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Written Statements

Volume 712: debated on Thursday 2 July 2009

Written Statements

Thursday 2 July 2009

Consumer Rights

Statement

My honourable friend the Minister for Further Education, Skills, Apprenticeships and Consumer Affairs (Apprenticeships—Joint with DCSF) (Kevin Brennan), has made the following Statement.

I am today publishing a consumer White Paper: A Better Deal for Consumers: Delivering Real Help Now and Change for the Future.

The White Paper sets out the Government's new, more active and strategic approach to financial and other consumer markets. It follows publication this week of Building Britain's Future, which sets out the Government's plans for creating growth and jobs as the economy moves out of recession, and a vision for improving consumer rights in public services. This White Paper deals with consumer rights in the wider economy.

Consumers have been seriously affected by the turmoil in the financial markets, as well as by the longer-term changes in the way that goods and services are bought and sold. We are taking decisive action to provide real help for consumers now and to enhance and enforce consumer rights in a changing world.

Businesses now face tighter margins and more competitive prices, which can act as an incentive to provide greater choice and lower prices. This can lead to increased transparency, greater profitability for the most efficient and an opportunity to build and develop customer loyalty. It is also important at all times, but particularly in these challenging economic times, that government are committed to minimising the burdens, including regulation, on business.

A Better Deal for Consumers outlines the real help we are providing now for people in financial difficulties, together with longer-term measures we are planning to bolster confidence and help consumers exercise greater personal responsibility, while protecting consumers from unfair practices, and ensuring effective and proportionate enforcement.

The White Paper focuses on four key themes:

real help now for vulnerable consumers;

a new approach to consumer credit;

empowering consumers through better enforcement and information; and

modernising consumer law.

It sets out the real help we are providing now for vulnerable consumers. It describes practical actions to help consumers facing challenging economic circumstances, including measures to help keep people in their homes and help people in difficulty in debt. These measures include help for homeowners in mortgage arrears and tenants who are falling behind on their rent, a new self-help toolkit for those in debt, and measures to ensure more responsible debt recovery practices.

The White Paper describes a new approach to consumer credit, setting out how we intend to make the consumer credit market work better for consumers. It includes proposals to reform credit card regulation (including a ban on the sending of unsolicited credit card cheques), new requirements on all lenders to check credit-worthiness of consumers before they lend to them, and a review by the Office of Fair Trading of high-cost credit providers.

It also sets out measures to empower consumers through better enforcement and information. Consumers need clearer information and better enforcement in order to take advantage of, and not be taken advantage of by, new and rapidly developing markets. Actions include a new consumer advocate who will co-ordinate work to educate consumers, and be a champion for consumers. The White Paper also gives details of a new national strategy and specialist team for internet enforcement on consumer issues, and a central “fighting fund” to tackle rogues operating on a big scale.

Building on evidence gathered in the consumer law review, the White Paper sets out our plans for modernising consumer law to enhance and protect consumer rights in a changing world. We will do this through a new consumer rights Bill, which will implement in due course the EU consumer rights directive and modernise and simplify UK consumer sales law.

A Better Deal for Consumers has been produced in consultation with the devolved Administrations. In those policy areas where the Government's responsibilities extend, the proposals outlined will apply across the UK. However, other aspects of policy highlighted in the White Paper are devolved, in differing settlements, to the Administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Devolved Administrations can tailor their policies to deliver public services which meet the specific needs of each country.

The proposals and actions in this White Paper will form the basis of a consumer policy that responds to change and helps all consumers make informed and responsible choices.

Correction to Commons Written Answer

Statement

My honourable friend the Minister of State, Department of Health (Gillian Merron) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

I regret that the following Written Answers contained information which was incorrect:

the Written Answer given to the honourable Member for Boston and Skegness on 26 March 2009 (Official Report, col. 689W);

the Written Answer given to the honourable Member for Romsey on 15 July 2008 (Official Report, col. 353W);

the Written Answer given to the honourable Member for Romsey on 20 November 2007 (Official Report, col. 831W);

the Written Answer given to the honourable Member for Mid Dorset and North Poole on 24 October 2007 (Official Report, col. 387W);

the Written Answer given to the honourable Member for South Cambridgeshire on 18 May 2007 (Official Report, col. 1016W);

the Written Answer given to the honourable Member for South Cambridgeshire on 20 June 2007 (Official Report, col. 1913W); and

the Written Answer given to the honourable Member for Stockton South on 5 July 2006 (Official Report, col. 1236W);

These Answers all related to the number of E112 forms issued by the Department of Health to UK citizens seeking planned treatment in another European economic area (EEA) member state. The incorrect information which was given was a result of IT problems and data capture issues faced by the Department of Health team in Newcastle responsible for the collation of E112 information. The correct processes and systems are now in place.

The correct number of E112 forms issued for proton therapy in another EEA member state is as follows:

Year

E112s issued for proton therapy

2006

5

2007

14

2008

10

Total

29

The correct number of E112 forms issued between 01.04.08 and 30.06.08 by country of treatment is as follows:

Countries of treatment

Country

Austria

5

Belgium

15

Finland

7

France

100

Germany

26

Greece

3

Italy

6

Netherlands

2

Spain

9

Sweden

7

Switzerland

8

Czech Republic

11

Hungary

5

Poland

141

Slovakia

8

Total

353

The correct number of E112 forms issued between 2002 and 2008 is as follows:

Year

Number of E112 forms issued

2002

1393

2003

1287

2004

503

2005

360

2006

412

2007

534

2008 (between 01.01.08 and 27.10.08)

923

No E112 forms covering fertility treatment in another EEA member state were issued between 2002 and 2008. Equivalent data in relation to all Written Answers for years prior to 2002 are not available.

Forced Marriage

Statement

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Crime Reduction (Alan Campbell) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

Today the Forced Marriage Unit (a joint Home Office/Foreign and Commonwealth Office unit) launches revised forced marriage multi-agency practice guidelines intended for all front-line practitioners (such as teachers, police officers, social and healthcare professionals, housing officers) to help them to work more closely together to better identify and protect children and adults at risk of forced marriage. These practice guidelines have been designed to provide step-by-step advice to front-line workers and have been produced to complement the statutory guidance, (which came into force with the launch of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act in November 2008), which sets out the broader strategic responsibilities of chief executives and senior managers in tackling forced marriage locally.

These new guidelines are available from the House Library, can be accessed on the Forced Marriage Unit’s website at www.fco.gov.uk/forcedmarriage, or hard copies can be obtained directly from the unit at the following address: Forced Marriage Unit, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Room G58, Old Admiralty Building, London, SW1A 2PA.

Government Decontamination Service

Statement

My honourable friend the Minister for Food, Farming and the Environment (Jim Fitzpatrick) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The 2008-09 annual report and accounts for the Government Decontamination Service was laid before Parliament today.

This is the final report and accounts for the Government Decontamination Service, which from 1 April 2009 became part of the Food and Environment Research Agency.

Turks and Caicos Islands

Statement

My honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Chris Bryant) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

On 16 March 2009, the Minister for the Overseas Territories informed the House of the publication by the Governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI) of the interim report of the commission of inquiry into whether there was information that corruption or other serious dishonesty in relation to past and present elected members of the TCI House of Assembly may have taken place in recent years. In his interim report, the commissioner, the right honourable Sir Robin Auld, found there was information in abundance pointing to a high probability of systemic corruption and/or serious dishonesty. In Sir Robin’s view this, together with clear signs of political amorality and immaturity and of general administrative incompetence, demonstrated a need for urgent suspension in whole or in part of the constitution and for other legislative and administrative reforms.

On 31 May Sir Robin delivered his final report to the Governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

In that report, the commissioner has confirmed that nothing that has happened since he submitted his interim report has prompted him to change his original view. His close examination of the information and evidence before the inquiry has reinforced, not weakened, his conviction of a need for urgent and wide-ranging systemic change.

On systemic weaknesses, he confirms the recommendations in his interim report covering: partial suspension of the constitution and interim direct rule; criminal sanctions and civil recovery; integrity in public life, Crown land allocation, sale and management; and a new constitution. Some recommendations focus on deterring or preventing corruption and other serious dishonesty, while others look at the broader constitutional and statutory framework of governance. He recommends the appointment of an independent expert on the management and allocation of Crown land as well as strengthening the Governor’s Office and Attorney-General’s Chambers.

The commissioner’s final report also makes preliminary findings and recommendations, including the institution of criminal investigations in relation to former Premier Michael Misick, and four of his former Cabinet Ministers. It confirms the recommendation in the interim report for the establishment of a civil and criminal recovery unit and the appointment of a special prosecutor.

The commissioner states that the information he has gathered points to a high probability of systemic corruption and/or other serious dishonesty involving past and present elected Members of the legislature in recent years. This same information (and his preliminary findings against individuals) has highlighted weaknesses in the law and its administration.

Although the governor intends, if possible, to publish the full final report in due course, he is not currently able to do so owing to legal proceedings brought in TCI by two persons named in it. Consequently, I hope that a redacted version of the final report will be published as soon as possible.

Legal proceedings are also ongoing in the United Kingdom relating to the Order in Council made on 18 March which would suspend parts of the TCI constitution. This was to be expected and it will take time for this to run its course. However, I am determined to push forward now with the implementation of recommendations in the final report that do not depend on the entry into force of the order. To ensure that good governance can be re-established as swiftly as possible in TCI, the governor, with the full support and assistance of the British Government, is therefore taking steps to appoint experts to work in areas of concern highlighted in the final report. These include: a special adviser to the governor to oversee reform of the public service; three public financial management advisers; an economic adviser; a good governance adviser and a Crown land adviser. Other governance recommendations are under active consideration. Direct support for the governor has also been increased with the appointment of an additional senior FCO official to his office.

A special prosecutor and head of the civil and criminal recovery unit, and a senior investigating officer have been identified and the necessary procedures relating to their appointment are now under way. The holders of these positions will work together with a team on the investigations recommended by the commission. I will announce further details soon.

In summary, the British Government are working hand in hand with the governor to start implementing commission recommendations without delay and remain determined to do everything in our power, as swiftly as possible, to tackle systemic corruption and to restore good governance in TCI.

I wish to acknowledge, again, the help and support provided by the keen eye of the FAC in highlighting the situation in TCI.

Veterinary Laboratories Agency: Annual Report and Accounts

Statement

My honourable friend the Minister for Food, Farming and the Environment (Jim Fitzpatrick) has made the following Written Ministerial Statement.

The 2008-09 annual report and accounts for the Veterinary Laboratories Agency was laid before Parliament on 1 July.