17 Consumer protection 2007-13|
|Amended draft Council Decision establishing a programme of Community action in the field of consumer protection (2007-13)
|Legal base||Article 153 EC; co-decision; QMV
|Department||Trade and Industry
|Basis of consideration||Minister's letter of 17 July 2006
|Previous Committee Report||HC 34-xxxiii (2005-06), para 3 (28 June 2006)
|To be discussed in Council||September 2006
|Committee's assessment||Politically important
17.1 At present the Community has separate programmes for health
and consumer protection. In October 2005 we considered the draft
of a Decision to establish a combined health and consumer protection
programme for 2007-13.
17.2 The Commission proposed that the new programme's
budget should be 1.2 billion, more than double the rate
of expenditure of the two current programmes, taken together.
In our view, the Commission had not provided a sufficient justification
for such a large increase. We could also understand why some Member
States questioned the proposal to combine health and consumer
protection in one programme.
17.3 In May 2006, the Commission presented this draft
of a Decision to establish a consumer protection programme for
2007-13. (It also presented a draft decision to establish a health
programme.) Moreover, in the light of the settlement of the EU's
total budget for the next Financial Perspective, the proposed
budget for the consumer protection programme has been reduced
to 156.8 million, rather than 234 million as the Commission
originally proposed. Because of this, the draft Decision proposes
fewer objectives for the civil protection programme and 11 actions
to give effect to them rather than the 20 the Commission originally
proposed. The revised objectives would be:
(a) "To ensure a high level of consumer
protection, notably though better evidence [for the development
of consumer policy], better consultation and better representation
of consumers' interests."
(b) "To ensure the effective application
of consumer protection rules notably through enforcement cooperation,
information, education and redress."
17.4 When we considered the draft Decision in June,
the Minister for Trade, Investment and Foreign Affairs at the
Department of Trade and Industry (Mr Ian McCartney) told us that
the Government was never convinced by the arguments for combining
the two programmes.
The Government would seek assurances that the proposed new objectives
of the consumer protection programme would not lessen the Commission's
commitment to better regulation and policy-making. It would also
seek clarification not only of the Commission's intention to involve
the existing Public Health Executive Agency in the implementation
of the consumer protection programme but also of the proposal
to provide Community funds for the development of Master's degree
courses in consumer matters. The Minister also told us that his
Department was consulting consumer organisations, business and
others about the draft Decision.
17.5 We welcomed the proposal for a separate draft
decision on the consumer protection programme. In our view, the
reduced budget had led to greater clarity in the drafting of the
programme's objectives and activities. We asked the Minister to
tell us the clarification he received from the Commission and
the outcome of the Department's consultations and for progress
reports on the negotiations.
The Minister's letter of 17 July 2006
17.6 The Minister tells us that the Commission has
assured the Government that the focus on "better" consumer
protection will be maintained throughout the consumer protection
17.7 The Commission has also explained that the Public
Health Executive Agency would perform administrative tasks to
help implement the consumer protection programme. It would not
be involved in policy-making. The use of the Agency is proposed
in order to make best use of available resources.
17.8 The Commission says that the proposal to fund
the development of Master's degree courses in consumer protection
is intended to help achieve the programme's objective of ensuring
the effective application of consumer protection rules. A Commission
study last year found that consumer organisations, business and
governments need academically qualified consumer experts but that
there are not enough degree courses to satisfy the need. So the
Commission has in mind a new Master's degree to be offered by
a consortium of universities located in three countries (one of
which must be a new Member State).
17.9 The Minister tells us that the Government had
suggested that the Commission should encourage consumer organisations,
business and universities to fund the courses rather than looking
to the Community to pay for them:
"The Commission responded that while such
an initiative might be commonplace in the UK, a different culture
persisted in other member states where such alliances in the field
of education were difficult to achieve. The Commission also stated
that the modular nature of the Masters would mean that business
could pay to take advantage of particular courses, widening the
pool of those who might benefit. The imminent introduction of
the EU consumer protection cooperation regulation (creating a
network of authorities enforcing EU wide consumer legislation)
would also mean that there would be a significant number of officials
increasingly enforcing Community legislation who could benefit
from the Masters degree courses (or its constituent modules).
"While we remain to be fully convinced that
this is the most effective use of resources we recognise that
this represents a small sum in the overall budget (800,000
a year) and that the majority of other member states are in support
of the proposal. Moreover, we are sensitive to the fact that the
UK has the most university courses within the EU where a consumer-related
focus is featured in some form (covering issues such as management,
law and economics)
"We are reassured that this funding is
only planned for the first three years of the Masters programme
and that they are expected to be funded independently once they
are established. In the light of these arguments, we would not
intend to hold up the overall agreement to this programme given
that our main concerns have been met."
17.10 The Minister tells us that there were few responses
to his Department's consultations about the proposed programme.
But such as there were indicated that consumer organisations and
business were pleased by the decision to separate the two programmes.
Consumer bodies expressed some concern about the reduced budget.
The use of the Public Health Executive Agency was supported by
respondents on the understanding that it would not make policy.
There were some reservations about the proposal for the development
of the Master's degree.
17.11 The Government is now content with the draft
Decision and the Minister asks us to clear it from scrutiny so
that the Government can take part in a political agreement on
it at the Competitiveness Council in September.
17.12 We are grateful to the Minister for giving
us such a comprehensive reply to our request for further information.
We have no further questions to put to him and we are now content
to clear the document from scrutiny.
53 (26750) 8064/05: See HC 34-vii (2005-06), para 2
(26 October 2005). Back
See headnote. Back