All Carolyn Harris debates involving the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Beauty and Wellbeing Sector Workforce

Carolyn Harris Excerpts
Wednesday 23rd June 2021

(5 months, 1 week ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Roger Gale Portrait Sir Roger Gale (in the Chair)
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Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Let me remind hon. Members that there have been changes to the normal practice in order to support the new hybrid arrangements. Timings of debates have been amended to allow technical arrangements to be made for the next debate. There will be suspensions between debates. I remind Members participating physically—that is all but one this morning—and virtually that they must arrive for the start of a debate and remain for the entire debate. Members participating virtually must leave their camera on for the duration of a debate, so that they will be visible at all times, both to one another and to us in the Boothroyd Room. If Members attending virtually have any technical problems, please email the Westminster Hall Clerks; the email address is westminsterhallclerks@parliament.uk.

Members attending physically—[Interruption.] Good morning, Mr Shannon. We will allow you the minute’s grace. Members attending physically should clean their spaces before they use them and before they leave the room. I remind Members that Mr Speaker has stated that masks should be worn in Westminster Hall. There are no Members attending and waiting to speak, so the next bit does not really apply. Members who are not on the call list but wish to intervene can do so only from the horseshoe, and those on the call list have priority for spaces on the horseshoe. Members wishing to intervene should not prevent a Member on the call list from speaking.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
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I beg to move,

That this House has considered the beauty and wellbeing sector workforce.

May I say what an honour it is to serve under your chairmanship in this important debate, Sir Roger? As co-chair, alongside my good and hon. Friend the Member for Bradford South (Judith Cummins), of the all-party parliamentary group on beauty, aesthetics and wellbeing, I am well aware of the struggles that the people working in the industry have faced during the past 15 months. Uncertainty around closures and the absence of financial support, coupled with lack of respect for the industry and those working in it, have hit the sector hard. We have seen businesses failing and those that have survived facing an uphill struggle as the country slowly begins to open back up.

This industry has always contributed greatly to the UK economy and supported a substantial workforce. A British Beauty Council report, “The Value of Beauty”, published in 2019—before the pandemic—determined that the industry was worth up to £30 billion a year and supported 50,000 businesses. Figures from the UK Government’s “COVID-19 Response”, published in February 2021, show that in 2019 the industry provided more than 560,000 jobs, 85% of which were done by women, many of whom were working flexibly.

The pandemic has decimated this multimillion-pound industry and has had a devastating impact on the workforce and businesses. On average, businesses in the sector were closed for 250 days during lockdown—far longer than in any of the other, often male-dominated sectors, and too long for them to survive with no income and inadequate support. The knock-on effect of the extended closures has been severe. A recent report from the National Hair and Beauty Federation on the fate of the industry estimated that by the end of this year, businesses will on average have lost £40,000 of revenue. That has led to job losses, with employment in the industry down by 21% from pre-pandemic levels. In addition, 62% of businesses say that they have had to cut staff hours, and 14% say that they are being forced to make redundancies.

Even now that businesses are able to reopen, continued restrictions mean that many are still struggling. Large events, weddings and holidays being scaled back or cancelled has caused a huge deficit in demand, and salons are still operating at only 70% capacity to observe social distancing requirements. While demand for hair appointments and beauty treatments has declined, demand for wellbeing services such as massages and holistic therapy has grown significantly, which is hardly surprising given the increased stress levels that we have all experienced over the past year. Figures from wellbeing platform Urban show that demand for services are now 30% higher than pre-covid. Sadly, however, there are not enough therapists to meet the demand. Some 35% of mobile therapists have not returned to work since the first national lockdown lifted—those skilled therapists have taken on work in other industries due to a lack of income during extended closures. So we have a situation where customers are ready and able to book, but no appointments are available because the industry and those who work in it were unable to survive the long closures without financial support.

As someone who has used massage over the years as a therapy to maintain my mental health, I completely understand why people are seeking those services. I find it sad that because of the pandemic and, in all honesty, the failure of the Government to take the industry seriously and support its workforce, the services are just not there. The gap seems set to continue, as the closure of training schools during the pandemic and limited opportunities to gain workforce experience means that the number of newly qualified professionals entering the sector is significantly lower than normal. Recent data from the National Hair and Beauty Federation paints an equally bleak picture going forward, with only 11% of salons planning to recruit new apprentices in the next three to six months. This once thriving industry is suffering and needs support urgently. In a survey undertaken by the National Hair and Beauty Federation on the state of the industry, half of businesses say that they cannot rule out redundancy when furlough comes to an end, and more than a third are unsure whether they will survive the next few months while social distancing remains in place.

The all-party parliamentary group on beauty, aesthetics and wellbeing has already launched an inquiry into post-covid recovery for the sector, looking at how businesses recoup can their losses and how the highly skilled workforce can be retained. There are so many risk factors for the industry that Government support is key to combating them. Financial support for the sector during the pandemic was woefully lacking compared with that given to other customer-facing industries. The Government must now ensure that support is available to businesses for as long as social distancing measures are in place, given their effect on how many staff and customers can be in salons, and therefore on profits.

Promotion of the industry is also needed to encourage young people to follow this career path so that there is a full and flourishing skill base. Beauty and wellbeing practitioners play a vital role in supporting our physical and mental health, and many people use the treatments instead of visiting a doctor or to complement their medication. Figures from the Federation of Holistic Therapists 2021 members survey show that 75% of practitioners have clients who are using their treatments to support long-term health conditions, and 63% of clients use them to prevent poor health. I will give a plug here to the menopause and say that that is a condition where holistic therapy is invaluable.

If the industry is given the support that it so deserves, businesses will begin to thrive again and we will have a growing workforce who will be able to offer treatments to ease the burden on our already overwhelmed NHS. We entered the pandemic last year with a beauty and wellbeing industry that was thriving, that boosted the UK economy and that supported families up and down the country by enabling the huge, mostly female, workforce to work flexibly, yet throughout the pandemic, that loyal workforce has been undervalued and under- appreciated, overlooked for financial support and even ridiculed in the House of Commons Chamber. As we begin to emerge from restrictions, the future of the industry hangs in the balance, and key to its survival is the workforce. The industry needs help now more than ever to ensure that it can support jobs, provide a much-needed wellbeing boost to its customers and once again be a key contributor to the UK economy.

Caroline Nokes Portrait Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con)
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May I say what a pleasure it is to see you back in the Chair, Sir Roger? You have been much missed.

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for her phenomenal work, both as chair of the APPG and in repeatedly highlighting the hair and beauty sector in the main Chamber, emphasising, as she has done again this morning, the particular challenges that it has faced during the pandemic. She has also given us a really healthy reminder of what a strong sector it has been, which is important to reflect on.

We went into the pandemic with somewhere in the region of 300,000 employees in the sector, the vast majority of whom were women. Hon. Members would expect me, as Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, to emphasise that we are talking about a sector that employs women, but it does not simply employ them; it trains them and gives them opportunity. Many of them will do years of training in college or an apprenticeship, then move into working in a salon or studio. They might then consider taking the plunge and going self-employed; that is always a risk, but many of those brilliant and brave women do exactly that. After a few years of being self-employed, perhaps on a mobile basis, they rent their own salon—an enormous financial commitment, involving business rates and rent. For all of them, it is about risk and a cost-benefit analysis. They are brave and ballsy—as I have previously said and established, that is not unparliamentary language—women, who go out, take the risk and benefit from it, and in turn they become employers of other women. That is a model that we should absolutely be encouraging, celebrating and promoting.

I will tell a little anecdotal story. As Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, I get all sorts of interesting panels with fascinating people, including one gentleman who is one of the leading educationalists to whom the Government turn when they are looking for advice and interesting reports on everything to do with education. He talked to me about the veterinary profession and said that the veterinary profession was full of clever white girls. Then, he said, “But when educationalists find not-so-clever bright girls, they shove them off just into the beauty industry,” at which moment I had one of my moments of rage. Through the medium of Zoom, he undoubtedly got the famous death stare, because the reality is that the beauty and wellbeing industry is not “just” anything. It is a fantastic, thriving industry that provides training, employment and the opportunity to go off and become an entrepreneur.

Over the course of the last 12 months, I have been blown away by the stories I have heard from young and not-so-young women who have told me how their boyfriends, fathers or brothers have regarded them as “just” beauty therapists. I have always gone back to them and said, “You are not ‘just’ anything. You are an entrepreneur, and you know what? This country thrives on the entrepreneurial spirit of people like you, who have the guts to go off and become self-employed, to set up your own business, to rent your own studio, and to contribute to the economy in myriad ways.” I have got that off my chest, and I feel lot better about it.

The hon. Member for Swansea East mentioned that the industry sometimes gets ridiculed and people laugh at it, which makes me really angry, because they are laughing at the hard work of women who have skill, ability and the determination to give back to others the confidence that some of them may have lost. I know there is nothing more boring than somebody who stands up in this place and says, “When I was a Minister,” but I am will say it. When I was a Minister, I spent a very happy year at the Department for Work and Pensions. We talked about the challenges of getting women back into employment, perhaps after a long career break, and the thing that was missing from so many women was confidence. I would speak to women in jobcentres up and down the country, and I learned that they did not have the confidence to go back into the workplace; they felt their skills were lacking and they were old and past their sell-by date. These were women of 40. For the record, let me say that no woman in her 40s— I declare an interest—is past her sell-by date. It is crucial that we look at this sector, which can give the female workforce confidence.

The hon. Lady mentioned some of the services that can be provided, but I always highlight services such as ayurvedic facials that help with migraines, or the ability of specialist—indeed, brilliant—cosmetic tattooists, who put eyebrows back on people with alopecia or tattoo nipples back on women who have had breast reconstruction surgery. All these things give people the confidence to go back into the workplace, go back to work and take up a productive and useful role in society, in the community, and of course—I would say this to a Minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy—in the economy. That is crucial, because ultimately these are people who will pay tax and help the rest of us to recover from the hideous fiscal crisis caused by the pandemic. I recognise and want to reinforce the comments made by the hon. Lady about the promotion of the sector. This is not just “hair and beauty”; it is a really important sector, worth £28 billion, which can give women back their confidence.

I have a specific plea, which I hope the Minister will listen to and act on. The thing that struck me after talking to the National Hair and Beauty Federation and the British Beauty Council, among other organisations, and perhaps specifically after talking to individual providers of beauty services both large and indeed very small, including one-woman-band enterprises, is that they talk about the VAT break that was given to hospitality. Treasury Ministers always say that it was very easy and straightforward to do that because hospitality was on a separate VAT code and could be easily and distinctly hived off from other sectors, but the same does not apply to the beauty sector. Well, it should, and it would not be difficult to give it a separate VAT code. Will my hon. Friend the Minister undertake to have a conversation about that with the Treasury? We do not know whether covid will be back, or what the next pandemic is coming over the hill will be, or indeed what future financial challenges will arise. I think that it would be of benefit to the sector to have a separate VAT code, so that we will not be in the same situation in the future.

This is a very competitive, enterprising and determined sector, and one that is phenomenally good at self-promotion. What is lacking is regulation. We need a way of making sure that people are accredited, that training is understood and recognised, and that we can understand who is providing what to whom. I remember having a fantastic conversation with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care on this subject. He rang me on a Sunday to talk about it and I explained to him there and then that he and I could set ourselves up as a pair of beauticians with absolutely no training, no accreditation and no regulation—although we would not survive in business very long, because we would be very bad at it. The reality is that there is not the sort of oversight that one might expect for an industry that uses, in some instances, interesting and even challenging chemicals and machinery, and all sorts of products that need to be used by expert hands, particularly in services such as cosmetic tattooing. I say that because we can all open the Daily Mail’s Sidebar of Shame and see some of the horrors that have been carried out on people’s faces.

Fundamentally, it is vital that the Government recognise that, as we come out of the pandemic, there is a challenge in female employment. My Select Committee, the TUC and the Women’s Budget Group—a range of experts, up and down the country—have reflected upon the fact it is predominantly women who have been employed in the sectors that have been locked down longest and hardest. The hon. Member for Swansea East mentioned the fact that the beauty and wellbeing sector has rightly had to put in all sorts of provisions to prevent covid spread, but increased gaps between chairs reduce capacity, and businesses must have 15-minute breaks between customers so that facilities can be wiped down and disinfected, taking hours out of a day that could instead have been productive, income-generating hours.

We have seen the same in retail. We know that 58% of non-essential retail workers are women, and my horrific prediction is that when furlough comes to an end, we may well see a massive increase in the number of women being made redundant. That will have a consequential impact on the work of the Department for Work and Pensions to make sure that interesting, challenging and sustainable opportunities are found for those women in the future. It is crucial that we look at our recovery and how we build back better in a feminine way.

I will leave the Minister with that thought. When we look at how we build back, we have to make sure that we do not forget the female workforce, who are so vital in the hair and beauty sector, and indeed in other sectors.

--- Later in debate ---
Paul Scully Portrait Paul Scully
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I can indeed, and I will come to that in a second. We also have to examine why apprenticeships were in decline before the pandemic began. We can look at it holistically across Government with the Department for Education, the Department for Work and Pensions and BEIS.

We have provided a range of support for the beauty and wellbeing sector. For example, the sector is eligible for the kickstart scheme, which provides a fully funded six-month job for 16 to 24-year-olds on universal credit and at risk of long-term unemployment. I am pleased to say that 600 high quality industry-designed apprenticeship standards are now available. I want to work with the sector to increase the number of small and medium-sized beauty businesses offering apprenticeships.

The Government have recently increased the cash incentive to £3,000 for every apprentice that a business hires, and that helps to maintain and attract the sector’s future workforce. It is good to see sector initiatives aimed at upskilling the workforce. For example, I commend L’Oréal on its education platform, Access, which I am told 54,000 hair professionals have used. We will continue to work with the sector to advance the reputation of beauty and wellbeing as an invaluable, skilled and highly rewarding career path.

I have talked about some of the issues that the hon. Member for Swansea East raised in her speech. I was pleased that she was forthright in mentioning the benefit of holistic treatment to the menopause. It is important that we do not shy from talking in this place about a treatment that can be of so much benefit to so many women across the country. It is great to see that issue highlighted.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North talked about the entrepreneurial spirit, as did the hon. Member for Strangford. My right hon. Friend is absolutely right that we should not talk about just beauty therapists and just the beauty sector. As we have heard, the hospitality sector, for example, has a low bar to entry, but that does not make it a low-skilled sector. The hair and beauty sector does not have a particularly high bar to entry, but someone cannot just pick up a pair of scissors and expect to walk into a hairdresser’s and say, “Can I start work, please?” It is really important to demonstrate the skills required in the sector.

The hon. Member for Bradford South talked about regulation, and we are working with the Department of Health and Social Care to look at regulation and what needs to be done for particular treatments. We will continue to make sure that we can work with the Department, the APPG and the sector to ensure the safety of customers. They need to see not just a certificate on the wall, as she said, but that there are skills behind it. We have to be really careful in those areas.

The hon. Member for Strangford talked about people—specifically, women—setting up businesses. We have talked about the fact that this is largely a female-led-business sector. He is absolutely right when he talks about female entrepreneurs. This fits into a wider piece of work that we are doing in my Department. What are the barriers to female entrepreneurs? They include access to finance, peer-to-peer networking and mentoring. The issue there is not just having the big beasts—the Deborah Meadens, the Richard Bransons and all those people. It is how you get mentors for people who have perhaps just opened their first salon, having been a mobile worker for a number of years; perhaps they have just taken on their first employee—it is about all those kinds of things. That is the kind of example that women want to see—someone in their mould, speaking to them about their issues. It is a question of getting consistency across the country, but also, as I have said, access to finance.

Alison Rose, the chief executive of NatWest, led the Rose review a few years ago. I chair the Rose Review Board with her—we have a meeting next week—and we talk about access to finance. We have 100 signatories to the “Investing in Women Code”, which involves a number of venture capitalists as well as lenders. We are trying to get them to change their teams so that they can get diversity of thought in their investment decisions. That will lead to having diversity in their investments and ensure that they are investing in more women, and that has to be brilliant for the UK economy.

We also have the start-up loans, available for anybody to set up a new business, of up to £25,000, alongside free mentoring. That is run by the British Business Bank and has been since 2012, and 40% of those loans are going to women. That is clearly far lower than the percentage of women in the population, but compared with some other lenders, it is going in the right direction. We still need to do more, so I am pleased to be able to encourage that. The Budget in March from my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer was focused on helping those most affected by the pandemic, including small businesses and vulnerable groups such as young people, women and those from disadvantaged groups in our communities. It is really important that we continue to do that.

In conclusion, we will continue to listen to the sector to understand its views and concerns. As we move to step 4 on the road map, we will work together to address the key problems facing the beauty and wellbeing workforce, discussed in the debate today. We will keep on reviewing the data; we will keep on making an assessment against the four tests at least a week in advance and will announce whether we proceed to step 4 on the new date of no later than 12 July. I want the sector to fully open as soon as that is safe, so that it can bounce back and recover from the restrictions and the financial pressures caused by the pandemic. That will help to address the issues relating to jobs and the skills gap. There is clearly more to do, after we reopen, to address the longer term challenges for the sector, but we need to keep making the point that the beauty and wellbeing sector is a fantastic industry to work in because of the people and the skills that they bring.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris
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It is a pleasure to see colleagues from across the House acknowledge and champion an industry that is a serious contributor to both the economy and the societal life of our country. If we as parliamentarians have achieved anything, it has been to throw a spotlight on the need for greater respect for this industry, but we need to do more than be champions. We need to support the industry and provide solutions to repair the damage. I was disappointed to hear the Minister comment that the Chancellor had been “overly generous” in his provision. I am sure that that is not something that many people across the country would recognise, but I am going to acknowledge that it was, hopefully, a Freudian slip. I am sure that he would not want people to believe that he honestly thought that. I hope that he will take away from today’s debate everybody’s contribution and will think seriously about what more can be done to ensure the security, viability and progression of this very important industry.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved,

That this House has considered the beauty and wellbeing sector workforce.

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy: Departmental Spending

Carolyn Harris Excerpts
Tuesday 7th July 2020

(1 year, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Judith Cummins Portrait Judith Cummins (Bradford South) (Lab)
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7 Jul 2020, 12:06 a.m.

It is a pleasure to follow other members of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee. On youth unemployment, the Select Committee heard that workers aged under 25 were about two and a half times more likely than other workers to be in a sector that was shut down during the pandemic. The Government must act now to save jobs and create a plan to get young people back into work. I strongly support the TUC’s suggestion of a jobs guarantee for young workers. In essence, it would provide a guaranteed job, including training and pay on at least the living wage, for young workers who have been out of work for more than three months.

In the time I have, I will focus on the economic powerhouse that is the beauty industry—an industry that employs over 300,000 people across the UK in every town, village and city. In many places, including my own constituency, beauty salons are the lifeblood of the high street. The sector’s success is critical in our economic recovery.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
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Does my hon. Friend agree that the beauty industry, which contributes billions of pounds to the economy and provides over 370,000 jobs, is no laughing matter, despite the Prime Minister’s frivolous and flippant dismissal of the question when he was asked about it in Prime Minister’s questions last Wednesday?

Judith Cummins Portrait Judith Cummins
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7 Jul 2020, 12:04 a.m.

I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. Of course, this industry is predominantly run by women, employing women, and yet the beauty sector has seemingly been forgotten. Hairdressers and barbers have been open since the weekend, but the wider beauty sector is left in a deeply uncertain position. The hair, beauty, spa and wellness industries are a highly integrated sector, with many businesses and premises containing both hair and wider beauty services. Allowing only the hair part to open makes many such businesses economically unviable. The Government have already produced the guidelines for the safe reopening of these businesses, so there is no reason for any delay.

Another industry that has been extremely hard hit in recent months is the wedding and connected hospitality industry, including Pakistan Catering in my constituency. The industry needs guidance as soon as possible on when receptions can resume. Many thousands of jobs in the beauty and hospitality sectors are at risk, and with the Government beginning to wind down the furlough scheme wholesale rather than sector by sector, both sectors need clarity quickly on when they can reopen. I hope the Minister can provide that when he winds up.

Last week, over 200 beauty-related businesses from across the country wrote to the Prime Minister to urge him to provide immediate clarity on when they will be allowed to restart work, and my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) and I wrote to him about the disregard and disrespect with which the industry has been treated in this place. It is not a pink and fluffy industry; it is a sector of highly trained professionals, and, quite frankly, they deserve better. My message is simple: this is no laughing matter. The Government must act now to save jobs in this important industry.

Oral Answers to Questions

Carolyn Harris Excerpts
Tuesday 16th July 2019

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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16 Jul 2019, 12:05 p.m.

I recognise the hon. Gentleman’s concern in this regard. He is absolutely correct to say that we issued a notice of intent to recall on Whirlpool. It submitted its proposal, which we assessed. We also took advice from an expert panel, comprising an independent QC and chief scientific officers from the Health and Safety Executive, the Home Office and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. We decided not only to accept the proposal, which has been published, but to issue a regulation 28 notice with regard to further information that needs to be shared with the OPSS, so that we can review the recall process.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
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8. What plans he has to improve the regulation of second-hand electrical goods online. [911958]

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Kelly Tolhurst)
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16 Jul 2019, 12:05 p.m.

I have recently written to online platforms to make clear the priority I place on consumer safety. The hon. Lady will know, after her Westminster Hall debate last week, that the Office for Product Safety and Standards is undertaking specific projects to tackle the risks of second-hand and online sales, including targeting those goods entering the UK via fulfilment houses.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris
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16 Jul 2019, 12:06 p.m.

I appreciated the Minister’s letter this weekend on the online sales of second-hand recalled tumble dryers. Currently, it is possible to upload details of such products on to online platforms without recall notices, or model or display numbers. Her letter states that she has written to these online platforms, but it fails to say which ones. Will she commit to publishing these letters and any advice she has given, in the interests of clarity?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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I would like to reassure the hon. Lady that I have written to not just one online platform, but all the online platforms in relation to this. I would just like to clarify that some platforms have been advertising certain models and Whirlpool has used the same model number for a number of machines, so it is not correct to assume that all models will be subject to recall. As I have outlined, if any platform is selling products that are part of that recall, the organisations are being alerted and the products are being taken down as soon as possible.

Electrical Products: Online Sales

Carolyn Harris Excerpts
Tuesday 9th July 2019

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
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9 Jul 2019, 11:01 a.m.

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the regulation of online sales of electrical products.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I am pleased to have the opportunity for this short debate. The Minister knows that this issue is of deep concern to me, especially given an incident in my constituency in March 2015, in which my constituent, Linda Merron, died in a house fire after buying an electrical product on eBay. Since then, I have campaigned to improve how the likes of eBay, Amazon, Alibaba and Facebook allow the sale of unsafe electrical goods directly to the public.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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9 Jul 2019, 11:01 a.m.

Does the hon. Lady agree that, with online marketplaces, it is much harder to trace supply chain operators? Transparency can be almost non-existent. Consumers may often be under the impression that they are buying from the marketplace directly, rather than from a trader. Does she agree that we must do something to regulate this online industry through enhanced legislation?

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris
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9 Jul 2019, 11:02 a.m.

I most certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman; it is rare that I do not. That is exactly why I set up the all-party parliamentary group for home electrical safety: to help to find solutions, particularly for this wild west of electrical goods sales, whether the goods are fake, unsafe, second-hand or recalled. I pay tribute to Electrical Safety First, which helps with the administration of the all-party parliamentary group, brings together several important stakeholders, and campaigns tirelessly to prevent electrical fires in people’s homes.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) (SNP)
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9 Jul 2019, 11:02 a.m.

I pay tribute to the full extent of the hon. Lady’s work in this area, for which, I am sure, we are all grateful. Does she agree that it is shocking that 80% of fires in Scotland are caused by faulty electrical goods? People who buy these goods are often not aware of the danger that they are bringing into their home. Does she agree that we need a public education programme as well as better regulation, particularly of online sales?

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris
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9 Jul 2019, 11:04 a.m.

I certainly do. Anything that we can do to help to prevent any fire is of the utmost importance.

The Minister will be aware of the all-party parliamentary group’s recently published report, “The Problem with Online Sales of Electrical Products”, which I sent to the Department. It followed consultation with Electrical Safety First, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, the Anti-counterfeiting Group, the Local Government Association, London Fire Brigade and others who attended all-party parliamentary group meetings. I also reached out to the online platforms Amazon and eBay, to request their input into the report. Only eBay responded, and I am grateful to it for doing so. Its representatives attended a session of the all-party parliamentary group, at which they gave a presentation. I am disappointed by the lack of engagement by the online sales platforms, and their total disinterest in helping to find solutions to these problems.

I will always remember the words of an Amazon executive who sat in my office and, when challenged, said, “We are just a landlord”, washing the company’s hands of all responsibility. So far as I am concerned, Amazon is totally disengaged, showing a complete disregard for consumer rights, safety and the work of the Office for Product Safety and Standards. The Minister needs to tackle these online platforms, just as she has tackled Whirlpool in recent weeks.

Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
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9 Jul 2019, 11:04 a.m.

I thank my hon. Friend for the case she is making in her own inimitable style. Does she agree that more needs to be done not only on online platforms, as she mentions, but on second-hand sales between individuals, to create a much safer environment for the sale of electrical goods?

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris
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Yes. It terrifies me when I see second-hand shops selling electrical goods that we do not know the provenance of. That brings me on to a really important point about Whirlpool.

The Government say that they take issues of consumer safety very seriously, and recently took unprecedented action on unsafe tumble dryers. Overnight, Whirlpool issued a 21-page list of 650—or thereabouts—recalled models. Have the Minister and her Department looked at the list? This morning, I saw numerous listed machines on Amazon, Facebook and eBay. The TCFS83BGP is one example, and anybody looking on their phone will find numerous models on sale today, even after the recall.

The Minister needs to take immediate action to stop these sites selling recalled models. Will she commit to an immediate review of the list, and to stopping those online platforms selling those machines? Will she also commit to enforcement action against any company allowing the placement of unsafe products on the market? As Electrical Safety First highlighted in its briefing to MPs for the debate, many sites sell recalled and substandard electrical goods.

Despite eBay’s willingness to engage, there are many significant problems on that site. In recent weeks, Electrical Safety First informed me that was to intervene in a case involving an eBay listing for non-UK CCTV equipment. The product did not comply with the low voltage directive for CE marking, or the Plugs and Sockets etc. (Safety) Regulations 1994—the plug did not comply with BS 1363, as required by the regulation, making it illegal—and there were no manufacturer markings.

It was only as a result of the charity’s work that the consumer was able to get her money back, as neither eBay, trading standards or Citizens Advice were able or willing to help the purchaser. The listings are still available, and the seller is still selling non-compliant products. I am of course happy to pass to the Minister the details provided to me by Electrical Safety First. However, the issue I go back to every time is: why do the online sales platforms not have basic checks and algorithms in place to proactively comply with the law? Why can their algorithms not prevent recalled and non-compliant electrical goods from being uploaded?

To prevent cases like this, the all-party parliamentary group report recommends five specific areas of action. First, online marketplaces enable the sale of counterfeit and substandard electrical goods with little effective oversight or transparency. The all-party parliamentary group and I believe that legislation should be introduced to ensure that online marketplaces take responsibility for what is sold on their sites. Sellers must be clearly identifiable and accountable, and there should be a legal responsibility on online marketplaces to remove counterfeit and unsafe products as soon as possible, and to co-operate fully with enforcement agencies.

Secondly, although enforcement agencies, on the whole, have sufficient powers, they need the resources to enforce them properly. The Government should ensure that all enforcement is adequately funded, reversing funding cuts where necessary, especially post Brexit. Thirdly, there needs to be improved co-operation and information sharing between different tiers of enforcement and with online marketplaces. Jurisdictional limits and the reach of the different tiers of enforcement bodies are insufficiently clear, and are a barrier to effective enforcement. Although the large organisations under discussion have primary authorities—an example is eBay working with Westminster—the OPSS should be given the task of co-ordinating and improving interaction between enforcement agencies and online marketplaces.

Fourthly, online marketplaces benefit from the UK’s product safety regime and so should contribute towards its operation, in a similar way to other industries. The UK Government should consider how online marketplaces could contribute to enforcement and should lead conversations with major marketplaces on the issue.

Fifthly, consumer education must be improved. It is key to reducing the risk from counterfeit and substandard electrical products. The UK Government should work with stakeholders to ensure greater consumer awareness through national advertising campaigns.

As part of the OPSS strategy, there is a workstream on combating unsafe, counterfeit electrical goods and second-hand electrical sales. I am aware that the OPSS is working on a funded project with Electrical Safety First on the latter, but I would be grateful if the Minister would inform the House of the following or, if she is unable to do that today, write to MPs to provide us with an update. Can the Minister tell us where we are in the OPSS strategy with implementation and preventing sales of unsafe electrical goods online, particularly in relation to the Whirlpool example that I have just raised? When did the Minister last meet representatives of the online sales platforms to discuss self-regulation? For example, why do the platforms not have systems in place to not allow people to upload listings of recalled Whirlpool tumble dryers, items with plugs that are not compatible with BS 1363, items that originate from abroad and so on? What action is the OPSS taking with the online platforms to immediately stop the sale of recalled Whirlpool tumble dryers on these sites? Had the Minister actually thought about that scenario? Will she take enforcement action against companies that allow the sale of recalled items, especially Whirlpool tumble dryers?

When will the Government commit additional resources to bodies such as Thurrock Council that are on the frontline in protecting the public from unsafe electrical goods being brought into the country and then sold via eBay, Facebook and Amazon? Will the Minister commit to new regulations on online platforms to prevent them from selling non-compliant, unsafe and recalled products online? Will she commit to attending the APPG to discuss the recommendations of the report in greater detail, and to discuss how we can go forward in resolving these problems, especially the persistent illegal activity of online sales platforms selling unsafe, non-compliant and recalled electrical goods?

The measures in the APPG report are the result of a combination of a wide range of stakeholders’ views. I hope that the Minister and her officials will now work with the group to bring forward solutions to ensure greater protection for consumers, and to ensure that online marketplaces act legally and, after today’s discovery, responsibly.

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Kelly Tolhurst)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

9 Jul 2019, 11:13 a.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Bailey. I thank the hon. Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) for securing this important debate. She is incredibly passionate about this issue and, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group for home electrical safety, has played an important role in keeping a focus on it. Her commitment to electrical safety is to be commended.

I want to make it clear from the outset that in my 12 months in this post, I too have taken electrical safety and the safety of British consumers extremely seriously. It has been a focus of mine; I have spent a lot of time working on it in my day job within the Department.

It is clear that there is considerable interest among hon. Members in this issue. They have personal, and in some cases tragic, reasons for that interest. I again thank the hon. Member for Swansea East, and I thank the hon. Members who intervened on her for participating in this short debate.

Our first duty as elected Members must be to ensure the safety of those we represent. It is important that consumers should have a choice when it comes to buying all kinds of products. In today’s world, more and more of us are turning to online retailers when we purchase all manner of things, including electrical products. The changing ways in which we consumers purchase goods, including online, pose specific challenges in relation to protecting consumers. For a traditional market, the law is clear: manufacturers and importers have a duty to place only safe products on the UK market, and distributors have a duty of care when it comes to the safety of electronic products. The online marketplace makes it possible for consumers to sell to other consumers. That clearly presents new challenges. We recognise those challenges and are working with the platforms to address the issues.

The OPSS is taking forward a number of strategic projects aimed at understanding and addressing cross-cutting safety issues to deliver better protections for British consumers. One of those is rightly focused on tackling the challenges of online electrical product sales. The OPSS, working closely with a number of key stakeholders—including Electrical Safety First, which the hon. Member for Swansea East mentioned, and major online retailers—is bringing together those with specific expertise in this area to make the system work more effectively. The project is at an early stage, but a first strand is focused on evidence gathering, so that we can really understand how and where electrical products are being sold online. That work will form the basis of ensuring that we have the best system in place to protect people when they buy goods in online or offline marketplaces.

In addition, the OPSS is working with local authorities to ensure that checks are being made by sellers on products being sold online to determine whether they are subject to a recall. If a business is found to be selling recalled products, the OPSS will inform the business of its findings, so that the business can take immediate steps to remove the product from sale.

--- Later in debate ---
Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

9 Jul 2019, 11:20 a.m.

As part of the OPSS’s ongoing work, it has developed a database through which information is shared with online platforms when we are alerted to problems and particular safety concerns. That list is changing every day or every week, as new illegal products are registered. It is an ongoing piece of work, and part of what we are doing weekly to combat people who act illegally by putting illegal products on the market, and also to ensure that unsafe products that are being marketed are removed from sale. I have already outlined that this is a big challenge; it is something that the OPSS is very mindful of. That is why it is included in the first part of the workstream about understanding the extent to which such products are sold and how that can be moved forward.

A further strand of this work relates to online sales in second-hand electrical goods. OPSS is gathering evidence on the extent of the second-hand electrical goods market across the UK, so that it can provide advice to sellers on their responsibility when selling second-hand goods online.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris
- Hansard - -

9 Jul 2019, 11:21 a.m.

Has the Minister’s Department seen the listings put up overnight, and has it taken action to remove Whirlpool products from online platforms?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That is a conversation that I did not have with my officials prior to the debate, so I am unable to give a direct answer. However, I have already outlined that the list has been published on the website and has been shared with our enforcement agencies. Where products on the list are being sold by online platforms, our enforcement bodies such as OPSS or trading standards—whoever is available or appropriate to deal with it—should absolutely ensure that they are removed from sale. That is a sensible thing to suggest, and I am sure the hon. Lady would expect me to say nothing less.

We have been running a series of campaigns to raise consumer awareness on keeping safe. This is being done in partnership with the leading consumer bodies, including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents, Electrical Safety First, the Chartered Trading Standards Institute, Netmums and the Child Accident Prevention Trust. I was lucky enough to visit the CTSI symposium a couple of weeks ago, where I met many of those organisations. As part of the programme, OPSS and those organisations are planning a specific consumer campaign targeting issues that relate to online sales. I am sure that hon. Members agree that consumers are better able to protect themselves when they have the information and are aware of the risks.

OPSS is working to address the challenges posed by the operation of fulfilment houses. New types of businesses have emerged, and it is recognised that we need to do more online. They provide a range of services to online retailers. This work aims to combat the distribution of unsafe and non-compliant products in the UK supply chain via fulfilment houses. OPSS is working closely with local authorities and trading standards, and is targeting those businesses that choose to place unsafe or non-compliant products on the market without regard for the safety of their customers. This is an ambitious, two-year project. Our early work with national trading standards, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, Border Force and local trading standards has already identified targets.

The project is bringing together OPSS, local authorities, HMRC and the Intellectual Property Office to develop a multi-agency approach to tackling the new risks that the new model of sale and delivery poses to UK consumers. OPSS has been working to understand the scope of the challenge facing trading standards from fulfilment houses, and it has developed an up-to-date intelligence profile to ensure that activity in this area is targeted at the appropriate businesses. As I mentioned, the scale of this project is significant, and it has the potential to make a serious impact on the sale of unsafe products online. Projects on this scale bring together local and national bodies, and that is one of the reasons why OPSS was created. We now have the capacity and focus to identify and tackle issues on a national scale.

Although there are many challenges from online sales, a number of which the hon. Lady has outlined, many online sales businesses already have strong relationships with trading standards and work with them to ensure the safety of the consumers to whom they sell. Businesses with primary authority relationships with an individual trading standards department know that they have available to them an expert source of assured and tailored advice on complying with consumer product safety regulations. Working closely with trading standards can help online sellers identify and address at an early stage product safety issues that may arise. E-commerce marketplaces such as Amazon and eBay are uniquely well placed to play an important role in product safety. A significant number of electrical products are sold through these platforms, which have systems to track these products.

The hon. Lady mentioned that Amazon has yet to engage with her and the APPG, but eBay has. Amazon and eBay have strong primary authority relationships in place. In both cases, the partnership has established robust systems to monitor products and sellers. Should non-compliant or unsafe products be identified, there are arrangements in place to ensure that product listings are removed from those sites quickly. I want to make it clear that we are under no illusion about the scale of the task. Those companies are among the largest in the world, and we cannot afford to be complacent about dealing with them.

As this is a global issue, OPSS is encouraging major online retailers to sign up to the product safety pledge that was initiated by the EU Commission. Under the pledge, online retailers commit to taking specific actions on the safety of products that are sold on their platform by third parties. The aim of the scheme is to improve the detection of unsafe products before they are sold to consumers, or as soon as possible afterwards.

I have spoken about the work that OPSS is doing directly to tackle the risks from second-hand and online sales, but it is important to remember that local trading standards are the main enforcers of product safety up and down the country. They play a hugely important role, and OPSS has been working with them to provide the technical and scientific advice, data and intelligence that supports their work every day. OPSS has developed a new product safety database to capture and share information on unsafe goods, so that risks can be identified and action taken as quickly as possible. It is already being rolled out across trading standards, and OPSS provided £500,000 last year to fund the testing of products by trading standards. We have increased that sum to £600,000 for 2019-20.

The hon. Lady asked many questions on issues such as additional resources and changes to the law. She will appreciate that this is the first time such questions have been levelled at me. I am more than happy to attend a meeting of the APPG, as I indicated I would; unfortunately, diaries have meant that I have been unable to. I will happily write to the hon. Lady with further detail on that, or we can have a meeting to discuss the issues—whichever way she prefers to communicate with me.

I want to reiterate that this is “job not done”. This is about how we evolve in a changing market and ensure that importers, manufacturers and marketers place safe products on the market. The onus is on the companies to ensure that they place safe products on the market. We will do all we can to ensure that we continue to monitor products and try to protect consumers as best we can. That is something that I feel very strongly about.

I thank the hon. Lady for bringing forward this important issue. I understand her passion and am desperately sorry about what happened to her constituent. I look forward to constructive conversations with her in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

Recall of Tumble Dryers

Carolyn Harris Excerpts
Monday 17th June 2019

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

17 Jun 2019, 5:25 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend for that, and I note his particular interest in this as a result of his past career. He is absolutely right to suggest that we will ensure that large manufacturers such as Whirlpool comply with the regulations if they find that a technical change needs to be made to their products. We expect them to take appropriate action where a risk has been identified. This is indeed a priority for this Government. It has been a priority since I have been in post, and we will continue to ensure that these organisations comply with the law.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
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17 Jun 2019, 5:29 p.m.

The recall has been far too long coming. As soon as Whirlpool became aware of the problem, it should have acted immediately and recalled every affected machine. As it is, it has sat back and waited years, and consumer safety has been at risk, with the Government finally stepping in last week. The public are rightly terrified of the danger that could be sitting in their homes. People who contact Electrical Safety First, Which? and other consumer bodies are struggling to find assistance because Whirlpool has refused to publish a list of the affected machines. Instead, members of the public have to wade through a series of hidden steps on the Whirlpool website to try to establish whether they have a potential fire hazard in their home. Why has Whirlpool been allowed to get away with that? A list should be readily available, so will the Minister commit to ensuring that Whirlpool publishes one immediately?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

17 Jun 2019, 5:30 p.m.

We are following due process, and we are taking action. This has been an ongoing piece of work. When issues with the modification programme were raised, my predecessor, my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Andrew Griffiths), instigated the review, and OPSS has been working since then and has been in continual communication with Whirlpool. It is vital that we follow due process and, whether the organisation involved is small or large, that we ensure that any action is proportionate and correct. Any consumer with concerns about the tumble dryer in their home can get in touch with Whirlpool by entering the serial number and model to check whether their product is affected, and we encourage anyone who is worried about the product in their home to contact Whirlpool immediately.

Mineworkers’ Pension Scheme

Carolyn Harris Excerpts
Monday 10th June 2019

(2 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)
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10 Jun 2019, 8:59 p.m.

I am pleased to be able to speak in this debate and I thank the Benchbench Business Committee for bringing it forward.

I really hope that tonight’s debate will give the Government an opportunity to reflect on their position and put right the injustice felt by thousands of former miners in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney and across the country. We must consider what has been contributed over past decades. Thousands of miners, as we have heard, gave the best years of their lives and worked in dangerous conditions. In many cases they gave their health, and in some cases even their lives, for the coal industry. There can probably be no greater price paid for coal than the Aberfan disaster in my constituency in 1966 when 116 children and 28 adults lost their lives.

My paternal grandfather was killed in Ogilvie colliery in 1944 when he was just 32 and my own father was just one year old. On my mother’s side, my great-uncle was killed in 1962 at Elliot colliery in New Tredegar at just 19 years of age. Sadly, these losses were replicated all too often across the coalfields and over the decades. In addition, hundreds, if not thousands, of miners suffered poor health over many years, including my maternal grandfather, who suffered many years of ill-health due to his many years as a miner.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

It would be very remiss of me not to mention my predecessor, Siân James, whose early life as a miner’s wife was immortalised on the big screen in the movie “Pride”. It was with Siân that I visited the Gleision mine in September 2011 and looked into the faces of the women who prayed that their men would be returned to them safely. Unfortunately, they were not. Miners have always risked—and, sadly, all too often given—their lives just for doing their job. Does my hon. Friend agree that those who did survive and reach pensionable age should not now be struggling on a paltry pension while the Government are rewarded with vast sums of money from a scheme that they have not paid a penny into—not a penny?

Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

10 Jun 2019, 9:01 p.m.

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and agree with her. She talks about the injustice of this, which I will come on to later. I pay tribute to her for the campaigning work that she has done in Swansea East. I also pay tribute to her predecessor.

Crown Post Offices: Franchising

Carolyn Harris Excerpts
Thursday 10th January 2019

(2 years, 10 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Liz McInnes Portrait Liz McInnes
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My hon. Friend is right. There was a scandal last year about a particular hospital outlet that was charging eight times the high street price for toiletries, and getting away with it because it had a captive audience. Last year, a 7% rise in trading profits at WHSmith’s hospital and travel stores helped to offset a 3% fall in sales and profits at its high street stores, so we clearly have a business that is struggling. It is a huge risk to relocate vital post office services into a business that is closing stores and might lose more.

Over the past five years, the Post Office, which is entirely owned by the Government, has announced the closure of 150 flagship Crown post offices. The announcement that a further 74 Crown post offices are to be closed and franchised, including the one in my constituency, means that the Crown network will have been cut by 60% since 2013. Closing flagship branches, getting rid of experienced staff and putting counters in the back of a WHSmith is not the plan for growth or innovation that the post office network so desperately needs, and does not offer the level of service that the public should expect. At best, the relentless closures point to a lack of vision; at worst, they suggest the managed decline of a public asset.

My constituents have shared their concerns with me about the potential closure of our post office, and a local petition to save Middleton post office has so far attracted nearly 1,000 signatures. Our high streets are already struggling, and the loss of our flagship post office will be a major blow to Middleton town centre. Many constituents have made the point that it makes no sense to move the post office counter service to WHSmith 500 metres away, disconnecting the counter service from the sorting office, which will remain where it is. We are assured that public consultation on the future of Middleton post office will be happening at some point but my constituents are quite rightly concerned that this is already a done deal and that their responses will be ignored. I would like reassurance from the Minister, which I can pass on to my constituents, that she will ensure that any public consultation is meaningful and that the concerns of the general public will genuinely inform and shape any final decisions.

The chief executive of WHSmith, Stephen Clarke, has said that the franchising of post offices into his stores is attractive to the Post Office because his stores cost less to rent and run. It is wholly unacceptable that this is used as justification for backdoor privatisation of our Government-owned post offices. In the absence of a business plan for the Post Office, it would seem that saving money is the only motivation for the move. It seems odd that a party that claims to be the party of business has no clear plan for improving the performance of the post offices it runs. It is also highly significant that the so-called party of business cannot turn out a single Back Bencher for this important event.

I end by asking the Minister to put a stop to the process of privatisation by the back door and to begin a review of how the Post Office can grow its business through new products and innovation. We expect nothing less from the self-styled party of business.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans.

The post office has historically been a focal point of any community. Until recently, in my own community—in my constituency—there were five post offices within walking distance. Now there is one, which is inside a general store. We still have a few post offices in Swansea, but most of them are franchised, including the Crown post office in Morriston.

Crown post offices offer a crucial service to the local community and their potential loss will always be a great concern to that community. Citizens Advice tells us that over half the population consider a local post office to be one of the most important services in the local community. Moving Crown post offices into private hands is a worrying trend; most importantly, we do not want it to lead to the number of post offices on our high streets declining further, and we certainly do not want any more job losses than have already occurred. It is becoming a real problem in Wales, where we have seen the greatest percentage drop in the number of post offices, with 25 closing between 2017 and 2018.

Current employees of the Crown post office must have their employment protected. That issue is being championed by the Communication Workers Union with its Save Our Post Office campaign. The CWU rightly makes the argument that the decision to franchise Crown post offices to WHSmith will hugely affect those who are currently employed by Crown post offices, moving them into lower quality jobs with WHSmith, with inferior wages and hours.

Jo Stevens Portrait Jo Stevens
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

10 Jan 2019, 1:59 p.m.

I declare my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. Does my hon. Friend agree that, although staff moving from the post office to WHSmith, for example, will have their terms and conditions protected under TUPE, their pensions will not be protected, and so they stand to lose a significant amount from the transfer between one employment and another?

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris
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10 Jan 2019, 1:59 p.m.

That is of great concern to staff members I have spoken to. WHSmith, as we have heard, was recently voted the UK’s worst high street shop. Why are we transferring a cherished brand, the Post Office, into the hands of a negatively viewed private retailer? Since 2012, 484 post offices around Wales have been modernised or moved into premises such as convenience stores, newsagents and pharmacies. Citizens Advice carried out mystery shopping in 122 of those post offices across Wales and found accessibility concerns about one in five of them.

We cannot let the transformation of post offices across the UK alter the service that they offer to our communities and particularly to vulnerable consumers. Crown post offices are integral community hubs, offering valuable services to our high streets, and the decision to franchise a further 74 is a grave mistake. It is putting jobs at risk, putting services at risk, and potentially eroding the good will and spirit in our communities.

Steve Reed Portrait Mr Steve Reed (Croydon North) (Lab/Co-op)
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10 Jan 2019, 2 p.m.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Evans. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on securing this important debate.

Crown post offices, like the postal service itself, are at the heart of our communities. Up and down the country, post offices are hubs for local people and their neighbourhoods. They bring people together, they connect people, and at a time when community institutions, from pubs to community centres to libraries, are closing at record rates, we need our post offices as never before.

I pay particular tribute to the post office staff serving my constituents in Croydon North. I had the opportunity of visiting the Post Office depot in Factory Lane just before Christmas; I repeat here, on the record, the thanks I offered the staff there for the fantastic job they do for the rest of us all year round, not only in the very busy Christmas period. It is sad in the extreme that, instead of protecting these vital and publicly owned assets, the Government are complicit in what my hon. Friend calls their managed decline. It is particularly galling for the public that they are paying more while getting less. The costs of getting rid of staff and refurbishing the franchisee’s stores are met by the public, but they all lead to a reduced service.

It is a tragedy to see our postal services being run down in this way. Fewer counter positions means more time spent queuing, especially at busy times of the year such as Christmas. The loss of post offices presents particular difficulty for older and disabled people who are less able to get around—particularly, as we heard earlier, if new facilities are situated above ground floor level—and overworked staff have less time available to offer help and advice to customers who may need it.

Oral Answers to Questions

Carolyn Harris Excerpts
Tuesday 16th October 2018

(3 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
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16 Oct 2018, 11:39 a.m.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman supports the Government’s determination to ensure that the integrity of the whole United Kingdom is guaranteed by the negotiation. He suggests that the consequences of no deal would be negative; of course they would. That is why we are doing everything we can, with increasing confidence, to secure a positive deal with the rest of the European Union. I hope he will support that.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
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2. What recent assessment he has made of the effectiveness of the electrical product recall regime. [907071]

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Kelly Tolhurst)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2018, 11:40 a.m.

In March, we published the first Government-backed code of practice on recalls, and we have trained almost 300 trading standards professionals on its use. The Office for Product Safety and Standards is working with UK manufacturers and importers to ensure that their recall plans and processes are adequate.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris
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16 Oct 2018, 11:40 a.m.

Electrical Safety First tells me that the successful product recall rate for electrical goods is abysmally low, so why are the Government not doing more with platforms such as Amazon and eBay, which hold considerable consumer information, to find a solution to this problem?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

16 Oct 2018, 11:41 a.m.

I thank the hon. Lady for her question, and I understand her particular interest in this area. She is the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on home electrical safety, which I look forward to meeting at the end of the month. With particular regard to online traders, we need to ensure consumer confidence. Amazon and eBay already have primary authority partnerships with trading standards. They are advised by trading standards on the regulations and work with them to make sure that goods are removed as quickly as possible.

Energy Policy

Carolyn Harris Excerpts
Monday 25th June 2018

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
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I will. I welcome my hon. Friend’s remarks. We have a substantial programme of investment in innovation. Indeed, when it comes to the costs, to pay £30 billion more than is required to generate the same amount of electricity crowds out the ability to fund genuine projects that can reduce the price of energy.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
- Parliament Live - Hansard - -

Swansea Bay tidal lagoon is in my constituency. The Secretary of State will never understand the frustration and anger felt in my city today. It prompts the question of just who is speaking for Wales in the Cabinet, because it is certainly not the Secretary of State for Wales. We have not had electrification; we have not had the tidal lagoon. If he does not do the job properly, it is time to move on, I fear.

Greg Clark Portrait Greg Clark
- Parliament Live - Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales has been vigorously engaged in making sure that every aspect of the analysis of this project has been conducted, including the impact on the local economy. The hon. Lady is familiar with the figures and the economics of the project, and because she is aware of the proposal she knows of its distance from being value for money, which causes higher bills for her constituents, including intensive energy users such as the steelworks in south Wales, which is something that any responsible Government have to take into account. I think she knows that this has been done in a rigorous way.

Whirlpool: Product Safety System

Carolyn Harris Excerpts
Wednesday 26th April 2017

(4 years, 7 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Gerald Jones Portrait Gerald Jones
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Well, it certainly is in parts of Wales; so many of my constituents rely on tumble dryers, and many of those are made by Whirlpool, which owns the Hotpoint, Indesit and Creda brands. Figures from South Wales Fire and Rescue Service show that over the past two years seven fires have been caused by tumble dryers in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. Across south Wales there have been 43 fires, with more than 55% of those attributed to the Hotpoint, Indesit or Creda machines sold by Whirlpool. Those cases highlight the serious failure in product safety across the country. It seems that a well-known, trusted manufacturer has been allowed to place on the market potentially dangerous machines that have the ability to cause serious damage, injury and worse. What will the Minister do to ensure that the products that are manufactured overseas and sold in the UK are safe?

Through our membership of the European Union we have benefited from a range of legislation, cross-border working and co-operation on product safety, market surveillance and consumer protection to ensure that only products that meet strict minimum safety standards can enter the marketplace; additional safeguards have been created for our constituents and they have been provided with rights to redress when things go wrong. What work is the Minister doing with colleagues in the Department for Exiting the European Union to ensure that that can continue after Brexit?

I understand from research undertaken by the charity Electrical Safety First that there has been an increase in the number of second-hand goods sold online via social media, including a large number of white goods. Vulnerable people, including those in my constituency, who now have less disposable income owing to Tory austerity, may now buy a second-hand product rather than a new one. The item may be unsafe or previously have been recalled by the manufacturer—something that neither the seller nor the buyer may be aware of. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) said, such things may be acquired through moving home. Will the Minister look at the number of previously recalled second-hand goods that have been sold, to find out the impact on product safety and on the safety of our constituents in their homes?

What will the Minster do to reassure us and our constituents that the Government are taking the issue seriously? What are the Government doing to ensure that product safety legislation is fit for purpose? I understand that Whirlpool is struggling to contact a large number of people who may have one of the faulty machines in their home. What work is the Minister undertaking with Whirlpool to ensure that those machines are found and that our constituents are kept safe? One of the Minister’s roles is to ensure consumer safety. Will she now demonstrate that it is possible for our constituents to be confident that manufacturers will take responsibility for their products, and that they will act to prevent more of the incidents with tumble dryers that have happened recently, the consequences of which have been so devastating? I hope that the Minister can provide answers to my questions.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
- Hansard -

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ryan. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) on securing the debate. Mine will be a speedy speech, as I have crossed out three quarters of it already. I want to say a big thank you to Electrical Safety First, which has been the secretariat for the all-party group on home electrical safety, of which I am proud to be the chair. I am grateful for all it has done.

The continuing problem with tumble dryers is becoming increasingly serious, and we are now at a crossroads; the Government must intervene. The issue is not just about the fact that machines are faulty; I can tell the House of a case in Wales where there was loss of life. Last weekend the Welsh media reported on the deaths in 2014 of two young men, in a tumble dryer fire caused by a Hotpoint machine. Time is running out for Whirlpool to rectify the wrong.

I appear to be the only person in the debate who has had a face-to-face conversation with Whirlpool. It happened last year, and was with not the managing director but, if I recall correctly, a communications officer, or perhaps the head of communications. I have refreshed my memory of the meeting from my notes, so that I can share it with the House today. The representative provided me with a short background to the situation, stating that, while the number of machines affected was 5.3 million, because of the period of time that has passed, the number likely to be still in use is 3.5 million. The individual was keen to highlight that the company had proactively approached Trading Standards about the matter, rather than waiting, and that all the actions taken had been approved by Trading Standards. That was of course with reference to Peterborough, although we had no further discussion about Peterborough at the time.

The representative stated that Whirlpool had sent out 3.5 million letters to those for whom it was possible to get contact details, and the company at that time expected to complete 640,000 modifications. It had given itself until March 2017 to complete the modifications—a deadline that I am confident has not been met. The representative informed me that to undertake the task Whirlpool had recruited the services of 1,500 engineers—so many that, in the company’s words, there were now no more qualified engineers available for it to recruit. I was advised that the company had increased the options for those affected, who could receive a replacement machine for either £50 or £20, depending on whether it was being delivered, and the old machine collected, or whether they were to pick it up from a recognised retailer.

Throughout the meeting, I persisted in arguing that the matter should have resulted in a full recall. In response Whirlpool highlighted the fact that the tumble dryer market in the UK is about 1 million units a year, and that it is responsible for more than 50% of that—something that makes the situation all the more terrifying. When I asked about its advice that machines could be used, I was told that they could be used but not left unattended; but the company gave that advice with regard to all electrical appliances, anyway. It seems a little strange to me.

Another thing that was highlighted was that the company believes there is a customer blame issue, to do with consumers not following the advice given in product instructions about caring for the product—emptying the fluff collector, in this case. Apparently people in other countries are much better at that. Whirlpool did not want to blame consumers publicly, but the company believes that more should be done to raise awareness of the need to care for products.

Since the meeting, my hon. Friends the Members for Hammersmith and for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) and I have been in regular correspondence with the company, seeking clarification of specific issues and requesting meetings. As yet, nothing has happened. I wrote as the chair of the all-party group, requesting someone from Whirlpool to attend a meeting, but my office had to chase up the correspondence for two months. It transpired that communication between Whirlpool and its public relations company had been lost. Why is a PR company answering letters from MPs on behalf of a company? Why does not the managing director’s office deal with us directly? I find that attitude to the House contemptible.

I am going to leave out much of the rest of what I was going to say in my speech—apart from telling the House about an interesting tweet that I had at the weekend, from someone who is not a constituent. He sent me a photograph of his tumble dryer being repaired, 18 months after he brought it to Whirlpool’s attention. He was delighted that it was being repaired, but he told me that he has an acutely autistic little boy, who has spent the past 18 months believing that the tumble dryer is a very dangerous piece of equipment. He cannot now convince his child that the machine is safe. Anyone with experience of working with people with severe autism or similar health issues will know that the anxiety that that little lad is now experiencing, having had one of the defective machines in the house, is causing trouble not just for him but his family.

I thank the Minister for her positive responses to my correspondence and the little notes on the bottom. I appreciate that she has taken everything that I have hounded her about very seriously. I am surprised by the Department’s reluctance to publish the working party report, which I understand the Minister has had sight of since Christmas. I can only hope that the sensible measures that Lynn Faulds Wood outlined will be in that report.

We must not allow any further delays in either the publication of the report or action against Whirlpool. The Government must step in to ensure that protection and guidance for consumers is paramount. Whirlpool must take responsibility, and it must be made accountable, by facing us MPs or being answerable to Ministers, or in the law courts. It must be accountable now.

Margaret Ferrier Portrait Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

It is an honour to serve under your chairship, Ms Ryan. I congratulate the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Andy Slaughter) on securing this important debate. He made some valid points, one of which was about loss of belongings in fires, which we do not take into account in a big way but which causes great distress. Both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock (Corri Wilson) mentioned that the petition has now reached 100,000 signatures. I hope we will be able to debate it in the Chamber after the general election.

I say not only as vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on home electrical safety but as an MP with constituents who have real concerns about the safety of electrical products in their homes that this debate is important. I also speak out on behalf of constituents who may be unaware of potentially dangerous appliances in their homes and trust the systems that should protect them. We should do all we can to reduce the number of house fires caused by faults in electrical equipment and appliances. Statistics supplied to me by Electrical Safety First show that, of the accidental house fires caused by electricity in my home council area, South Lanarkshire, in 2015-16, 12%—24 house fires that could have been avoided—resulted from an electrical fault.

Reform of the product safety system is not a panacea—there is much work to be done to tackle the trade in counterfeit electrical goods, for instance—but it would play an important role in reducing risk for people and families across the UK. The hon. Member for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney (Gerald Jones) spoke about second-hand goods being bought online due to financial constraints. We need to help ensure that people are kept safe in their own homes.

The Whirlpool debacle exemplifies why it is crucial that we get this right. We have heard that, following its 2014 acquisition of Indesit, including the brands Hotpoint, Swan, Proline and Creda, Whirlpool identified that up to 5.3 million or 5.5 million tumble dryers in the UK were affected by a serious fault, which the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) mentioned. That fault in more than 120 models meant that those appliances were at serious risk of catching fire. Which? reports that by 2016, around 750 fires had been linked to those tumble dryers. As we heard from the hon. Member for Hammersmith, a significant fire in a tower block in Shepherd’s Bush, which we all heard about due to media reports, was found by London Fire Brigade to have been caused by an Indesit tumble dryer. As he said, the legacy of that fire will last for years.

Troubling though that is, the handling of this debacle since it first came to light is even more worrying. We heard from the hon. Member for South Leicestershire (Alberto Costa) about his personal experience with a tumble dryer. It was only when he revealed that he was an MP that he actually got a proper response, which is ridiculous, but he has shown great perseverance. It shocked me that Hotpoint revealed to him that there could be 16,900 affected customers in his constituency. That is a shockingly high number.

Mystery shopping investigations by Which? looked into Whirlpool’s handling of the modification programme for faulty tumble dryers and found that affected people are being forced to wait far too long for repair or replacement. Alarmingly, Which? also discovered that incorrect and potentially dangerous advice was being given by customer service staff. Which? deserves recognition for its efforts to keep Whirlpool customers safe, and particularly for securing action against Whirlpool by Trading Standards in February, which resulted in the company being required to update its safety advice warning to consumers to instruct them to stop using their machines immediately and unplug them until they are repaired. I am sure we all agree with the hon. Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie) that Trading Standards must do more.

Tidal Lagoons and UK Energy Strategy

Carolyn Harris Excerpts
Tuesday 6th December 2016

(4 years, 12 months ago)

Westminster Hall

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Geraint Davies Portrait Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

It is great to have you in the Chair, Mr Paisley. I have been a supporter of tidal lagoons since I was elected in 2010. At that time, I asked searching questions about flood mismanagement, possible contamination and suchlike. Those have been looked at and, essentially, this project is good for jobs, for the environment and for the economy, so we should go forward. The hon. Member for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) shakes her heard. I should mention what she said about nuclear power.

Nuclear power is good, but if we look at global uranium supplies, at the current rate of consumption, which is 2.5% of global consumption, we will run out in 50 years. If that goes up to 12.5%, we will run out within 10 years. So we need a diverse portfolio that does not exclusively rely on nuclear.

As I mentioned earlier, 75% of fossil fuels cannot be exploited, so we need to look carefully at the tidal lagoon project. There is no excuse for further delay. The previous Chancellor came to Swansea with the former Prime Minister and in the autumn statement of 2013 mentioned the Swansea bay lagoon, but we are still waiting. We now have the Hendry review, which has found that the project is technically sound, is value for money and will deliver economies of scale and falling marginal costs as the portfolio is spread around. So, as hon. Members have said, let us get on with it and let us have a target date. Let us say by June next year. I do not think by Christmas is realistic, but let us have a target date and let us get on with it.

The only thing that has dragged on is the issue of cost. As I have mentioned already, the oil cost is not a proper indicator, because we cannot exploit all the oil and, also, we cannot really go down the road of fracking. People may have read the recent Council of Europe report on hydraulic fracturing. It concluded that, given that methane is 86 times worse for global warming than carbon dioxide and fracking has fugitive emissions of 5%, fracking is twice as bad as coal for global warming, so we need to have very tight controls on fracking. Perhaps the Minister will respond to that. Will he undertake to ensure that fugitive emissions are below 1% for the whole process and below 0.1% at the well head? If we can get that out of the way, it opens the door for Swansea bay lagoon and other lagoons like it as pathfinders. We should not mess around when we know that strategically other options are not open to us.

It looks as though we will be heading towards the disaster called “Brexit”. Let us assume for a moment that the Government do not delay triggering article 50 beyond the French and German elections and do not give the people a final say on the deal, in which case they would reject it. Let us assume we go for Brexit. Obviously, fuel prices will be much higher because sterling will be devalued owing to a lack of confidence in the economy outside the European market, with tariffs. That makes the Swansea bay lagoon better value for money. In the short term, of course, some of the component parts to build it will increase in price. However, overall, it is a great project. We have been waiting long enough. Let us get on with it. In the interests of the environment, of the economy and of Britain, let us do it.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Paisley. The lagoon is located in my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock). Since I was elected the people of Swansea East have made it abundantly clear that the tidal lagoon is one of the issues that matters most to them. It matters for jobs, for investment, for business and for industry.

Mark Pawsey Portrait Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con)
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The hon. Lady is talking about investment in jobs, and there will be an impact in my constituency, where GE will build the 16 generators, involving £18 million of investment in the plant at Rugby and the creation of 100 additional skilled design, installation, service and maintenance roles. Is not that a compelling reason to proceed?

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris
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That was very clever of the hon. Gentleman, and yes, it is a compelling reason.

Most of all, the project matters for the sake of hope, which I am sure the hon. Gentleman’s constituents will now have. It was, and remains, a beacon of hope for a region in transition. Swansea knows a thing or two about making the most of its natural assets, but our once great industries are now in decline and our city has suffered as a result. When the lagoon plan emerged—a modern plan for a new low-carbon era that would once again place Swansea’s natural resources at its core and redeploy a skilled and committed workforce built up over decades—we questioned, probed and challenged. When we were satisfied with the answers we received, we backed it to the hilt. Let me make it abundantly clear: Swansea supports the tidal lagoon, but more importantly, it needs it. It is the foundation stone for our city deal. It is important for the regeneration of our waterfront; for our plans to get people back into work; for retaining the next generation of talent; and for showcasing to the UK and the world a city that I am proud to call home.

I was sceptical about the need for an independent review, but I am delighted to report that those of us who saw the review in action were impressed by its engagement and endeavour. However, it is now finished, and I hope that the Minister will explain what we can expect next. We have heard this afternoon that the review may be lodged today, so we need to know what the next steps are. We have seen the views of the 40-strong all-party group and the more than 100 Back-Bench MPs from across the House who signed a letter to the Government to support the project. Now is the time for the Government to put their money where their mouth is. Now the deed is done, and we need to know where we go from here. We need to know that Swansea will get the tidal lagoon it deserves.

Jessica Morden Portrait Jessica Morden (Newport East) (Lab)
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I too congratulate the right hon. Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb) on obtaining this timely debate. He mentioned that the Hendry review is with the Government this afternoon, and I share the desire to hear about it from Ministers as soon as possible. The debate is a demonstration of how much cross-party support there is in this place, as my hon. Friend the Member for Swansea East (Carolyn Harris) said, for the development of tidal lagoons. That support is pretty unique, and indeed there is also cross-party support in the Welsh Assembly and elsewhere. I should also mention that my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff South and Penarth (Stephen Doughty) and for Ogmore (Chris Elmore), who are upstairs in a Bill Committee, want their support for the project to be stated.

We all hope that the Minister will have something to say this afternoon about when he will share the Hendry report with the House, as it was not mentioned in the autumn statement. The delay is frustrating, because we want the Swansea bay tidal lagoon to go ahead—and, as others have said, not just as a one-off or a stand-alone project, but as a pathfinder for yet more tidal lagoons across Wales and beyond, including in Newport, as set out in Tidal Lagoon Power’s plans. A couple of streets away from my home there are the most beautiful views of the expanse of the Severn estuary. From my constituency office on the banks of the Usk we can watch the dramatic rise and fall of the second highest tidal range in the world every day. It is an amazing natural resource on our doorstep, and we are just not using it. At a time when we desperately need clean, secure energy, year-round, entirely predictable energy, tidal lagoon technology is the key to delivering a low-carbon energy future in Wales. We have to grasp that opportunity.

The benefits for Wales and elsewhere have been clearly spelled out in this debate. They include the chance for Wales to be a global leader in the technology, starting in Swansea. More than 2,000 direct jobs would be created in the manufacturing and construction process, and many more would be created in tourism and the supply chain. There would be a huge boost to the Welsh economy. There would also be the potential for long-term cost reduction as more lagoon technology was built, and, importantly, for exporting the technology. A Newport lagoon further down the line would bring construction jobs and the chance to use Welsh steel, which my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) mentioned—it has been an incredibly difficult time for that industry. The Liberty House Group in my constituency supports the project; a lagoon in Newport would be less than a mile from its steel plant, which I visited recently.

The project is not only a matter of renewable energy generation and playing our part in meeting climate change targets. There is also a chance for coastal regeneration and a boost to recreation and tourism. The leader of Newport City Council, Debbie Wilcox, has given it her backing and said it is a “marvellous opportunity for Newport”. There is huge added value in the project—not least from up to 33,000 jobs at the four lagoons in Wales, were they to go ahead. It is an amazing opportunity that we should grasp for Swansea, yes—but also for Newport. I urge the Government to make a timely decision.

Oral Answers to Questions

Carolyn Harris Excerpts
Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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Of course the Government recognise the concern that has been raised. This is a matter for the Department for Transport, but I have no doubt that it will be attending closely to today’s proceedings.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
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5. What steps his Department is taking before the Christmas retail period to prevent counterfeit and substandard electrical goods from being sold. (907117)

Margot James Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Margot James)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

The Government take consumer protection seriously, and robust legislation requires consumer products to be safe. My Department funds trading standards to prevent high-risk products from entering the UK. This month’s national consumer week, starting on 28 November, will focus consumer awareness on faulty electrical goods, in time for the peak Christmas retail period.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris
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I thank the Minister for that answer. She will be aware that, as chair of the all-party group on home electrical safety, I have a keen interest in faulty, substandard and counterfeit goods. Last year’s hoverboards debacle highlights to us the dangers of internet sales. Will the Minister consider talking to her colleagues in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport about introducing measures in the Digital Economy Bill to help prevent such incidents?

Margot James Portrait Margot James
- Hansard - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Lady for her question and congratulate her on the work of the home electrical safety all-party group. Manufacturers are required by law to take corrective action when they discover a fault, whether the fault emerges in products sold online or in the high street. In addition to local trading standards, we fund National Trading Standards, which prevents many substandard products from coming into the UK. I will liaise with colleagues in DCMS about the issue that she raises this morning and report back to her in due course.

Living Wage

Carolyn Harris Excerpts
Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)
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I beg to move,

That this House recognises Living Wage Week which began on 31 October; believes that the use of the introduction of the national living wage to drive down conditions and take-home pay is against the spirit of the law; calls on the Government to close down those loopholes which make this possible; and further believes that any move to reduce the value of the national living wage to a level below the promised £9 per hour in 2020 is unacceptable.

I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting time for this debate. Living Wage Week is about celebrating the real living wage—£9.75 in London and £8.45 outside London—which provides an income that meets a minimum cost of living.

I called the debate to highlight the inadequacies of the so-called national living wage, the new statutory minimum rate of pay. Initially, the main criticism of the wage was its name, because, at £7.20 an hour, it is far lower than the actual living wage. However, since April a growing number of high-profile companies have used its introduction to cut total pay for long-standing employees, despite the former Chancellor’s promise that

“Britain is getting a pay rise.”—[Official Report, 8 July 2015; Vol. 598, c. 337.]

Back in February, I was approached by a constituent who worked at B&Q and had been told that his contract would change. His contractual entitlement to double-time pay and seasonable bonuses meant that he would be losing £2,600 a year, after the increase in his basic pay. He is a man with two children, living in London and earning around £15,500 a year. B&Q is one of the main employers that have offset the basic pay increase with a total pay cut for employees on old contracts. It has cut the majority of its discretionary payments to staff on older contracts, stripping their pay and removing almost all their employee benefits. Although B&Q’s chief executive has promised me that all affected employees will continue to receive transitional payments to top up their pay, I know that thousands still believe that they will be significantly worse off.

It is a similarly sad story at Marks & Spencer. As one of Britain’s premier retailers, Marks & Spencer employs tens of thousands of workers across the country. It forced a consultation a few months ago to cut the terms and conditions for its employees on pre-2002 contracts. Like those at B&Q, these employees have been penalised for their long and loyal service. Their double time has been cut, as has their unsocial hours entitlement. In fact, M&S went even further than B&Q and scrapped its employees’ pension scheme at the same time.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
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As my hon. Friend is aware, my mother was a long-time member of staff in Marks & Spencer—45 years. Such was the affection for the company that it was known by the staff, and indeed in our house, as “our shop.” Does my hon. Friend agree that this betrayal of loyalty of long-time members of staff is nothing short of, in the words of one staff member, a “kick in the teeth”?

Siobhain McDonagh Portrait Siobhain McDonagh
- Hansard - - Excerpts

Absolutely, and I thank my hon. Friend for her involvement in the campaign. She will know that 11,000 employees were adversely impacted by the changes. Of those, 2,700 have lost at least £1,000 a year, 700 have lost at least £2,000 a year, and a significant proportion will lose up to £6,000 a year.

The human cost of those actions is huge. Literally hundreds of employees from across the country have contacted me in desperation. Let us consider just two examples. There is a gentleman—we will call him Connor to keep his identity secret—who has worked for M&S for more than 20 years, mainly on night shifts. He told me:

“I have enjoyed those years... getting satisfaction from delivering our goals and feeling like I was contributing greatly to achieving our targets. But as you are aware, M&S are cutting my night premium, Sunday premium and bank holiday, totalling several thousand pounds worth of shortfall in my wages per annum. On top of that, they suggest I also start to contribute into a pension. How am I going to be able to do that? I am sick but have a wonderful, large family to support, as well as a mortgage. I stand to lose everything... I have nothing to fall back on. I have given my best years to M&S... I feel cheated and betrayed.”

Let us consider Ms Smith from Yorkshire, a hard-working, low-paid mum. As a result of B&Q’s contractual changes, she is going to receive a staggering 30% pay cut and will lose £2,000 a year from 2018. She told me:

“How exactly am I going to make up this wage deficit? I have a young son to support, and next year is looking very bleak for us…I am worried about how I will support my family...I am heartbroken that the company I have worked so hard for, done 16-hour shifts for, come in on days off for, and valued greatly, has treated me like this.”

Two companies, one sad pattern of hard work and loyalty being punished. Thousands of employees at these two companies will never earn again what they earned in April. Indeed, the general public have been shocked by these actions, with a quarter of a million people signing Change.org petitions against these practices.

What is so shocking is the ease and speed with which these companies have legally cut staff pay. Both companies launched 90-day consultations, which is the statutory minimum. Neither recognises a trade union. Both targeted those workers on older contracts, and both conducted consultations that ended with these pay cuts being pushed through, regardless of the employees’ heartache and the reputational damage the companies have faced.

The consultations are a foregone conclusion. In fact, M&S’s head of retail told me that the company had been planning these changes for 18 months. M&S’s board will meet tomorrow to finalise these contractual changes, and it will be issuing notices a few weeks before Christmas to staff members who refuse to sign their new contracts. I ask the Minister to address that point in summing up.

Faulty Tumble Dryers (Fire Risk)

Carolyn Harris Excerpts
Tuesday 13th September 2016

(5 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber

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Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Natascha Engel Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Natascha Engel)
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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.

Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris (Swansea East) (Lab)
- Hansard -

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.

Alberto Costa Portrait Alberto Costa (South Leicestershire) (Con)
- Hansard - - Excerpts

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.