Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Chris Heaton-Harris.)
I am grateful for the opportunity to talk about a serious issue that affects many millions of people. My own involvement arises from a tragic incident that occurred in my constituency only a few weeks ago. As we have a little more time than usual, I propose to explain briefly what that incident was, to talk about the evidence that emerged from it—which supports the course of action that I shall recommend to the Minister—and to ask the Minister a number of questions about the safety of tumble dryers. If there is time, I know that one or two of my colleagues who have rather more experience and expertise in this matter might wish to contribute, but I wish to leave enough time for the Minister to respond, not least because I was a little alarmed by her brief opportunity to respond to my question on this subject earlier today.
On the afternoon of 19 August, Debbie Defreitas, a constituent of mine, was in the kitchen of her home on the seventh floor of Shepherds Court, an 18-storey block of flats overlooking Shepherd’s Bush Green. She became aware of a burning smell. Her Indesit tumble dryer was the only device that was switched on, so she unplugged it and pulled it away from the wall. When she opened the door, smoke came out. Debbie rang the fire brigade and retreated on to the landing. When firefighters arrived and entered the flat, the fire had taken hold. Thick smoke filled the building and flames arced upwards along the walls into other properties.
Over 100 families were evacuated, and 26 were found temporary accommodation in hotels that night. There is substantial damage both to individual flats and the block. Nine families, including the Defreitases, are still unable to return home. Twenty fire engines and 120 firefighters fought the blaze, which brought the centre of Shepherd’s Bush to a halt.
I spent some hours at the scene on the evening of 19 August. I cannot praise highly enough the firefighters who risked their lives, and the residents who showed incredible spirit and resilience despite losing their homes and in some cases all their possessions. Council officers and local councillors Sue Fennimore and Adam Connell worked into the early hours to ensure people were fed, comforted and found decent places to stay.
What is most remarkable is that, apart from three minor injuries, no one was hurt in the blaze, though the trauma, especially for those who witnessed the worst of the fire, may well have a longer-term effect. But the circumstances are very similar to those of the Lakanal House fire in Southwark in 2009 in which six people died. That, or worse, could easily have happened in this instance.
We await the publication of the investigations into the Shepherds Court fire, but one thing is already clear: Mrs Defreitas was following to the letter the advice given to her by Whirlpool, Indesit’s owners. Despite a fault affecting over 5 million dryers supplied by the company’s brands, it continues to tell customers
“you may continue to use your tumble dryer whilst waiting for the modification, however, we require that you do not leave your dryer unattended during operation.”
Whirlpool is not the only manufacturer trying to deal with defective dryers and other white goods that pose a fire risk. The London Fire Brigade estimates that there is one fire caused by white goods every day in London alone. The Local Government Association, which represents all fire authorities, says three fires a day are caused in England and Wales just by tumble dryers. Some cause minor damage, some are on the scale of Shepherds Court and some have resulted in deaths and serious injuries.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on bringing this important issue to the House for consideration. The components in the appliances are readily available across the whole of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the system of recall at present is not sufficient to ensure safety and, further, that new legislation—I hope the Minister will respond on this—is a matter of public safety and is prioritised as such?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention and I know he has done a lot of work on this subject over a number of years. I do not know if he was present to hear the Minister’s response to me earlier today, when she said that we have an effective system of product recall. I think the hon. Gentleman would disagree with that, as I do, and I will come on to that later.
The Government are not short of advice. Two years ago the inquest into the death of Santosh Benjamin, caused by a defective Beko fridge-freezer, called for a new system of product recall, as did the independent review of product recall under consumer champion Lynn Faulds Wood, which reported in February this year. The LFB’s “Total Recalls” campaign, the Consumers Association and “Expect it’s safe”—a campaign set up by solicitors Leigh Day, who represent many of the victims of white goods fires—have made similar demands.
I shall come back to what the Minister has said, and I want her to be aware—if she is not already—of the preponderance of opinion on this subject. I have mentioned the London Fire Brigade, but we could equally apply these views to other fire brigades around the country, which are represented by the Local Government Association. The London fire commissioner, Ron Dobson, has said:
“If my kitchen had one of the recalled goods in it, I would unplug it straight away until it has been checked and repaired. The speed with which the fire took hold shows how dangerous a faulty tumble dryer can be. That’s why we are calling for Whirlpool to urgently change their advice to consumers.”
Earlier today, I met representatives of Which?, whose very effective campaign has included the use of mystery shopping. This all shows just how appalling Whirlpool is in using these filibustering tactics.
I should like to declare an interest: I am a consumer of the said faulty tumble dryer, having bought one last year. The hon. Gentleman and I have already spoken briefly about this matter, but I should like to further inform him that I wrote to the managing director of Whirlpool UK, Maurizio Pettorino, in April this year. He took a month to respond, and his response was appalling. He did not answer the questions I had put to him. I wrote to him again on 23 May, but he has not responded to my letter. Nor has he responded to my repeated telephone calls. A public affairs company called Ketchum is involved in this matter, but it is refusing to respond to my reasonable requests. Like many consumers, I filled out the online Whirlpool form and was told I would have to wait 10 weeks before being given a date. Those 10 weeks have come and gone, but I have not received a date. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is time that Maurizio Pettorino thought about resigning from his job?
I will talk about that particular gentleman in a moment. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving the House his own experience. He illustrates my point that no one is immune to these tactics. This is a studied campaign by Whirlpool to ensure that it delays for weeks, months or even years before it carries out the repairs. It knows that there are millions of machines out there, but it is not prepared to provide the resources to deal with the problem. The hon. Gentleman will probably get a number and be told to ring back in a couple of months, at which time he might be told that he will get an appointment to get his dryer repaired several months after that. He will also be told that, in the meantime, he can continue to use it. That is very dangerous.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that, given that we are talking about public safety, there is a clear responsibility to protect consumers? I have a constituent who has been told she will have to wait at least 16 months, and she is now about halfway through that wait. There is no apparent end in sight, and this is a real evasion of responsibility. We need the Government to provide much more protection for consumers when companies behave so irresponsibly.
It is extraordinary for someone to be asked to wait 16 months when a machine that could catch fire at any moment is in their home, yet the manufacturer is saying that they can continue to use it provided they are at home at the time.
We have also heard from Electrical Safety First, a well respected charity, and the chief executive of the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, who was on the radio, on “You and Yours”, earlier this week has told people not to buy Whirlpool products. I know that the Minister was praying trading standards in aid earlier, but she should look at what the Chartered Trading Standards Institute is saying before she does so again. Many people who are far more expert than I am in this field are concerned about this.
I also want to mention the media. It is always nice to mention them when they are doing good things. The Daily Mirror has run a fantastic campaign and put this issue on its front page many times, and ITN has run an excellent campaign. However, this multinational corporation appears to be immune to all that, and to what many Members of Parliament have said about the issue.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), who chairs the all-party parliamentary group on home electrical safety, will have a chance to contribute to the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Poplar and Limehouse (Jim Fitzpatrick), who has more than 20 years’ experience as a firefighter, and I attended a meeting today of the all-party parliamentary fire safety and rescue group, chaired by the hon. Member for Southend West (Sir David Amess). The Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee has also raised the matter with Whirlpool. The problem is not that there are no well-informed people lobbying hard; it is that the corporation is not prepared to listen and that the Government do not seem prepared to make it listen.
Three things have shocked me. I appreciate that I am coming late to the issue, but my first point is about the scale of the Shepherd’s Bush fire. A senior fire officer said to me today that as he arrived at Shepherd’s Bush Green on 19 April and saw the flames running up the side of Shepherds Court from the 7th floor to the 11th floor, he thought that the London Fire Brigade would be dealing with multiple serious injuries and fatalities because of his experience at the Lakanal House fire.
I have tracked down 750 fires caused by Whirlpool dryers and by dryers from brands owned by Whirlpool between 2004 and 2015. We know about 127 models, but Whirlpool will not publish the full list. At least 5.3 million machines were manufactured and sold over the period. There have also been deaths. Two young men died in Wales, but I will not talk about that case in detail because it is subject to an inquest that has dragged on for two years.
Moving on to the second thing that shocked me—the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) will appreciate this—I wrote to and actually got quite a speedy response from Maurizio Pettorino, the chief executive of Whirlpool UK, asking what the company was going to do given the circumstances of the Shepherd’s Bush fire. Mrs Defreitas was in the same room as the dryer throughout and suspected that the dryer might be responsible even though there was no smoke at that time. She unplugged it and rang the fire brigade as soon as she could and then retreated from the flat, shutting the door. What more could she have been expected to do? I wrote to Mr Pettorino the week after the fire with those points. In what I think was a standard letter, he wrote back saying
“we are advising consumers that their tumble dryers can continue to be used while the repair programme is underway… We are also asking customers not to leave their dryers unattended during operation, either while asleep or out of the house.”
That is comforting. The flat was relatively small, but if someone has a large house, it appears from those instructions that the company would be perfectly happy for them to be on the second floor while the dryer is merrily catching fire in the kitchen. I simply do not understand how that can continue to be the advice. It is not right—I asked the Minister about this morning and I hope she has had time to reflect on it—that these dryers, with their known faults, continue to be in use even if someone in the house is awake and alert. We know from Mrs Defreitas’s experience that if a machine catches fire, there may be nothing that can prevent it from burning down not only the consumer’s property but neighbours’ properties, too.
The third thing that shocked me—I take no pleasure from saying this because I am trying be consensual—is the Minister’s response. I wrote to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—I am glad he is in his place on the Front Bench—on 1 September but have not yet received a response. I thought that I might get one today given that this debate was happening, but I am sure that I will in due course. I gave notice of the questions that I wanted answered and tried to adopt a consensual tone, but the response that I received at Question Time this morning was that there is
“an effective system of product recall”,
that a steering group has been established
“to consider the recommendations in Lynn Faulds Wood’s… review”,
“a full risk assessment of the product that has been agreed with Peterborough… trading standards”.
I am sorry, but that is not good enough. The risk assessment has not been published and it is the practice of manufacturers not to publish such assessments. Why are the public and the people who are being advised to continue using these admittedly dangerous machines not able to see the risk assessment? I am afraid that the response has been anything but robust. I am totally sympathetic to local trading standards departments, which have had, on average, 50% of their budgets cut. There is no equality of arms between Peterborough City Council trading standards and the Whirlpool Corporation, a multinational, multi-million-pound organisation. In many cases, trading standards have neither the resources nor the powers to deal with situations such as this. If they felt that what recall process there is was not being satisfactorily dealt with, they could take Whirlpool to the magistrates court, and if they were successful—this would take a lot of time and effort—there might be a fine running into hundreds or possibly even a few thousand pounds, for a regulatory offence. I do not believe that is enough to motivate Whirlpool to change from its current policy of waiting 16 months before effecting a repair to one where it immediately says, “You have a dangerous machine that we have manufactured in your house. Do not use it. We will come to repair or replace it immediately.” Such a change is what I would like to see.
Customer safety is everything in business, as is the reputation of a corporation. Would my hon. Friend think about the contrast between how Whirlpool has dealt with this and the immediate recall, admittedly not in this country, by Samsung of the Galaxy Note 7? That recall will knock extraordinary amounts of value off Samsung’s balance sheet, but the company took the view that reputation is important and so is customer service. Hotpoint-Whirlpool has a responsibility to account for this publicly, because it is undermining its reputation and causing real problems with customers.
My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head; the two companies are adopting completely opposite strategies. No doubt they both have commercial motivations, but one has been benevolent and one has not. Samsung thinks, “Right, we will take the hit now, because we believe in the long-term reputation of our company.” Whirlpool is trying to go below the radar. There will have been many reports of these many hundreds of fires in local newspapers and, occasionally, in the national press, but there is not an understanding across the general population that millions of people may have these dryers in their homes and that they pose a risk. Many of these dryers are not even registered.
I wish to make just two more points, as I want a little time for not just the Minister, but other hon. Members to speak. The first goes back to the Lynn Faulds Wood review, which was an independent review set up and supported by government. The review reported, making a number of serious and well-thought-out recommendations about how a product recall system could work in this country. I am afraid to say that it has been dealt with in a very cynical fashion. Almost all the recommendations have either been ignored or pooh-poohed in some way. The only thing that has happened since it reported is that a steering group has been set up. All of us who watched “Yes Minister” will know that setting up a steering group is what you do when you do not want to do anything. This is a particularly ineffective steering group. It was given six months to meet, and they will end on 4 November. I do not how many times it has met, because it has not published any reports or minutes. I do know the membership of it, so I know that it has more representatives of manufacturers and retailers than of safety experts, from the fire service and elsewhere. I know very little else about it, so perhaps one other thing the Minister can clarify today is: what is happening with the recommendations of Lynn Faulds Wood’s report? Will the Minister look at them again? That was a serious piece of work, so will she seriously think about whether a new system of product recall should be established in this country? In the meantime, will she tell us what this steering group is doing and what happens when it allegedly finishes its work on 4 November?
There are many, many defects in this. Most of my constituents, and most constituents of other Members, will be living in a world of false security, in that they will believe that in the UK in 2016 there is a system of product recall. They will not realise that in many cases manufacturers have no idea where their products go. Part of the reason for that is that there is no compulsory registration, and there is not even an incentive to register products when they are bought because usually in the process of registering a product people are also asked to sign up to all the marketing and other guff that comes out of that. Rather than being bothered and pestered to buy all sorts of warranties that they do not want, people will say, “No, I am not going to register this product.” Consequently, between 1 million and 2 million of the Whirlpool machines have just disappeared; we do not know where they are. Before we can do a product recall, we must know where the machines are.
Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3))
Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Chris Heaton-Harris)
I do not think that anybody, including Whirlpool, will deny that this is a serious fault. We know of one particular fault, which is the ignition of trapped fluff when these machines reach very high temperatures. There may be other faults as well, I do not know. There are certainly faults in other white goods. When a defect of that kind becomes apparent and when it is clear that it poses a risk to life, limb and property, trading standards, the manufacturer and, in the absence of their being able or willing to act, the Government must ensure that there is a proper product recall, that dangerous products are not used, and that those products are either repaired or replaced.
I regard it as a bit of an obscenity that if a person does not want to wait 16 months to have their dryer repaired, they can buy a new one from Whirlpool. They get it at a discounted value, yes, and it is quite a low price, but why should they have to buy that new product? Why should they not be entitled to have it replaced immediately for nothing so that they can use the product not just successfully, but with security? [Interruption.] I heard the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) say from a sedentary position that the replacement products are often no safer than the ones that have been taken away. I urge the Minister, who is relatively new to her post—I do not want to have a row with her—to go and have a look at these issues. I am sure that, like me, the hairs on the back of her neck will start standing up when she looks into them.
I do not wish to pillory only Whirlpool. I have mentioned other companies and the fact that this goes much further in relation to white goods and electrical safety generally. Let us tackle this immediate and known problem now and ensure that there are no more incidents such as the Shepherd’s Bush fire, the consequences of which my constituents, my council and many other people will be dealing with for months and years to come. There have been no admissions, no offers of assistance, no compensation or payment and no expressions of real regret by Whirlpool. If that tumble dryer had not been in that flat, my constituents could have continued to enjoy the quiet of their homes. I regard this matter as totally unacceptable. It is corporate malpractice on a grand scale. I do not want the Minister to reply by saying, “Peterborough City Council trading standards can sort this out.” I want her and her Secretary of State to take responsibility, and that is the message that I want to take back to my constituents tonight.
Order. May I remind hon. Members that it is the Adjournment debate of the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) and that the Minister would like 15 minutes to wind up, which would bring us to 7.15? With that in mind, if Members are brief, I will hopefully be able to bring them all in.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) for allowing me to speak, and congratulate him on securing this really important debate. He will be aware that I chair the all-party group on home electrical safety, and that we have been following this issue very closely. Members have raised the issue of tumble dryers both formally and informally.
I met the company, and was astounded by the responses that I received. Perhaps it is the domestic goddess in me that thinks that a white good that needs to be monitored while it is drying clothes is really not much of a convenience and that it would be far easier to put the clothes on the line. The attitude of the company was that that was acceptable. When I heard about the problem of my hon. Friend, I contacted him immediately, because the very thing that I had said to Whirlpool was, “This is an accident that is waiting to happen.” Unfortunately, that accident did happen. We can only be grateful that there were no fatalities.
I cannot understand—I expressed these concerns to Whirlpool—why it has not issued a total recall. I am totally confused by the answer that it is an adequate system; that it is replacing things slowly. No, it is not an adequate response; it is absolutely inadequate that these machines are in people’s homes and they are potential death traps. They are fires waiting to happen.
Whirlpool informed me that the modifications to the affected model are likely to take until March 2017. Who is going to wait that long to have the use of a “convenience” that is inconvenient? I have written to the Chair of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee —I urge my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith to do the same—to ask my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) to get the Committee to conduct an inquiry into this.
We also need a proper Government response. What is being done about the fire risk to people’s homes? Why did the Government reject Lyn Faulds Wood’s recommendations on product safety in a pitiful eight-page response? Some of the recommendations, such as a national product safety agency and mapping of organisations involved in recall issues, would have gone some way to protecting customers.
Having met Whirlpool, and having received responses from the Government, I am at a loss to believe that they actually think the current system is adequate. Something needs to be done as a matter of urgency.
MPs do not name individuals lightly in this Chamber, and I carefully considered whether it was appropriate to name Maurizio Pettorino, the managing director of Whirlpool. As we have heard from hon. Members, the way in which Whirlpool has dealt with this matter is nothing short of disgraceful. I am a lawyer, and I have never come across a situation in the United Kingdom with a company as large as Whirlpool, with a product that has the potential for such a dangerous outcome in respect of fire, where a managing director has not responded to relevant consumer groups, and in my case to an MP. I have yet to hear back from Mr Pettorino further to my letter of 23 May.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) should be congratulated on securing tonight’s debate. It gives us an opportunity to consider, as he put it, a matter that Whirlpool was clearly hoping would remain “under the radar”. This is a matter of great importance. People are suffering; people have been injured. People, it has been alleged, have died as a result of these faulty tumble dryers.
The advice I have received, as the hon. Gentleman stated, is that I should use my tumble dryer only when I am present. Well, let us consider that for a moment. In my own household I have a night meter as well as a day meter, and the Government’s policy is that the public should try and economise on energy consumption and reduce their energy bills. By Whirlpool’s own advice, I am not meant to use that tumble dryer during the night, when it would be cheaper and more convenient for my family to do so, because it is a safety hazard to my family.
I want to pick up on the important point that the hon. Gentleman made about the obvious health and safety risk. We heard from the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) that people’s lives have actually been at risk. I am wondering, as I sit here listening, if we know that these machines are not safe, if someone was using one of these machines, even under their watchful gaze, and there was damage to their property as a result, what would their insurance company say? Would they be covered? Would the insurance company pay out to fix the damage?
That is a very interesting point, because I would imagine that the phrase “contributory negligence” would come in if there were a personal injury matter raised under those circumstances.
The hon. Member for Hammersmith is right: there should be a total recall of this type of equipment. It is clear to me that the senior management at Whirlpool are wholly out of their depth; they are unable to deal with this in a proper, efficient, commercial manner. They are just hoping that it will go away. Well, it’s not going to go away, and it is right that we are discussing this in our national Parliament, so that Whirlpool hears clearly tonight—and I hope that the Minister is hearing clearly tonight and I look forward to her response—that Whirlpool must change its attitude in how it deals with these faulty products.
I am mindful of time and of the fact that other hon. Members want to speak. The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) said that her constituent had been told that she would have to wait 16 months. As I said earlier, I have not received a response at all. I should add that my letter to the managing director was quite separate from my initial online form, which did not mention the fact that I am a Member of Parliament, so as an ordinary consumer I have still to hear from Whirlpool about what it intends to do about the faulty tumble dryer. The sooner the Government assist in this matter, the sooner the consumer will benefit. Whirlpool, a company that we want to see succeed, should take on board the important messages that hon. Members are sending tonight, which I hope the Government will confirm in their response this evening.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) on obtaining this debate. It is imperative that the Government take action to move Whirlpool now. It is also imperative that the Government look at the whole recall system. At present it is far too dependent on the consumer taking action and, as my hon. Friend said, the consumer registering. Even if they do register, how many people will remember, when they move house, to update their details and register the fact that they have taken their tumble dryer or their fridge freezer with them?
The system is far too oriented in favour of the manufacturer. That is why I fear that the steering group, whose members are preponderantly manufacturers, will not come up with a consumer-focused response to the report. It is vital that the UK consumer product recall report by Lynn Faulds Wood that came out in February 2016 is taken forward. There needs to be a trusted website on which people can see recalls. People who buy from eBay and Amazon are more and more inclined to look at the eBay and Amazon websites. There should be notes there on products that are recalled, alerting people who bought or are thinking of buying the same product.
There needs to be joined-up work, which is lacking at present. Trading standards officers should be given more support, and there needs to be more joined-up work between trading standards, manufacturers and consumers so that we all work together for the same aim—to make sure that a product that a consumer buys is safe. If by any chance a product is found not to be safe—we need more research into safety—trading standards, manufacturers and consumers should know that as soon as possible, by any means possible. Let us remember that many people who buy products from firms such as BrightHouse are not online.
This debate has been very illuminating for me. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) was alarmed by my response earlier at BEIS questions. I congratulate him on obtaining this important debate. If that is how he speaks as a newcomer to a subject, goodness knows what he is like when he is focused on a subject on which he is an acknowledged expert. Listening to his speech, I learned a great deal.
I thank other hon. Members for their contributions. The hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris), chair of the all-party parliamentary group on home electrical safety, made the point clearly that safety is paramount. Her view is that the system is not delivering. I was struck by the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa), who is justifiably outraged that his letters to the chief executive of Whirlpool have met with no response, which is at odds with my own experience. I seem to have obtained a letter from Mr Pettorino unsolicited. I propose to share some of that letter with the House so that hon. Members can take a view as to the veracity of its contents, which I found reassuring. I asked one of my officials to contact the relevant authority— Peterborough trading standards —to check the contents of the letter, and I was reassured that they felt it was a true and fair picture.
I should first, of course, mention that I was very shocked to hear about the terrible fire in Shepherd’s Bush and the fate of Debbie Defreitas, without whose prescient action the situation could have been a lot, lot worse. I read the fire officer’s report to the effect that the fire occurred at about half-past four in the afternoon. Had it occurred in the middle of the night, he feels certain that there would have been fatalities. There is no doubt that it was a very serious incident, and I send my sympathy to the constituents of the hon. Member for Hammersmith—particularly those who have not even been able to return to their homes.
Although the number of tumble dryers in use continues to rise, the number of fires resulting from their use has remained constant. I did quote some figures at BEIS questions earlier today. Although we have heard terrible reports this evening, I really should put it on record again that, of the five Whirlpool products that are mainly sold in Britain, 5 million were sold over the course of a year. There were 750 fire incidents, most of which were contained within the machine. That represents 0.02% of all the sales of each individual product. That is a very small percentage, but I accept that 750 fires is a high number, even though most of them were contained within the machine.
Another example—not to do with white goods—is cars where there is a safety issue. The manufacturer recalls every one of the cars—every one of the models—irrespective of how many there has been a problem with. With respect to the Minister, the firm should be recalling every one of these models, not just a small percentage.
The hon. Gentleman is quite right that there are circumstances where a fault identified in a car would result in a complete product recall; indeed, there are circumstances that would lead to a complete product recall of white goods as well. It does depend on the nature of the fault in the car, as it does depend on the risk assessment with the white goods.
Would the Minister agree that one of the big issues is that, even where there is a recall, the average success rate in the UK is 10% to 20%? Despite websites like the one run by the Electrical Safety Council through its Electrical Safety First charity, if there is only a 10% to 20% success rate, we are, even with a recall, still going to have many products out there.
I thank my hon. Friend for that very helpful intervention. I did speak to the Hertfordshire trading standards authority about another firm’s tumble dryer in August. It pointed out that total product recalls are never total, and my hon. Friend quoted the statistic. One can be lulled into a false sense of security by a total product recall, which is in fact, using the statistics my hon. Friend quoted, getting back only one in four goods—just a quarter. It is not easy to reach enough of the population who may have purchased one of these machines.
I am going to come on to the work that is being done following the Lynn Faulds Wood report, which was mentioned very helpfully by the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue). In response to the question from the hon. Member for Hammersmith, the steering group has met twice. It is industry-led, but it also has representation from the Chief Fire Officers Association. The group works closely with officials from my Department who provide a secretariat function. It is primarily focusing on three work strands: establishing a centre of excellence, or official website, for business and the public, very much along the lines that the hon. Member for Makerfield called for; considering how to ensure that we have more reliable, detailed guidance on product recalls, which would, I hope, improve the rate of recall from its current one in four success rate; and establishing a mapping process whereby all organisations involved in product recalls can have access to better data and information sharing.
There will be regular updates on the work of the group, including progress on the new website. Hon. Members will be able to see that information posted on gov.uk very shortly. As a result of this debate and what I have read in the press prior to coming here this evening, I have asked my officials to arrange for me to meet the chair of the steering group and the member from the Chief Fire Officers Association. Although they have set themselves a timeline of reporting within two years, I will be asking them at least to produce an interim report, in a much shorter timeframe, with measures that the Government can then consider implementing without further delay.
I will say a little word about Peterborough Council’s trading standards. I accept that there can be an issue, in that we have very good, well-qualified expert people working for a relatively small organisation in Peterborough dealing with a large multinational company. However, trading standards in this country is respected around the world, so I would not want to dismiss its expertise for one minute. It has been the lead regulator for Whirlpool and has agreed the full risk assessment carried out by the company.
I would not wish to cast any aspersions on trading standards. I am sure that the Minister is as familiar as I am with washing one’s clothes and placing them in a tumble dryer. Is it safe to put clothes in a tumble dryer only if one is present while they are drying, as we have been told? If she agrees that it is not practicable with today’s lifestyles to stand looking at one’s tumble dryer, then surely she will agree that the product is not safe and that she should therefore communicate again with trading standards on a more appropriate response to this matter.
I have been in contact with trading standards, and to date I have been satisfied with its approach. The advice and guidance through the process of modification that Whirlpool is implementing whereby one has to attend the tumble dryer while it is carrying out its operation is certainly inconvenient—I would be the first to admit that. If one has dual meters so that machines can be put on overnight, that does not help with energy conservation. However, I am not yet persuaded that the product is necessarily unsafe, because the very few fires overall in terms of the 5 million machines that have been sold have mostly been contained within the machine. On being present, bearing in mind what trading standards believes to be a very low risk, I think that the advice is reasonable given that a total product recall is unlikely to get back more than one in four machines.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but she has not dealt with the point that I emphasised in my speech. In the Shepherd’s Bush case, which nobody says was anything other than one of the most serious fires, the machine was observed. I think she will be aware that in Australia, where the machines have exactly the same fault, the advice is that customers should cease using the product immediately. The solution to one in four being recalled is to improve the registration system, and the solution to knowing what is in Whirlpool’s mind is for it to publish its risk assessment. Those are the questions that need to be answered.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for clarifying one of those points. I will most certainly raise what he has said with the chairman of the steering group and the fire officer when I meet them.
I want to share with the House the key points made to me by the chief executive of Whirlpool. Following its acquisition of Indesit in 2014, its global safety experts worked to review the product portfolio, proactively engaged with trading standards, shared with it all relevant information available and sought its determination on what action to take. Trading standards subsequently determined that corrective action was required and that a modification programme was necessary to resolve the issue. Since then, Whirlpool has been in continual dialogue with the trading standards authority. Alongside a wides- pread safety alert and information campaign, including adverts in the national press, it rapidly engaged with customers and set up a dedicated phone line and websites and an online model-checker for consumers to instantly find out whether they had an affected appliance. It is continuing its efforts to identity all owners of the affected models and to contact them directly by all of the usual means. In addition to direct consumer outreach, it has continued to work with retail and trade partners to identify the machines involved and to communicate with owners.
In reading this out, I am acutely conscious that my hon. Friend has not received a reply to his letter. Whirlpool engineers are visiting more than 4,000 homes a day across the UK and, as of today, it has resolved more than 805,000 customer cases. I am assured by Peterborough trading standards that that is true and, although the mood in the Chamber tonight is hostile to Whirlpool, that is quite a creditable performance and not to be lightly dismissed. It is continually looking into additional ways to improve the efficiency of the programme, and I am sure that tonight’s debate will have illuminated a few of those additional ways. It is increasing the number of engineers all the time—it has increased its team of engineers by more than 45%.
It is true to say that Whirlpool, for all its faults in communicating with my hon. Friend, is making a concerted effort to deal with the safety of these appliances. I accept from everything that has been said in this debate that we need rapidly to get on top of the issue. I will, as I have promised the hon. Member for Hammersmith, meet the relevant people, talk specifically to representatives of Peterborough trading standards, and convey to them the mood of the House and the concerns of hon. Members. Although statistically the risk of the 5 million machines that have been sold may be very low, people have been killed by them. As the Minister with responsibility for consumer rights, that is obviously something that I will take extremely seriously. In conclusion, I thank the hon. Gentleman again for this timely debate.
Question put and agreed to.