§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 11.12 a.m.
§ Mr. David Reed (Sedgefield)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
At the outset I wish to pay tribute to a remarkable woman without whom it is highly unlikely the House would be debating this Bill. Her name is Mrs. Winifred Woods, and she lives at Chilton in my constituency. I can say without doubt that she is one of the hardest-working women I have ever met. Each night and almost every weekend she drives around County Durham and further afield in her work on behalf of the disabled. She is disabled herself, and her energy in pursuing her objectives on behalf of the different organisations with which she is involved tremendously impresses me.
It was Mrs. Woods who first drew my attention to the practice which today's Bill is intended to stamp out. Mrs. Woods' description of her attempts to track down the sort of racketeers at whom the Bill is aimed is like a detective story. She tried to find out what the firms we are talking about were doing. What she says was, "Every time we got on their tails they went to earth." She chased them around County Durham and tried to find out what was happening but could never get close enough to see what was going on.
Then she enlisted the aid of one other person to whom I want to pay tribute, a journalist on the local evening paper in Darlington, Mr. Peter Bibby, who works for the Evening Despatch. It was he who exposed this racket in County Durham for what it really was. It was his enterprise which showed up what was taking place.
What Peter Bibby did was to take a job with a firm which was selling door-to-door allegedly on behalf of the disabled. The name of that firm was Physically Disabled Supplies, and it operates from Camberwell, London, 1755 This is what Peter Bibby wrote in the Evening Despatch on 17th June last year:The centre of one of the North's dirtiest and most underhand con-tricks is based at Newton Aycliffe. Head of the North-Fast base is an Aycliffe man—a man who makes his living trading on the misfortunes of others.He describes the activities of that man and his sales team.
Later in the story he quotes the brief, which the sales supervisor gives to each of his salesmen. This is part of it:A lot of people want to give donations for the handicapped but don't want to buy anything. Well, we're not a charity, but don't press that. Just say sorry, you can't accept it. When they start to put the money back say, 'But I will knock something off the price to the next old age pensioner I see'.The sales supervisor adds:Nine times out of ten they'll give you the money.The brief each salesman was given was:Good morning, I'm from the physically handicapped. I wondered if you'd like to buy some goods to help?Peter Bibby goes on to describe just how he thought the firms get away with it. What he said was:Apparently the firms get away with it all by employing a few handicapped folk packing goods in London. These people are paid a small amount and the bumper profits on the shoddy goods go to the directors, the organisers and the schoolboy-student sales force throughout the country.That in a nutshell describes the practice with which I hope this Bill will deal. If it was an isolated case, if this activity in Newton Aycliffe was the only place in the country where it was happening, then it could have been tackled on a local basis. Certainly the publicity which this firm got at the time drove it underground. For a short time at least it found it difficult to sell what were very shoddy goods door-to-door simply because householders in the locality knew what was going on and knew what to be careful about.
Since the draft of my original Bill was published I have had letters from all over the country describing similar activities. These letters come from as far afield as Cornwall and Glasgow. It seems that all over the country different firms are taking householders for a ride.
One letter from Surrey was addressed to Mrs. Phyllis Forman, who is the Secretary of the Legal and Parliamentary 1756 Committee of the Central Council for the Disabled. That letter said:Last week our house was visited by a door-to-door student salesgirl representing Distrade of 123 Foundry Lane, Shirley, Southampton. She was selling children's books, dolls in plastic bags, etc. and presented a sales authorisation card. This was of postcard size, gave the address of the company and its telephone number and stated that the holder had been appointed as a door-to-door seller of their products.The writer speaks about contacting the police and trying to get something done about this firm, and goes on:We have not heard of any developments but I think you will agree that this is the type of shady, semi-nefarious activity that Mr. David Reed M.P. should be and most probably is covering in his Bill.The Cornwall Disabled Association wrote to the Central Council for the Disabled saying:From time to time we are plagued with door-to-door salesmen in Cornwall who represent that their products are either made or packed by disabled persons. They often give the impression that the profits go to the local disabled which of course they do not. If this occurs at about the time we are fund raising ourselves, e.g. organising flag days or charity concerts etc. the Cornwall Disabled Association gets a bad press because people say we are overdoing it.Another letter is from a King's Lynn-based organisation, the National Federation of St. Raphael's Clubs for the Disabled. Its administrator, Mr. Keith Goldsworthy, has been conducting a campaign against this sort of activity for many years. This is an extract from a letter which he circulated to editors of a number of newspapers to try to get them to take an interest and publicise what was happening:Our claim is still the same as our original letter to you. Usually there is a locally appointed supervisor with numerous agents and the takings can vary from £50 to £175 a day with the sales staff receiving one-third of their takings as wages.It is clear from these examples that the practice I am describing is just about identical throughout the country, with firms, no matter what part of the country they are operating in, using the same techniques and tackling people in the same way. If we look at the names it will be seen that even these have a similar ring about them—"Distrade", "D. W. Products", "Disvendors". All are variations on the same theme.
1757 At the invitation of one of these firms, Disvendors, I visited the factory in Nottingham to see its activities. I want to be fair about it because the managing director, Derek Radage, was quite open about all his activities. He was willing to show me any part of his establishment and answer any questions. He told me that his turnover as a company was between £120,000 and £150,000 a year. Of that the wage bill for his disabled employees was between £30,000 and £40,000 a year. People with quite severe disabilities were working in totally unsuitable conditions for between £10 and £14 a week for 42 hours' work.
It was the physical appearance of this establishment which first surprised me. It looked like a disused warehouse and was in a back street in Nottingham. The conditions were totally unsuitable for the people who were working there. There were no properly designed entrances and ramps to enable disabled people to get in, no specially designed toilets and no medical facilities. There were 27 people working in one room with no supervision to ensure that if anything went wrong the proper action could be taken quickly.
Mr. Radage claims that he has 60 disabled people on his books working in three locations throughout the country. What concerns me is that those 60 disabled people working day by day are keeping a full-time able-bodied sales force of 120 selling from door to door. Disvendors has an exceptionally high ratio of disabled employees to sales staff. Many of the companies which I have investigated have a much smaller ratio. One company has one disabled director on its books with a £ 1 share in the business so that the firm can make a doorstep claim that what it is selling will help the disabled. In many firms not only is the ratio of disabled employees to the sales force very low but the profits to the disabled are low when one compares what the housewives hand over on the doorstep with the amount which gets through to disabled people.
A favourite product of these firms is the de-misting cloth used by motorists to clean car windscreens. One such product manufactured by a firm which I investigated has a doorstep selling price of 20p, of which 10p goes immediately to the salesman as commission, 7p is taken by 1758 the firm as its manufacturing costs, overheads and profit and only 3p gets through to the disabled employees. The housewife cheerfully hands over her 20p thinking that she is helping disabled people who are doing their best to earn a decent living, but only a tiny proportion ever gets to the people she is trying to help.
The products which these firms sell are often extremely shoddy. They are manufacturers' rejects or the end-of-production runs, things which would not sell on their own merits if these firms were not using the doorstep gimmick of saying that the profits go to help the disabled. This is a racket out of which a lot of money is made by trading on public sympathy.
In 1958 a courageous attempt was made to do something about this practice in a Bill which received at each stage a great deal of support from both sides of the House and was given unanimous approval. That Bill became the Trading Representations (Disabled Persons) Act, which was designed to tackle these firms once and for all. The Bill we are debating today is designed to amend it. The then hon. Member for Shoreditch and Finsbury, Mr. Victor Collins, said on Third Reading:If the House accepts the Bill today and it becomes law, it will stop this racket. It will stop the cheating of the warm-hearted public and, most important of all, it will assist the blind, the crippled and the otherwise disabled, who deserve all the help we can possibly give them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th June, 1958; Vol. 589, c. 1486.]That was the intention of the original Act, and it worked for a short time, but over the long run the Act, however well intentioned, has not worked in practice.
The main provision of the Act was the establishment of a register to be maintained by the Department of Employment, and any firm which wished to make a doorstep claim that it was selling on behalf of the disabled had to apply to the Department to be included on the register. This was a commonsense measure intended to be a curb on the activities of these firms. The Secretary of State had to be satisfied on a number of criteria before granting registration. The officials in the Department have done their best on a day-to-day basis to make sure that the register works, but it is impossible to make it bite.
There are 40 firms on the register dispersed throughout the country. One 1759 of the shady tricks which the firms have been adopting is to build up their disabled work force at the time of application for registration so that it looked good in the return to the Department, and then gradually pay off the disabled people until the time for re-registration, when they build it up again. It would require an army of officials constantly to check that the firms are employing the number of disabled persons they claim to be employing and are distributing to them the profit they claim to be distributing.
What was originally intended as a regulatory machine has come to be regarded as a licence to enable these firms to carry on their activities. On-the-doorstep firms have been hiding under a useful close of respectability. Householders have been given the idea that because the firms are registered with the Department everything they are doing is all right because the Government have checked them, and they think that if they buy from the salesman the money will go to disabled people.
I can illustrate how successfully firms have used registration from the sales literature which they push out with their products. I have a leaflet here of Household Supplies, Huntingdon Street, Nottingham. On this small sales ticket in the biggest letters are the words "Packed by disabled persons" also clearly stated are the words:Registered under the Trading Representations (Disabled Persons) Act, 1958".Those words give the householder the impression that the firm is completely reputable. The householder automatically believes in the firm because of the fact of registration.
I have a leaflet of D. W. Products, with registered office and workshop at Woodlands Park Road, South Tottenham. Apart from the name of the product, the wards in the biggest letters on the leaflet are:Packed by disabled workers in our own workshopand there is also a note to the effect that the firm is registered under the relevant Act.
I also have here a sales card of Disvendors, a very official looking document, which contains the words: 1760Registered under the Trading Representations (Disabled Persons) Act, 1958".By showing this at the door the salesman immediately conveys the impression that the firm's activities have been carefully checked and are perfectly aboveboard.
Abuses of registration go much further than that. One unscrupulous organisation has been making a profit out of registration simply by handing out its registration to other traders on a day-to-day basis.
The Bill seeks to deal with this practice in what I believe to be the only effective way, by putting an immediate curb on these firms by withdrawing their right to register with the Department. The idea is to make what these firms are doing completely open. There is nothing in the Bill to stop any of the firms I have mentioned, or any of the 40 firms registered with the Department, continuing to sell from door to door. They can go on doing this—with the one exception that any product they are attempting to sell in this way will have to be sold on its own merits. The housewife will have to be shown what they are selling and will then be able to decide whether it is worth buying. She will not be conned into believing that it is made, produced and packed by disabled people. On this basis alone there is a chance of putting a curb on what these firms are doing.
The Bill intends to make certain that only reputable charitable organisations and certain others detailed in paragraph 2 of the Schedule to the Bill will be able to make a doorstep claim that what they are doing is on behalf of the disabled. It will mean that the housewife will be able to demand proof that the salesman at her door is from a reputable registered charity, and if he cannot produce that sort of proof she will be able with a clear conscience to send him off. She will know that if he is not from a registered charity he is not allowed to make the doorstep claim of selling on behalf of the disabled.
I do not claim that the Bill as it stands will completely stamp out these activities. In fact, I do not believe that any piece of legislation would be able to stop the real rogues involved in this business. I only wish it were possible to draft something to stop them. But some are so 1761 determined to make as much money as they can that they will go on flaunting whatever penalties this House may decide to put in their way. What they should realise is that if the Bill is approved by the House and becomes law, the penalties will be quite severe, not just for the salesman himself but for the company for which he works. The Bill provides for a fine of £400, and, on conviction on indictment, up to two years' imprisonment. I hope that if the House approves the Bill and these firms continue their activities, the courts will regard these fines as essential to put the absolute rogues out of business.
There are a number of other provisions in the Bill which seek to extend the prohibition, which in existing legislation simply refers to selling at the doorstep or by post, to the business of exchanging goods.
§ Mr. Harold Gurden (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
Before the hon. Gentleman leaves that point, would he explain how people associated with reputable organisations who go to the doorstep to sell goods will be prevented from using unsatisfactory methods?
§ Mr. Reed
Because the only people who will be permitted to make the doorstep claim will be those who are from registered charities. Anybody else who seeks to make such a claim will find himself liable to the penalties under the Bill. Registered charities and a number of other organisations, such as local authorities which may want to sell door to door to build, say, a local swimming pool for disabled people in their locality, are specifically exempted from these provisions. The provisions are aimed at the rogue firms.
§ Mr. Gurden
I understand the situation in regard to salesmen from the reputable and registered organisations, but I am wondering how the Bill would prevent the type of salesman who employs undesirable methods belonging to an organisation which is approved?
§ Mr. Reed
The Bill does not seek to deal with a number of abuses which I believe have been recognised following the Charities Act, 1960. I do not think it would be possible to deal with that sort of activity in a Bill which seeks to curb certain activities of firms and to 1762 make Amendments to that Act; like the hon. Gentleman, I have heard about one or two cases such as he outlined, but that would require amendment to other legislation and not to the Act which this Bill seeks to amend.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
The hon. Gentleman will appreciate that the Bill still preserves the right of a person who carries on business where the goods are produced by a disabled person's own labour?
§ Mr. Reed
That is right. There was no intention to stop the man working at home or setting up with a small group of friends to produce their own goods by their own labour and selling them. These are specifically exempted from the Bill's provisions, which are aimed at firms which are in the business for profit and nothing else.
§ Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)
Is not one matter for grave concern the fact that officially-sponsored disablement weeks by people like the St. Raphael's Clubs are being deliberately exploited by certain firms—in other words, that such firms are following up appeals by bona fide organisations? Although this Bill cannot cure that sort of activity, one hopes that the kind of publicity which will follow this debate will put the public on their guard about such matters.
§ Mr. Reed
The hon. Gentleman is quite right that these firms often move in after there has been a local appeal by an organisation like the St. Raphael's Clubs because the public have become accustomed to contributing to such a worthwhile organisation. Firms use the opportunity to get in and sell their goods.
Other provisions of the Bill will extend the prohibition to the idea of exchanging goods on the doorstep which existing legislation does not cover. These are the firms which leave a carrier bag on the doorstep with a note asking the householder to fill it with woollens and clothes, and when their representatives come back to pick up the bag they offer a plastic comb or something of the sort. Registered charities and other registered organisations can continue with that sort of activity, but firms which are doing this for profit will be subject to the penalties in the Bill.
1763 There are a number of other points that I could make, but some of my hon. Friends and co-sponsors hope to mention these matters. Furthermore, I understand that the Minister intends to deal with one slight danger which has been recognised; namely, that even though firms are in this business for profit only, they at least provide a form of employment for a limited number of disabled people. I understand that my lion. Friend the Member for Whitehaven (Dr. John A. Cunningham) hopes to deal with this matter if he gets the opportunity to speak.
I should like to say a sincere word of thanks for the great help I have received in drafting this Bill, particularly to Duncan Guthrie and his staff at the Central Council for the Disabled, who have taken a great deal of trouble to gather the necessary information. This was a matter of which they had been aware for some time, and they were delighted when I went to see them about legislation. I also wish to thank Mr. Keith Goldsworthy, who has been campaigning for many years for action on this matter, for providing me with information. I should also like to say a word of thanks to the Under-Secretary—and his staff—for his personal acceptance of and belief in what the Bill was seeking to do, and also for the indications of support from Government sources he has been able to give me.
The Bill seeks to stamp out a totally disgusting practice. There are a number of rackets in the country by people who have been making money by living off the backs of disabled people. To illustrate how some of these firms are rogues even since the publication of the Bill last week, one firm has already changed its tack on the doorstep. The claim is no longer to be helping the disabled. Instead, it claims to help the aged. However, even though my Bill does not seek to deal with that, this type of firm should know that, while the disabled are in a special position because of the existence of the 1958 Act, if firms make a false claim about the manufacture of any product it is possible that the Trade Descriptions Act will cover that activity and render them liable to the penalties which my Bill also includes.
Although the Bill is an extremely short one, its size bears no relation to its 1764 importance for those whom it seeks to help. I hope not only that it will put some real rogues out of business but that it will divert the genuine sympathy of those members of the public who really want to help the disabled whenever they can and that in doing that it will divert the cash involved to genuine, reputable organisations which seek to help the disabled. I have seen a newspaper estimate that about £1 million a year goes into the wrong hands as a result of the practices of which I complain. How true that is, I do not know. Suffice it to say that a great deal of money, instead of helping those whom its contributors wish to help, goes straight into the pockets of people who are in the business simply to make money. I hope that this Bill will tackle those racketeers who make a disgraceful living in this way.
I conclude my remarks simply by commending the Bill to the House.
§ 11.42 a.m.
§ Mr. John Astor (Newbury)
I am very grateful to have this opportunity to welcome the Bill and I begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. David Reed) both on his choice of subject and on the admirable manner in which he introduced it this morning.
The well-being of the disabled is a matter which commands wide support on both sides of the House. It has always been a feature of our debates concerning the disabled that they have been conducted on a non-party basis. That is reflected in the fact that the sponsors of the Bill come from all the three parties represented in this House.
It is refreshing to be able to discuss a subject on a non-party basis. This kind of co-operation has been helpful in furthering the interests of the disabled and in introducing improvements which have been brought about already. A great deal remains to be done, but this Bill is another step in the right direction.
I do not know the extent of the abuse that the Bill seeks to stamp out, but the hon. Gentleman has referred to a sufficient number of examples to give genuine cause for concern. In any event, even if it is on a very small scale, the practice of playing on people's emotions and sympathies at the expense of the disabled is a thoroughly despicable one 1765 which should be stamped out. Offenders should be subjected to the penalties in the Bill.
It is not only the immediate effect of the activities of these operators which is a worry. It is more far-reaching and serious in that these activities reflect on the good name of the disabled. It is immensely offensive to disabled people to have this kind of patronising sympathy for which they have never asked because they wish to stand on their own feet on level terms with other people. What is more, it is bound to disillusion and antagonise generous-hearted members of the public and to make it more difficult for genuine and reputable firms representing the disabled to carry on business.
It is especially unfortunate that, under the 1958 Act, it is possible for unscrupulous people to operate under a cloak of respectability by carrying registration cards which give the appearance of having the backing of the Department. I do not think that the hon. Gentleman has suggested that all firms on the register are disreputable. However, there is a certain section of unscrupulous people who take advantage of these opportunities.
It is no wonder that the Bill has the support of a large number of well-known organisations genuinely supporting the disabled. I have been approached by the Royal National Institute for the Blind which has been concerned about the problem for many years. Blind people have been subjected to a great deal of abuse, and the institute has been pressing for a Bill of this kind since as far back as 1963. I am very pleased that an opportunity has been given to this House to consider amending legislation and I am confident that my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary will be able to welcome the terms of the Bill and help it on its way.
Finally, may I apologise to the hon. Member for Sedgefield since I shall not be able to stay to hear the end of the debate. But I want to wish him well. I hope that his Bill will receive a Second Reading.
§ 11.46 a.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
Nothing is more irritating to a housewife than the call of someone trying to sell her something on the doorstep. Fairly recently, 1766 this House enacted legislation concerning orders obtained in this way. But when an attempt is made to effect a sale by representing that the goods offered are produced by the disabled and sympathetic consideration is sought by the suggestion that the profits will accrue to the disabled, naturally enough a housewife will find it difficult to resist that form of pressure. Just as it would be disgraceful to take pennies out of a blind man's can, obviously it is a heinous offence to try to make a sale on the basis of false representations of this kind.
Unfortunately, the practice exists. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sedge-field (Mr. David Reed) said, it was because of it that the Trading Representations (Disabled Persons) Act, 1958, was enacted. No doubt it was felt that that legislation would cure the evil by making it an offence unless such sales were made by persons on a register kept by the Minister. Applications for registration were to be vetted and granted only where the conditions of employment of the disabled were proved satisfactory or where a local authority or certain authorised bodies were varrying on the business.
As my hon. Friend has shown, that was not a real safeguard. It was easy to have conditions which satisfied the Minister at the time of application for registration and thereafter to reduce to a nominal figure the number of disabled people employed or to alter the conditions under which they were employed originally.
The 1958 Act provided for complaints to be made and the Minister was given power to withdraw registration. However, for that provision to be workable it would require an army of officials to see that there was no default. There is no doubt that the provisions of the Act have been abused. A number of businesses make considerable profits by selling goods which they represent as the products of the disabled, who are paid low wages and whose duties often consist of menial tasks such as packing the goods.
It is clear from the examples to which my hon. Friend referred that the Department cannot safeguard the public against sales of this kind under the provisions of the 1958 Act. My hon. Friend is to be congratulated on seizing the opportunity to remedy the position in his Bill.
1767 I understand that the Bill will abolish the register and put in its place a provision that such businesses may be carried on only by a local authority or certain authorised bodies. That will mean that in effect the profits from such sales will go, as they should, to the disabled and that, quite properly, the penalty is increased where something wrong is done in defiance of the provisions of the Bill.
I should like to refer to one matter which I hope will be considered in Committee. In the 1958 Act registration was not required when the person carrying on the business was substantially disabled and all goods about which representations were made wereeither produced, prepared, packed or otherwise made ready for sale by his own labour.No doubt those words were too wide. My hon. Friend seeks to put in their place that the sales can be carried out by the substantially disabled person if all the goods wereproduced by his own labour.That appears to be too restrictive. I hope that in Committee we might consider some alteration as there may be certain genuine cases where the disabled person seeks to do business but cannot show that the whole of it is the result of his own labour.
I particularly welcome the Bill because it will not only protect the housewife but will help the disabled. Any legislation in that direction should be encouraged.
I am glad that the need for registration is to be abolished because this required action by the Government. Here I make a point of criticism of the Government. To judge from their administration of the provisions of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act it does not seem to be very effective. Registration of the disabled by local authorities, the vital basis of that Act, has still not been done by some local authorities. In my view the Government, quite wrongly, despite pressure from many of us, have refused to publish the figures of those local authorities where there has been registration. That information might have aroused the laggard, negligent authorities to take action.
I welcome the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend most heartily on the work he has done in promoting it.
§ 11.53 a.m.
§ Sir Clive Bossom (Leominster)
I also welcome this short but important Bill. I congratulate the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. David Reed) on introducing it, doing his homework so well and bringing such excellent examples before the House.
I am pleased to be a sponsor of the Bill because indirectly it helps the war disabled. I must declare an interest immediately. I am the Vice-Chairman of the Ex-Service War Disabled Help Department which comes under the Joint Committee of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem and the British Red Cross Society. We had a meeting this week, like other organisations, including the Central Council for the Disabled, we also want to support the Bill because it will greatly help the war disabled.
The Bill will certainly tighten the noose around the necks of the wide boys who cleverly play on the emotions of people, especially housewives. They spin out some heart-rending tale and end by saying that their goods are made by the war disabled and that all profits go to the disabled. They even wear a couple of last war medals on their chest to make the story ring true.
I hope that the Bill will get national publicity so that the unsuspecting housewife can be alerted and warned that she must be a little more discriminating. When one of these fellows going from door to door calls upon her, before buying anything she should ask whether he has a pedlar's certificate or identification form from one of the registered charities for which he claims to be selling.
I realise that now is not the time to raise this matter, but I should like a complete review of the general licensing system on door-to-door selling because it needs overhauling and bringing up to date. The present legislation is not all that perfect because there are four Acts which relate to door-to-door selling. There are the Pedlars Acts, 1871 and 1881, which require salesmen to be licensed by the police. Then, as we have heard today, there is the Trading Representations (Disabled Persons) Act, 1958, and the Hire Purchase Act, 1965. I realise how difficult it would be to have a comprehensive licensing system and to administer it. Nevertheless the present system is not 1769 foolproof. It needs overhauling and tighening up. There are still too many loopholes for the unscrupulous.
People should be warned that if a man comes on to a doorstep and claims that he is selling on behalf of, say, Lord Roberts Workshop or the British Legion, it simply is not so. He is not selling for them, because neither of those organisations sells its products on a door-to-door basis. They have numerous outlets, like agricultural shows, especially the Royal Show. The bulk of their goods are made in ex-Service factories and they go straight to the trade. Therefore, anybody coming on to a doorstep and saying "I am from the Lord Roberts Workshop" is incorrect. That can be checked immediately.
There are other organisations operating industries for the benefit of war pensioners and disabled persons. Will the Under-Secretary, when he replies to this debate, tell me whether such organisations are required to register under the present Act and what their position would be under the proposed amending Bill?
I live in Herefordshire, which is an extremely rural part of England. In the countryside the racket is slightly different. A large car usually drives up and the caller shows a sample of some work which he claims is made by the disabled. It is usually a piece of furniture, which may be quite well made. He then explains that his disabled men need more capital to buy raw materials to complete the suite of furniture and he hopes that one will order it. This type of fellow is a pure criminal. Once he gets an order for the suite of furniture and the money, the customer never sees him or the goods again.
Today we have heard of several ingenious but dishonest forms of selling. The public should be warned of yet another system. One is sent a parcel with perhaps a toast rack or some brushes inside labelled "Made by the disabled". The note inside asks the recipient to send what he thinks the goods are worth—they have no fixed price on them—but adds that it is hoped he will send a little extra money for these very deserving men. This is trading on sympathy. On checking the address it will be found to be a post box forwarding address which makes it 1770 almost impossible for the police to trace the sender.
Today there are still over 300,000 war disabled. The Ex-Service War Disabled Help Department received 15,729 applications last year. To half of these applicants it was able to give loans, grants or equipment. The other half were helped with advice and welfare. The organisation has a national network of visitors so that it is in close touch with the entire country.
If shoddy goods, selling at inflated prices, are hawked around labelled "Made by the disabled", especially the war disabled, when they are not, the general public, who on the whole are most generous and sympathetic, will not feel inclined to be so generous and sympathetic when a bona fide salesman calls or when they get an appeal letter in their post boxes. They know that they have been taken for a ride the week before and therefore they will not be so generous. That is why I welcome the Bill. I hope that housewives can be alerted and that they will try to be more discriminating.
§ 12 noon
Mr. Bob Brown (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. David Reed) on what I consider to be a first-class Measure and one which should be supported fully by the House.
Having said that, I must go on to say that it is a dreadful reflection on the morality of the society in which we live that such a Measure is necessary because people are engaged in the sickening behaviour of conning the public into parting with hard-earned money under the false impression that they are helping those less fortunate than themselves.
I know that there are those who will argue that one result of the implementation of the Bill might be to reduce the amount of employment available to disabled people. That may be so but in my view, rather than bring about a reduction in employment, it will result in a reduction in the exploitation of the disabled; and the sooner that we as a society realise that physically disabled people are not helpless freaks but are willing and able to play an active and useful part in society, given the opportunity to do so, the better. It is society's 1771 job to provide the opportunity for the physically disabled to play the part in society which they are well able to do.
That is why I want to follow the argument advanced by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) about the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, 1970. There is no doubt that if local authorities get down to the job of registration and of identifying the problem, society as a whole can give the physically handicapped the opportunity which they so richly deserve of getting a full-time job and thus doing a good job for themselves and for society generally.
§ 12.3 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)
I, too, warmly welcome the Bill and congratulate the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. David Reed) on having introduced this extremely useful, vigorous and what I hope will prove to be forceful piece of legislation.
One of the encouraging things that has happened over the last couple of years has been the way in which various forms of cheap practice, and what used to be common law cheats, are being winkled out by Parliament. We have had legislation dealing with inertia selling by post. We have had legislation dealing with various aspects of forced pressure salesmanship. But no practice has been more deserving of scrutiny and criticism than the mean exploitation of the disabled which the Bill sets out to cure.
I had the honour of raising this matter in the House when, on 21st May last year, the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) raised the whole question of the operation of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act. I then brought to the notice of the House the activities of some of the door-to-door salesmen in East Anglia purporting to act on behalf of disabled people and firms representing them. I said:I hope it will be possible for the Law Officers or the Home Office to take a careful look at what I consider to be one of the meanest and cruellest frauds…to be practised on this section of the community."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st May. 1971; Vol. 817, c. 1676.]1772 I am delighted that the hon. Member for Sedgefield has taken advantage of his good fortune in the Ballot to bring this Bill before the House. I hope that it will be given an unopposed passage through the House, and I wish it good fortune.
This Measure will do two things. First, it will deal with the difficult pressure which so many charitable organisations face. In this period of mass media, in this period of constant genuine appeals for charitable support from organisations which we all respect, Outset, Shelter, and many others, it is undoubtedly difficult, and particularly so for some of the unspectacular charities, as so many of the charities supporting the disabled are, to make appeals in the ordinary way. And it becomes doubly difficult if not only are large sums of money being taken by thoroughly dishonest people in that way but that every now and again the public find themselves cheated, tricked or sometimes downright insulted by people purporting to act on behalf of disabled persons' organisations. As has been said, not only is it the case that money which should be going to the disabled is being tricked away from them, but the genuine sympathy of the public is often lost as a result of disgraceful activities of that sort. I hope that the Bill will go a long way towards dealing with the difficulty.
The second aspect is that mentioned by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Bob Brown), namely, that quite often, in order to give a veneer of legality to their squalid enterprises the people behind them have brought in one or two disabled people on the good old system that to qualify for support for the sale of Christmas cards to copy genuine enterprises it was possible to change someone's name in order to say "painted entirely by foot" or "by mouth" as the case may be. That kind of racket has been adopted by some unscrupulous firms. Then there is the classic Punch story about the small tradesman who put a notice in the front of his shop saying "For the blind", when everybody knew that it was for a new blind for the front of his premises.
That kind of thing has been done deliberately by some firms. They have 1773 either employed small numbers of disabled people, in humiliating circumstances and vastly under-paid, to give themselves a veneer of respectability or, equally bad, they have employed disabled people in sweat-shop conditions in their own homes in order to get cheap goods so that they could make a handsome profit on them.
I join the hon. Member for Sedgefield in praising the work of Mr. Keith Goldsworthy of the National Federation of St. Raphael's Clubs. From the start this organisation has brought the sort of thing about which I have been telling the House to the attention of hon. Members. It is organisations such as that, which do so much for the disabled, which will benefit most from the fact that in future when an appeal is made people who answer it can be sure that their efforts will help genuinely disabled people who really need their support.
§ 12.10 p.m.
§ Mr. Laurie Pavitt (Willesden. West)
This Bill seeks to get rid of despicable rackets. There is nothing lower than individuals who crawl in after people who, though blind or disabled, are trying to earn their living, and con the housewife. The forceful speech of the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) was a notable addition to the debate, but every hon. Member who has spoken is aware of the depths to which these persons sink when they seek to con housewives in this way.
I join in the congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. David Reed) on the admirable way in which he has introduced the Bill. This means that we can all make very short speeches, because he has put most of the material before the House. I admire the way in which he has been able to seize hold of a subject which has enabled him to do two things simultaneously. Most of us would want to use this opportunity to put the whole world to rights with a huge Bill to solve everything at once. My hon. Friend has instead taken two vital matters; given consumer protection to the housewife and a tremendous fillip to the genuine need for the disabled, who want to act as normally as they can in their community, to earn their living and not to exist in institutions or homes but to take their place as ordinary citizens.
1774 My hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Bob Brown) reminded us of a third thing connected with the Bill. That is the tremendous move for therapy for the disabled, which has changed from occupational therapy to industrial therapy. This is a major breakthrough. As my hon. Friend pointed out, the Bill is the other facet of that. If there is to be an extension of therapy for the disabled, the kind of protection that the Bill provides is the other half of the problem in order to ensure that that extension can go on in the right way.
I follow very much the contribution made by the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. Astor). I, too, would like to bring to the notice of the House the support of blind people for this Bill. I have received a letter from Tom Parker, who is known to many hon. Members as Secretary of the National League of the Blind, urging the quick passage of the Bill and the complete support of the House and putting his organisation firmly behind it.
Blind people have been aware since 1958 that the Act passed in that year was a cloak of respectability. They knew that their members were among the most exploited. The League makes a number of points which should be considered by the House and in Committee. I wonder whether, in addition to the safeguards which are in the Bill, something could be done to ensure that the credentials not just of the person selling but of the goods themselves are investigated. This is the basic idea of getting value for money.
In other words, one would not try to suggest that an inferior article should be accepted just because it had been made by a blind person. Blind people claim that what they make is as good as anything made by a sighted person, and they do not want to get by on shoddy goods. They would be happy to be able to say, "This is made by a blind man and the craftsmanship is unique and worth while, and we do not want, even though the Act protects us, it to be bought on a charity basis."
They would like consideration also of the way in which the Act will operate in localities. One racket which has been 1775 condemned today is an area-by-area sales campaign, in which the slugs crawl into one area, leaving their slime over the doorsteps, and, once they have finished. move completely out of that area and into another. We shall have to consider an extension, under the 1958 Act, of the way in which local authorities have power to deal with this. Might it not be possible, under this Bill or another, to require notification to the local authority of such a sales campaign, even though it does not fall with the provisions of the Act?
Publicity will be the most important thing to flow from this Bill. Local newspapers should be able to notify citizens of the way that it will work, and to whom they can apply to protect themselves from racketeers. The mass media must also be used, especially television, to let housewives know their rights. A housewife should be able to know very quickly how to get on to the telephone to the right person without going through ten departments of the town hall before she can alert them to operate the penalties of the Bill.
The penalty prescribed by the Bill is inevitably limited by the general provisions of such penalties, but one would hope that, if the Bill is passed, such penalties will be operated stringently and that publicity will be given to the way in which people who have broken the law pay for their misdemeanours.
In commending this Bill, with the support of the blind people, may I pay tribute to those blind people? The House was concerned last week and will be concerned again on Monday with unemployment. In an area or a region where unemployment reaches one in ten of the working population, we are naturally profoundly disturbed. But blind people give their support to the Bill at a time when one in ten blind people who are able to work are out of work because of the general employment situation. It is one of the blots on our economic society that, when the economic pressure is on it is the blind and the disabled who are often the first to feel the worst effects of it.
Although this means that blind people feel the economic problem to a greater degree than the sighted people, it is to their credit that they, like hon. Members, give their support to this Bill.
§ 12.16 p.m.
§ Mr. Martin McLaren (Bristol, North-West)
I also warmly welcome the Bill and congratulate the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. David Reed) on a good speech.
The Bill seeks to amend the 1958 Act, so I thought that the best way that I could try to understand it was to look up the proceedings on that Act, which was introduced by Mr. Victor Collins, as he then was. I was interested to find that the hon. Member who acclaimed as the real author and sponsor of that Act was my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment, who 14 years ago was Parliamentary Secretary to the same Department. That shows his long and benevolent record in these matters, and I know that the tradition is carried on by my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Dudley Smith)
May I assure my hon. Friend that my hon. Friend is just as interested, if not more so, in the whole problem of the disabled today as he then was?
§ Mr. McLaren
I am sure that that is so.
As the hon. Member for Sedgefield told us, the mischief which the Bill aims to eradicate is that of people who fraudulently impose on householders by pretending to sell on behalf of the disabled or the blind when in fact they are not doing so. As my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom) said, any form of house-to-house selling needs to be carefully watched. Door-to-door selling is different from shop selling. A woman goes into a shop because she wants to buy something or inspect the goods. She is free to leave whenever she wishes, On the doorstep the seller may have called unexpectedly and his visit may be unwelcome. The husband may be at work and the wife may be overborne by persuasive talk. Indeed, she may buy something she does not want simply to get rid of the man on the doorstep, or she may be credulous and believe anything she is told.
For these and other reasons house-to-house selling should be regulated and dishonest people should not be allowed to do it. The method of regulation 1777 adopted in the 1958 Act was mainly by registration with the Secretary of State. The method proposed in the Bill would remove the need to register but extend the exemption procedure to all bodies registered under the Charities Act, 1960.
I take a personal interest in this matter because I am the deputy chairman, unpaid of course, of a society which provides employment for the blind. It is called General Welfare of the Blind. We employ about 100 blind people in London and Luton. We also make use of the house-to-house direct method of selling. Indeed, between 20 per cent. and 30 per cent. of our turnover is disposed of in this way.
We sell soap, which is one of the traditional blind industries, and more recently we have developed a trade in aerosols, bath salts, shampoos, cleaners and other goods of this kind. We find that this method of selling helps us to provide employment for the blind. We can get a better price for our goods this way than if we were to go through the normal channels of trade and sold to wholesalers at a discount.
I am glad to say that we shall be in no way adversely affected by the Bill, because we are a registered charity under the Charities Act. We welcome the Measure because if the black sheep are eliminated, the pastures for the white sheep will become all the more improved.
I will describe the precautions that we take against fraud. We issue cards, one of which I hold in my hand, on which we name the society and give its address. These credential cards are signed by our general manager. Printed on each card is a price list, and this protects the housewife against paying too much. She can verify from the card that the price being asked corresponds with that printed on it. The card further states that the holder is not entitled to collect subscriptions on behalf of the society but is merely there to sell goods. It gives the name and address of the representative and bears his or her photograph. It also bears a number to make it easy to trace the seller in case of complaint. The wrappers of our goods also bear the name and address of our society.
I hope that these precautions go some way to meeting the points that the hon. 1778 Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) had in mind. I have pleasure in telling the House that we receive many letters from householders expressing their appreciation of our work, asking us to call again and saying that they are recommending us to their friends.
I have given these details of the practical experience of my society because I thought that they would be of interest to hon. Members. I have great pleasure in warmly welcoming the Bill and I wish it every success in its further stages.
§ 12.26 p.m.
§ Dr. John A. Cunningham (Whitehaven)
I begin like all hon. Members by welcoming the Bill and by congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Sedge-field (Mr. David Reed) on his choice. I am proud to be a sponsor of the Measure because since entering the House I have expressed a general interest in the problems of the disabled.
I wish to concentrate on one aspect of the Bill relating to the possible loss of employment opportunities—and, hence, the possibility of unemployment—for disabled people. It has always been one of the major claims or planks in the argument of firms operating in this sphere that they are providing good employment opportunities for disabled people. The Central Council for the Disabled is worried about this aspect of the Measure, though it should not be a problem to concern us unduly.
I gather that about 40 firms of that nature are registered with the Department. Apparently they employ among them only about 100 disabled people. My hon. Friend suggested that one of the firms he visited claimed to be employing 60 disabled people, which suggests that the other 39 registered firms are employing only 40 in total. This highlights the most unsavoury aspect of the operations of these companies. because they have undoubtedly been exploiting general public sympathy towards the disabled.
The Bill will not prevent those firms from continuing to sell from door to door but it will prevent them from making spurious claims on behalf of the disabled. Reputably manufactured and good products should sell on their merits and not as a result of a general desire by the public to help disabled people. One 1779 hopes, therefore, that firms in this category which are reputable will be able to continue.
When the 1958 Act was going through Parliament the then hon. Member for Lowestoft said on Third Reading:We have wondered how best we could combat this very great abuse—this evil, as I would term it—which has resulted not only in the exploitation of the disabled, but the exploitation of the public."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 20th June, 1958 Vol. 589, c. 1488.]That has certainly been true. It is not just a question of protecting the disabled, as my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne, West (Mr. Bob Brown) said. One of the most despicable aspects of operations in this sphere has been the general exploitation of the public on the doorstep.
The Bill will allow a period of several months for firms operating in this area to make alternative arrangements. Disabled people who may be displaced and who have proved their capabilities in carrying out a full-time job often have less difficulty in obtaining alternative employment than those who have never had the opportunity of working.
Only about 42 per cent. of employers actually take up the quota of disabled persons as described in the 1944 Act. I therefore make a special appeal to the Minister to take up this matter with industries and local authorities, many of which do not have a good record.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
We have been and constantly are pursuing and pressing this point. There are many difficulties. It does not necessarily mean that a firm is not fulfilling its quota or is not complying with the spirit of the law because there are sometimes difficulties in filling particular vacancies. But we are very conscious of this matter and our officials press for this all the time. Indeed, early last year we took special measures to try to get local firms to take a far more active interest, via pressure from chambers of commerce and Rotary clubs, and it is going fairly well.
§ Dr. Cunningham
I conclude by asking the Minister whether he will make a special plea, particularly in areas where some disabled people may be displaced because of the introduction of this Measure. I am sure that if that were done, the hardship to the disabled at present 1780 in employment would be absolutely minimised. The important thing, as the general opinion in the House today has shown, is that this abuse ought to be eliminated regardless.
§ 12.32 p.m.
§ Mr. Harold Gurden (Birmingham, Selly Oak)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. David Reed) and those who have helped him. I congratulate the hon. Member also on his speech, although I wish that he had gone further into some of the detail of the Bill as there are a number of questions which some of us would like answered. Perhaps we shall be helped when my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, as I hope he will, gives us some guidance.
This has been a very good debate, as very often happens on a Friday. There is no doubt that we are all inclined to agree with the sentiments which the House has expressed so far and most of us are only too anxious, as I was, to attend the debate and to hear what could be done to help the disabled.
But one has some fears about legislation. The House is very prolific with its legislation. On a matter of this kind, it is so often difficult to decide whether in practice it will help. The hon. Gentleman said that the original Act was rather useless in practice. No doubt when that Bill was put before the House it received sympathy and support equal to that attracted by the present Bill. I am one of those who feel very cautious about legislation being so easily churned through. We should ask ourselves to what extent in practice it is enforceable. We know of the problems of the police and the enormous amount of work they have to do. Even at this stage, I still have doubts as to what extent the Bill will be practicable if it is made law. It is not my intention to oppose it. I have heard today nothing but praise for the Bill. I have no doubt that the House will give it its approval and I shall be very pleased.
In my constituency I am concerned with animal welfare. I am the president of the local branch of the R.S.P.C.A. Often I have to explain to the members that legislation is not always the answer to what we wish to achieve. There is so much to be done in other fields. We all know that the Acts on the Statute Book concerning animal welfare are not really 1781 effective. Immediately a Bill becomes an Act, many of us receive letters from constituents asking why the Act is not enforced or why a certain person is allowed to do this and that. The difficulty of enforcement of this sort of legislation, particularly what I call Private Members' Friday legislation, should be looked at generally. I hope to have a reassurance from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary about the chances of the Bill being effective.
I apologise for missing a few minutes of the debate, and I may be at some loss here, but I am wondering about the point made by the hon. Member for Sedge-field concerning the employment of disabled people. He said that 60 disabled people were employed in one factory and that the Bill would have an effect upon them and the factory. Can we be sure that there will not be further unemployment of disabled people as a result of it? A few minutes ago it was said that there would be opportunity for the replacement and re-employment of the people who would be put out of business. But it would be a sad thing for disabled people who were employed if they were added to the unemployment roll.
§ Mr. David Reed
The firm that I mentioned employs 60 people in three different locations throughout the country, so the localised problem in each case of placing disabled people who could possibly—I put it no higher than that—be displaced would not be a major local problem. Even if it were equally split between the three locations, it would be 20 in each of the three large areas. The Bill would prevent the firm in question, or any other firm, continuing to employ those people to manufacture or pack products and sell them door-to-door. The only difference would be that as the firm would not be able to claim that the profits were going to help the disabled, the product would have to sell on its own merits.
§ Mr. Gurden
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, because his explanation is helpful. I am sure that we would all like to be very careful to ensure that no disabled person would be out of a job.
Mention was made of the gullibility of people when on the doorstep and how it was exploited. I am not too sure how much legislation can intervene and be effective on this matter. The hon. Gentle 1782 man mentioned the rates of profit, the ratio of wages, shoddy goods and the like. Short of a different type of government in a country such as ours, I am not satisfied that we could ever be sure of protecting gullible people. I do not take too much notice of that point. Surely all of us are subject to sharp practice sometime in our lives, certainly on the doorstep. I am a little concerned that an unsatisfactory and undesirable ratio of profits, ratio of wages and shoddy goods argument should have been brought into this. In any society there will always be some people who must learn to protect themselves. If the Bill will help the disabled, I hope that it becomes an Act.
In my constituency we have a very active branch of an organisation for the disabled and I have often given it my support. Most of the legislation to help the disabled has been very useful. I congratulate Labour Members on the enormous amount they have done for the disabled, who have been very encouraged when they have come here to listen to debates and talk to us. I shall not delay the conclusion of the debate any further. We wait anxiously to hear what my hon. Friend has to say about the Bill, particularly on enforceability and how useful the Bill can be to the disabled in practice.
§ 12.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Ted Leadbitter (The Hartlepools)
My hon. Friend the Member for Sedge-field (Mr. David Reed) has done a service to the House, and will bring considerable relief to many people in the country, by introducing a Bill which is clear, concise and deals with one of the most atrocious practices. Everyone will agree that those who profit from the disabled by all manner of sales techniques can look to this House for no succour whatsoever.
The Bill has some weaknesses, but not for the reasons given by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden). He said that some people must learn to defend themselves. But Parliament and other representatives of the public have a primary duty to accept that many people cannot defend themselves, and we must see that such people are not used by unscrupulous people.
My hon. Friend, having worked hard and consulted many people in drafting the Bill, needs the support of Parliament 1783 and eventually of the Government, I believe, in trying to eliminate some of the legislative weaknesses that appear to be in the Bill. For example, the primary object is to stop people selling goods by door-to-door salesmanship or through the post with the aid of representations that those goods have been made by disabled people or that disabled people will profit from their sale.
I suspect that those making large sums by means of such sales techniques will have all sort of people, particularly legal advisers, already telling them how best to get round the Bill. For example, what is meant by "benefit"? It does not take much ingenuity to develop sales techniques to get round that term. Is it necessary to say that the goods have been made by disabled people? Omission of those words can get round the Bill. My hon. Friend fully agrees with me about such weaknesses. His intent to stop the practice in question is firm. He agrees that in Committee there will have to be close examination of the wording so that the ingenuity of Parliament can be matched against the ingenuity and sharp practice of the salesman.
§ Mr. Gurden rose—
§ Mr. Leadbitter
I will not give way because we must consider other hon. Members who wish to speak on later business, and the hon. Gentleman has had his say.
The country should know that many thousands of pounds are being taken from ordinary people by companies purporting to be carrying out good works. I recently had to deal with the case of a concern registered under the Charities Act, 1960, in which of over £20,000 income—small fry compared with other examples—only £96 was put to relief. The rest was spent on cats and all sorts of expenses, hidden and not hidden, but just within the fringe of the law. One of my hon. Friends had some misgivings about the Bill, but because of that kind of example I know that all hon. Members will want to see the Bill, although small, as a pioneering piece of legislation that eventually, with the Government's support, can be tightened up just a little more to do what my hon. Friend wants to see done.
1784 We want to play the game with the disabled and not use them. They need so much help that we should fight hard against the disreputable character that misuses them. My hon. Friend on the Front Bench, the hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris), who put the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act on the Statute Book, is of the same mind. More important, we want to see that the general public are satisfied when they give money to good causes that all the money goes to them and that large chunks of it are not used to keep people in luxury in good houses, running expensive cars and having holidays abroad in the winter.
§ 12.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
I warmly sympathise with the objectives of the Bill, and also commend the way in which the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. David Reed) moved its Second Reading. If I have any reservations about it, I hope that the House will be indulgent, because I put them forward in the desire to help and not to hinder. It may be of assistance if I express my view now, and not when the Bill begins its progress through Committee.
When we are dealing with Bills that amend an existing Act, four questions should be asked and answered. First, has the principal Act failed? Second, if it has, what are its defects? Third, are the amendments needed for their own sake? Do they contribute positively to the solution of the problem? Fourth, do they remedy the defects that have appeared in the principal Act?
When we consider those questions and answers in relation to this Bill, we are reminded of the problem facing a legislature wanting to stamp out a mischief, and the limitations upon it in seeking to do so by legislation. There must be limits to which Parliament should go in so tightening up a prohibitory Act as to affect the freedom of individual citizens. We must keep that clearly in mind when considering any Bill to tighten up an Act's provisions, especially its penal provisions.
I was in sympathy with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) when he queried the necessity as a matter of principle of new law 1785 on any subject, especially when a law already exists on that subject. Should we not therefore consider that there is already an Act to deal with this mischief? Should we not ask ourselves whether the problem is not so much the need to bring in yet another law to deal with this aspect but to consider the enforcement of the existing Act?
Hon. Members have made reference to another Act of which there are complaints of inadequate enforcement by local authorities. If this is a genuine complaint, is it right for Parliament to meet it by passing yet another Act to deal with it? Are we not over-legislating when we come to passing Bills which amend Acts which themselves deal substantially with the problem they were passed to deal with? That also applies to this problem. I accept that to some extent the principal Act has failed because certain bogus firms are on the register and that they are there because they are able to evade the Ministry's conditions for registration. The hon. Member for Sedgefield said such firms were able to take on extra disabled workers at the time of application for registration and put them off immediately afterwards. But is not the remedy to this the tightening up of the Ministry's own requirements for registration or the provision of some continuing supervision of firms on the register rather than yet another Act of Parliament?
Most hon. Members who have spoken have rightly condemned the practice of using disabled persons as a means of feathering one's own pocket. But the Act of 1958 itself sets out to condemn and stamp out that mischief. I am sorry that the hon. Member for the Hartlepools (Mr. Leadbitter) is not here at the moment. but he made the sort of speech all of which could have been, and probably was, made on the principal Act 14 years ago. I say with great deference to him and to others that it is very easy to elicit and express sympathy on an emotive subject like this. Any person suffering any sort of handicap naturally attracts the sympathy of all decent-minded people. But in this Chamber in particular so many platitudes are uttered, if I may say so—
§ Mr. Stanbrook
—especially on Fridays, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. Ronald Bell) reminds me—that we must surely be on our guard and, when dealing with a Bill which after all is only dealing with the failures of an existing Act, be certain that we are concentrating on the merits of this Bill and not on the merits of the Act. It is this confusion of thought which leads to so much misunderstanding, if not among hon. Members then certainly among the public. So much "guff" is talked about these emotive subjects in the House that—again with great deference and respect as a comparatively new Member—I suggest we should pay greater attention to the true merits of the question before us.
In this spirit, I draw attention to some of the provisions in the Bill which strike me as needing some explanation. I have no criticism of the way in which the hon. Gentleman introduced the Bill, but he said nothing about what appears to me to be a somewhat curious amendment to be effected by adding the words "article or thing" to "goods". I do not know on whose advice he chooses to insert those words in the principal Act. The word "goods" appears in it a number of times and, therefore, in this Bill. The reference to "articles or things" also occurs a number of times.
I had understood that "goods" included "articles" and "things". Why the necessity to add yet more words to yet another Act which controls the conditions under which our people live? As I understand it. Section 62 of the Sale of Goods Act, 1893, defines "goods" very widely as…all chattels personal other than things in action and money…which may be freely translated, I think, as almost everything portable. One wonders whether such an amendment is necessary to the principal Act in these terms—whether the words "article or thing" are really necessary in the context.
Another extension to the Act proposed by the Bill—this was mentioned by the hon. Gentleman—is the insertion of words providing for the process of exchange to be covered. The Bill would insert the words:…any goods or exchanging any article or thing for any other article or thing".1787 That appears to me to lead to a certain amount of confusion. We are dealing with the selling of goods door-to-door or by post. We are now asked to amend the Act so as to cover the exchange of goods on a door-to-door basis. The illustration given by the hon. Gentleman was a case where a firm leaves a carrier bag outside a private house with a note inviting the householder to fill it—with old clothes, for example. In return, some other goods or article will be given to the householder. If this is the mischief which the Bill aims to cure, one wonders why the words of the Bill are not framed so as to cover, for example, part exchange. It would be imagined that in most transactions of that kind money comes into it. There must be something made up with money. I wonder whether those words are well drafted.
Having queried additions in the Bill, I now query an omission. The Bill covers only goods, articles and things—goods being covered by the original Act, articles and things added by the Bill, as I think unnecessarily. Why are not services included? Surely the practice to which we are referring covers the offer of services such as window cleaning, car washing or gardening by people purporting to act on behalf of disabled persons.
§ Mr. David Reed
I do not wish to interrupt the beautiful job the hon. Member is making of dissecting my Bill. He has raised many points which I hope will be dealt with in Committee. Would he accept my invitation to do what he can through his own Whips and to make sure that he gets on to the Committee, if the Bill reaches that stage?
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I have a confession to make. I do not aspire to be a member of the Committee. If I can put these points, at least I am doing my duty when I have the opportunity. Perhaps they are not worthy of consideration and are of no substance. If we are thinking of amending the original Act perhaps some consideration ought to be given to the practice which might arise in future, if it has not arisen in the past, of offering services on the same basis as that upon which goods are offered. The real mischief is misrepresenting the motive as help for disabled persons.
1788 The next point I turn to deals with the penal provisions of the Bill. As I understand it, it is part and parcel of the intentions of the sponsors to tighten up the principal Act not merely to cover a loophole but to make the Act a greater deterrent. This should be considered very seriously because as it stands the Act provides for offences to be dealt with as summary offences alone—a fine of up to £100 and/or imprisonment for up to three months. It deals with essentially a small offence, when the offender has no option of trial by jury. What happens here—and the Explanatory Memorandum makes it clear that the origin of the proposal to increase the penalties is the Trade Descriptions Act—is that the offence is made a summary offence punishable by a fine alone of up to £400. There is no reference to imprisonment there. In addition it is an indictable offence with a fine and/or imprisonment for up to two years.
Do we really want to tighten up the Act quite so severely? This means that the alleged offender would not have the option of trial by jury; it would be an option open to the prosecution bringing the case on indictment. Whereas before no offender stood in greater risk of punishment beyond a fine of up to £100 or three months' imprisonment he is now open to a much greater hazard at the option of the prosecution alone.
§ Mr. McLaren
My hon. Friend is making a series of what might be described as Committee points. Then he says he does not want to be a member of the Standing Committee. He should know that having taken part in the Second Reading debate he stands in grave danger of being selected. Then he will have every opportunity of developing his points at further length.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I am aware of the danger, and that is why I was glad to take the opportunity when the question was raised earlier of saying that I do not aspire to the honour of being a member of the Standing Committee, with great respect. If I am reluctantly obliged to serve—I see the Chairman of the Selection Committee now entering the Chamber—
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It is just possible that the longer the hon. Member goes on the greater the danger he will be in.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I accept your reproof, Mr. Speaker.
Perhaps I may go on to what I regard as a point of more general importance relative to the question of tightening up the penal provisions. As the Explanatory Memorandum says, the model for those provisions is the Trade Descriptions Act. I wonder whether it is right as a matter of principle to amend an Act by bringing up its penal provisions to the level of the major Act in that area. The Trade Descriptions Act covers a great many offences, providing fairly severe penalties. There is a time limit on presecution and there is a defence available of mistake or accident in any case of breach—points which are not present in the Bill. I wonder whether it is right that the principal Act should be revised so as to make it more serious.
At the same time it is of interest to note that under the Trading Representations Act, 1968, it is an offence to make a false statement about the origin of goods. I wonder whether the sponsors of the Bill have really considered that existing law already provides a remedy for the mischief they hope to cure.
§ Mr. Reed
If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my speech he would know that I made the point that disabled people are a special case because of the existence of the 1958 Act. I mentioned a firm which is already changing its tack and claiming to represent old people. Because of the 1958 Act it was necessary to amend this with disabled people in mind because this is the major abuse. The hon. Gentleman is making the point that we ought to be careful about over-legislating. Bearing that in mind, will he accept that one of the purposes of the Bill is to reduce legislation by repealing a large part of current law?
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I am coming to that point. The Trade Descriptions Act is a good example of what happens when we move from one Measure to another. The provisions of the 1958 Act are for a specific purpose, and those of the 1968 Act are of general application. We must not lose sight of the fact that the 1968 Act might well have been used for the benefit of disabled persons. We do not have to rely on a Bill aimed specifically at the protection of a class. There are Acts of general application which can assist.
1790 There are a number of other points which I could raise but, since I have been invited to assist in the Committee Stage, perhaps I might communicate them directly by letter to the hon. Member for Sedgefield. I know that they will be considered seriously by him.
One point which I should mention here is the position of the independent disabled person. From his point of view this will be a serious change in the law. Under the Bill a person carrying on business who is substantially disabled and, therefore, exempted from the provisions of the Act will be restricted in that he may sell only things which are produced by his own labour. He may not sell things which he has prepared, packed or otherwise made ready for sale. I ask the sponsors of the Bill to consider this point carefully.
Are we doing an injustice to individual disabled persons who do not themselves wholly produce the products which they are selling? It will be an offence for a disabled person to sell goods which he has not wholly produced, and that is a fairly stringent restriction upon an individual disabled man. A disabled person who buys flowers from Covent Garden early in the morning, makes them into bunches for sale and carries them from door to door will be acting illegally if the Bill is passed into law.
One effect of the Bill may be to drive out of business firms which are now employing disabled labour. Although those firms may be making use of existing legislation to gain cover and respectability where none is justified, nevertheless if they are driven out of business this will mean a certain amount of unemployment, albeit temporary, for the disabled persons they now employ. The paradoxical effect of the Bill if it becomes law is that it will reduce employment opportunities for the handicapped.
For those reasons I suggest that a little more consideration should be given to the Bill than perhaps is justified by its general motive, which is wholly laudable. We must take a fairly hard-hearted view. Is the legislation really necessary? Does it cure the mischief? Is any merit that it has balanced by the positive disadvantage of over-loading the Statute Book?
§ 1.14 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for Employment (Mr. Dudley Smith)
The 1791 care of the disabled and the protection of their interests are matters in which Parliament has taken considerable interest in recent years. It is, therefore, a pleasure to have an opportunity today of talking on this subject.
I begin by warmly congratulating the hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. David Reed) on his good fortune in coming so high in the Ballot. This is something which we all envy. Some hon. Members are here for many years without ever achieving a place in the Ballot. I also congratulate the hon. Member for Sedge-field on his choice of a subject, which commands wide interest and support from both sides of the House, and for his lucidity and fair exposition of this well-considered Bill.
However, knowing as I do the deep sense of responsibility which all hon. Members share in matters affecting the disabled, I feel it incumbent upon me to explain as clearly as I can, and in such detail as is necessary, the limitations—these have been raised by many hon. Members—and also the merits of the Bill. To do so I must first talk about the principal Act which the Bill seeks to amend and the experience of my Department under successive Governments in the administration of that Act. My hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) drew attention to this.
The Trading Representations (Disabled Persons) Act, 1958, was an honest attempt to control the activities of traders engaged in selling goods from door to door or by post who represent those goods as being made by blind or other disabled people.
It was introduced as a Private Member's Bill in 1958 because of the concern which was then being felt by such organisations as the Royal National Institute for the Blind that by exaggerating the extent to which they employed blind or otherwise disabled people, and by charging high prices for inferior goods—the point made by the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Pavitt) such traders were exploiting public sympathy for the blind and disabled and were harming the interests of genuine charities. The hon. Member for Sedgefield referred to it as 1792 a racket, and that is not too strong a word. My hon. Friend the Member for Newbury (Mr. Astor) said that the blind had been particularly exploited.
Under the Act, traders, other than nonprofit-making organisations, selling goods by post or from door to door and representing that they employ—or that the sale of the goods otherwise benefits—disabled people are required to register with the Department of Employment. Before they can be registered, my Department has to be satisfied that the representation which they propose to make can reasonably and properly be made and that they fairly convey the the extent and nature of the employment or benefit to be provided. A trader is liable to have his registration cancelled if he is found to be making representations which do not do so. In that event he has a right of appeal to a magistrates' court.
Since the Act came into force a total of 151 applications for registration has been received and some 70 traders have been registered. Thirty applications have been rejected and the remainder have been either withdrawn or found to have been made by traders who were exempt. There are 40 current registrations covering, some 200 workers. The largest firm registered gives employment to about 50 disabled people in packing goods, but most of the registered traders are quite small, with at most only a handful of disabled employees.
Over the years my Department has received a fairly steady number of complaints about the activities of these traders. Most of these complaints are about the quality of goods in relation to prices charged, or to the sales methods adopted. These are matters which are outside the scope of the principal Act and have nothing to do with the employment of disabled people. But some of the complaints are about mis-representaton, usually to the effect that the canvasser had said that he was selling on behalf of the blind or disabled. While every complaint has been carefully and genuinely investigated by the Department of Employment, it has proved most difficult to obtain evidence about oral misrepresentation which would be accepted in a court of law. Hon. Members with any experience of these matters 1793 will understand the difficulties, and it has been so proved in this case.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell
Is my hon. Friend referring to the practices of registered traders, and when he speaks of representations which they have made, does he mean that they were suggesting that their organisations were non-profitmaking?
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
There have been complaints about both. There have been complaints about those who are registered making the wrong sort of representation, and there have been allegations of shoddy goods; but there have also been representations about people who were not so registered. It is extremely difficult to get to grips with them when the bird has flown. Operators who are not registered are often fly-by-nights, and it is difficult to trace them afterwards and bring an action.
Although I think it is fair to say that the Act has enabled the Department of Employment to exercise a measure of control over written representations, I must admit that it has proved a difficult Act to administer, particularly in relation to oral representations and the nature and extent of benefits derived by disabled people from the sale of goods. We are prepared to acknowledge that the situation has been far from satisfactory. For example, if a trader employs just two or three disabled people packing, say, soap and toiletries, one cannot deny that disabled people benefit from his activities and he may, subject to appropriate conditions, qualify for registration under the Act.
I must say to my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Orpington that unless a large staff is deployed to keep a close check on the activities of all the salesmen employed by the trader—and this is impracticable—it becomes difficult to prove at a later stage that in reality only a small percentage of the goods sold have been packed by disabled employees. The hon. Member for Sedgefield said that we would need a whole army of officials to police this matter.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
Yes, I can. I was appalled when I heard how many prose 1794 cutions had taken place since 1958: only two. This is not because of lack of vigilance by my Department, but ensuring enforcement would need a great expansion in the number of civil servants employed. The fact that there have been only two prosecutions shows the validity of bringing in an amending Bill.
An unforeseen consequence of the Act has been that traders have been able to use the fact of their registration to give the impression that they have in some way received official recopnition from my Department. It is possible, therefore, for unscrupulous people to comply. or at least to appear to comply, with the letter of the law and use their certificate of registration as a "cloak of respectability" to enable them to exploit for great personal gain the undoubted readiness of the British public to help those who are handicapped. It has even been known for somebody to flourish a piece of paper and say, "Here is a licence from the Government saying that we are permitted to do this."
Instances have come to light in which traders have employed what I can only call unpleasant canvassers who have caused anxiety to elderly and lonely householders during late evening calls. It would not be unusual for some of these unsatisfactory canvassers themselves to apply for registraticn as traders when they have discovered the lucrative nature of the business on which they have been engaged for other people. My Department has, of course, no control over the traders and their salesmen, otherwise than endeavouring to ensure that representations which they make are not untrue.
Having spoken frankly about some of the problems which have arisen in the administration of the present Act, I would not like to give the impression that all registered traders are unscrupulous scoundrels. I have every reason to think, on the advice I have had, that of the 40 traders with current registrations, well over half act more or less as agents of genuine charities or workshops providing facilities for the employment of disabled people under the provisions of the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act. 1944, and securing for themselves a modest living in the process.
1795 Nevertheless, I think it is right to ask these charities and workshops whether it is necessary or relevant—and this point was brought out by the hon. Member for Willesden, West—in 1972 for them to want their products hawked round from door to door. Hon. Members who have visited Remploy factories or have seen their showrooms in Bruton Street in London or the showrooms of the Industrial Advisers to the Blind on the Albert Embankment will know, as I do, that severely disabled people employed in modern progressive factories are producing high class goods which sell entirely on merit in the open market, and mostly through industrial and commercial outlets. This is a very important consideration. To most of these organisations and factories, hawking from door to door is not only unattractive; it is also irrelevant and unnecessary. I very much hope that with this new legislation those organisations will take the point.
This is not to say that such organisations do not need a steady flow of orders so that they can continue to provide employment for those disabled people who are too seriously afflicted to be able to work in ordinary industrial conditions. I would therefore like to take this opportunity of asking all hon. Members to use whatever influence they have in persuading businessmen seriously to consider placing orders with Remploy Ltd., Industrial Advisers to the Blind, or sheltered workshops of all kinds sponsored by the Government, either for finished products for sale or for services such as packaging and distribution, or by sub-contracting parts of their processes or assembly work. What may well be a convenience to a firm can often be a valuable source of employment for the seriously disabled.
Moreover, such bodies as the Royal National Institute for the Blind have also made the point that some of the traders project a very wrong image of blind people of today. Given the right sort of training and aids, blind people are increasingly opting for employment under ordinary conditions and are competently holding down jobs as university lecturers, civil servants, teachers, computer programmers, shorthand and audio typists and a wide range of industrial jobs. I am happy indeed in this debate to have the backing today from one 1796 of our service departments of an official who is an expert on these matters and who is a registered blind person. This gives an indication of the important jobs that many blind people hold.
Voluntary effort and voluntary funds are, however, still very essential if our great national charities are to fulfil their rôles of undertaking research and pioneering work and discovering the changing needs of handicapped people in rapidly changing industrial and social environments. It is, therefore, important that the interests of these bodies should not be undermined by the small group of unscrupulous people with whom we have been dealing in this debate.
It might be argued that there is a strong case in this day and age for a total ban on the making of representations about benefits which disabled people derive from the sale of goods which they have helped to make or pack. My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster (Sir Clive Bossom) has brought into account the whole question of doorstep selling and canvassing. He will probably know that this is a matter for my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, since this Bill is concerned only with the employment of the disabled. But I agree with him that there might be a look at the whole question of representations which are made on the doorstep, if we exclude political canvassing. There must always be a certain amount of licence allowed to those engaged in politics.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
However, I am reasonably satisfied that bona fide undertakings are likely to reduce rather than expand the practice of selling from door to door or on grounds of sympathy. This Bill will encourage that reduction. It is reasonable, however, that genuine non-profit making bodies should still have the right to make relevant representations. My hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West (Mr. McLaren) drew attention to this point and explained to us the very proper and worthwhile procedures followed by his organisation to see that the operation is carried out properly.
§ Mr. W. R. Rees-Davies (Isle of Thanet)
Can my hon. Friend say 1797 whether any of our great national charities engage in door-to-door selling and canvassing?
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
Some do. I do not think that my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Thanet (Mr. Rees-Davies) heard the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West, who explained that he was the deputy chairman of a well-known and reputable organisation which did this but that there were wide supervisory powers in his organisation on this point. I hope that as a result of the progress that we make today there will be a diminishing return as regards the amount of door-to-door canvassing.
It is against this background that I wish, on behalf of the Government, to examine the provisions of the Bill. I appreciate the way that the hon. Member for Sedgefield approached my Department at a very early stage and took my officials into his confidence. He was generous in his tribute to my officials and the help that they have been able to give. His cooperation has enabled us to approach the matter sensibly and wisely, and it is important that it should have been discussed today.
As the hon. Member explained, Clause 1 of the Bill seeks to do four things. I shall deal with each of them in turn.
First, it proposes an extension of the prohibition provided in Section 1 of the principal Act against the making of representations to cover representations made in exchanging or offering to exchange any article or thing. In that connection, I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington. I am not a lawyer, though I believe that my hon. Friend is. I have had preliminary advice on this matter, and it may be that the words "article or thing" are not crucial. However, that is a matter which can be considered in Committee. I do not want to delay the House today, but I am certain to be a member of the Standing Committee, and I shall be happy to consider the point regardless of whether my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington serves on the Committee.
The provision is intended to cover the activities of those traders who deposit containers on doorsteps and offer to exchange—for example, for old woolen 1798 garments placed in these containers—articles like combs or little souvenirs which they claim to have been packed by disabled people. I am sure that many hon. Members have encountered this unsavoury practice. Certainly I have, and I have had complaints made to me from constituents. In addition, I have encountered it personally in London. I believe that this form of representation will very soon disappear as a result of this provision in the hon. Gentleman's Bill.
I expect that, like me, hon. Members may have been dismayed to discover on inquiry that because exchange and barter were outside the scope of the principal Act it was not possible for my Department to investigate the activities of these traders. The hon. Member for Sedgefield has repaired that omission from the principal Act, and he deserves our congratulations.
Secondly, and this is the heart of the matter, the Clause seeks to remove the exemption from persons registered under the Act. The effect of this will be that from the proposed operative date it will become an offence for any person currently registered under the Act, or for any person save an exempted person, to say either orally or in writing during the course of visits from house to house, or by post, that disabled people will benefit from the sale of the goods being offered for sale or exchange.
The Clause does not seek to prevent those persons offering for sale or exchange goods which happen to have been made by disabled people, but it will become an offence for them to try to sell the goods on the basis that they were made by the disabled. This will remove the "cloak of respectability" which registration under the Act appears to give.
Bona fide non-profit-making undertakings and charities will remain exempt from the provisions of the Act, and their interests have been still further protected by the extension of exemption to undertakings registered under the Charities Act, 1960. This is the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leominster, and it is of special relevance to the case put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Bristol, North-West.
While welcoming this radical approach as being preferable to what I might call "tinkering" with the provisions about 1799 registered traders, I am obliged to warn the House that, even in the amended form proposed in this Bill, the legislation will be difficult to enforce. It is not possible to prevent someone from telling a lie by making it a criminal offence to do so. Although what is proposed in the Bill will be a distinct improvement on the present position, legislation of itself is not a full answer to the problem of misrepresentation on the doorstep. It is a difficult problem to come to grips with at any time. The real solution lies in educating the public to be as discriminating when purchasing at the door as they would be in a shop, and in particular not to buy rubbish at high prices merely because the canvasser says it will help disabled people.
The Press and other publicity media can and do play a useful rôle in this process of education. On more than one occasion newspapers have served us well in exposing fraudulent traders. I suggest that all of us can help by drawing the attention of our constituents to the importance of always ensuring that they get the best possible value for money and rejecting inferior goods being offered for sale at inflated prices.
Again I return to the point that this will not harm the genuine non-profit-making bodies which provide employment under special conditions for disabled people.
It is only fair to warn the House, as the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Dr. John A. Cunningham) said, that the implementation of this Clause may result in a small number of disabled people who are employed by registered traders losing their jobs. I am afraid that this is a consequence which must flow from any successful attempt to strengthen the present Act. The House will be glad to learn, however, that I have been assured by those approved undertakings which make the most use of registered traders to dispose of some of their output that they will be able to make alternative arrangements for the sale of their products.
Thus the loss of employment or benefit will be confined to that small number of disabled people who are directly employed by registered traders. I am here talking about a comparatively small number of people, probably about 100, who mostly derive but small benefit—a 1800 few pounds a week—for packing toiletries, pens, stationery, and so on.
This contrasts sharply with the 12,850 disabled people who are provided with meaningful and reasonably remunerated work in over 200 approved factories giving full-time employment to disabled people. We must remember that, in addition to these undertakings, many statutory and voluntary bodies which will not be affected by the Bill provide therapeutic and diversionary occupation, such as those mentioned by the hon. Member for Willesden West, for thousands of handicapped people.
Thirdly, by extending the exemption in favour of a disabled person carrying on any business to cases where the goods are the product of his own labour, Clause 1 seeks to prevent the exploitation of disabled people who merely pack or prepare goods for sale.
It is shameful to have to admit that there are people who are so unscrupulous and callous that they would exploit disabled people for their own personal profit by using them to pack inferior goods and sell them at excessive prices. I must admit that the hon. Gentleman is right to have incorporated this Amendment into his Bill. Our experience in administering the principal Act tells us that this change needs to be made.
The fourth point on Clause 1 is that by bringing the penalties which may be imposed under the principal Act up to those which may be imposed under the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, it seeks to provide an appropriate and realistic deterrent. The Bill will now have teeth which the principal Act originally did not have.
Clause 2 provides for the necessary consequential repeal of the provisions of the principal Act relating to registration. By proposing an operative date of 1st January, 1973, the hon. Member for Sedgefield seeks to allow sufficient time to enable approved undertakings, which at present make use of registered traders as outlets for their goods, to make alternative arrangements and also to give time to my Department's officers to help those disabled people who will be affected by the Bill if it becomes law. I assure the House that we shall certainly do this. I take the point made by, I think, the hon. Member for Whitehaven that, in those areas where they become affected, 1801 we should make special efforts to help them. We certainly will. We are well aware that a small number will be affected and it would be our wish to try to assist them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Leominster asked particularly about those organisations operating industries for the benefit of war pensioners and disabled persons. Most of the organisations which he has in mind are exempt from registration under Section 1(2) of the 1958 Act. But a few—particularly Workshops for the Blind—make use of registered traders to dispose of some of their output. Under the provisions of the Bill, it will be necessary for these workshops to organise the house-to-house selling themselves if they wish to operate in this sphere. The workshops principally concerned have been consulted, and I understand they are content to do this. I think this answers the point raised by my hon. Friend.
I apologise for taking so much time, but it is important to get the Government's view on record.
Taking full account of all these matters and of the opinions which have been expressed today, the Government have decided to support this measure, though, as I explained to the hon. Gentleman outside the Chamber, it will not be possible for the Government to provide time for it if it should run into difficulties. However, having listened to the debate, I do not anticipate that that will happen, unless my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington proves particularly fractious in Committee, in which case we may hope that he does not achieve membership of it.
The House is doing a modest but useful job today. Many interesting points have been raised which deserve wider publicity than the subject has sometimes had in the past. We are taking a small but not unimportant step forward further to restrict some practices which, though not too numerous, are almost universally condemned by people who stop to think about them.
I conclude by again congratulating the Member for Sedgefield on his choice of subject. It is a measure which commands very wide support. I am sure that if the Bill becomes law—I have no reason 1802 to believe that it will not finally reach the Statute Book—it will help to prevent to a limited but useful extent the further exploitation of the disabled. Above all, and perhaps rather more important, it will be a positive measure to uphold the dignity of disabled people. I think that that is something which we can all support.
§ 1.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)
Speaking for the Opposition, I warmly welcome the Bill. With other hon. Members on both sides of the House I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Sedgefield (Mr. David Reed) on his imaginative sympathy, enthusiasm and diligence in bringing the Measure before the House.
My hon. Friend's speech was a most impressive introduction to the debate on his Bill. He has asked me to say that he will carefully consider, before the Committee stage, all the points which have been raised in many notable speeches by hon. Members on both sides of the House. My hon. Friend has the widespread support of hon. Members here, of an alert Press and of numerous organisations working to extend the welfare and enhance the status of the millions of severely disabled people in Britain today.
As the House would have expected, Duncan Guthrie, the Director of the Central Council for the Disabled, has played a significant part in the making of this Bill. My hon. Friend has acknowledged this, and also, just as felicitously, the work of Mrs. Phyllis Forman and Keith Goldsworthy. Many organisations which have not been mentioned today very much want to see the Bill proceed as quickly as possible to the Statute Book.
My hon. Friend has made no exaggerated claims. He recognises that this is an extremely sensitive and difficult matter. There is no certain and incontestable answer to deliberate deceit, but the Bill will clearly make deceit more difficult and easier to deal with where it is discovered.
This kind of debate in the House of Commons is the means by which we give practical expression to the genuine feelings of concern for disabled people which we all hold.
1803 The 1958 Act, as we have heard in the debate, has inadequate technical merits. This was no fault of the promoters of the principal Act. Like every speaker in this debate, they were concerned to end an utterly disgusting abuse of public sympathy for disabled people.
The Bill will help and protect bona fide charities. The Central Council for the Disabled has said:It should be noted that this type of trading has had an adverse effect on the fundraising activities of genuine voluntary bodies, not only by introducing an element of suspicion on the part of the public, but by giving an impression that local appeals to the public are over-frequentThe Bill will also protect the consumer. As has been noticed throughout the debate, the consumer needs to be very much on guard against those who indulge in dishonest selling techniques. The Bill will also protect the legitimate trader.
It has been said during the debate that, in consequence of the enactment of the Bill, some disabled people may lose their jobs. I understand that the Minister is especially keen to anticipate the problem by doing everything possible in the localities concerned to increase employment opportunities for severely disabled people. There are now 90,214 people registered under the Disabled Persons (Employment) Acts who are unemployed. That figure is upwards of 14,000 higher than the figure a year ago and more than 36,000 higher than the figure five years ago.
I ask the Minister to take seriously our insistence that there must now be a major attack on the employment problems of disabled people. The abuse to which the Bill addresses itself mocks the plight of large numbers of disabled people actively seeking work but who cannot find jobs in current conditions. The Minister said in a recent statement:Improvement in job opportunities for disabled people depends upon an upturn in employment generally.I agree. The general rate of unemployment is extremely high, but let us not overlook the ugly fact that unemployment among employable disabled people is four or five times as high as among the able-bodied people.
1804 The fact that people use the techniques described by my hon. Friends to abuse public sympathy shows how ready people are to help those who are severely disabled wherever they can. The very success of the racketeers shows how keenly the public are concerned to provide a better life for disabled people. The Minister will have no criticism from the general public if he seeks to reduce unemployment among the employable disabled. That is something positive that we should be doing, as well as criticising the abuses to which the Bill has drawn attention.
There is no party animus, indeed no party difference, about the Bill. The points raised by the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) are mainly Committee points. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman wants to remove what is really a disgusting abuse which manipulates the sympathy of the public for severely disabled people. It is heartless and despicable that those who enter into this kind of doorstep selling should try to make a profit by trading on the misfortunes of others.
I am very mindful that there is further important legislation to be considered by the House today. I repeat my tribute to my hon. Friend and to those, on both sides of the House, who are recognised as supporters of all the genuine organisations working to help the disabled. I hope that the Bill will have a speedy passage to the Statute Book and I, for my part, will do everything possible to help it along.
§ 1.55 p.m.
§ Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)
The hon. Member for Sedgefield (Mr. David Reed) has been congratulated from both sides of the House on his introduction of the Bill, and I assure him that I shall not at any later stage provide the impediment of which my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State wished him to be free, even though, of course, because of my indiscretion in speaking on Second Reading, I realise that I am in peril of being on the Standing Committee. When my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Mr. Gurden) was addressing the House I could not help reflecting that he was really the only hon. Member who could speak to the Bill in the certainty that he would not find himself 1805 on the Standing Committee in consequence of doing so, since he is himself the Chairman of the Committee of Selection.
The hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) rightly said that there is no party division on the Bill. I think that all hon. Members who have taken part in the debate have expressed a feeling of distaste, and indeed of disgust, at the undue exploitation of personal defects, but I think that if we analyse this we perhaps arrive at some conclusions which it is relevant to mention.
There are two things that we feel. The first is a distaste for the commercial exploitation of someone else's misfortune. The other is a general dislike of what one might call exhibiting blemishes. I think that there has been some kind of legislation against the second of those, but the Bill deals primarily with the first.
The difficulty always is one of degree. It is easy to deal with an organisation, a company or an individual which tries to sell goods as having been made by disabled people when no disabled person has had anything to do with the production of the goods. That is quite easy, or at least easy legislatively, though there may be administrative problems.
At the other end of the scale there is the charitable organisation—such as those organisations which work for the blind—where one can be sure that all the material operations are carried out by disabled people and the charitable organisation concerned has no thought other than of benefiting them.
But those two classic situations never cover the whole range of possibilities. We must remember that the Government themselves—and Parliament, too—have for a long time encouraged the practice of companies to employ a proportion of disabled people. For a long time there has been a right to display on a company's notepaper a badge indicating that it employs a proportion of disabled people. I cannot, unfortunately, remember the precise statutory authority for that, though my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State may know what it means. The badge could be displayed if a firm employed a certain proportion, possibly of war disabled people, though I think it was a little more generous than that.
1806 Let us be honest about this. The use of that badge was presumably intended to do two things. The first was not only to be a moral emblazoning of the fact that the company was employing a certain number of disabled people but also, one assumes, to increase the good will which the company would have from its customers by showing that it employed a certain number of disabled people. I think one has to recognise the principle here. Unfortunately there was a degree of exploitation of that practice which became discreditable.
If I may illustrate that from something familiar, one sometimes sees in the streets a kind of three-man band. There are two musicians who are perfectly normal people and no doubt play perfectly well, but the collecting box is held by a person who has some mutilation or defect. That obviously appears to most people a misuse of that person's defect.
The 1958 Act aimed at dealing with some of these problems. One of my hon. Friends said that certain arguments may have been used in the debates on that Act, but in fact it went through the House at 4 o'clock on a Friday afternoon in May, 1958, without a word of debate. So this matter was never debated at all on the principal Act although we did have a short debate on Third Reading.
That Bill was introduced by the late Victor Collins, who took a great interest in disabled people and in people suffering from various misfortunes. I did not often agree with his general political views, but on some matters of penal reform and care for the disabled I was often on the same side as Victor Collins.
On Third Reading of that Bill, great tributes were paid to the work of the present Secretary of State for Employment, who played a great part in bringing that Bill forward. It is appropriate that the House should again be concerned with a Bill dealing with this subject.
What I am a little concerned about in the present Bill—I say this in defence of my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) but also because of what I am about to say—is that these are not really Committee points. The Bill seeks to remove the category of registered trader and to restrict the right of a disabled person to carry on this kind 1807 of trading. I was a little concerned at what my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary said about the cancellation of registration, a very broad sweep. There are at present over 40 registered traders, of which, my hon. Friend said, more than half were respectable operators carrying on a genuine business and making a modest livelihood.
I recognise that there have been many objections about non-registered traders' activities. My hon. Friend told us that there had been some difficulties. But the majority of the registered traders are honest people making a modest livelihood. If the Bill goes through, as I hope it will, it will put those people out of their honest and modest business. It is not good enough to pass that by without more than a mention. It is a very strong action for the legislature to take to put honest people out of business because of the administrative difficulty of implementing the 1958 Act.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
I hesitate to interrupt my hon. and learned Friend, because I know that I shall incur the displeasure of hon. Members who are waiting for the next Bill, but I cannot let his comments go by without making the position absolutely clear. This is not putting people out of business; it is preventing them from doing one aspect of business. They are entitled to go on making goods and selling them but not to represent them on the doorstep as being sold on behalf of the disabled.
§ Mr. Bell
I appreciate that, but my hon. Friend was explicit in saying that one of the main functions of their business was the marketing of goods which had often been produced by some of these bodies. One must recognise that going around the doorsteps is the nature of their business.
My next point also requires a slight exercise of candour on our part. My hon. Friend said that one remedy was for the housewife to exercise, in relation to goods offered as being made by disabled people, the same discrimination as she showed over other goods—in other words, to consider them on the purely commercial basis of value for money.
The difficulty is that this is not a matter of general applicability. Of course. 1808 if one goes to the blind showrooms to buy a basket, one can consider the article offered and the price charged quite fairly because one knows that it is very good value. But even there the housewife gives a little bonus to the fact that they are made by blind people.
Also once one gets away from a few well-known products, where the disabled happen not to be at a particular disadvantage, one has to recognise that most of the products of disabled people's labour, especially of severely disabled people, are not of great economic value. They are sometimes little ornamental things and they are largely sold to the public because the public are animated by a charitable instinct. They pay an unrealistic price.
No business can carry on employing almost entirely disabled or blind people and pay them a proper industrial wage and operate on a profit. Their labour is not worth a full industrial wage except in special cases. Therefore, an element of charity must enter in. It can come in in two ways—by a charitable organisation subsidising the work of the disabled people or by the customer paying a higher than commercial price.
It may be right to abolish the grey area, as the Bill intends, because of what the Under-Secretary said about the great administrative difficulties of operating the 1958 Act, but certain conclusions follow. First, we must do more than we are doing about the sheltered work-shows and the training of the severely disabled. A case arose in my constituency a little whole ago, of which my hon. Friend probably knows the details, in which one saw the severe limitations of sheltered employment in the Government's Remploy factories.
There just is not sufficient scope for the severely disabled person to earn a living in sheltered conditions in which he is subsidised by the employer—the State or the charitable organisation. If enterprises which employ disabled people and get subsidy from the public in a charitable impulse are to be struck out by law, one must have in mind the employment consequences for the disabled and seek to do something about it.
I come to the limitation on the right of the disabled to sell the products of their labour, and I have some anxiety 1809 about this. Until now it has been sufficient if a disabled person sold goods which he hadproduced, prepared, packed or otherwise made ready for sale by his own labour".It is now proposed to change that so that he must, in effect, produce the article himself, because all those words will be struck out and in their place will be put the words "produced by him".
I am not necessarily saying that this should not be done but simply that the consequences of so doing must be carefully examined. It means, once again, that all the grey area is abolished. There will be an absolutely black and white rule; either the disabled person produces everything himself or he may not sell it himself, either by post or by going from door to door, and this needs justifying.
It is easy to say that there are administrative difficulties with the present rule. The Minister referred to the practical difficulties on the registration side. But there is the other side of the Bill, by which we may be cutting down the opportunities that disabled persons have to sell their goods.
We should not, because of administrative difficulties, make a change of this kind, even on a Friday afternoon, unless difficulty has been encountered. One can be swept along on a general tide of sympathy with the purposes of legislation and perhaps do things which are not completely sensible. Has any difficulty been encountered by a disabled person in selling by post or from door to door the articles lie has made himself or has got someone to help him make?
One must always balance the two interests of how to restrict the individual by legislation and how far one should seek to provide for the greatest number by legislation. Here the balance is plainly to say, "It is rather difficult to operate the 1958 Act, so we will make this total prohibition."
Sections 2 and 3 of the principal Act will be wiped out although they are full of safeguards. I wonder what difficulty has arisen over Section 2 which, in relation to registration, says:the extent and nature of the employment for substantially disabled persons … must be … such as to justify the … representations1810 In other words, it is not good enough simply to employ one or two blind people and say, "This item is made by blind people." To achieve registration one must show that there is substantial employment. One cannot make any old claim, as it were, under that provision because the Minister must be satisfied aboutthe extent and nature of the employment … and … benefit to such persons".The 1958 Act also contains requirements relating to advertisements by applicants and the Minister can impose under Section 2(4)requirements on persons registered under this Act for securingwhat is necessary for registration.
§ Mr. Dudley Smith
I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend does not want to get me into trouble, and I rise to answer his challenge. There is a world of difference between what is required under the 1958 Act and the practice on the doorstep, which is what this Measure is all about. The Bill is concerned with an abuse that has gone on on the doorstep, sometimes by fraudulent people making representations, not always on behalf of disabled people.
§ Mr. Bell
I appreciate that, and my hon. Friend made it clear in his remarks. I am seeking to make it clear that the 1958 Act contains all the necessary safeguards which any scheme of registration could have. The only thing that can be said against it is that the administration of those safeguards is difficult and to be really effective would require a large staff, as my hon. Friend pointed out.
Having by the 1958 Act first encroached on freedom in this matter, it seems rather odd now to say, "This encroachment is proving difficult to administer. We must strike it out and make it clear, as the Bill does, that nobody except a registered charity may sell goods as having been made by disabled people."
The virtue of the cause is slightly blinding us to the drastic nature of the action that we are taking and there is a danger, particularly with a cause which is designed to prevent the exploitation of a physical defect, of thinking that anything one does in implementation of it is legislatively justifiable.
1811 That is all I have to say on this subject—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and I hope that no hon. Member feels that a subject of this kind should not be thoroughly examined, as the Minister agreed in his brief, though lengthy, examination of the Bill. [Interruption.] I meant that as a compliment to my hon. Friend. He was being comprehensive in his remarks and was bound to take a little time over them. [HON. MEMBERS: "Get on."]
It is clear that some hon. Members have in mind the next business that will come before the House, but that must not be made an excuse for not thoroughly examining the business in hand. A great deal of nonsense goes through Parliament on Friday [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—and perhaps the next Order of the Day is an egregious example of that, but we shall come to that in due course.
The Bill under consideration, rather than the next one, is one which in its general intent deserves the support of the House and will, no doubt, enjoy that support. However, it contains many blemishes and defects which need careful examination in Committee. Whether one will be able to support it on Third Reading will depend on how it emerges from that scrutiny.
I join in commending the Bill. I hope that it will have a relatively speedy passage through the House. I will not obstruct it. There remains ample time for the Measure to secure an unopposed Second Reading and I assure the hon. Member for Sedgefield that his Bill will have my careful attention hereafter.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).