Phthalate Plasticisers

– in the House of Lords at 2:50 pm on 13th December 1999.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Taverne Lord Taverne Liberal Democrat 2:50 pm, 13th December 1999

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What steps they are taking to revoke the European Commission's ban on phthalate plasticisers.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, at a meeting on 1st December of the Emergencies Committee, established under the General Product Safety Directive, the committee unanimously adopted the Commission's proposal to introduce an emergency ban on phthalates in toys intended to be mouthed by children under three years of age. The Department of Trade and Industry will be implementing the measure through administrative measures, which monitor the voluntary undertakings given by United Kingdom industry that products covered by the measure have been removed from the UK market.

Photo of Lord Taverne Lord Taverne Liberal Democrat

My Lords, do the Government accept that there is no scientific basis for this ban and that, if the conclusions drawn from tests of chemicals in this case were to be more widely applied, we would have to ban orange juice, marmalade, broccoli and a host of other foodstuffs? Will the Government resist an extension of the ban to medical products, like gloves, syringes and tubing, which would have significant health effects? Finally, does not the imposition of this ban show the need to counter the enormous influence of pressure groups like Greenpeace, which are no respecters of scientific evidence and are more concerned with scare headlines to increase their membership than they are with the protection of health or the environment?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, there are two kinds of phthalate plasticisers which could be used in the toy industry. One is DEHP, which has not been used in Britain for 10 years. It is certainly true that that could be dangerous if mouthed and, to that extent, the noble Lord is not correct in his scientific analysis. The second is DINP, which would be dangerous only if it were chewed for a very long time; for example, as a child's dummy. However, no phthalates are used in the production of dummies, teethers or teething rings. Therefore, for the sake of peace and quiet, we decided that it was better to go along with the Union, although the directive does not affect our industry.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

My Lords, can the noble Lord give the House the treaty base under which this absurd piece of nonsense is being taken? Can he also say whether the United Kingdom has the ability to stop it? Alternatively, are we, as usual, outvoted by our good partners in Europe?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, as I said in my original Answer, the basis for this ban is the General Product Safety Directive. We did not seek to stop it; we agreed with the ban and allowed it to go forward.

Photo of Lord Boardman Lord Boardman Conservative

My Lords, the noble Lord referred to the United Kingdom. However, bearing in mind the exchanges which took place during the previous Question today, one wonders whether Scotland, for example, has the authority to decide not to adopt this particular regulation. Indeed, could Scotland take a completely different attitude towards the ban?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I do not have an answer to that question, which would not have occurred if the previous Question had not arisen. My immediate judgment is to say that matters of implementation of European Commission directives would be reserved matters, even though food safety is a devolved matter. Most food law is determined at European Union level. Devolved authorities have to work within the harmonised framework. UK policy will have to reflect a consistent line.

Photo of The Countess of Mar The Countess of Mar Crossbench

My Lords, is not the case that some phthalates have the potential of being oestrogen mimics? In view of the fact that fish have been found to be of both sexes, or to be changing their sexes, is it not important for us to protect our children? Surely we must always bear this in mind.

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

Yes, my Lords. I entirely agree with the noble Countess that it is important for us to protect our children. Indeed, the toy industry in this country also agrees. That is why there have been no DINP phthalates--in fact, no phthalates--used in the production of dummies, teethers and teething rings for a very long time.

Photo of Earl Ferrers Earl Ferrers Conservative

My Lords, will the noble Lord be kind enough to tell us what we are talking about?

Photo of Lord McIntosh of Haringey Lord McIntosh of Haringey Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, a widely used plastic material is PVC--polyvinyl chloride--of which I am sure the noble Earl will have heard. When it is desirable for it to be softened so that it can be used for toys or, as I said, for dummies, then a plasticiser is used; namely, a phthalate. That is what the Question addresses.

Perhaps I may at this point give the noble Countess, Lady Mar, a further answer to her question. I am advised that DINP has no oestrogenic effect.

Photo of Lord Pearson of Rannoch Lord Pearson of Rannoch Conservative

My Lords, I must refer back to the Minister's earlier reply to me because he did not answer my question. Is this piece of legislation taken under qualified majority voting or under unanimity in Brussels; in other words, if we wanted to resist it, could we do so or would we be outvoted?