HC Deb 19 March 1971 vol 813 cc1929-46

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

2.20 p.m.

Mr. Tom Boardman (Leicester, South-West)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This is a small but nevertheless very useful Measure. Its objective is to improve consumer protection and to stop a loophole in the present legislation.

I should first pay tribute to the initiator of the Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Derwent. He is most active in consumer protection matters and his initiation of the Bill in another place has enabled us to debate it today.

I am glad that we have the opportunity to discuss the Bill because, although no Amendments to it have been tabled, benefit will result from further publicity being given to its purpose. The knowledge that the Bill will impose a sanction which did not exist before will have an inhibiting effect on such practices as might otherwise have continued in the sale of goods which break certain standards. The Bill has had general support on both sides of the House. It received constructive support in Committee. I believe that its objective will have the unanimous support of the country.

It may be helpful if I deal with the background so that the Bill can be set in its right context. It amends Section 3 of the Consumer Protection Act, 1961. It is intended to be read as part of that Act. It will therefore be necessary to refer to the 1961 Act and to show how its provisions will be amended by the Bill.

Section 1 of the Consumer Protection Act enables the Secretary of State to make regulations in respect of certain classes of goods to ensure protection from hazards to health and safety and to prevent or reduce risk of death or personal injury". The regulations may extend to the composition or contents, design, construction, finish or packing of … goods which are in the opinion of the Secretary of State expedient to prevent or reduce risk of death or personal injury". The Secretary of State has made a number of regulations on such matters as the safety of oil heaters. The House will be aware of the dangers which existed and the accidents which occurred as a result of defective oil heaters. This is an illustration of the way in which regulations can be made to prevent the repetition of such accidents.

Regulations have been made concerning toys. The House will again be aware of the dangers which exist from, in particular, toys with a lead content. Many accidents can be traced to toys containing an element of lead in the paint. The majority, if not all, of the offending toys have been imported. Young children have picked up toys, licked them and have then suffered from the effects of lead poisoning. Regulations can prevent dangers arising from children's toys.

We have all read, and we hope that we shall not longer read, about the flammability of children's nightdresses and accidents which happen as a result of children standing in front of electric fires. Dresses were made of materials which went up in a blaze. Now materials can be used which are flame-resistant and they are therefore much safer for use in children's nightdresses. This is another illustration of the type of danger against which regulations are aimed.

The safety of carry-cot stands is another example. Accidents have occurred as a result of defective carry-cot stands. I do not pretend to know the details, but one can visualise what may happen if a stand is unstable and falls over and the child is tipped out, with the possible risk of injury, suffocation, and so on.

Another illustration relates to the colour coding of flexible cords attached to domestic appliences. I have some difficulty with certain colours. Those who do not suffer from that slight disadvantage recognise the need for clear coding on cables and flexes as vital to ensure that they do not connect the live wire to the earth socket. That is another example of a danger against which regulations are aimed.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State has announced that it is intended to bring in a number of other regulations. In Committee he spoke of the type of regulations in contemplation. They are of the same nature as those to which I have referred.

Section 2 of the 1961 Act places a prohibition on the sale of goods which offend against the regulations. It provides that … no person shall sell, or have in his possession for the purpose of selling —I stress this part because it is very germane to the Bill— any goods as respects which or a component part of which any requirements of regulations under the foregoing section are in force unless all requirements of the regulations relating to the goods or component part are complied with". Then the Section continues to amplify that prohibition which applies to the possession, or sale of goods which offend the regulations.

The Section of the 1961 Act which is amended by this Bill is Section 3, and it is that Section which has in it the enforcement provisions. By subsection (2) it provides an obligation: Any person who contravenes the foregoing section —that is, sells or has in his possession for sale goods which contravene the Section— shall be guilty of an offence and liable —to prompt imprisonment or a fine. Then there is a proviso to which I shall turn in a moment.

The Act is defective in certain respects, and it is because of those defects that so far it has very often not been possible to go to the real villain; it has not been possible to go to the man who is the guilty party in having manufactured or made the defective goods or who has imported defective goods. Under the Act it has been practicable to go only to the retailer, the person who has been selling the goods. The object of the Bill is to produce a by-passing procedure to enable the villain, the person who is really responsible, to be prosecuted.

The reason why it has not been possible to go to the person who is really the main villain is that the Act provides that prosecutions shall be brought by the local authority in the area where the offence is committed. This comes from paragraph 6 of the Schedule to the Act: A local authority in England or Wales may institute proceedings for an offence under this Act committed in the area of the local authority. It is the local authority, therefore, which must institute the proceedings for an offence which is committed in its area.

The offence of selling or having in possession for sale goods which offend the regulations is one which will be committed by anyone who either sells or makes and holds for the purpose of sale goods which do not comply with the regulations.

It may be wondered why this should in any way prevent the real villain, the importer or manufacturer of the goods, from being brought to book. The reason is that, in practice, offending goods will be found and traced only at the point of sale. I will explain the way in which they would be found. There may, for example, be electrical, domestic appliances with no colour coding for flexes. They will be found when the local authority inspector finds them in one of the shops. Having found the goods in a shop he will, having made the necessary tests, and so on, be in a position to believe that an offence has been committed and to institute proceedings against the retailer. The retailer, however, is only one of the persons who is responsible for the offence. The main offender in such an illustration would, no doubt, be the maker of the electrical appliance or the importer of the appliance, but the importer or manufacturer is in all probability carrying on business in some completely different area; he is not within the same area as the retailer. Proceedings brought by a local authority and brought against the importer or manufacturer must be brought against him by the local authority in the area where the manufacturer or importer carries on his business—the area of a different local authority.

It may be possible for the local authority in the retailer's area promptly to inform the local authority in the manufacturer's or importer's area and, as a result, for the second local authority to initiate proceedings, but there is a second hurdle which has then to be overcome, and that is that proceedings under the Magistrates' Courts Act, 1952, and proceedings under the comparable Scottish Act have to be brought within six months of the offence having been committed, and under the 1961 Act the offence is committed at the time of the sale.

Therefore one gets a state of affairs where the importer has imported in January, 1969, goods which offend against the regulations, sells them to a distributor in a different part of the country, who sells them to a retailer, and some six or eight months later the retailer in possession of these goods is found with the goods which are in breach of the regulations, and in due course of time a prosecution is brought. The prosecution must be brought against the retailer within six months of the retailer's having had those goods in his possession for sale. That can, no doubt, be done, but even if the proceedings are initiated on the day on which the offending goods are found in the retailer's shop, similar proceedings cannot be brought by the local authority in the area in which the manufacturer or importer carries on business because the period of more than six months will have elapsed from the time when the importer or manufacturer sold the goods to the retailer.

Mr. Ian MacArthur (Perth and East Perthshire)

I am very interested in this point, and I apologise to my hon. Friend if I have misunderstood this subsection of the Clause, but what is the position if a local authority decides to raise an action against a branch of a multiple store which might be carrying, for example, a lead-painted toy which offends against the regulations governing the manufacture of such a toy? The case I have in mind is that this local authority might then raise an action against the branch of the store, but, under the terms of this Bill, presumably the importer would be equally guilty, and the importer would, presumably, not be in the same area as that local branch of the multiple chain. Who then initiates the action? What happens? Is it the local authority in whose area the importer resides? I am sorry if I have missed the point, but it is possible that actions of this kind could arise and it is very important that we should know where we stand in the matter.

Mr. Boardman

I am much obliged to my hon. Friend because he has made clear that there is a gap which I have left in my explanation of what happens, a gap which I hope I shall be able to fill as I develop my argument. May I first directly answer my hon. Friend's question by saying that in that instance the branch would be prosecuted. After this Bill is on the Statute Book the branch itself would be or could be prosecuted by the local authority in the area in which that branch is situated.

The supplier to the company, whether he be a distributor, a manufacturer or an importer, could also be prosecuted by the same local authority for the area in which the retailing branch was situated. The offence which the importer would be deemed to have committed would have taken place at the time when the branch committed the offence. I hope that in dealing with the effect of the Bill, I shall manage to clear up the point better than I have done so far.

I was explaining that the existing gaps in the law are twofold. First, there is the unlikelihood that the same local authority will be the relevant authority to conduct prosecutions against each of the offending parties. I should make it clear that each of the companies, businesses or individuals who sell or have on the premises for sale an offending article are guilty of an offence, whether they be importers, manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers or retailers. Thais the law today and that will remain the law when the Bill reaches the Statute Book.

It is the difficulty of enforcement or of prosecution of certain people in that chain which has produced the practical problems so far. In the illustration given by my hon. Friend, in which the branch can be prosecuted by the local authority, no doubt within the statutory period of six months, there is no problem. Suppose, however, that toys are imported from Hong Kong by an importer, are then handled by a wholesaler-distributor and then go to the branch of a store. The wholesaler-distributor will also have committed the offence at the time he sold the goods to the store. That offence can be prosecuted only by the local authority in whose area the wholesaler-distributor is located. That is the present position. The importer will likewise have committed an offence, and he will have done so at the time he sold the goods. Again, however, he can be prosecuted only by the local authority in whose area he carries on his business.

In that illustration, therefore, assuming that the importer, the distributor and the wholesaler all live in different local authority areas, each of the three firms is liable to be prosecuted, but by different local authorities. Each prosecution has to be brought within six months of the time when each firm committed its offence at the various stages down the line in the chain of sale. In the majority of cases, the result is that where defective goods are found, practical problems make it either impossible or impracticable for prosecutions to be brought against those whom I have described as the main culprits—for example, the importer.

Perhaps I may help my hon. Friend a little more. Section 1 of the 1961 Act empowers the Secretary of State to make regulations, and my hon. Friend has indicated the type of regulations that are contemplated for possible later introduction. In trying to be brief, I was, perhaps, too short in my description of Section 2, and it may be helpful if I read part of it.

Section 2 provides that Subject to the provisions of this section, no person shall sell, or have in his possession for the purpose of selling, any goods as respects which or a component part of which any requirements of regulations under the foregoing section are in force unless all requirements of the regulations relating to the goods or component part are complied with. Thus, the offence is that of selling or possessing for the purpose of selling goods which offend the regulations. As I said earlier, there is a limiting factor in paragraph 6 of the Schedule to the 1961 Act concerning the institution of proceedings by a local authority for an offence which has been committed in its area.

It might be helpful to the House if I said a word or two about the problems of inspection and testing. The practical difficulty in enforcing the regulations is not only the finding of goods which are believed to cause offence, but inspecting and making what are, for an amateur or storekeeper, difficult tests to find whether the goods—for example, toys—have on them paint containing too large a lead content. I would not know whether a toy had lead paint on it, nor, I imagine, would many hon. Members know what degree of lead paint could be accepted on a toy without its being dangerous. Perhaps the answer is that there should be no lead paint on a toy—the regulations may so provide; I hope so. There is, however, the practical problem that someone has to find the goods and then decide that they offend. The work of the enforcement officers is a fairly specialised job. Local authorities have inspectors to deal not only with this activity but also with the provisions of the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, and other matters.

It is not easy for the retailer to know whether something which he buys to put in his shop window offends the regulations. I cannot imagine that many village storekeepers or postmistresses who have children's toys on display at Christmas time, for example, have the necessary facilities to test the paint content of an attractive toy which may be seen in say, the village post office at Christmas time. Under the existing law, however, the inspector would probably go to the shop, see the toy in the window and, having made the necessary tests, say, "You are committing an offence. This toy does not comply with the regulations. In the words of Section 2 of the 1961 Act, you have in your possession for the purpose of sale a toy which does not comply with the regulations because it has too great an element of lead paint upon it".

The village postmistress or storekeeper—who, although perhaps guilty in law, might in moral terms be regarded as innocent—could be prosecuted by the local authority. He or she will have obtained those goods from the wholesaler-distributor, which may be a firm operating some distance away. Certainly another local authority will be involved. More than six months may have passed since the goods were supplied to the village shop and before that shopkeeper was prosecuted. It would, therefore, be impossible to bring proceedings against the distributor, even if it were possible to persuade the local authority in the area of the distributor that an action should be brought.

The inspector in Leicestershire will, I am sure, be anxious to see that offending toys are not displayed in shop windows in villages in Leicester and will be anxious to bring proceedings against offending shopkeepers. If it is found that the goods came from a warehouse in, say, Newcastle, the local authority there may not be particularly concerned about a few toys on sale in a village shop in Leicestershire. That authority may not want to be burdened with having to initiate proceedings.

The wholesaler-distributor may not have the full facilities—I am dealing now with toys and not with electrical appliances—to test for the lead content of paint. If somebody is in a sufficiently big way of business, he may have such facilities—perhaps he should have them in any case—but many small people will rely on their suppliers to see that the goods comply with the regulations.

Mr. MacArthur

Small shops often carry a large range of stock.

Mr. Boardman

Precisely. The small village shopkeeper will be selling, in addition to toys, all sorts of items. If, on the other hand, a shopkeeper is selling exclusively toys, one might say with some justification that he should have a testing device for this purpose. If, on the other hand, he is selling toys, sweets, nightdresses and a score of other items, the responsibility should not be placed solely on him. This brings me to the question of the importer, who will probably have imported the goods many months before.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

Order. I do not like to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but I suggest that he is going, at any rate in spirit, beyond what one should do on Third Reading. What he is saying is important and interesting, but I remind him that other hon. Members are waiting to speak. It would, therefore, be kind of him if he would curtail his remarks, and certainly come very directly to the contents of the Bill and, perhaps, towards his peroration.

Mr. Boardman

I am grateful for that guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, and I apologise if I have allowed my interest in this problem to take me into details which are outside the province of a Third Reading debate.

I come to the problem and the way in which the Bill would deal with it. I have probably explained at too great a length already some of the difficulties—[HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."]—that now exist, but I trust that it has been at a length which is justified by the merits of the cause.

Mr. MacArthur

My hon. Friend is making a very interesting speech.

Mr. Boardman

The Bill introduces a by-passing procedure in that it makes an offence committed, as in my example, by a shopkeeper equally an offence committed by a wholesaler-distributor or an importer. Thus, in my illustration of lead toys being sold by a retailer, at the time of that sale, and therefore at the time of the commission of the offence, it is equally an offence by the wholesaler-distributor and importer.

It will be for the local authority in the area to decide whether to prosecute the retailer and the wholesaler-distributor or importer, who will have been deemed to have committed the offence which the retailer has committed. The Bill overcomes the problem of needing another local authority to bring a prosecution. It also overcomes the time limit problem because they will have been deemed to have committed an offence at the time when the retail resale was made.

The defence in Clause 1(2)(b) has, after amendment in Committee, departed from the defence available under the 1961 Act which, in a proviso to Section 3(2), says that a person should not be convicted of an offence by reason of a contravention of, or failure to comply with, any requirement imposed if he proves that he had reasonable cause to believe that all such requirements were satisfied. That was a form of wording that had not previously been used in this type of legislation. It departed from the more conventional wording in such measures as the Trade Descriptions Act, 1968, the Fire Pecautions Bill, and the Weights and Measures Act, 1963.

Representations were made by local authority associations that those words were too imprecise, and left open too wide a defence. As it was the only wording in this sort of legislation there was no precedent for interpretation. So the local authority associations urged, and their view commended itself to the Committee, that we should adopt the wording now in the Bill, that the person should have taken … all reasonable precautions and exercised all due diligence to avoid the commission of such an offence". That wording has been used in a number of previous Measures and there is a considerable body of case law about it. It enables courts and those concerned with posecuting and defending to have a clearer and more precise understanding of what defence is available. I draw attention to this change, which was made, I believe, for very good reasons.

A number of points raised in Committee are of general interest in regard to the content of the Bill as a whole, and perhaps I may briefly touch on them—

Mr. Alec Jones (Rhondda, West)

The hon. Gentleman keeps using the word "briefly". Will he indicate to the House what he understands by the word "brief"?

Mr. Boardman

The word must be used relatively to the importance of the subject, and we on this side think that this Bill justifies a fairly full explanation. It deals with the rights of the consumer, and it also affects the rights of traders, shop keepers, manufacturers and importers. If I have been labouring the point, as has been indicated from the Chair, it is because perhaps not enough attention has been paid to interests and rights about which we feel strongly—

Sir Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)

The hon. Gentleman indicated that he was about to embark on the discussion of a number of interesting points raised in Committee. If that is his intention, I am sure that there will be an even more watchful eye from the Chair than before.

Mr. Boardman

I am sure that were I to embark on Committee points I should soon be brought to order.

A number of hon. Members were concerned about the Bill's effect on civil claims. The Bill does not directly alter rights as between supplier and customer.

Concern was expressed about the Bill's application to Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for Perth and East Perthshire (Mr. MacArthur) may well have an opportunity to deal with that point, because concern was expressed whether Scotland lost out in this way—

Mr. MacArthur

I hope not.

Mr. Boardman

I assure my hon. Friend that there is nothing in the Bill which in any way reduces protection of those in Scotland. In fact, it increases that protection. One problem in Scotland is that with a rather more scattered population the enforcement of the law is somewhat more difficult. The problem, too, of goods very often having been manufactured outside Scotland makes enforcement more difficult. The Bill will considerably assist Scottish local authorities to enforce the law against those whom I described earlier as being, perhaps, the villains of the piece, who may be English manufacturers or importers of goods from Hong Kong. I mention that merely to allay any fears that my hon. Friend might have had.

Hon. Members have asked to what extent the 1961 Act has been effective. The measure of effectiveness has sometimes been taken to be the number of prosecutions. This is probably the wrong criterion. The 1961 Act has provided a deterrent and has cured some of the previously objectionable practices. Possibly one of the main militating factors against prosecutions being brought was the problem of bringing prosecutions because of the difference in local authority areas and because of the question of the time limit.

I apologise to the House if I have taken some time to explain a very short Measure. The Bill is of considerable importance and perhaps my explanation will have clarified doubts which otherwise would have remained. I support the Bill and hope that it has an easy passage.

3.6 p.m.

Mr. Arthur Palmer (Bristol, Central)

It is often charged by the Chair against those who speak on a Third Reading of a Bill that they do not deal with the subject of the Bill. Whatever can be said in favour of the hon. Member for Leicester, South-West (Mr. Tom Boardman) no one could possibly accuse him of not having talked about the Bill.

This is the Third Reading of a small Bill which came from the other place and which has had general support. It is designed to close a draughty loophole in the 1961 legislation. As the hon. Gentleman has explained to the House at considerable length, the original legislation made it an offence to sell dangerous or harmful goods, particularly in this field toys, heaters and electrical appliances

On the question of the dangers associated with electrical appliances, as the House may know I am by fundamental profession an electrical engineer. The hon. Gentleman was right to refer to the dangers—indeed the fatal accidents—that can arise from the wrong connection of electrical appliances. At least one British Prime Minister has come to me for my expert advice, not on electricity legislation, not on the organisation of the industry, but on how to connect the black, green and red wires of an electric radiator—as was the case then.

But there was this loophole in the original legislation, as I say. The enforcement lay with individual local authorities which could only talk to or proceed against the immediate retailer. If the Bill receives a Third Reading, as I hope that it will, the local authority—I am putting shortly what the hon. Gentleman put at great length—can go to the true offender, which will be either the wholesaler or probably the manufacturer.

The need for this reform is so obvious that it is not necessary to labour the point. It has been laboured already, anyhow. I express my gratitude to those who took the initiative in the other place and in this House, such as the hon. Member for Leicester, South-West, in bringing forward this amending Measure. The new opportunity for enforcement now given to local authorities will presumably mean that there will be more work for local authorities and for their officials. I agree with the hon. Gentleman that these things are best done without prosecutions if possible. Nevertheless, whether in the end there is a prosecution, or one warns people or advises them at an earlier stage, certainly it will mean more enforcement work for local authorities.

The practical point that I wish to put to the Minister of State is this: is he satisfied that the local authority officials, their inspectors and others, already often overburdened with work, having to carry on so many tasks in a limited amount of time, will be in a position to take advantage of the new opportunities which are now presented for action in defence of the consumer? If we could have an answer to that practical point, it would be very helpful.

May I add my thanks again from this side to all those who have worked to bring about this useful amendment to what, on the whole, has proved over the years to have been a very sound piece of legislation.

3.11 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Richard Sharpies)

I am sure the House will wish to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, South-West (Mr. Tom Boardman) on his Bill. The House will also be grateful to him for his lucid explanation of the Bill. This Bill did not have a Second Reading debate. There was a very short Standing Committee stage, and this Third Reading debate has given my hon. Friend an opportunity to explain its provisions.

I shall have something to say later about publicity, but it is important that the Bill should have some publicity and the effects and its intentions made known.

As I indicated when the matter was discussed in Standing Committee, the Government support and welcome the proposals in the Bill. We believe that the insertion in the Consumer Protection Act, 1961, of the by-passing or passing-over provisions will improve that Act and will enable the Regulations made under it to be more effectively enforced than they are at present. I do not need to go through the provisions. They were effectively explained by my hon. Friend.

It might be helpful if I were to say one or two things about other points which have arisen, including one or two points to which I was not able to reply during the Standing Committee debates. There is no doubt that the effectiveness of legislation of this kind cannot be judged by the number of prosecutions which are brought. Anybody who has any knowledge of work in this field will know quite well that the vast proportion of work done by inspectors is done in the form of giving advice to retailers, and, in fact, in the vast majority of cases a very good liaison has been built up between the inspectors and those with whom they have to deal.

Most retailers, if they are in doubt, will go to the inspector and will ask for his advice, and again the inspector, on his visits, is often able to give advice on the spot. It is only in the last resort that a prosecution has to be brought. None the less it is important that local authorities should have the power to bring prosecutions, and that when prosecutions are brought they should be effective and they should be brought against those who are most directly concerned. I think it is fair to say, too, that even in cases where there have been clear breaches, many local authorities are at present reluctant to prosecute retailers. I think this is especially the case where the small retailer is involved.

That view has been expressed to the Home Office by several important bodies, including the local authority associations, the Institute of Weights and Measures Administration and the Institute of Shops Acts Administration. This is particularly so where it is known that the real responsibility lies not on the retailer—especially the small retailer—but on the manufacturer, who may in some cases have deliberately evaded the Regulations.

My hon. Friend referred to the question of choice—

Sir Elwyn Jones

Could the hon. Gentleman say how many prosecutions have been brought and what the outcome has been?

Mr. Sharpies

I was coming to that. In the case of the toys Regulations, a sample survey was undertaken by the Institute of Weights and Measures Administration. It appears from that survey that prosecutions are being brought in less than 20 per cent. of the cases in which non-complying toys are found to be on retail sale. It is clear that the law needs amendment so that prosecutions may be brought against manufacturers and others, and this is the purpose of the Bill.

My hon. Friend pointed out that an important change was made in Committee which brought the defence provisions in the Consumer Protection Act much more into line with those in other consumer protection legislation such as the Weights and Measures Act, 1963, and the Trades Descriptions Act, 1968. There are obvious advantages for all concerned, industry and commerce as well as local authorities, in being able to operate in consumer protection matters under laws which, although addressed to different purposes, are as far as possible consistent with one another in questions of both prosecution and defence. The present Bill will be an important step in that direction.

My hon. Friend referred, as did the hon. Member for Bristol, Central (Mr. Palmer), to our proposal for bringing in regulations. As I said in Committee, we are now considering new regulations in respect of electrical toys, flammable play-suits, electric blankets, domestic electrical appliances, prams and pushchairs, the lead content in the tinning of cooking utensils and the toxic content of pencils and crayons. Since I spoke about that in Committee, some progress has been made which may be of interest to the House.

As regards domestic electrical appliances, Regulations are proposed relating to basic safety requirements such as insulation and earthing. Proposals have been circulated to a wide range of interested organisations, and the comments which have been received are now being studied and discussed.

Perhaps I should take up one observation made by the hon. Member for Bristol, Central which might mislead people outside the House. The correct colours for electrical connections are not as he described them but as follows: green and yellow for the earth, brown for the live, and blue for neutral.

Mr. Palmer

I am sure that the hon. Member would not wish to teach his grandmother to suck eggs. I am well aware of that. I was referring to the situation some time ago when a Prime Minister came to me for advice.

Mr. Sharpies

Quite so, but I should not have liked anyone, after reading the hon. Gentleman's speech, to connect the colours wrongly and suffer an electric shock in consequence.

The state of play is just about the same in respect of electric blankets, and the recommendations in both cases are based on the relevant British Standards.

We have also circulated the draft proposals relating to the lead content in the tinning on cooking utensils, and we are awaiting comments from those to whom they have been circulated. We are just about to circulate proposals relating to the lead content of pencils, crayons and similar writing and drawing materials. The proposals relating to the safety of push-chairs and prams and of electrical toys are in the course of preparation in the Home Office.

The right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned the question of prosecutions. I was not able to give an answer on this matter in Committee, but I have now obtained the information. Between 1966 and 1969 inclusive—the only years for which I have figures—there were 155 prosecutions in England and Wales under the Consumer Protection Act, resulting in 146 convictions. In the time available I have not been able to obtain the similar information relating to Scotland, but I have no reason to think that the proportion is very different to that in England and Wales. I undertook in Committee to try to obtain the information, when it was suggested that there might be fewer prosecutions in Scotland because of the different legal procedures. I understand that a prosecution in Scotland must be done through the Procurator-Fiscal, but there is no information to suggest that that procedure is in any way inhibiting prosecutions there.

My hon. Friend mentioned publicity. Of course, in this legislation publicity is all important. We give wide publicity to any new regulations made under the Consumer Protection Act in the national Press. I have confirmed that this is also done in Scotland. We also bring the regulations to the attention of local authorities, which give publicity to them in the local Press and in the course of promoting local home safety campaigns. There is very close co-operation between the Home Office and the Scottish Home and Health Department on all these matters, including publicity, and this will continue.

I hope that I have answered the main points raised in this short but very important debate.

Mr. Palmer

Will the hon. Gentleman deal with my point about local authority staff?

Mr. Sharples

My understanding is that the amendment to the 1961 Act which the Bill makes has been made entirely at the request of the local authority. So far as I know, local authority associations, which are always quick to do so if the necessity arises, have not raised any question of inability to enforce the revised provisions through lack of staff. In some ways the Bill may almost make their task slightly easier. I do not think that the question of staff arises, although if it does it is a matter that I would certainly be prepared to look into.

As I have said already, I congratulate my hon. Friend on having brought forward this Bill. I am sure that the House will also want to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, who has played a considerable part in another place and made a very significant contribution to the formulation of this legislation.

The Bill is in the interests of consumers. I hope that it will now be given a Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, with an Amendment.