HC Deb 18 January 1971 vol 809 cc513-4
34. Mr. Pavitt

asked the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry on how many bodies subject to his appointment he has appointed persons capable of representing consumers interests.

Mr. Ridley

I would refer the hon. Member to the replies which I gave to the right hon. Member for Aberavon (Mr. John Morris) on 11th and 14th December, 1970, about the consumer consultative bodies to which we appoint members.—[Vol. 808, c. 207–8 and 242.]

Mr. Pavitt

Are there not a number of bodies where the representation has been made direct to the Consumer Council and a number of bodies where the representation has been made in consultation with the Consumer Council? Bearing this in mind, was it not cheeseparing nonsense to get rid of this worth-while body?

Mr. Ridley

The only consumer bodies to which the Department makes appointments are in relation to the four nationalised industries on the coal, gas, electricity and iron and steel consumer councils.

Mr. Ashton

Would the Minister give an assurance that when the profitable parts of nationalised industries are hived off, a clause will be inserted insisting that the hived-off parts have consumer representation on them?

Mr. Ridley

It is not normal to have Consumer Council representation on private enterprise bodies.

Captain W. Elliot

Does my hon. Friend agree that the best way to protect the consumer interest is to encourage competition?

Mr. Ridley

I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend for drawing attention to the vital part which competition plays in protecting the consumer. That is probably of far greater importance than any effort the Government can make in this sphere.

Mr. Freeson

Would the hon. Gentleman at least undertake, as the decision on the Consumer Council appears to be irrevocable, to consult his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment about the possibility of encouraging local authorities to undertake or sponsor this sort of work in a much more devolved fashion throughout the country?

Mr. Ridley

At the local level there are both weights and measures inspectors and citizens' advice bureaux and they play a valuable part in this repect.

Mr. Benn

Would the hon. Gentleman make a statement or publish a White Paper indicating the Government's view on the protection of the consumer because, candidly, the answers which he has been giving about competition meeting this need simply do not apply to the majority of consumer problems, both nationally and locally? May we have an authoritative statement from him that can be debated in the House?

Mr. Ridley

I can never understand why the right hon. Gentleman constantly derides the value of competition, even if he does not believe in it in the way that we do.