HC Deb 07 December 1988 vol 143 cc296-7
2. Mr. Sumberg

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster what action has been taken by his Department over the past two years to ensure greater safety in the use of domestic household electrical appliances.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs (Mr. Eric Forth)

Effort has been directed to two main sectors.

First, regulations have been prepared which set constructional requirements aimed at ensuring the intrinsic electrical safety of household appliances and accessories. Last year, the Plugs and Safety Sockets etc. (Safety) Regulations 1987 were introduced to improve the safety of those items. Consultation has also been carried out on the Low Voltage Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations, intended to implement the low voltage directive, which I expect to lay before the House early in the new year. More generally, the Consumer Protection Act 1987 also introduced a new general safety requirement for all consumer goods not covered by specific regulations to be reasonably safe.

Secondly, promotional campaigns have been undertaken, in conjunction with industry, to heighten awareness of the hazards associated with the use of certain electrical equipment and the ways to minimise those risks. Particular examples have concerned the proper use and maintenance of electric blankets and the enhanced protection against electric shock provided by residual current devices.

Mr. Sumberg

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is hardly helpful to safety in the home to oblige the disabled, the elderly and the plain incompetent, among whom I number myself, to fit plugs to electrical appliances? Is it not time that we followed the practice on continental Europe and obliged manufacturers to fit moulded plugs on all electrical appliances?

Mr. Forth

I am charmed, if not seduced, by my hon. Friend's confession of weakness. There is no evidence that safety problems arise in domestic use from plugs not being attached to flexes by manufacturers, so I should be reluctant to make that compulsory. I remind my hon. Friend that 5 to 10 per cent. of households still use the old round-pin plugs, which could give rise to problems.

Mr. Thurnham

Is my hon. Friend aware that Britain is one of the few countries in the world in which any Tom, Dick or Harry can set up as an electrician? No doubt any Frank, Fritz or Sebastian will soon be able to do so as well. Will my hon. Friend encourage householders to use only qualified electricians? Will he acknowledge the work done by the Electrical Contractors Association in setting high standards of training and encouraging the installation of residual current breakers in every house?

Mr. Forth

I welcome what my hon. Friend has said. It is of the greatest importance that consumers generally— certainly in the sector that we are discussing—should always try to ensure the competence of a contractor. I encourage the industry to go further in its efforts to ensure that potential users of its services use only the competent and qualified.

Mr. Kennedy

I listened with interest to the Minister's first response, but something was lacking. Why is he so against making the attachment of plugs compulsory?

Mr. Forth

I am sorry that I did not carry the hon. Gentleman with me. Not only are we generally against compulsion where it can be avoided, but there is no evidence that plugs not compulsorily attached to electrical flex cause any safety hazard in the home. The hon. Gentleman must concede that some housholds in his constituency may still use the old two-pin plugs. Making the use of square-pin plugs compulsory would thus give rise to problems, perhaps among people on low incomes.