gentlemen?
This is certainly a matter which is obviously under consideration. As my right hon. and learned Friend will appreciate, each Department deals with its own responsibility. For example, the additional lawyers in the Lord Chancellor's office will deal mainly with the subject of what is known in the House as lawyer's law.
Will the Attorney-General answer the last part of his right hon. and learned Friend's Question, which he perhaps unconsciously avoided, and give us an idea of the cost of this exercise?
The hon. Gentleman is right and I apologise to my right hon. and learned Friend for not answering that part of his Question. The disclosure now of any cost is impossible because it would be premature to give an estimate at this stage.
Could not the assistance of the right hon. and learned Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) be enlisted for this important work, now that the Bar has recently suffered his retirement?
That has indeed been a loss to my profession, but I must repeat that the tasks do not fall primarily to the Lord Chancellor's Department; and, as I said, very few extra staff will be required.
asked the Attorney-General whether he will refer to the Director of Public Prosecutions, for consideration, the facts stated in the Compton Report with a view to the initiation of proceedings against Ministers and others concerned with them in the United Kingdom for conspiring to commit criminal assault on internees in Northern Ireland.
Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman recognise that this is a very grave matter and that there is at the very least good prima facie evidence for believing that offences have been committed not only in Northern Ireland by those who have breached the law in this respect but by those who, within the English jurisdiction, arranged to do so? Will the Attorney-General not at least remove the doubt which exists in the minds of many people on this point by arranging for the matter to be investigated? Will he at some other time make a fuller statement on the subject and explain his reasons?
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the note of interrogation is set out in paragraph 46, page 12, of the Compton Report. It sets out the rules which were laid down in 1965 and revised in 1967. Nowhere in those rules are there any instructions or requirement authorising the commission of any criminal offence.
Is not this unfounded and scurrilous Question music in the ears of the gunmen?
I appreciate what my hon. Friend says, but I am answering a Question relating to criminal prosecution.
Have the Government given any consideration at all to whether the Compton findings reveal matters which are consistent or inconsistent with our obligations under Article 3 of the European Convention which, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows, prohibits inhuman and degrading treatment?
The Question to which I have directed my reply relates to the institution of criminal proceedings.