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The General Safety Requirement

Volume 116: debated on Wednesday 13 May 1987

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I beg to move amendment No. 42, in page 7, line 10, leave out 'any person' and insert

`the British Standards Institution or the European Committee for Standadisation'.
This amendment is purely exploratory. The Minister and I have had an exchange of correspondence on this matter. I thought that it would be useful for it to be written into the Official Report.

The amendment attempts to restrict those standards of safety which will be considered in deciding whether consumer goods fail to comply with the general safety requirement to standards approved by either the British Standards Institution or the European Committee for Standardisation. The Opposition fear that some traders might attempt to write their own standards of safety to ensure that their goods comply with the general safety requirement. Those fears are groundless.

The purpose of clause 10(2) is to ensure that all the circumstances are considered when deciding whether consumer goods fail to comply with the general safety requirement. Along with all the qualifications in the preceding subsection (1)(a), which concern the manner in which goods were marketed or used and in any instructions or warnings given with the goods, and in the subsequent subsection (1)(c) concerning the existence of any means by which it would have been reasonable for the goods to have been made safer, we also have to consider any standards of safety published by any person. Consideration of those standards will include the question whether the particular standard of safety which applies to the goods is suitable. If the published standard does not reach the level of safety which in all other circumstances is necessary, compliance with that standard will not necessarily be enough to outweigh consideration of these other circumstances.

There is a specific reference in subsection (3)(b)(ii) to "approved" standards of safety. These standards are more than likely to be British standards or, possibly, European standards, or may be suitable safety standards from any part of the world. But, for the purposes of clause 10(3), compliance with an approved safety standard will ensure that goods comply with the general safety requirement in relation to matters covered by that standard. No other fact then needs to be taken into account. Compliance with that approved standard will be sufficient.

For the purposes of clause 10(2), where all the circumstances are to be taken into account, any standard of safety will be taken into account, although, as I have just said, only if the level of safety provided by those standards is sufficiently high. There is, therefore, a distinct difference between the role of safety standards for the purposes of subsections (2) and (3). The amendment would seek to limit the generality of subsection (2) and, as I have sought to explain, compliance with approved standards of safety relates to subsection (3). I hope, therefore, that the right hon. Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) will see that there is no need for his amendment and will withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment No. 40, in page 7, line 36, leave out paragraph (a).

Various organisations have expressed concern that, although we are establishing standards of safely of products in our country, we waive any such requirement for goods to be exported. Concern has been expressed by various lobbies that that would mean that many Third-world countries will sell products that would be regarded as substandard and unacceptable in this country. I should like the Minister to place his defence on record.

I remind the Committee of the genesis of this provision, which was in the White Paper, "The Safety of Goods", which was published in July 1984. In that White Paper the Government proposed that the general safety requirement would not apply to goods intended for export. It was explained at that time that a distinction had to be drawn between regulation-making powers and a general requirement such as the general safety requirement. While with a regulation-making power each case could be considered on its merits, that is not possible for a general requirement of this kind. The White Paper therefore concluded that it would be preferable, on balance, for the general safety requirement not to apply to goods for export. In these cases, it would be preferable to allow manufacturers flexibility to meet the safety requirements of the overseas market concerned. For example, an electric hair drier manufactured for use in a country which operated on a 110 volt electricity supply and used a two-pin unearthed plug might very well comply with the safety regulations of that country. It would clearly be unsafe here. If the amendment were passed, a United Kingdom manufacturer would be unable to make such a drier.

Moreover, I think that it is quite right to argue that other countries should have the right to set different safety standards from our own. Safety standards in any country tend to increase with its wealth. It is for the Government of the country concerned to decide what is acceptable, not for us. It has been suggested that our approach is in some way inconsistent with the White Paper "Standards, Quality and International Competitiveness". That could hardly be further from the truth. A crucial part of international competitiveness for our manufacturers is to allow them flexibility to compete with their foreign competitors. That will not be achieved if we impose standards upon them which might be quite irrelevant for foreign markets.

Therefore, it would be inappropriate to apply such a general requirement for goods intended for different export markets. We should allow manufacturers the flexibility to compete in foreign markets where the safety standards are properly set by the foreign Governments. For those reasons, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will seek to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 11 to 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.