Clause 262 - Provision of financial assistance forconsumer purposes

Enterprise Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:30 am ar 16 Mai 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Ceidwadwyr, Eastbourne

I ask the Under-Secretary for a little clarification. The Conservatives are the true champions of the consumer; indeed, I had a walk-on part in the fair trading legislation of the 1970s. We are clearly in favour of financial assistance being provided to consumers. I merely probe to discover what sort of ambit the clause will have. Advice and information, education materials and so on are extremely welcome. I assume that the clause seeks to exclude provision for the running of existing consumer bodies; and I assume, because of the way in which it is worded, that it also excludes providing financial support to consumer bodies that are taking super complaints or other legal action, whether under the Bill or other legislation. It would help if the Under-Secretary sketched out, with some concrete examples, what she has in mind.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

I back what my hon. Friend had to say. The clause provides that ''any person'' can be in receipt of funding from the Secretary of State. That needs clarification. It is fair to say that people may be concerned not only about the scope of the provision and who will be funded but about how the funding will work. How much influence and patronage will the Government give to those organisations? Will the Under-Secretary say whether such provisions are normal? I say that in an open way; I do not know whether it is a normal situation.

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

We intend to use the clause to finance projects from a new consumer grants fund. I must tell the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) that we do not intend to use it for legal aid or funding other legal activities. We are particularly keen to use the fund for projects in instances when consumers have suffered harm but when it is not possible for individual consumers to be identified or to seek redress. In such cases, the fund could effectively be an indirect form of redress for consumers. However, we will consider the merits of other projects and activities that might also benefit consumers.

I have an illustrative but non-exhaustive list of activities that could be funded. They include promoting public knowledge, understanding consumer rights, promoting higher standards, providing information and advice, encouraging business, practical child and home accident prevention work, projects to benefit socially or economically vulnerable consumers and so forth.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Ceidwadwyr, Eastbourne

Is it intended to channel at least some of those activities through trading standards departments? Will she assure the Committee that if there is any conflict between the funding of the routine work of trading standards departments and of the work that she describes, the core work of those departments should take priority?

Photo of Miss Melanie Johnson Miss Melanie Johnson Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department of Trade and Industry

We see this as specific, project-related finance, not as mainstream finance. Trading standards departments may well receive some of these moneys in the fullness of time, and they are already doing projects on such extra funding.

In a case from the 1980s, involving Rover and the Consumers Association, it was discovered that Rover was using anti-competitive practices. By the time that that emerged, however, it was no longer possible to identify the consumers who had lost out. Rather than undergo an investigation, Rover admitted what it had done, and donated £750,000 to the Consumers Association to establish a self-financing information service for car buyers in the UK, and £250,000 to the Research Institute for Consumer Affairs to help fund its ability car programme of research, information and action on goods and services for disabled motorists. That is an indication of what could be done in the context of market-related competition fines.

We are making the money in the clause available in addition to our continuing commitment to fund the promotion of consumers' interests by bodies such as the National Consumer Council. We are, therefore, talking about an extra, project-related fund, as I explained.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 262 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 263 and 264 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 24 agreed to.