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Location Of Sale

Volume 114: debated on Thursday 9 April 1987

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I beg to move amendment No. 4, in page 25, line 25, leave out from 'except' to end of line 27 and insert

'in the case where an auction room or suitable alternative premises is not available in the vicinity.'.
The amendment is dear to the hearts of a number of my hon. Friends, especially my hon. Friend the Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman), who expressed some of his opinions earlier today. We are confused about the Government's thinking on where the sale of a person's goods should take place. We do not support the view that it should take place in the house. We resisted the Government's thinking so far as we could on Second Reading and in Committee but could not persuade the Government to share our views.

On Second Reading, the Solicitor-General for Scotland distinguished between circumstances in, for example, the constituency of the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire (Mr. Kirkwood) and circumstances in my constituency. Ever since, even after the hon. and learned Gentleman's explanation, I have been thinking about exactly what he meant. In an endeavour to co-operate with his thinking, I suggest that this amendment might be acceptable. It would mean that a sale would not take place in a person's house, even if he had been persuaded against his wishes to hold it there. Even if he exercised all the rights that the Bill would give him to consult with other occupiers, and so on, it would not remove the stigma which long remains after a sale takes place in a person's house. Therefore, in the light of the Government's logic, in so far as we could understand it, there was virtually no case for insisting that a sale should take place in a person's house. We are, therefore, offering the option in this amendment, solely in circumstances where an auction room or other suitable alternative premises is available in the vicinity, for such a sale to take place.

What we have tried to do is to simplify the whole exercise and to introduce as much dignity as we can into these proceedings. We feel that if there is an option available, although the Solicitor-General will say that it might cost money, when set against the humiliation that would be guaranteed if a house is used, the cost of an auction room is the lesser of the two evils. In that spirit I hope that the Solicitor-General will accept the amendment.

This amendment removes the requirement for the written consent of the debtor or occupier to the sale in a dwelling-house and allows such sales to take place where an auction room or suitable alternative premises is not available in the vicinity. With respect to the hon. Gentleman, I think something has gone slightly wrong with his amendment because it removes the critical or crucial requirement for the debtor's or occupier's written consent to a sale in a dwelling-house. I do not think the hon. Gentleman intended the amendment to come out in that way.

If the amendment were to be effected, there would be the opportunity for a sale in a dwelling-house if there were no alternative auction rooms available, but it would remove the requirement for consent. As I said both at Second Reading and in Committee, the circumstances in which a warrant sale might take place in a house are very limited. We believe that if such a sale is to take place, it must be not only with the consent of the debtor but also that of the occupier, who might be a different person in many circumstances.

I am not trying to twist the hon. Gentleman's tail purely for the sheer pleasure of it, but the effect of what he has put down would achieve an objective that is wholly contrary to what he is trying to do. In certain circumstances it might be far more damaging to a debtor than what the Government are proposing.

I am always anxious to reciprocate the generosity that we receive from the Government side of the House, but the Solicitor-General has misunderstood the amendment. The effect of this amendment would underscore our opinion that these sales should not be taking place in homes or houses in any case. If we argue and pursue the principle that it is wrong for sales to take place in a given house, there is no need to qualify that argument by saying that one ought to consult the occupier. The basic thrust of the amendment is that there should not be sales in houses at all unless it can be shown that alternative and suitable premises are not available, so that the sale can take place.

I think the hon. Gentleman is not quite understanding this. Under what we have proposed, where no auction room is immediately available, for example in the north of Scotland, if the debtor or occupier said, "No, you cannot have a warrant sale and I refuse to consent to a warrant sale in the house," steps would have to be taken to get the goods to an auction room, however far away it was.

Curiously, under the hon. Gentleman's proposal, it would be possible in a rural area, where there is no auction room available, to press ahead with a warrant sale without any consideration of whether the debtor or occupier consents. The hon. Gentleman shakes his head but I trust that the penny is beginning to drop with him and that that is a consequence that he cannot have intended to bring about by his amendment.

We understand that the practical ordinary circumstance will be that a warrant sale will take place in an auction room. We accept that that is the most humane and sensible way to approach it, to secure the anonymity of the debtor and avoid personal humiliation and embarrassment. It is only where the debtor or occupier consents—and there may be good reason for that, if he is leaving the neighbourhood and wants to get as much as possible for the goods without the cost of taking them to an auction room — that he might be prepared, but could not be forced, to have a warrant sale in his home.

There is an improvement with the shift to an auction room because it does guarantee anonymity. Is the Solicitor-General satisfied that this Bill protects the interests of a debtor when such a sale takes place in an auction room?

Yes, and that is a point that I ought to have picked up from the hon. Gentleman's earlier intervention. He possibly has not appreciated that once a debtor's goods go to an auction room, the debtor will be wholly anonymous. Nothing will be tagged on to the goods to indicate that they were taken under warrant sale from such a debtor at such an address. That humiliation will not occur. I am satisfied that once the goods go to the warrant sale, the debtor will not be identified in any way, nor will his goods be identified to the public at large as having belonged to him. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will be prepared, now that I have given that explanation, to withdraw his amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.