Consumer Protection

Oral Answers to Questions — Trade and Industry – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 30th November 2000.

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Photo of Tony Wright Tony Wright Labour, Cannock Chase 12:00 am, 30th November 2000

What plans he has to provide stronger consumer protection by way of regulation of trade associations. [139538]

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

The Government consider self-regulation through codes of practice run by trade associations to be an effective way of strengthening protection for consumers. My Department has no plans to regulate trade associations.

Photo of Tony Wright Tony Wright Labour, Cannock Chase

When our constituents want the services of a tradesman—perhaps a plumber, a builder or an electrician—and turn to "Yellow Pages", they find lists of people who claim to be members of this association or that federation, all of whom seem to offer some kind of protection for those who buy into their services. The fact is that that protection is entirely bogus: no protection at all is built into the schemes involved. Why cannot the Office of Fair Trading provide a kite mark, so that those who use members of such schemes are given the reality of protection rather than just the appearance of it?

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

I appreciate my hon. Friend's concern. We hope to present a Bill when we have time to do so. In the meantime, let me say that my hon. Friend has made his point before, and that my Department is discussing with "Yellow Pages" how the arrangements can be tightened up. There are a number of pilot projects with various trade associations to ensure that there is policing of the trade marks that have been issued by the OFT. I hope that when the pilot projects have given us a little more experience, we shall be able to legislate.

Photo of Nicholas Winterton Nicholas Winterton Conservative, Macclesfield

The hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) made a good point about misleading advertising in respect of services in particular, but does the Minister accept that trade associations are vital to business? They enable businesses to negotiate from a position of strength with Government and local authorities. Might not further regulation of such associations be counter-productive?

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

That is exactly the line that the Government are taking. We are not legislating in the sense that we are making regulation mandatory; we are saying that we will have a code of conduct. We believe that a code is the right approach, as it permits flexibility and does not require legislation to be changed. We think that that is the right way forward. Adopting that flexible approach, and working with the Government and the Office of Fair Trading, the trade associations can protect consumers and run out many of the rogues to whom my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Tony Wright) referred.

Photo of Mr Dennis Turner Mr Dennis Turner Labour/Co-operative, Wolverhampton South East

Will the Minister bring a little Christmas cheer to millions of beer drinkers in Britain by introducing stronger consumer regulations, so that we can achieve a full and fair pint?

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

I know that that subject is a personal concern for my hon. Friend and one on which he has campaigned for many years. Unfortunately, the Government have not yet made a decision on the matter, but I hope that we will be able to make one in the not-too-distant future.

Photo of Mr David Chidgey Mr David Chidgey Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

I listened very carefully to the Minister's comments on regulating trade associations. When will he find time to examine the problems in the funeral industry—in which, as he must know, different codes of practice are operating in different associations? When will the Government take action to ensure that the industry introduces a unified code of practice, to include standards and training, to set at rest the minds of millions of people who, in the past few years, have heard stories about the industry?

Photo of Richard Caborn Richard Caborn Minister of State, Department of Trade and Industry

That is a valid point, and I hope that we will be able to discuss it with the Office of Fair Trading and trade associations. I recently spoke to the secretary general of the Confederation of British Industry, which has 168 affiliated trade associations. Nationally, there are more than 600 trade associations. A little rationalisation might be effective in helping consumers to receive a better service. There are a few problems on the business side, such as the need for rationalisation, and if we could solve that problem not only consumers but their members would receive a better service.