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Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, the Minister mentioned extra money for local authorities to help with the clearing up operations around the country. She will no doubt be aware that her noble friend Lord Whitty told the House some three or four weeks ago that the Bellwin formula will operate in such a situation. Has any of that money been applied for by local authorities; and what is the contingency for money that may need to spent?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, we said that assistance under the Bellwin rules will now be automatic for authorities dealing with the current flooding; that the rate of government support will increase from 85 per cent to 100 per cent; that valid claims will be settled within 15 working days; and that claims for advance payment can be made. From that, I deduce that if claims were made more than 15 days ago they will have been settled. If I am incorrect, I shall write to the noble Lord.
Baroness Byford: My Lords, returning to the Question posed by my noble friend, have the Government considered ways in which they will help compensate those who have lost their homes and businesses? Are they thinking of, for example, X amount of money for a house, Y amount of money for a business or a percentage of any successful insurance claim? What is the position? Secondly, in referring to the Bellwin agreement the Minister said that valid claims would be settled within 15 days. How quickly shall we know what is happening on the insurance side and what progress has been made some 22 days on from the consultation that the Government were to have with insurance companies?
Baroness Hayman: My Lords, perhaps I can guarantee to answer that question within 15 days! As regards insurability, Treasury Ministers and the Parliamentary Secretary at MAFF, my honourable friend Elliot Morley, have met insurance industry representatives. They received reassurance that the industry will deal with claims as quickly as possible; that it intends to continue providing flood insurance--which is extremely important; and that recent flooding should have little or no impact on premiums. It is also taking action in particular areas--for example, I believe, by pro-actively contacting potential claimants.
As far as concerns the original Question, I believe that I have made clear in my responses that flooding has always been seen as an insurable risk; indeed, that has been the view of successive governments. Although the Government have put more money into both the compensation available to local authorities for the work that they have undertaken and into more
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, legislation is already in place which gives local authority trading standards departments adequate powers to remove unsafe products from the market, thus protecting UK consumers.
As regards products carrying forged trade marks, there is an EC regulation applying in all countries of the European Union that allows trade mark owners to ask Customs authorities to seize counterfeit goods being imported from outside the Union. Customs authorities may also seize such goods on their own initiative. Where goods carrying a forged trade mark have entered the single European market, the criminal sanctions applying to counterfeiting activities within each member state are helpful. In the United Kingdom, the offences of distributing or selling counterfeit goods are relevant, and effective enforcement action is possible by trading standards departments, as well as by the police.
Lord Harrison: My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for that Answer. Is he aware of the particular case of a leading kettle manufacture, Strix Limited of Chester, whose position is being undermined by imports of faulty kettles from the People's Republic of China? Does my noble friend understand that this represents both a threat and a danger to consumers in Britain and in the European Union? Finally, what more can the Government do to remedy the situation; for example, what pressure can my noble friend bring to bear on the European Commission to ensure the safety of consumers throughout the European Union?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the DTI is most conscious of the particular problems faced by Strix Limited, which has a lion's share of the world market for safety cut-off dry boil controls for kettles. That is why the department has taken a good deal of action, both to help that company and to protect consumers in this country. We have made all the trading standards departments in the UK aware of the problem. The DTI's consumer safety newsletter has also featured this particular problem.
Moreover, during an official visit to Beijing, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry was able to arrange a meeting between executives of Strix Limited and a Chinese Government Minister. As a result of the action that we have taken, the Chinese authorities have now added electric kettles to the control list for commodity inspection, which makes kettles that are to be exported subject to official inspections. We have also made representations to the Chinese Government, both at an EU and at a UK level. However, we are not in a position to do one thing that the company has requested; namely, to ask the Chinese Government to shut down the Yong Heng thermostat factory in GuangDong, which is almost certainly the producer of many of these copy controls.
Baroness Thomas of Walliswood: My Lords, does the Minister agree that many of these goods are freely available from street vendors and, indeed, from markets? Therefore, is he satisfied that trading standards departments throughout the country have sufficient force, funding and staff to deal with this kind of malpractice?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I believe that I made it very clear that we have given a great deal of information on the matter to trading standards officers. In fact, it is only within the past four weeks that the first example has been found by Brent and Harrow Trading Standards Service in two kettles which fall within this category. Therefore, it is probably not true to say that these products are generally available. Indeed, I believe that there are sufficient resources available, given that trading standards departments have been alerted a number of times by the DTI.
Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree with me that the sooner the People's Republic of China becomes a full member of the World Trade Organisation the sooner we shall have a dispute settlement procedure through which it can be held to account if it breaks the necessary standards for proper trading in the international community?
Lord Razzall: My Lords, contrary to what one might read endlessly in the Tory press and contrary to what one might hear occasionally from the Tory Benches, does the Minister agree that this is a classic example of a matter that would be best dealt with on a pan-European basis?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we should bear in mind two facts as regards this matter. First, the main cases in this respect have been found outside the UK; and, secondly, we have more power on a European basis to deal with the situation. Therefore, it is true that the matter is best dealt with on a European
Lord Elton: My Lords contrary to the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Razzall, the burden of this battle actually rests with very hard-pressed local trading standards authorities and their officers, who are constantly at risk in the boot sales and open markets where they have to enforce the law. Therefore, should not the emphasis be on exerting pressure on the country of origin, when it is known? Indeed, it is not only China that supplies such products. Can the Minister tell us how we can pursue the matter with suppliers of counterfeit patent documents when the country of origin is known?
Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, the trading standards authorities are, of course, the first point of call in terms of alerting people to these problems. However, as to the question of actually taking action, which, I believe, was the point behind the previous question, that is best pursued on a European level, especially in circumstances where the main offenders have been found to be in other European countries.
Lord Carter: My Lords, at a convenient moment after 3.30 p.m., my noble friend Lord Whitty will, with the leave of the House, repeat a Statement that is being made in another place on the Rural White Paper.