Monday, 3 March 2008

New Rules for Trading

I wonder if the Consumer Affairs Minister, Gareth Thomas, realises the ambiguity of the press release that has today been issued by the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR)? It is entitled "Unfair Selling Rules Laid in Parliament", which I have to admit made me question whether the intention was to describe 'rules about unfair selling' or 'unfair rules about selling'.

Doubtless, I would have been less suspicious of such a message had I been aware of the identity of the 'business' whom it claims was consulted during the process of drawing up the rules, or perhaps, the proposed rules had been published too. I realise that Parliament has a right to vet any new rules likely to be imposed on an unsuspecting public, but in this case the rules (Consumer Protection Regulations or CPRs) are due to come into effect on May 26 2008 and this is appears to be undue haste if they rules require changes in operational matters by retailers.

The press release suggests that such things as the bogus 'closing down sale' are targetted, which I am sure will be seen by many as a good thing - however, the fact that some retailers have been able to trade this apparently unscrupulous way was because of the ineffectiveness of the enforcement agencies to enforce existing legislation - why will new regulation help, unless it is entirely ambiguous and open to a very illiberal interpretation by enforcers? Surely it would be better to clarify the existing law in Part III of the Consumer Protection Act 1987 and derivative regulations such as Statutory Instrument 2005 No. 2705 (The Consumer Protection (Code of Practice for Traders on Price Indications) Approval Order 2005).

More regulation may well lead to more confusion - in the minds of consumers as much as in the minds of retailers.

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