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Garages (Code Of Practice)

Volume 891: debated on Monday 28 April 1975

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asked the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection what representations she made to the Office of Fair Trading regarding the discussions it is having with garages on a code of practice, following publication of evidence relating to malpractices in the trade.

I asked the Director General in August 1074 to take account, in his discussions with the motor industry on a code of practice, of the Automobile Association's findings that a high proportion of new cars are handed over to purchasers by motor dealers without adequate pre-delivery inspection.

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. Did he see the report over the weekend that motorists are now spending more on their cars than the average owner-occupier spends in buying a house? In view of the increase in petrol and other motoring costs, is not the need for consumer protection for the motorist greater now than ever before? Did my hon. Friend see in the recent issue of the Consumers Association publication Motoring Which? that the person seeking service from a garage is not getting a fair deal—in fact, he is getting a raw deal—and that many cars are leaving garages in such a condition that they may well be involved in accidents because inadequate care is taken.

I saw those reports, and motor vehicles are among the goods about which we have most complaints in the Department, as I imagine my hon. Friend would expect. However, the Director General assures me that he is receiving co-operative assistance from this industry at present, and he has now issued a consultative document to the industry in the hope of establishing a code of practice. I hope that perhaps later in the year, or early next year, we may be able to produce something meaningful and helpful to the motorist.

Is the Minister aware that the survey to which reference has been made showed that two-thirds of garages were doing inadequate maintenance and one-third were doing dangerously inadequate maintenance? Is not this a matter of some urgency? Apart from a code of practice, ought there not to be some inspections by trading standards officers?

One has to have proper follow-up procedures and enforcement procedures if a code is to operate. However, as I said, in the summer of last year I asked the Director General to undertake an investigation, and he has assured me that he is receiving no obstruction from the trade asociations involved and none of them is in any way blocking or opposing his investigation. We must now, I think, use the existing machinery under the Fair Trading Act to allow the Director General to fulfil his commission.

Will my hon. Friend make representations to the Director General about the service industry sector, since in the absence of legislation—he must be aware of this—many service industries provide contacts with wide-ranging exclusion clauses which are a detriment to any legal action which subsequently occurs, this applying in particular to organisations such as travel firms, Laker, Pontins and so on? Will my hon. Friend make representations to ensure adequate consumer protection until we have legislation?

I doubt that that would necessarily produce worthwhile results either. As my hon. Friend is aware, the Law Commissioners are now in the process of completing a rather long-drawn-out inquiry into exclusion clauses in the service sector. Legislation has already been implemented in regard to goods. We expect that when the Law Commissioners produce their recommendations some time this year, they will, as previously, produce a draft Bill, which in turn will be the subject of consultation and then legislation.

Reverting to the question of garages, is my hon. Friend aware that it is not just the garages themselves which need investigation but their relationship with the oil companies and with the motor manufacturers? Does not my hon. Friend consider that the time has come for further investigation of the sort of tripartite system which exists in Sweden, for example, between the garages, the insurance companies and the State?

I am quite willing to consider the point which my hon. Friend puts.