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Volume 927: debated on Wednesday 2 March 1977

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3.58 pm.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make illegal the publication or sale of maps that do not bear the date upon which the information contained thereon was valid.
I am sure that I am not alone among hon. Members in having bought maps on which the motorway ended at Watford or maps of a town on which half the streets in that town were not marked. In this day and age one has to tread a delicate balance between consumer protection and manufacturers annoyance; as the right hon. Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) once said,
"One man's wage rise is another man's price increase."
If too many people spent too long trying to protect consumers we could have a totally absurd situation. We have already become something of a nation of litigants looking at the small print and wondering how it might be possible to embarrass producers. Without doubt many of the laws are verging on the absurd. At my local grocery shop the other day I bought a package of long-life milk on which it said that the contents should not be consumed after 15th September 1977. We are thinking of having a party on 16th September to see what has happened to the milk.

I have sought in the Bill to steer a careful middle path because it is not my desire in any way to embarrass cartographers any more than it is to cause the vast number of genuine consumers to be sold maps which are inaccurate, and thereby cause very considerable expense and annoyance. My Bill would make it obligatory for cartographers and map publishers to disclose the date at which the information contained is valid and would equally make it obligatory to print the price of the map on the cover. This is not only to protect the tourists, who are the prime purchasers of maps, but also to stop the totally unfair practice of selling remainder maps by covering up the original price and making it, by virtue of the new high price, appear to be more relevant than it is.

In any proposed legislation of this kind there is a duty on the part of the presenter to go to the industry and find out whether it would accept the legislation. I began in the first instance by approaching the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection. He said that he was in favour of it. As a result, I wrote to his Department and was told that the Department was against it. I telephoned the person who had written to me and explained that the Secretary of State had been for it and the man expressed surprise and said "In that case we will look at it again". I am awaiting a letter from the Department, and have been waiting for one for over four weeks.

Oddly enough, the complaints that came to me regarding this proposed legislation came mostly from those people whom I actually thought that the Bill would protect—that is to say, the most reputable map companies. One of them wrote:
"A dated publication would lead the customer reasonably to expect the information to be correct to the date shown and this would, of course, be the intention of the Publisher. But the Publisher is at the mercy of the source of the information upon which he prepares his drawings and the accuracy of the compilers and draughtsmen. It may well be that information shown could be incorrect and that roads in existence for many years have been omitted and not brought to our attention. Making a claim that the publication was revised to a certain date would render the Publisher liable to infringement of the Trade Descriptions Act …".
I accept that no map is ever totally accurate; that even on the day a map is published there will have been some change. For example, if it is a town map, a road may have become a one-way road in the other direction or a new housing estate may have been built. But what I am seeking to do is to force publishers of maps to state from which source they got their information and when.

Another helpful cartographer wrote to me:
"We have just heard that the Ordnance Survey memorandum expresses the opinion that such a Bill would put an end to the publishing of maps both public and private in this country."
That is an extraordinary contention because every Ordnance Survey map already has a date printed on it. Why it should be felt that if all maps had their dates printed on them it would be the end of the Ordnance Survey and all other maps is beyond me.

Another letter said:
"Although your bill is well intentioned, as with all other bills it will ensnare those for whom it was not intended …Another fear is that should your bill become law, the hundreds of helpful letters we receive each year drawing to our attention where we are wrong, would be replaced with threats of litigation …".
I totally reject that. People do not buy maps in order to litigate, and it is as easy for all map publishers to go on doing what some are doing now, which is to state that at the time of making up the map the information contained was as accurate as possible and that it was derived from or based on Ordnance surveys, or whatever.

I have had a helpful letter from the RAC, though it also felt that the Bill might hail the end of cartographers. It wrote:
"In considering the proposed Bill, whilst would readily agree that maps should include the date on which the information was correct, there has always been, and there always will be, opposition to the dating of maps because there must be instances whereby a map remains correct for the major part of its detail over many years."
That is no part of my Bill. I am happy for a map of the sea to remain there for ever until they find an island which may not be charted. The RAC letter went on to say:
"In order to keep costs to the minimum, publishers of maps must have long print runs. But if dating was made compulsory, this would have the effect of increasing prices by encouraging publishers to print annually."
I am totally in favour of publishers publishing maps annually. Roads are built annually; new streets in towns are constructed annually; new housing estates go up annually. Why in these consumer protection days we should give someone leave to print and sell out-of-date maps is beyond me.

The point about town maps is slightly different. In their case, there used to be a great proneness on the part of shops to advertise on a map of a town, and this trade helped to finance the cartographer's job. I believe that it is the duty of the local authority to see that its main conurbations are charted, and charted as contemporarily as they can be. One might well ask "How can they afford it?" I remind the House that a great deal of money is spent pointlessly by people looking for places which they never find because they do not appear on the map—so how can they afford not to? It is for this reason that I seek the leave of the House to introduce this Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Clement Freud, Mr. Jeremy Thorpe, Mr. A. J. Beith, Mr. Cyril Smith, Mr. Andrew Welsh, Mr. Dafydd Wigley, Mr. Ivor Clemitson, Mr. Tom Bradley, Mr. Antony Buck and Mr. George Younger.