On Wednesday, the Scottish Parliament debated the Consumer Scotland Bill I have been clear that, while people are dying of Covid-19 in our hospitals, care homes and communities and the country is in lockdown, we should not be debating something that has little direct impact on the crisis. I do not believe that the Scottish Parliament should be debating anything other than how we protect our people and our businesses during these exceptional times.
That having been said, as a co-operator I have a keen interest in consumer affairs.
I am pleased that my amendments put forward, in part, in conjunction with the Scottish Co-operative Party were accepted. My so-called ‘Whirlpool Amendment’ came about because white goods cause a house fire every single day in Scotland. Product recalls only have a 10 to 20 per cent success rate. There is a need for a central body to be a trusted source co-ordinating recall information.
It is also clear as Richard Leonard said in the debate that it is the poorest in society who are cheated the most, that is why I put forward amendments which seek to ensure that Consumer Scotland includes people who have experience of being a vulnerable consumer so that the organisation benefits from their lived experience. We know that organisations are more likely to get things right at an early stage in their operation if they listen to and involve people who have lived experience.
Members of the Labour group and Co-operative parties have long championed the rights of consumers. We believe that a well-functioning economy and well-informed and empowered consumers drive up standards, innovation and value for money. Of course, the current economy is different from the economy in the 1960s and 1970s, when Labour and Co-operative MPs developed the raft of measures that underpins much of today’s legislation.
Technology has moved on apace; a few months ago, who would have thought that I would now know about Zoom, Microsoft Teams or BlueJeans? There are different ways of doing business, and consumer markets do not always function well, so there is a need to update legislation in the UK Parliament as well as the Scottish Parliament.
Any legislation that we pass must seek to protect consumers. We already have a cluttered and confusing landscape. If the new body serves to clear it up a bit, that will be helpful. However, some fear that it is just a piece of nation building and that the services it will provide already exist.
How the body acts and whether it has the interests of consumers at its heart will be determining factors in judging Consumer Scotland’s success. It cannot be just another Scottish Government quango; it needs to deliver for consumers across Scotland.
Along with the Scottish Co-operative Party I will be watching to ensure that this legislation makes a real difference to people’s lives and improves consumer protection.