HC Deb 19 November 1970 vol 806 cc1426-8
Q3. Mr. John Fraser

asked the Prime Minister if he will now appoint a Minister with sole responsibility for consumer protection.

Q7. Mr. Sheldon

asked the Prime Minister which Government Department is primarily responsible for consumer protection.

Q8. Mr. Carter-Jones

asked the Prime Minister which Department will be responsible for consumer protection when the Consumer Council has been disbanded; and if he will make a statement.

The Prime Minister

The Main responsibilities within Government continue to lie with the Department of Trade and Industry.

Mr. Fraser

Does the Prime Minister realise that the consumer is seldom represented at wage-bargaining setlements or at price-fixing arrangements and that by dissolving the National Board for Prices and Incomes, which had a consumer interest, and by abolishing the Consumer Council he is making it easier to increase prices and, in due term, to reduce standards? Will the right hon. Gentleman counter this trend by having a Minister on the Front Bench solely responsible for the consumer and, indeed, for carrying out some of his own pledges?

The Prime Minister

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's statement. The proof is that with those organisations under the Labour Government the increase in prices was greater in their last year than at any time since 1950–51.

Mr. Sheldon

I understand the fond hopes of the Prime Minister that his legislation on competition will help the consumer, but what does he intend to do if in the meantime any manufacturer uses his monopoly position to make unjustifiable price increases?

The Prime Minister

We can use the machinery of the Monopolies Commission.

Mr. Carter-Jones

As right hon. and hon. Members on both sides obtained considerable help from the Consumer Council, and as a new Member is not really aware of the Council's work, will the Prime Minister consider giving the Council a reprieve to allow it to develop its other ideas for legislation to protect the consumer?

The Prime Minister

Some of the Council's work has been good work. I have never denied that. I was President of the Board of Trade when it was established. The question that now arises is whether the work that is required for the consumer should be done by a Government-sponsored body. We have come to the conclusion that there are now other organisations. [An HON. MEMBER: "What organisations?"] I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have known of the work of the Consumers Association and of "Which?" and allied journals, which receive far more publicity in the national, provincial, and local Press than does the Consumer Council.

Sir R. Thompson

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the finest protection he can offer to the consumer is to prevent the means of production, distribution and exchange from falling into a single pair of hands as advocated by the discredited hon. Members opposite?

The Prime Minister

We will take action to prevent that happening.

Mr. Roy Jenkins

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Consumers Association, about whose work I have some authority for speaking, has made it quite clear that it cannot possibly undertake the work done by the Consumer Council?

The Prime Minister

I acknowledge the connection which the right hon. Gentleman has with the efforts of private enterprise, which are very successful. I have also seen the statement by the association. I believe that it can, through the work which it is doing and through the Press, look after the main interests of the consumer.

Mr. Goodhart

With the disappearance of the Consumer Council, will not more work on behalf of the consumer have to be done by the Department of Trade and Industry?

The Prime Minister

The Department of Trade and Industry has in any case very considerable responsibilities in relation to the consumer. That and the other Government-sponsored organisations must undertake the appropriate work.