HC Deb 25 May 1984 vol 60 cc1395-405 11.54 am
Mr. Gary Waller (Keighley)

Consumer affairs have never featured as prominently on the political scene in this country as they have tended to do in the United States. For instance, Britain does not have a Ralph Nader. Perhaps it should be welcomed that, on the whole, we approach consumer affairs in a relatively pragmatic way, seeking to achieve a satisfactory balance between the interests of the purchaser and the desire not to overload the manufacturer or supplier with regulations or requirements that are unnecessary. To fall into the latter trap would, in the long run, do the consumer no good because it would deprive him or her of choice, and no Government would be thanked for that.

Nevertheless, in order freely to exercise choice a prospective purchaser needs correct information. We should be worried if the information is inadequate and even more worried if the information given is wrong either because of carelessness by someone in the supply line or, more seriously, because of deliberate fraud.

In few product areas is accurate information more necessary than in textiles. Most of the old wool men who did business in the wool exchange in Bradford could tell what a cloth was made of just by running it through their fingers; indeed, many of their modern counterparts can still do so. But the effects of technology in producing a greater range of synthetic fibres, which might look similar but have different qualities, mean that the purchaser may have very little to go on when making an assessment, except for the label.

Fibre content labelling is regulated by the Textile Products (Indication of Fibre Content) Regulations 1975, as subsequently amended, which were made under the umbrella of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. Those regulations should be adequate protection provided that they are heeded. But unfortunately, and largely because of inadequate enforcement, it appears that some companies are running a coach and horses through the regulations. Section 26 of the Trade Descriptions Act states that it is the duty of every local weights and measures authority to enforce within their area the provisions of this Act and of any order made under this Act. In England and Wales the enforcement authorities are the metropolitan and non-metropolitan county councils and the London boroughs.

The answer by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State to my question about enforcement on 6 March is highly interesting. The statistics he gave were based on information supplied on a voluntary basis to the Director General of Fair Trading for the period 1978 to 1983. During that time 127 successful prosecutions were brought by local authorities. Of those, 68—more than half—were initiated by West Yorkshire metropolitan county council. A further five authorities — Lancashire, South Yorkshire, Mid-Glamorgan, Hounslow and Shropshire — initiated between three and seven successful prosecutions, nine authorities had two prosecutions each, and a further 12 authorities had only one prosecution each.

The majority of enforcement authorities, including most of those in Greater London, mounted no prosecutions during those six years. Of course, we do not know how many cases were investigated or how many warnings were given. But if prosecutions are necessary to have any deterrent effect on potential transgressors, we must assume that the level of deterrence was very low in many parts of the country.

Towards the end of last year the wool, textile and clothing industry action committee, which comprises representatives of management and unions, Members of Parliament and Members of the European Parliament, together with representatives of local authorities in west Yorkshire, carried out a survey of enforcement authorities; 81 responded, which was nearly all of those surveyed. When they were asked how many investigations based on the fibre content regulations had been carried out in the past five or six years, the total response may seem quite high, as it was 155,000. It is clear, however, that the word "investigations" carried quite a variety of meanings. Only a small proportion were technical investigations into fibre content. The great majority were visual inspections only, as to whether a garment or textile product had a fibre content label at all.

Because it is a complex, expensive and time-consuming task to identify misleading or fraudulent labels, this work is rarely undertaken. Some authorities never do it, as they admit. All authorities have to determine their own priorities and for some the fact that priorities lie elsewhere can be understood. As one authority said: We have a very limited sampling budget and priority has been given to foodstuffs and dangerous goods. It is no coincidence that west Yorkshire is head and shoulders above any other authority when it comes to enforcement, because the wool textile industry has its roots in the county and employs large numbers of its people. After some years of recession and decline, I am glad to say that the industry is experiencing something of a revival, with exports up by nearly 40 per cent. in the early months of the year compared with 1983. It is too early to say how firmly founded that revival is.

Some may be surprised to discover that 500,000 people still depend for their livelihood on the textile and clothing industries. These industries—as I am sure that my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), who I know hopes to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy Speaker, will agree — do not ask for anything more than fair competition, so that those who produce goods of high quality may go on doing so and those jobs may be secure.

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has said, and I support her to the hilt, that British goods must sell on price, quality and delivery. If foreign goods are better and if they are produced fairly, we have no grounds for discriminating against them. It is because, as I shall show, many garments are imported into the United Kingdom masquerading under the false pretences of a misleading label that the west Yorkshire metropolitan county council trading standards department affords priority to this practice.

I am aware of the particular problems that arise because of the fair competition rules of the European Community in relation to marks of origin. At present, together with France, we are being taken to the European Court by the Commission. The issue of marks of origin is a distinct but related one. Before I say something about that, I shall show why it cannot be ignored in a debate on fibre content. The survey to which I have referred revealed that 169 prosecutions had been undertaken. Some related to non-labelling of fibre content, but 102 were for inaccurate description of fibre content. In other words, there was a label but the information on it was just plain wrong.

The enforcement authorities were asked to give the country of origin of offending items. There was no particular reason why they should have this information on their records, and in 51 cases—exactly half—this was not specified. Where it was known, 13 were of United Kingdom origin and 36 originated from Italy. It is worth examining some of these examples, as in some cases they are surprisingly blatant. Not all the cases involve wool, cotton or other natural fibres. Some synthetics are of a much higher quality than others and the purchaser is at least as likely to be misled if a low quality synthetic fibre garment is labelled as a higher quality fibre.

Where prosecutions took place, the penalties were often paltry, falling far short of even the inadequate £1,000 maximum fine. In some cases, the courts evidently, and perhaps reasonably sometimes, felt sympathy for the retailer, while the wholesaler or importer hid behind him and could not be identified with certainty. However, one could also suggest that the retailer should not depend on the good faith of the wholesaler unless he has good reason for trusting him. The London boroughs of Brent, Ealing and Harrow reported a case where blankets of Italian origin labelled as being all wool were found to be only 13 per cent. wool. Although the retailer was found guilty and fined £400. no action was taken against the importer.

The London borough of Greenwich took action over a nightdress that was labelled as 100 per cent. cotton but which turned out to be 66 per cent. polyester and only 34 per cent. cotton. It was reported, quite remarkably, that the manufacturer was fined only £5, although the costs awarded came to £150.

In Derbyshire, a skirt made in the United Kingdom from Italian fibre and labelled as 68 per cent. wool and 32 per cent. nylon was in fact 31 per cent. polyester, 23 per cent. acrylic and a mere 36 per cent. wool. Norfolk county council discovered a case where an Italian fabric length stated to be 60 per cent. wool was in fact 8 per cent. wool.

In south Glamorgan, a United Kingdom lady's dress labelled 100 per cent. cotton proved to be 100 per cent. polyester. The fine was £25, suggesting, although I am not aware of the exact circumstances, that fines vary considerably between one part of Britain and another. South Yorkshire revealed a case where a jumper described as mohair contained 83 per cent. acrylic and 17 per cent. miscellaneous animal fibres, and the fine in this case was a mere £30.

In Tyne and Wear, some socks labelled 80 per cent. wool and 20 per cent. acrylic were really 11 per cent. wool, 34 per cent. acrylic and 55 per cent. other fibres. The Leicester manufacturer in this case was fined £100.

West Yorkshire can provide a host of cases of every description, and I have time only to give as examples a couple of the more serious cases. An Italian garment labelled as being 50 per cent. wool, 30 per cent. polyester, 10 per cent. nylon and 10 per cent. other fibres was in reality 34.6 per cent. acrylic, 29.1 per cent. wool—not 50 per cent. — 22.9 per cent polyester, 13 per cent. nylon, 0.3 per cent. cotton and 0.1 per cent. viscose. The defendant, a company trading under the name of All That Jazz Limited, was evidently not playing the tune shown on the score and was fined £70 for a deficiency of about 20 per cent. wool.

In another case, where an item of Italian origin was stated as being 80 per cent. wool and 20 per cent. nylon, it turned out to be 24.7 per cent. polyester, 21.1 per cent. acrylic, 19.6 per cent. viscose, 16.9 per cent. nylon, 15.2 per cent. wool and 2.5 per cent. cotton — a rather remarkable mixture, involving a wool deficiency of approximately 65 per cent. The two defendants were each fined £250.

It has been said that some of these labels are the results merely of inspired guesses, but many of them are inspired by fraudulent intentions. These are cases where the fish did not get away. However, it is obvious that these offences are nationwide, and if in west Yorkshire the chances of getting away with it are very good indeed, as they are, the chances of escaping elsewhere in the country are truly overwhelming.

The scale of the problem can be assessed if we consider the comparative figures relating to samples analysed by the west Yorkshire trading standards department during the past three years. In 1981, 41 per cent. of the sample was found to be incorrectly labelled, and of these incorrectly labelled items 71 per cent was found to have originated in Italy when investigations were carried out. I have to stress that investigations were inescapable, because the label of origin would not reveal very much, as I shall show. In 1982–83, 35 per cent. was incorrect, of which 68 per cent. originated in Italy. The new figures for 1983, which have just been made available to me, reveal that 37 per cent. was incorrect and 71 per cent. of the incorrectly labelled items was Italian.

There is no discernible improvement in the figures over the period, and the country that tended to be the principal transgressor three years ago is just as much so today. It should, incidentally, be acknowledged that the sample is biased in that the outlets visited tended to be small fashion shops aimed at the younger generation.

The old principle of caveat emptor is familiar to lawyers—let the buyer beware. However, no one expects that he may have to doubt a label on a child's nightdress. A wrong label is worse than none at all. It is the purchaser who loses out, as does the honest competitor of the firm that cheats and that honest competitor's employees. The International Wool Secretariat's invention of a woolmark must be one of the best known symbols of quality in the world, and it is one that it assiduously protects. The value of the woolmark to the licensee is a sign of the importance that should be ascribed to the label, and also the added value that a garment of wool or predominantly wool carries. Some of those involved in the distribution of textile goods evidently regard the odd conviction and fine very much in the same way as a prostitute might—just as one of the overheads of trade.

However, under section 38 of the Fair Trading Act 1973, the Director General of Fair Trading has the power to take an injunction to demand assurances that firms and individuals who have offended will trade fairly in future. This power has recently been applied for the first time in relation to contraventions of the fibre content regulations. On 5 March 1984 the director general announced that Rolfe, Craig (Textiles) Ltd., a London firm, had given assurances and that these had also been required of its director and company secretary. This followed five convictions for breaking the regulations and means that if the law is broken again the firm and its directors will be in contempt of court.

I have here a press cutting from the Bradford Telegraph and Argus of a case involving this company, reported on 20 January 1980, where the firm had retailed jackets where the label indicated 60 per cent. wool content, which turned out to be nearer 10 per cent. If one wanted a pair of trousers to go with that jacket one might have been attracted to a pair stated to contain 35 per cent. wool, but which actually contained under 22 per cent.

In mitigation, it was said for the firm that the cloth came from Italy, and the firm had used the manufacturer's invoice as a guide to fibre content. All invoices from Italy, it pointed out, state that the composition of the cloth is not guaranteed. It was said for the firm that it took its responsibilities seriously. The firm intended to avoid further court appearances. It accepted that the purpose of the law was to protect the public from twisters. It was just over a year later that it made history in being the first textile firm to give the assurances I have described.

If a firm is in any doubt whatsoever about the content of the items it is selling, it is perfectly entitled under the regulations to mark the cloth as "mixed fibres". The fact that some firms prefer to apply an incorrect or fraudulent description rather than one which is within the law but has less attraction indicates that the benefits are high in relation to the possible penalties. If it proves necessary for the director general to use his powers more often in the future, I hope he will do so.

Although it cannot be said that cloth manufactured in Britain is never the subject of complaint, the customer knows that British products are generally what they are made out to be. There is obviously a demand by the public to know the origin of consumer products, and this evidently prompted the introduction of the Trade Descriptions (Origin Marking) (Miscellaneous Goods) Order 1981.

For many garments that was an advance for the customer, but the order has serious shortcomings as regards woven goods. Between the sheep's back and mine or yours, Mr. Deputy Speaker, wool goes through many processes. Origin is defined by section 36 of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 as the country in which they"— the goods— last underwent a treatment or process resulting in a substantial change. Such a substantial change would include making up a garment from cloth manufactured abroad.

I recall that early in the last Parliament I was a member of a delegation including hon. Members and representatives of the Confederation of British Wool Textiles that went to see my right hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mrs. Oppenheim) when she held the office now occupied by my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State. She was not convinced that the customer was being misled but welcomed our suggestion that we should endeavour to produce some evidence to that effect.

Subsequently a consumer survey was carried out using National Opinion Polls, which cannot but be considered conclusive. Respondents were asked, "If you were to buy an article of clothing made of woollen cloth, such as a suit, jacket, trousers, skirt or overcoat, and it had a label saying 'Made in England' on it, what would that mean to you?" The responses were almost uniform, regardless of sex, age, class or region. As many as 62 per cent. would assume that the material was woven in England and the garment made up in England. A further 10 per cent. would take it at least that the material was woven in England, while 3 per cent. thought that the garment was woven in England but made up abroad.

On the other hand, only 7 per cent. suggested that the material might have been woven abroad and the garment made up in England, while 26 per cent. proffered the view that it would have been made up in England. In other words, taking into account some multiple responses, well over twice as many people misinterpreted the label as got it right. In confirmation, when people were asked, "If you were told that an article of woollen clothing was made of cloth woven in Korea and was made up in England, which country of origin would you expect to see on the label?" A total of 29 per cent. said England and 46 per cent. Korea. The correct answer, of course, is England.

Thus we see that for outerwear garments people are being misled. As the Confederation of British Wool Textiles says, the cachet of 'Made in England' is applied willy-nilly to garments made from fabrics made anywhere—in our view After coming repeatedly up against a brick wall, I was somewhat taken by surprise when on 21 February 1983, in response to my oral question as to whether the Minister for Trade had any plans to amend the regulations relating to marks of origin, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East (Sir G. Vaughan), who had responsibility by then for consumer matters, said: I am aware of my hon. Friend's great interest in this and I am glad to tell him that I am currently reviewing the origin marking order introduced in January last year. He did not stop there. In reply to a supplementary question, he continued: I underline that I am most anxious that people should be able to identify British goods of quality, and the origin marking is an important factor in this. The basic message is a simple one—where British is best, buy the flag." —[official Report, 21 February 1983; Vol. 37, c. 658.] To which I would add, "Hear, hear."

Perhaps, however, those words of my hon. Friend were too much for the European Commission, because now we have been taken before the European Court of Justice on the grounds that an origin marking requirement is a barrier to trade. I have to say that the British people will not stand for such nonsense. It is evident that the origin marking requirement needs strengthening, not abolishing, in the interest of the consumer. Since this development, no more has been heard of the review to which my hon. Friend the Member for Reading, East referred, but the problem will not go away.

The responsibility for enforcing the marks of origin regulations again lies with the counties and London boroughs, as it does for the fibre content regulations. The proposed abolition of the metropolitan county councils should provide us with the spur to ask whether the present system of trading standards enforcement is working as well as it might. Unfortunately, those questions are tending not to get asked because the metropolitan county councils are spending all their time spreading scare stories about the impending emasculation of the police and fire services, to be followed rapidly by the end of the public transport world as we know it.

I cannot speak of other metropolitan county councils, but of the west Yorkshire trading standards directorate I have heard nothing but good. Its advice is continually sought by companies in its area. But even its officers apparently believe that they have the resources to deal only with the tip of the iceberg, whatever happens after April 1986. I hope that nothing will happen that reduces its existing effectiveness.

Economies of scale are obviously essential in such a labour-intensive field. The shire counties, many of them with a smaller population and rating base than the metropolitan districts, do not have the resources to do much. The London boroughs, it seems, can do even less. Several London boroughs grouped their resources to meet their trading standards obligations, but most of the initiatives failed and I believe that only one such grouping survives. This does not present a good omen for the metropolitan areas if the districts try to co-operate. In west Yorkshire for instance, quite apart from political differences, I can imagine that Bradford and Calderdale will want to concentrate on fibre content checks more than Wakefield or Leeds. Yet insularity is exceedingly shortsighted. It is short-sighted that at present many counties give such low priority to this important field, merely because they do not have a textile manufacturing base.

To summarise, if we ask whether the customer is getting an adequate service, the answer can only be no. The fibre content regulations are adequate, but the enforcing authorities do not have the resources or the incentive to do more than nibble at the problem. The marks of origin regulations as they apply to many garments fail the acid test. They do not tell the customer what he needs to know. On the contrary, they positively mislead.

There are apparently insufficient guidelines to enforcement authorities and there is inadequate cooperation between them. Because legislation exists, consumers are encouraged to trust the labels they see in garments. Incorrect labelling does short-term and long-term damage to reputable manufacturers. In the short term, price undercutting based on the incorporation of cheaper and inferior materials represents unfair competition. In the long term, the finding that a garment made of a quality material like wool does not last as long as it should wrongly prejudices the customer against that material with regard to future purchases. We should demand that our EC partners enforce their fibre content legislation, now that the textile trade is so extensive. Some of them clearly are not doing so.

With the next multi-fibre arrangement only a little over two years away the implications for fraud, as far as quotas from non-EC countries are concerned, should cause us anxiety. With local authorities unable or unwilling to make adequate checks on imports, the possibility that tests could be carried out at the point of import is one that merits serious consideration. Indeed, many would think us soft for not doing so. Such a change would presumably require customs officials to be able to apply section 16 of the Trade Descriptions Act in addition to the Import of Goods (Control) Order 1954.

A recent Commission directive to be applied before long, although minor in scope, will require an amending order to our regulations. This will provide an opportunity for further examination of these regulations, but before then we need to use forthcoming major local government changes to have a much broader debate on enforcement.

There can be only one test of whether consumer protection measures are adequate. Whatever the theory, do they do the job they are supposed to do in practice? Many such measures may indeed do so. In the area of textiles, I hope I have shown that in many cases they do not. We cannot for ever tolerate such a situation. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary should take action where it is clearly needed.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Paul Dean)

Before I call the hon. Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton) to speak, I should explain that a little flexibility in timing has been allowed, because of the time taken up by the statement at 11 am. But from now on we must stick to the times laid down on the Order Paper, which means that this debate ends at 12.30 pm

12.20 pm
Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield)

I am most grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me. I shall speak for literally only about 90 seconds.

I commend everything that my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) has said. He has spoken not only for the wool interests of his own county of Yorkshire but for all the textile industry, including the man-made fibre, the cotton and the cotton and allied, as well as the woollens sectors of the textile industry. He has also spoken for the British Textile Confederation, the British Clothing Industry Association the British Textile Employers Association, and the many unions in the textile and clothing industries, which are moderate and responsible and have worked very closely for many years with the employers to ensure this vital industry's survival. As my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley said, the industry employs well over 500,000 people. Indeed, it employs closer to 600,000 people.

My message to my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary is that the industry as a whole demands that the Government take action in the areas described in so much detail by my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley. The clothing and textile industries do not want protection. They want fair competition, proper origin marking and proper labelling showing the the exact content of a particular garment. That is essential to the industry and its survival. It is also a service that this country's consumers expect.

My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary now intends to reply in detail to the debate. I have honoured my commitment to speak for about 90 seconds. I ask him to give a detailed reply and, if necessary, to tell the European Community to take a running jump, because we are serving both Europe and the textile industry by insisting on the steps that my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley has set out.

12.21 pm
Mr. Merlyn Rees (Morley and Leeds, South)

I need 60 seconds in which to put my point. I should be interested to know what is going to happen to the west Yorkshire trading standards organisation, which has received praise, because it has done a good job. I represent Morley and Leeds, South, and Morley was once a textile town. Morley shows what can happen to the textile industry. Thus, I am interested in the standards issue.

12.22 pm
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State For Trade and Industry (Mr. Alexander Fletcher)

I cannot answer the question asked by the right hon. Member for Morley and Leeds, South (Mr. Rees) about the future of trading standards. That is still under consideration by Ministers, in the light of the reorganisations that are taking place. I welcome the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield (Mr. Winterton), but I hope he will not mind my saying that I could anticipate his remarks. I know that he feels very strongly about the industry, and he is entitled to do so.

In the short time available I should like to respond to what my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mr. Waller) has said. I know that the whole question of textile labelling has been the focus of particular interest in recent months, notably in west Yorkshire. The trading standards authorities in that area are particularly active in enforcing the regulations, to the extent that they have secured approximately 50 per cent. of all the successful prosecutions in the past five years. That is in itself a considerable achievement.

Given the particular importance of the wool textile industry in west Yorkshire, it is understandable that local trading standards authorities should give the enforcement of the regulations greater priority than other authorities. Others give priority to matters such as dangerous goods or froth on beer, which also involves trading standards work.

But the British wool textile industry has a reputation for producing high quality products, which are the envy of others who would seek to imitate them. I have seen a copy of the two reports that my hon. Friend referred to—one by the wool textile and clothing industry action committee, and one by the west Yorkshire director of trading standards, describing recent cases of the false labelling of textiles. They both deal with a number of important issues.

I am skipping over the description of the regulations in the interests of time, because I wish to turn to the important question of enforcement. That duty, of course, falls to local weights and measures authorities, the London boroughs, counties of England and Wales and regions in Scotland, acting through the trading standards departments. Incidentally, those departments can enforce more than 30 major consumer protection statutes. The authorities receive from Government an allocation in the rate support grant for consumer protection. Proper account is taken of the requirements placed on the local authorities in assessing the annual level of Government support. That is achieved following an annual review in consultation with the local authority associations on the basis of current expenditure plus an additional allocation for any significant increase in consumer protection duties and for inflation.

Although the allocation is made on the basis of perceived need, it is paid to local authorities as part of a block grant. It is then, of course, for individual authorities to determine their priorities, and hence the actual expenditure they may wish to allocate to each of those services. I recognise the concern about the findings of both the west Yorkshire council and the Wooltac reports with regard to the need for increased enforcement of the regulations, but, as the House will appreciate, it is for each local authority to determine its enforcement priorities having considered the demands upon its services from local industry, trade and the general public.

However, the local authorities have done much to coordinate their trading administration through the local authorities' co-ordinating body on trading standards, and I anticipate that the approach made by Wooltac will be brought to the attention of each authority. I have considered whether it is right that the responsibility for enforcing the regulations should remain with the local authority trading standards departments, not least in view of the new legislation that the House has been considering. It seems to me that this particular legislation, which forms part of the whole range of consumer protection law, is most suitably enforced at the local level, and, given the other responsibilities under the Trade Descriptions Act, it is right that responsibility for fibre content labelling should remain where it is.

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley gave an example of the powers being applied recently by the Director General of Fair Trading. I suggest that the enforcement of the regulations could be more effective if, in the case of imports, the trading standards authorities cooperated in establishing the point in the distribution chain at which the labelling takes place. Obviously, I refer to imports in particular—whether it is the importer or the wholesaler. If it is the importer and he is considered responsible for misleading labelling, the enforcement authorities should attempt to prosecute him. However, in saying that I am not attempting to reduce the responsibilities of retailers under this legislation. I am merely suggesting enforcement action at the most appropriate point in the chain of supply as a procedure which might be more effective in eliminating the problem.

My hon. Friend the Member for Keighley referred to what I think he considered to be rather petty fines following prosecution. If we could get to the real culprit in the distribution chain, the penalty might be more severe. Perhaps the entire business of an importer could be affected and his activities could be monitored thereafter. I hope that the co-ordinating body for trading standards and perhaps the director general will turn their attention to that point. I am anxious that those who mislead the general public should not only be caught but prosecuted, fined and, to say the least, hotly discouraged from continuing the process.

Both the Wooltac and west Yorkshire council reports draw particular attention to a number of examples of wool cloth from Italy which has been found, on analysis, to be wrongly labelled. I know that this is causing considerable disquiet, especially as Italy, like ourselves, is bound by the provisions of European Community legislation. We have to implement that legislation. I sympathise with the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Macclesfield, who said that it appears that our European partners may be ignoring it. The more that we can gather evidence of that sort of activity, the more we shall be able to bring it to the attention of the Commission as well as our Community partners.

I hope that I have made it clear in the short time available to me that the Government are concerned that the regulations should be enforced in a proper manner. As evidence of that, we have, together with our Community partners, devoted a great deal of effort to amending and updating the 1971 basic EC legislation.

I must stress that responsibility for enforcing the regulations rests with the local trading standards authorities. It is for each authority to decide its own enforcement priorities according to local circumstances and the available resources. I have considered whether there is more that the Government should do to influence local authorities in this respect, but I have concluded, apart from the remarks that I made about perhaps better coordination nearer the point of first supply and use of the powers of the Director General of Fair Trading, that it would not be desirable for the Government directly to influence the priorities that the local trading standards authorities apply in going about their duties.

I strongly support the role which both Wooltac and the West Yorkshire county council have taken in making copies of the reports available to the relevant local authorities and co-ordinating bodies. This practical step should help to encourage local authorities to consider whether they can devote more of their resources to enforcing the regulations in the interests of the consumers and honest traders.

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