§ 10.16 p.m.
The Minister of State, Department of Prices and Consumer Protection (Mr. Alan Williams)
I beg to move,That this House takes note of Commission Documents Nos. R/834/73, COM(69)71, R/2222/72 and R/2579/73.I am grateful for the opportunity this evening to put these three proposals before the House and hear the comments of hon. Members on them. I am glad to see the hon. Members for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) and Derbyshire, West (Mr. Scott-Hopkins) on the Opposition Front Bench. We have engaged in amicable, though serious, exchanges for many years, and I am glad that we are in opposition again tonight.
There are three directives, two of which until 1st October were the responsibility of the Home Office. As hon. Members will appreciate, from that date responsibility for the safety of products was transferred from the Home Office to my Department. The third directive is an agricultural one, and my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture will, if he is fortunate enough to be called to speak later, turn his attention to that.
All three directives are prepared under Article 100 of the Treaty of Rome. We are treating them as consumer protection measures, but the point has to be borne in mind that the main purpose of Article 100 is to secure approximate parity of the rules and regulations of member States on safety, labelling and packaging in order to secure the free mobility of goods and to remove artificial barriers to trade. It is, therefore, correct and appropriate that the House should have the opportunity to look at the directives 178 against the background of the criterion of their suitability for consumer protection.
Regardless of the Common Market aspect of the three directives, I am sure that even those who do not favour continued membership of the EEC will recognise that even if a free trade arrangement were to be negotiated it would still be appropriate that artificial obstacles to trade should be removed, and, therefore, we should still be seeking to secure objectives similar to those in these directives.
If I may initially state our general attitude and policy towards Article 100 directives, it is that our prime objective— I trust that this will be true of hon. Gentlemen opposite—must be to ensure that there is adequate consumer protection, that there is no erosion of the protections that we have for the consumer, and, particularly where safety aspects are involved, that everything is done to secure the additional safety of goods from the consumer's point of view. To this end, therefore, wide consultations take place on all these directives not only with the trade to ensure advice on the mobility of goods aspect, but with the consumer groups to ensure that the consumers' interests are appropriately protected.
The changes under Article 100 cannot be imposed upon us. The changes which are made, if any, require a unanimous vote of the Council of Ministers, and, therefore, any country which finds itself affected by decisions taken under Article 100 does so because it has given support to the changes at the Council of Ministers. Where change is involved time is allowed for the necessary legislative and administrative changes to take place. In general, that would normally be about 18 months from the time of notification of the new directive. Sometimes the implementation of these changes would have to be under Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972, but there are many other items of legislation which may be appropriate, as I shall demonstrate while discussing the directives before us.
The first of the directives is the aerosol directive, and it is hoped that this may be presented for final approval before the end of the year. This directive in no 179 way relates to the contents of aerosols. Therefore, there is no question of imposing any inhibition upon any member Government to ban the sale of any aerosol product the contents of which represent a hazard to the health or safety of the consumers in that country. This directive is concerned with the safety of the container itself. It therefore contains technical specifications. These are based upon the structural characteristics of glass, plastic and metal, and there are, therefore, separate requirements for each. The requirements are based upon the suitability of the materials for the manufacture of aerosol containers. There are requirements, for instance, that there should be no possibility of unintentional opening of containers during transit, that they should have valves with a leak-tight closure, that the contents put into the aerosol should be compatible with the substance of which the aerosol canister is made, and that the containers should be able to withstand specific pressures.
These requirements are all technically necessary precautions, but in no way control the contents of the container.
§ Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)
Does my hon. Friend agree that the definition of aerosol in Article 2 covers not only the container but also thegas compressed, liquefied or dissolved".under pressure that is in that container?
I am referring to the contents, the actual product which is being sold via the aerosol. As my hon. Friend says, there are problems related to the actual dispersal element, and since we joined the EEC we have secured an improvement in ensuring that certain products which were not used in aerosols here but were used in other countries should not now be used within the EEC.
The labelling is also intended to be informative and helpful to the safety aspect. It will be required to carry warnings that the aerosols are under pressure and, therefore, should not be exposed to heat, punctured or burned. There will be a requirement for the name, address and trade mark of the marketer to be included, and the net contents should be notified. However, this is an optional directive and as such it in no way inhibits member States from having lower standards if they wish. What it says is that 180 any product which meets the directive standard must be acceptable to all those member States, and it cannot be barred from access to the market.
The United Kingdom is a major producer of aerosols. Two years ago we produced the not unremarkable figure of about 360 million aerosols. That figure must be dramatically higher by now. We in this country have a good safety record. This is based upon the British Standard— a standard which, as hon. Members know, is voluntary—and upon the code of practice of the British Aerosol Manufacturers' Association. But the important point about this directive is that it largely conforms to those standards already applying in this country under the British Standard and under the code of practice. There is in any case within the directive, as in both the other directives, a safeguard clause— hon. Members are very familiar with these—to ensure that should new knowledge reveal to any member State that products even meeting the requirements of this directive, or appearing to do so, still represent a hazard, a member State can still ban that product from sale, and the Commission would have to report within a period of about six weeks—if I remember correctly—of being notified of such a ban.
No changes in the law are necessary to enable us to conform to the standards which this would require, but we are considering whether it may not be advantageous to introduce regulations under, say, the Consumer Protection Act 1961. I shall listen with interest to the views of hon. Members about that proposition.
The second of the directives relates to cosmetics. The objective here is that cosmetic products should not be harmful to health when in normal use. Much of the control represented by this directive is contained in a series of annexes. Particularly important are the negative annexes, one of which gives over 400 substances which must not in any circumstance be used in cosmetics. As hon. Members who have studied that annex will appreciate, some of these are well-known poisons.
In another negative section limitations are set upon the amounts or proportions of other substances which can be used within cosmetics. There is also specification about labelling. In general, but not universally, sensitisers—about which one of 181 my hon. Friends is particularly concerned—are substantially covered by these negative annexes. But there is at present under consideration in the Common Market the question of whether the sensitisers should be named on the labels. We are taking part in the consultations. Here again, I hope that hon. Members will take this opportunity to deal with the technicalities of this measure as well as with the general principles underlying the directives.
There is also a positive element in the annexes, listing, for example, colorants which can be used in preparations which come into contact with mucous membranes. There are labelling requirements which require the name and address of the manufacturer or the person marketing the contents, the expiry date, or whether there is a limited shelf life.
The importance of the expiry date is not an importance in relation to health. It is simply the efficacy for fulfilling the rôle for which the cosmetic was bought. It is not that cosmetics become a hazard to health by being stored but simply that their effectiveness as cosmetics may be impaired. It is that element which will be covered by the expiry date.
Also required under the labelling requirement will be the statement of precautions which must be observed where necessary in view of the contents of the cosmetic. As hon. Members have pointed out in debates on packaging and so on, cosmetic substances often come in a container which is in a packet which is in a box. We are pressing as an absolute imperative—I hope that the House will support us—that if there is a precaution on a container which is inside a package inside a box, the same information should be printed on the outside so that the person buying it is aware of the hazards at the time of purchase. We are, therefore, still looking for a change in that respect.
We are still discussing with other members of the Common Market the prohibition on the names of trade marks, images and other signs which suggest a characteristic which the product does not possess. All member States have indicated that they hope for future progress, though not in this directive, towards a positive list rather than the emphasis in the directive on the negative list. They hope that a positive 182 list will be extended to preservatives, anti-oxidants and stabilisers.
One of the difficulties about the positive list is that it can sometimes, if it is not flexible, represent an inhibition on new products coming on to the market. The case is not absolutely one-sided. At a recent economic question group of the Council of Ministers the Commission's representatives indicated that once this directive has been accepted, assuming that it is accepted, a committee will be set up to consider the establishment of positive lists within the next five years. This is what is known as a "total" harmonisation directive. Therefore, member States will have to conform to its contents. I am given to understand that the Consumer Association, amongst other bodies in Britain, speaking on behalf of consumers has welcomed this aspect of the directive.
Regulations will be required to implement this directive, should it be accepted. These regulations will probably require to be made under Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972.
The final directive relates to a subject about which my hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, who will reply, knows much more; namely, fruit juices. This in general does not cover the type of soft drinks generally available in Britain. It is no limitation on the type of drink available to the British consumer. The objective is to lay down clear, understandable, compositional criteria for fruit juices and nectars and to ensure that these are safe and wholesome and accurately and meaningfully labelled. The soft drinks commonly labelled in Britain are not covered by this directive.
The soft drinks directive is still under consideration and will, I suspect, take a little time to emerge. In addition to the consultations which are normally held with industry and the consumer groups, my hon. Friends at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food have now available to them a report—it is in the process of being printed—from the independent Food Standards Committee. I gather that this report is very much in line with the recommendations in the directive.
There is no diminution in the protection available to the British consumer 183 as a result of the acceptance of this directive. Indeed, there is an improvement in the sense that it applies to products such as nectars which are generally not sold in Britain but could become more generally sold in Britain. One of the more outstanding points is whether the addition of vitamins is acceptable.
All Common Market countries except Germany have accepted the directive. Germany has doubts and has, therefore, registered a provisional reservation.
We are still dealing with the question—this, again, is an important question for the industry—of whether it should be mandatory to replace collective volatile substances in juices made from concentrates. As hon. Members familiar with this process will appreciate, in the process of concentration certain substances are lost to the remaining concentrate. In some cases these can be collected. Those which are collected can technically be returned in some cases when the concentrate is returned to a juice. It is difficult. In some cases it is not even desirable, because as a result of the presence of some of these substances it is difficult to maintain the balance of the product and one may not necessarily get a desirable end product for the consumer. This is one of the highly technical points which are still being considered. This is a "total" directive and will require changes under the Food and Drugs Act 1955.
I again welcome the opportunity which we have been given of thanking the Committee which made the recommendation that the House should consider these directives. We look forward to hearing the constructive comments which I am sure will be made by various hon. Members on the precise items contained in these directives.
§ 10.35 p.m.
§ Mr. John Davies (Knutsford)
Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for allowing me an early word in this debate. Thank you also for the opportunity to say to the Minister how much one appreciates the careful exposition that he made.
My purpose is to give an explanation to the House of what the Committee had in mind suggesting that these matters might be debated, as the issues raised are 184 rather more ones of principle than of detail. It would have been desirable for the House to be fully informed of the underlying reasons for these particular instruments to be selected before the debate took place. I apologise on behalf of the Committee, but there was an almost inescapable problem resulting from the immense backlog of work of the Committee, the problems of the printing dispute and the fact that the new Committee has only recently been set up.
There was a very real purpose in the Committee's putting forward these three matters. The 11th report of the Committee appeared only today, although dated 13th August, and this illustrates the difficulty on which I have commented. Hon. Members may be surprised to find matters of this kind put forward to the House for consideration in the light of the remit to the Committee, which I will read:… to report their opinion as to whether such proposals or other documents raise questions of legal or political importance, to give their reasons for their opinion, to report what matters of principle or policy may be affected thereby …".There may be questions in people's minds as to the legal and political importance of the instruments to which reference has been made. Perhaps it is hard to reconcile fruit juices, cosmetics and aerosols with that description, perhaps even more so if one has to make the transposition from some of the Community jargon. I wonder whether the attention of hon. Members has been drawn to the interesting definition of lipstick, which is, for the purpose of the Community,substances or preparations to be placed in contact with the mucous membranes of the oral cavity for cosmetic purposes".Hon. Members may find that an elaborate description of something of which they have not perhaps first-hand knowledge. None the less, matters of importance are raised, and it is the essence of those matters on which I should like to speak.
When the Committee members identified these instruments, it was irrespective of whether the individual members of the Committee happened to be in favour or not in favour of membership of the European Economic Community. All members of the Committee were happy to go along with these instruments as illustrating the point which they had in mind.
185 The point was this. Many of them were of the opinion that the European Economic Community, whether one liked it or not, should be occupied with matters of substance and importance. It should be dealing with quite major issues of policy affecting its member States if it was dealing with anything. To find it dealing with matters such as identity in terms of the composition of fruit juices, the internal pressures of aerosols or the content of cosmetics seemed in some ways to be using the Community for purposes which were entirely strange from the concept of an extremely important element in our future and the basis of the great debate of which we heard so much in the past. It was felt that the House should have the opportunity of debating the important constitutional question of whether the Community exists to deal with fruit juices and the like, whether it exists to deal only with matters of great importance or with nothing at all. That was the issue which the Committee felt it right the House should consider in bringing these matters forward for debate.
Alternative views were expressed in the Committee. In the spread of action with which the Community is concerned the nature of individual effort is not to be taken in isolation from the main purpose. As the Minister has said, Article 100 is designed to create a Common Market, to create an environment in which goods can circulate with the certainty that wherever they go they will not be met by impediments imposed by national powers which will prevent the reasonable expectation of a commercial outlet. Equally and oppositely, it gives the inhabitants of the Community the opportunity to take advantage of a much wider range of product from a much wider number of producers and countries than they would otherwise have if restricted to the requirements of their national law.
The alternative arguments are clearly placed. It is true that if we wish to deal with a substantial matter it is often necessary to deal with the details first. The infinite capacity for taking pains is just as much evident in dealing with Article 100 as with many other matters with which we are concerned. The Committee was anxious that the House should consider more the broad issue with 186 which I am dealing rather than the specific and individual issues to which the documents refer.
The basis idea of the Community is visible in the documents in the sense that where there seems no reasonable objection to goods being manufactured nationally to national standards rather than to Community standards, provided they are distributed only within the nation concerned, it is deemed an unnecessary impediment to prevent their manufacture. It will be evident from at least one document that that is so. There is provision, where it seems a reasonable expectation that there might be national provision to meet national needs, that there shall not be an impediment to so doing.
I now turn to another fundamental issue that involves at least one document and perhaps all three. I do so not with the explicit consent of the Committee, though I think that many members of the Committee would agree with my doing so. In this country we have a different approach to regulation in many spheres of activity. We are basically self-regulators. Wherever possible it is our habit to place in the hands of more or less voluntary organisations the supervision of the actions taken by people within a trade or profession to ensure that they respect the public interest and comply with decent standards of conduct and behaviour. That is our basic approach, though I am bound to say and in recent years there has been evidence of a greater encroachment of the statute in more and more parts of our national activity. Perhaps that is inescapable.
The basic approach to which I have referred is in sharp contrast with the views of some EEC States. Many of them believe that there should be statutes with which to regulate when dealing with matters of safety, for example, or with health requirements. That principle is in contrast to our approach in that self-regulation is not the normal admissible basis but specific regulation by statute.
We find two different philosophies encountering one another in the Community's proposals. The result of this impact between two opposing philosophies is a good thing for both. It introduces into the Community's thinking rather more of the self-regulatory or 187 liberal line of thought than it would normally subscribe to, and brings us down to earth with a bump. It ensures that there will be specific regulation to look to the consumer and to see that proper standards are achieved.
I felt that it was important to draw the attention of the House to the reasons why it was felt by the Committee to be necessary that these matters should be debated.
§ 10.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Blaker (Blackpool, South)
The House is grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) for explaining the reasons why the Committee recommended that these proposals should be debated by the House. I reciprocate the sentiments expressed by the Minister of State—and, incidentally, it is a pleasure to be facing him across the Dispatch Box once again.
My right hon. Friend said that one of the factors that impelled his Committee to recommend the House to debate these proposals was the question in the Committee's mind whether the European Community should be occupied with matters of relatively small importance at a time when the whole of Western Europe, and indeed the whole world, faces overwhelming problems.
On this I have three points to make. We in this House accept the tradition that even when we face large problems we do not neglect the small ones. Moreover, when it comes to the question whether it is right to consider the less important and complicated matters, I thought that I would look into the question of the amount of delegated legislation which the House produces. I went to the Library and discovered that in the one year of 1970 we issued about 2,000 Orders in Council, which occupy two feet of shelf space. My right hon. Friend may take the view that we are using self-regulatory rather than statutory regulations, but we churn out a great deal of detailed legislation, some of which requires resort to algebra to understand.
Secondly, the issues with which we are concerned are not in fact small ones. They concern the very important area of health, safety and consumer protection. All these matters are very much in our 188 minds at present, and in the minds of our fellow Community members.
Thirdly, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) pointed out, the principle at stake is a big one. We are touching on proposals related to aerosols, fruit juices and cosmetics—relatively small matters, one might think. But the principle is the same for nuclear power stations, motor cars or aeroplanes. The principle concerns the nature of the Common Market. I do not mean just the Community, but the Common Market. What we are talking about are barriers to trade—not tariff barriers but non-tariff barriers.
It is well known that non-tariff barriers across the world are assuming increasing importance as obstacles to trade when compared with tariff barriers. If each of the member countries of the Community continues to have—and creates more— rules of differing kinds, varying from one State to another, dealing with subjects concerning health, food, consumer protection, and so on, the opportunities for freedom of trade between the nine countries will be severely reduced and we shall never achieve the common market which is the objective of the treaties.
What we require is a determined attack on non-tariff barriers. This is the subject of the three proposals we are debating. The Minister of State has told us of the large quantity of aerosols we manufacture. I have not been able to get details from the Library dealing with export figures for our aerosols but I understand that the total number of aerosols circulating at any one time in the Community is estimated as 800 million.
It seemed from the figure given by the Minister of State that we must be responsible for some large exports to the Community. In the first 10 months of 1974 we exported to the world £39 million worth of cosmetics, and £14 million worth to the EEC. These matters are not, therefore, so small.
It is not only the European Community which attaches importance to the elimination of non-tariff barriers. GATT attaches equal importance to it. Looking at developments across the world, and the preparations for what is now known as the Tokyo round of GATT negotiations, it is clear that the elimination of these barriers is not likely to be rapid. GATT 189 has identified 855 different non-tarifi barriers. There is therefore no reason for the Community to hold back in its attempts to eliminate these barriers because, by its own admission, it will be along time before GATT makes significant progress.
The process we are discussing is usually referred to as harmonisation. This is a misleading term, because it leads some people to think that the object is to produce a standard product and, consequently, to reduce choice for the consumer. This is a widespread myth, and it should be dispelled. I was much struck the other day by an answer which the Prime Minister gave to the hon. Member for Moray and Nairn (Mrs. Ewing), who was complaining about an alleged threat to the Scotch whisky industry because of a proposal in the EEC to ban the use of peaty water. The Prime Minister appeared to believe that there was some substance in the hon. Lady's claim. He said:We have considered not only Scottish whisky but English beer and the fatuous regulations concerning the sexual habits of hops, male and female, which are regarded as too permissive by the Commission and on which proposals were made. We have also considered sausages, bread, and nearly everything else. This is the kind of tomfoolery with which the Government are not prepared to put up."— [OFFICIAL REPORT, I8th June 1974; Vol. 875, c. 205.]I mention that to show the degree of misunderstanding which apparently is, or was at that time, shared by the Prime Minister about the nature of harmonisation.
There has been no proposal to compel members of the Community to produce standard Eurobeer or Eurobread, or to interfere with the production of Scotch whisky from peaty water. What was proposed for beer involved no interference in our own beer or in that of any other member country. The proposal was to allow freer access for British beers to other countries and for beers from members countries to Britain by providing that if they came up to a certain Community standard they could be freely traded, regardless of national import barriers. There was no proposal to interfere in any national beer if it was consumed inside the originating country. The proposals for bread were on similar lines. As for hops, there never was any such proposal made by the 190 Commission as that to which the Prime Minister referred.
I concede that at one time there was a tendency for the Commission to put forward proposals that looked like harmonisation for the sake of harmonisation, but the policy which has applied since 1973, soon after we became a member of the Community, is entirely different. For that policy "harmonisation" is a misleading word. I much prefer "liberalisation", because we are talking about the removal of technical barriers to trade. The new policy has been clearly set out by Mr. Gundelach, the Commissioner responsible for these matters. The main emphasis is on the type of optional regulation to which the proposal on aerosols belongs.
I want now to say a word about the method by which these proposals are processed. It is inevitably time-consuming, because so many consultations take place. In spite of all the consultation, the Community has passed about 40 trade liberalisation measures. The Commission establishes working groups including representatives of all the member countries. It invites representatives of industry and other groups concerned to join the working groups. The proposal goes to the European Assembly and its committees. It goes to the Economic and Social Committee, which includes representatives of workers and the public. It subsequently goes for examination by officials of member States. The Minister gave examples of matters which are now being considered. In due course the proposal comes to member Parliaments, which is the stage at which we are tonight. In due course it goes to Ministers.
There is thus full opportunity for all concerned—national Governments and Parliaments—if they wish, to have their say. The process through which the proposals go involves greater consultation and opportunity for discussion by national Parliaments than do most normal international agreements.
I have dealt with the question whether the Community should be discussing matters of this kind. I have not dealt with the question whether the House should be debating them, because that is a matter for the Scrutiny Committee. We are taking these proposals on the Floor of the House because that is what 191 the Scrutiny Committee recommended. In this case I welcome the fact that it has made the recommendation, because it has given us the opportunity of this debate, which allows us to discuss the broad question of principle why the Community is recommending measures of trade liberalisation, and to show the degree of care and consultation with which these measures are prepared.
§ 11.0 p.m.
§ Mr. John Roper (Farnworth)
I am glad that the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies), as Chairman of the Scrutiny Committee, explained to the House why the Committee felt that these three documents should come before the House. I am glad that time has been found for the debate.
§ Mr. John Wells (Maidstone)
On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is very interesting for back benchers who have not served on the Scrutiny Committee to enjoy long speeches from those who have, but if the purpose of the debate is for back benchers to make contributions—and we have only one and a half hours—perhaps on future occasions those who are members of the Scrutiny Committee will have a little self-denying ordinance. I hope that that suggestion will be noted by the Chair.
§ Mr. Roper
The Scrutiny Committee only considers whether a matter should be considered by the House. Its members do not have a chance to contemplate the merits of the proposal. It is therefore appropriate for me or anyone else to speak on the merits of the documents before the House. I hope that that fact also will be taken into account by the Chair. Although it may be thought by some hon. Members that these are not the most important documents to come before the Scrutiny Committee, there are on all three of them points of importance which the House should consider. I hope that answers the point raised by the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Wells).
These documents are more than consumer protection measures. They are part of the programme of removal of non-tarifl barriers, and with the general reduction of tariffs, both in the EEC and on a wider basis, non-tariff barriers are of increasing importance. On some occasions they are deliberately deigned as 192 protective devices for industry rather than as protection for the consumer.
There is the important question whether decisions on these matters should be made by the Community, OECD, GATT, or other bodies. Although there are some occasions when the activities of the Community hold back consideration by OECD and GATT, in general it seems more sensible to reach agreement first among nine countries than among a larger number.
The directive in the document on aerosols is important because, unlike other directives, it is optional, which means that member States would remain free to permit the import, manufacture and sale of aerosols which did not comply with the directive. They would, however, be obliged to allow the import of aerosols which did comply with the regulations.
While the technical annexe to the document only makes certain limited requirements of the liquid phase of the aerosol, if it is taken with the document on cosmetics, one sees that in the latter there is a considerable number of restrictions on the contents of aerosols. Therefore, the aerosol document has to be seen in a much broader context and not just on its own. I understand, however, that Government officials and representative manufacturers in the United Kingdom recommend it as satisfactory.
It is necessary to have some sort of consumer protection for cosmetics. There was considerable concern in France two years ago when 15 babies died as a result of toxic substances being found in talcum powder. I understand that toxicologists in the United Kingdom feel strongly that we should have such legislation, and that this legislation is beneficial to us in that it introduces for the first time, over quite a range of products, a control of this kind, although there is already some provision under certain limited United Kingdom regulations.
I was concerned to hear what my hon. Friend said about the two possible approaches. As it reads, this directive lists forbidden products, the names of many of them consisting of some of the longest words ever to appear in the OFFICIAL REPORT. For example, No. 102 is 2,4-Diaminophenylazobenzenehydrochloridecitrate, which will be forbidden in future 193 for use in British cosmetics, as it is in those of the other eight member States. But this directive, unlike the first one, does not have the optional procedure. As I understand it, it will be obligatory right through the Community, and it represents the Community's older approach to this kind of legislation as distinct from the new approach which gives individual countries the right to opt out. I hope to hear why the non-optional approach has been favoured in this case.
I was interested to hear my hon. Friend say that the Commission would proceed to consider drawing up lists of admissible products. That was the approach which the Commission proposed originally. It did so because member States objected to the original proposal that there should be a list of approved products. It went to the alternative approach and decided to draw up a list of forbidden products. In view of that, it is surprising to hear the Commission is standing on its head once again and going back to its approach of listing approved rather than forbidden products.
Fortunately, there are clear opportunities in the directive for adding to the list of forbidden products, and this is very important. There is a great deal of research being done, and, by "cosmetics", we do not mean just those products normally considered to be cosmetics. The scope of this document will include soaps and toothpastes, representing a £300 million per annum industry in the United Kingdom. Its scope is a good deal wider than it would appear to be at first sight.
So I wonder whether my hon. Friend can explain why the third document is described on the draft as a "regulation", which would be directly applicable, although he referred to it as a "directive". This would seem to be the kind of matter that should be dealt with by a directive, enabling us to make changes in our law in the right way, rather than by a regulation, which would lay down the same provisions for fruit juices throughout the Community. I hope that we will be told whether, despite the fact that the document is a regulation, the Commission is proposing now to go to a directive.
A difficult problem affecting the United Kingdom's fruit juice industry is the widespread use of sweeteners. This is relatively uncommon on the Contin- 194 ent, and, as drafted, the document does not cope adequately with the British problem of sweetening fruit juices. Will the British Government insist upon some amendment or modification of the directive or regulation so that natural sweeteners will be generally permitted, provided that the product is properly labelled? Indeed is the Commission prepared to support a proposal of that kind and are the eight other member States prepared to support it?
Finally, I should like to know how this kind of activity by the Community fits into the world fruit juice problem. I understand that the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Health Organisation of the United Nations, in their own food standards programme covering 100 countries, are drawing up certain proposals. How far are the Commission's proposals based on the FAO regulations? It seems that proposals being drawn up for the Nine, should, as far as possible, fit into the wider pattern of world trade. Nothing would be more foolish than to draw up regulations for the Nine which were not in broad terms in keeping with those recommended for other countries which were likely to be involved in this trade.
§ 11.11 p.m.
§ Mr. J. Enoch Powell (Down, South)
We do not in our procedure, strictly speaking, have a rapporteur, but I thought that it was singularly fortunate that the combination of a printers' strike and the natural Spartan brevity of the Committees which report to this House have cast the right hon. Member for Knuts-ford (Mr. Davies) in that rôle this evening, for I thought it was a most important explanation that the House had from him of the reasons which underlay this reference which has resulted in the debate. I had not suspected, and had no means of suspecting, the motive which lay behind the reference, but, by examining and comparing the three documents, I arrived at very much the same proposition.
The three documents represent three different categories. The one dealing with fruit juices, as the hon. Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) pointed out, is in form a regulation directly effective as law in this country if it is made, but we are told in the explanatory memorandum that it may turn into a directive before all is over.
195 There is then the actual directive which is binding, but to be made in terms of our own legislation. That applies to cosmetics.
Finally, there is the optional directive relating to aerosols. It seems to me that the optional directive, whether one be pro- or anti-, is an attractive form of procedure. I should like to read one sentence of description of that procedure from the explanatory memorandum. It states that the optional directiverequires member states not to prohibit or restrict the sale of aerosolswhich comply, butdoes not require member states to impose these requirements for all aerosols which are offered for sale.I take it that almost all hon. Members would wish us to achieve the object of removing artificial barriers to trade. Surely the method of the optional directive in practice offers the best opportunity of doing that without this House and the law of this country being enmeshed in a type of bureaucratic regulation which, whatever may be said in its favour, is onerous and not in accordance with our general practice.
Therefore, I should like the Minister to direct his attention—not necessarily in the course of the debate, but I put this as a point which should be seriously considered by Ministers taking part in the negotiations—to the question whether, as far as possible, documents proposed as regulations and directives could be accepted in the form of optional directives. We would then, I understand, be offering no barrier to goods seeking entry into this country from the rest of the Common Market on the basis of their complying with these requirements. On the other hand, we ourselves would be able not only for domestic but for worldwide sales to produce goods of a quality which satisfied our law, but which we might think better or more economically satisfied markets in the rest of the world.
Finally, our own manufacturers seeking export outlets in the Common Market would, after all, in real practical life, have no difficulty in deciding which markets it was that they intended to penetrate, and ensuring that as far as possible their goods intended for those markets—and perhaps their goods altogether—complied 196 with the specific requirements current in one or more countries of the EEC.
It seems to me, therefore, that the collocation of the three instruments in this debate, as a result of the recommendation of the Scrutiny Committee, has put us upon inquiry—and I hope it will actively put officials and Ministers upon inquiry—whether we cannot have an approximation to the best of both worlds in this respect. I hope that that suggestion will be equally agreeable to Those who, on a larger plane, find subsection (1) and (2) of Section 2 of the 1972 Act offensive and those to whom those subsections offer no insurmountable political difficulties.
§ 11.17 p.m.
§ Mrs. Joyce Butler (Wood Green)
I wish to confine myself to three or four points on the consumer protection aspect of these directives, because I am aware that over a period of time consumer protection organisations have been pressing for greater uniformity between one country and another on certain aspects of them.
Dealing first with the aerosol directive, I should be grateful if my hon. Friend could clarify the situation in regard to the gas propellants. I was not clear from an earlier exchange whether my hon. Friend was saying that gas propellants were included. On my reading of the directive they are not, and I regret this very much because, presumably, the instrument is concerned with aerosol safety, and one of the most worrying aspects of aerosol safety is not only the strength of the containers but the name and nature of the gas that is used as a propellant.
Mr. Alan Williams
I am sorry to intervene, because I know that hon. Members wish to get on with the debate, but perhaps I can tell my hon. Friend that it is the cosmetic directive that bans the use of VCM as a propellant in aerosols for cosmetic use.
§ Mrs. Butler
That is as I understand it, and I am grateful for that confirmation.
Can my hon. Friend say whether there is a limit on the upper and lower sizes of the containers under discussion? Are these sizes those in common use, which I assume they are, and are the small ones 197 so small that they are negligible for common purposes?
Dealing next with cosmetics, I welcome the fact that here we are getting proposals for a greater harmonisation between Community countries. I am sorry that we have not yet got the positive list to which my hon. Friend referred, because the difficulties of the negative list are great and, as has been said, the directive indicates that there will still need to be frequent updating of it. This will mean a constant taking out from permitted use of various substances. It will be an unsatisfactory situation while this goes on, and very difficult for consumers to keep abreast of the changes being made.
If we are to have exhaustive lists of chemicals published in this way, as we have in this directive, it seems that it would be for our convenience, as lay people, and for the convenience of consumer organisations that are trying to follow what is happening, if some kind of grouping could be made of the use to which the chemicals were formerly put. It would add some clarification to what at the moment are a lot of difficult chemical names which bear no relation to the ordinary person's conception of what may be in cosmetics.
We must welcome the news which my hon. Friend the Minister gave that a positive list is on the way, and I hope that it will come very quickly. That is essential, so that the consumer can feel that the substances which are being used in cosmetics have been tested, and that they are, in the light of present knowledge, regarded as safe. This will provide a much greater security than the negative list provides.
I turn now to the substances which are the subject of restriction in Annex III of Part 1. In some case the name of the chemical is mentioned and in other cases it is not. I think it would be a great aid for the consumer if the name were mentioned as it is in the case of hexachlorophene. That substance was referred to by my hon. Friend. It caused the deaths of babies in France, because it was used in quantities which were much too large. Because of that the name has become well known and when it appears on the container the consumer will immediately recognise it and be warned. Where substances are 198 subject to restrictions on their use because of dangers it would be a great advantage to have the names shown in every case.
I am not very happy about the inclusion in the cosmetics range of substances which are used for intimate personal hygiene. That is a most ambiguous term, but we are all very well aware of what it means, and I would have thought that many of these substances, especially when used in sprays and deodorants, should be included in the medical or pharmaceutical category and not in the general cosmetics category. I urge my hon. Friend to make that point in the discussions, if he supports it, and to see if something can be done.
There is a consumer protection aspect to all this, and I understand from the Home Office that consumer protection organisations have made representations on these directives. Is there any means by which the House may be made aware of the comments of these organisations? The machinery that exists for discussing these matters is such that the organisations are not always aware that the debates are coming up on the Floor of the House, and therefore they do not send us the necessary material.
It would be helpful to know how far these methods meet with the approval of the consumer organisations and where they differ, and to be aware of their views.
§ 11.23 p.m.
§ Sir Derek Walker-Smith (Hertfordshire, East)
One thing which emerges very clearly from these three directives is that the legislative processes of the Community grind exceeding slow. By comparison, our rather pedestrian processes here seem almost supersonic. The oldest of the trio dates back to 1969 and the youngest to about late 1972 or early 1973. One can take some encouragement from their venerability in that it represents the great deal of time taken in consultation, and that is seldom wasted. One sees something of the thoroughness of the consultation from the memoranda from the Home Office as for example in paragraph (6) of the aerosols directive, and that consultation is presumably paralleled in the other eight member States.
199 Some encouragement can be drawn from the fact that the youngest of the directives—the aerosol one—goes for optional harmonisation. Harmonisation— or as it is called more technically, the approximation of laws—derives from Article 100 of the treaty. Like many things in the treaty an emphatic duty is expressed, but the circumstances in which it is to be exercised are rather less precisely set out. "Affecting the functioning of the Common Market" is the term used. That is normally taken to mean free movement of goods, though that precise term is not used.
There seem to be three possible reasons for these so-called harmonisation procedures: to ensure the free movement of goods; to promote protection of health and safety; and to effect the standardisation of products for the sake of uniformity. The first two of those reasons are good in themselves, the third not so, or not normally so. Concerning the free movement of goods and, indeed, the promotion of health and safety, those things would have been a characteristic of a free trade area if we had proceeded on those lines.
§ Sir D. Walker-Smith
Some of us supported that concept very strongly all through the 1960s and would have preferred to see it in operation. But if we had had a free trade area it would have been necessary to eliminate or minimise the disparities of specification or health requirements so as to prevent the thrombotic effect on a free flow of trade.
The difference is in the methods and procedures. In a free trade area we would proceed by agreement and persuasion, by adjustment between States, rather than by a collective approximation. I believe that that should be the starting point also within the Community. Where one can achieve that, there is no need for approximation of laws. Where that is not possible, the next best course is optional harmonisation, involving the obligation to accept goods but not to standardise in accordance with a single Community norm.
Again, it is likely that optional harmonisation, or its equivalent, would in some cases have been a necessary ingredient in a free trade area. Only as 200 a last resort should compulsory replacement of existing national legislation by a uniform code be used. That is what is called a total harmonisation. That, as I understand it, is the new approach, as it has been referred to by the Commission, and as explained by my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, South (Mr. Blaker) in his outlining of the approaches.
Time forbids the citation of the passage from the speech of Mr. Commissioner Gundelach, but in effect he said that the Commission would in future seek the most flexible method. That means, as I understand it, the possibility of what one of my right hon. Friends called "the self-regulatory method." Mr. Commissioner Gundelach also said that there was no intention of carrying out the adjustment of laws or so-called harmonisation for harmonisation's sake.
These are good statements of principle to have secured. These three directives, of course, all precede these statements of policy. I hope that in any directives for the future the Commission will adhere to the liberal approach indicated and that Ministers and parliamentarians will press for its continued application.
§ 11.29 p.m.
§ Mr. James Scott-Hopkins (Derbyshire, West)
As I suspected, the debate basically revolved around the principle of the two directives and the one regulation before the House. We have not gone into the details of these directives and the regulation except to a very small extent. The hon. Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) was one Member who did.
It is right that the House should debate the basic principle behind the directives and the regulation—the question whether or not the Community should deal with these rather trivial matters, in some respects, and in what way the Community should approach the subject of harmonisation. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) for his explanation of the Scrutiny Committee's decision to recommend that the House should debate these matters, and I am glad that they are before the House.
From this short debate it has become clear that there has been some anxiety among hon. Members on the question whether the Community is advancing in 201 the right direction in these matters. There is no doubt that the basic purpose of both the aerosol and the cosmetic directives—the one optional and the other mandatory—is to protect health and that they contain no impediment to trade. They are of advantage to consumers and to those who handle the goods concerned.
The hon. Member for Wood Green mentioned one or two interesting subjects and I hope that the Minister will deal with them, but there are some matters that she raised on which I should like to comment. The hon. Member for Famworth (Mr. Roper) and others mentioned cosmetics. It is true that at the moment that directive contains a negative list. The House may not know that when this matter was debated in the European Parliament my colleagues and I moved an amendment that would have introduced a positive list. I was glad to hear from the Minister that the Government and the Commissioners are moving in that direction. In the European Parliament we had much support for that approach. I am sure that it is right, and I was glad to hear that view supported by the hon. Member for Wood Green and the hon. Member for Parnsworth. I hope that the subject will be scrutinised by the Council of Ministers before a final decision is made.
Whether for personal hygiene or for cosmetics in the more general sense, the regulations are meant for consumer protection. Whether it is a negative or positive list is not as important as the fact that consumers will be given additional protection.
The main point of the debate, as the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell) said, is whether the regulations should be optional or mandatory. As my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hertfordshire, East (Sir D. Walker-Smith) said, the Commission has moved a long way in the two years that Britain has been a member of the Community. In February, Commissioner Gundelach showed quite clearly that the Commission wished to move towards optional harmonisation. I shall not weary the House by quoting his speech, for it can be read in the HANSARD of the European Parliament, which is available in the Vote Office or the Library. But even before that event member States could 202 accept the legislation of other member States in this respect and accept their goods on that basis. No kind of directive or regulation would then be required.
Only if that approach failed would the Commission have to proceed with optional harmonisation, which would mean that countries concerned would continue to manufacture and sell internally goods under their own legislation concerned with consumer protection, safety and so on, but when selling across the border of other States within the Community they would have to observe the regulations of the Community.
I was glad to hear the right hon. Member for Down, South say that this is an attractive option. It is something that he would seem to support within the Community legislation. This is the way in which the Community will advance. Certainly the Commission is fully determined to do this. Only in the last resort, when there are definite technical or other barriers to trade which cannot be removed by these two methods, will the Commission consult and eventually bring forward proposals for directives along mandatory lines such as we have here.
The House must realise that we are debating directives and regulations which had their origin before we became members of the Community and certainly before the present Commissioners and the Commission were constituted. They are a hangover from the days before we entered the Community, starting in 1970, 1971 and 1972. In many instances they have been adapted to this country's needs.
I hope that the House will be able to accept not only the fact that the Commission has moved from the mandatory to the optional, but perhaps even further—from the optional to a situation in which member States accept the internal legislation of other member States and have every intention of continuing to proceed along these lines. This is the right approach, and we should welcome it.
I hope that these few remaining directives and regulations which are on the mandatory side will be the exception rather than the rule. If that is the case, I hope that the House will be able to accept these regulations as the last hangover from the period before we joined the Community.
§ 11.37 p.m.
§ The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr. Gavin Strang)
Although the debate has been a short one, hon. Members will agree that it has been useful. It has enabled hon. Members to raise a variety of points which are pertinent to the instruments before us.
I should say that it is clear from the contributions that the House fully understands the difference between the various instruments. I was glad that the right hon. Member for Knutsford (Mr. Davies) was able to intervene early in the debate in order to explain why the Scrutiny Committee had decided that it would be appropriate for the House to debate these directives. I had come to a conclusion different from that of the right hon. Member for Down, South (Mr. Powell). I had decided that the Scrutiny Committee had perhaps thought it appropriate to have a debate on the general question of harmonisation, but the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out that the Committee was anxious that we should discuss the question whether or not the Community should become involved in these technical and to some extent legal matters.
I want to move on quickly to answer a number of the points that have been made. My hon. Friend the Member for Farnworth (Mr. Roper) and other hon. Members raised the very important question whether the instrument relating to fruit juices was a regulation or a directive. The original proposal was that it would be a regulation, but it has since been accepted by the Commission that the use of a directive would be more appropriate. This will be reflected in the revised text on the completion of the work of the Council's working party on foodstuffs.
My hon. Friend also raised the question of the non-optional approach favoured for the cosmetics directive. In the case of cosmetics the desire to protect the consumer by the complete replacement of national laws by a single body of Community law has prevailed. We have consulted manufacturers' and consumers' organisations, and they support total harmonisation.
The right hon. Member for Down, South advocated that we should try hard to have only those directives which in- 204 volved optional harmonisation. It would depend to some extent upon the motive for a directive. This is illustrated by these directives. If the motive is to remove non-tariff barriers, I cannot see in what case it would not be satisfactory to have optional harmonisation. If the motive is to protect, for example, the consumer from additives in foodstuffs and to apply such a protection on a Community basis rather than on a national basis—not necessarily for reasons of trade—I should have thought that the arguments for optional harmonisation would not have the same validity.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler), who takes a deep interest in consumer affairs, asked whether the consumer organisations had been consulted and what their views were about the proposed directives for aerosols and cosmetics. Those organisations have been consulted and, in the main, are content with the directives. My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that in the case of the cosmetics directive the consumers' organisations have expressed the hope, as she did, that progress towards positive lists of permitted substances will proceed as quickly as possible.
My hon. Friend also asked about the naming of the chemicals which would be used in cosmetics and about the concentrations that would be laid down in the directive. The Economic Questions Group of the Council of Ministers has discussed the extent to which substances listed in Annex III, Part 1, should be included on labels. One possibility is that only substances which are of importance to the consumer, such as sensitisers, should be named. Another is that the names of all Annex III, Part 1, substances should be given. This issue will be resolved in due course by the Economic Questions Group when it resumes its discussions on the articles of this directive.
It is clear that the three directives have been preceded by essential consultation with manufacturers and others concerned. This debate has been important not only because of the issues of principle raised but because it has given hon. Members an opportunity to raise specific issues with regard perhaps to the substances which are to be prohibited for the first time in Britain in cosmetics when the Government implement the directive in due course. I assure the House that 205 similar consultations will take place on all other directives in the programme and that no effort is spared to ensure that the outcome is right for the United Kingdom. This does not mean that we shall always press for exact parallels with United Kingdom law. We shall have to be convinced that any departures from the United Kingdom position have significant advantages.
I assure the House that note will be taken of the views expressed in the debate. With that assurance, I hope that the House will take note of these documents.
§ Question put and agreed to.
That this House takes note of Commission Documents Nos. R/834/73, COM(69)71, R/2222/72 and R/2579/73.