If I am looking after £1 million of someone’s money, I must put their interest in that money first; and the way I then invest it must be done with reasonable care and skill. That is the extra ingredient that we are seeking to add. Clause 49 by itself—good though it is to include “reasonable care and skill” as it covers financial services—does not include this wider avoidance of conflict of interest, by putting the consumer’s interest first.

No, this will not help get redress. That is not what we are interested in. We want to prevent these things happening. Yes, compensation was paid for PPI—mostly out of the banks’ profits. But that should never have had to be paid—we do not want these things going wrong in the first place. As my noble friend said, rules are not enough; it is a culture change that we need.

We need it written in a Bill that when you are looking after someone else’s money you have a fiduciary duty towards them. There must be some lawyers in the

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Chamber tonight. They understand fiduciary duty, but it seems that banks do not. As for the other problem and the question of what difference it will make, we do not just want compensation for consumers. Frankly, I want a few hangings. None of the people who mis-sold PPI is in prison. I do not think that any of those people on whom £1.1 billion in fines have just been imposed will be prosecuted. We need this in a piece of legislation, so that if people break it, they can answer for it.

I therefore hope that, even if I do not push this to a vote tonight, the Government understand that we do not simply want reasonable care and skill. Where people’s life savings—their pensions—are in the hands of someone else, whom they cannot check on because they cannot look at their day-to-day decisions, that person must at every moment put the consumer’s interest first. That was what this amendment was trying to do.

I hope that, even though I will now ask to withdraw this amendment, the Government will look at something that is still going wrong, and will not simply say, “The rules are there and are sufficient”, because clearly they are not. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw this amendment.

Amendment 26 withdrawn.

Clause 55: Right to repeat performance

Amendment 27

Moved by Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town

27: Clause 55, page 33, line 4, at end insert—

“(1A) Where the quality of the service can be reasonably considered to lead to a risk to the personal safety of the consumer, the consumer has a right to refuse a repeat performance, and exercise their right to a price reduction under section 56.

(1B) Any action taken under subsection (1A) will not prevent the consumer from seeking other remedies or further compensation for the consequences of this installation.”

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, this is a different sort of amendment, which stands in the names of my noble friend Lord Stevenson and myself, and which seeks to protect the consumer who has had something done in their house and a faulty installation has occurred—not simply a faulty installation such as a table being put in the wrong way round, but where there is a risk to the person concerned. Instead of having to have the installers back in to try to put right whatever they have done wrong, it would give the person concerned the right to move to a refund without having to accept a repair first.

The rest of the Bill is very good where it says that there should be only one repair, and that, if that does not work, you can get the money back. However, there are circumstances in which we think they should not have to have a repair done first; they are in their own home and something has happened which makes them feel at risk. Examples of this sort of thing are where a trader has tried to install a dishwasher but floods the whole kitchen, a bathroom floods the kitchen below—which I have seen happen quite recently—or an electrician is sent to install a new shower, and manages to wire the shower to the electric light bulb rather than to the

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mains. Again, sadly, that is not just a figment of my imagination. A gas engineer may make a complete mess of putting in a new boiler and cause a gas leak, leaving the consumer thinking, “I don’t want these people back in my house—they don’t know what they’re doing. I want them out before they do any more damage, and I want my money back so that I can get someone in who’s a little more trustworthy”. However, as the Bill stands at the moment, the trader may say, “No; I’ve got the right to come in and sort it out before I give you any money back”.

Our amendment would provide clarity for both parties in those circumstances, allowing customers to say: “I no longer trust you because I feel at risk—I want my money back”. I know from Committee that the Government have some sympathy with our point and with our concerns about this, but they argued that in such cases—which I think the Minister understood—the consumer retains the option to seek damages in court. However, that is not what the Bill should require. Taking a trader to court is very difficult for a consumer; they have to instigate legal action, which itself is complicated, expensive and uncertain. More than that, it takes a long time, and if you want a hot shower the next day you probably do not want to wait until your case comes to court before you can get someone in to put the hot water in the right place.

A survey undertaken by Which? showed that nearly half of consumers thought that you should not have to give the trader the chance to fix the problem in those circumstances. We know that the aim of the Bill is to provide clarity on consumer rights, both to the trader and to the consumer, so surely any of these sorts of disputes should be kept out of court and dealt with in this way. If a kitchen fitter says, “I don’t need to give you a refund now; I have the right to come back and repair this”, we do not want that conversation to end with, “I’ll see you in court”. We want the Bill to make it clear that the consumer can get a refund at that stage.

I hope that the Bill will mostly avoid taking the legal route, but it is a shame that it seems the Government felt that that would have to happen in these circumstances. We therefore hope that the Government, having thought about this amendment again, and given that it is only about residential premises, will support it. I beg to move.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes (Con): My Lords, the noble Baroness missed one sort of case. The plumbers, electricians or whoever they are make a charge for coming in the first place, and when they get there, say, “This will need a part that we’ve got to order”. You have already paid for the visit, they demand the money for the parts before they go any further, and they sometimes never turn up again. The noble Baroness can add that to the list.

Baroness Jolly: My Lords, this Bill sets out for the first time in statute what remedies consumers are entitled to request and traders must offer if traders provide a substandard service. That is a real increase in consumer protection. Consumers of services, from hairdressing to plastering, will have access to statutory remedies if those services do not meet the consumers’

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statutory rights. I am very proud of this part of the Bill and believe it will lead to real improvements for consumers on the ground.

To help consumers use these new remedies, we have set out clearly in the Bill how they will work in practice. This will also be set out in guidance, which will be available for traders and consumers well in advance of the Bill coming into force. To give an example, if a service is not provided with “reasonable care and skill”, the consumer can ask the trader to re-perform the service so that it does meet that standard. In practice, it may not be possible to re-perform a service, or the trader may cause significant inconvenience for the consumer in doing so. In those cases, the consumer can ask for a price reduction. If the consumer has already paid more than the reduced price, the difference must then be given to the consumer within 14 days. That is a practical process designed to work for both consumers and traders. We have discussed this extensively with stakeholders and businesses overwhelmingly support this way forward.

Importantly, these new statutory provisions are in addition to, not a replacement for, common-law remedies that consumers can currently pursue. We are not taking away a consumer’s current access to redress through the court system. Quite the opposite: we make clear in Clause 54 that these remedies are still available. Clause 54(7) is a non-exhaustive list of those remedies. Guidance on the Bill will also explain that these remedies are still available. Moreover, we are not restricting consumers and traders to the remedies in this Bill. The consumer has a right to ask for what is in these provisions. However, if the consumer so chooses, they can negotiate a different remedy with the trader. For example, they could negotiate to reduce the price of a service without exercising their right to a re-performance. There is support available to enable consumers to do this, notably through the Citizens Advice service. The service provides advice over the telephone, face to face and online, including practical tools such as template letters.

8.45 pm

We understand the issue that noble Lords have raised. We understand there can be rare and unfortunate circumstances where a service leaves a consumer in a dangerous situation. We sympathise with the concern raised that consumers should be able to get money back from the trader rather than having to have them back to redo any work. The new statutory remedies, in combination with retaining access to common-law remedies, protect consumers from services that are performed so badly they put personal safety at risk. Where a trader has performed a service in this way, the consumer does not have to have the trader back. The consumer can ask the trader to come back and remove the risk, but if they do not want to have the trader back they have access to redress through the courts. We recognise that consumers do not want the hassle and expense of going to court, but neither do traders. As I said a moment ago, these provisions allow the trader and the consumer to negotiate a different remedy if the consumer so chooses. Traders will not want to go to court any more than consumers, so they will have a strong commercial incentive to negotiate. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, was concerned that this was not a statutory remedy,

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but the Bill’s inclusion in Clause 54 of an express reminder of the possibility of claiming damages gives consumers a good basis for negotiation.

For example, let us imagine that a trader renovating a room damages some wiring. The consumer is worried about their safety in that room. They have a right to ask the trader back to fix the electrics but they do not want the trader back. They can instead ask the trader for their money back. The trader does not have to give the money back, but they would know that the alternative is court. It would make no commercial sense for them not to give the consumer their money back. It may reassure noble Lords to hear that this is backed up by current practice. Consumers do not currently have statutory remedies for substandard services; however, we know from independent research that we commissioned in 2013 that more than 50% of service providers still offer a remedy similar to that in the Bill, such as money back. This shows that traders will offer remedies in addition to those set out in legislation in order to avoid having to go to court. Through this system, consumers are protected from service providers who risk their personal safety.

Noble Lords may ask, “Why not write into legislation that a consumer can always ask for a price reduction?”. We think the protections for consumers which noble Lords are seeking are already appropriately addressed. We seek to balance the interests of consumers and traders, and not all traders are rogues. Most traders want to do a good job, even on the most difficult jobs. These traders rely on their good name and good reputation to get business; they include small traders without marketing budgets who rely on word of mouth. The huge growth of review websites in the last few years is evidence of this. If we were to force traders to offer money back without the chance to re-perform a service then we would deny them the opportunity to correct honest mistakes and safeguard their reputation, which is so important to them. For example, a builder could make an honest mistake during a project; they could offer to return to fix the problem for free and to the consumer’s satisfaction. In many cases, it may be in both parties’ interests for the trader to fix the issue.

Consumers are protected from receiving unsafe services as they retain access to the common-law remedies. My noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes made a point about traders who charge for a repair visit and then do not carry it out. If the trader agrees to do a repair and takes money but then does not carry out the work, that is a breach of their contract. Consumers should complain to trading standards about sharp practices such as that.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: That is not what I said. I said that they charge to come in the first place—not to carry out the work but just to come and see what has to be done. They charge for that and then they say, “It needs an expensive part, so I can’t do anything for what you’ve already paid me in coming here”. They then come back, possibly months later, with a very expensive part.

Baroness Jolly: I thank my noble friend for that explanation but I think that I will have to drop her a note to clarify that situation. I ask the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, the Minister said that not all traders are rogues. She obviously meets a different lot from those whom the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, comes across. The noble Baroness knows very well that some of them are rogues.

Baroness Jolly: But not all.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: Some of them are. However, the Bill throughout is very much about the ones who are not good. If all traders were good, we could throw the Bill away. Frankly, we do not need it for John Lewis. It does not need this Bill in order to be good to us. The Bill is about bringing everyone up to the standards that we expect from all traders. It is fine to say that a good trader will come back. If it is a good trader, the customer will trust it and have it back. That is fine. However, what we are after here are the cases where there is something dangerous in the house or where the householder feels at risk from the trader being back.

If I understood the Minister properly, she said that customers have some choices. They can phone Citizens Advice, which of course will give them only advice—it cannot negotiate—or it will give them a template for a letter, which in the circumstances I do not think would be a lot of help. Alternatively, they can go to a website, although I think that a lot of consumers would not find that very helpful at that moment either.

In fact, the Minister has said the same as I have said: the only route you can take is to seek damages in court, which is what our amendment was trying to avoid. We were trying to say that where someone has been in your house and they have done something so badly that you feel at risk, you should be able to get your money back without that person coming back into your house. Clearly, that is where we and the Government have a different view. In those circumstances, I think that we leave consumers as vulnerable as they are now. They are in no worse a position but, at the same time, their position is no better. That is regrettable but it is clearly the decision that the Government have taken. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 27 withdrawn.

Amendment 28

Moved by Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

28: After Clause 58, insert the following new Clause—

“Display of point of sale information about rights

(1) Suppliers of goods and services to which this Part applies shall be required to display at the point of sale essential information in plain and intelligible language and in a reasonable format which explains to customers the relevant rights and responsibilities of consumers under this Part.

(2) This information shall be proportionate to the transaction.

(3) The detail shall be developed by the British Standards Institution.”

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, Amendment 28 concerns point of sale information. I do not want to bore noble Lords who have heard me say this on

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many occasions during the passage of the Bill but I consider this to be crucial. At the beginning of the Committee stage in the other place, four special witnesses were called from all the major consumer organisations. They pointed out that 75% of all consumers, before making a purchase, still do not have any idea of their rights or what course they can follow in order to bring a case to court if necessary.

When I think of all the pieces of consumer legislation I have been involved in over the years since 1970 they are as good as nothing. None of them is any good. They are hopeless when only 15% of consumers might benefit from them. This is a marvellous Bill. The Government have been very generous with time and facilities in all the proceedings that have taken place, particularly in the other place where experts were invited and all sorts of pre-legislative scrutiny took place. Nothing was spared. It would be a tragedy if this Bill, which is costly for the Government and costly indeed for a great many people, should prove to be worthless.

We still have a situation where such a large proportion —75%—of consumers still do not know their rights. That is why I consider this amendment to be so important. It states:

“Suppliers of goods and services to which this Part applies shall be required to display at the point of sale essential information in plain and intelligible language and in a reasonable format which explains to customers the relevant rights and responsibilities of consumers under this Part … This information shall be proportionate to the transaction … The detail shall be developed by the British Standards Institution”.

I think it is a pretty good amendment and covers everything. I was preparing a much longer speech. However, I discovered only a couple of days ago that there is legislation already passed in the relevant EU directive that was laid before this House on 13 June this year. I point out to my noble friend the Minister that this was four days before she came into her department so she may not have noticed it. However, all the subsequent items under the directive on consumer rights have come in following her going to her present department. They are now part of the directive and part of what we have agreed under the directive on consumer rights. This is the Consumer Rights Bill. You will hear me saying this possibly more often. It seems not unreasonable. I might say that other countries which are also party to this directive have already introduced legislation of this nature.

What the directive says is actually very short. In Chapter II, which I note we have accepted, core information is to be provided by traders prior to the conclusion of consumer contracts which are not distant from the premises. It is a bit of a funny way of putting it but it means at the premises. Member states may add on further information requirements in their national law. But we do not have it in our national law. We have it only in an EU directive.

When the directive was accepted by the right honourable Dr Vince Cable in the other place it was highly recommended and he said what a good thing it was. I am paraphrasing at the moment. It seems to me not unreasonable to want to see it in legislation in this House. This is the Consumer Rights Bill. This is the

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directive on consumer rights. The argument is very simple. BIS adds one thing. It also says the information should be given on paper unless you agree to set it out in regulations; by email, for example, if that is what is required. I rest my case. I beg to move.

9 pm

Viscount Younger of Leckie: My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 28 and I emerge once again from my long and deep perusal of Hansard, having not been present in Committee. I want to focus on the important matter that has been raised by my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes on the question of displaying rights at the point of sale.

I have read the amendment carefully, but I want to focus initially on a couple of issues. The amendment states:

“Suppliers of goods and services to which this Part applies shall be required to display at the point of sale essential information in plain and intelligible language and in a reasonable format which explains to customers the relevant rights and responsibilities of consumers under this Part”.

How does one define “essential information”? I note proposed new subsection (3), which states:

“The detail shall be developed by the British Standards Institution”,

but I would like to point out that in proposed new subsection (2), which states that the,

“information shall be proportionate to the transaction”,

two issues arise. I would argue that it is very broad and not clear enough, as with proposed new subsection (1), to be on the face of the Bill. When one is talking about being “proportionate to the transaction”, one has to bear in mind that sales take the form of so many different types of products. There could be a very high volume of low-priced products, so there would be an immediate issue of how to tackle it.

I digress slightly and want to go back to the Committee stage, as I took a keen interest in the speech given by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. I am interested and glad to see that she has stepped back from promoting the idea of consumers’ statutory rights being read to them, or given to them at the point of sale. Perish the thought that this might happen and that on a busy Saturday long queues form at petrol stations while cashiers struggle to meet legal requirements in reading customer rights when selling non-petrol or non-food goods. I am sure that the noble Baroness did not necessarily think about that aspect, and she may well have thought at that stage that such information could be placed on a receipt. Then there was the matter of gaining consistency in this aspect of the law in tandem with effecting adequate training for cashiers and sales staff. I feel that, inadvertently, we may have prevented a gain in incidents on the shop floor as a result of consumers becoming somewhat impatient while waiting to be served.

The important point was made in Committee that communicating consumer rights is relevant for each product sold and could be open to confusion when a trader’s policies and terms exceed the statutory rights. There is a danger that reading out rights might act as a negative or chilling factor by implying, perhaps tenuously, that the product might just be defective.

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I wanted to put this amendment in context because I am pleased at least that my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes has reduced that position in her amendment so that information on consumer rights should be displayed but only at the point of sale. However, as she might expect, I am not in favour of this being set in law either. I believe that it is proportionate to set firm guidelines, which came out of the implementation group, and to go for a voluntary approach.

I believe that this particular departure will undertake a number of key points. First, it will lead to a behavioural change for businesses to display information on the rights of consumers. Secondly, it will be pour encourager les autres; in other words, other businesses will do the same. Thirdly, consumers will become more attuned and astute, so that where businesses are not voluntarily displaying high-level information on their rights, they will be pulled up. There is a caveat that after a while consumers will tire of seeing the same old notices being displayed and looking even more tired than themselves.

For all those reasons, I do not agree with the idea that this amendment should be set in law, so it should not go forward.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: If I have understood the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, correctly, it was probably the noble Viscount who, on 13 June, signed into law those rights. I congratulate him on that and on writing into law that all these rights should be made available. That is very welcome and I thank him on behalf of consumers that he does want them in law, although, at the moment, I think he is saying that he does not. Anyway, we congratulate him on what he did on 13 June.

The noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, is absolutely right that this amendment is crucial to whether the Bill will work. It will not work if consumers do not know their rights. The little placard that is often next to the till which says, “This does not affect your statutory rights” is completely meaningless. We know from work by BIS that two-thirds of consumers do not know that if a major appliance breaks down 18 months after purchase they still have a right to have it repaired or replaced, even though they did not purchase an extended warranty. So we know that people do not know their existing rights.

The difference is that we agree with Citizens Advice that these rights can be set out briefly and simply. You do not even need to say, “Under the Consumer Rights Act”, although it is very nice to give credit to those who put it through. You can simply say, “You have 30 days to return this item if it is faulty”. That does not seem very difficult. I think people can understand it. I think it is all right if it is on the bottom of their till receipt rather than by the side of it. These things can be done quite easily.

There is a political difference here; it is a difference within the implementation group. The consumer groups want this information clearly written and available so that consumers keep on seeing it. Businesses do not want it. The Government are saying, “Let’s listen to business. They don’t want to do it”. I think if we listen

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to consumers, they would want to do it. The ongoing champion of consumers is right. Let us get this in the Bill and let consumers know what their rights are.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: I thank my noble friend for his intervention. I knew that he laid those regulations under the EU directive in your Lordships’ House, so I hoped that he might be here and I am delighted that he is. My noble friends and the noble Lords opposite will realise that this is a great disappointment to me. I can see that the Government are not of the same mind. The objections which have been put forward are a bit punitive to what is a very simple—

Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Con): I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but the Minister has not replied to her amendment at this stage. I have a feeling that she would like to hear from the Minister before she replies to her.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe: I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Oppenheim-Barnes, for her contribution today and in Grand Committee. I value her long experience and expertise on the subject of consumer rights, including from her time as Minister for Consumer Affairs—I asked at the department and gathered that she was a real livewire—not forgetting her experience at the National Consumer Council and elsewhere.

I am glad that she feels that the Bill process has been good, with pre-legislative scrutiny and stakeholder involvement. I think that is an interesting general lesson to learn. I agree that consumers and businesses should be educated about their rights and responsibilities effectively. We have made this point many times during discussions. I share the noble Viscount’s concerns about the amendment, because it is very wide ranging.

It also goes wider than the Bill. Consumers and traders need to know about the rights and responsibilities under other consumer legislation, too, such as the consumer rights directive. I can confirm that the regulations came into force in June this year. I thank my noble friend Lord Younger and his role in that process.

I agree with my noble friend that this is a very important area. We will not realise the benefits of the Bill unless the new rights are well understood and used. As part of our work preparing for implementation of the Bill, we have worked closely with business groups, consumer groups and enforcers to develop a high-level plain English summary of consumer rights because information is critical. That summary is being prepared to cover the various circumstances that arise from this legislation. It allows traders the flexibility to display the information in the most appropriate way for their business.

I do not believe that the mandatory approach suggested by this amendment is the most effective way of ensuring consumers are informed of their rights. There is a real risk that overloading a consumer with information at the point of sale would lead to them ignoring that information. Surely that defeats the object of simplicity and clarity. For many things—for example, newspapers or bags of apples—what the voluntary approach allows is common sense. There is also a risk of confusing

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consumers where retailers’ own policies are more generous than consumers’ statutory rights. A major retailer told us that it already offers terms more generous than the statutory requirements. It has built its brand on that and thinks that displaying information on core consumers’ statutory rights would undermine its message that a customer who was dissatisfied for any reason could bring the product back even if it was not defective.

We are therefore already developing wording that works. We have wording that can be adapted to various circumstances whether you are selling goods in a shop or online. We have business groups committed to promoting this with their members. We have consumer groups that are also committed to promoting this. I do not think that this amendment is the right way forward. Instead, a flexible, voluntary approach will work. Business groups support the voluntary approach, including the British Retail Consortium, the Federation of Small Businesses and the British Chambers of Commerce, all of which are critical to information provision to the many businesses involved and to good customer service and good consumer care. I believe in a simple, clear framework of law. That is important to good traders as well as to rogue traders, to pick up a point made earlier.

The information provision is being done as part of the work of the implementation group, which also involves Which?, enforcers, Citizens Advice and others. I agreed in Committee that other relevant consumer rights, such as that in the consumer rights directive, should be part of the information dissemination process. I do not think that this is the right way forward. I have had useful discussions with my noble friend Lady Oppenheim-Barnes and I ask her to withdraw the amendment.

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Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: I am grateful to my noble friend for going into so much detail and care. I will not say that “live wire” is the best description I would want to be remembered for. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has had some better ones than that in the past. However, I am nevertheless grateful that attention has now been drawn. I still think that it is very strange that your Lordships’ House has committed to a directive that other countries have now translated into their own legislation and which for some reason is still not right.

I take the point entirely that my noble friend made about well known and well loved. I cannot imagine Heinz tomato soup ever needing any recommendations, let alone anything else. Branston Pickle comes to mind. I am not sure if they are allowed to say that any more.

This remains an important issue. It is very important that we get a format which is reasonable, which is not going to form petrol queues and which is easily understood. I hope that the Minister will find the right words and put it into law. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 28 withdrawn.

Consideration on Report adjourned.

Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill

First Reading

9.15 pm

The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

House adjourned at 9.16 pm.