Clause 47

Part of Consumers, Estate Agents and Redress Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 24 April 2007.

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Photo of Ian McCartney Ian McCartney Minister of State (Trade & Investment), Department of Trade and Industry, Minister of State (Trade & Investment), Foreign & Commonwealth Office 11:00, 24 April 2007

I thank the hon. Lady for her question. I would like to point out that we are not getting rid of watchdogs; we are creating a new, more effective independent one. For the first time, all sectors will have redress schemes. What is the point of having a watchdog with no teeth?

The Liberal Democrats are strangely wedded to maintaining the old system on the basis of “Well, that’s what’s there”. Actually, we believe that a great deal of improvement can be made in all the sectors, and that is why, for the first time, there will be at least one redress scheme per sector—a redress scheme and regulator with teeth and a new body representing consumers, also with teeth.

The Bill leaves open the possibility of a regulator creating just one scheme for each sector. Of course, we have set out and debated the high standards that will apply, so no Mickey Mouse schemes will get in under the radar, as I put it in the last discussion. No schemes will be set up in any of the sectors that do not meet and operate to the standards set out. That is important. Our policy preference is for one scheme per sector, but we cannot prescribe that because it will be a matter for the regulator, and rightly so.

Circumstances might change in years to come to facilitate more than one scheme in a particular sector. Changes might take place in the market for which the current arrangements are inappropriate and act as a barrier to other entrants to the market. Amendments might, therefore, need to be made. That is the reason for the flexibility—not to rush downwards, as thehon. Lady said, but to ensure that, in a changing marketplace, consumers’ rights are always paramount. Changes made in the future will improve people’s rights, not undermine them. That is important.

Rest assured, the clause will establish an essential means of ensuring effective schemes covering all sectors in the Bill and, hopefully, after 2008 and further consultation, the water industry as well. I hope that, well before 2008, those schemes will be operating effectively. I hope that those explanations have helped the hon. Lady with her concerns.