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I think that we should have temperate language in the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman can
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always ask me for an urgent question. He can also raise the matter in other ways, perhaps through an Adjournment debate. I will consider the matter, but it is not for me to decide whether the Secretary of State goes to a press conference; that is a judgment for the right hon. Gentleman.
Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I listened to what you rightly said about the Parliament Act but would you also accept that, when it is time for you to make the decision about its application, you will clearly take into consideration the position of the Prime Minister and leading members of his Cabinet in voting against that which the Act would impose on Parliament?
Mr. Speaker: The House makes these decisions, the House passed the Act and the Act, in a sense, gives me certain instructions. It would be wrong of me to listen to the Prime Minister or anyone else in this matter.
Mr. Dominic Grieve (Beaconsfield) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Has the Prime Minister notified you that he wishes to come to the House to correct what he said during Prime Minister's Question Time, when he engaged in a highly selective quotation of my right hon. Friend the Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin) about policing in Brixton? If he had correctly quoted him, he would have pointed out that both my right hon. Friend and I noted in Brixton that the action in Brixton town centre had pushed crime into the housing estates and into the immediate periphery, which were suffering as a result.
Claire Ward: On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I would like to raise with you and the House an abuse of parliamentary privilege by the Liberal Democrat party in Watford, which has deceitfully used the portcullis of the House for cheap party political purposes. The matter has been raised with the Serjeant at Arms, who has reported it to the Liberal Democrats in the House and ordered that the abuse cease immediately. Will you condemn the Liberal Democrats for this abuse of the Crown privilege, bestowed on Members of the House and Officers of the House in fulfilling their duties, and will you remind them of the rules?
Perhaps I can remind all hon. Members of the rules, but I will not go as far as condemning any political party. The Crown portcullisand other emblems of the Houseshould be used only in direct connection with communications and publications originating from the House. It should not be shown on any publicity material associated with any individual political parties, and that includes the content of party websites. I am aware that the Crown portcullis emblem has been withdrawn from the website in question. The use of stationery has been dealt with by the Serjeant at Arms.
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There are approximately 25 million cars on the road in the UK. The garage servicing industry is worth an estimated £9.8 billion a yeararound £350 per car. The cost of shoddy repairs is estimated to cost UK car drivers £170 million per annum. The questions I pose today are, are we getting value for money, are our cars being serviced to the highest standards, and is safety being compromised?
In dealing with this issue I have worked very closely with Which? and the Consumers Association. Last week, Which? published the results of an undercover investigation. It took 48 cars to 48 garages across the country and asked them to fix relatively minor faults such as worn brake discs, and then it asked independent, trained experts to check the quality of the work. Seventy-three per cent. of the work undertaken was unsatisfactory and 67 per cent. of the garages that Which? took the cars to, failed to pick up the faults. Which? has conducted other research in the past into MOT servicing, and only eight of 36 garages performed the tests correctly.
The report's findings are nothing new and, although the figures are high, erratic quality in the servicing of vehicles is not a recent phenomenon. The public, consumer organisations and Government agencies have complained about it for decades. The latest investigations by the Office of Fair Trading and by trading standards authorities reveal some gross abuses of consumer confidence. Interestingly, the problem appears as endemic in the franchise dealer workshops as in the small independent garages. Despite the efforts of vehicle manufacturers to get their franchisees to observe quality standards, they have failed to do so.
Most car users think that, if they take their car to a recognised franchiseethey often pay over the odds to do sothey will get a good deal. That is not always the case. On the other hand, I do not want to condemn all garages or tar them all with the same brush. Personally, I have received excellent service in my constituency from a one-man operator, Jack Frodsham, who serviced my car for many years, and from a franchise operator, KA Ford, which gave me some expert and timely advice last week that saved me more than £600. I congratulate those garages.
The latest attempt to tackle poor standards was the good garage scheme, which is also known as the CarWise scheme and has been promoted by the Department of Trade and Industry. The proposal, which is based on codes of conduct, self-regulation and asking the consumer to distinguish between good and bad, was welcomed by consumer groups and hailed as a way of sorting out the mess of garage servicing without legislation. Unfortunately, the scheme received a mixed reception in industry circles, and the industry finally withdrew, refusing to fund it.
The scheme would have cost about £10 million to set uponly 35p for every car on the road in the UK. The industry claimed that the consumer would be up in arms
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about having to pay that 35p per year and per car for the service. Which? could not believe it, so it conducted further research with 1,100 people to find out what they were getting for their money and what they wanted from a mechanic. Some 93 per cent. of the people surveyed said that they would be concerned if they thought that their car was being serviced by a mechanic without suitable qualifications. People said that they wanted to be able to trust their mechanic. In order to get that trust, the industry has to listen to what people want: some kind of decent standard that is nationally recognised. Some 87 per cent. of those surveyed told Which? that they would pay extra for an approved technician to work on their car, and 67 per cent. said that they would travel further to get their car serviced by someone who was suitably qualified. With the consumer prepared to pay more and travel further for good customer service and a professional repair, it is unclear why the industry has not responded more positively.
Following the decision to scrap the good garage scheme, the Government did the only thing they could, and encouraged the industry to develop a code of practice and work with the OFT and its consumer code approval scheme. While some societies and organisations, such as the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, have joined the scheme, Which? informs me that the Retail Motor Industry Federation, whose members are mainly independent repairers, withdrew its code, claiming that the OFT kept changing its criteria and the goalposts. The criteria are relatively low anyway, but, by signing up, a trade body can demonstrate its commitment to standards and good consumer service. I hope that the RMIF will reconsider its position following this debate.
The automotive trade magazine representing body repairers and small independent garages conducted e-polling and found that 82 per cent. of its trade readership supported licensing under a mandatory scheme. Obviously, there is concern about who will pay to set up and monitor a scheme. As I have asserted, however, the public have stated that they are prepared to pay more, as long as they are guaranteed quality.
The Government are also helping out in other ways, such as improving competencies with the modern apprenticeship scheme. I believe that 7,000 apprentices are currently being trained to be mechanics. I point to the centre of automotive technology in my constituencya £1.5 million project in Rhyl college aimed at giving young people, both male and female, the chance to gain these 21st century skills in the car servicing industry. Many in the industry welcome that help and realise that competency is the core of improving consumer confidence. Some, such as the Institute of the Motor Industry, Automotive Advantage and several dealer groups and manufacturers, already operate a code of practice and a raft of qualifications to help train mechanics. Their positive input should be recognised and encouraged by the Government.
Regulation has been introduced successfully in other industries and sectors. The gas installation industry, for instance, is now covered by CORGI registration, and in
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the aerospace industry mechanics are trained to the highest standards. Today's automated, computerised cars are a different beast from those of 30 years ago. The knowledge and skills required to service such cars are of a far higher standard, and deserve recognition and respect.
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