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Citation And Extent

Volume 931: debated on Friday 6 May 1977

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12.15 p.m.

I beg to move Amendment No. 39, in page 15, line 12, leave out 'Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977' insert:

Unfair Exclusion Clauses in Contracts Act 1977'.

With this we may take Amendment No. 43, in Schedule 3, page 17, line 11, leave out from 'substitute' to 'Act' in line 12 and insert:

'the provisions of the Unfair Contract Terms'.

The Minister will be aware of the purpose of the amendment, which is self-evident and non-controversial. The amendment is the fourth attempt to change the Title if one includes the Long Title. This illustrates how legalistic the Bill has been, certainly for those of us who tackled it in Committee without legal expertise.

My amendment has the support of the National Federation of Consumer Groups. Its purpose is that the Title of the Bill should be more readily understandable by consumers and should be more descriptive. It has often been said that it is no good legislating for consumers if the consumers do not know their rights or how of pursue them. For lay people, the original Title and the subsequent Title proposed by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Ward) are not as descriptive as they should be and not as descriptive as the Title proposed in my amendment. I hope that the Minister will give this proposal sympathetic consideration.

Before my hon. Friend the Minister deals with this matter in detail and gives the Government's view, I wish to say to the hon. Lady the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) that we shall never achieve perfection with the Title of the Bill because there are minor reservations on almost every Title that has been suggested so far. I said in Committee that the present Title was the best that we could get. The Consumers Association, the national body, shares my view that this is the best Title that we have had, even if the National Federation of Consumer Groups, the grass roots organisation, claims otherwise.

Amendment No. 43, which stands in my name, deals with a rather different issue. It is purely consequential on the change of Title, if it is agreed. It is designed to ensure that Section 55(1) of the Sale of Goods Act is subject to the Scottish provisions of the Bill.

I understand what the hon. Lady said. If we wanted a really accurate Title we should probably call it the Unfair Contract Terms (Miscellaneous Provisions &c.) Bill, but that would be over my dead body. The difficulty is that one cannot find a compendious Title that accurately sums up in a few words all the provisions of the Bill.

The Title proposed by the hon. Lady refers only to clauses that are unfair because they exclude liability, but the Bill also deals with clauses that limit liability. It also deals with indemnity clauses which are not in general exclusion or exemption clauses. Further—and I refer the hon. Lady to Clause 3(2) (b)—the Bill deals with a situation where a contract term is unfair, not because it allows one party to exclude liability but because it allows one party to claim to be entitled not to perform the contract at all, or to perform it in a way that is substantially different from that reasonably expected of him.

The present Title of the Bill is slightly more accurate than that proposed by the hon. Lady, although I do not say that it is totally accurate. I hope that the hon. Lady will not press the amendment. The Bill is to go to another place. I am sure that those in another place will also exercise their minds on this matter. The present Title is as accurate as we can get it and is preferable to the suggestion that the hon. Lady puts forward.

The Minister's remarks illustrate more clearly than anything else the difficulty that consumers will have in grappling with and trying to understand the Bill and how it is likely to protect consumer interests. I have taken note of all that the hon. Gentleman said, which was not unreasonable.

I, too, hope that when the Bill goes to another place some of our more distinguished colleagues there will be able to improve on the Title that I have suggested and on the current Title, and that they will do so with considerably more expertise than we have managed so far. I still think that the current Title is not the most desirable.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move Amendment No. 40, in page 15, line 15, leave out "(except section 8)".

This is a purely consequential amendment as Clause 8(2) now amends the Misrepresentation Act (Northern Ireland). The exception in Clause 29 is no longer necessary.

Amendment agreed to.