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It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Sir David, for two reasons. One is that you are a fellow West Ham supporter. They have survived in the premiership for another year, so you will obviously be in a good mood. Secondly, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on fire safety rescue, you take a keen interest in these matters yourself, so it is good to see you here and following the debate as closely as you are.
It is a pleasure to follow Stephen Kerr. He made another of his trademark thoughtful speeches, which he is becoming known for. I am delighted to welcome the Minister to his position. He arrives with a fair wind. He is held in regard across the House and much is expected of him, so we are all looking forward to his response to this debate, which will be my first experience of his winding up.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris on securing the debate and on not taking undue time in opening the debate, as some colleagues in these debates do. She has left lots of time for the rest of us to contribute. I also congratulate her on so ably chairing the all-party parliamentary home electrical safety group and leading us on this issue so effectively. She has been so well supported by our hon. Friend Andy Slaughter on these issues. I will try to keep to your time constraints, Sir David.
I thank Electrical Safety First, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, Which? and the London fire brigade for all their efforts in this area and for their briefings. Like the previous two speakers, I look forward to the Minister’s response, as well as the Opposition speeches. The tone of the briefings that I have received is best described as positive and welcoming but with a sceptical edge, and I think that the simplest thing I can do is to quote from the material with which I have been supplied.
The Chartered Trading Standards Institute asked two main questions. How would the OPSS add to the current market surveillance and enforcement functions to improve the system and, if there was a repeat of the recent white goods scandal, how would the office support local authority trading standards to ensure that the system was robust in protecting consumers? I am sure that the Minister has all these briefings and will be well prepared to respond to them.
The first two points made by Electrical Safety First in its briefing are that the charity welcomes the debate and the newly established Office for Product Safety and Standards, as it represents a key opportunity. It says that
“the OPSS is fundamental to creating better cross-government co-ordination”.
Then it asks a number of questions. On product recall, it states:
“Through collaboration with stakeholders there must also be significant effort to improve product registration”.
With regard to online retail, it says that
“consideration should be given to bringing forward additional legislation”.
On counterfeit electrical goods, it says:
“This issue must be looked at closely”.
On data collection, it says that
“product safety in the UK is fragmented and incomplete.”
And it says that an injury database is
“Key to an effective intelligence system”.
That is hardly a ringing endorsement, but Electrical Safety First is more upbeat than Which? is.
Which? is probably the most sceptical. It states:
“Which? welcomed the Government’s recognition that the product safety system needs to be fixed. However, the announcement of the OPSS falls short of the full overhaul the product safety system so desperately needs…Which? is calling for fundamental reform that stops unsafe products from reaching UK households.”
It reminds us of the history, as referred to by my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves. I am talking about the Peterborough trading standards challenge, which was brought about only because of the London Fire Brigade report and because Which? basically took legal action to make Peterborough trading standards challenge Whirlpool.
The London Fire Brigade, in its briefing, is also welcoming, but asks questions. On progress and powers of the new office, it asks:
“Could the Minister give further detail on what measures will be in place to ensure the Office has technical expertise and the resources to support…Trading Standards…will the OPSS also consider criminal prosecution if a manufacturer of white goods lets consumers continue to use a known dangerous product?...will the new Office encourage and facilitate information sharing by manufacturers and insurers following fires so that fire and rescue services and trading standards are in possession of key data”.
“Could the Minister give an update on what progress has been made on the recall register?...Could the Minister confirm that there will be an obligation on manufacturers to inform government of all recalls…what will be done to communicate the new register to consumers”.
Much is expected of the new Office for Product Safety and Standards, and certainly the fanfare from Government is that this is a positive step forward. It should be and very well could be. I look forward to the winding-up speeches from the Opposition spokespersons, but this is, more importantly, an opportunity for the Minister to explain how the new office will help and what he expects it to achieve. I am very grateful for the opportunity to have contributed.