HC Deb 01 July 2002 vol 388 cc55-7W
Malcolm Bruce

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (1) what steps her Department(a) has taken and (b) plans to take in relation to the development of labelling of environmental information for consumers; and if she will make a statement; [64791]

(2) what steps (a) have been taken and (b) are planned by her Department to provide environmental information for consumers; and if she will make a statement. [64790]

Mr. Meacher

The Government are keen to ensure that consumers have clear and relevant information about the environmental effects of consumer products. It has appointed the Advisory Committee on Consumer Products and the Environment (ACCPE) to look at opportunities for developing better quality environmental information, as part of the Committee's remit to advise on ways of reducing the impacts of consumer products on the environment.

The Government are considering a number of ACCPE's recommendations for improving product information. These include proposals for improving the quality of self-declared environmental claims, which are being explored further by the Department taking into account stakeholders' views. The Government are also considering ACCPE's proposals for developing a common label for homes, cars and domestic appliances, based on the format of the EU Energy label. In the case of homes, we are looking to develop a methodology for assessing the energy efficiency of existing homes more cost effectively, and this will include a look at the possibilities for comparative energy rating. A comparative label for cars is being considered by DfT in the light of the response to their recent consultation paper on this topic.

ACCPE has also proposed setting up a new Internet information service which could provide advice and guidance on the environmental impacts of products and the scope for making more sustainable consumption choices. It recommended that the Government should first commission a feasibility study into such a project, and this has been done. Having considered the results of this study, ACCPE have made further recommendations in their second report, "Action for Greener Products: A toolbox for change", published in May, about the practicalities of piloting a new service. The Government are currently considering how a pilot can be taken forward. Copies of ACCPE's second report have been placed in the Libraries of the House.

The Department already publishes and promotes the Green Claims Code which gives best practice advice to business and the consumer on environmental information and labelling.

We have also published, distributed and continue to promote a number of information leaflets to help business and consumers in this area. These include "Hi I'm Green" which is a guide to the most commonly occurring environmental claims and labels on products and explains how to ask for further information; "Energy labels for refrigeration and washing appliances—helping you make the right choice", which outlines the EU energy label scheme; and "Pick the flower—the ecolabel" which explains the EU ecolabelling scheme. Copies of all these leaflets have been placed in the Libraries of the House.

Malcolm Bruce

To ask the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs what(a) guidance and (b) legislation is (i) in place and (ii) planned with regards to labelling of environmental information for consumers; and if she will make a statement. [64789]

Mr. Meacher

The Department's Green Claims Code provides guidance on good practice in the making of environmental claims. It is intended as an introduction to the more detailed guidance in the International Standard IS014021. The Department has no plans at present to revise the Code.

There is no specific piece of legislation regarding environmental information for consumers, but trading standards officers have powers under the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 to deal with claims that are demonstrably false. The Director General of Fair Trading can also take action against misleading environmental claims under the Control of Misleading Advertisements Regulations 1988. The Government are committed to ensuring that the regulatory framework for tackling misleading green claims is effective and will keep the need for any new legislation under review.

In respect of individual environmental labelling schemes, the European Community Energy Label must be displayed on all new domestic refrigerators, freezers and fridge-freezer combinations, washing machines, electric tumble dryers, combined washer-dryers, dishwashers and lamps displayed for sale, hire or hire-purchase. The UK and other member states have until 1 January 2003 to transpose Directives 2002/31/EC and 2002/40/EC which will extend this requirement to household air conditioners and electric ovens. Details of relevant legislation can be found at http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/mtp/ index.htm#S3

A separate scheme, the European ecolabel award, is designed to encourage manufacturers to reduce the environmental impacts of a growing range of products, and to encourage consumers to choose products with the label. The scheme was set up in 1992 by EU Regulation 880–92, which was revised in 2000 by Regulation 1980–2000. As Regulations, these took effect automatically in UK law without further legislation.

Participation by manufacturers is voluntary, but under the Regulations member states are required to promote the scheme and to designate competent bodies to run it. In the UK the scheme is administered by the Secretary of State. DEFRA has a website giving guidance about the scheme http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/ecolabel/index.htm, and has produced explanatory and promotional leaflets about it for business and consumers.