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Office for Product Safety and Standards — [Sir David Amess in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:18 pm on 9th May 2018.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 3:18 pm, 9th May 2018

The hon. Gentleman has been a warrior on these issues and speaks well about them, and what he said illustrates the point. “Watch your dryer”—my goodness, watch it as it burns and the house catches fire. It will be too late then, but that is by the way.

I thought that what was happening was not the way to handle an electrical safety unit, and I am pleased about the setting up of the Office for Product Safety and Standards. There has been no long-term strategy to tackle fires caused by electricity in people’s homes. At present, only the Electrical Fire Safety Week held in November each year—we all go along—exists to provide a concentration of communication to the public from Government. Communication campaigns such as the Home Office’s “Fire Kills” campaign have been under Government review for some time. Perhaps the review is coming to an end; I hope so.

Electrical Safety First believes that Government campaigns on electrical fires must be expanded. There should be more advertising, probably on television, and through councils, and more safety measures should be taken. An average success rate of 20% of products being recovered or repaired means that millions of potentially dangerous products remain in people’s homes. We may not know it but we might have such things in our own homes. Gerald Jones mentioned phone chargers, and it is an important point: teenagers laugh if their phone charger, or even earphones, catch fire, but those incidents are not reported. Teenagers do not know where to report them, or who to contact. It is easier to buy a new one, which is probably what they do. They discard the old one, without considering why the fire happened. We must realise that someone who falls asleep with their earphones on may not find it so funny. It is definitely not a funny matter.

Clearly, consumers need confidence that the Government are taking appropriate action to protect them, particularly given that five fires a day are caused in the UK by white goods alone, and in view of the dangers posed by counterfeit electrical goods. In her opening remarks the hon. Member for Swansea East made many good points, but the one I want to reiterate is the rise in the number of people buying online. It continues to be a problem, and it is frustrating because the attraction is price, and customers do not see the safety issue. Is the safety perfect? No, it is not. Is there a safety-conscious attitude? No—or rather, as that is not fair, not in every case.

A big issue, which must be addressed, is the need to look at authenticity and proof of origin. I completely agree that an action plan must be developed, and backed up with an enforcement operation strategy to target the growing problems. Consumers are being put at risk by inaccurate and misleading advertising of electrical goods, as other hon. Members have mentioned. Products claimed to be genuine often contain counterfeit or substandard components. They might look good, but that does not always mean that they are. That has a significant impact on consumer safety, creating a culture of acceptability in selling counterfeit electrical goods online. It undermines legitimate UK business—those who are doing it right. What does the Minister think can be done further to address that issue?

We live in a technologically driven world that is over-reliant on technology. We depend on such things in our lives. We test-drive cars and research the safety of vehicles in crashes, but we do not do the same for electrical goods that we use in our homes. We must, through the new office and today’s debate, send the message that it is important for people to safety check everything in their homes, and that they can have recourse to a way to report defective goods. That must be done not simply to complain—that is not what it is about—but for the safety of others in the future. That is the motivation of every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate. We look to the Minister, as we always do, for a satisfactory response.