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Test Purchases 745 Pm

Volume 116: debated on Wednesday 13 May 1987

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I beg to move amendment No. 39, in page 25, line 28, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b), and insert

'be carried out by or at the expense of the authority in a manner prescribed by or determined under the regulations'.

With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 38, in page 28, line 4, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b) and insert

'be carried out by or at the expense of the authority in a manner prescribed by or determined under the regulations'.

I simply press the point made by the local authorities that, if the amendment is agreed to, by being allowed to choose the testing place that they prefer and by not being inhibited, as the Bill would otherwise do, they would have greater flexibility and also better cost benefits. Since the Government have been arguing that local authorities should try to be more efficient, local authorities feel that there is a case where they are arguing for efficiency and where the Government are limiting them. The Minister should take the opportunity to state his case.

The amendment would remove an essential power of the Secretary of State to prescribe by regulation that tests should be carried out only by specified test houses. This is not by any means a new power. It has been available for many years under both the Consumer Protection Act 1961 and the Consumer Safety Act 1978. It is important to appreciate the purpose of the powers in clauses 28(3) and 30(7). They are designed for a specific purpose, to restrict the choice of test house where the test concerned is of such a technical nature that it is necessary to require the appointment of a particular testing laboratory or laboratories to carry out the test under strictly controlled conditions. This may be necessary, for example, to achieve uniformity in the quality of technical evidence.

Some of those tests—for example, those relating to fire resistance and electrical safety —require expensive, specialised equipment and experienced, qualified people to operate it. The equipment and those people are to be found in only a limited number of test houses. Therefore, it is prudent in those cases to require that the tests be carried out only by establishments specified by the Secretary of State. If this were not stipulated — it would be impossible, if the amendment were adopted, for such a stipulation to be included in safety regulations — the enforcement authorities would be inclined to have the tests carried out by whatever laboratory, consultant, local technical college or similar body offered to carry them out on the most attractive terms. That would mean that the test results would be open to challenge in court, with expert witnesses disputing whether the specified test method had been followed or not.

The absence of any restricted lits of competent test houses would lead to uncertainty, dispute, and wasted effort and resources. It is far better for the legality or illegality of those products to be established beyond doubt and the only way of avoiding such doubt is to require that the hightly technical tests involved be carried out by only those establishments, relatively few in number, that are competent to do so, and are recognised by all experts in the field as being the only such establishments.

I assure the right hon. Gentleman that it has been and will continue to be our policy to use the power sparingly and to make every effort to mitigate any possible restrictive effect by approving as many test houses or laboratories as are technically competent to carry out tests. I hope that, with that assurance, the right hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendments.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 28 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 29 and 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.