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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:42 pm on 9th May 2018.

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Photo of Andrew Griffiths Andrew Griffiths Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy) 3:42 pm, 9th May 2018

I thank the hon. Lady for that question. She has reminded Jim Fitzpatrick, who said that this debate was the first time that he had heard me speak as the Minister, that this is actually the second time that he has done so; that was a very useful debate. My understanding—I look to my right, at my officials—is that officials were in the process of setting up that meeting. If they have not done so, I will chase that up; it should take place, because it is an important meeting and I want it to happen.

The hon. Member for Swansea East asked what the OPSS was doing to discuss electrical fire safety with the Home Office; that is important. The OPSS is building up its intelligence-gathering capability and will use a database and evidence to help to identify and prioritise products that pose higher safety risks to consumers. The OPSS is also represented on the Home Office’s fire statistics users group and we are in regular—almost daily—contact across Government to ensure that these activities are properly joined up.

The hon. Lady also specifically mentioned online selling, which is very important. Action is being taken by law enforcement agencies against the sale of counterfeit goods at local markets and car boot sales, through social media channels such as Facebook and facilitated by fulfilment houses.

The hon. Lady mentioned the issue of Amazon giving evidence to her all-party parliamentary group. I put on the record that I understand the point she made, and I agree with her that it would be valuable for the APPG to engage constructively with Amazon. I am sure that others outside this place have heard her comment and will respond to her in the near future; she should let me know if they do not.

Existing legislation applies to online retailers and they have a responsibility for the products they sell. As we have heard, the Intellectual Property Office works closely with Electrical Safety First; I commend the work that that charity does to highlight how to identify fake electrical goods that are being sold online.

One of the reasons for creating the OPSS is to enable the UK to meet the evolving challenges of product safety by responding to the increasing rate of product innovation, the growth of online shopping and trading portals, and expanding international trade.

I was asked whether private sales—consumer to consumer, on websites such as eBay—are regulated. Consumer-to-consumer sales are not covered by the Consumer Rights Act, other than in relation to things such as secondary ticketing. However, as we have heard today, there is a current consultation—a Green Paper—that I have launched, which specifically asks whether more protection is needed in this area. If the hon. Lady would like to contribute to that consultation, I would certainly be interested in hearing her views.

Over the past three years, National Trading Standards has had a core budget of £40 million to work with local authorities to tackle harm in this area. There was also a question in relation to the injury database. The injury database was scrapped in 2002, and at present there are no plans to reinstate it. However, the OPSS is considering how to ensure that it has access to the best information, and we always keep abreast of these things and will consider the future as we go forward.

My hon. Friend Stephen Kerr raised the issue of regulators and their powers. The White Paper specifically asks whether regulators need more powers, so he might want to have a look at it.

The hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse asked whether businesses will be required to notify the OPSS; I think that I have already confirmed to him that they will absolutely be required to do so.

Then there is the issue of selling second-hand goods subject to recall. Under the General Product Safety Regulations 2005, there is a requirement for sellers of second-hand goods not to sell goods that they know are unsafe.

I was asked what will happen on our exit from the EU. Of course, unsafe products will remain a serious risk. UK enforcement authorities are currently reliant on EU systems, such as Rapex, as the hon. Member for Swansea East mentioned. However, BEIS is developing new systems to enable regulators to identify new threats quickly, to mount co-ordinated and rapid responses, and to target and intercept products, including imports.

Emma Hardy raised the issue of boots. I can tell her that safety boots are regulated under the personal protective equipment regulations. Manufacturers have a legal obligation to ensure that they are safe, and trading standards officers have the powers to act if necessary. If the hon. Lady provides me with the details, I will ask the OPSS to work with trading standards officers to look into the case for her.

What else have we had? I think that the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee has pointed out that we intend to undertake a further upgrade of the Government’s product recall website; that issue was raised earlier. We recognise that this website is important and we will put extra work into it. I hope that reassures Tulip Siddiq. She mentions that mums are concerned about bottle warmers and baby seats. I would say that it is not only mums who are concerned; as a new dad myself, I know that dads are also concerned. I can correct her by saying that they are no longer called baby seats; I think they are now called travel systems. That was news to me, but we are always learning as we go, are we not?

Jim Shannon made some very important points. I commend him on the fact that he has spoken in some 379 debates in the last year. If only our products were as reliable as he is, we would not need this new office. However, I point out to him that currently the number of questions that he has asked stands at 666, so he might want to ask another question shortly.

Patricia Gibson mentioned Which? I think we all recognise the important role that Which? plays in consumer protection. I can confirm to her that I am meeting its managing director next week and I can also confirm that the OPSS is working closely with Which? in a number of areas and has had regular meetings with it. I hope that reassures her.

I was also asked about the Grenfell fridge. Clearly, that issue is a priority. A thorough safety investigation has taken place and I hope to be able to come forward with information for the House in the very near future.

In closing, I reassure the House that this Government take the issue of product safety incredibly seriously. We have to get this matter right for all of our constituents. As the Minister responsible, I confirm that the Department and the new OPSS will continue to engage with parliamentarians to ensure that we get it right. I thank the hon. Member for Swansea East for securing this debate.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House
has considered the role of the Office for Product Safety and Standards.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.