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Product Recall: Tumble Driers

Volume 785: debated on Wednesday 18 October 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they intend to take any steps to improve the product recall system; and if so, whether they intend introduce a time limit for replacing tumble driers recalled due to safety concerns.

My Lords, product safety is a government priority. In July, the Government’s working group on product recalls and safety published its report, making recommendations on how to improve recalls and reduce fires in white goods. The Government commissioned the British Standards Institution to develop a code of practice on corrective actions and recalls, which is currently out for public consultation. We have upgraded our recalls website to ensure consumers can access information on recalls.

My Lords, I find that Answer a little disappointing. Whirlpool is a US company that is not taking its responsibility for safety seriously enough, leaving millions of dangerous machines in our British homes. Is the present recall system fit for purpose or do we need urgently to introduce and resource some central focus of responsibility when we have a massive recall, whether it is for tumble dryers or fridge freezers? Lives are at risk and I want to do more.

My Lords, in such cases there is often a question of whether there is a need for recall or modification. The right approach has to be taken and that is a matter for trading standards. Peterborough city trading standards, which is responsible for the case of Whirlpool and Indesit tumble dryers, has been working closely and urgently with Whirlpool and has modified 1.7 million dryers. The resolution rate is over 40%—far higher than the average. On product safety, where there is a national concern, the Government are considering wider recommendations about an increased national capability: a central hub for technical and scientific resourcing for co-ordination of national recalls.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that a register of injuries arising from unsafe products would be an essential intelligence resource, especially when so many products are delivered via the internet, directly to people’s homes? What plans have the Government to create such a national injuries database?

The noble Baroness makes a good point, and that indeed is part of our thinking and could be part of the national resourcing to increase the capability for improving consumer monitoring. We already have a GOV.UK website up and running. I do not believe that site is capable of allowing a database, but the noble Baroness makes a good point.

My Lords, I share the disappointment of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, in the Minister’s Answer. I have no doubt he is aware that, during the coalition Government, Jo Swinson—then a Minister in his department—asked the consumer champion, Lynn Faulds Wood, to conduct an independent review on the enforcement of product recall regulations. Her review was published in February 2016 but the recommendations have not been implemented. Does the Minister not think it is time they were?

The noble Lord is not quite correct because following that review, which was well received, a working group was set up and already some of the recommendations have been enacted: the tasking of the BSI has created a new code of practice; we are bringing manufacturers together to support a better sharing of data on faults; and we are applying behavioural insights to increase the impact and effectiveness of product safety messages.

My Lords, 70 deaths happen a year from electricity, but of course there are even more when there is a fire. We know that the Grenfell Tower fire was started by a Hotpoint fridge freezer. It is no good waiting for a website on which consumers have to go to find whether their machine is faulty. We have to have mandatory recall where there are dangerous, faulty goods. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, was of course the Minister who put through the Bill, my amendment to which led to this inquiry, but nothing has happened. If we do not want another fire I suggest the Government make it mandatory.

The noble Baroness will know that this is a matter primarily for trading standards. It is left to it to decide what sanctions and actions should be taken. In the case of the awful Grenfell Tower fire, much work continues to be done to ascertain exactly what happened. She is right that it was a Hotpoint fridge freezer. There is no evidence so far or grounds for concluding that there is a safety problem with this model, but investigations are continuing.

My Lords, will the Minister agree that the Food Standards Agency, together with the supermarkets, runs an excellent product recall system? Could not the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and others learn from the Food Standards Agency?

Absolutely. I am sure that will be taken into account in looking at the possibility of setting up this central hub. I thank the noble Countess for that point.

My Lords, did I hear the Minister refer to a 40% return for one manufacturer? Is it not the reality that the percentage of goods returned on recall is between only 10% and 20% nationally across the board, taking all these products, leaving potentially millions of white goods out there that could, in certain circumstances, be a fire risk? Also, is it not a question of what the manufacturers fit to their equipment? Why do white good manufacturers insist on using backs in plastic materials, knowing that they can be set on fire, when they could be substituted with a metal back?

The noble Lord is correct on the figures. The average recall success is 10% to 20%. We believe that 40% is a great improvement on that, but of course there is more to be done. Whirlpool has taken its responsibilities very seriously. Letters, emails, texts and phone calls have been used to track down those who have bought its white goods. But, as I said earlier, there is more to be done. A central hub could be a way forward to help with the noble Lord’s question.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the charity Electrical Safety First—I must declare an interest as a patron—is running a campaign about the safety of all electrical appliances in the home? Will the Government please give as much support as they possibly can to its efforts?

I take note of the noble Baroness’s point. Britain’s safety requirements are among the highest in the world. This is backed by the necessary legislation, but there is always more we can do.