HC Deb 26 May 1993 vol 225 cc908-10
5. Mr. Bennett

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on what further progress has been made on eco-labels.

Mr. Maclean

The criteria for washing machines and dish washers, prepared by the United Kingdom, have been agreed by the EC regulatory committee and will be published shortly. Proposed criteria for light bulbs, toilet paper and kitchen paper will be considered by the regulatory committee in June. The launch of the scheme is planned for late June.

Mr. Bennett

Can the Minister tell us how soon we will get some products with the labels on in shops? Can he confirm that for three years the Government have been stalling the idea of a United Kingdom scheme on the basis that we would get an EC-wide system and that, even with the products to which he referred, such a system will apply only in a third of the countries in the EC and some of our partners have done nothing at all to introduce eco-labels?

Mr. Maclean

I can confirm the last part of the hon. Gentleman's statement. However, I got the impression from the first part that he was taking his ire out on the United Kingdom by accusing us of stalling. We have pressed the Commission time and again. Indeed, when my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State was President of the European Community he pressed the Commission to make urgent proposals to get the eco-labelling scheme up and running. I even threatened at the Dispatch Box to run our own scheme unless progress was made. Due to our pressure, the Commission has listened and the products to which I referred are coming to the launch pad. I hope to see some of the first products in the shops by September. The hon. Gentleman can rest assured that we will keep up the pressure for other countries to do their share of eco-labelling, because we think that it is a rather good scheme.

Mr. Robert B. Jones

I welcome the good technical work that is being done on product groups and the robust view that the United Kingdom Government are taking at European level. However, as the hon. Member for Denton and Reddish (Mr. Bennett) said, other countries are not playing their part. They are backsliding. Is it not time that we applied pressure to the European Commission to take those countries to the European Court for failing in their undertakings and specifically for failing to designate national competent bodies?

Mr. Maclean

It is true that about half a dozen other countries in the EC have not yet designated competent bodies. The Commission has written to those countries urging them to do so. I hope that they will comply with the Commission's request as soon as possible, because it is in the interests of all our consumers in the EC who wish to do their bit to help the environment and to have the choice of selecting the most environmentally sound products. I assure my hon. Friend that we will keep up our constant pressure on the Commission for others to pull their full weight, just as we are doing.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Does the Minister agree that it would be better not to have double standards and that if we are to have eco-labelling, it is not much good if the customer does not pay any attention to what is written on the label? In that context, as the Government have labelled Twyford down and Oxleas wood as environmentally important, will he have urgent discussions with his colleagues in the Department of Transport—

Madam Speaker

Order. The hon. Gentleman is trying to put one over. We are dealing with eco-labelling. If the hon. Gentleman remains with eco-labelling, he may finish his question.

Mr. Simon Hughes

Will the Minister make sure that once we label things as important, we follow what we say that we should do with them?

Mr. Maclean

It would be fascinating to take a lecture on double standards from a representative of the party that has 651 standards—one for every constituency in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Oppenheim

Should not that great success be followed by pushing eco-labelling in to other areas? The Labour party supported allowing water boards to maintain their policing role, which resulted in some of the most polluted beaches in Europe. It also supported the burning of dirty high-sulphur coal over clean gas. In short, as it is the party which puts vested interests before the environment, should not there be a special grubby eco-label for the Labour party?

Mr. Maclean

I think that the Labour party and its characteristics are well known to the electorate. They do not need to be specifically labelled.

Mr. Chris Smith

The Minister will agree that a eco-labelling scheme will be fully effective only if it goes hand in hand with a strengthening of the Trades Description Act to ensure that companies cannot make bogus environmental claims for the products that they sell. The Government said in 1990 that they would introduce legislation to strengthen the Act. They repeated that pledge to the Select Committee in 1991. That legislation would have the full support of the Opposition. Why do not the Government do it now?

Mr. Maclean

I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, because this is the first time, when I have been opposite him, that he has come to the Dispatch Box with a point that is correct. We wish to amend the Trades Description Act. It is important that we do so in order that there can be no bogus claims on eco-labelling, as there are in other areas. We are giving urgent consideration to the matter and we will introduce suitable proposals as soon as parliamentary time permits us to do so.

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