asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection how many local authorities are providing mobile consumer advice centers; what steps she is taking to extend the use of consumer advice centre mobile vehicles operating over a wide area on a rota basis; and if she will make a statement.
According to the latest information available to me, six local authorities are providing mobile consumer advice centres. The extent to which the service is provided in this way is a matter for local authorities to decide, taking into consideration the particular circumstances of their area and bearing in mind their financial situation and the Government guidance on expenditure on consumer advice services.
Does my hon. Friend accept that it is disappointing that there is as yet a low take-up of this form of consumer centre? With the present economic stringencies are there not considerable advantages in a centre of this type which can serve a wide area at relatively low cost, compared with fixed buildings which can cater only for the people who can get to them?
I am sure that my hon. Friend will appreciate that the type of mobile centre to which he refers is at an experimental stage. It involves a vehicle, which employs a specialist driver, because of the trailer that is towed. It may not be the least expensive type of service. Other authorities are experimenting with prepaid postcards, free telephone calls, and a clinic rota system. Those systems may provide better value for money. The mobile consumer centre is one of many experiments.
Cannot mobile advice centres be conducted from the mobile libraries which already exist?
I thought that Members of Parliament provided the best mobile service.
When the hon. Gentleman is considering the best way of passing information will he send a message, by whatever means he chooses, telling people that if they go to Harrods they can buy subsidized butter at 10½p a pound? Does he think that that is a proper use of taxpayers' money?
The hon. Gentleman is wandering outside the range of the Question. He is trampling over ground which has already proved infertile to the Opposition. The Opposition should realize that and give up that battle.
Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could combine the rôle of mobile consumer advice information service on the record of the Labour Government? It had better be a service that is truly mobile.
At least we should have something to talk about, as opposed to the negative information rôle of the Conservatives.