Electrical Products: Online Sales

Patricia Gibson Excerpts
Tuesday 9th July 2019

(2 years, 6 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Carolyn Harris Portrait Carolyn Harris
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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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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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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.

--- Later in debate ---
Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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When we are talking about such a wide brief as consumer product safety, there will always be pressures on budgets, but the OPSS is working with local trading standards, with scientific, technical support. It is providing support, through training, to trading standards, to enable local authorities to carry out the job that they have been tasked with doing.

The hon. Member for Swansea East asked a direct question about Whirlpool and the published list of recalled models, and I want to address that straight off. If products on the recall list are being sold on online platforms, that is absolutely wrong, and I will instruct our officials to ensure that those online platforms are made aware of those products, and that the products are withdrawn, as I have outlined. The hon. Lady will appreciate, because she knows this area very well, that this is ongoing work. Market surveillance—the identification of illegal and unsafe products—is not a job done today or tomorrow, with one list. Market surveillance is ongoing, and is how we continue to protect consumers. It is right that our policy and research evolves. This is work that we do independently as a Government to ensure that consumer safety is always our top focus.

Patricia Gibson Portrait Patricia Gibson
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The Minister has talked about fines and punishments for people selling illegal or unsafe products online. Does the product safety and standards unit monitor particular sites, or does it wait for the public to make representations about them? I am interested to know how the sites operate and how they are monitored. Where does the intelligence about illegal or unsafe products come from?

Kelly Tolhurst Portrait Kelly Tolhurst
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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.