§ Lord Mulleyasked Her Majesty's Government:
§ Whether they oppose any proposals to end or modify the well established system of hallmarking articles made of precious metals.
My Lords, the Government are not aware of any current proposals to end or modify the system of hallmarking. However, the Government have made it clear that they regard the compulsory marking of precious metals as essential to protect both the consumer and the trader and that this is best achieved through the British hallmarking system.
§ Lord Mulley
My Lords, I am greatly obliged to the noble Viscount for that reply. However, is he aware that my information is that German interests are applying both to the Commission and to the European Court to have our system of hallmarking declared outwith the competition and regime of the treaty? I should be glad to hear from the noble Viscount that he will resist that. As he said, our system is greatly welcomed by both the trade and consumers in this country as a guarantee of authenticity and quality which is unsurpassed in any other country. I hope that the Commission will not consider that proposal because it has better things to do, but if it persists I hope that for once it will harmonise on our system and not on one of the others.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Mulley, is entirely correct to point out that an application for judicial review has been made by a German jewellery manufacturer in which, inter alia, it challenges the incompatibility of the Hallmarking Act with the EC treaty. This case raises complex legal issues and we are considering our legal position. However, I have already stated that the Government are firmly of the view that the British hallmarking system is best placed to protect both the consumer and the trader. We shall support any defence of it.
§ Lord Boyd-Carpenter
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that most of your Lordships will regard the Answer as extremely satisfactory, particularly for the reasons eloquently set out by the noble Lord, Lord Mulley?
§ Baroness Gardner of Parkes
My Lords, may I ask the Minister what is the situation on the different standard; for silver on the continent and in Britain? We do not recognise the continental standards. How is this situation being dealt with?
My Lords, we recognise our own standards. We know that other countries have different standards but we are dealing with the standards required before items can be sold in this country.
§ Lord Williams of Elvel
My Lords, I too welcome the firm position that the Government are taking. Can the noble Viscount clarify one point for me? He mentioned that a German company was considering, or was applying for, a judicial review on the hallmarking system. Is this a matter to be taken up before the European Court? Will the British Government make their own case or will the matter be taken up in a lower court in Germany?
My Lords, so far as I am aware, at present the application for judicial review is made in this country and nowhere else. A similar case was brought by the Germans in the Netherlands and it was unsuccessful.
§ Lord Mulley
My Lords, I appreciate the noble Viscount's stand on this. Will he endeavour to keep both the trade and the House informed of progress? If it is possible for the government view to be presented to the court, as is often so in such cases, we would not have to go through the whole matter later. As the noble Viscount knows, silver must be of our standard to be sold here; though that is not strictly correct. The German interest is that Germany has a standard of 800 parts per thousand of silver whereas we have a standard of 925 parts. The Germans want it all to be classified for sale as silver, which would give them a considerable advantage.
My Lords, it is clear that at some stage in the future agreement must be reached on a Community-wide basis for a regime for precious metals. That will obviously happen; but, as I said, we strongly support our own system.