HC Deb 14 July 1980 vol 988 cc1044-6
14. Mr. Dudley Smith

asked the Secretary of State for Trade when he anticipates the Council of Ministers will conclude its consideration of the revised draft of the European Economic Community directive on product liability.

Mrs. Sally Oppenheim

A working party of the Council has only recently commenced its study of the draft directive, which raises a number of important issues that seem likely to be the subject of prolonged discussion and negotiation. I do not think, therefore, that any final conclusions are likely in the near future.

Mr. Smith

At the end of the day, will the state of the art defence be a condition for acceptance of the draft directive?

Mrs. Opepnheim

My hon. Friend is right. The state of the art defence will be an important factor. Widespread concern has been expressed by industry and other member States, and that issue is bound to play an important part in Community discussions.

Mr. Greville Janner

Does the right hon. Lady accept that the legal position on product liability in this country is unsatisfactory and unfair? If she does, will she introduce legislation to change the law, without waiting the long time that it appears from her answer we shall have to wait for the outcome of the Common Market deliberations?

Mrs. Oppenheim

Much as I sympathise with some aspects of what the hon. and learned Gentleman says, I do not believe that it would be in the interests of our consumers or industry for a fragmented system of product liability to exist in the Community, where, different insurance rates would apply. The hon. and learned Gentleman's suggestion, is, therefore, not a course of action that commends itself to the Government.

Mr. Gummer

Although I understand the problems that manufacturers have, naturally, brought to my right hon. Friend's attention, will she ensure that the public have the protection that such liability would afford? Will she enter into the Common Market negotiations with an enthusiastic desire to provide such protection throughout Europe?

Mrs. Oppenheim

The Government are aware of their obligations and duty to ensure that consumers are protected and that industry and consumers are not unduly burdened by the cost of such measures. In any decision that they take the Government will want to ensure that innovation and efficiency in industry are not undermined.

Mr. John Fraser

May we have a more direct answer to that question and the question that I asked previously? In principle, is the right hon. Lady in favour of product liability, against it, or is she in a "Don't know" situation?

Mrs. Oppenheim

It would be strange if one were not in favour of product liability, as it already exists under the Sale of Goods Act.