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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:27 pm on 9th May 2018.

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Photo of Patricia Gibson Patricia Gibson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Consumer Affairs) 3:27 pm, 9th May 2018

I am pleased to take part in a debate with so much consensus, which does not happen often. I thank Carolyn Harris who has done a power of work on the issue and continues to champion the cause, as we all recognise. I thank the consumer organisation Which? for providing an excellent briefing, as has Electrical Safety First.

The Office for Product Safety and Standards is welcome, of course, as we have heard from a number of Members. As Jim Fitzpatrick pointed out, it is important as a way of strengthening our product safety regime and making sure that customers are aware of and, importantly, can have confidence in the availability of an effective system, should products need repair or replacement. However, caution is required about the impact. In its report the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee regretted the Government’s limited response, and the lack of urgency about acting on recommendations to address product safety issues. It found that reductions in funding for local trading standards and national trading bodies were having the negative effect that might be expected on the adequacy of the existing product safety system.

That finding, combined with the fragmentation of the current system, makes it difficult for consumers to have confidence in the consistent enforcement of the required standards across the UK. We have heard today of responses from the manufacturer Whirlpool to a defect in its tumble dryers, which clearly show the limitations of the existing system. Indeed, as a direct result of its slow response, 1 million homes still contain potentially dangerous appliances, as set out by the hon. Members for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) and for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter), who explained the dangers that have dogged consumers who have those machines and has, of course, been a champion in the area in question.

There is no doubt that progress in improving the safety of electrical goods has been too slow. I suspect that the Minister would probably agree with that, in his quieter moments. That is despite a widely supported set of recommendations, made in Lynn Faulds Wood’s independent review, published two years ago. That review, which had a national product safety agency as its central recommendation, concluded that that was needed as part of a long-overdue overhaul of the entire system. All hon. Members welcome the new Office for Product Safety and Standards, but as we have heard, it must have sufficient scope and resources to deal with issues of product safety across the UK.