Cosmetics (Consumer Protection)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 3rd August 1978.

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Photo of Mr John Fraser Mr John Fraser , Lambeth Norwood 12:00 am, 3rd August 1978

I shall try to answer as many questions as I can. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Wood Green (Mrs. Butler) for raising this subject. She has taken a close interest in the matter for many years and tabled a number of Questions during the preparation of the cosmetic safety regulations and the EEC directive on which they are based.

In January, my hon. Friend asked the Secretary of State whether, in view of the importance of the draft regulations, it would be possible to arrange for them to be debated in the House. As the regulations are to be made largely under the Consumer Protection Act 1961 and are therefore subject to the negative resolution procedure, I explained that there would be no discussion—unless on a motion seeking their annulment. I am glad, however, that I can say something about them on this terminal Adjournment debate.

The regulations, which will be laid soon—I cannot give an exact date—are a valuable addition to our consumer protection armoury. Moreover, this is an area where harmonisation of regulations throughout the Community on the basis of an article 100 directive is especially to be welcomed, so as to facilitate trade as well as improve protection.

This is a vital matter for our manufacturers of cosmetic products, who last year sold goods worth £65 million to the rest of the Community. The technical ingenuity and expertise of the cosmetic chemists, the careful market research, the skilled manufacturing processes and the enthusiasm of the sales team will be of little avail if the entry of our goods into foreign markets is hindered by unharmonised safety requirements.

It is for that reason that the main trade associations for the cosmetics industry have been in almost continual consultation with my Department. In addition, through their European organisation, they were involved in the initial discussions in Brussels on the cosmetics directive. They have continued to make a vigorous contribution to the drafting of our regulations.

Apart from the industry itself, my Department has consulted extensively during the preparation of the regulations. About 270 organisations were sent copies of the first draft last year. These included a number of medical bodies—the Medical Research Council, the department of cancer research at Birmingham University, the Institute of Child Care, the Medical Commission on Accident Prevention and the British Medical Association. In addition, my officials have been in close contact with the Laboratory of the Government Chemist and toxicological advisers in the Department of Health and Social Security. The comments of these experts have been carefully considered, and wherever the directive has given scope for their views to be reflected in the regulations that has been done.

My hon. Friend will be pleased to hear that there has also been consultation with the local authority associations, in which she expressed her interest. Their advice is especially valuable as it will be their task—I can give this assurance—to enforce these and other safety regulations. Finally, we have taken the views of consumer organisations.

Our discussions have meant that we have not been able to complete the drafting of the regulations as soon as I should have liked. The directive itself imposed an obligation to implement it by national legislation by the end of January this year. I stress that the delay has been used only to good effect, in that the draft has been most carefully revised and improved. It was better to get it right than to keep exactly to the deadline of January 1978.

I have now approved the making of the Cosmetic Products Regulations 1978, and they will be laid before Parliament very shortly. The requirements imposed by the regulations will enter into force at various times, each at the earliest practicable date.

My hon. Friend has expressed her concern about a number of products, including certain hair dye preparations. She expressed concern about the possibility of cancer-forming agents in the dyes. Our medical advisers are still examining research work done in the United King- dom and the United States, which is said to indicate that certain hair dyes are carcinogenic. I shall be ready to take action when I receive their considered advice. However, it would be unwise to try to anticipate it.

I do not underestimate the importance of examining these matters carefully, but no evaluation has come to me so far that would justify going beyond the scope of the regulations.

My hon. Friend has mentioned a number of substances and she referred to labelling. She gave an example of 23 items in a certain cosmetic. If she finds it difficult to pronounce the name of the substance and I find it difficult to understand what the substances do, bearing in mind the difficulty that is experienced by two Members of Parliament, I do not understand how consumers will be given very much assistance by having 23 substances listed so that they may choose between one cosmetic and another. There comes a stage when the labelling of contents adds nothing to the consumer's information. Indeed, such labelling can be positively misleading.

My hon. Friend mentioned a number of dyes and substances, and I have looked quickly through the draft regulation. The hair dyes are listed by number and the numbers refer in turn to a list of hair dyes approved by the trade associations. I cannot answer my hon. Friend's question. If I do not answer some of her questions in the debate, I shall write to her.

My hon. Friend is concerned about the carcinogenic effects of hair dyes. That is an issue which has been carefully considered and the research has been evaluated.