I’ll be honest here, I went into the House yesterday for meetings concerned with forthcoming bills but did not particularly want to go into the Chamber. But as readers will know, no put backside on bench, no attendance fee, so I scoured the day’s agenda for something entertaining. Isn’t that a dreadful admission? But all I could find was the second reading of the Consumer Rights Bill debate which promised to be a worthy but dull consolidation of many other measures that all parties seemed to be agreed on. But like so many debates in the house, the speakers managed to inject this debate with some wit and style and we had quotations from President John Kennedy (Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town) and Magna Carta (Lord Howe of Aberavon, Geoffrey Howe).
The Opposition were more concerned about what was not in the bill rather than what is and I found myself largely in agreement. Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town welcomed much content such as the right of returns and refunds, clarity on repairs, the reperformance of service and protection against small print and welcomed the possible redress for breaches of competition law and some possible collective redress for breaches of consumer law. She drew the House’s attention to the omissions, nothing on secondary ticketing, on the rights of tenants or on double-charging by letting or estate agents, where both the tenant and the landlord or the seller and the buyer are both charged fees. There is nothing to strengthen point-of-sale information, nothing on the rip-off logbook loans, nothing to stop unreasonable charges on booking fees, nothing to help consumers to get a fair deal on car insurance, nothing to ensure that every regulator has the consumer interest at heart, nothing to help prevent micro-businesses being ripped off, and no advocacy to assist consumers to challenge poor service or shoddy goods. There is nothing to ensure that people can continue to receive their invoices or pay bills by post, despite 7 million adults, mostly elderly, still never having used the internet. Surely everyone should not have to accept online-only communication. There is also nothing to tackle that scourge of consumer complaints, nuisance calls. As I sit here on wednesday morning writing this I have had two nuisance calls already, one from a call centre in India selling software and one a ‘silence with whistle’.
Lord Stoneham of Droxford for the LibDems pointed out that we have set different standards for consumer rights in relation to services rather than goods and suggested this need rethinking. The debate later tended to vere off in diffferent directions, some relevant, some less so. Resale of cricket match tickets, payday loans, seizing of illegal tobacco and bugs in software being some of the themes addressed.
Lord Howe of Aberavon speaking right at the end raised an old hobby horse, the Metric System. He said “Almost 800 years ago, Britain’s first charter of human rights, Magna Carta, proclaimed that there should be one measure of wine throughout the whole realm, one measure of corn and one unit of cloth.” Quite right, will someone tell Americans to give up their recipes in cups please?