HC Deb 31 May 1960 vol 624 cc1174-6
40. Mr. Dodds

asked the Prime Minister what action he proposes to take to carry out the main recommendation in the Interim Report of the Committee on Consumer Protection to appoint, without delay, a single Minister to take over the responsibilities now scattered over a number of Departments, in order to safeguard the consumers more effectively than is now possible under the present system.

42. Mrs. Butler

asked the Prime Minister if he will implement the Interim Report of the Committee on Consumer Protection by appointing a single Minister to take over the responsibility of safeguards for the consumer, Which are now spread over a number of Departments.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Harold Macmillan)

I have nothing to add to what I said in reply to Questions on this matter on 24th May.

Mr. Dodds

On 10th May the Leader of the House said that the matter was being considered by Ministers. The right hon. Gentleman said on 24th May that he was working on a principle of giving a decision to one Minister. How long must we wait for the final decision? Is he not aware that there is a feeling that the consumer should be better protected and that this is one matter in which the Prime Minister can make a very big contribution?

The Prime Minister

As I understood the Report of the Committee on which all this hangs, it did not suggest that responsibility for existing legislation should be centralised. What it did go on to recommend was that there should be additional legislation and that, if and when that was passed, the question of centralising the functions—the Committee suggested in the Home Secretary—should be taken up. It therefore hangs upon any new legislation, 'which clearly cannot be introduced in this Session.

Mrs. Butler

Does the Prime, Minister appreciate that the whole tenor of the interim Report was that instead of waiting for accidents to happen a Minister should be designated with responsibility for research, consultation and legislation to prevent them happening? How can the present Minister, with his Departmental responsibilities, possibly give the necessary time and thought to such all-embracing preventive action?

The Prime Minister

But the Report suggested that it should be the Home Secretary who, whether designated, dedicated or anything else, is a very hard-worked man.

Mr. Gaitskell

Would not the Prime Minister agree that it is rather a dry Answer simply to refer to the fact that legislation cannot be implemented this Session? Is there not a problem now? Is it not the case that, in fact, responsibility for the protection of the consumer is scattered among a number of different Departments? Without raising the question of a Minister exclusively concerned with this, would it not be wise to designate one of the existing Ministers and make him responsible?

The Prime Minister

I am quite ready to designate the Home Secretary, if he is willing to undertake the task, but what the Report said was that the present system by which the work is spread over a number of Departments is quite reasonable, but that if there is any new legislation it would be a good thing to bring it together. Therefore, legislation and centralisation do hang together.

Mrs. Slater

But did not the right hon. Gentleman last week, in reply to me, at least give the impression that he was considering the question of designating a Minister for that work? Does he now retract from the impression he created last week?

The Prime Minister

No. I did my best, naturally, to meet the hon. Lady in any way I could but, as I say, it looks to me as though the poor Home Secretary will have to take on a holiday task.