Select Committee on Scottish Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum submitted by the Scottish Consumer Council (SCC 1A)

  We promised to supply additional information, as outlined in your letter of 6 November and I am happy to respond as follows:

Q5—Consumer Credit

  There are two specific areas in relation to consumer credit where we are concerned that the law is different in Scotland to that in England and Wales. The first relates to harrassment by creditors and their agents. We are concerned by the evidence of widespread harassment and intimidation of debtors in Scotland by both creditors and debt collectors contained in a recent report published by Citizens' Advice Scotland.;

Would you credit it?- creditor behaviour in Scotland, Citizens' Advice Scotland, December 2001.

  While such harassment is a criminal offence in England and Wales (under the Administration of Justice Act 1970), there is no equivalent statutory offence in Scotland, although in theory such behaviour might presently constitute breach of the peace at common law. We think that careful consideration should be given to introducing a general law against harassment by both creditors and debt collectors in Scotland, to ensure that Scottish consumers do not continue to be less well protected against such practices than people in England and Wales. It is our understanding, however, that this would be within the remit of the Scottish Parliament rather than Westminster.

  Secondly, we are concerned at the discrepancy between the rules on lay representation in Scotland and those in England and Wales in relation to time orders under the Consumer Credit Act. Time orders can be applied for to allow a debtor time to pay, or to vary the terms of, a credit agreement under the Act. However, while in England and Wales a debtor is entitled to be represented in court by a lay representative, this is not the case in Scotland, putting Scottish debtors at a clear disadvantage. While it might be argued that rights of representation is a matter which could be dealt with by amending sheriff court rules, the view of the Scottish Executive is that any amendment must be made at Westminster, as the Act is a UK statute. The Executive has recently declared its intention to ensure that the position in Scotland is brought into line with that in England and Wales, but states that any such reform would require to be brought before the UK parliament.

  Enforcement of Civil Obligations in Scotland: a consultation document, Scottish Executive, April 2002.


  While we do not have any specific recommendations for changes in relation to property law at a UK level, we can identify four main areas where the OFT has responsibilities which may impact on the situation in Scotland.

  Firstly, there is the OFT's role in relation to the regulation of unfair contract terms, as discussed at the committee session. Secondly, the OFT enforces the Estate Agents Act, which, although it does not apply to Scottish solicitors acting as estate agents, who carry out the majority of estate agency work in Scotland, it does apply to those estate agents who are in practice in Scotland, who are particularly prevalent in the West Central belt.

  Thirdly, the OFT does of course have an important role in regulating competition in relation to the legal, surveying, estate agent and other relevant professions, in order to ensure that the market works effectively.

  Finally, the Housing Improvement Task Force on buying and selling, on which we are represented, is currently considering whether the Property Misdescriptions Act and/or the Misleading Advertisements Act, both of which are enforced by the OFT and trading standards departments, might be usefully employed in addressing the problem of low "upset" prices in Scotland. Our research shows that buyers are concerned about these, which can lead to buyers paying for unnecessary surveys over a property they cannot afford, because a low "offers over" price misleads them into thinking it is within their price range.

Q16—Funding by DTI since Devolution

1996-971997-98 1998-991999-20002000-01 2001-022002-03
Financial YearOut Turn Out TurnOut Turn Out TurnOut Turn Out TurnBudget
DTI Grant277,835308,135 332,420338,119414,620 483,016493,648
Yearly Percentage Increase 10.91%7.88%1.71% 22.63%16.50%2.20%

Overall Increase 77.68%

Q21—Report on Views of CAP Reform

  A copy of the report is enclosed. 3

Q31—Human Rights

  The Scottish Human Rights Forum is an informal coalition of interested organisations set up to discuss and promote human rights issues in Scotland, and to promote the establishment of a Scottish Human Rights Commission. Membership includes a broad range of statutory, voluntary sector and legal organisations. In March 2000, the Forum published a discussion paper on a Human Rights Commission for Scotland, which outlined the arguments for establishing such a Commission, what it might look like, its potential remit, duties and powers, and how it might be funded. This was followed in March 2001 by a Scottish Executive consultation on whether a Human Rights Commission should be established in Scotland. In December 2001, the Justice Minister announced that a Scottish Human Rights Commission would be established, and a further consultation on proposals for a commission is currently awaited.

Q40 and 41—Documents on Survey into Consumer Awareness of Rights and Annual Workplan

  The report on consumers' knowledge of their rights is expected to be published early in 2003 and I will ensure that you receive a copy.The second document referred to was our proposed research into direct payments. This work has not yet commenced but again I will ensure that you receive a copy of the final report of this work.

  I hope this information answers members' queries. We also undertook, under question 25, to look into whether we had sent Mr Robertson our reports. On checking our records I can advise you that we have sent all of our published reports to Mr Robertson and to all other Scottish MPs. Mr Robertson referred to our work in the chamber during the passage of the Ofcom Bill (Hansard 14 January 2002, columns 95 and 96).

  Once again, thank you for giving us the opportunity to appear before the Committee and please do not hesitate to contact me should you require any further information.

Trisha McAuley

Head of Corporate Resources

19 November 2002

3  Not published. Future of Farming—Reforming the Common Agricultural Policy in the interests of Consumers, available from the Scottish Consumer Council.

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