HC Deb 14 December 1998 vol 322 cc366-7W
Ms Rosie Winterton

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if he will make a statement on forthcoming changes to the Hallmarking Act 1973. [64080]

Mr. Mandelson

The Hallmarking (Hallmarking Act Amendment) Regulations and the Hallmarking (Hallmarking Act Amendment) Order 1998 were laid in Parliament on Friday 4 December 1998.

These will align UK law with EU single market rules whilst ensuring that UK manufacturers can remain competitive at home and in Europe. The specific changes are as follows:

Section 2 of the Act is amended so as to recognise certain hallmarks from other European countries as "approved hallmarks". This follows a 1994 European Court of Justice Judgment in the case of Houtwipper (Case C-293/93) which ruled that Member States which prohibited the sale of articles of precious metal not hallmarked in accordance with national laws would not be in breach of single market rules provided that such articles did not already bear hallmarks struck by an independent body in accordance with the legislation of the exporting Member State, containing information which was equivalent to that provided by the hallmarks of the importing Member State and which was intelligible to consumers in that Member State. As a result, articles of precious metal bearing hallmarks which meet these criteria will be able to be offered for sale in the UK without, as previously, having to be re-hallmarked.

The distinction between UK manufactured articles and imports is to be ended so that the same marks will be struck on both UK and imported articles. This, also, is designed to align UK law with single market rules.

The range of finenesses to which articles can be hallmarked in the UK is increased to include new standards (both higher and lower) in addition to those traditionally recognised in the UK. This will ensure that UK manufacturers can compete on an equal basis with European counterparts. Consumers also stand to benefit from being able to purchase a wider range of items of jewellery and other precious articles of a standard of purity which could not previously be sold as precious articles in the UK.

The fineness of UK hallmarked articles will from now on be expressed millesimally. This means that the striking of traditional marks such as the crown for gold and the orb for platinum will become voluntary. This change will make hallmarks more readily understandable to consumers. This is especially important in view of the new increased range of finenesses.

The requirement for the date letter to be struck alongside traditional UK hallmarks is ended although the date letter can continue to be struck on a voluntary basis. This change will place UK manufacturers on an equal footing with their European competitors.

Finally, the date before which articles are exempt from hallmarking will be changed from 1900 to 1920 in response to concerns within the antiques trade about the inability to auction in the UK fine art works made between 1900 and 1920 which do not bear approved hallmarks.