I fully agree. I will come in a moment to the fact that the Advertising Standards Authority is looking into that specific issue, because I want now to talk about some of the research that has been done on this matter.
As hon. Members will know, Citizens Advice Scotland issued a report on delivery surcharges in Scotland, and I raised that report directly with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister recently. It highlighted the fact that up to 1 million consumers in Scotland are affected by excess delivery surcharges; the incidence of refusal to deliver at all has increased; and in the areas of Scotland affected by this problem, people are asked to pay, on average, at least 30% more than people elsewhere on the British mainland, rising to more than 40% in places such as Inverness and the rural mainland highlands and 50% on some of the Scottish islands.
That was excellent research from Citizens Advice Scotland. I welcome the follow-up work that it has proposed, including the establishment of a parcel delivery forum, support for pilot projects to test innovations that may reduce the need for surcharging, clarification of the information available to consumers, and evaluation of current consumer protection in the parcels market to determine whether it needs to be improved.
The Advertising Standards Authority has also been involved, and I welcome the action that it has taken to enforce the ASA rule on advertising parcel delivery charges: the advertising must be clear and not mislead. That is the point that my hon. Friend Mr Jack was making. In its briefing for today’s debate, the ASA says:
“We consider that it is reasonable for consumers in Scotland to expect a definitive claim about ‘UK delivery’
to apply to them wherever they live, even if they are located in a remote village or island. So, if there are delivery restrictions or exclusions then these need to be made clear from the outset.”
I particularly welcome the view that information in an advert must complement the main headline claim, not contradict it. For example, one advert said
“Free delivery on all orders”.
However, there was a link to another page on the website that had additional information. It said that anything north of Glasgow or Edinburgh would incur a surcharge of £20 to £50, depending on the products and the postcode. In the ASA’s words,
“This information contradicted the main claims, rather than clarifying them, so we upheld the complaint on grounds of misleadingness and qualification.”
We need more of that type of action. If companies get the message that they will not get away with that type of behaviour, we can start to right this wrong.