Enterprise Bill

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Mr. Barnes: This is a good probing amendment. If it were more than that and we were voting on it, there would be a problem, because I do not know whether the measures it contains would work. How would courts and trading officers interpret ''misleading and deceptive statement'' and ''undue influence or pressure''? The amendment should persuade the Under-Secretary, however, to discuss the ideas that it introduces. I hope that she will introduce a measure that tackles the practices more precisely.

We may have difficulties in deciding on a form of words that will work in these areas. The problem derives from the sophistication of the scams and the manipulation that takes place in an advanced and modern world. During our break, I popped into the Library and borrowed a copy of ''The Global Third Way Debate'' edited by Anthony Giddens. His introduction makes three points that are relevant to our considerations. He says that the world has changed due to globalisation, what he calls ''the knowledge economy'' and the growth of individualism in society.

I referred to the phenomenon of junk mail, which attempts to persuade people that they will win something if they will only send some money in, after which they get next to nothing back. That is a massive globalised scam activity. When someone's name is known from his having filled in a form on one occasion, it is fed into a massive network of material that comes from all over the world. The Royal Mail, or whatever it calls itself nowadays, is involved in that activity as a provider of cheap postal facility arrangements; indeed, it has a publication that encourages people to chance their arm in the attempt to win things. We are all involved in that society on a wide basis.

We are also part of the knowledge economy. Such phenomena as the internet and the training given to people in advanced skills present a massive problem, because the techniques used to dupe people become cleverer. Many people are uninvolved and therefore vulnerable to progress. I have difficulties even beginning to understand the instruction books for

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mobile phones, for example. That is the sort of society in which we live, and it is easy to influence and control people in such circumstances through the small print of the forms that they fill in.

As for individualism, old communities have broken up and people are now highly mobile. They lack links and connections and are dependent on their own wit and understanding to interlink with groups of people who feel the same as they do, who no longer live just around the corner. That isolation means that there is none of the community backing that people used to have, so they have to be able to scan the small print. Legislation needs to take into account what Giddens is saying; that the world has changed dramatically and people are subject to even stronger manipulative influences from those trying to make a fast buck.

Mr. David Borrow (South Ribble): Does my hon. Friend share my concern that many scams and much high-pressure salesmanship will be difficult to define? If 99 people out of 100 were not susceptible, one could make a strong argument that a reasonable person would not be taken in by such salesmanship. Therefore, one is drafting legislation to save that one person in 100 who may be vulnerable to manipulation and techniques. I would suggest that that is not the usual way in which legislation is drafted, as a common assumption is that legislation is based on how a reasonable person would react to something. In this case, we are discussing a situation in which 99 people out of 100 would not be manipulated in the way that we have described. [Interruption.]

Mr. Barnes: My pager might have been vibrating, but it did not make that noise.

My hon. Friend makes an important point, but the ratio of those susceptible to scams is probably more than one in 100. A whole group in society is excluded from the sort of knowledge to which I have referred. However, it is generally accepted that people should have understanding and knowledge and be able to work out the details and the implications of the system, and that those without that knowledge are not catered for, or are simply rather foolish.

However, we are talking about a big sub-group, and we should try to ensure that the legislation takes care of their problems and assists them in handling those situations.

Mr. Waterson: In response to the intervention that he took from the hon. Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow), the hon. Gentleman seemed to be confusing two quite different legal principles. If consumer protection legislation is to mean anything, it must protect the vulnerable and the elderly; the one or more people in every 100 who are caught by scams, and not the smart, sophisticated city lawyer—I mean no disrespect to my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon—who is well able to take care of himself.

Mr. Barnes: I took my hon. Friend's point to be about the nature of the legislation that we are about to pass. We might think that legislation is for the reasonable person and that they should act in accordance with its provisions, and therefore that all

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those other cases were pushed away to the horizon of our understanding. It is important that we concentrate on that problem.

Mr. Purchase: I return to Giddens and his third way. Is he not a man who had an understanding of the nature of individualism, and recognised that it was part of the culture of capitalism—in other words, that human greed drives most people—which is why people are susceptible to so many scams? Does the Committee agree that a change of culture to a more socialistic understanding of enterprise would improve the consumer position of so many people, and that many of those laws would not be required?

Mr. Barnes: I was not trying to sell Giddens, nor was I involved in my own form of junk mail or a junk presentation of positions; I was merely using a reasonable analysis to say that some changes in society, such as globalisation, the knowledge economy and individualism, are important and that we should respond to their characteristics. To me, the programme for socialism is somewhat different from what it used to be, and we have had to adjust ourselves to it.

The Chairman: Order. We started with the amendment. Let us not wander too far down the theoretical route.

Mr. Barnes: I am afraid that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, North-East led me in that direction, but he shared some important thoughts with us.

I want to say a bit about the junk mail game. In the last Parliament, I had a meeting with a Minister at the DTI, and I took a large black plastic bag packed full of letters—400 of them—that had been received by one constituent. On one occasion, she had filled in some of the forms and immediately become a subject of a scam. Those letters were only a small part of the mail with which she was inundated.

A regular column in The Daily Mirror seeks to trace such mail and tackle the problem. The usual scam is that readers are told that they have won some money and that if they send material or resources back, a prize will be theirs. The pieces are worded in such a way that if one reads it carefully, one can see that that has not happened. Something is often offered in return for a reply; a lucky charm perhaps, or something of a similarly worthless nature.

Mr. Djanogly: Would the hon. Gentleman add to his list junk e-mail, which is becoming increasingly annoying? I received a letter from a constituent only last week complaining about pornographic junk e-mail that his eight-year-old daughter had received the previous day.

Mr. Barnes: Junk e-mail is certainly a problem, especially if received by those for whom it was not intended. Many of those who use e-mail are part of what is known as the knowledge economy, but many of those who receive junk mail are not in that category. Paragraph (h) of amendment No. 47 contains a provision relating to prizes and awards, which tries to deal with that problem.

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There is not only junk mail that tells people that they have won money when they have not. There is also junk mail that tells people that they have had a lot of bad luck recently, and they are offered assistance by someone who gives some sort of psychiatric help to break their run of bad luck. It is obviously financially worth while for people to run such scams because sufficient numbers of people respond.

Other scams guarantee that people will win money on the lottery. They provide people with a perm of numbers, which requires them to pay a fortune to enter. There are similar to scams to do with filling in football pools, often from Keynsham in Somerset. There are many problems that need to be tackled and the Bill gives us an opportunity to do that. They are difficult problems but it is not the first time that they have been raised with the DTI.

Mr. Field: I shall keep my remarks brief because I know that the Under-Secretary is champing at the bit to respond to the debate.

Many of the examples cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Eastbourne are entirely valid and reflect some of the sharpest practice. However, it must be said in response to the thoughtful contribution of the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Mr. Barnes) that some people in society are motivated by greed, and no legislation can protect them; nor should it protect people who are gullible or greedy and think that they can get something for nothing. I am one of the 3 per cent. of the population who has never done the national lottery.

Mr. Barnes: Sometimes people are under so much pressure that the national lottery, or something similar, is the only way out of their depressed state. Therefore, they will spend money on some mechanism that claims to be able to help them win. We should stop the scam and direct our attention towards the people who run those schemes; then we would not receive so much nonsense through the post.

 
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