Mr. Purchase: That is not enough.
Mr. Waterson: That may be right.
In case hon. Members are worrying, I should say that my lady wife and I did not join a holiday club in the Canary Islands. We noticed, however, that the organisation involved was substantial and that it was run entirely by English people. That part of the world has a long tradition of such things, which first
Column Number: 230appeared under the timeshare brand name and then under that of holiday clubs.
Proposed subsection (10) identifies a range of issues that are of interest not only to consumer organisations and trading standards departments, but to Members of Parliament, and I am sure that those present have come across at least a sprinkling of references to them in their mailbags and surgeries. One such issue is the refusal
I mentioned the elderly lady who had people in her home for five hours. The amendment also refers to
It goes on to mention
which presumably means frog-marching the hapless consumer to a cash machine to draw out money to pay for an item.
The amendment then refers to
I shall not to go into it in great detail, but Age Concern has sent all members of the Committee a very good report. I looked at the draft some weeks ago, partly because I am co-Chairman of the all-party group on ageing and older people. The report provides worrying evidence of the methods used to sell products such as special chairs and beds to elderly or disabled people, yet much of the high-pressure salesmanship involved avoids existing regulations. People who thought that they were replying to an advert for embrocation for their backs have ended up buying a massive and very expensive armchair. Some have been asked to pay enormous sums and to put down large deposits. Others have been blackmailed into buying a stair-lift by being given a worrying picture of what life would be like if they could not get up the stairs. Some of the items involved are incredibly expensive, such as a rise and recliner chair that cost £4,350. So the report goes on; I commend it to the Under-Secretary and to members of the Committee.
Another scam involves
Interestingly, we were told on the street in the Canary Islands that we had won a prize. It never materialised, but it was supposed to be enough to get us into the premises just around the corner. The amendment refers to a whole series of other scams, including—last, but not least:
Back in 1973, when part III of the Fair Trading Bill was debated in Parliament, Sir Geoffrey Howe, as he is now, said that its purpose was to create a climate in which the overwhelming majority of traders who dealt fairly with the public could continue to flourish without interference, and in which the minority who
Column Number: 231maintained an unhelpful attitude to justified complaints by consumers would see sense and, in the end, the necessity of mending their ways and improving their standards. I think that it would be fair to say that all members of the Committee believe that part III of the 1973 Act has simply not lived up to the ambitions that people had for it. The provision was supposed to have been targeted at traders who followed a consistent course of conduct that was unfair and detrimental to consumers. None of us regrets the passing of part III. We merely want it to be replaced with something more effective and immediate.
I am pleased to say that a variety of other bodies supports the amendments. I have a letter from the Institute of Plumbing, in which it expressed support for the NCC's proposals. It states:
The Law Society—curiously so; I would have expected it to have reservations, but the opposite is the case—has a particular reason for supporting the amendments. It states that
let us hope that remains the case—
The Law Society then speaks about the so-called ''claims farmers'' or self-styled tribunal advisers who resort to pressurised selling techniques that involve repeated cold-calling by telephone and repeated unsolicited visits to consumers' homes. It states:
one that he simply does not understand—
The Law Society is therefore firmly supportive of those two amendments.
It is fair to say also that there are some less enthusiastic voices. The CBI is concerned about the extension of stop now orders. It says
It went on to discuss the delay in producing guidance, but we were fortunate to received guidance on stop now orders on the day of Second Reading. It then said that it would be ''looking for necessary safeguards''.
The joint briefing from the Local Government Association and the Local Authorities Co-ordinating Body on Regulation Standards is generally supportive, but it echoes a point that we made on Second Reading and have made more than once in Committee. It states:
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I want to press the Under-Secretary on some of the scams and abuses that the consumer organisations say will not be affected by this part of the Bill, not even as amended by the Government's amendments, which we shall discuss in more detail in another debate. It seems fairly clear, to use the words of NACAB, that
In other words—I shall not be churlish about it—powers are quite laudably being extended to a range of activities that are the subject of existing legislation, whether primary or secondary. That will make a difference to many consumers, but NACAB goes on to say:
and it lists a number of activities of rogues and tricksters which they believe will not be affected by this part of the Bill. Again, I expect the Under-Secretary to deal with those issues.
NACAB further illustrates the point with the story of some CAB clients in the London area who were pressured into buying a holiday scheme:
Pyramid money-gifting schemes are also mentioned; some hon. Members will have come across those. The example given is of a retired man from the north-east. He
Mr. Harry Barnes (North-East Derbyshire): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for having tabled the amendments. Now that we have moved on from the CBI-influenced amendments that we considered earlier, we can be sure that we shall deal with a lot of interesting information from the National Consumer Council and the citizens advice bureaux—there are some seven examples in the NACAB briefing. Another area is junk mail—an incredible rip-off practised on the poor and vulnerable—which ties in with many of the other methods that have been described.
Mr. Waterson: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman—he makes a telling point—if a trifle worried whether some of my amendments will pass muster as far as he is concerned. I have lurched to the left in no uncertain fashion.
Credit repair scams, which we shall probably discuss when considering the part of the Bill dealing with insolvency, are also referred to by NACAB. It reports:
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I have already touched on the really big problem, that of timeshares and holiday clubs. Of principal concern are sales of timeshares that do not involve a specified building, and those involving periods of less than three years, thereby removing themselves from the scope of current legislation. As I understand it, and as NACAB and others read the legislation, the Bill will not deal with that. NACAB goes on to say:
NACAB's briefing gives several examples of clients being taken for a ride by timeshares that call themselves holiday clubs.
Doorstep and distance-selling is a problem not just for the average consumer but, as I have tried to describe by reference to the Age Concern report, for the elderly and housebound.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2002||Prepared 23 April 2002|