HC Deb 14 March 1990 vol 169 cc464-6
3. Mr. Martlew

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he last met representatives of local authority trading standards officers to discuss consumer matters.

7. Mr. Maxton

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when he last met representatives of local authority trading standards officers to discuss consumer affairs.

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

I met representatives of local authority trading standards officers on three occasions in 1989 to discuss consumer matters, and my officials have frequent meetings with trading standards officers.

Mr. Martlew

Is the Minister aware that there is deep concern in trading standards offices and in British industry that the harmonisation of safety laws throughout Europe will mean the dumping of dangerous foreign goods on an unsuspecting British public?

Mr. Forth

If there is such concern, it is misplaced. Authorities will still have powers to identify any items that are proved to be unsafe and to remove them from the market. That will be against the background of creating the single market and a single, verifiable and viable product safety standard so that consumers throughout Europe can be equally assured of the safety of products on the market place. We shall continue to strive for that objective.

Mr. Maxton

When the Minister met the trading standards officers, did he discuss with them the compulsory annual recording of car mileages? If he did, does he agree with them that it is an essential means of cutting down on fraud in the car markets? If so, when will he introduce legislation to carry it out?

Mr. Forth

The answers are no, no and I do not have it in mind.

Sir Anthony Grant

When my hon. Friend next meets the trading standards officers, will he discuss with them a serious problem which has arisen for small petrol retailers? The trading standards officers have said that pumps must be changed to allow for unleaded petrol by the end of the month, but the manufacturers and installers of the new pumps are unable to meet the demand, largely because they are overworked by the big oil companies. Will the Minister tell the trading standards officers to take things calmly in view of the backlog?

Mr. Forth

I am slightly surprised that the matter has not been brought to my attention other than by my hon. Friend now. He suggests that I have some powers over trading standards officers. I am sure that the House will be reassured to know that I have no such powers and that the trading standards officers do their excellent work totally independently from the Government. However, I acknowledge the problem that my hon. Friend has described and I will find out what can be done to alleviate it.

Mr. Holt

Does my hon. Friend agree that, far from Britain being a dumping ground, the stringent laws that have been introduced in Britain for the furniture industry make us unique in Europe so that no European manufacturer can sell in Britain without attaining our standards and we are leading the world?

Mr. Forth

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. I should like it to be more widely understood in Britain that throughout the furniture industry enormous efforts have been made to comply with our high furniture safety standards. I very much welcome that, and I believe that people in Britain can be reassured that they will enjoy the highest standards of furniture fire safety in Europe if not the world.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths

Is the Minister aware of the public concern over his failure to reappoint Esther Rantzen to the National Consumer Council—[Laughter.]

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not think that it is really a laughing matter.

Mr. Griffiths

I agree entirely, Mr. Speaker. It is far from a laughing matter. Is not the truth simply that the Minister cannot face the criticism that that consumer champion articulates on behalf of millions of people in Britain? Is not she paying the penalty for supporting the Consumer Guarantees Bill which the country and people overwhelmingly want and the Minister implacably opposes? Will he consider reappointing Esther Rantzen to the NCC as part of a Government contribution to world consumer day tomorrow?

Mr. Forth

I am not aware of the source or the nature of the public concern claimed by the hon. Gentleman. Ester Rantzen has served three terms on the National Consumer Council. That is exceptional in itself and I felt that it was time for new blood and new ideas. Despite the fact that on her programme some three or four weeks ago Ester Rantzen invited people to write to Members of Parliament and to me expressing their public concern about the Bill that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, as of a few days ago I had received only one letter in reply.