Select Committee on Regulatory Reform Seventh Report


12.  A consultation paper was published on 29 July 2005 with a consultation period of thirteen weeks.[10] Thirty responses were received. Of these, sixteen responses were received from enforcement agencies, twelve were received from businesses involved in verification or petrol retailing, one response was received from an academic institution and one from a government department.

13.  The Explanatory Document gives more details of the consultation exercise. Responses raised two main areas of concern:

Consumer protection

14.  Respondents raised concerns that the Order would remove the requirement for local authority inspectors to verify equipment independently. This would therefore remove a layer of protection, as approved verifiers might be subject to a "conflict of interests" whereby they would be inclined to be less thorough than an independent inspector and might also be encouraged by retailers to adjust equipment to the detriment of consumers.

15.  The Department has stated that it believes current procedures will continue for auditing and inspecting the actions of approved verifiers, while existing enforcement provisions are sufficient to act as a deterrent against false or unnecessary adjustment.

16.  Petrol retailers stated that adjustment would take place more frequently if the Order allowed verification by approved verifiers, which would lead to more accurate equipment (which is desirable for commercial reasons) and improvements in spotting leaks.

17.  Under the current system, verifiers are approved by a certifying body and by the National Weights and Measures Laboratory (NWML). In addition, their work is subject to auditing and inspection by local inspectors. Approved verifiers will remain subject to this system.

18.  During the consultation process in 1996, in advance of the 1999 Order, concerns were raised that the introduction of self-verification by approved verifiers would reduce the level of consumer protection. As a result, a working party was established to monitor the verification of petrol pumps by approved verifiers after the 1999 Order came into force. The working party was formed of representatives from the industry and from enforcement bodies[11] - it monitored verification for twelve months, reporting to the Minister in March 2003.

19.  The Explanatory Document states that the conclusions of the working party included:

  • verification by approved verifiers had not resulted in any reduction of consumer protection.
  • there was no technical difference between the actions taken to carry out a "repair" and an "adjustment" of equipment.
  • "Consequently, in its report to the Minister, the working party also concluded that there was no technical reason not to permit self-verification of fuel dispensers following the activity of adjustment."[12]

20.  The Department states: "Approved verifiers are subject to stringent quality control and monitoring requirements. They have been carrying out the technically identical task of verification after repair satisfactorily for several years. There is no evidence that consumer protection will be diminished as a result of their work being extended to verification after adjustment."[13] In addition, NWML recommends that approval to verify equipment after adjustment should be made conditional upon approved verifiers continuing to inform their local authority of all verifications within five days and also that a programme of checks on approved verifiers should continue to be funded.[14]

21.  We support this view.

Impact on local authorities

22.  Respondents also raised concerns that the Order would lead to a reduction in funding for local authority inspectors, who currently charge a fee for verification work, yet an increased number of inspections would be needed in order to check the work of approved verifiers.

23.  The Department has stated that further inspections will not be necessary because future work by approved verifiers would itself involve an element of checking.[15] In addition, the current system of auditing and checking by inspectors was established by the 1999 Order to include verification by approved verifiers after adjustment. The anomaly in the 1999 Order, whereby verification after adjustment is not permitted, seems to have been oversight and not a deliberate provision. The current system of inspections therefore already takes the proposed change into account.

24.  We believe that the proposal has been the subject of, and taken appropriate account of, adequate consultation.

10   See ED Annex A for identities of the consultees and ED Annex B for details of the representations received and the government's response to them Back

11   See ED Annex D for the report of the working party on approved verification of liquid fuel dispensers Back

12   ED p5, paras 19-20 Back

13   ED p1, para 5 Back

14   ED p16, para 62 Back

15   ED p14 para 56 Back

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