§ 6.58 p.m.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. I hope that your Lordships will bear with me for some time, because the Bill is somewhat detailed (for very good reasons, which I hope to explain) and I do not think that I can skimp over it briefly. I shall do my best to ensure that we all have some supper —I am thinking here of those noble Lords who wish to stay to hear about the Bill.
The Bill was introduced in another place by a Private Member, my honourable friend Mr. Neville Trotter, who had studied the Green Paper on consumer safety published by the Government in February 1976. For the benefit of noble Lords who are interested, I should say that the Green Paper very much forms the basis of the Bill. The Bill will succeed the Consumer Protection Act 1961, which was also promoted as a Private Member's Bill, and was introduced into your Lordships' House by the noble Lord, Lord Crook, in order to implement one of the recommendations made by the Committee on Consumer Protection.
That Bill gave powers to make regulations in order to meet the recommendations of that Committee, and some sets of regulations made under the Act are currently in force, dealing with such products as oil heaters, electrical equipment, toys, nightdresses (as regards their flammability) and ceramic ware (toxicity), 1462 and more are in course of preparation. The output of regulations over the last 17 years, averaging little more than one per year, cannot be said to be unduly high, and reflects the policy of successive Governments to rely as far as possible on the good sense of manufacturers and traders in this country to ensure that the goods which they supply are adequately safe in normal use.
The great majority of traders have in fact shown a high standard of responsibility in this respect, as I am sure your Lordships would expect. Even so, unsafe goods can and do reach the market from time to time from various sources, both home and abroad, and it is therefore necessary that appropriate powers to take legislative action should be available. The existing regulation-making powers are pretty extensive, but, as the Government's Green Paper of February 1976 indicated, are inadequate in some respects and, more importantly perhaps, are not sufficiently flexible to meet the various situations which can arise. Moreover, some of these call for action other than by means of regulations, and the necessary powers are at present simply not available.
I now turn to the provisions of this Bill. Under Clause 1 there are precise guidelines to the Secretary of State in drawing up safety regulations by order, which will require wide consultation before being laid before Parliament for approval by affirmative procedure. Clause 2 deals with offences against the safety regulations. These regulations are of a general and continuing nature and do not deal with one of the main deficiencies of the existing legislation. This is the lack of any power to take rapid action to stop the supply of goods which have been found to be unsafe. The making of regulations is inevitably a fairly lengthy process, involving, as it does, consultations with a large number of bodies, and this is hardly the appropriate course to follow when urgent action is called for. Fortunately, dangerous goods are not marketed with any great frequency, but such products are nevertheless discovered from time to time. For instance, your Lordships may remember that not long ago decorative electric table lamps in the form of gondolas were found which presented an electrocution hazard.
When such products as these are discovered, the Department of Prices and 1463 Consumer Protection has to rely on the voluntary co-operation of the supplier concerned to secure their withdrawal from sale, and this is, of course, usually forthcoming. Even so, it would seem very necessary that there should be power to require such products to be withdrawn in the unlikely event that this is not done voluntarily, and the Bill accordingly provides such power in two different forms, in Clause 3 and in Schedule 1. Two different kinds of situation may arise. The first is where a dangerous product is being marketed through one known outlet, namely, a manufacturer or an importer, and the second where many distributors are involved. To meet the first of these sets of circumstances the Bill gives the Secretary of State power to serve on the trader concerned a prohibition notice prohibiting the continued supply of the goods in question by the person concerned. This is somewhat similar to the prohibition notice procedure under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
The other, more general, situation which I have described is dealt with by enabling the Secretary of State to make a prohibition order to stop the supply of goods which he considers to be unsafe. Such an order can be thought of as "instant" regulations having immediate and general application, but of only limited duration. There is a precedent for the making of orders of this kind in Section 62 of the Medicines Act, and they serve to deal with the hazard for the time being while regulations of a more usual kind are prepared, involving full consultations with interested bodies.
My Lords, I should mention at this point that, as will be seen from the definition of "goods" in Clause 9 on page 11 of the Bill, the goods referred to in this Bill do not include food, feeding stuff, fertilisers and medicine, all of which are covered by other legislation. This is just as well for me in relation to food, because it spares me from having to declare an interest. To continue, my Lords, the two powers in respect of prohibition notices and prohibition orders enable further distribution of identified dangerous products to be stopped. But how about those that have already been sold to the public, perhaps in substantial quantities? Manufacturers and importers themselves often publish warnings about such goods on their own initiative, and 1464 this is in fact what might reasonably be expected from any reputable trader. In other cases, it has been the practice of the Department of Prices and Consumer Protection to issue warnings, and there can be little doubt that, as a result of action taken, either by the supplier or the Department, accidents have been avoided. It would seem to be necessary, however, that there should be power to require the supplier of unsafe goods to publish a warning about the potential hazards which they present, and provision for this is accordingly included in the Bill.
Provision is also included for traders affected by prohibition orders, prohibition notices or notices to warn, to submit representations about the action proposed. I attach importance to that. It gives ample provision for persons at whom these various orders and notices are directed to make representations and no doubt express their own point of view about the importance or validity of such orders or notices. For example, in relation to a prohibition order the Secretary of State is put under a duty to publish his intention to make such an order at least 28 days beforehand except that in those cases where the risks are considered to be very grave the prior publication requirement will not apply. In relation to a prohibition notice, the Secretary of State is obliged to give the trader prior notification of his intention to serve the notice, but the obligation to give prior notification will not apply when the risks are considered to be particularly grave. The trader involved must also be given an opportunity to make representations about a notice to warn. Appeal procedures covering both prohibition notices to warn are set out in Schedule 1 to the Bill, and these should serve to ensure fair treatment for anyone on whom either kind of notice is served.
Another new power in the Bill enables the Secretary of State to obtain from any person any information he requires for the exercise of his functions in regard to safety regulations, prohibition orders, prohibition notices or notices to warn. This implements one of the proposals in the Green Paper of February 1976, and would seem to be one of the essential ingredients of the Bill. In practice, it is not a power which will need to be used with any great frequency, and, in any 1465 event, information of the kind required will no doubt usually be provided voluntarily.
The confidentiality of information provided in response to statutory requests must clearly be safeguarded. The Bill, accordingly, in Clause 4 and Schedule 2, makes disclosure of such information, except for certain specified purposes, an offence punishable by quite severe penalties. The penalties for unauthorised disclosure of information include a prison sentence, while those for other offences under the Bill do not. I should tell the House that it is proposed by Amendment in Committee to tighten up the rules for protecting confidentiality on the lines of an undertaking given by the Minister in another place.
I have already referred to the need for improved and wider regulation-making powers. The provision for these is an important aspect of the Bill which your Lordships have before you. One rather serious deficiency in the 1961 Act is that there is no power to include "deemed to satisfy" references to standards in regulations. A wide range of product safety standards have been published by the British Standards Institution following deliberations in technical committees in which representatives of many different bodies—manufacturers, other trade associations, Government Departments, professional bodies and consumer organisations—have made their contribution. There are also international standards for a number of products.
In this report to the National Economic Development Council on Standards and Specifications in the Engineering Industries, Sir Frederick Warner strongly recommended that greater use should be made of standards in legislation and, in particular, that safety standards should be given "deemed to satisfy" recognition. This will be made possible by Clause 2 which, among other things, will enable safety regulations to provide that compliance with a specified standard is deemed to satisfy a requirement to the regulations for the purpose of criminal proceedings. The approval or certification of goods will usually be of significance in a non-statutory way as indication of confirmation by an independent body that the goods comply with the recognised stan- 1466 dards. But there could be situations, possibly infrequent, in which approval or certification based on type-testing is considered necessary before the goods of a particular kind can be marketed. The Bill accordingly enables such a requirement to be imposed in Clause 2. It also enables regulations to be made imposing safety standards for safety equipment such as life-jackets, bouyancy aids or climbing gear where the problem is not that the product itself presents a hazard but that, in the absence of a statutory requirement, it may be ineffective when used as intended in hazardous circumstances.
I ought to explain that one needs to look at the definition of "safe" in Clause 9 (page 12) and its reference to circumstances in which the goods might be used. I might also mention at this point that I very nearly did not take the Bill, because as a young man I was always brought up by my father on the maxim "Safety-first is a vile motto". Noble Lords who know anything about my father will know that he lived his life on that principle. However, I took it on because, on the whole, it is not unreasonable about safety, but reasonable.
My Lords, I will mention only one of the other improvements in the regulation-making powers. This relates to the all-important aspect of the labelling or marking of goods. In Clause 1, the Bill will enable regulations to require warnings or instructions or other information to be marked on or to accompany goods. This power goes beyond that already provided by the Consumer Protection Act 1961 and will enable, for the first time, requirements to be imposed as to ingredient labelling (of importance in regard, for example, to allergic reactions), the use of warning symbols, first-aid instructions or the name and address or trade mark of the supplier.
Finally, in Clause 5, the Bill brings the powers of enforcement authorities into line with those in other consumer protection legislation such as the Fair Trading Act and the Trade Descriptions Act and makes it the duty of the local weights and measures authorities to enforce safety regulations, prohibition orders and prohibition notices. This changes the position which exists at present under the Consumer Protection Act which enables these authorities to enforce regulations but does 1467 not require them to do so. Even so, there is little doubt that weights and measures authorities have, in fact, conscientiously enforced existing product safety regulations and regard this as an important aspect of their consumer protection work.
My Lords, I must ask you to forgive me for having spent so long—two minutes more than I meant to—in explaining this small Bill which deals with a comparatively narrow subject, albeit of great social importance. Its complications seem to me to stem from the difficulty of providing adequate safeguards for an unsuspecting public while at the same time protecting honest traders from an unreasonable and unfair burden of yet more law.
As originally introduced in another place, the Bill appeared to give rather wide powers and these gave rise to some concern. Subsequent Amendments made before the Bill reached your Lordships' House have met these criticisms and the Bill now before your Lordships is, in my view, much improved in this and other respects. As I mentioned earlier in relation to the safeguarding of confidential information, I shall be proposing some further Amendments in Committee in relation to that subject and to others which are designed to improve the Bill still more before it leaves your Lordships' House. I trust that your Lordships will agree with me that this Bill is indeed a very useful measure which provides about the right mixture of powers needed to ensure the continuing safety of consumer goods marketed in this country.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Mottistone.)
§ 7.18 p.m.
§ Lord LYELL
My Lords, I believe that the House will be immensely grateful to my noble friend Lord Mottistone for introducing this short but, as he pointed out, immensely detailed and complicated measure. My noble friend is, indeed, an expert in this special facet of consumer affairs. I believe that he has made an excellent speech and has detailed the provisions of the Bill admirably; but I wonder whether there are not one or two small gaps in the drafting and meaning. However, I am sure that either my noble friend or the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, will be able to give me most if not all the answers to any questions that I 1468 might raise at this stage, at the later stages in the Bill, and, I am sure, elsewhere, and in informal circumstances.
For example, I would draw the attention of the House to Clause 1(1). I wonder whether there would not be a case for inserting some concept of reasonableness into this particular clause—as the House found last year in a similar Bill which I had the honour to take part in, the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977. There, great play was made of the concept of reasonableness in such intricate and complicated consumer legislation.
My noble friend Lord Mottistone referred to Clause 9(4). This gives interpretations of various words and terms. Certainly, I would hope in this context that the word "safe" would be construed in a fairly open way. I note that the definition of "safe" includes the words:circumstances in which the goods might be used or kept".I think it would be fair to traders and others affected by the Bill to have some element of reasonableness included here. Several examples of difficulties that might arise at this stage come to my mind. Doubtless noble Lords in the House will be able to think of cases in their own lives—both actual and theoretical. For example, what of the seller of high quality kitchenware who may happen to produce carving knives? I wonder whether each and every possibility of injury or even fatality should be included in the mind of the draftsman of the Bill. I would hardly believe that. But specific cases have been drawn to my attention, particularly things which are called cleaver type knives, which are made specially for cutting joints of frozen meat which one can buy at large freezer centres. I understand that some owners of this equipment have misused it entirely out of ignorance. They have used these cleaver knives in the form of a dagger. The cleaver has broken and there have been injuries. This is clearly ignorant and innocent misuse of equipment which has potentially risky consequences.
I wonder whether any supplier of such specialist equipment would be able to do more than ensure that this equipment does not arrive in the hands of anyone who has not had special training. It seems to me to be going rather far to suggest that the liability should be on the supplier of this special equipment. So 1469 far as the Bill is concerned in generality, I think that it is very pleasant to find the "reasonableness" paragraph in Clause 3 when dealing with prohibition orders and warning notices. Further on in Clause 7, we find that safety regulations are to be made following Affirmative Resolutions in each House of Parliament. This is excellent in that Statutory Instruments receive close scrutiny, certainly in your Lordships' House. In this case the procedures will enable the regulations to be updated on a special basis as and when they are required.
When we examine the Schedules, we find references to enforcement particularly in Schedule 2. In paragraph 3 of Schedule 2 we find several cases where an officer of an enforcement authority may inspect any goods, and indeed he may enter any buildings. Certainly he may also examine any procedure in manufacture In these provisions it may be implicit that the officer should have reasonable cause. I hope and believe so. If that is so, I wonder why we find reasonableness in each of the other sub-paragraphs of paragraph 3? I do not think that I am being overly detailed or, I hope, not overly harsh. I am curious and I think that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, or my noble friend will be able to allay most of my fears in this respect.
In paragraph 5 of Schedule 2, dealing with the enforcement, we find that a justice of the peace may sign a search warrant to enter premises and seek evidence of breach of regulations. None of us defend major breaches of safety regulations of any kind. I wonder whether there might be evidence in this case of using a sledge hammer to crack what could be a fairly minor nut? It is just such a case that would bring the measures proposed in the Bill, which are admirable and well set out, into some disrepute.
Some of your Lordships will have heard the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, recently in connection with entry into premises. This was in connection with pornographic material. He drew attention to the entry powers of tax officers which had been brought in under the 1976 Finance Act. He pointed out that such entry powers as are obtained by tax officers in special and exceptional cases have to be authorised by 1470 a circuit judge. So far as this Bill is concerned, I do not think that we should need to bother circuit judges. Probably we should find that a justice of the peace need only sign a warrant to enable enforcement officers to enter, search and indeed to do their job. In a case where a justice of the peace may sign a warrant, he and the enforcement authority are handling—if I may say this in the context of this Bill—a dangerous and volatile concept.
Far from bringing these persons under the scope of the Bill, the relevant authorities will be able to use their powers, if I may so put it, peacefully and responsibly. Any traders or concerns which are affected or liable to be so will—and in fact do—have to take enormous trouble to comply with what is ever more complicated and detailed legislation such as we find in the Bill this evening. I believe that authority must act with the utmost care and discretion in what I term and call borderline cases. With this small caveat, I want to congratulate very warmly my noble friend Lord Mottistone on his mastery of this subject and his presentation of this Bill. I add my support to it.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Lord AIREDALE
My Lords, both noble Lords who have spoken have referred to this Bill as a small one. For a Private Member's Bill I would not call it a small Bill. We are indeed fortunate to have had the lucid powers of expression possessed by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, to guide us through this not very small Private Member's Bill. It is with some reluctance that I come to support the Bill because I am an upholder of that ancient, well tried maxim "caveat emptor"—let the buyer beware. But I have to accept that in these sophisticated days one cannot call out "let the buyer beware" in quite the same unqualified way that one used to be able to do.
There are two reasons for this. The first is that in these days ordinary people go shopping for goods which are quite sohpisticated and technical. In this connection one thinks in particular of electrical goods. One cannot expect the householder to be able to judge the qualities and, in particular, the safety of an electrical appliance. The second reason is that today's shopper—I do not like the 1471 word "consumer"—has such a very much more limited range of choice in so many respects.
Take as one example the transport business. Before the motor car came along, I suppose that there was a coach builder—probably more than one—in every town. If one customer withheld an order from one coach builder because of something that he did not like, that was probably quite a blow to the coach builder. Let one customer today withhold his order from one of the few mass manufacturers of motor cars and it is going to make precious little difference to them. So I accept that the present-day shopper needs some more protection than his forebears did.
My Lords, I am pacing myself: I do not want to take very long and I intend to refer to only one point which is more than just a Committee point. Curiously enough, the noble Lord, Lord Lyell and I, have independently arrived at Schedule 2. the enforcement Schedule. The noble Lord has had something to say particularly about paragraphs Nos. 3 to 9 under the subheading:Powers to enter premises and to inspect and seize goods".I had exactly the same paragraphs in mind about which to say something, after which to say something, after which I shall sit down.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, has pointed out, one finds in paragraph 3 that an enforcement officer can arrive at a factory and enter and inspect goods without any reasonable grounds for suspicion that anything is wrong. He can go in there on a "fishing expedition". Is this right and is it necessary?
I know where this comes from: at least I think I do. It comes from Section 162 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. But I really think we ought to pause over this, because if we allow this paragraph 3 to go through in this Bill we are adding to precedent. There is already the one precedent of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Are we going to add another? Because the next thing that will happen will be that in some future consumer protection legislation—and I am sure we have not reached the end of this topic—there will be two precedents and Governments will be able to argue that these powers of being able to enter 1472 premises without any suspicion are now time honoured because there are two precedents. Before we know where we are, enforcement officers will have powers to go on "fishing expeditions" for all sorts of reasons. I think the time has now conic when we should pause and consider whether it is wise to follow the Consumer Credit Act 1974 in this respect.
There is one curiosity. If the warehouse-owner has the wit to say to the enforcement officer: "No, you are not coming in: you have to go to a magistrate and get your search warrant if you want to come into my warehouse", then, as the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, has pointed out, paragraph 5 comes into play. We find in paragraph 5:If a justice of the peace on sworn information in writing is satisfied that there is reasonable ground to believe …".And then it goes on. So, my Lords, we have the situation that if the enforcement officer is turned away and has to resort to the magistrate, he has to provide "reasonable ground" for suspecting that something is wrong in those premises, or he is not going to get his warrant out of the magistrate.
I would ask: is it sensible? In the first place, if he attempts a "fishing expedition" he can go in unless entry is refused. If entry is refused he has to provide reasonable grounds for suspicion. I do not think, with all due respect to the Act of 1974, that in following it we are really on very wise grounds here. It may well be that we shall have to return to this matter in Committee. It may also be that we shall be told something this evening about how these enforcement provisions are expected to operate. With those few words, I give the Bill my support.
§ Lord DAVIES of LEEK
My Lords, having sat through this debate, which is an important one, may I say that I am grateful to the noble Lord opposite for introducing this Bill. As somebody who has suffered, I wish that there were some kind of obligation connected with the production of motor cars. A man can buy an expensive motor car and four days later he taken home in a most undignified way by the AA, who are carting back a brand-new car for which thousands of pounds have been paid. Surely it is 1473 time that some far greater obligation was imposed on the car manufacturers' association. For many people, expenditure on a car is something that will come only three or four times in a lifetime. It is not a pleasant experience when a petrol pump goes on a brand-new car and one is in a stream of moving traffic and the car is jerking along—and I am sure modern drivers are uncharitable: a little more courtesy on the roads could save thousands of lives. Most drivers today seem to be barbarians. Those of us who drive realise that safety in a modern car is essential, and, having suffered this week by seeing a modern car break down, I sincerly hope that sooner or later, when we deal with this Bill in its further stages, we shall be able to get some regulations that will be obligatory on the car industry.
§ 7.35 p.m.
Lord WALLACE of COSLANY
My Lords, first, I should like sincerely to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, on his lucid and able explanation of the Bill which, though modest in length, is less modest in its scope and complexity. I would ecrtainly agree with the remarks that have been made that this is indeed a very important measure.
I will express the deepest sympathy with my noble friend Lord Davies of Leek; my heart bleeds for him, understanding the circumstances. The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, made a considerable number of points, most of which, I have not the slightest doubt, will be dealt with in Committee. In fact it is no secret that there is a complete areas of co-operation on the Bill and that we are already considering possible ways of bringing in Amendments.
The noble Lord, Lord Lyell, made one remark which rather intrigued me, as a former Smithfield worker. He referred to a "cleaver knife". I have never heard of such a thing. A cleaver, in butcher's terms, is a type of axe which is wielded above the head and comes down with a crash on a leg of lamb. Therefore I think this is a misconception on his part, and perhaps on consideration he may feel that some other expression might be needed.
The Bill itself is concerned with the safety of a wide range of goods on general sale to the public. Therefore it concerns 1474 not only the consumers who buy the goods but also those who make, import and distribute them. The Government have been particularly concerned, in consequence, that the powers this Bill provides should strike a balance between the legitimate demands of consumers for greater protection, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the concern of trade and industry that safety requirements should not be so onerous as to add unnecessarily to production costs.
In this connection, it is relevant to consider the evolution of this Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, mentioned that the Bill owes its origin to the Green Paper on consumer safety published in January 1976. That document reviewed the existing arrangements for consumer safety and identified a number of deficiencies in the present system. It then went on to suggest ways in which those deficiencies might be remedied and it invited comment on possible changes in the present law and practice.
The Green Paper attracted wide interest, and comments were received from more than 150 bodies and others representing the interests of trade, industry, the professions, the consumers and local authorities. While the comments differed in detail, the overall response was overwhelmingly in favour of updating the existing, law to provide a more comprehensive approach to consumer safety. These comments were taken fully into account in making proposals for new legislation which the Government intended to introduce as soon as Parliamentary time allowed and further consultations were undertaken with those bodies representing interests likely to be most affected by new consumer safety legislation. It was not possible to introduce a Government Bill in the present Session, but when Mr. Neville Trotter, M.P. expressed his intention to introduce new legislation in this field the Government gratefully lent their support to his proposals and, indeed, provided drafting assistance.
I mention these matters so that it may be appreciated that the Bill is in no sense a hasty or ill-considered measure. Moreover, the content of the Bill is such that it has not given rise to political differences. Indeed, it was conceived in a spirit of co-operation which persisted during its passage through another place, and I believe that it will 1475 receive the same support in your Lord-ships' House. In passing, I might make the comment that it is welcome to find a measure which has received general support in all quarters of another place and here. It is quite a refreshing experience to me, as it no doubt is to your Lordships.
Turning to the contents of the Bill, your Lordships will observe that it is essentially an enabling Bill. Clause 1 enables the Secretary of State to make regulations to secure that goods are safe. Clause 2 provides offences and defences in respect of a breach of those regulations. Clause 3 empowers the Secretary of State to require by order or notice that goods which are not safe are withdrawn from sale and that the public are warned about dangers discovered in goods which they may have bought. Clause 4 gives the Secretary of State power to obtain information. These provisions confer fairly wide discretionary powers, and it is perhaps salutary to consider the fetters and safe-guards to be placed on their use.
The power to make safety regulations in respect of goods is limited explicitly to those matters set out in subsections (2) and (3) of Clause 1. Therefore, in making safety regulations, the Secretary of State is obliged, in all cases, to consult representative bodies likely to be substantially affected by the proposed regulations, as appears in subsection (4). Safety regulations will be made by Statutory Instrument, which will be subject to Affirmative Resolution procedures; that is to say, they must be laid in draft and approved by a Resolution of either House of Parliament before being made. Breach of safety regulations is to be an offence, but, if it can be shown that the accused took all reasonable steps and exercised due diligence to avoid committing the offence, he will have to make a statutory defence under subsection (6) of Clause 2.
Prohibition orders to be made under Clause 3 will normally, by virtue of Part I of Schedule 1, be preceded by a notice of intention publicised at least 28 days before an order is made, inviting representations about the proposed order which the Secretary of State is bound to consider. An order must be made by Statutory Instrument and will be subject to annulment pursuant to a Resolution of either House of Parliament. Prohibition notices and notices to warn, to be made under 1476 Clause 3, are subject to an appeal procedure which is set out in Parts II and III of Schedule 1.
With regard to Clause 3 powers, while they are essential if the Government are effectively to discharge their responsibility for the safety of consumers, the use to which powers are likely to be put should not be over-rated. Manufacturers and importers are well aware of possible civil liability should injury result from defects in products, and the vast majority cooperate with the Government in remedying voluntarily—and I repeat voluntarily—any defect brought to their notice, whether by withdrawing the goods in question from sale or otherwise. The Minister of State for Prices and Consumer Protection has made it clear that a voluntary approach will continue to be the normal procedure for his Department. Experience has shown that the voluntary approach proves less than satisfactory in only three or four cases a year, and it is only in these few cases that the powers under Clause 3 would be required.
The power to obtain information contained in Clause 4 is accompanied by provisions intended to safeguard the confidentiality of information obtained in this way, and unauthorised disclosure of such information is to be an offence. It is my intention to introduce an Amendment at a later stage which will also safeguard information received by a person, appointed under Parts II and III of Schedule 1, to hear representations against service of a prohibition notice or notice to warn.
I think that I have indicated sufficiently the nature of the safeguards contained in the Bill, which are to some extent responsible for its length and complexity. In sum, I believe that they combine with the powers given under the Bill to strike a balance between trader and consumer, that is necessary in this kind of legislation. This is a useful and a timely measure. It has the full support of the Government and I commend it to your Lordships' House.
§ Lord LYELL
My Lords, before my noble friend Lord Mottistone replies, may I clarify one point? The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, with his specialised knowlegde, was indeed correct. I was referring to something called an ice knife, which is apparently a specially shaped freezer knife 1477 that is designed to cut up frozen food. Doubtless, that will be familiar to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, although I do not know whether he cuts up frozen food. But I understand that some housewives have been using these knives like a dagger and hacking at the food, as opposed to sawing it. It is apparently this misuse, by hacking instead of sawing, that has given rise to injury. I apologise to the noble Lord and to the House for wrongly framing my reference.
§ 7.45 p.m.
§ Lord MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I should very much like to thank all those noble Lords who have spoken—as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has said—from all parts of the House, although I notice that there were no Cross-Benchers. Your Lordships will not expect me to say very much in reply to the points made, but may I say something about what my noble friend Lord Lyell said? The great theme of his speech—and this also applies to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Airedale —was that reasonableness is vital in relation to this whole Bill, and, as both noble Lords said, reasonableness peers through in places. We have to look more closely to make sure that it is in every place that it should be, and I hope that noble Lords who put those points to us will bring them to the fore by putting down Amendments to cover them.
However, having said that, I think your Lordships will appreciate that there are to be a fair number of Amendments as a result of undertakings made in another place, and of what one might call the usual tidying-up of a technical nature. Your Lordships will be aware that a Private Member's Bill does not get such good treatment in another place as it gets here. If we throw it back to our friends—some of them, at least, are our friends—down the Corridor, with a lot of Amendments, it may for some technical reason fail and, as all noble Lords who have spoken have given it support, it is therefore very important that the Amendments should be kept to an absolute minimum. So, having invited noble Lords to put down Amendments, I am really asking them to put down probing Amendments in relation 1478 to the points raised. We might even have one from the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, though I do not think that this Bill is designed to cover his point. I thank your Lordships very much, and let us hope that the Bill gets on its way.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.