HC Deb 11 November 1974 vol 881 cc14-6
6. Mr. Ioan Evans

asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection if she will consider measures for improving consumer protection at a national level and at a local level with a network of local advice.

Mrs. Shirley Williams

I announced on 10th September the Government's intention to establish a National Consumers' Agency. I have been encouraging local authorities to expand their services to consumers; and a nationwide network of consumer advice centres is now taking shape to compliment the citizens' advice bureaux. About a dozen of these centres have been opened since March, and there are expected to be many more by the end of next year.

Mr. Evans

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply. I am doubly pleased, because a consumer advice centre has been set up in my constituency in Aberdare by the Mid-Glamorgan authority and is working well. In addition to the local centres to give a voice to the people in the High Street, is there not a need for a national voice for the consumer? The CBI expresses the view of industry and the TUC expresses the voice of the worker in trade unions. Is there not a need for a large consumer authority to give a voice and to provide a platform to put the consumers' viewpoint at national level?

Mrs. Williams

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the foresightedness of his local authority, and I hope that other Welsh authorities will follow that lead. The purpose of the National Consumers' Agency is to do exactly what my hon. Friend wants—to give the consumer a voice in Government committees, because the agency will be able to put the consumer's point of view strongly. We also intend that that consumer agency will have a specific Welsh and a specific Scottish committee.

Mr. Robert Taylor

The right hon. Lady will recall that we were very pleased to welcome her recently in the London borough of Croydon where she opened one of these consumer centres. Is she aware, however, that, in view of the alarming forecast of increases in rates, many people on our local council are anxiously hoping that the council will reconsider the expenditure which that consumer centre is incurring? Can the right hon. Lady give some indication of what the extra burden will be on ratepayers throughout the country if consumer centres are opened by every local authority?

Mrs. Williams

The hon. Gentleman will not expect me to anticipate the outcome of the rate support grant negotiations, but may I say immediately that the value to ratepayers of consumer advice centres, in terms of complaints met and savings made on services and goods, is, I imagine, from the reports I have received—I have not the figures in front of me—more than favourable.

Mr. Whitehead

When my right hon. Friend makes her welcome visit to my constituency on 19th November to open one of these centres, will she be prepared to consider representations from my constituents about the practice of sugar hoarding, and particularly about the practice of shopkeepers in my constituency of not allowing sugar to be sold to customers unless a considerable number of other purchases is made, which hurts very much those of restricted means?

Mrs. Williams

I thank my hon. Friend for that question. The Department has written to all retail trades and retail trade federations asking them specifically not to make a condition of this kind, above all in respect of pensioners and low-income group customers. One of the services that a consumer advice centre can perform at local level is to publicise the behaviour of shopkeepers in this respect.

Mr. Neubert

Is the right hon. Lady aware that one of the organisations introducing arbitrary sugar rationing is the London Co-op? If she believes it to be against the consumer's interest to have to purchase at least 50p-worth of other goods, whether wanted or not, in order to buy sugar, will she use her sisterly influence on that organisation to end the practice forthwith?

Mrs. Williams

Those who have been advised include all retailers, including the co-operative societies.

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