25 September 2019

S5M-17805 Product Recall Database

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Linda Fabiani): The final item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-17805, in the name of John Mason, on the need for a product recall database. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament notes that the UK Government has served Whirlpool, which manufactures domestic appliances, with a notice to recall faulty tumble dryers; understands that this comes four years after the company issued a safety warning regarding some of its Creda, Hotpoint and Indesit devices; believes that research by the consumer charity, Electrical Safety First, suggests that only 10 to 20% of recalled products are actually returned or repaired, largely due to consumers being unaware of the recalls, and notes calls for the creation of a centrally-managed product recall database, which could allow consumers in Shettleston and across the country to check that their appliances are safe.

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Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP):

The subject in hand is a substantial issue. I am trying to work out whether I am one of the 37 per cent of MSPs who register their appliances. The answer is, “Sometimes I does and sometimes I doesn’t.” I suspect that that is true of most people, because it depends on all sorts of random things. Without question, there is difficulty in tracking down white goods that are in consumers’ premises or being carried around with them—there have been recalls of mobile phones—that require to be recalled.

I will address some of the practical issues, which might be helpful for what happens in future. It is all very well publishing lists of serial numbers, but it is not very obvious where the serial number is on a lot of white goods. If it is anywhere, it is probably at the back, covered in three to five years’ of grime. A person has to haul out the equipment to find the number and they then find that there are four or five labels saying different things with different numbers on them. Which one is the serial number? I have a little suggestion: it would be very helpful for the serial number to be on the front of a device and in a font size such that someone of my age can read it.

We also have an issue with finding people. We could require—I am not trying to identify whether the responsibility lies with Westminster or us; that is neither here nor there—the recording of all but the last digit of a postcode of the person buying a white good. Why would that be useful? First, by excluding the last digit, there would be a big enough cohort so that individuals could not be identified. A full postcode is between one and 100 people—well, one and 99, strictly speaking. Typically, recording all but the last digit would give a cohort of 750. If we know that X number are in that cohort, we can find them. Also, if we know that, overall, we have managed to find 10 per cent of the sales, we do not know about nine of them, and we can then go and do something about that.

Statistically, there are ways in which we can use information to home in on where the people that we do not know about are likely to be. Advertising to everybody in the population is very expensive and ineffective, and there would be difficulties if only a tiny percentage—the number may be right at the decimal point—of people have the goods. There is work that statisticians and others could do on the issue.

Having a database would certainly be useful. Many people would simply not use electronic databases. However, it would be useful to the citizens advice bureaux, retailers and service engineers and to MSPs when they are answering their constituents’ queries, or even taking the unsolicited opportunity to make comments to people.

It is disappointing that goods have to be recalled, but it is inevitable that that will happen. When engineering is involved, a proportion of a product will inevitably fail at some point in its life for reasons that are unexpected. I have been contacted in relation to my car. The manufacturers knew where I was, so they could write to me. When it comes to white goods, the situation is much more difficult.


Stewart Stevenson
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