HL Deb 06 November 2000 vol 618 cc1227-8

Lord Razzall asked Her Majesty's Government:

What representations have been received on the timing and content of the consumer Bill; when these representations were received; and from whom.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, since early summer we have received 44 representations on consumer legislation. Representations have been received from national organisations such as the National Association of Consumer Advice Bureaux, the National Consumer Council, the Consumers' Association and the Federation of Small Businesses and from individuals and Members of Parliament.

Lord Razzall

My Lords, does the Minister accept that consumer complaints to local trading standards officers about unsatisfactory goods and services are now running at the rate of 1 million per year? The National Consumer Council estimates that there are probably 85 million cases per year of unsatisfactory goods and services. In such circumstances, does not the Minister feel it would be appropriate for the Government to put a new consumer Act at the top of their legislative programme?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, the bad news is that I cannot anticipate what might be contained in the Queen's Speech. The good news is that a great deal of what the noble Lord and the Government want can be achieved without primary legislation. In particular, the use of secondary legislation and the application of the EC injunctives directive have the prospect of making the existing law more effective.

Lord Borrie

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the more serious abuses of consumers is intimidation and harassment by debt collectors, especially of elderly people? The present sanction of withdrawing a debt collector's licence is something of a nuclear option. Does not my noble friend think that it would be better to have a range of sanctions, including fines imposed by trading standards officers, to deal with the malpractices of debt collectors?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord. His successor at the Office of Fair Trading also agrees. My noble friend will have seen that Mr John Vickers has announced increased activity by the Office of Fair Trading through the use of trading standards officers of local councils under the powers given by the EC injunctives directive, to which I referred earlier.

Lord Campbell of Alloway

My Lords, I support entirely what the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, said. I have been a victim of punitive debt collectors who threatened distress on my home for a seven year-old debt. I told them, "Look, rather than this, I shall pay. But I shall report you to the appropriate ministry". They backed down. Does the Minister agree that we need some help from government?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am sorry to hear of the noble Lord's bad experience. I cannot think it happened because he is elderly. The existing legislation has only had available criminal sanctions, which, as has been said, are a nuclear option. We need greater use of local action and injunctions. That would go some way towards dealing with a problem which will continue to crop up.

Lord Bruce of Donington

My Lords, will the Government consider reintroducing some of the provisions of the Moneylenders Act 1927 which were inexplicably omitted from the Consumer Credit Act 1974? Will the noble Lord undertake to investigate this issue? I think he will find that there is merit in my suggestion.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for his lesson in history. My knowledge does not go back that far. I shall have to write to him about the provisions of the 1927 Act which were not re-enacted. It would seem that he has made a valid point.

Lord McNally

My Lords, does the Minister recall that when I introduced my Private Member's Bill on counterfeiting and copyright theft earlier this year his response was so constructive and positive that I withdrew the Bill? I know that the industry has been in touch with the department. How much progress has been made in those private talks? Does the Minister anticipate that progress will be made towards introducing legislation in regard to counterfeiting and copyright theft?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I cannot comment on the private talks to which the noble Lord refers. The best hope of getting action on his admirable Private Member's Bill is not through primary legislation but through more direct action. I cite in particular the establishment of Trust UK, a form of self-regulation for e-commerce in which the Consumers' Association and the CBI are joined. That is not the same point as the one made by the noble Lord but it may be a way forward for the problems he identifies.

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