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Mr. Forth : If my hon. Friend insists, I shall give way to him.

Mr. Leigh : My hon. Friend may not have heard the sedentary intervention by the hon. Member for Hackney, South and Shoreditch (Mr. Sedgemore) about voluntary arrangements. We are talking about compulsory labelling.

Hon. Members : No, we are not.

Mr. Forth : We should avoid getting bogged down dealing with matters that would take up an excessive amount of time, even in Standing Committee, were the Bill to receive a Second Reading. The exchanges illustrate my earlier point : that the Standing Committee proceedings on a measure such as this--a long and complex measure for which Standing Committees on private Member's Bills are not entirely suited--would lead to even greater problems that might be very difficult to resolve. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle for having highlighted the point. Opposition Members have highlighted it, too.

The Consumers Association, no less, said that it would support the proposals, but without any great enthusiasm. The association's approach focuses on the Sale of Goods Act rights for buyers. We hope that those rights will be extended and not confined to buyers. One would have thought that the Consumers Association's support for such a measure would be unrestrained, but it has expressed considerable reservations about it.

Representations have been made to me by many other bodies, including the Norwich and Norfolk chamber of commerce. It says that the disadvantages outweigh the advantages of the proposals. There have been many other representations of that kind, but I shall not weary the House with them. However, I hope that I have given sufficient of the flavour of the representations to suggest that those who are knowledgeable about such matters have serious reservations about the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Gregory) dealt with the notorious Bernstein case in detail. Mr. Bernstein's car broke down with an engine seizure after about 140 miles and three weeks on the road. It is worth considering the case a little more closely, for reasons to which I shall come in a moment. The outcome of the case

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was that the engine was repaired without charge. The judge found that Mr. Bernstein was also entitled to damages for the cost of the petrol, five days without a car and something to make up for his spoilt day out--a total of £237.50. That was not what Mr. Bernstein wanted. He wanted to reject the car and get his money back. I have looked carefully at the proposed terms of the consumer guarantee in the Bill, but I think that it is unlikely that it would have left Mr. Bernstein any better off. The proposed consumer guarantee would have entitled Mr. Bernstein to free repair of the engine and to compensation, or to a replacement on loan while his car was under repair. It is interesting that one of the most notorious cases that has so often been quoted in recent years would not, under the terms of the Bill, be much altered and there would not be a great improvement in Mr. Bernstein's compensation.

Mr. Gale : Is not the fundamental difference that under the Bill Mr. Bernstein would not have had to go to court to obtain redress?

Mr. Forth : The provisions of the Bill attempt to make matters much easier, but there are doubts as to whether it would. During his recent Adjournment debate, and again today, my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter), proposed a new body to deal with these matters. He said that the present arrangement was overbureaucratic and that his new body would remedy that defect. It is risky to set up a new bureaucracy to overcome the problems of an existing bureaucracy. My hon. Friend has a strong desire to help consumers, but I doubt whether his proposals would necessarily have that effect.

In view of the time, I must bring my remarks to a premature end although I had much more to say. I believe that the Bill contains many good elements and I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West for introducing it. But it also has serious difficulties and flaws. I am not convinced that if the Bill were given a Second Reading it would necessarily emerge from Standing Committee in sufficiently good order for the House to want to support it.

Mr. Alan Williams : That is for the House to decide.

Mr. Forth : As the right hon. Gentleman says, that is for the House to determine and it always has that opportunity. I regret that the hon. Member for Clwyd, South-West was not more modest or less ambitious in his aims. He has introduced a complicated and ambitious Bill that contains many provisions and, as I and many of my hon. Friends have pointed out, many difficulties. Therefore I hope that the House will consider those matters carefully in deciding how or whether to proceed with the Bill. The National Consumer Council has laboured long and hard on the matter and has produced comprehensive proposals, but I do not know whether it carried out the detailed consultation work that the Department of Trade and Industry always undertakes to establish the feasibility or workability of a Bill. For all those reasons, I urge hon. Members to give the most careful consideration to the Bill before they decide how they will vote.

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1.56 pm

Mr. Nigel Griffiths (Edinburgh, South) : I first pay tribute to the National Consumer Council for producing the Bill and for the valuable information and proposals that it contains. I pay tribute also to my hon. Friend the Member for Clywd, South-West (Mr. Jones), who has done so much work on the Bill and has done so much to gather support for it. It is sponsored by four Labour Members, six Conservative Members and two Alliance Members, and we are extremely pleased about that. There have been many speeches in support of it, including that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams), a distinguished former Minister and champion of consumer rights. The hon. Member for Waveney (Mr. Porter) articulated the views of most hon. Members when he said,

"Rarely has a Bill been more timely."

The Bill is necessary to give the buying public a clear indication that the goods they buy are backed by genuine guarantees. It comes in the wake of current legislation which has failed to offer comprehensive protection to the public. Currently, many warranties cover parts but not labour, or labour but not call-out charges. They cover some parts for three months and other parts for six months and fail to cover key machinery which is subject to normal wear and tear.

The Bill provides for a 12-month statutory money-back guarantee on a wide range of expensive goods. It ensures a refund or replacement for faulty goods which are out of commission for 21 days in the first year and it guarantees the replacement of products which are out of action for four days consecutively or two in the case of cars, so that buyers are not inconvenienced as they are at the moment. Because it is voluntary and not manatory, as the hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Alexander) stressed, it cannot be accused of placing burdens on business.

The Minister has given us details of his objections, which are mainly ideological. For him, the producer, not the consumer, is king. He outlined his solution, which lies in consumer choice in the market place, but he then moved on with undue haste to talk about the Law Commission.

The Minister was much more loquacious when talking to the Daily Telegraph about how consumers can exercise their rights. He said : "If consumers don't like what they are getting from one shop, they need only change their buying habits."

Perhaps the Minister moves in circles where people can easily change their buying habits--a washing machine a week, a television a month or a car every three months--but for ordinary members of the public the failure of a cooker or washing machine all too often brings misery as they fight but fail to get satisfaction. Last year, there were 14 million such people.

On Monday, in an answer to a parliamentary question, the Minister refused to list the groups that support or oppose the principle of the Bill. I have a list of companies that support it, from which I have drawn some examples- -Hotpoint, Argos, the Retail Consortium and Volvo. The best companies offer no-questions-asked guarantees ; Marks and Spencer was founded on that principle, yet the Minister calls it unworkable.

The architect of opposition to the Bill is not the Confederation of British Industry or the retail community but the Minister. A former Tory Member of Parliament wrote in The Times of the Minister's appointment :

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"His appointment as Consumer Protection Minister is some kind of joke."

The Minister has been closely associated with a small but influential group of Conservative Members called "No Turning Back". His message to the consumer is simply, "No handing back." To articulate his opposition, the Minister feels for his phrase book. It contains only one phrase, but it is his favourite--placing burdens on the business community. In his interview with the Daily Telegraph he embellished that phrase by saying that the Bill "would place an absurd burden on the business community." The CBI says that it would prefer an amendment to the Sales of Goods Act 1979. The Consumer Association says that it will not oppose the Bill. Consumers and most hon. Members support it, and we have the opportunity to ensure that it is given a Second Reading.

Mr. Ron Davies rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Question put, That the Question be now put :

The House divided : Ayes 108, Noes nil.

Division No. 52] [2.2 pm


Alexander, Richard

Allen, Graham

Banks, Tony (Newham NW)

Barnes, Harry (Derbyshire NE)

Battle, John

Bennett, A. F. (D'nt'n & R'dish)

Bidwell, Sydney

Bowden, Gerald (Dulwich)

Bradley, Keith

Brown, Gordon (D'mline E)

Brown, Nicholas (Newcastle E)

Campbell, Ron (Blyth Valley)

Campbell-Savours, D. N.

Cartwright, John

Clwyd, Mrs Ann

Cohen, Harry

Cook, Frank (Stockton N)

Corbyn, Jeremy

Cousins, Jim

Cox, Tom

Crowther, Stan

Cryer, Bob

Cummings, John

Dobson, Frank

Doran, Frank

Dunnachie, Jimmy

Dunwoody, Hon Mrs Gwyneth

Emery, Sir Peter

Ewing, Mrs Margaret (Moray)

Field, Frank (Birkenhead)

Flynn, Paul

Foot, Rt Hon Michael

Foster, Derek

Fraser, John

Gale, Roger

Garrett, Ted (Wallsend)

Gould, Bryan

Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)

Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)

Griffiths, Win (Bridgend)

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Grocott, Bruce

Hargreaves, Ken (Hyndburn)

Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney

Haynes, Frank

Heffer, Eric S.

Hoey, Ms Kate (Vauxhall)

Howells, Dr. Kim (Pontypridd)

Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)

Hughes, Roy (Newport E)

Hughes, Simon (Southwark)

Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)

Jones, Barry (Alyn & Deeside)

Jones, Ieuan (Ynys Mo n)

Jones, Martyn (Clwyd S W)

Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald

Leadbitter, Ted

Livingstone, Ken

Lloyd, Tony (Stretford)

McKay, Allen (Barnsley West)

Maclennan, Robert

McWilliam, John

Madden, Max

Martin, David (Portsmouth S)

Michael, Alun

Mitchell, Austin (G't Grimsby)

Morgan, Rhodri

Morley, Elliot

Morris, Rt Hon A. (W'shawe)

Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)

Morris, M (N'hampton S)

Orme, Rt Hon Stanley

Pendry, Tom

Pike, Peter L.

Porter, David (Waveney)

Prescott, John

Quin, Ms Joyce

Randall, Stuart

Rathbone, Tim

Redmond, Martin

Rees, Rt Hon Merlyn

Rhodes James, Robert

Richardson, Jo

Rogers, Allan

Ruddock, Joan

Sedgemore, Brian

Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)

Shersby, Michael

Shore, Rt Hon Peter

Short, Clare

Skinner, Dennis

Smith, C. (Isl'ton & F'bury)

Smith, J. P. (Vale of Glam)

Smyth, Rev Martin (Belfast S)

Soley, Clive

Summerson, Hugo

Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)

Taylor, Matthew (Truro)

Thomas, Dr Dafydd Elis

Thompson, Jack (Wansbeck)

Townsend, Cyril D. (B'heath)

Turner, Dennis

Ward, John

Wardell, Gareth (Gower)

Wareing, Robert N.

Welsh, Andrew (Angus E)

Williams, Rt Hon Alan

Winnick, David

Wise, Mrs Audrey

Tellers for the Ayes :

Mr. Ron Davies and

Dr. John Marek.

Nil Tellers for the Noes


Nil Tellers for the Noes :

Mr. John Marshall and

Mr. David Wilshire.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Question put accordingly and agreed to.

Bill read a Second time and committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 61 (Committal of Bills).

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