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Consumer Protection (Enforcement) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018 - Motion to Approve

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:52 pm on 15th January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Burt of Solihull Baroness Burt of Solihull Liberal Democrat 7:52 pm, 15th January 2019

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his letter of 7 January to my colleague, my noble friend Lord Fox, explaining much of the reasoning behind this statutory instrument. I sincerely hope that we will never ever need the provisions within the instrument; the effect of the vote that has just been held in the other place on the prospect of no deal remains to be seen. The letter says that the regulations,

“form an essential part of the government’s preparations to ensure a functioning statute book should the United Kingdom leave the European Union without a deal on 29th of March 2019”.

There has been much speculation about what would ensue should that happen, and we know that no one—or very few individuals, anyway—would want us to be in that situation. However, I wonder if the Minister knows how many more statutory instruments there are to come before 29 March in his own department alone? I understand that many have not yet even been drafted, but I would be very grateful, and I am sure the House would be too, for his best estimate of just how much work remains to prepare for that potentially disastrous eventuality.

The UK has a proud record of close and complex co-operation with the EU on consumer protection matters, but we know that if there is a no-deal withdrawal, UK consumer protection enforcement bodies will no longer be a part of the reciprocal cross-border enforcement arrangements in the consumer protection co-operation regulations or the injunctions directive. If the EU and the UK lose their mechanism for cross-border collaboration, we will all be the poorer for it. We will no longer benefit from reciprocal rights under EU law. As the Minister said, the instrument introduces the concept of a “Schedule 13 infringement”. I think I understood what he was saying but I would be grateful if he elaborated on how this might work in practice.

The letter says that the instrument will,

“protect UK consumers in the case of infringement of EU derived UK consumer laws”.

Could the Minister give an example? We know that purchased items that were manufactured in the EU but supplied through UK-based suppliers will be protected under UK rules, which will cover the vast majority of our purchases of EU-manufactured goods. Could the Minister give an example of when this Schedule 13 infringement power might be required and how it might be enacted?

It looks to me as though UK enforcement bodies can retain powers to protect UK consumers but are not obliged to co-operate with their European partners. I am sure the Minister will have some reassuring comments to make about that; it is certainly in nobody’s interest not to co-operate, but it is unfortunate that we potentially find ourselves in this position.

My final question relates to the UK European Consumer Centre, which the Government will be keeping open for at least a year, until March 2020. All well and good, but what happens to EU-purchased goods after that date? If you buy something and it develops a fault after March 2020, to whom will you go for advice?

In conclusion, the UK has been a leader in consumer protection issues and has helped to shape much of existing EU legislation. The letter says that the Government are,

“fitted to agree high levels of cross-border co-operation on consumer issues”.

It would be very helpful to know what this co-operation will look like and when it will happen. Any explanation the Minister can give about proposed timescales and content would also be appreciated.