HL Deb 14 December 1993 vol 550 cc1268-9

3.1 p.m.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes asked Her Majesty's Government:

What consultations they carried out before implementing EC Directive 91/321 on infant feeding formula.

Earl Howe

My Lords, Council Directive 91/321 on infant formula and follow-up formulae has not yet been implemented in the UK. Draft proposals for GB regulations implementing that directive and Council Directive 92/52 on infant formulae and follow-on formulae intended for export to third countries have been prepared and were issued for consultation in the normal way on Friday 3rd December 1993. The Government will consider the comments received before finalising the regulations next year.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that courteous and helpful Answer. But does he not agree that this is a petty, meddlesome, irrelevant and costly measure, which tries to prevent mothers seeing that wicked thing, children's formula, being advertised because it is better for babies if their mothers feed them? Can my noble friend say how long it will be before, for example, car advertising is not allowed because it is healthier to walk? Surely this is an outrage that we should be resisting.

Earl Howe

My Lords, I find myself in disagreement with my noble friend. The directive has been welcomed widely both by the industry and by groups representing professional and voluntary interests. The measures are important because they provide safeguards for young infants for whom in many cases these products provide the main or even the sole source of nourishment from birth.

Lord Carter

My Lords, in view of the first Question this afternoon, can the Minister assure the House that there will be a level playing field as far as breast-feeding is concerned? What action are other member states taking to implement the European directive?

Earl Howe

My Lords, after a question like that, it is transparently clear that the noble Lord was a breast-fed baby! We are going out to consultation on the basis of there being a directive. We shall take account of all comments received arising out of that consultation, the deadline for which is Friday 4th March 1994. We shall then introduce our national laws not later than 1st June. I stress that this is a consultation and that we shall take account of all comments received.

Lord Finsberg

My Lords, will my noble friend expand a little on the answer in which he said that the measure had been welcomed by the industry? I seem to recall that when I was a health Minister and this first arose, much of it was a very vicious campaign against Nestle. I wonder whether this is a continuation of that.

Earl Howe

My Lords, the draft regulations give statutory force to existing voluntary measures which were agreed with the industry generally in line with World Health Organisation guidelines to protect breast-feeding. In addition, they require guidelines to be issued on the presentation and content of information and on educational material about infant feeding with the aim primarily of avoiding any bias against breast-feeding.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon

My Lords, but why on earth does the European Community have to interfere in this regard? Is it not a matter for national decision? Does not this sort of directive interfere with every nook and cranny in our national life, which the Foreign Secretary said would not happen once the Maastricht Treaty was ratified?

Earl Howe

My Lords, the noble Lord will of course be aware that aspects of competition law come into all this. In the single market in which we now operate, I think that it is right that all member states should play by the same rules in terms of the composition of products and their labelling and advertising. As I have stressed before, this is a sensitive area because the products are marketed and manufactured for the benefit of a very vulnerable group of individuals.