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European Consumer Affairs Council

Volume 490: debated on Thursday 3 December 1987

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3.18 p.m.

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 at the next meeting of the European Consumer Affairs Council and what is the present position of the draft toy safety directive.

My Lords, the Danish Presidency has announced that it intends to hold a European Consumer Affairs Council on 18th December. The agenda is likely to include the draft toy safety and unit pricing directive, consideration of the Commission's report on the integration of consumer policy into other areas of Community policy and consumer participation in the setting of EC standards. The Government hope that there will be substantial discussion at that Council of the draft toy safety directive.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that that satisfactory Answer will give much encouragement to consumers and consumer organisations, and that we shall wait with some hope what transpires on 18th December? As regards the setting up of standards in the European Community, can the Minister say whether the Secretary of State has had time to look at the voluntary codes of practice and the inefficiency of their operation between member states of the Community? If not, would the Minister do so?

My Lords, the noble Baroness will know that codes of practice consist of recommendations on good accepted practice. In general, the use of standards is preferred because they lay down requirements and thereby remove uncertainty. The Government are committed to a policy of encouraging the harmonisation of standards throughout the Community with the aim of removing technical barriers to trade. I believe that my noble friend the Secretary of State is taking this matter very seriously.

My Lords, can the noble Lord say that codes of practice by themselves concerning this poignant question of toys which kill, damage and harm children are quite insufficient? Can the Minister assure the House that in order to defend British children there will be immediate legislation following the recommendations?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that there is no place for voluntary codes in health and safety legislation.

My Lords, will the Minister ask his colleague when he goes to the EC to draw the attention of EC Ministers to the lion mark which the toy and hobby manufacturers have launched today? That mark is to ensure that toys manufactured in this country bearing the mark conform to all BSI standards on toy safety; and he may wish to recommend it to other members of the EC.

My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a very important point and we shall pay it considerable attention.

My Lords, does not my noble friend agree that it is a very satisfactory day when the noble Baroness, Lady Burton, confesses herself to be satisfied with an Answer from the Government Front Bench?

My Lords, we all very much respect the noble Baroness for the care and trouble that she takes in these matters.

My Lords, can the Minister say whether the Government will agree to the toy safety directive at the meeting on 18th December? Can he also say what steps the Government are taking to ensure that the British consumers' views of the EC proposals on the harmonisation of VAT tariffs are adequately expressed at Community level?

My Lords, on the toy safety directive, an amended draft proposal was circulated in October of this year and it reflects the stage reached at the last Consumer Council meeting. In turn, that takes account of the European Parliament's opinion on 9th July 1987. Therefore, we hope that the matter is moving towards a conclusion.

The European Commission has mandated the European Committee for Standardisation to prepare harmonised European standards in areas covered by the essential requirements. The United Kingdom is represented in the CEN by the British Standards Institution, which takes account of the view of government, industry and consumers in formulating the national position.

My Lords, concerning the European child safety campaign in 1988, can the Minister say what the planned contribution of the Government will be? Am I not correct in assuming that this matter may arise at the forthcoming meeting of the Council on 18th December?

My Lords, it is perhaps too early to say how far this country might be able to support the campaign as at present envisaged by the Commission. All member states expressed reservations about the original proposals, but I understand that discussions between member states and the Commission have resulted in an improved set of proposals. The Commission's proposals will be considered carefully when they are presented to Ministers. I believe that the subject of the child safety campaign may well be raised at the meeting on 18th December.

My Lords, what we are primarily talking about is British children who have toys which may maim or even kill them. Therefore, I again ask the Minister whether there is a possibility, after our Government have made every possible examination, that the relevant legislation will be introduced not in the European Community but in our British Parliament.

My Lords, I attempted to answer the noble Lord earlier. I shall look carefully at what he said and come back to him in writing.