HC Deb 17 May 1989 vol 153 cc304-5
5. Mr. Turner

To ask the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster when he next expects to meet his European Community counterparts to discuss consumer affairs.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Industry and Consumer Affairs (Mr. Eric Forth)

I hope to meet my European Community counterparts and Mr. Van Miert, Commissioner with responsibility for consumer issues, at the Council of Consumer Ministers which the Spanish presidency has planned for 1 June.

Mr. Turner

Is the Minister aware of the concern expressed by consumer organisations in the United Kingdom that unless we make progress and take much more care of the consumer interest in this country—and take it much more seriously—consumers will lose out in 1992?

Mr. Forth

I am aware of the concern to which the hon. Gentleman has referred, but I admit that I share none of it, for two important reasons. First, the consumer will benefit enormously from the development and fulfilment of the single European market, having always stood to be the main beneficiary. Secondly, consumers in this country are better served than those in almost any other country in the Community by our legislation, and by the extent to which they are represented and the Government listen to their representatives. I am confident that the concern that has been expressed is entirely unfounded.

Mr. Gow

What useful purpose will be served by this meeting?

Mr. Forth

My hon. Friend asks an interesting question. He may like to know that in the 10 months for which I have had the honour to occupy my present position there has not yet been a meeting of Community Consumer Ministers, and he may take some reassurance from the possibility that when I complete my year in office they will have met only once.

Mr. Ted Garrett

Would the Minister care to relate the statement that he has just made to my question No. 13? If so, I should like to ask him a question.

Mr. Forth

I expect to give the hon. Gentleman a very full reply when we reach his question No. 13.

Mr. McCrindle

The purchase of a house is the largest single financial transaction in which most of us engage in our lifetime, and it also happens to be the only investment not included in the ambit of the Financial Services Act 1986. As rather stronger consumer protection applies in this regard in other EEC countries, and as the implication is that my hon. Friend will not be meeting his fellow Ministers too often, will he explore that point on 1 June to see whether we are a little behind some of our competitors?

Mr. Forth

I have some good news and some bad news for my hon. Friend. The bad news is that that item is not on the agenda for the meeting on 1 June; the good news is that, having been involved—as my hon. Friend will know —in an extensive review of house buying and selling over the past few months, I shall shortly reveal the outcome to an astonished world. I am sure that my hon. Friend will be delighted with that outcome.

Ms. Quin

Has the Minister seen the consumer manifesto for the European elections published by the London-based "Consumers in the European Community Group"? Has he also seen the manifesto published by the Consumers Association entitled "1992 and the Consumer"? Will he urge Tory Euro candidates to support the proposals in those manifestos, some of which will no doubt be considered at the June meeting? Following the example of other Ministers, will he veto the proposals because they include health and safety matters and oppose them no matter how beneficial they are for consumers?

Mr. Forth

The answers are no, no, no, no and no.

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