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Consumer Education

Volume 984: debated on Monday 12 May 1980

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asked the Secretary of State for Trade what plans he has for consumer education.

Consumer education is important if consumers are to be properly equipped to wield their own considerable influence in the market place. Indeed, I recently announced my plan to compile a consumer education teaching pack for distribution to local education authorities.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that reply, but does she recognise that it is most important that consumers are fully informed of their rights? Will my right hon. Friend say when the education pack to which she has referred will be distributed?

I hope that it will be ready for distribution some time next year. The purpose of this pack is to enable a new generation of consumers to emerge from school with some idea of their rights and obligations. As a result of this they can become as effective and powerful in the market place as they should be. They will need less recourse to advice from other sources.

Is it not a fact that the Government have cut consumer services in the high street in collaboration with Tory-controlled county councils? Is it not the reality that consumers need speedy, if not immediate, access where false information is provided by traders or if they need to obtain further information? Should not the Government come clean and state clearly that they are not interested in the consumer and admit that they have been attacking consumer protection services nationwide?

I can come completely clean by telling the hon. Gentleman that my main concern is for consumers. I am satisfied that the kind of advice to which he referred is available to consumers through the CABs and through local trading standards offices. The greater the number of consumers who emerge from school with some idea of their rights and obligations, the fewer consumers will need to go to centres to ask for help upon matters which they have never pursued with the companies themselves in the first place.

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the considerable increase in the number of inquiries received by CABs since that function was dropped by the county councils? Is my right hon. Friend further aware of the effective way in which CABs have met their new responsibilities? Will she give sufficient support to the CABs to enable them to continue that function?

I am very grateful for the way in which the CABs have responded. I am not surprised that they have done so because the quality of the service they have provided in the past is renowned. I have given a great deal of support by doubling the grant to their national unit.

Is not the right hon. Lady talking nonsense if she says she believes that an education pack for schools is any substitute for detailed advice about problems faced by consumers every day? Is it not a fact that the CAB movement opposed her wholesale slaughter of consumer advice centres?

I am surprised that the hon. Gentleman is opposed to the education pack and that he says that it is not a substitute. He introduced a safety pack for schools which did not replace anything whatsoever. The consumer education pack is not meant to be a replacement. It is a more constructive and consistent way of ensuring that consumers are armed with the necessary information in the market place.

Is my right hon. Friend aware that her activities in this direction are far more valuable than setting up a whole new plethora of consumer quangos which only confuse people and provide jobs for the boys?