My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty's Government what items are to be discussed by the European Consumer Affairs Council at their meeting on 10th November, what is the Government's position thereon and what progress they expect to make.
My Lords, I regret that the Consumer Affairs Council scheduled for 10th November has been postponed, and that a new date has not yet been fixed.
My Lords, I regret the cancellation of the Consumer Affairs Council and the failure of the Commission to bring forward papers in good time for it. Am I correct in assuming that two items down for definite discussion on the agenda were toy safety and unit pricing? I should like to ask the Minister whether he has in his brief a notice to the effect that on 16th July the Minister told the House that he would look into the ineffectiveness of consumer consultation in the Community and whether he has been able to do so.
My Lords, I believe that the two items mentioned by the noble Baroness were to have been on the agenda. The Government believe it is important that a full-day Consumer Affairs Council meeting should take place at least once during a Presidency. We hope that the present Presidency will be able to arrange a meeting of the council before the end of the year.As regards the question which the noble Baroness put to my noble friend in July, my noble friend has reviewed the question as promised. He shares the anxiety of your Lordships' House to see an effective consultation mechanism in Brussels and awaits developments with interest. However, specific reforms are a matter for the Commission. I was pleased to learn that, at working level, the Commission has recently expressed a broad interest in examining measures to help the negotiating position of consumers.
My Lords, on the assumption that a new date will be found for the meeting, will the Minister say what consultations have taken place with the National Consumer Council and the Consumers Association in preparation for the meeting?
My Lords, as the noble Baroness will know, there are procedures for consultation but the Government accept that the present consultation arrangements are not satisfactory. The Council resolution adopted last year underlined the necessity for effective and duly representative consultations with consumers. Although the Government have no standing to intervene directly in an area which is the Commission's own responsibility, they want to see a credible package of improvements emerging in line with the resolution, when the Commission reports on the matter at the end of this year.
My Lords, as regards the date of the next meeting, I should like to ask the Minister whether it is not now the custom to hold a Consumer Affairs Council under each Presidency. If that is so, and as the Danish Presidency ends on 31st December, will the Minister ask the Secretary of State whether he can bring pressure on the Commission to get on with its business and fix a date before the end of the year?
My Lords, I can inform the noble Baroness that my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Corporate and Consumer Affairs hopes to raise the matter with Commissioner Varfis next week on 10th November.
My Lords, will the Minister tell the House how long the toy safety draft directive has been in the pipeline?
My Lords, it seems a long time but I cannot remember precisely how long. I shall look into the matter and write to the noble Lord.