HL Deb 22 March 1982 vol 428 cc835-7

2.56 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of the Environment (Lord Bellwin)rose to move, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 10th February be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to explain why we are introducing these regulations. The United Kingdom vehicle filament lamp market totals about 130 million units a year. About half of these are imported. Half of the imports are not approved to any recognised standard and many replacement bulbs from the Far East are of extremely low quality. In the case of headlamp bulbs, if the filament within the bulb is not in exactly the right position the beam of light emitted is directed in the wrong direction, towards oncoming drivers, and it can fail to illuminate the road ahead as it should. In the case of other lamps, the light output is frequently not up to the intensity specified for the type of lamp unit in which it is installed. It makes a mockery of our requirements for vehicles to have to be fitted with approved lamp units, if very low quality unapproved bulbs are lawfully permitted to be fitted within them.

United Kingdom vehicle manufacturers, as well as filament lamp manufacturers, have pressed the department to adopt the relevant international standard, UN: ECE Regulation 27. (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe: this body, based in Geneva, has now made about 50 standards for vehicle components over the last 25 years). This is not an extravagant standard but one designed to secure reasonable performance and life from filament lamps of the types which can be used in those vehicle lamp units which are themselves subject to approval. In response to consultation, wide support was received from vehicle and lamp manufacturers and users, including the Transport and General Workers' Union, the Co-op Union and the Freight Transport Association.

The only way to deal quickly with the problem is to introduce regulations under the powers available in the Consumer Safety Act 1978. This is what the department has prepared—the draft statutory instrument is before your Lordships. Very simply, these draft regulations would require nearly all new vehicle bulbs on sale as from a date six months after these regulations are signed to be marked, so as to show that they comply with the relevant international standards. It would be impracticable to try to enforce these rules at the roadside. The approval marks would be readily seen on bulbs when sold as separate items, whereas it would be necessary to remove the lens and the bulb from a light fitting on a vehicle to inspect these markings. The Trade Descriptions Act 1968 makes it an offence for any item marked with an approval mark as being of the required standard to fail to meet that standard.

I hope that this brief introduction is sufficient to explain the main purpose of these draft regulations which I recommend to your Lordships. The Government believe that they are in the interests of road safety and will ensure that consumers get a fair deal. My Lords, I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft regulations laid before the House on 10th February be approved.—(Lord Bellwin.)

Lord Underhill

My Lords, this is one of those occasions when I think one can say that one is grateful to the noble Lord the Minister for his interpretation of this order. I only wish that the explanatory note had said some of the things which he has told us about, for it says nothing at all about cheap imports or about safety precautions. I spent quite a long while going through the whole of Schedule 2 to the 1979 Act to see where the new regulations fit in with the 1979 regulations. Frankly, it was impossible. And I could have saved my time because of the excellent explanation which has just been given by the Minister.

I should like to ask the noble Lord the Minister two questions. First, do the regulations change the wattage of the lamps, or are they as previously? Whether the Minister can answer that question I do not know. They are listed. Secondly, I take it that the consultations which have been held suggest that existing stocks without the new markings will be exhausted within the period of six months, after which the new regulations will come into force. Could the Minister therefore tell me whether there is any possible danger, if I may use that word, of small suppliers having stocks which may last beyond that six-month period and what their position will be under these new regulations?

Lord Bellwin

My Lords, on the point of wattage, I have nothing before me upon it. However, I should not have thought that it ought to be a problem. Obviously, the wattage will vary. The requirements as to standards must surely apply, I should have thought, regardless of the wattage. If that is not so, I shall of course let the noble Lord know. As to his point about whether there will be stocks in some people's hands after the six-month period, I suppose there must always be that possibility. Hopefully, it would only be de minimis. Again, so far as I am aware, nobody has brought forward that point as a cause for concern. On the point of wattage, I understand that what I said was correct: that there is no change. Finally, had the noble Lord, Lord Underhill, got in touch with me beforehand, I should have given him at any time a very detailed explanation.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

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