HL Deb 22 January 1980 vol 404 cc416-22

4.45 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to move that the draft Dangerous Substances and Preparations (Safety) Regulations 1980, laid before the House on 20th December, be approved. These regulations are designed primarily to implement an EEC Directive adopted, in July last, which requires Member States to prohibit the marketing and use of certain dangerous substances in two specific situations. They deal with a wide range of substances in relation to ornamental objects—such as ornamental lamps—and with the use of a carcinogenic chemical known as Tris in textile articles intended to come into contact with the skin. The regulations also include an existing prohibition on the use of chloroethylene as an aerosol propellant which is simply being transferred from the Aerosol Dispensers (EEC Requirements) Regulations 1977.

It might be helpful if I were first to explain briefly the requirements of the new Directive. It amends a 1976 Directive relating to restrictions on the marketing and use of certain dangerous substances and preparations by adding some additional prohibitions. The first is a ban on the use of a number of dangerous substances (classified under certain categories in a 1967 EEC Directive on Dangerous Substances) and other liquids having a flash-point below 55ºC in ornamental lamps (often referred to in this country as glitter lamps) and other objects, and the marketing of products containing these substances. The second prohibition relates to the use of Tris (2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate (which is commonly known simply as Tris) in textile articles intended to come into contact with the skin, and the marketing of textile articles that have been treated with or contain Tris. The Directive was adopted in order both to protect consumers and to harmonise existing national regulations which could constitute a technical barrier to trade. So much for the Directives.

I turn now to the regulations, taking each of these prohibitions in turn and outlining the reasons behind their inclusion. Regulation 1(1) is self-explanatory. Regulations 1(2) and 1(3) set the dates of coming into operation. Regulations 2 and 4 can be brought into force without delay since they largely repeat earlier legislation of similar effect. Regulation 1(3) which relates to the coming into force of Regulation 3—a new requirement—allows a short period for the disposal of non-complying goods.

Regulation 1(4), together with Regulation 2, effects the transfer of the existing prohibition on the use of chloroethylene as an aerosol propellant. This transfer is considered desirable because the prohibition is contained in the 1976 Directive which I have already mentioned and which is being added to by the Directive of last year. It has little in common with the other matters dealt with in the Aerosol Regulations, which mainly concern the marketing and safety standards of aerosol containers.

Regulation 3 related to ornamental objects such as glitter lamps. Some of the liquids, known as halogenated hydrocarbons, sometimes used in these lamps have anaesthetic properties, and in the event of breakage of or leakage from a lamp, prolonged inhalation of the resultant vapours can cause unconsciousness with the possibility that this might deepen into death. Examples of the kind of solvents involved are carbon tetrachloride, trichloroethylene, 1,1,1 trichloroethane and tetrachloroethylene. There has been little evidence of accidents or adverse effects caused by these lamps in normal use in this country, but there have been reports of one or two accidental deaths in other countries, and France and Belgium have in fact already banned the use of various solvents in these lamps. I am advised that the former Department of Prices and Consumer Protection issued certain recommendations as to the construction and labelling of these lamps about 18 months ago, which specified inter alia that carbon tetrachloride should not in any circumstances be used in glitter lamps.

Tris represents a more serious hazard. It was developed in the USA as a flame-retardant treatment for clothing fabrics and it was used there in the manufacture of children's nightwear until it became known to be carcinogenic; that is, cancer-inducing. It can be absorbed into the body through the skin and can be ingested by the common childhood habit of sucking treated fabric. Some EEC countries, including the United Kingdom, have already prohibited the sale of various categories of Tris-treated textile products in order to prevent exports from the USA finding their way on to the market.

The first prohibition of Tris in the United Kingdom was the Nightwear (Safety) Order 1978 which ceased to have effect on 30th November 1979. That prohibited the supply of children's nightwear treated with or containing Tris. That order was made under Section 3 of the Consumer Safety Act 1978 which provides that such orders expire after one year. The draft regulations now before the House are to be made under Section 1 of the Act and will remain in force indefinitely.

Regulation 4 of the proposed regulations will permanently renew the ban on Tris-treated children's nightwear and will extend it to other textile articles intended to come into contact with the skin, in accordance with the somewhat wider scope of the Directive. Some 150 bodies representing manufacturers, traders, consumer interests, local authorities and other Government departments have been consulted about the proposed regulations. These have generally been welcomed, particularly by consumer organisations, and no points of any substance were raised against them.

It may be helpful to give a short word of explanation as to the reason for adding a specific reference to children's dressing-gowns in Regulation 4(2). Dressing-gowns were included in the definition of "child's nightwear" embodied in the Nightwear (Safety) Order 1978 and it is considered necessary to ensure that they fall within the scope of the proposed regulations. Without the specific inclusion of dressing-gowns in Regulation 4(2) it would have been possible to argue that they were not subject to the regulations because they were not intended to come into contact with the skin.

In common with the other Member States of the Community we are required to implement the Directive by July 1980. However, there is a need to perpetuate the effect of the Nightwear (Safety) Order in permanent regulations as soon as possible, and it is appropriate to deal with the other aspects of the Directive at the same time.

As with most of the existing regulations concerned with consumer safety matters the regulations will be enforced by local trading standards authorities. They will have the power to take action at all levels of the supply chain, from manufacture or importation to retail sale. I hope that your Lordships will approve these regulations, which will be a useful addition to consumer safety legislation. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 20th December 1979, be approved.—(Lord Trefgarne.)

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his lengthy and very expert explanation. His pronunciation of those difficult names gained my utmost admiration. I used to be in terrible trouble on that score in your Lordships' House. The noble Lord has had a harassing and busy day and I began to think, as I entered the Chamber to deal with these regulations, that he needed safety regulations himself! However, generally speaking, we have no objection to these regulations because they certainly extend a greater measure of safety. However, I am rather intrigued by Regulation 4. The Explanatory Note says that: the prohibition extends to children's dressing-gowns, which are not covered by the Directive if they are not intended to come into contact with the skin". The noble Lord has young children and I ask, how on earth can a lively bundle of lovable mischief be stopped from getting its dressing-gown in contact with its skin? Children have a remarkable habit of undressing themselves in most unorthodox ways. For the life of me, I cannot understand that note, but perhaps the noble Lord will be able to explain. I simply cannot see any reason for it. Anyway, apart from that I support the regulations. Indeed, we certainly have no objection.


My Lords, I am sorry to trouble the noble Lord on such a busy afternoon with two rather small general points. However, I gave him notice that I wished to raise them and he may possibly have prepared answers. Therefore, it may be that he would be more angry if I did not raise them than if I do so.

First, the regulations make reference to certain British Standards, and that is quite common. There is another Instrument which is probably being considered at this very moment by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, which makes a similar point. In the Explanatory Notes to these Instruments one reads, as one does in this instance: The British Standards referred to in the Schedule to the Regulations may be obtained from the British Standards Institution … Pentonville Road". It goes without saying that anyone purchasing the Instrument at the Stationery Office would be enormously helped if he could also obtain from the Stationery Office, at the same time, the British Standards without which the Instrument is not really complete. I hope that that can be arranged.

The second point is that the Instrument begins in heavy type with the words: Supersedes draft published on 5th December 1979". I should like to ask what arrangements there are by way of recompense for the people who paid their 40p for the earlier draft which never came under starter's orders. I am thinking not only of the people who are buying over the counter at the Stationery Office, but of the institutions which place standing orders for all the Statutory Instruments within their fields. Do those people have to pay for non-runners?

4.57 p.m.


My Lords, I am obliged to your Lordships for the reception that has been given to these regulations. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Coslany, I point out that what I need is not safety regulations but a good trade union—and I shall see what I can do about that! However, the noble Lord made a point about dressing-gowns. It is certainly the case that children's dressing-gowns often come into contact with a child's skin. We felt that we did not want to be exposed to the risk of a manufacturer arguing that it was not intended to come into contact with the skin, and that is why children's dressing-gowns are specifically mentioned in these regulations.

As regards the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Airedale, I should like to thank him for having given me advance notice of them. The main need is to ensure that British Standards which are referred to in Statutory Instruments are readily available in the United Kingdom. They are, of course, obtainable both over the counter and by post from the British Standards Institution's sales department in London, and they can also be purchased at nine regional sales offices. These arrangements seem to have worked well and, as far as it is known, no difficulties have arisen.

Up to about 10 years ago British Standards were, in fact, available also from Her Majesty's Stationery Office. However, that arrangement came to an end on HMSO's initiative because of the very considerable problems encountered—for example, as regards shelf space—in keeping a stock of the very large range of Standards, now numbering about 8,000. It is understood that the BSI would be prepared to consider any approach from HMSO about the selling of Standards through HMSO outlets, but the difficulties previously encountered would probably still exist. There could also be problems in connection with the issue of amendments to Standards, of which there are about 700 a year, and the keeping of stocks up to date. Indeed, 200 Standards are withdrawn each year and between 600 and 700 new ones issued.

Finally, because of the way in which the BSI is funded, it is important for the BSI to have a way of persuading customers to become members by offering a discount and that would, to some extent, be lost if Standards were available other than from the BSI. I am advised that HMSO would be prepared to consider the matter in consultation with the BSI if asked to do so, but in the circumstances to which I have referred it may well be preferable to leave matters as they are.


My Lords, may I say that I am not asking that the Stationery Office should stock 8,000 British Standards. I am only asking that it should stock those which are specifically referred to by Statutory Instruments, since a Statutory Instrument is not really complete without the British Standard to which it refers.


My Lords, I must say that that is a valid point. It was not the one to which I applied my mind and prepared myself to speak this afternoon. However, I shall consider it further and write to the noble Lord.

The noble Lord also raised the question of what happens when a draft Statutory Instrument is superseded, as in this case, and whether subscribers to the one superseded receive some of their money back. I understand that this matter is currently being considered by the Civil Service Department, in conjunction with other departments, in response to an inquiry from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, and I am advised that it would not be appropriate for me to anticipate the outcome of the deliberation by the Joint Committee. With those explanations, I hope that your Lordships will see fit to approve these regulations.

On Question, Motion agreed to.