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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir David. I congratulate my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris on securing this debate on the new Office for Product Safety and Standards and on the powerful case she has set out.
The Minister may know that my interest in these issues stems from my constituency’s historical links to white goods manufacturing. I am very proud of our legacy. Hoover washing machines, dishwashers and even the Sinclair C5 were all made in my constituency. Secondly, I am a member of the all-party group on home electrical safety, chaired by my hon. Friend. I want to focus my brief remarks on three issues—communications with the public, old white goods and elderly electrical products being sold online, and support for trading standards in Wales.
I have seen the briefing from Electrical Safety First that was distributed to hon. Members before this debate, and I am grateful for it. I welcome, as other Members have, the creation of the OPSS. I see it as protecting consumers from electrical hazards, particularly fires caused by white goods. As Electrical Safety First states in its briefing,
“there needs to be expansion of government campaigns on electrical safety in the home throughout the year.”
I very much agree with that statement when I look at the fires caused by white goods in homes and those who are affected.
Some 1,719 fires in Wales were caused by an electrical source of ignition last year. In the past three years, according to the South Wales fire service, 43 fires were caused by tumble dryers and washing machines, with over 55% of those instances attributed to Hotpoint, Indesit or Creda machines. Seven of those 43 were in my constituency. Will the Government consider a consumer campaign on fires caused by white goods targeted at vulnerable families who might buy cheaper white goods online and in marketplaces, some of which may be recalled or second hand, with unsuspecting consumers not even being aware of their recalled status?
Many people used to buy products specifically manufactured in the UK, stamped “made in the UK” or “made in Great Britain”, because they were often seen as a trusted product. As I have mentioned in previous debates in the House, many manufacturers, including Hoover, decided to send production overseas and now import electrical goods into the UK. We need to look closely at online platforms such as eBay, Amazon, Gumtree and Facebook that allow, without any regulation or enforcement, second-hand and in particular very elderly electrical products to be sold, as my hon. Friend the Member outlined. What will the new office do with the online platforms that allow the sales of very elderly electrical goods to the public? Is it right that old electric heaters and washing machines from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s should be allowed to be sold to the public via sites such as eBay as safe to use? I do not believe that should be allowed. Furthermore, manufacturers should take action to prevent their very elderly products from being sold online and work with the likes of eBay, Amazon and so on. What plans are there to look at second-hand electrical goods sales by the new office?
Second-hand goods and recalled products being sold online or in marketplaces need proper enforcement. Information from the Welsh Local Government Association shows that owing to austerity and the pressures placed on local councils, regulation activities were cut by 47% in the past five years, which includes trading standards responsibilities. As the WLGA suggests, there is a loss of expertise and ability to enforce electrical product safety, particularly in the most vulnerable communities, which is potentially where the cheapest electrical goods would be bought and sold. Will the Minister agree with me that the new office—this also addresses the concerns raised by my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves—needs to support local trading standards on the ground to ensure proper market surveillance of the sales of electrical goods in the community? I refer not only to old products, but to new, particularly dodgy mobile phone chargers and e-cigarettes, which the WLGA says that trading standards departments get the most complaints about.
I hope that the Minister will look closely at those issues and ensure that the new office works for the most vulnerable consumers who need to be protected from dangerous electrical goods in their communities. I look forward to hearing the views of the Minister on what has been done and what further he can do to address the issues and offer reassurances.