HL Deb 08 December 1983 vol 445 cc1183-4
Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether the first meeting of EEC consumer ministers is to take place on 12th December next and, if so, what items are proposed for the agenda.

The Minister of State, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Lord Belstead)

My Lords, a Consumer Affairs Council is planned for 12th December. Items proposed for the agenda are; a general discussion on consumer protection and information policy consideration of proposals for a rapid exchange of information on dangers arising from the use of consumer products; misleading advertising; doorstep selling; product liability and consumer credit.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that most informative reply, which is much the best I have had for a long time. May I ask him whether he is aware that the consumer organisations hope that rapid progress will be made on the matter of the exchange of information concerning dangerous products? They hope that this will prove non-controversial and, if the Minister could convey that to the Ministers concerned, it would be much appreciated.

Lord Belstead

My Lords, we are broadly content with the draft council decision on this matter and hope that the few remaining problems can be speedily resolved.

Lord Taylor of Gryfe

My Lords, will the Minister tell us who will be attending that conference? Who is the Minister responsible for consumer affairs, and will consideration be given to upgrading the Ministry for consumer affairs in the Government, so that in legislation which is now being proposed by the Government we will ensure adequate consumer protection against private monopolies?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I do not think, on reflection, that the noble Lord would question the credentials of my honourable friend who will be representing the United Kingdom. My honourable friend Mr. Fletcher, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Corporate and Consumer Affairs, will indeed be representing this country and the only other Community member state with a consumer affairs Minister at all is France.

Lord Leatherland

My Lords, may I ask the Minister whether the fact that France will be present at this conference will probably cause problems, because their idea of what is consumable and our idea of what is consumable differ very considerably? For example, is he aware that the French eat frogs and we do not?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, I hope that progress will be made at this consumer council, because it is, in fact, the first such council ever to have been held. But, as the draft directives which I mentioned in the original reply require unanimous agreement if they are to become directives, I do not think that we are going to get that at the council. But, if I may return to my first remark, I hope that there will be real progress at this important council.

Baroness Burton of Coventry

My Lords, may I ask the Minister, reverting to the question put by the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, whether he recalls, or whether he can get it from his brief, that some months ago I asked whether the Under-Secretary of State, Mr. Fletcher—and this is not intended as derogating him—could be upgraded to a Minister of State, in order that consumer affairs might have that importance in the eyes of the world?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, the noble Baroness's question is not in my brief, but it is always in my mind. I assure the noble Baroness that this matter has been taken note of by the Government.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that in the final analysis the success of this conference will depend on the ultimate success of a summit meeting of the European Community which is to take place next March? What consultations will there be at consumer level in relation to this, particularly on price levels?

Lord Belstead

My Lords, with respect to the noble Lord, I do not think I would agree with that. These are matters which have arisen from what are called the two consumer action programmes of the European Community. The first one started in 1975 and the second one was formulated in 1981. These are important nuts and bolts discussions, in addition to the general discussion on consumer protection and information policy. I think that these matters can go ahead and I very much hope that they will. I should like to make it crystal clear that the Government are fully in support of a Consumer Affairs Council of this kind, regardless of what may be happening at the council which will be taking place in March of next year.

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