§ 2.58 p.m.
§ Lord WALL rose to move, That this House takes note of the Twenty-ninth Report of last Session (HL 137) of the European Communities Committee on classification, packaging and labelling of Dangerous Substances (R/2203/76). The noble Lord said: My Lords, I rise to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. I am pleased to open this debate on the report Dangerous Substances, especially since it raises a number of points which are not concerned with purely technical questions. May I first declare my interest. I have been for some years a director of a United Kingdom chemical company which enjoys a close relationship with a large European chemical group.514
§ The report deals with draft Directive R/2203/76, which seeks to amend for the sixth time the Council Directive of 27th June 1967 relating to the classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous substances. The draft Directive has three main directives. First, it would introduce some changes in detail to existing provisions on classification, packaging and labelling. Secondly, it extends the scope of the existing Directive to cover substances harmful to the environment. Thirdly, it proposes a most important innovation; namely, the introduction of a scheme of notification of new substances, including control over the conditions of use. It is to this third objective that I intend to direct most of my comments.
The proposals are set out fully in paragraphs 5 to 12 of the report and I shall not repeat them. The notification proposal raises three points of general importance which I should like to develop. I also have three points to raise on specific questions. My first point is clearly set out in paragraphs 21 and 30 of the report. It is the view of expert witnesses from the chemical industry that, as drafted, the Directive is impracticable, because of the undue cost of implementing it and the heavy demands upon scarce scientific resources. Moreover, it would stand in the way of development and innovation, both of which are vital to the success of the chemical industry. Clearly, the proposals have been drafted by people who have little or no knowledge of the industry. Equally clearly, there could have been little or no consultation by Brussels with the experts before it was drafted. As one of our expert witnesses said—I quote from page 14, paragraph 36:
… we believe … that notification is an acceptable thing … but it should not be established on the basis of some bureaucratic system, rather on the basis of what is the objective?', and the objective is to achieve greater safety … If there could be some collaborative approach … between the authorities and the companies, that would be the ideal situation".
§ At a time when the EEC has many critics, not to say enemies, it is regrettable, to say the least, that documents like this draft Directive should be issued by Brussels in this way. Not only does it waste the time of Ministers, officials, Parliament and industry, but it gives a disturbing picture of the bureaucracy in Brussels. May I suggest to my noble friend on the Front Bench that he should leave our representatives 515 in Brussels in no doubt about the extent to which we deplore this kind of activity? There is ample expert and willing advice available, and proper consultation is always quicker and cheaper in the long run. Or do the officials in Brussels really believe that they know more about the chemical industry than the industry itself?
§ My second general point follows from this. The chemical industry does not oppose sensible regulation, nor has it ever done so. On the contrary, it has a long and successful history of working to voluntary codes of good practice, and has always co-operated fully with Government on regulations designed to protect people and the environment. Of course the chemical industry is a hazardous industry; it always has been and always will be. But a hazardous industry must demand the closest co-operation between the authorities and the industry—a cooperation notably lacking in this case, so far as Brussels is concerned. Fortunately, the co-operation between our own Government and the chemical industry is much closer.
§ I do not intend to give the impression that the chemical industry is complacent about risks, nor about the many things that have to be done to limit these risks. It simply cannot afford to be complacent. Equally, it must be permitted—indeed, encouraged—to continue its progress. Innovation and development are the lifeblood of the chemical industry, and this leads me to my third general point.
§ One of the few satisfactory features of the current discussion about our economic future is the widespread agreement on the poor state of our manufacturing industry in general. In the first speech which I was privileged to make in your Lordships' House, I emphasised that much of our manufacturing industry compares most unfavourably with that of our main competitors, both in value—added per worker—in many cases, we need an improvement of 50 to 100 per cent. if we are to approach the performance of our major competitors—and also in the high proportion of value-added which is absorbed by wages, leaving far too little for replacement and expansion. In addition, this country is increasingly importing instead of exporting added-value. To give an idea 516 of the magnitude of the problem, Dr. Frank Jones, who has done much work in this area, estimates that if the average worker in this country is to have behind him the same fixed assets as the average worker in Japan, we need a new investment of £30,000 million. Then we should be on a par with the Japanese.
§ In these circumstances, I suggest that we must cherish those industries which stand out as exceptions to this general gloomy picture. Fortunately, there are a number of such industries, and the chemical industry is a good example. While the United Kingdom's index of production rose by only 3 per cent. between 1970 and 1976, the United Kingdom chemical industry increased its output by 28 per cent. Employing, as it does, only 5 per cent. of the total work force in manufacturing the chemical industry accounts for 10 per cent. of the national output, 15 per cent. of United Kingdom investment in manufacture and 25 per cent. of the favourable trade surplus achieved by manufacture as a whole. Exports increased threefold over the last four years. The industry also finances 75 per cent. of its new investment out of its own resources. For these reasons, and for these reasons only, the United Kingdom can hold its own in a highly competitive market. So I repeat: let us cherish such industries, and let us not obstruct them.
This country and the EEC are not alone in legislating about dangerous substances, and it may be interesting to look at the experience in the United States. In 1976, the Toxic Substances Control Act was passed. It has been described as,
potentially the most important piece of legislation ever to affect the chemical industry".
Briefly, the Act gives the Environmental Protection Agency the power to ban or restrict the use of chemicals to protect public health. Companies are required to give the EPA 90 days' advance notice, together with chemical descriptions, before a new chemical is marketed or an existing one put to a significant new use. The EPA could require testing of any suspect chemical for safety. The United States Government asked the chemical industry to co-operate in the drafting and the passage of this Act and this it willingly did. The fact that, in the event, the new Act went much further than the industry
had hoped does not detract from this close co-operation; it underlines it.
§ An expert assessment of this new American Act, which is now beginning to be implemented, is as follows. There are doubts whether the cost can be passed on to the consumer; testing will be very costly; there will be controversy about the scientific data obtained from such testing; delays in the introduction of new products will be long and the industry's growth in output and employment will be reduced. It is believed that the slower introduction of new products, the high cost of testing and the heavy legal and administrative burden will affect smaller companies much more than larger companies. Lastly, innovation will be reduced and more emphasis will be placed on R and D expenditure on existing processes and products. These are real warning lights and we should heed them now. I hope very much that the EEC will pay continuous attention to the American experience—not just to co-operation between the authorities and the industry, but to how the Act is working out in practice.
§ May I now raise three specific points? There are of course many others, but I am sure that other speakers will wish to cover them. My first point is concerned with confidentiality. I support wholeheartedly the strong words in paragraph 23. "Disclosure" seems to be an "in-word" these days and, like most "in-words", the risks are easily lost sight of. Just consider, my Lords, the Green Paper on Company Reports. For far too long there has been a myth that United Kingdom companies give less information about their affairs than their competitors, especially in the United States. This is simply untrue. We really must make sure that a blind quest for more information, for the sake of information, does not simply give our competitors a lot of information which they would dearly like to have, and for which they might even be willing to pay money. And this ignores the large amount of time which is spent on producing such information. It cannot be too strongly emphasised that every piece of unnecessary information reduces the efficiency of any business. Turning to the report, my main concern is to wonder whether our very firm recommendations can be carried out in such a way that confidentiality is really fully respected. I have grave doubts about this.518
§ My second point is to underline paragraphs 21 and 22, regarding the tests proposed in the annex to the draft Directive. It is not simply a matter of cost, which is serious enough; it is also a matter of wasted skilled scientific manpower. We simply cannot afford to waste this. Lastly—my third point—I personally favour a cut-out point in terms of tonnage of production below which substances would not have to be notified. I am sorry that I could not persuade my colleagues on the Committee about this. In the view of the industry, the products that we are considering would, at most, require a minimum limit of 10 tons as a reasonable cut-out point; and may I here remind your Lordships that we are dealing with general chemicals and not, for example, with pharmaceuticals. As one witness said at paragraph 40, a reasonable cut-out point would not only reduce the administrative burden; it would actually provide a real advantage in control, from a safety point of view, because the chemicals could be distributed geographically and not confined to one location.
§ What is the attitude of the European chemical industry to this draft Directive? The Chemical Industries Association has recently circulated a statement of the views of our European colleagues. Perhaps I may give your Lordships a brief précis of it.
§ The European chemical industry is unanimous in its views on the following principles. Notification schemes should provide information only when marketing; notification does not constitute approval. The industry is opposed to notification before marketing. The definition of marketing is totally unsatisfactory and must be opposed. The view of the industry is that it is the responsibility of national Governments, not of the EEC, to introduce necessary legislation to protect workers in the workplace. There should be agreement between Member States on the contents of a basic dossier which should be sufficient to assess the primary risk of the product. The industry opposes the automatic transfer of the dossier to the Commission. Any central data bank of information should be limited to classification and safety data and should not contain the full dossier. The industry supports the concept of tonnage cut-offs for notification. The 519 Directive should not restrict the use of chemical products. It is impossible for a primary producer of chemicals to notify all uses or new uses. It is solely for the industry, not for Governments or for the Commission, to make commercial or other arrangements for the exchange or transfer of information.
§ Thus, the whole of the European chemical industry, not just the United Kingdom chemical industry, is highly critical of this draft Directive. May I urge the Government to do all that they can to stop Directives of this kind coming forward in this way? Not only do they tarnish the image of Brussels; they stand in the way of progressive industry.
§ Perhaps I may end on a rather happier note. I understand that at a recent dinner of the Chemical Industries Association, Viscount Davignon, the Commissioner for Industry in the EEC, suggested that the Commission and the industry should work together more closely and that, if industry puts its case properly, the Commission would be responsible for ensuring that that case was fully taken into account. I hope, although I have great doubts, that this marks the beginning of better things. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That this House takes note of the Twenty-ninth Report of last Session (HL 137) of the European Communities Committee on classification, packaging and labelling of Dangerous Substances (R/2203/76).—[Lord Wall.]
§ 3.13 p.m.
§ Lord LYELL
My Lords, I believe that the whole House owes a very great debt of gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Wall, who has just sat down after a masterly and detailed speech explaining the work of his Sub-Committee, which has produced the report that we are discussing this afternoon. For my part, I shall add to those who deserve a special mention the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, who was in the chair when the expert witnesses gave evidence. The noble Baroness found time to assist in the scrutiny of the various EEC measures in addition to her arduous duties on behalf of her Party, and we are very grateful to her for all that she has done. I am sure that all members of the Sub-Committee will echo my view. Also, we in the House 520 generally are grateful for the work which is done by each and every sub-committee, as our colleagues in another place simply do not find time to examine the various Directives and regulations, as well as the amendments, in the same detail as is done when we consider how best EEC law can be harmonised with our own. This is one more essential duty of your Lordships' House and, I believe, of a strong second Chamber.
The report that we are discussing this afternoon is admirably clear, and I believe that the House will agree with the Committee in the emphasis laid upon the various aspects of the amendment of this Directive—for the sixth time in 10 years. The classification of the various substances as toxic, harmful, corrosive and irritant is very detailed and clear, especially when these substances are being developed in new or potentially dangerous forms to man, animal and plant life as well as to the air and the earth.
The labelling requirements seem to be a little detailed. As a layman consumer, I had some difficulty in imagining a label of 105 by 148 millimetres—I do not know whether your Lordships can visualise that as the size of the Dispatch Box or of these sheets of paper—on a package of not more than 10 litres, which is about two gallons, or thereby, as we call it in Scotland. Nevertheless, I believe that those sizes of label are acceptable and are fairly near to the standards which we find in everyday life.
However, the meat of the report seems to lie in the proposals for notification to the competent authorities of the effects of new substances. I believe that this is absolutely essential, and, with two important provisos, it should not provide any obstacles to rapid progress in science. Certainly it is encouraging to note that, in paragraph 23, the Committee as we have already heard from the noble Lord, Lord Wall, stressed the need for confidentiality and secrecy to be respected. Those Members of your Lordships' House who were concerned with the Patents Act will know of the importance of respected confidence. It is very good to see the Committee lay stress on special areas of secrecy. Above all, the harmonious operation of EEC regulations and Directives depends upon rules being practical, and it is this that the Committee has 521 noted. I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Wall, should be congratulated upon emphasising this point.
Also in paragraph 14, among the details laid down for labels and symbols, I especially noted that the committee of the noble Baroness, Lady Fisher of Rednall, wished to use, of all things, the St. Andrews cross as the sign for "harmful". I cannot see this measure becoming immensely popular in my own country. Indeed, I am astounded that there has not already been a storm of protest. Perhaps I should put that down to the fact that not many Scottish Peers sit on these EEC Sub-Committees, and in particular to Scottish Members of another place not being so vigilant as Members of your Lordships' House. However, I do not want to start anything today; I note it in passing as a point of interest.
In paragraphs 15 and 16 it is encouraging to see that the amendment does not require too many new Committees to examine new scientific developments. Certainly we congratulate the Government on their desire to implement a number of minor amendments, purely on the grounds of practicality. To me, the opinion of the Committee is always the most important part of these reports, and this one is no exception. Paragraph 22 makes a special plea for a measure of flexibility in what substances have to be notified to the Commission and to the United Kingdom Government as detrimental. Also, the requirement to answer 60 or more questions on a minor development of scientific interest or improvement to any substance seems to me, as a pure layman, to be unduly onerous.
Nevertheless, I return again without any hesitation to paragraph 23. This contains the main word which will dictate the success or otherwise of this amendment to the Directive, at least in practical terms. Confidentiality between industry or manufacturer and Government must be respected, and the Committee is to be thanked for its insistence on the three improvements to Article 7(3) of the Directive concerning secrecy. No company or industry need be or, indeed, should be prejudiced in any way by any Government measures. The noble Lord, Lord Wall, and the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, deserve our thanks for pointing this out and for stressing this aspect in the report.
522 We come now to paragraph 24 and the symbols of hazards. How good it is to see the sense and strong feeling of the Committee superbly set down in the last three lines. Anything more misleading and troublesome than variations in warning labels is difficult to picture, but scenes come readily to our mind, in particular at this time, of large articulated vehicles overturning on a roadway or leaking their loads, and the rescue, fire or salvage services having to consult an EEC blue, green, red or black book in order to find the proper symbol denoting the dangerous substance in question and the particular remedy needed to clean up the road or eliminate the dangers to human, animal or plant life. Surely it cannot be the intention of the Commission to confuse us needlessly in this area of transport labelling, and particularly of dangerous substances which are going to cross our frontiers.
I do not feel that the remainder of the opinion of the Committee requires further comment from me or from these Benches. Indeed, the opinion and its recommendations show continuing good sense in the area of imprecise definitions and also of the powers of control of both the Technical Progress Committee and the Commission itself. Paragraph 30 provides what I think is an excellent conclusion in seeking various amendments to the draft Directive, as they put it, in order to render it workable, and I wish to concur most strongly with that admirable sentiment.
We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wall, and to the Sub-Committee for the time, the skill and the effort that each Member devotes to the service of the House in scrutinising EEC regulations and Directives. Noble Lords who examined the report and others from the other EEC Sub-Committees will note that among the Members of the House who attend the meetings, and indeed every single debate on these subjects in your Lordships' House, is the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir. I know that she reads the reports of all our debates and proceedings most carefully each day. I believe the whole House would wish to join with me in sending our best wishes to her and we look forward to her wise counsel in your Lordships' House very soon.
§ 3.22 p.m.
§ Baroness SEEAR
My Lords, after the very full speech made by my colleague on the Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Wall, there is little that I wish to add to what has already been said. Of course I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, in his tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Tweedsmuir, and in the message that he wishes to send to her. She has been absolutely indefatigable in this work and I am sure it was beyond the call of duty that, whatever the subject being dealt with, she should sit in on all the Sub-Committees in the way in which she did. I should also like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, for his most unnecessary thanks to myself; after all, mine is only the job which the chairman of the Sub-Committee is supposed to be doing.
I should like to make one or two points of detail and one or two general points. As the noble Lord, Lord Wall, said, we did not get agreement in the Committee on the subject of the cut-off point. The noble Lord, Lord Wall, felt it was unreasonable to require notification of very small quantities of chemicals. However, in the Committee we did not feel that the additional argument that it was "only a little one" was really good enough when one was dealing with what might be extremely dangerous substances. Therefore we could not go along with that suggestion, while fully recognising that it could involve manufacturers in a great deal of expenditure and trouble, in both money and manpower, and that every possible way should be found to minimise such expenditure in money and manpower without running any unnecessary risks.
The second point concerns the absurdity in the proposals for having symbols which are in fact different from those being used by the United Nations. I know there may well be an entirely admirable sense of European identity developing but we do not want a sort of European nationalism which wants to do things differently from countries elsewhere—certainly not when it comes to matters such as safety symbols. We have already had to alter the safety symbols being used by a number of companies in this country in order to conform with United Nations symbols, and if now we must have yet another change in order to conform with EEC 524 symbols there will be two different sets of symbols in operation. That is absolutely absurd, and it is all the more absurd if the EEC is thinking up symbols which do not mean anything to the ordinary person.
The point of using symbols instead of words—which, after all, have merits—is that they are supposed to be easily understood. If they are not easily understood it is difficult in any case to see the reason for having little pictures on labels. I would refer your Lordships' House to the evidence of the Consumers' Association containing some admirable research which showed that, among other things, only 24 per cent. of the people of whom they inquired got any message at all from a skull and crossbones. Why that is so, I do not know; but if a skull and crossbones does not mean anything then the EEC had better think again.
To take a point of considerable substance, a Directive is, after all, not a regulation. A Directive is supposed to be an instrument which tells the Member States where they are supposed to arrive in terms of ultimate destination, but leaving it to them to bring about this desired result in terms of what is appropriate to their own country and their own legal framework in existing law practice. I ask the Government to give some consideration to this. I should have thought that when one was dealing with a question of this kind it would be appropriate for countries to work out the way in which they handle the method of arriving at safe notification and safe labelling. Of course there are certain matters which have to be uniform, but there are a great many things here which do not. Can we not take up in Brussels the issue of having Directives in much less detail for matters of this kind than this particular Directive which is almost reaching the point of absurdity in laying down with great precision everything that has to be done? Surely the whole point of a Directive as against a regulation is that it allows for national variations. If they wanted this amount of detail they should have had a regulation; but the idea of having a regulation on it is so apparently absurd that they would never have done it.
I wish also to call your Lordships' attention once again to a point which has been made previously in this House and by other speakers concerned with 525 EEC draft Directives: I refer to the excessively legalistic nature of many of the proposals which come before us. As will be found in the evidence submitted to us, it was apparent again and again that in this matter, which is patently a scientific subject as well as a legal subject, the input from the scientists was conspicuous by its absence and the Directive was being dominated by lawyers and administrators who, as one witness said bitterly, "never seem to have observed an animal"; it does not come from people with a scientific background and scientific training. We know that this is one of the problems in the EEC, and that it is excessively in the hands of lawyers. This kind of Directive reflects far too much the dominance of the lawyers who are, if I may say so with all humility in your Lordships' House, most excellent servants but jolly bad masters.
§ 3.28 p.m.
§ Lord VAIZEY
My Lords, I should like to join with the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, in congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Seear, on her chairmanship of Sub-Committee C and to thank the noble Lord, Lord Wall, for his introduction this afternoon. It has been an extraordinarily interesting and fascinating experience for me to serve on this Sub-Committee and to study so many interesting questions. I am only sorry that I shall not be able to take part in your Lordships' deliberation of our report on juvenile unemployment, which may be one of the most important reports to come before your Lordships' House in this year. Unfortunately, r shall be away. Nevertheless today's report is also of great importance.
The problems of this present Directive seem to spring from a general problem concerned with the chemical industry which I should like to draw to the attention of your Lordships in this particular context. It came out vividly in the debates which we had in Sub-Committee C and the evidence taken from witnesses. Nowadays everybody is against pollution, and pollution is by no means an unambiguous concept. If you have a product which cures 999 people of cancer but it kills the thousandth person, the question is whether it is a good or a bad product. When you say it is a good product you call it a cure, and when it is 526 a bad product you call it pollution. The question is where to draw the line.
I was discussing this matter with a distinguished doctor, the dean of one of our major medical schools, and he pointed out that if the tests we apply to the chemical industry were applied to surgery not one single piece of surgery would take place in our hospitals today. One would not even go and have a leg set after a fracture because the risk of death is much above the risk of death which is possible if you take an aspirin or something of that kind. In other words, in the pollution debate—in which we all take part, and of course we are all against pollution—the whole focus of attention has been directed much more against chemicals, because they have been associated with things like thalidomide, rather than against the ordinary accidents of life which also by definition are pollution.
I think that is extremely relevant to this series of draft Directives coming from Brussels, and I concur totally with the previous speakers in their animadversion against the Commission for producing such daft stuff for us to debate. In the first place, this particular Directive is so bureaucratic that it is almost unenforceable. It is absolutely inconceivable that the chemical industry could continue to function if it abided by this particular draft Directive; the Directive is so detailed that you not possibly abide by it if you were to continue to produce anything. Therefore, it is bound to be the case that if the Directive is followed anything going on in the chemical industry is going to be illegal. That, I submit, is an absurd position. In other words, the noble Baroness is completely fair in her view that this subject has been dominated, not by lawyers—I am very much in favour of our kind of lawyers—but by an excessive attention to detail in closing every conceivable loophole and not accepting the fact that life itself is subject to risks.
Secondly, every time we try to make a product safe for the public, what we do is to add to the cost of manufacture. Nothing one does in life is safe. If you drive to this House you run the risk of having a fatal accident. If you travel on the Tube you run a very remote risk of having a fatal accident. The more you try to prevent every conceivable accident occurring the more you raise the cost to the people who provide the service. The 527 question that arises is this: Does the Commission in Brussels wish to kill the chemical industry by making it impossible for the industry to produce anything under the sun? That is the net effect of all these draft Directives and regulations coming before your Lordships' House. I very much sympathise with what the noble Lord, Lord Wall, said in this particular context, and, if I may say so, with the extremely well written report of our Committee; it was written by an extremely competent clerk.
The third thing which is crucial is that this draft Directive does not even succeed in doing what it seeks to do. I do not think the noble Baroness quite made the point as forcefully as she might have done. It is not only that what Brussels recommends is different from what the United Nations recommend with regard to safety; but it is exactly the opposite. If some illiterate person from some underdeveloped country is faced with a tanker overturned in the middle of a motorway, he cannot read or write "This is poison". If he looks at the sign in the United States it means, "For God's sake, do not touch it! Run as fast as you can". If he reads the sign which comes from Brussels it means, "It is quite all right; you can swim in it or drink it". I would submit this is the most absurd situation we have got ourselves into. I am sure this is not what the British people wanted when they voted by such an overwhelming majority to join the European Community.
On the whole, I think, that this Directive, small as it may seem—but it has been subject to the most intense investigation by Sub-Committee C under the chairmanship of the noble Baroness—represents a drip in a cumulative process about the whole environment in Europe, where the Commission is totally wrong, and where on the whole the people of this country, particularly in the chemical industry, have a great deal more sound common sense and are in need of a great deal of defence from this House and from the other place.
§ 3.35 p.m.
Lord WALLACE of COSLANY
My Lords, it would appear that the chemical industry has certainly made its case this afternoon, but other interests are involved, too—the environment and human 528 life as a whole. First of all, I would join sincerely with the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, in his tribute to the work of the Committee, and his very delicate reference to the fact that another Chamber does not appreciate the work which is put in here in Committees. It is possible that blind ignorance is at fault; we do not know. I have in previous debates paid my own personal tribute, and it is, as I have said on another occasion, an example of voluntary service. It is noteworthy in these days of sex discrimination legislation that the noble Baronesses in this House are certainly playing their full part in this particular Committee, as one sees if one reads the reports.
My noble friend Lord Wall has made a number of points, and I thank him for introducing this debate. I am not sure that I am so happy about the number of difficult points he has put to me, but that is another story. So far as the chemical industry itself is concerned, there has been full and detailed consultation in the preparation of this Directive. Before I go any further I would draw the attention of the House to the fact that negotiations are still to proceed on amendment of this Directive, probably in a few months' time in Brussels; so in point of fact the story is not yet finished.
So far as the question of notification is concerned, which my noble friend Lord Wall attacked in some detail, I would reply that a uniform system within the EEC for the notification of dangerous substances would help to eliminate barriers to trade which would result if manufacturers and importers had to meet the requirements of a variety of schemes adopted by individual Member States. In particular it would reduce the financial burden which would be placed on industry by different test requirements in Member States. So there is some case for harmonisation, but, of course, I would accept, for harmonisation on the right basis. So far as confidentiality is concerned, this, I accept, is vitally important. I shall refer to it a little later on. But it is a condition of this suggested sending of information on tests and so on to various Member countries that absolute secrecy should be involved. I accept that this is a point which may need further consideration.
529 The noble Baroness, Lady Seear, made a number of very important points. She made one which had my immediate sympathy, that Directives be less detailed. Anyone who has attempted to wade through some of these documents will appreciate the need for some simplification. I can say with some certainty that my colleagues on the Government Front Bench fully support the suggestion that there should be fewer detailed Directives coming forward. This is a battle that we have got to face and a battle we shall continue to fight, to get something a little more simple and with less paper work involved. With regard to the noble Baroness's case about excessive legalistic nature of documents, while expressing some personal sympathy—I can understand her view that Directives should not be in excessive detail—I am advised that Directives are legal documents binding on Member States, and one must consider that on occasion they could be quoted before the courts. Therefore, clarity and simplicity are required. How one achieves this in a legal document I leave to other, more well-informed people.
The Government welcome, generally, the decision of the Select Committee on the European Communities to recommend for debate this proposed 6th amendment to the 1967 Directive concerning the classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous substances. There is much interest and concern, not only in the House but also in the country generally, about the safeguards necessary to ensure that dangerous chemicals are marketed and used safely.
Particular concern exists over the development of new chemicals which may have adverse effects upon those using them or on the public at large. There is also considerable interest in the important role of the chemical industry as a major employer, exporter and innovator, with great potential for further improving the quality of life and standard of living. All these strands; the safety of workers and the public, the creation of wealth and jobs and the need for innovation, come together in this proposed Directive. We owe a debt to the Select Committee for their very careful and detailed examination of this complex and technically difficult subject and for drawing our attention to a number of important matters, some of 530 which have been raised during the debate, and deserve the attention of the House.
The original Directive was adopted in 1967, and was accepted by the United Kingdom on accession in 1973. A number of Amendments have been made since, most of them to detail only and, apart from a steady revision of the list of chemicals controlled, the Directive has remained largely unchanged over the past 10 years. The Directive as it currently stands, is concerned only with the classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous substances. These labelling and packaging provisions are already in force in several Member States and are expected to be applied very shortly in the three new Member States. The Secretary of State for Employment and the Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection have prepared draft regulations aimed at implementation and hope to make them before the end of the year.
This new proposal, the sixth amendment, however, goes considerably beyond the existing provisions. Apart from some changes in detail—most of which I regard as an improvement—to the existing labelling provisions, it also introduces three completely new concepts and it is these which have aroused most interest.
First, it introduces proposals for controlling the use to which chemicals can be put. I fully agree with the Select Committee that the wording of these proposals is very loose, but the intention is to create an enabling measure which will permit controls specific to each individual chemical to be imposed where limitations on use are thought appropriate. These controls could even include a complete ban.
Secondly, it introduces the assessment of risks to the environment into a Directive which currently is concerned solely with direct risks to people. Thirdly, and perhaps most significantly, it introduces a notification scheme for new chemicals. Under this notification scheme the manufacturer or importer of a new chemical will be required to carry out a number of tests to assess the dangers which may be associated with his product and to submit a dossier containing this and other information to the authorities in each Member State and for subsequent notification to the Commission. It will perhaps be 531 helpful if I deal with each of these areas separately.
The labelling and packaging provisions, which are already in force, are designed to protect those using dangerous chemicals, either at work or in the home, by requiring suppliers to put them into properly designed containers which can withstand the normal rigours of handling and which bear a label warning users of the risks associated with the contents. The labels for a given substance are intended to be identical, except for obvious language differences, in all Member States since this will ease the marketing problems which manufacturers might otherwise have if each country had different labelling schemes.
Although in the United Kingdom labels are prescribed in some limited areas notably under the Poisons Rules and the Pesticides Safety Precautions Scheme, hazard warning labels are not, at present, required for the great majority of dangerous chemicals. The Government very much welcomed the EEC labelling scheme on accession to the Community therefore, and are about to make the use of these labels mandatory on some 800 dangerous chemicals, most of which are in common use.
This is the first step towards the introduction, through regulations based on further Directives, of a comprehensive labelling scheme covering all commonly used industrial and domestic chemicals. This present scheme represents a valuable and necessary measure of protection for those using dangerous chemicals and has generally commended itself to those in Government and elsewhere concerned with health and safety. In general I very much support this initiative by the Community and look forward to the benefit which will accrue through improved labelling standards.
The Select Committee, quite rightly drew attention to the symbols used as a part of the label. Five items of information must be shown on the label. First, the name and address of the supplier; secondly, the name of the chemical; thirdly, one or more of a series of brightly coloured symbols; fourthly, one or more of a series of written phrases warning of the risks associated with the chemical; and finally, 532 one or more of a series of safety phrases giving advice on suitable safety precautions which should be taken during use. This is a sensible arrangement.
The purpose of the symbol is twofold; to give a primary warning of the major risk—that is, to warn that the chemical either is explosive or toxic or has some other dangerous property—and, by its distinctive colour and content, to draw attention to the written information on the rest of the label. These symbols are different from those now largely used in the transport of dangerous goods where the original European symbols used in this Directive, have been largely replaced by symbols based on those recommended by the United Nations.
The two sets of symbols, however, are not greatly different, the major features of both systems being identical pictograms representing exploding bombs, flames or the traditional skull and crossbones and so forth. The shape of the label and colour used for the background, do however, differ. The European symbol is invariably on a square, orange background whereas the transport symbols are usually, but not always, diamond shaped and appear in a variety of colours—red, green, blue, orange, and white. I do not think that these differences matter greatly since any properly designed symbol will give a primary warning and attract attention, but it would clearly be sensible if the two systems could be aligned, both for the convenience of manufacturers and to aid recognition by users.
I accept the criticism made by the Select Committee and agree that there may be a case for Europe to change over to United Nations symbols. During negotiations following accession, the United Kingdom tried to persuade our European partners of the advantages of standardisation. Unfortunately we did not succeed because of some difficulties associated with very small containers, such as those used for fine chemicals or some domestic products, where the United Nations symbols would be illegible.
We did, however, succeed in having adopted into the Directive a provision which permits the use of a composite label combining the best features of both systems and which I know many British 533 companies propose to use. The composite label will bear the United Nations transport symbol and the additional written information required by the European label. This is not quite as good as complete harmonisation but it is at least a step in the right direction.
While accepting the criticism of the European symbol, therefore, we took the view that the advantages of European harmonisation and the general benefits of the labelling scheme outweigh this disadvantage and came to the conclusion that this warning label is such a considerable improvement upon the labelling standards currently used in the United Kingdom that it was better to have a less than perfect label rather than no label at all.
Before I leave labelling I should like to reassure the Select Committee on one small but important point concerning the exemption in the Directive for small volumes. The Committee expressed concern that this exemption might weaken the Directive considerably. The requirement of Article 16, which has been in operation for 10 years without causing difficulty, is very tough—only the less dangerous categories of chemical are exempt and even then only if:they [the containers] contain such small quantities that there is no danger to workers or others".That is a tough test and I can assure the House that United Kingdom legislation will be equally tough. Any manufacturer who saw that exemption as a loophole would find it a very tight squeeze.
The purpose of this exemption is simply to prevent the occasional absurdity of putting a danger label on a quantity that poses no risk. It is important in any labelling scheme not to undermine the importance of the warning by crying wolf in circumstances where it is clearly unnecessary. I do not think that this provision will cause any difficulty in practice and as it is optional to Member States, I assure the House that if any difficulties do occur, we are free to take, and will take, any action necessary to prevent repetition.
I should like to turn now to the proposals for the testing and notification of new chemicals. The notification scheme will impose a requirement for manufacturers and importers of new substances 534 to carry out a series of tests before marketing to identify and evaluate hazards to man and the environment and to notify the results to the competent authority in the Member State. The information to be provided would include the identity of the substance, its physical and chemical properties, the results of toxicological and ecotoxicological studies, data on utilisation, including proposed uses, and estimated initial production levels.
The competent authority, which in the United Kingdom will be the Health and Safety Executive, would examine the dossier of information provided for completeness and the adequacy of the tests and send a copy of the dossier with any comments to the Commission. The Commission would then pass extracts of the information to other Member States and maintain a catalogue of all substances notified. The Commission, through a technical progress committee, would be able to modify the details of the information required from notifiers and if necessary impose conditions in respect of the use of notified substances.
The scheme is similar in essential respects to a notification scheme being prepared by the Health and Safety Executive in accordance with recommendations of the Robens Committee. The Government, therefore, fully support the broad aims of the scheme. However, there are some aspects of the proposals which are a cause for concern, several of which have been identified in the report by the Scrutiny Committee and discussed in this House today.
We are concerned in particular that the scheme should not impose an unacceptable burden on scarce economic and manpower resources to an extent that it will inhibit the introduction of new chemicals which could be of great benefit but little risk to man or his environment.
Ideally, perhaps every new substance should be tested and notified under the scheme, but the number of new substances discovered annually, most of which are produced in very small quantities, is so great that test laboratories worldwide could not cope either now or in the foreseeable future. Even if facilities existed to test every new substance discovered, the overall cost would be prohibitive. Screening tests must be adequate if they are to 535 be worthwhile. If there is to be adequate testing some substances must be excluded.
Under the sixth amendment it is proposed that substances for development, research and analysis should be excluded. This would exclude many substances produced in small quantities and substances used in circumstances where few persons are normally at risk. However, it would also exclude substances which might be produced for development in substantial quantities, and this could be considered to be a serious drawback.
There are other drawbacks. The excluded categories would be difficult to define and would not necessarily be clearly identifiable by manufacturers who, once the substance passed out of their hands, might not even know its use. It would be difficult if not impossible to enforce exclusions of this kind on a consistent basis throughout the Community.
The Government view, which is embodied in the proposals for the Health and Safety Commission Notification Scheme, is simply to exclude substance produced in small quantities regardless of their use. It is thought that the exclusion of new substances produced in quantities less than one tonne per annum or thereabouts would keep the number of notifications to more manageable levels and exclude only substances which, even if potentially dangerous, would in general be unlikely to put many persons at risk.
A quantity threshold would be simpler to operate on a consistent basis. Such a threshold would not exclude the possibility of bringing additional substances within the scope of notification later should it be considered necessary. I should like to reassure the House that even if a new substance is outside the scope of the Directive, protection from risk for those at work and others who may be affected by work activity is provided in this country under the Health and Safety at Work Act.
We have heard various views on the nature of the tests and the extent to which they should be carried out. They must be adequate to ensure identification of risks, but they must not make unacceptable demands on scarce resources and they should not involve the unnecessary use of animals. It is right that all these 536 considerations should be taken into account when determining test requirements but it would be unreasonable to expect that the final result will satisfy all the divergent interests.
We fully recognise the need to safeguard information of confidential commercial value and the extent to which it may be sent routinely to other Member States and to the Commission. Concern has been expressed about the possibility of a new substance being notified and renotified indefinitely. There will be a requirement for notification of increases in the quantities of a new substance being introduced and newly identified risks, but we must ensure that notifications are not required to be updated needlessly.
The Scrutiny Committee has stressed the need to clarify and define more closely the powers which will be given to the Technical Progress Committee. They expressed particular concern over the powers in respect of adaptations to the Directive and to controls over the conditions of use of substances.
So far as the control of use is concerned, there exists already a Directive for the control of marketing and use of dangerous substances through which controls can be introduced only by unanimous vote in Council. There is, therefore, no need for similar powers in the sixth amendment, and it is our view that all such powers should be exercised under the control of use Directive. As I have already indicated, industry have been widely consulted on the proposals in the sixth amendment and have been involved in the progress of negotiations. There is substantial agreement with the line that the Government are taking.
To sum up, though I have referred to a number of points on which we have strong reservations, I hope I have also made it clear that we belive the Directive will be a significant step forward in protecting man and the environment. Our concern is to ensure that the amendment will be effective without incurring unnecessary costs or undermining the competitiveness of the chemical industry. I believe our partners in Europe are of a similar mind and I have no hesitation in recommending the proposals to the House. In conclusion, I do not apologise for the length of my speech this afternoon 537 because this is a very vital and important matter, far more important than the preliminary consideration of even the Directive or the excellent report of the Committee would indicate.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.