Consumer Focus Wales

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:49 pm on 14th September 2011.

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Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills 4:49 pm, 14th September 2011

May I start by thanking my hon. Friend Mr Williams for securing the debate? As he said, he and my hon. Friend Roger Williams came to see me in June, just after the consultation had begun, to press their case. My hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion has pressed his case again today with his usual energy and enthusiasm. He was right to discuss in his initial remarks the excellent work done by Consumer Focus Wales. Any changes made will not reflect on that work; in many ways, we want to build on it and its excellence in representing consumers in Wales.

My hon. Friend mentioned Sharon Mills, whose son Mason tragically died during an E. coli outbreak in Wales. Ms Mills showed through her excellent work on food safety with Consumer Focus Wales that citizens can play a role. It also shows that Consumer Focus Wales has done an excellent job.

My hon. Friend is right that we are still consulting, and the consultation will not close until the 27th of this month. To reassure him and other Members, particularly Members from Wales, that we are listening, I can tell him that officials from my Department will be in Cardiff next week talking to officials in the Welsh Government about what they want. We have a genuine desire to reach out, listen, consult and find a way forward, and to ensure that all the great things that Consumer Focus Wales has done are maintained and that the Welsh voice is heard in whatever we end up with as a result of the consultation.

We must await the end of the consultation process. We will consider all responses carefully, but we believe that our proposals to rationalise further the functions of consumer protection bodies, strengthening the front line of consumer protection while reducing the complexity, confusion and waste of the current wide variety of bodies, are a positive step forward for consumer advocacy in Wales and across the UK.

We have absolutely no intention of reducing the level of support afforded to consumers across Wales; in fact, the whole purpose of the exercise is to see how we can improve it. I agree with the assertions made by the Welsh Government and Consumer Focus Wales that Consumer Focus Wales’s functions in representing Welsh consumers should be retained in Wales. The organisation’s important role in providing support for particularly vulnerable consumers, for example, which my hon. Friend asked about, will remain under the new regime.

Exactly how that role will be delivered is obviously still under consideration and will need to include comments from the ongoing consultation, but as I said, we are talking with interested parties, including the Welsh Government and Citizens Advice, to design a model of consumer representation in Wales that meets our objective. We believe that the concerns expressed by my hon. Friend and Consumer Focus Wales are not insurmountable, and I hope that we can cover them all in our considerations.