HL Deb 10 July 1978 vol 394 cc1319-25

3.30 p.m.

Read 3a, with the Amendment.

Lord AIREDALE moved the Amendment: Page 10, line 36, leave out ("if any").

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have to apologise for a misprint. The actual words in line 36 are "if and", not "if any" and it is those words which I seek to leave out. It is a purely drafting Amendment. I beg to move.


My Lords, I am happy to accept this Amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, made a very convincing point in column 109 at Report stage on 5th July on the precedent for this, and close examination of the precedent in the Consumer Credit Bill of 1974 in which the Government accepted an identical Amendment convinced me that this one deserved similar treatment.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.


My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass—(Lord Mottistone.)


The Question is that this Bill do now pass.


My Lords, I leapt to my feet as swiftly as I could because there is a point that I should like to raise before this Bill passes and I should like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, whether he can help me on this. Your Lordships will recall that at an earlier stage of the Bill an Amendment was included in the Long Title, and perhaps I should read the Long Title which consists of only two lines: An Act to make further provision with respect to the safety of consumers and others". The words "and others" were added at an earlier stage and have given rise to some concern in certain quarters that the powers which are now apparently available to health and safety inspectors and others arising out of the Long Title might be wider than were originally intended. Can the noble Lord give me an assurance that the powers which seem to be included in this Bill by virtue of the Long Title are not perhaps quite so onerous as some have feared? I hope the noble Lord will be able to put my mind at rest on that point.


My Lords, I should like first to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne, on his most remarkable athletic leap to the Dispatch Box which surely should be entered in the Guinness Book of Records. I should like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, on his able stewardship of the Bill during its passage through your Lordships' House. This Bill has important implications for manufacturers and importers as well as providing the means for the Government to take much more positive action in relation to hazardous goods than has existed before. The Bill is notable for the support it has enjoyed from Members of all Parties: the Amendments which have been introduced in your Lordships' House reflect the careful consideration which the Bill has received and the Bill leaves this House substantially the better for it.

I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, who is not able to be present today but who has certainly played his part in the Bill although unfortunately he could not be present at all stages, for reasons of which we were well aware. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Trefgarne. The noble Lord, Lord Airedale, has made his contribution. He has given us one or two headaches but he has proved that he is most persistent and now rejoices in something of a victory.

There is one small matter that I should like to clear up. It relates to the Amendment to the Long Title which added the words "and others". The Amendment was consequential on the acceptance of an Amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, in Committee, which enables the Secretary of State, when contemplating safety regulations for goods containing radioactive substances, to take into account not only the degree of hazard which they may present to the users but also the possible consequences of radiation to other persons, primarily by the addition of the overall population dose. Doubts have been expressed in some quarters about the effect of widening the scope of the Bill so that safety regulations might he made under it which would bite not merely on consumers but, for example, on employees as employees rather than as consumers. Obviously, there may sometimes be an overlap where safety regulations cover goods which are on open sale to consumers but may also be used in the work situation. The consultation requirement in Clause 1(4) takes specific account of this eventuality whereby, in the case of proposed safety regulations relating to goods suitable for use at work, the Health and Safety Commission must first be consulted.

I can give an assurance, however, that there is absolutely no intention to alter the administrative powers of Departments as a result of this legislation so that, for example, the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection might make safety regulations for employees as employees. There is already adequate legislation in this respect in the Health and Safety at Work Etc. Act 1974 and the responsibility for ensuring the safety of employees will remain, as at present, with the Health and Safety Commission. Every endeavour will be made to ensure that, where there is any overlap such as I have mentioned, regulations made under the Health and Safety at Work Act and under this Bill when enacted will be harmonised. Otherwise the position would lead to confusion and would be illogical. I hope this assurance will remove the doubts to which I have referred.

I should like to say one further word on this very important Bill. The number of people injured and killed each year by accidents in the home is about the same as the number injured and killed on the roads. Some 7,000 people die and more than a million receive hospital treatment or treatment from their doctor. More than 30 per cent. of these are children under five years of age. I do not suggest that this Bill will prevent those accidents. No amount of legislation can prevent the human failings, illness and physical frailty which account for the bulk of the accidents. But the Bill will go a long way towards enabling the Government to act in relation to identified hazards in goods which might be called preventable accidents and, in consultation with the standard-making bodies, to assist in formulating standards of safety practices which, where necessary or desirable, can be made mandatory by their incorporation in safety regulations much more flexibly than was possible previously.

This Bill, in conjunction with the promotion of publicity and education on safety matters and the collection of information and promotion of research into the causes of accidents, all of which matters are interrelated and none of which is an answer on its own to accidents in the home, should contribute materially to the safety of consumers and, if the Bill results in some improvement in the accident statistics, as I believe it will, then it will be particularly valuable. The Government wholeheartedly support this Bill, as improved during its passage through your Lordships' House and I certainly commend it to your Lordships today.


My Lords, I should like to support what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, has said about the able stewardship of the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. This Private Member's Bill is a long and intricate Bill and the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, has had to grapple not only with the intricacies of the Bill but also with the intricacies of the quite extraordinary Parliamentary procedures which afflict us during the month of July. I am not about to make an attack upon any of the noble Lords who have to navigate and work the "usual channels", but I think that it ought briefly to be stated that here is a Bill which affects absolutely everybody. The safety of goods which one buys in the shops must affect everybody. It is a Bill in which the Government were keenly interested. I think I can say that confidently because the Government themselves moved 20 Amendments to the Bill during the Committee and Report stages and the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, with apparent Government approval, moved a further 17 Amendments, making a total of 37 Amendments.

The background against which that work was done was as follows. The Committee stage of the Bill came on last Thursday, 29th June, at 7.53 in the evening. It lasted for 28 minutes and at 8.21 p.m. the House was resumed for what was considered to be more important business. Quite unexpectedly, we had to return to the Committee stage of the Bill the next day. Believe it or not, almost exactly the same thing happened on Report. The Report stage began at 7.43 in the evening on 5th July. It lasted for 25 minutes. It was then adjourned, unexpectedly, for what was considered to be other and more important business and the Report stage had to be concluded the next day. I think that one is entitled to say that Parliament cannot give its fullest and most careful attention to legislation affecting everybody under conditions of that kind.

As regards the Bill itself, let me say at the outset that it contains one blemish. Having referred to this matter at length both in Committee and on Report I shall certainly not go into the arguments again. However, I shall state the blemish baldly, simply because I believe that this is only one in a series of Consumer Protection Bills and having got something wrong this time we must be careful not to make the same mistake again. Baldly stated, the situation is as follows. The Bill purports to give the enforcement officers of local authorities power to enter a trader's warehouse or other parts of his premises to which the public is not normally admitted, purely for the purpose of carrying out a routine inspection without there being any suspicion that anything is wrong in the warehouse. That may be right, but the fact is that the Bill, having stated that purported power, fails to provide a sanction and if the trader were to turn the officer away, refusing him admission, there is no sanction whereby the officer can obtain admittance to the warehouse.

That may tend to bring the officer into disrepute and one does not want that to occur. So, the next time round, we must surely ask ourselves: Do we really want to authorise entry into warehouses for purely routine inspections? That must be an open question. However, if we decide in the affirmative, that routine inspections are to be permitted, then we must provide a sanction so that the officer cannot be turned away by a simple refusal on the part of a trader to admit him to the premises. That is the blemish that we must cure the next time round.

I do not want to end upon a sour note. The Bill must be worthwhile. Nowadays shoppers have to buy sophisticated goods the safety of which they cannot judge for themselves. I am sure that we have done some good. If we have introduced 37 Amendments to the Bill this House must have done it some good, and I wish it well.


My Lords, it remains for me very briefly to say "Thank you" not only to the noble Lords whom Lord Wallace of Coslany thanked—namely, my two colleagues on the Front Bench who have helped me from time to time in different ways—but also to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, himself for sharing part of the burden of Amendments which have come to us really from another place. I should also like to thank the noble and learned Lord who sits on the Woolsack, who did his best to help me the other evening over what the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, called "the blemish". I also wish to thank the noble Lord, Lord Darling of Hillsborough, who I do not think is in the Chamber today but who was of great assistance. Finally, I should like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, because even if I disagree with him, he has at least made sure that we considered the Bill very thoroughly in this place, perhaps as thoroughly as it was considered in the other place.

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons.