PARLIAMENTARY DEBATES

HOUSE OF COMMONS

OFFICIAL REPORT

Sixth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.

DRAFT NIGHTWEAR (SAFETY) (AMENDMENT) REGULATIONS 1987

Thursday 19 February 1987

LONDON

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The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: Mr. Albert McQuarrie

Bellingham, Mr. Henry (Norfolk, North-West)

Bidwell, Mr. Sydney (Ealing, Southall)

Bulmer, Mr. Esmond (Wyre Forest)

Butler, Sir Adam (Bosworth)

Butterfill, Mr. John (Bournemouth, West)

Davis, Mr. Terry (Birmingham, Hodge Hill)

Fox, Mr. Marcus (Shipley)

Hayward, Mr. Robert (Kingswood)

Howard, Mr. Michael (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry)

Lambie, Mr. David (Cunninghame, South)

Lewis, Mr. Terry (Worsley)

Lightbown, Mr. David (Staffordshire, South-East)

Loyden, Mr. Eddie (Liverpool, Garston)

Madden, Mr. Max (Bradford, West)

Miscampbell, Mr. Norman (Blackpool, North)

Wood, Mr. Timothy (Stevenage)

Wrigglesworth, Mr. Ian (Stockton, South)

Yeo, Mr. Tim (South Suffolk)

Mr. D. R. Lloyd, Committee Clerk

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3 Sixth Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c. Thursday 19th February 1987

[Mr. ALBERT MCQUARRIE in the Chair]

DRAFT NIGHTWEAR (SAFETY) (AMENDMENT) REGULATIONS 1987

10.30 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (Mr. Michael Howard): I beg to move, That the Committee has considered tie Draft Nightwear (Safety) (Amendment) Regulations 1987. These regulations were laid before the House on 2 February 1987. They amend the Nightwear (Safety) Regulations 1985, which impose requirements concerning the flammability performance of nightwear, its testing, labelling and advertisement. The effect of the proposed amendment is to postpone, until 1 September 1987, the coming into force of the requirements of the 1985 regulations only in so far as they relate to babies' garments, and 1 March remains the date on which the other requirements of the 1985 regulations relating to children's andadults' nightwear come into force. In September 1986, the Department published an explanatory guide to the 1985 regulations which made it clear that babies' garments, whether or not nightwear, must be labelled to give information about flammability performance. Following that, the Department received a number of complaints from suppliers who claimed that they had no previous knowledge of this requirement. The trade associations had two concerns: first, that the requirements in respect of babies' garments were not included in the draft regulations on which the consultation took place in September 1984; secondly, that the requirements appeared to apply the regulations more widely than to nightwear garments. It will be helpful, therefore, if I explain the background to the decision to impose requirements on babies' garments. The first draft regulations circulated to interested parties did not impose requirements on garments worn only by babies. However, children's nightwear other than pyjamas were required to be capable of passing a flammability test. Children's pyjamas only required to be labelled to show whether or not they meet the flammability standard. It was drawn to our attention in the course of consultations that, under these proposals, there would be uncertainty about whether the regulations would apply to garments such as one-piece sleepsuits with arms and legs, which could be worn both by a newly-born baby and an older baby, and could fail to be treated as children's pyjamas. It was necessary to clarify the matter, but it was not practicable in regulations to distinguish between garments worn by babies dur- 4 ing the day or by night. The Department concluded that to deal with this problem, garments which were designed exclusively for a baby under three months should also be labelled to show whether or not they met the flammability standard. Accordingly, the regulations were revised to include a requirement to label all baby garments which have a chest measurement not exceeding 53 cm and which would normally be worn only by a baby under 3 months. This requirement is consistent with the general intention of the regulations, which is not only to improve the level of protection in nightwear and similarly used garments, but to increase consumer awareness of fire risk. Babies under three months have not yet reached the crawling stage and are at less risk than older babies and children. It is therefore sufficient protection to give a warning about flammability on garments which are worn by babies. This requirement was incorporated in the revised draft regulations laid before the House in November 1985 and approved by a resolution of each House. At the same time, a copy of the revised draft regulations was sent to all consultees, but some suppliers appear not to have noticed this change. Babies' garments for sale after 1st March are already in the hands of retailers and would have to be returned for labelling if these requirements were to come into operation on 1 March. This would not only cause substantial upheaval to the trade but would be a relatively expensive operation because of the added cost of repackaging. It would inevitably reflect on retailers' margins and could result in losses. In all the circumstances, I think that, as a transitional measure, the proposed postponement of the labelling and closely related testing and advertisement requirements for babies' garments is justified. I have consulted interested organisations including consumer bodies, and this measure of help to the trade has been regarded as acceptable. I commend the draft regulations to the Committee.

10.34 am

Mr. Terry Davis (Birmingham, Hodge Hill): I listened to the Minister with great interest. He began by saying that the change related only to babies, but I am sure he will accept that babies are one section of the community about which we should be most careful. It is clear that the Government were already convinced that it was necessary to label these babies' garments which otherwise would not have been included in the original regulations. So we view with some suspicion the Government's decision to postpone the labelling requirement by six months. The Minister explained how the problem arose in the first place, but I hope that he will give us more information. Schedule 2 to the Act could not be clearer in its application to all babies' garments, and I am amazed that manufacturers, retailers and their trade associations apparently overlooked the requirement until the Department's explanatory guide was issued in March 1986. 5 The Minister told us that the inclusion of babies' garments was made quite clear in a second draft, on which the Department consulted. We are being told that the manufacturers, retailers and their trade associations did not read the second draft properly when they were consulted and given the opportunity to comment, and then did not look at the regulations, and it was only when the Department published its guide a few months later that they discovered that babies' garments were included. But even if the manufacturers, retailers and their trade associations did not discover that fact until March 1986, I should have thought that one year was sufficient time in which to make the labelling change. After all, they would not have made any labelling change until the regulations were approved by a Committee or the House of Commons in December 1985, yet when the news suddenly struck these people three months later, they needed a postponement of six months.

Mr. Howard: The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. The guide was published in September 1986, not March 1986.

Mr. Davis: I apologise. I thought that it was published in March. So they did not discover that babies' garments were included until the guide was published in September 1986. They had not done their homework properly; they had not looked at the regulations that had been approved by the House a full nine months earlier; they had not looked at the second draft on which they had been consulted. I want to be clear whether we are talking about manufacturers or retailers or, possibly, importers. To what extent do importers have a share in the baby garment market? Is it to favour importers of baby garments manufactured in other countries such as South Korea or Taiwan that we are being asked to lower the safety standards? That, after all, is what the Minister is asking us to do. He is asking us to postpone an improvement in safety standards by six months. I hope, therefore, that he will be a little more forthcoming about the reasons for that postponement. When was the matter first drawn to the attention of the Department of Trade and Industry? As we are talking about a safety standard, can he tell us how many accidents have occurred in the most recent period for which he has statistics as a result of babies' garments not being labelled to indicate the degree of flammability? Further, I hope that the Minister will tell us more about his consultations with consumer bodies concerning these new regulations. He said that he consulted the trade and consumer bodies, but he gave us much more information about the trade than about the consumer bodies. Which consumer bodies were consulted, and what was their response? The hon. Gentleman told us about the response and pressures brought to bear on his Department by manufacturers, retailers and possibly importers, but he did not tell us what he was told by the consumer bodies that he consulted on the postponement of a safety standard for a most vulnerable section of the community.

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10.30 am

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West): I shall not detain the Committee long, but, like my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis), I hope that the Minister will tell us more about the background to these regulations. There is some bewilderment among manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers and, indeed, importers about the labelling requirements of babies' garments, as I understand that the babies we are dealing with here are up to three months of age. The bewilderment, exists because there are categories of garments for babies between three months and two years which do not require the labelling that the regulations propose for certain garments for babies of up to three months. Clearly, there is anxiety about why the requirements affect only babies of up to three months, who tend to be immobile. I suspect that the danger facing babies of that age is much less than it is for toddlers of between three months and two years. Will the Minister clarify what garments are required to be labelled under the order, what garments for babies between three months and two years are required to be labelled, and what garments are not required to be labelled? People to whom I have spoken believe that there is considerable danger to toddlers for whom certain garments are not required to be labelled, whereas garments for small babies are required to be labelled. Certain sections of the trade cannot understand why the Department is adopting such an approach, rather than proposing comprehensive requirements for the labelling of garments, especially for toddlers aged between three months and two years. It is clear why the deferral was suggested. Large stocks are held by retailers, wholesalers and others. If they sell unlabelled garments, they will be committing an offence. What advice will the Department offer to manufacturers, retailers, trading standards officers and others who are involved in these matters, so that they know what is required of them and when the regulations come into force and are given some explanation of why some categories of garments for toddlers are not required to be labelled in the same way as garments for young babies. Like my honourable Friend the Member for Hodge Hill, I wish to know what the Department's accident records reveal. I understand that there is an accident surveillance unit that records accidents in households. Does the Department anticipate proposing further regulations to improve the safety of garments as a whole, not nightwear specifically for children older than those with whom we are directly concerned under the regulations?

10.43 am

Mr. Howard: I begin by dealing with the issues raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Mr. Davis). It is not my function this morning to defend those in the industry who might have known the exact position by reading the regulations. 7 I am inclined to agree with the hon. Gentleman that the schedule to the regulations is clear. In that respect, he is slightly at odds with his hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), who complained that it was confusing. I believe that the regulations should have been clearly understood by those affected. Clearly, they were not studied properly and, when representations were made to me, I was satisfied that the understanding of the regulations was somewhat imperfect. I intervened in the observations of the hon. Member for Hodge Hill to say that the explanatory guide was published in September last year, not March. We were approached shortly after the publication of that guide and were informed of the misunderstanding. In fairness to the manufacturers, I must make one other point. The hon. Gentleman assumed that we had consulted on the second draft of the regulations. We did not. It was as a result of consulting on the first draft that we changed the- regulations. There was no further consultation because we assumed that everyone would recognise from, the regulations how we intended to deal with the difficulty. Let me see whether I can deal with some of the other points that have been raised. I said that the anxiety in the industry was drawn to the attention of the Department shortly after the explanatory guide was published. It was expressed by United Kingdom manufacturers and representatives of some of the retailers. We have received no representations about the matter from any foreign manufacturer or importer of foreign goods. Therefore, we have acted in response to representations made to us by United Kingdom manufacturers and the retail trade. We consulted the National Consumer Council and the Consumers Association which are recognised as the principal consumer bodies. It is fair to say that they did not welcome the change but, when it was explained that the position had not been entirely understood by the manufacturers and the retailers, they accepted the change and have not been disposed to oppose it. I have voluminous statistics, which I can supply if required, about the number of fires and casualties from 1979 to 1984, but they relate to casualties of all ages. In regard to babies under three months, which is the category with which we are concerned in relation to the regulations, from 1983–85—the most recent years for which figures are available under the home accidents surveillance scheme—there were no accidents of this kind to babies in that category. That supports the view that I expressed that babies under three months are at lower risk than other age groups because of their relative lack of mobility.

Mr. Madden: What does the accident record show for babies aged between three months and two years?

Mr. Howard: I do not have those figures, but the regulations with which we are dealing are concerned with babies under three months. The label- 8 ling of goods for babies between the ages of three months and two years is not affected by those regulations. The labelling requirements in relation to garments for that age group will be governed by the original regulations and will come into force on 1 March. The hon. Member for Bradford, West asked about the advice which was given. I cannot do better than refer him to the explanatory guide. I have a copy which I shall be happy to give to him when the Committee rises, or I can read out great chunks of it if he wishes me to do so. However, I assure him that it makes matters very clear and, if proof of that were needed, it was in response to the explanatory guide that we received representations which led to the need to make the regulations. No one has suggested that the guide failed to make matters clear, even if people had not absorbed the necessary inferences and lessons from the regulations.

Mr. Madden: Before he finishes, could the Minister confirm for the record which garments are required to be labelled for toddlers between three months and two years and which are not? As I said, the nub of the concern that exists in some sections of the trade is why labelling, is required on garments for babies aged up to three months but not on garments for babies aged between three months and two years.

Mr. Howard: The guide refers to children's nightwear and to garments for children over three months and under 13 years of age, which is the relevant age group. There is no separate category for those between three months and two years. It refers to garments for children between three months and under 13 years of age "and not exceeding any of the following maximum measurements." For nightdresses, the maximum measurements are a chest measurement of 91 centimetres, or approximately 36 inches, and a length of 122 centimetres, or approximately 48 inches; and for dressing gowns, bathrobes and similar garments, a chest measurement of 97 inches, or 38 inches, and a sleeve measurement of 69 centimetres or about 27 inches. Nightdresses, dressing gowns and other similar garments commonly worn as nightwear must satisfy the flammability performance requirement specified in clauses 3.11 and 3.21 of British Standard 5722, and pyjamas and cotton terry towelling bathrobes, which do not have to comply with that flammability standard, must carry a permanent label showing whether they meet the flammability standard. I hope that I have responded to all the concerns expressed.

Mr. Terry Davies: Not really. The Minister says that he has not had representations from foreigners and he assumes that that covers importers. It does not, because importers are often in this country importing foreign-made goods.

Mr. Howard: I said that I had not received representations from foreign manufacturers or importers.

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Mr. Davis: I did not hear the Minister's final words earlier, but he still has not answered my question. What is the share of this market held by imported products, because knowing that is how we decide whether this action will benefit foreign manufacturers or United Kingdom manufacturers? The Minister said that he had had representations from retailers, but they may be selling imported goods. It is not unreasonable to expect the Department of Trade and Industry to know what share of the market is held by domestic manufacturers and what share is held by foreign manufacturers. I am surprised that the Minister is unable to answer, but I will pass that by. The Minister and I agree that the regulations are clear. I should have thought that any responsible retailer or manufacturer, if confronted with doubts about whether labelling for flammability applied to babies' garments, would err on the side of safety instead of taking refuge in the claim of obscure regulations, which, I repeat, are clear to a reasonably intelligent person. The Minister said that he was not defending the industry. However, he is much more concerned about the trade than about the consumer. Consumers in this case are parents, not babies, and parents need the guidance of this labelling. Labels cover two functions. They tell the parent whether the baby's garment satisfies the flammability test and whether the label differs. Consumer—parents—can make informed choices when they purchase garments for their babies. Labels will also affect the way in which they behave, the safety standards that they apply and the risks that they avoid if they know that their babywear garment does not satisfy the flammability test. The Minister is not providing that information and is allowing the trade not to provide it for a further six months. I am disappointed that he takes that attitude. The hon. Gentleman said that there had been no accidents in the two years for which he had statistics, and I accept his assurance that there have been no accidents to babies as a result of their garments catching fire. I accept entirely that babies wearing these garments are at low risk. On the other hand, babies are not at no risk, otherwise the Minister would not go to the trouble of introducing regulations and we would not have included babies' garments in the original nightwear safety regulations of one year ago. The Minister is not merely defending the industry. He is also smoothly defending his Department, which did not consult after changing the draft regulations. That is where the real fault lies. The Government issued one draft of the regulations, then, rightly, changed the draft but did not consult the trade—either manufacturers or retailers—at that stage. They simply ploughed ahead through the House of Com- 10 mons. The real responsibility rests with the Minister and his civil servants for not having consulted properly more than a year ago. When the trade complained that it was not properly consulted, he postponed this protection for babies and their parents. Similar situations have arisen. You will have noticed, Mr. McQuarrie, even from your Scottish constituency that the Government changed the basis of the rate support grant for England and Wales. They changed that after consultation, but did not give people the chance to consult on the revised position. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) remembers it well because he took part in the debate. It is the habit of this Government to change the basis of things after consultation and not to consult again.

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman must not drift from the subject that we are debating.

Mr. Davis: I accept that, but I have moved on. I think that I was quicker in my speech than you were in rising from your seat, Mr. McQuarrie. I had broadened the matter from these two examples, the one given before, and the one in which I referred to the Government changing their position and not consulting further. They have done that in drafting the Nightwear (Safety) Regulations and we are presented with a failure to protect babies and to assist parents in protecting babies as a result of this change. The Minister said that there had been no accidents for a couple of years. I hope, and I am sure that all my honourable Friends hope, that there are no accidents during the next six months. If accidents result from the babies' garments not being adequately labelled during the six months from March to September, the Minister will have that on his conscience.

Mr. Howard: The last remark of the honourable Member for Hodge Hill was characteristic of the inaccuracy of the rest of his contribution. In the sad event, I very much hope that this will not happen—that there are accidents to babies in the next six months, it is not likely that they will be wearing garments purchased within that period. It would be necessary for both of those requirements to be satisfied in order for the honourable Gentlemen's point, for what it is worth, to be established. I dealt earlier with the honourable Gentleman's points and I have no intention of responding further to the synthetic indignation with which he made his last contribution.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Committee has considered the Draft Nightwear (Safety) (Amendment) Regulations 1987.

Committee rose at three minutes to Eleven o'clock.

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THE FOLLOWING MEMBERS ATTENDED THE COMMITTEE:

McQuarrie, Mr Albert (Chairman)

Bulmer, Mr.

Butterfill, Mr.

Davis, Mr. Terry

Fox, Sir Marcus

Hayward, Mr.

Howard, Mr.

Lightbown, Mr.

Madden, Mr.

The following also attended, pursuant to Standing Order No. 101(2): Howarth, Mr. George (Knowsley, North).

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