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Supply Of Goods And Services Bill

Volume 432: debated on Wednesday 30 June 1982

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3.42 p.m.

Bill read a third time.

[ The amendment that had been tabled was not moved.]

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—( Lord Mishcon.) Question put.

3.42 p.m.

My Lords, on the Motion that the Bill do now pass, which your Lordships have so happily agreed to, it falls to my lot to express some appreciation, and I do it very happily. My first words of appreciation go to the Secretary of State who himself and with his department, both here and in another place, have assisted those who have promoted this Bill in draftsmanship and in very sound advice. I thank the National Consumer Council who have been at my disposal on all occasions when I needed them. I know that this was also true of my right honourable friend in another place when he sponsored this Bill there.

I am grateful to the Scottish Consumer Council who put their plea for the inclusion of Scotland with all the enthusiasm that one would expect. In turn I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate who, when he dealt with that matter, expressed himself in a very helpful way in regard to the co-operation that he hoped would exist between the Scottish Law Commission and the English Law Commission in furthering the inclusion of Scotland in legislation so that Scottish consumers can similarly benefit.

Lastly, I am most grateful to the Members of your Lordships' House from all parts of the House who have expressed their interest in, and enthusiasm for, this Bill. I do not think that I will get appreciation from your Lordships' House if I detain you much longer, having expressed the whole purpose of this Bill at Second Reading.

My Lords, I inadvertently collected the voices, I must apologise to the noble Lord, before he started to speak. Therefore, I will now put the Question that the Bill do now pass.

My Lords, if I may at all times have such a helpful and courteous intervention in the middle of any speech I make I shall be so grateful, as indeed I am on this occasion. I was about to say that I do not think that it is necessary for me to repeat myself. All I would do, and I promise it in very summarised form, is to say that there is contemporary proof of the great need for consumer protection by this legislation in two publications which have recently been issued. The first one was on home improvements. It was a discussion paper published in March of this year by the Office of Fair Trading. That highlights various problems of poor performance, delay, and high cost in the home improvement market. Secondly, in May of this year, and therefore a matter of only weeks ago, a document was issued at the instance of the County of Cleveland, Car Servicing and Repairs, which tells, if I may paraphrase it, a sorry tale of the instances of poor servicing in garages of motor cars that had been taken to them for servicing, or repair, after a spot check and examination had been carried out in that area.

I think we have done a useful job in seeing this Bill through this House, and I hope your Lordships will agree with me that it is to be devoutly hoped that consumers will now know more of what their rights are and will therefore be able to take advantage of them. While commending all those who supply good services and who supply goods to our citizens as they should do, there are the fringe who ought to be looked at with criticism, and against whom there ought to be protection.

3.47 p.m.

My Lords, I shall be equally brief, and everything I have to say with one small exception is congratulatory. First, I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, in saying that I think all sides of the House are agreed that this is a good Bill and that we are very pleased that it has made such quick progress. I should like, first, to congratulate Mr. Fred Willey in the other place both on his very good fortune in securing the first place on the ballot and in choosing this Bill, and, if I may, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Mishcon on the way in which he has taken this Bill through the House. I think we all enjoyed what he had to say. He has one great gift, if he will allow me to say it, and that is that it is a great art to say "no" to amendments that are put forward, but to say it so nicely that nobody minds. I can say that quite unbiasedly because I did not put any forward, but I was lost in admiration at one or two of the legal points which arose and which the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, dealt with so pleasantly and so firmly.

I certainly agree with him that we wish to congratulate the National Consumer Council and the Scottish Consumer Council. I should also like to say "thank you" to the Government in another place for the support they gave originally, and in particular to Mrs. Sally Oppenheim who, on Second Reading, really said all that she could in favour of the Bill. I come now to my one, I think, non-congratulatory point. I am glad that we now have the Secretary of State for Trade in our House. I do not think that he can do anything about it, but doubtless he will dwell on it.

I was sorry that we were not able to include Scotland in this Bill. I know the reasons why. The only point I wish to make is this: When the noble and learned Lord the Lord Advocate spoke to us at the Committee stage he did, at column 442, say that he gladly paid tribute to the work of the Scottish Consumer Council. What I had hoped—and I do not know whether the Secretary of State would feel that he could say it this afternoon on the Motion that the Bill do now pass—was that what I considered the very reasonable request of the Scottish Consumer Council could receive an answer. They hoped that the Lord Advocate, on behalf of the Government, would be able to offer some commitment that the law in Scotland in relation to the supply of services would be the object for consideration by the Scottish Law Commission in the near future. The only point I wish to stress to the Secretary of State is that, obviously, the relevant detail there is the phrase "in the near future". If he were able to say that, he would bring great joy to the Scottish Consumer Council.

I wish the Bill well. I am sure our new Secretary of State will do all he can to put it through. I think it will benefit consumers. Finally, once more I offer my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon.

My Lords, perhaps I may respond briefly on behalf of the Government. As the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said, the Bill has been widely welcomed both here and in another place. It will, I believe, benefit both suppliers and those acquiring goods or services, since it will be helpful to both to have the basic legal rights set out in clear statutory form. It is difficult for people, with the best will in the world, to he certain about their rights and obligations under the law unless it is set out in clear and simple terms, as this Bill does.

A number of anxieties have been expressed in various parts of your Lordships' House during the passage of the Bill, and it might be appropriate if I took this opportunity of repeating the assurances which my honourable friend the Minister for Consumer Affairs and I have given during the passage of the measure. I recognise that Part H is intended to codify the existing common law. I shall not make a commencement order bringing Part II into force until those who provide services have had an opportunity to consider whether the Bill would impose additional responsibilities and whether they wish to make representations about that. If they do, they should do so without delay. I shall consider carefully any cases put forward. If I am satisfied that the Bill would impose new obligations on a particular sector of the service industries, I shall be prepared to consider whether to make an order excluding that sector from Part II. There is clearly advantage in any such order coming into force at the same time as Part II itself. That itself would indicate that any representations should be made promptly.

The noble Baroness, Lady Burton of Coventry, asked me to give a definition of the phrase "in the near future". I imagine that providing such a definition has defeated many a draftsman. Nevertheless, I will bring her remarks to the attention of my noble and learned friend the Lord Advocate.

As the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, said and as the noble Baroness also remarked, a large number of people have contributed to the Bill—the Law Commission, the National Consumer Council, the Scottish Consumer Council, the sponsors, and indeed the supporters of the Bill both here and in another place but—I would pay tribute particularly to the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon, who has steered the Bill successfully through your Lordships' House with skill, eloquence and courtesy. I believe that the Bill will prove beneficial both to suppliers of goods and services and to their customers. On that basis, I am sure your Lordships will wish the Bill well.

On Question, Bill passed.