REMAINING GOVERNMENT RESPONSES SESSION
12th REPORT: EUROPEAN CONTRACT LAWTHE
Letter from Rt Hon Baroness Ashton of
Upholland, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, Department
for Constitutional Affairs to the Chairman
I am writing to formally respond to the Committee's
report on "European Contract Lawthe way forward".
It has come to my notice that we have not formally responded until
now and I am sorry that this means the response has come such
a long while after the Report was published in April of last year.
20 July 2006
I am grateful to the Committee for producing
such a comprehensive report and list of recommendations which
are largely in line with Government policy. I note, in particular,
the Committee's concerns about any move towards harmonisation
of European Contract law. The Government shares this concern and
would certainly not support any move towards such harmonisation,
whether on a mandatory or optional basis. The report has also,
to some extent, predicted recent developments on the issue of
"reprioritisation" following the Mansion House Conference
by urging that the much-needed review of the acquis should not
be delayed by the development of the CFR.
The importance of the involvement of stakeholders
in the project is emphasised in the report. We welcomed the efforts
made by the Commission to engage with stakeholders and the Government
is continuing to work similarly closely with UK stakeholders,
several of whom gave evidence to the Committee's enquiry, to ensure
that UK interests are represented as effectively as possible in
this work. Lastly, the Committee expresses some concerns about
the proposed works on standard terms and conditions (STCs) and
the creation of a website. The Commission has now announced that
the work on STCs will not now be taken forward. I understand that
this is due in part to similar concerns on the part of the Commission
about how such a website would be supervised.
The Committee's enquiry into the Contract law
project, which involved fairly extensive taking of evidence from
a wide range of sources, and the subsequent report have both proved
valuable to the Government in its dealings with the Commission
as the project has progressed. A sufficient degree of clarity
about the precise nature of the Commission's work has taken some
time to emerge and there are still a number of important unanswered
questions, particularly surrounding the nature and future function
of the CFR. We will continue to take the Committee's conclusions
into account as we work further with the Commission to address
The Explanatory Memorandum that I tabled last
October updated the Committee on a number of developments namely
the Commission's first Annual Progress Report on the European
Contract Law project and the Review of the Consumer Acquis, the
joint UK Presidency/Commission conference held at the Mansion
House last September and the subsequent conclusions produced by
the Competitiveness Council. The overriding theme of the Commission
progress report was the Commission's intention to reprioritise
the work of the CFR so it would be more focused on feeding into
the review of the consumer acquis. This was also the key message
that emerged from the Mansion House conference.
Following that event, the Competitiveness Council,
chaired by the UK Presidency, produced a set of conclusions on
30 November 2005. These welcomed both the review of the consumer
acquis as a unique opportunity to update and modernise Community
legislation in this area and also the Commission's commitment
to refocusing the entire project to prioritise the review of the
acquis. The Conclusions also specifically invited the Commission
to come forward with a timetable re-prioritising the project.
The Commission duly produced a revised timetable for Workshops
throughout the early part of 2006 which concentrated on contract
law issues that were directly relevant to the consumer acquis.
The conference, which was jointly hosted by
the Austrian Presidency and the Commission, was the second annual
event on the European Contract law project and attracted a wide
range of delegates including representatives from Member States,
the Commission's stakeholder network (the CFR-Net) and the academic
research network that is developing the CFR and the review of
Although the conference provided a good opportunity
for useful discussion, it is clear that there is still a considerable
degree of uncertainty as to what the CFR will eventually look
like and how it will be used and we are continuing to work with
the Commission to resolve these issues. There was, however, continued
support for the review of the consumer acquis which appears to
be progressing well. The Commission intend to produce a Green
Paper on the review at the end of this year.
Letter from the Chairman to Rt Hon Baroness
Ashton of Upholland
Thank you for your letter of 20 July which was
considered by Sub-Committee E (Law and Institutions) at its meeting
on 11 October. The Response is most welcome, not least for the
news of the "reprioritisation" of the Commission's work.
We are also interested to learn that the Commission has announced
that work on STCs will not now be taken forward.
Whilst the substance of the Government's Response
is welcome, it is regrettable that it took so long to reach us.
However, we are grateful for your postscript and pleased to see
that you are taking action aimed at ensuring that your Department
will provide information and reply to the Committee's questions
more quickly in future.
Finally, we note that the Commission is to produce
a Green Paper on the review of the Consumer Acquis later this
year. We look forward to receiving this and also to being kept
informed of other developments relating to European contract law.
12 October 2006