HC Deb 29 January 2003 vol 398 cc886-8W
Mr. Hood

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the outcome was of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council held on 3 December; what the Government's stance was on the issues discussed, including its voting record; and if he will make a statement. [87251]

Ms Blears

My right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State for Health represented the United Kingdom for the Health element of the first day of the Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council in Brussels on 2 December 2002; the consumer affairs items were also taken on that day.

The main health business of this Council related to tobacco. The Council reached qualified majority on a First Reading Deal on the Tobacco Advertising Directive. He emphasised that the UK supports European Union legislation on tobacco advertising, having strong domestic legislation in place. He made clear the Government's determination to ensure the legal victories secured by the tobacco companies over previous European legislation would not be repeated with this Directive. He therefore voted against the Directive because he did not think that the drafting of some provisions was good enough or that it went as far as it could in some areas (for example by not covering cigarette papers).

A Council Recommendation on the prevention of smoking and on initiatives to improve tobacco control was adopted by a qualified majority, with support from the UK. The Commission also gave an update on the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

Member States set out their positions on the pharmaceuticals reviews with a discussion on three key outstanding issues in the European Medicines Evaluation Agency (EMEA) Regulation. There was no vote on this item. On scope, the UK was amongst several Member States who spoke out against extension of the centralised procedure for human medicines, and in favour of a choice for companies. Others supported the Commission. Most felt that Member States should appoint at least one member to the management board. Many were willing to consider also accepting representatives of patient groups or the European Parliament. A majority of Member States and the Commission were able to accept the Presidency compromise of a single renewal of an authorisation after five years.

Council adopted a Recommendation on the prevention and reduction of risks associated with drug dependence. Council Conclusions on action against obesity were adopted unanimously. The UK voted in favour of both of these items.

The Presidency presented a progress report on negotiations on a Directive setting standards of quality and safety for the donation, procurement, testing, processing, storage and distribution of human cells and tissues. The Commission said that they would look carefully at the changes in scope the Council was proposing in relation to the medicinal products and medical devices Directives.

The Commission updated the Council on the high level process of reflection on patient mobility and health care development, and on the programme of cooperation on bioterrorism and health security. The Commission will be tabling a proposal to set up a network centre for disease control in May 2003, to be set up in 2005. The aim is to enhance the EU capacity to prevent the spread of communicable diseases, working closely with Member States' own institutions.

The Commission reported that it had established a working group, to consider the quality of information on internet sites in the health sector. The group, consisting of representatives from government, Non-Government Organisations and industry, has reported and agreed actions including measures on transparency, privacy and accountability. The Commission will monitor work through the E-Europe 2005 ActionPlan.

Items under any other business included an information paper from Ireland on post-polio syndrome. There was also a brief discussion on the follow-up to the G10 initiative on the pharmaceutical industry. A Commission communication, was under preparation, and should issue in May 2003. Italy announced they would have an Informal Ministerial meeting on this during their Presidency. Finally, there was a presentation from Belgium on their candidate for the Director-Generalship of the WHO, Peter Piot.

The consumer part of the Council met with minimal discussion over a short agenda.

The Council adopted a Resolution on Community consumer policy strategy 2002–06 without debate, endorsing the aims and objectives of the Commission's strategy as published in May 2002, namely a high common level of consumer protection, effective enforcement and the involvement of consumer organisations. The UK voted in favour, as did all other Member States.

The Council and the Commission endorsed the Presidency's conclusions on a joint Commission-UK seminar held in November on using consumer statistics to inform and prioritise consumer policy. In accordance with the conclusions, the Commission will take forward technical work on definitions and the comparability of consumer statistics.

As an information point only, the Council took note of a Commission presentation on the preliminary results of the European Extra-Judicial Network (EEJ-Net), the EU network of clearing houses designed to facilitate and resolve cross-border, out-of-court consumer disputes.

Finally, Greece informed the Council that it wanted to contribute to the consumer agenda during its forthcoming Presidency by strengthening its involvement in the internal market. It highlighted in particular a seminar on the Commission's Green Paper of 2003, and a Ministerial conference on unfair trading to be held on 7 May 2003.

Forward to