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Baroness Nicol: Being flexible is all very well but surely, even at this stage, it is possible to identify one step that should not be taken in any circumstances because it is so unfair and unlikely to succeed. I do not find the keeping-the-options-open argument very persuasive.

Viscount Ullswater: I understand what the noble Baroness is saying but she is identifying perhaps only one single waste stream about which she has some knowledge. I have indicated that there are seven such streams and it is important to make certain that a single point may not be suitable for one of those streams. Perhaps at present we do not have the scheme that would need a single-point entry. However, in the formulation of primary legislation it would be wrong to cut out that option already.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Wade of Chorlton: I am grateful to the Minister for suggesting that the Government agree with the principle behind Amendment No. 300. I look forward to seeing his proposal on how we can confirm that. I am disappointed that he was not more positive about the waste packaging proposals. Clearly, the support around the Committee was positive as regards a multi-point system as laid down by the packaging industry. However, I accept the point that the option is still open and might be accepted by the Government.

I hope that in view of the support that the proposals have received, the Government will consider it seriously. Perhaps my noble friend will give me the opportunity of discussing the matter with him before the Report stage. I see that he is nodding in agreement, and I shall be pleased to take up the offer. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 301 to 303AA not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 303B:


Page 82, line 31, at end insert:

9 Feb 1995 : Column 364


("( ) The Secretary of State shall have a duty to exercise the power to make regulations in the manner which he considers best calculated to prevent the making of false or unsupported environmental claims in relation to any prescribed products, materials or activities.").

The noble Baroness said: This amendment and Amendment No. 306A, which is grouped with it, deal with environmental claims in relation to the labelling of goods. I raised that matter on Second Reading. The amendments are quite modest and merely provide for regulations to be laid. They do not seek to set out on the face of the Bill the detail of the regulations which may be made but which I believe would deal with important matters.

On Second Reading I mentioned the description of a pair of socks as being "ozone friendly". That was one of a number of examples of slightly odd claims made on packaging and labelling. I should enjoy reading to the Committee the whole of a report published by the London Borough of Sutton which is led by my noble friend Lord Tope. I shall not do so but I shall give the Committee a few examples to add a little colour to my anxiety about how misleading some of the packaging and labelling can be.

The report gives as an example of a misleading claim the following:


    "This box is 100 per cent. recyclable and biodegradable, having been made from renewable, sustainable pulp resources. Pizza Hut is working to help the environment. You can too by disposing of this box carefully".

No doubt that is so, although one wonders about recycling a box with traces of tomato and cheese attached to the lid. But the claim which is made is misleading and confusing. Four key environmental words are used in the claim—recyclable, biodegradable, renewable and sustainable. They give the impression that the box has no adverse effects whatever on the environment. It suggests that the box is recyclable or biodegradable because the pulp used is sustainable. Of course, that is misleading because a sustainable wood source does not help recyclability or the rate of biodegradation of a product.

The report quotes the labelling for Lenor, a fabric conditioner, as an example of an ambiguous claim:


    "Lenor has been formulated and made with care for the environment. This care is shown in the careful selection of ingredients and packaging and through the control of manufacturing processes. This bottle is made of polyethylene and the cap is made of polypropylene. These can be disposed of safely in normal waste treatment. Alternatively, the Lenor bottle may be re-used by refilling it with the Lenor refill".

That is quite confusing. It means in fact that the bottle can be thrown into the dustbin and eventually it will be buried or incinerated. That is not quite the same as the materials being recyclable.

The report gives an example of a "trivial claim". Although that is the heading in the report, I believe that it is quite serious. The example given is:


    "This swing tag contains 80 per cent. recycled material".

That was a swing tag which merely gave the details of the umbrella to which it was attached but the unsuspecting purchaser could well have confused the reference on the tag to the umbrella itself. I believe that the environmental benefits of the umbrella were somewhat distorted by that labelling.

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The examples which I have given may be amusing. My greatest anxiety in relation to raising the issue is that I recall the debates which we had on the Trade Marks Bill when we were all tempted to give examples of coffee jars, and so on, which had confused us. Those examples probably served only to confirm in the minds of the public how remote from everyday life most of your Lordships, including myself, seem to be.

The dangerous point is that purchasers, seeing such claims and many more claims, believe that, by buying a product which describes itself extravagantly or quite meaninglessly, they are doing their bit to save the planet when they may be doing very little at all towards that. I beg to move.

Lord Williams of Elvel: I support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. This has been a major problem in the United States. I am sure that the noble Viscount is aware that the claims that are made for products which argue that they are environmentally friendly and yet are not have given rise to any number of civil cases in the United States where people have in fact been damaged by products with green labels. They call them green labels in the United States.

I hope very much that the problem will not arise in this country. But I hope also that the Government recognise a problem which may arise. That is why I believe that the amendment moved by the noble Baroness raises an extremely important point to which I hope the Government will feel able to respond if not in this way, at least in some way which will give us confidence.

Lord Tope: My noble friend Lady Hamwee referred to the excellent report produced by Sutton Trading Standards, so I shall resist the temptation to quote a few examples from it to the Committee. If your Lordships' appetites are whetted for more information, the full report is available from the trading standards department of the London Borough of Sutton for a very small charge.

More seriously, I wish to support the amendment. It seems to me that one of the most effective influences which ordinary people—if one can call them that—have on their environment is in their purchasing and consumption power. Producers and manufacturers have long since recognised that, and as the environmental consciousness of the public has grown so have the environmental claims made by manufacturers and producers to sell their products.

One danger is that the public are starting to become cynical about such claims and rather than using their purchasing power to effect a change in the environment, they are going cold on it. Therefore, it is time to act and restore the public's faith, so that they know that when environmental claims are made in relation to products they mean what they say and are not, at best, meaningless or, at worst, misleading.

I hope the Minister will be able to indicate that he supports the amendments or that the Government will consider sympathetically the points that we are trying to make.

Viscount Ullswater: I hope that I shall be able to reassure the Committee and that the noble Baroness will

9 Feb 1995 : Column 366

not press the amendment. The amendment seeks to include in the Bill a requirement to make regulations to prevent false or unsupported environmental claims being made, together with provisions to propose by regulation requirements as to the making of such claims.

Making false environmental claims is already illegal. Those matters fall within the scope of the Trade Descriptions Act 1968. The question of whether further protection is needed in that area is being reviewed by the National Consumer Council. Therefore, those matters are already covered under other legislation.

In addition, there is the European Community eco-labelling system which seeks to identify products which are less harmful to the environment than equivalent brands across the whole of their life cycle.

Lord Williams of Elvel: Before the noble Viscount moves on to eco-labelling, will he enlighten us as to what the NCC is studying? He says that there is no need for legislation but if the National Consumer Council recommends that there is need for legislation, will the Government accept that?

Viscount Ullswater: I indicated that false environmental claims are already illegal but the question of the need for further protection is being reviewed by the National Consumer Council. I am sure that we shall bring forward further provisions as necessary to make certain that that point is taken on board.

Eco-labelling will provide the consumer with a valid means of identifying products which have been validated against a set of environmental criteria. Therefore, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

7 p.m.

Baroness Hamwee: I am not entirely sure about eco-labelling. It does not guarantee that a consumer will be purchasing the most environmentally friendly product because not every product available in the range will be submitted to the scheme. Nor, indeed—and this may be the trading standards point —does it prevent producers from continuing to make their own "green" claims even if their products have been submitted for testing and have failed.

I am interested in the fact that the National Consumer Council is considering the matter. I do not expect the Minister to respond this evening, but if there is a need to pursue in legislation matters which the NCC identifies perhaps he would consider a rather different amendment, a permissive amendment, which would at least give the legislative framework for steps to be taken at ministerial level. I accept that I do not often argue in that way; indeed, I tend to argue for primary legislation. However, having established the framework, that would allow Ministers to pursue by regulation any matters that the NCC identifies as requiring such regulation. I do not expect the Minister to reply now if he does not wish to do so.


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