Consumer Protection

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 27 October 1980.

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Photo of Mr Ioan Evans Mr Ioan Evans , Aberdare 12:00, 27 October 1980

asked the Secretary of State for Trade what further measures he intends to introduce to improve consumer protection.

Photo of Mrs Sally Oppenheim Mrs Sally Oppenheim , Gloucester

The Competition Act is now on the statute book. The grant to citizens advice bureaux has been doubled. Orders and regulations have been introduced dealing, among other things, with upholstered furniture, dangerous novelties, advertisements and quotations, and petrol price display. I intend to make a number of further orders and regulations which will benefit consumers in due course. These will deal with the country of origin marking. which I hope to lay before the House by the end of next month, estate agents, consumer credit, consumer safety and VAT inclusive pricing.

Photo of Mr Ioan Evans Mr Ioan Evans , Aberdare

Does the right hon. Lady agree that the consumer has had a raw deal from this Government with the consumers' tax—VAT—increased from 8 per cent. to 15 per cent., high interest rates, the artificially high value of the pound and the fact that there have been 10,000 price increases in this year alone? Will she consider bringing forward legislation in the Queen's Speech to restore the consumer advice centres, because they are needed much more today than they ever were in the past?

Photo of Mrs Sally Oppenheim Mrs Sally Oppenheim , Gloucester

I find it very difficult to reconcile the hon. Gentleman's criticisms of this Government's record on consumer protection with his own party's policies—in so far as it has any policies—of calling for higher inflation through a measure of reflation and less choice for consumers through extreme protectionism, which represent the most blatant anti-consumer policies of any political party for many years.

Photo of Mr Anthony Grant Mr Anthony Grant , Harrow Central

While welcoming my right hon. Friend's diligent activity in this area, will she hesitate a little before placing additional bureaucratic burdens on industry at the present time? Will she bear in mind that the best protection which the consumer can possibly have is the ability to buy the best goods at the best prices, from whatever source in the world?

Photo of Mrs Sally Oppenheim Mrs Sally Oppenheim , Gloucester

In considering any consumer protection legislation, one must balance very carefully the benefits to consumers and the cost to industry and make sure that any new regulations that one introduces do not result in the costs outweighing the benefits to the consumer.

Photo of Mr Laurie Pavitt Mr Laurie Pavitt , Brent South

Will the right hon. Lady have a look at the highway robbery that is now taking place as a result of increases in medicines that are not sold to the NHS? In some cases the price of non-proprietary drugs have risen two or three times in the last 18 months, and I have a seven page list which I can give the right hon. Lady if her Department does not have it.

Photo of Mrs Sally Oppenheim Mrs Sally Oppenheim , Gloucester

I know of the hon. Gentleman's interest in this matter, but it is one for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services.

Photo of Mr Robert Adley Mr Robert Adley , Christchurch and Lymington

Is my right hon. Friend aware that matches are being imported from the Soviet Union indicating both the origin and the quantity, which satisfies Customs and Excise, but that subsequently labels are stuck over the top indicating that the product is made in Austria? Will she ensure that in her forthcoming legislation the country of origin is shown to the consumer as well as to Customs and Excise?

Photo of Mrs Sally Oppenheim Mrs Sally Oppenheim , Gloucester

That is the purpose of the origin marking orders which I propose to lay before the House but which do not include matches. It may well be that the practice to which my hon. Friend has referred is in breach of the Trade Descriptions Act.

Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Lambeth Norwood

Does the right hon. Lady agree that one area where consumers still get ripped off is doorstep selling for cash? Will she now go ahead and legislate on doorstep selling and tell the EEC Commission what it can do with its directive?

Photo of Mrs Sally Oppenheim Mrs Sally Oppenheim , Gloucester

As I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, negotiations with the EEC on the doorstep selling directive have been extremely prolonged because of the difficulties that we have encountered in the way in which it cuts across British law, which we feel is more effective. I am certainly keeping an eye on this whole area to see whether any malpractices arise which give need for further or new thought on the matter.