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On redress schemes generally, the ones that are established are there to resolve complaints where service providers have not been able to do so and award compensation and redress to consumers where appropriate. Consumers with a complaint should initially approach the service provider in the first instance. If needed, consumers would then be able to use the Consumer Direct service as a source of impartial advice and assistance to help. In the event that a supplier could not provide a satisfactory response to their complaint, the consumer would be signposted to the relevant redress scheme to investigate the complaint on their behalf.

The point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, about having one ombudsman scheme. The fact is that under the Bill we are leaving it to industry to come forward and seek approval of suitable redress schemes, in the plural, so the situation could be that several schemes are approved. It is also the case that the approved schemes will have to conform to minimum standards. Such standards will pay due regard to best-practice principles for redress schemes.

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Doorstep lending has been raised by a number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Borrie and the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes. Currently, it is a criminal offence for lenders to agree a credit agreement in an unsolicited visit to a consumer’s home. Consumers already have a cooling-off period for credit agreements agreed in their home. We will consider the regulations on doorstep lending in the Bill on doorstep lending when we draft the new regulations. Consumer credit legislation already requires lenders to give borrowers details of their cancellation rights, and the proposed consumer credit directive, if agreed in its present form, will extend those rights. It would not make sense to change the present provisions until the outcome of negotiations on the directive is clear. The Consumer Credit Act 2006, which we are in the process of implementing, already has a number of requirements on post-contract transparency in the form of statements and notices that need to be sent to consumers.

My noble friend Lord Borrie and the noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, among others, referred to doorstep lending. From a consumer’s perspective, the changes we are making to doorstep selling and the current consumer credit legislation will mean that consumers will be clear on their rights. The consumer credit legislation already requires lenders to give borrowers details of their cancellation rights.

The noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, mentioned consumer education. The NCC is responsible for consumer education and will continue to be. The OFT has a role to support Consumer Direct in consumer education. Consumer Direct was rolled out nationally earlier this year—a year ahead of schedule—and provides advice on all consumer issues. We are exploring with the OFT whether to run an awareness campaign on the implementation of the new doorstep selling regulations expected to come in in April 2008.

In response to a question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, the Office of Fair Trading has a function under the Enterprise Act 2002 of publishing educational material or carrying out other educational activities for consumers. The Bill provides for the new National Consumer Council the function of facilitating consumer education which complements the role of the Office of Fair Trading.

My noble friends Lord O’Neill, Lord Borrie and Lord Whitty and the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, among others, spoke about Farepak. One cannot observe the Farepak saga without having a great deal of sympathy for those who, as a result of the company’s collapse, have lost money that they have saved and understandably feel badly let down. The circumstances of the collapse will be properly investigated by the DTI’s Companies Investigation Branch. The administrators will in due course report to the Secretary of State on the fitness or otherwise of the directors of Farepak.

The question was raised about whether the Bill should include some provisions to cover such cases. The Government are working very closely with the administrators, the Family Fund people and all those who are dealing with this difficult situation. My right honourable friend the Minister of State for Trade,

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Investment and Foreign Affairs met the chief executive of the Office of Fair Trading on 8 November; he asked that the OFT work with the Financial Services Authority and DTI officials to look at the regulatory framework in which Farepak operated and consider options to address any issues raised. A report will be made to him at the earliest opportunity and we will then be able to take a view on what action is required. However, I can assure noble Lords that we will take the necessary steps as expeditiously as possible to learn the lessons from the Farepak saga and to ensure, if at all possible, that there is no recurrence of this disturbing situation.

The noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, spoke about the full range of the new consumer body’s remit not extending to Northern Ireland. The General Consumer Council for Northern Ireland already covers all sectors, including utilities, other than postal services. That is why the remit of the new National Consumer Council extends to Northern Ireland only in respect of postal services.

The noble Earl, Lord Caithness, the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, spoke about the regulation of estate agents and whether they should be qualified. Estate agents are currently regulated by the Estate Agents Act 1979, which lays down the duties agents owe to clients and to third parties. It gives the OFT the power ultimately to prohibit those persons it considers unfit to carry on estate agents’ work. In addition, the Enterprise Act 2002 and local authority trading standards services can require an estate agent to change aspects of his conduct when the agent breaches specified consumer protection measures. Estate agents are also covered by the Property Misdescriptions Act 1991. However, following on from the studies and consultations that have taken place, we do not believe that licensing would in practice improve consumer protection as the evidence suggests that most estate agents who were subsequently banned had no criminal history and consequently would have been able to obtain a licence. Misconduct has appeared to be the result of a lack of integrity by individuals rather than a consequence of a lack of qualifications or knowledge of the law. That is the Government’s position.

I was asked about Consumer Direct. The new NCC will continue to carry out the sectoral functions currently undertaken by sectoral consumer bodies including Post Office monitoring and help for customers facing disconnection from energy supplies. I have dealt with questions on the budget.

A number of noble Lords spoke about vulnerable consumers. The Bill allows for the new NCC to determine for itself how to assess and categorise vulnerable people for these purposes. The Bill also enables the new NCC to act on behalf of consumers who become vulnerable through disconnection of their gas or electricity supply.

I was asked why the Ofcom Consumer Panel and the Financial Services Consumer Panel were not consulted. We consulted on their inclusion in January to April of this year. The majority of responses agreed that the panels had a different role to that of other statutory consumer bodies such as Energywatch and Postwatch and that both roles were important

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and were maintained by the proposals. There will be a consumer advice line for people to ring—it will be an 0800 number, a point raised by my noble friend Lord O’Neill. Arrangements will be simpler—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Razzall—and consumers should be able to contact Consumer Direct directly for complaints rather than first finding out the correct body to contact.

The three-month period refers to the time allowed for companies to resolve complaints. The new council has a duty to act on behalf of vulnerable consumers without having to wait.

The noble Baroness, Lady Byford, spoke about post offices. People can still get their money from post offices and will continue to have the option to do so. The Post Office card account contract ends in 2010.

A number of noble Lords asked why all the consumer bodies were not being merged into one consumer advocacy body. I have already mentioned the Financial Services Consumer Panel and the Ofcom Consumer Panel. There are special reasons why water and transport were not included. With respect to water, the consumer representation has only recently been reformed. Similarly, with respect to transport, the Air Transport Users Council is a division of the sectoral regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority, so it was not thought appropriate to incorporate that at this stage.

There are four reasons for not including lettings. The Bill amends the Estate Agents Act 1979, hence its provisions do not apply to letting agents. Tenancy deposit schemes, however, are to be introduced in April 2007 under the Housing Act 2004. The Government support voluntary self-regulation of letting agents. Agents who are members of the Association of Residential Letting Agents, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and other groups have provided financial support to the national approved letting scheme. However, we will continue to monitor the operation of the lettings market. Approved redress schemes dealing with complaints about letting agents on a voluntary basis can already operate, but that would be a matter for the scheme administrators. The OEA has recently started dealing with complaints about letting.

The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, the Minister said early on in his speech that all transactions between sellers and buyers would be caught. Does that cover the point of the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, about developers?

Lord Truscott: My Lords, it depends on the definition of estate agents. Where estate agents are involved in selling property and can be defined as estate agents, the Bill will cover them. My understanding is that where they are simply selling property directly, not involving all the other activities of estate agents, they will not be covered by the Bill.

Lord Razzall: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the Minister’s flow—I know that it is getting late. I was making rather a different point; I am grateful to the

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noble Earl for intervening. It is accepted that many big residential developers do not use estate agencies. I was asking the Government to find a mechanism to ensure that the Sharons and Traceys, sitting in their show house in Berkshire or Northumberland, are regulated in some way. It is nothing to do with their being estate agents; it is just that what they could get up to could be just as bad as the practices of rogue estate agents.

Lord Truscott: My Lords, it depends on the definition of the law and whether the activities in which they are involved can be defined as those of estate agents. I was not implying that they were employing other estate agents as intermediaries; what matters is the definition of their activities. We can perhaps return to that matter in Committee.

The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, mentioned the current cap of £25,000. The cap is not imposed by government; it is up to industry to propose details of schemes, including compensation.

I shall study Hansard and write to noble Lords on questions which were not covered in my winding-up speech. As I said earlier, some details are more appropriately dealt with in Committee. In summary, the Bill will create a heavyweight champion for consumers, give enforcers the tools they need to get rid of rogue estate agents, and strengthen consumer rights and redress.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Grand Committee.

Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) (Amendment No. 2) (England and Wales) Order 2006

6.34 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton rose to move, that the draft order laid before the House on 16 November be approved. First Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, a draft of this order was laid before Parliament on 16 November. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 allows ex-offenders not to disclose certain old, spent convictions in an effort to improve their employment opportunities, with the effect of reducing re-offending. The Act also makes it unlawful for record-keeping bodies such as the Criminal Records Bureau to disclose details of such convictions.

The Act grants power to the Secretary of State to exclude application of these general rules in relation to questions by particular employers, bodies and proceedings. The rationale behind this is to ensure that employers and bodies offering positions, professions and licences of a more sensitive nature would be able to assess an applicant’s full criminal history before making a decision. This power was exercised in 1975, when the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order came into effect. The 1975 order has been amended periodically to ensure that the criminal disclosure regime keeps pace with changes in employment and public risk.

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The most recent amendment was made in July this year. The amendment before us will make minor changes relating to football.

Ministers made a commitment in September 2005 to exempt some in-house football stewards from the need to be licensed under the Private Security Industry Act 2001 by making regulations under Section 4 of that Act. Those regulations could be made only where suitable alternative arrangements were in place, which required CRB checks to be undertaken on behalf of the football authorities. Therefore, the 1975 order was amended in July to give the CRB the power to undertake checks on football security staff on behalf of the Football Association and the Football Association Premier League for the purposes of granting that exemption.

Ministers subsequently decided to exempt football security staff through primary legislation in response to an amendment to that effect to the Violent Crime Reduction Bill which was tabled by my noble friend Lord Pendry. Consequently, football security staff will be exempt from the licensing requirement under the 2001 Act due to the terms of Section 4 of that Act rather than to regulations made under that provision. This came into effect when the Violent Crime Reduction Act received Royal Assent in November.

The amendment to Section 4 of the 2001 Act does not impose a legal requirement on the football sector to have in place suitable alternative arrangements. The football sector has undertaken to work voluntarily to the same standards that would have applied under the exemption regulations and therefore to undertake CRB checks voluntarily. Since the wording of the July amendment to the 1975 order gave the CRB power to check the criminal records of football security staff only for the purpose of an exemption granted by regulations under Section 4 of the Act, an amendment must be made to enable such voluntary checks to take place.

The order, which was made in July, gave the CRB the power to undertake checks on behalf of the Football Association and the Football Association Premier League. Ministers have since agreed that the Football League should also be added to the order. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, to the Private Security Industry Act 2001 will also cover football. Ministers considered the responses to the consultation which mentioned football and, on reflection, decided that the same evidence as applies to other sports also covers football. The football authorities have undertaken voluntarily to work to these same standards under the amendment. This makes the system much more straightforward without losing any of the safeguards that would have been required under the exemption. I beg to move.

Moved, that the draft order laid before the House on 16 November be approved. First Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation of the order. It is important that the measures which govern the criminal disclosure regime are kept up to date. Unless we do so,

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we could place at risk members of the public, especially those who are young and vulnerable. This order takes the appropriate route of increasing the coverage of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order 1975 to reflect subsequent developments in the way in which Football League, Football Association and Football Association Premier League matches are stewarded. I know that the Minister is well versed in this subject, and he has given me help in the past.

We agree that, when the Football Association and the Football Association Premier League assess the suitability of somebody to act as a steward in those cases where a licence issued by the Security Industry Authority is not required, the CRB should have the legal right to carry out checks on those stewards at the request of the FA or the Premier League. We support the order.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, we are dealing with the order that was made in July, which gave the Criminal Records Bureau the power to undertake checks on behalf of the Football Association and the FA Premier League. There was an omission and the Government have now agreed that the Football League should be added to the order. We supported the amendment during the passage of the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, which is another reason why we support this consequential amendment.

My noble friend Lord Addington was right when, during debate on Amendment No. 55 to the Bill at Report, he said:

How right he was. The initial Act was not supposed to get into this field at all. Having accepted the case made out by my noble friend and other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, I am glad that we are further rectifying the anomaly by ensuring that the Football League is added to the order. We certainly support it.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Asylum (First List of Safe Countries) (Amendment) Order 2006

6.40 pm

Lord Bassam of Brighton rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 16 November be approved. 2nd Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall speak also to the Accession (Immigration and Worker Authorisation) Regulations 2006.

The safe countries order adds Bulgaria and Romania to the first list of safe third countries at Part 2 of Schedule 3 to the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. This provision is concerned with situations in which an asylum seeker may be removed to a safe third country without substantive consideration of his asylum claim—a third country being one of which he is not a

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national or citizen. So this instrument is not about nationals from Bulgaria or Romania seeking asylum in the UK.

Countries in the first list of safe countries in Part 2 of Schedule 3 to the 2004 Act are places which are to be treated as safe when determining whether a third country national who has made an asylum or human rights claim in the United Kingdom may be removed to one of them. The first-list countries are presumed to be places from which an asylum seeker will not be refouled in breach of the refugee convention or the European Convention on Human Rights. Provided that the Secretary of State is able to certify, therefore, that the applicant is not a national or citizen of the state listed, she or he may be removed to it and no right of appeal lies against that decision. Applicants may resist their removal on other human rights grounds in the usual way, although provision is made for such claims to be certified as clearly unfounded unless we are satisfied that they are not. If a claim is certified then any appeal may be made only outside the United Kingdom. A decision that a claim is clearly unfounded will be susceptible to judicial review in the same way. If a claim is not certified as clearly unfounded, then the applicant retains his or her in-country right of appeal on those human rights grounds.

The Part 2 list includes all member states of the European Union and Iceland and Norway, all of which are countries bound by the arrangements for determining responsibility for examining an asylum claim set down in Regulation 343, also known as the Dublin II regulation. All EU member states are bound by other European legislation forming part of the common European asylum system. Bulgaria and Romania will be similarly bound from the date of their accession. Therefore, we propose that this order shall come into force on 1 January 2007.

Dublin II, supported by evidence from the Eurodac database of fingerprints, is the cornerstone of the common European asylum system—the European asylum acquis. Combined with other measures implemented as part of the common asylum policy, it seeks to prevent asylum shopping across the European Union. Dublin II and Eurodac require a spirit of mutual trust and confidence at national level and an appreciation of the demands of working in an area of free movement by recording and processing asylum applications in accordance with the asylum acquis, controlling the external border for the benefit of all and acknowledging the consequences of illegal entry and illegal presence.


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