HL Deb 25 October 1976 vol 376 cc5-8

2.46 p.m.


My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether it is true, as stated in recent Press Reports, that the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection has more than once had to warn the public to examine new light bulbs for dangerous protruding wires; and if so, whether they do not consider that the safety standards being applied by the light bulb industry require investigation.


My Lords, public warnings about potentially dangerous light bulbs with protruding wires were issued by the Deparment of Prices and Consumer Protection on 1st and 11th October. The British lamp industry has informed the Government that stringent testing and inspection procedures are already used but that further measures are now being taken to ensure that only safe bulbs are released for sale. It is already a contravention of the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1975 to sell or possess for sale any light bulbs in this dangerous condition, whether British-made or imported.


My Lords, I am very much obliged. Are the Government satisfied that the sanctions are sufficient to prevent manufacturers and importers from releasing these dangerous bulbs on to the market? Is it not the case that you cannot expect busy wholesalers mid retailers to inspect every single item, nor can the Department be expected to get the message through to every member of the public that they must inspect every single light bulb that they buy?


My Lords, I would not claim that we are satisfied with the situation. We have asked the British Standards Institution to call their committee together to reconsider the matter of standards. Such a meeting is due to take place on 19th November. I can assure the noble Lord that the Department's views about the inadequacy of the present standards will be conveyed to that meeting.


My Lords, is the noble Lord in a position to say how many thousands—if it amounts to that figure—of these light bulbs have been imported from Europe, and whether they are still in this country? Are they going to be sent back, and is the money we spent on them going to be repaid?


My Lords, it is not possible to say how many defective bulbs have been imported. I believe eight million bulbs altogether are imported. This should be seen against the 240 million British made bulbs.


My Lords, is there no general testing of e electrical equipment that comes into this country? Is my noble friend aware that the magazine Which? constantly calls attention to the failure of imported electrical equipment to satisfy regulations? Is it not proper that all imported electrical equipment should be subjected to at least spot testing, even if every single item cannot be tested?


My Lords, since my noble friend refers to imported electrical equipment, perhaps I should make it clear in relation to electric light bulbs that the second release from my Department made it clear that both British and imported bulbs are subject to the defect that has recently been revealed. As to the question of testing, I think some system of spot testing is desirable. I am not fully acquainted with the present position, but I will write to my noble friend.


My Lords, regarding the last part of the noble Lord's answer, is he aware (as I am sure he is) that Czechoslovakia and the COMECON countries are large exporters of these bulbs? Will the noble Lord say what consultations have taken place with the Governments of those countries to encourage them to test the articles at source?


My Lords, the attention of manufacturers in the Eastern European countries concerned has been drawn to the defects found in their bulbs, and they have assured us that the procedures for testing are being reviewed in their countries.


My Lords, regarding checking procedures of imported bulbs, my noble friend may be surprised when I tell him that just last week my good lady purchased a light bulb of English manufacture, and as she put it in the light bracket the bulb came to pieces. I looked at it but I could not give you the name of the bulb manufacturer. Therefore, if there are to be spot checks I hope they will be carried out on British manufactured bulbs as well as imported ones.


My Lords, the hazard to which my noble friend refers is a different one: the exploding bulb. We do not want to get into an argument as between imported or home produced light bulbs; our anxiety is to see that all are subject to safety tests.


My Lords, could the noble Lord tell us how we can tell when a light bulb is "dud"?


My Lords, it is not a case of a light bulb being a "dud"; these bulbs will light but they are dangerous. The question was about the hazard of protruding wires. They can be readily recognised because the wire is easily seen. The wire is in danger of being bent over to touch the cap of the bulb, and that would electrify the whole system. That is the danger. I have an example of such a bulb in my room and I shall be glad to show it to the noble Lord.