Dr. Liam Fox (Woodspring) : In view of the time and the brevity of other contributions, I shall restrict my comments to amendment No. 11. My hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) is normally a straight-down -the-line, deregulating, free-market Conservative, but there are always one or two occasions when job creation gets the better of hon. Members, especially lawyers, who regard this legislation as especially beneficial in terms of job creation for them. The clause is the classical intrusion of the nanny state into what reasonable members of the public can decide for themselves when they buy goods. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) made that point clearly.
The idea that we must include commercial reputation, brand name, advertising and marketing is simply nonsensical, because whether or not an individual buys a product is not built purely on what influences are brought to bear by advertising, or by brand name and so on, but on the experience that they have in the products that they have previously brought. For example, if somebody buys Sainsbury's cola because it happens to look like a can of Coke and finds that it tastes terrible, they would go back and buy Coke the next time, irrespective of the advertising pressure on them. That is just common sense, which members of the public have.
How are we to interpret the amendment ? For instance, if I say that I am selling my car and that it is a Rover, one owner, does that somehow mean a great deal more in law, irrespective of whether I have been a dreadful driver or a very good driver and have looked after my car well, because Rover may be a good brand name ?
Mr. Leigh : We must persuade my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) to withdraw his amendment, because it is nonsense on stilts. We have all bought second-hand cars. As I understand it, my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth is saying that just because there had been advertisement which advertised a Rover or a Volvo as a safe or a beautiful car or whatever, somehow the person selling one three or four years down the line would be bound by that advertisement. That is absolute nonsense. My hon. Friend cannot have thought the matter through.
Dr. Fox : My hon. Friend makes the point for me. How far can we take it ? For example, am I to take my jeans back to the store because in the advertisement it was possible to roll down a hill in them quite happily, but when I fell over in the street they ripped ? Am I somehow being sold goods that are unsatisfactory ? If my teeth do not turn out perfectly white in the morning like those in the Pearl Drops advertisement, am I somehow being sold unsatisfactory goods ? If I climb up a mountain in a jungle and am sweaty at the end of it, despite having used a particular deodorant, does that make that product null and void ?
The amendment is nonsensical and the worst kind of intrusion into the freedom that individuals ought to have to
Column 1074use their own judgment in buying goods. I hope that we shall not allow such a terrible, nannying intrusion into a Bill which is otherwise quite acceptable. Clause 1 is fine. We do not need the amendment. It is the worst sort of intrusion, saying that the public cannot make up their own minds, that we have to decide everything for them and put it into to detailed legislation, giving lots of jobs to the lawyers on the way. I hope that my hon. Friend will seek leave to withdraw the amendment.
Mr. McLoughlin : We have had the benefit of the explanation of my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh), who welcomed the Bill and, indeed, his substantial recognition of the direction that it is taking. In the light of various allegations that have been made over the past few days, it is worth pointing out that the Government have helped the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) both in bringing forward the Bill and in giving him help and advice on the amendments drafted by hon. Members. A lot of nonsense has been talked about something that has been a long-standing practice when private Members' Bills are brought before the House.
Mr. Sheerman : May we get the record straight ? There are no allegations about when the Government quite properly help someone like my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge (Mr. Clelland) with a Bill of which they approve, which has support on both sides of the House, provided that it is open and above board. The only controversy that arises is when things are done behind the scenes in an underhand way and a Minister misleads the House about what is going on. That has nothing to do with my hon. Friend the Member for Tyne Bridge and the conduct of business in respect of his Bill.
Mr. McLoughlin : As I said, I did not want to resurrect that particular argument. I was merely putting on record the fact that help has been given to the hon. Member for Tyne Bridge by the Department of Trade and Industry because we welcome the Bill. With regard to the amendments and the speeches that have been made, my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth (Mr. Evans) has had a bit of a drubbing from his own side, which he is not used to, for not being the kind of deregulator that we expect him to be. However, he asked me a specific question about section 14(6). I accept that the Bill is complicated and I said that I would give some clarification in the presence of the Consumers Association. This is not the right place to give that clarification, so I shall provide it later. In answer to my hon. Friend's point, section 14(6) has been repealed and has been replaced by different words. I refer him to schedule 2, page 17, line 25, which he now has readily to hand. I hope that that covers some of his concerns.
My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge South-East (Mr. Paice) in introducing the group of amendments, which includes amendments that he and my hon. Friend the Member for Monmouth tabled, gave a warm general welcome to the Bill. I am grateful for that because I think that the Bill will go a long way to enact what has been suggested to us by the Law Commission as a sensible set of proposals. History has shown that the measure has had an unfortunate record, falling almost at the final stage. My hon. Friends the Members for Gainsborough and Horncastle and for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) and others have said why they believe that the amendments are not suitable
Column 1075to form part of the Bill. The Bill goes a considerable way towards enhancing consumer protection, straightening out the consumer protection law, especially applying to some of the concerns which came out of the Bernstein case, and is broadly welcomed by all. My hon. Friends the Members for Mid-Staffordshire (Mr. Fabricant) and for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) referred in passing to the problems of car boot sales. They rightly reflected a concern, but it is not the purpose of the Bill to deal directly with car boot sales. There are bits of consumer legislation which deal with the description of car boot sales and are already covered in the Bill.
I hope that hon. Members will forgive me if I deal specifically with the amendments before the House. The Government oppose amendment No. 15. It would be wrong to impose on a seller, who is not acting by way of business, the full obligations of a seller who is acting by way of business. In appropriate circumstances, an individual may be acting by way of a business and the implied terms of quality would, therefore, apply to him. Most sales by private individuals, however, are not like commercial sales.
The requirements that goods should be described can already be quite a stringent requirement. For example, if I were to sell my car and describe it as having no rust, as doing 40 miles per gallon and as being capable of 0 to 60 mph in 15 seconds, it would have to meet that description. I must say that, if my car could do that, I would not be selling it. However if I were to put it on the market, it would have to meet that description. However, I would be setting out a description of the car and I would therefore have a responsibility to ensure that that description was met. I hope that that goes some way towards meeting the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East.
With regard to amendment No. 16, I assume that my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridgeshire, South-East intended the word "imply" to read "infer". If that is so, the effect would be to create an area of doubt as to whether the implied term as to satisfactory quality applied in certain contracts. It would be clear that it did where the seller was acting by way of business and clear that it did not if the seller was not acting by way of the business. Those circumstances can be tested objectively, but in between there would be a grey area as to who was doing the inferring. If it were the buyer, that would be a very subjective assessment and it would create great uncertainty. If the intention were to use "imply", the only person able to imply that he was acting by way of a business would be the seller. Any seller who implies that he is acting by way of business most probably is. The wording in amendment No. 16 is not quite right and I hope that my hon. Friend will not press it.
The aim of amendment No. 10 is already sufficiently covered by other items taken into account in assessing whether goods are of satisfactory quality. In particular, the description of goods must be taken into account. Moreover, the list of items is not a closed list. It includes additional and other relevant circumstances.
With regard to amendment No. 11, it is inappropriate to consider the reputation of the seller when assessing the quality of goods. That would lead to a particularly peculiar situation in that identical goods could be deemed to be satisfactory if sold by one seller, but not satisfactory if sold by another.If the seller applies a description to the goods, such a distinction may be appropriate, but that is already covered elsewhere in the subsection.
We must consider the Bill in conjunction with the Sale of Goods Act 1979
Notice being taken that strangers were present, Mr. Deputy Speaker--, pursuant to Standing Order No. 143 (Withdrawal of Strangers from the House), put forthwith the Question, That strangers do withdraw :
The divided : Ayes 1, Noes 25.
Division No. 248] [12.30 pm
Montgomery, Sir Fergus
Tellers for the Ayes :
Mr. Alan Howarth and
Mr. Greg Pope.
Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Banks, Matthew (Southport)
Evans, Roger (Monmouth)
Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)
Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)
Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)
Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)
Kynoch, George (Kincardine)
Lloyd, Rt Hon Peter (Fareham)
Mayhew, Rt Hon Sir Patrick
Newton, Rt Hon Tony
Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas
Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)
Wheeler, Rt Hon Sir John
Tellers for the Noes :
Mr. John Austin-Walker and
Mr. Dennis Skinner.
It appearing from the report of the Division that 40 Members were not present, Mr. Deputy Speaker-- declared that the Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next sitting of the House.
Order read for consideration (as amended in the Standing Committee) .
To be considered on Friday 17 June .
As amended (in the Standing Committee), further considered . 12.39 pm
Mr. Roger Berry (Kingswood) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. For the convenience of the House, it may be helpful if I say that I am prepared to accept the amendments in the expectation that we can proceed immediately to Third Reading.
of the passing of this Act'
after this section is brought into force'.
and subject to such conditions (if any) as may be specified.' No. 50, in page 8, line 3, leave out from any' to end of line 4 and insert
specified requirement of Part III or Part IV of this Act'. No. 51, in page 8, line 5, after section' insert
may make different provision for different cases or for different classes of case and in particular'.
No. 52, in page 8, line 9, at end insert
( ) For the purposes of this section, "specified" means specified by the Secretary of State in regulations under this section.'.
Column 1078No. 64, in clause 17, page 9, line 37, leave out from (3)' to end of line 40 and insert
Section 15 above and this section shall come into force on the day this Act is passed.
(4) The other provisions of this Act shall come into force on such day as the Secretary of State may by order appoint.
(5) Different days may be appointed by an order under subsection (4) above for different purposes and different provisions.'.
Mr. Leigh : Amendment No. 11 was tabled by my hon. Friend for Bristol, North-West (Mr. Stern), who is not here. It deals with the time limit for performing some of the actions required by the Bill. It allows the Secretary of State six months from the commencement of the Act, rather than six months from Royal Assent, in which to set up the new Disability Rights Commission. I am worried about the time scales in the Bill. The amendment extends the time limit for setting up the commission and for publication of codes of practice. A new Disability Rights Commission would need time to ensure that it got off on the right foot. The procedures involved, such as the selection of commissioners, would need thorough examination and careful consideration. Using the tight time scales in the Bill might be to the detriment of the organisation.
Mr. Leigh : This is a serious matter and the House is entitled to know about the amendments if they are to be accepted and to pass into law. I am perfectly entitled to move them and that is precisely what I am doing.
Using such a tight time scale might be to the detriment of the organisation. I know that we are all aware of the important role that the commission would have in working towards the elimination of discrimination against disabled people. It is imperative that it gets off to a good start and is as effective as possible, working within realistic time scales.
Ms Liz Lynne (Rochdale) : The hon. Member for Kingswood (Mr. Berry) has said that he accepts the amendments. Why is the hon. Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) going ahead with his speech ? Is it to delay the implementation of the Bill ? The House and the 6.5 million disabled people would like to know the answer to that.
Mr. Leigh : I have never made any secret of the fact that I oppose the Bill. I have never tried to hide behind any support for the Bill. I have always made that clear. On previous occasions, I have made it clear that I oppose the Bill. Under the procedures of the House, I am entitled to speak to the Bill. That is precisely what I am doing.
Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) : As I have said before, I know that the hon. Gentleman is an honourable Member. Does he intend to filibuster ? I believe that he understands how we feel about the Bill. We believe that there should be a vote and that we should make progress. Is he happy for that to happen, or is he going to filibuster ? Can he tell the House now ?
As I said, this is an important matter. The time scales set out in the Bill do not give sufficient time. Even the