asked the Attorney-General how many prosecutions have taken place under the Auction (Bidding Agreements) Act during the last 10 years; whether he is aware that rings have been operating for some years in many parts of the country, including South Wales, in defiance of the provisions of the Act; and whether he will make a statement.
There have been no prosecutions under the Auction (Bidding Agreements) Act, 1927, during the last 10 years. I have seen newspaper reports containing allegations of offences against the Act. Police enquiries are in progress in one case.
If my hon. Friend will let me have any evidence in his possession which suggests that offences have been committed against this Act, I will, of course, see that it is immediately considered.
I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for that reply which, whilst indicating the paucity of numbers of prosecutions under the Act, also indicates clearly that the Act is not regarded as otiose. Is he aware that, in South Wales, a ring has been lawlessly operating for years—clearly, until recently, with the acquiescence of the British Antique Dealers' Association—and has caused great distress to beneficiaries of estates, including widows, as a consequence of the cheating manner in which it is purchasing antiques? Will my right hon. and learned Friend indicate, in order to assist any police inquiries, whether he considers that it would be possible to move under the law of conspiracy, since it may be much easier for the police to act under that law rather than under statute law?
If my hon. Friend will let me have the information at his disposal immediate steps will be taken by the police to investigate the matters complained of. The nature and form of the charge would have to be considered in the light of the evidence. The real difficulty in such cases is that, normally, the only witnesses are the offenders themselves and, generally speaking, they do not talk.