HC Deb 16 May 1990 vol 172 cc869-70
1. Mr. Jack Thompson

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what further steps he is taking to strengthen legislation against sellers of dangerous goods.

2. Mr. Gareth Wardell

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what further steps he is taking to strengthen legislation against sellers of dangerous goods.

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

The introduction of the general safety requirement in part II of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 means that it is now a criminal offence to sell any consumer product that is not reasonably safe. That is supported by specific regulations and by a range of enforcement powers that enable action to be taken effectively and swiftly against unsafe consumer goods. I see no justification for further legislation in this area.

Mr. Thompson

Will the Minister take into account the fact that local authorities have had carefully to examine staffing levels in their trading standards departments simply as a result of the introduction of the poll tax? Will he consider at least changing part II of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 to extend the period of time for prosecutions from six months to about three years? There is great demand among local authorities for that change and it is important that it is considered. Will the Minister also consider legislation on the importation of radioactive goods such as smoke detectors, certain types of switchgear and watches?

Mr. Forth

The hon. Gentleman gives me an opportunity to pay tribute to the work done by trading standards departments up and down the land, which do excellent work on behalf of the consumer. Of course, it is for local authorities to decide their priorities. I hope that all local authorities will always give the highest priority to their duties under the Consumer Protection Act 1987 to give resources to the trading standards departments. I am confident that they will do so. As for radioactive material, if the hon. Gentleman will write to me, I shall consider the matter carefully in order to assess, apart from anything else, whether it is my responsibility. I should like to consider the matter in more detail.

Mr. Wardell

Will the Minister give three good reasons why he is not prepared to amend part II of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 in order to allow trading standards officers more time to prosecute sellers of goods that result in injury or put people's lives at risk?

Mr. Forth

I shall give the hon. Gentleman one reason. Although my Department has asked for them, I have not yet received positive and substantial reasons why we need such an extension of the time limit. I give the hon. Gentleman this undertaking. As and when anyone gives me real evidence that the six-months time limit is a real obstacle to the effective pursuit of prosecutions, I shall look at it positively. We have asked for such evidence and we are still waiting.

Mr Nicholas Bennett

Will my hon. Friend consider referring to the Office of Fair Trading a range of goods that have come on to the market in the past couple of years, which claim to be innocuous, are prettily packaged and have no price on them? The appear to be coming from an address in Walworth road.

Mr. Forth

If I can pick up the drift of what my hon. Friend is saying, I suspect that one of the problems with the products emerging from Walworth road is that we are still waiting for full disclosure of all the details, to say nothing of the fine print. When we see some of that, the goods may well be categorised as grotesquely unsafe to the public.

Mr. Nigel Griffiths

Does not the Minister realise that not only trading standards officers of local authorities but the prosecution service and the testing stations of his Department determine delays in bringing prosecutions against the sellers of dangerous goods? When trading standards officers throughout the country are telling the Minister that sellers of dangerous goods get away scot-free because of the six-month time limit on prosecutions, why has the Minister failed to review that serious loophole in our consumer protection law?

Mr. Forth

In his relatively brief tenure in office, the hon. Gentleman has made a speciality of making unsubstantiated statements from the Dispatch Box. I tell him in all generosity that I have had no such information or approaches from trading standards departments. When I receive detailed and substantial evidence that the time limit is causing the problem that he suggests, and as I have undertaken to his hon. Friend the Member for Gower (Mr. Wardell), I shall consider it positively, but I am awaiting that evidence. The hon. Gentleman might well prod trading standards departments to come forward more quickly.