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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

If the hon. Gentleman googles the Scottish Cot Death Trust, he will find that it has no concerns about baby boxes. However, if cardboard is set alight it does catch fire—there is a revelation for the hon. Gentleman—and the trick is not to light matches around cardboard. That is probably the safest thing for a baby.

As I was saying, the Office for Product Safety and Standards must be given sufficient scope and resources to deal with issues of product safety. It must be independent and have real teeth to protect consumers and prevent dangerous products from doing them harm. The Minister will be interested to hear that the consumer organisation Which? has expressed concern and disappointment that the full overhaul and fundamental reform needed to stop unsafe goods from reaching or remaining in our homes does not appear to be on the table. Disappointingly, it seems that the new office has not engaged with consumer organisations such as Which?, which I am sure the Minister would agree has some standing and calibre. I wonder why that is, and how consumers would view that lack of engagement. What does it mean when an organisation of such status cannot get the new office to engage with it? Perhaps that is something the Minister could unblock.

It seems a missed opportunity that the Office for Product Safety and Standards will apparently not address the systematic weaknesses in the existing enforcement framework, as set out by Which?, and it seems that no action is planned for the new office—Which? has expended considerable effort in trying to elicit such an action plan, but without success. This matter is fairly straightforward because we know about the ongoing failures in the product safety system, and recent product safety issues have brought into even greater focus questions about the adequacy of the current regulatory and enforcement system in the UK. There are concerns about a lack of effective co-ordination and direction in the new office, and if local authorities have no regulatory enforcement staffing resource, that might be a big problem. We know how under pressure trading standards officers are locally, and their role is extremely important for safety in our community.

The OPSS must also consider product recall as part of its strategy—as the hon. Members for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue) and for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq) pointed out, product recall has an average success rate of only 20%, and potentially, millions of unsafe products remain in unsuspecting homes. It must also consider online retail, as that must be held to the legal standards that apply to other forms of retail shopping and product safety—that point was also raised by the hon. Members for Makerfield and for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney.

Counterfeit goods are a huge problem, and we need a way forward to counter that issue. As the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn pointed out, data collection and sharing for product safety is fragmented and incomplete, and we need a true picture of the scale of the problem of unsafe goods. An injury database could be used to help collect intelligence and quickly identify dangerous products, and that would be a positive step forward.

We have the opportunity to address current weaknesses in the system and make sure that it is fit for purpose in the potentially more diverse trading environment that the UK will be part of in years to come—that point was set out by Emma Hardy. We have the opportunity to introduce a new national independent regime for product safety to ensure effective enforcement, market surveillance, and appropriate standards for goods. As Jim Shannon reminded us, getting product safety wrong will, and indeed has, cost lives.

The post-Brexit world raises challenges, and we cannot have a situation where the UK diverges significantly from the rest of the EU, as that would only be to the detriment of consumers—I hope the Minister will reassure us on that point. We all agree that the new office is welcome, but we are concerned to ensure that it has the power, resource and strategic direction to help it achieve what we want, which is a safe environment for our consumers who buy products in good faith and have a right to expect that they are safe.