Correspondence with Ministers October 2006 to April 2007 - European Union Committee Contents


Letter from Jim Fitzpatrick MP, Minister for Employment Relations and Postal Services, Department of Trade and Industry to the Chairman

  I refer to your letter of 26 January 2006[154] addressed to Gerry Sutcliffe. I am replying as this matter now falls within my portfolio.

  I should also like to apologise for the delay in replying, this is due to the fact that until the Finnish Presidency there had been no discussion on the text in the Council. The Presidency has now held six Council Working Groups; the European Parliament plenary is scheduled for 14-15 November with political agreement penciled in for the Competitiveness Council on 4-5 December. At present we do not have a new official text from the Council.

  The Government maintains its line that whilst it was initially against this proposal it has become clear that there are benefits of trade harmonisation that will be gained, particularly by the manufacturers of automotive pyrotechnic articles (car-air bag detonators etc) and film/theatre/television pyrotechnics, where each Member State currently has very different legislation which needs to be complied with before market entry can be gained. Even in the area of fireworks, the proposal will open opportunities in other European markets that have not existed or where entry has been extremely hard before. However, our discussions with the firework industry have indicated that the current situation on cross-border fireworks trade is unlikely to change very much if this proposal is adopted.

  The draft changes proposed to the text by the European Parliament in respect of automotive pyrotechnic articles give these products much greater prominence in the text. It is felt that as automotive pyrotechnic articles are not generlaly available to members of the public the labelling requirements should reflect this and be aimed at the professional use and installation. We understand from manufacturers of such devices that they have found entry into other EU markets extremely difficult in the past. It is expected that this proposal will significantly improve the competitiveness of this sector of the European automotive industry.

  Pyrotechnic articles used in film, theatre and television also have an improved definition and again as these are used only by people with specialist knowledge, the labelling requirements reflect this. Members of the CBI's Explosives Industry Group with an interest in film, theatre and television pyrotechnics articles have also indicated a potential benefit from a harmonised European Market.

  As for fireworks, which will make up the majority of products covered and sold under the scope of proposal, we are still of the opinion that little will change as far as improved EU market access is concerned. An amendment to the proposal suggested by the European Parliament does recognise that fireworks which are similar in design, function or behaviour but different in colour can be tested as product families. This should make a positive impact on the potential testing and compliance costs for fireworks. The text still recognises that the use of fireworks is subject to markedly different cultural customs and traditions in different Member States. This makes it necessary to allow Member States to take national measures to limit the use or sale of certain categories of fireworks to the general public on grounds of public security or safety. A proposed European Parliament amendment also adds noise or nuisance to this list. The text also allows Member States to maintain their existing bans taken on those grounds. In practice, this means that Member States are likely to maintain the status quo in their territories, maintaining existing bans and use requirements which will not free-up the market for new products.

  The harmonisation of standards for all types of pyrotechnic articles is an essential requirement for the creation of a single market. However, in respect of fireworks, there is nothing new from Council Working Party discussions that indicates that this proposal will significantly improve consumer protection in Member States. As far as we have been able to ascertain the majority of injuries in Member States occur because the way fireworks are used or their inappropriate use rather than badly designed or manufactured fireworks. For example, it is traditional that fireworks are let off in the (often crowded) streets in the Netherlands on New Year's Eve and the Queen's Birthday. Spain also has a tradition of festivals and events where fireworks are let off in public places. Not surprisingly, the majority of injuries in these countries occur in the street or other public places. Nothing in this proposal will change these traditional uses and the injuries associated with them. Use of fireworks in the streets in the UK is of course forbidden, and, in our view, it is national measures similar to the UK's against the misuse of fireworks that would improve consumer protection in respect of injuries. However such measures are beyond the scope of a European Directive on the marketing and use of products.

  You sought clarification on what is meant by a one-off (particularly set-piece fireworks). A one-off firework might be a firework like a lattice that displays "Happy Birthday Agatha" etc. Although the makers of such lattice work would be professional and use the same components for each one, just spelling out different names etc, the text of the proposal requires each of these lattices to comply with the Directive. At present there is no easy route to compliance for these type of fireworks, however a European Parliament proposal suggests that if they are made for the manufacturer's own use in the territory of the manufacturer they are not regarded as being placed on the market and not within the scope of the Directive.

  The European Commission considers that Community action is justified in subsidiarity terms as the Pyrotechnics Directive ensures the free movement, within the Community, of pyrotechnic articles falling within its scope. The proposal aims to avoid discrepancies in national legislation caused by problems of interpretation, while allowing Member States to maintain national measures on specific categories of pyrotechnic articles—fireworks—on the grounds of public safety, security or public order. As such, the Commission's claim that they have competence in this area appears justified. The Government considers that the principle of subsidarity is adequately reflected in the approach of these proposals, and that the measures proposed are appropriate for Community level action.

6 November 2006

Letter from the Chairman to Jim Fitzpatrick MP

  Thank you for your letter of 6 November 2006 which addressed the issues on this proposed Directive that we raised in my letter to Mr Gerry Sutcliffe MP of 26 January 2006. Sub-Committee G considered this at their meeting held on 8 March 2007.

  We accept your assurances that there are benefits to be gained from the proposed Directive in terms of promoting the more effective operation of a single market in some of these products, particularly in the case of car air-bag detonators.

  In the case of sale and use of fireworks, we understand the point that, while the proposed legislation will be useful to facilitate easier cross-border trade in professional displays, it will not have any significant impact on the protection of consumers from the misuse of fireworks. Such legislation, to protect consumers from their own misuse of fireworks, is for Member States to enact and is beyond the scope of the Commission's competence.

  We are reassured by your explanation that this is not, however, a concern for the Government since existing UK legislation, which already protects consumers from the misuse of fireworks to a greater extent than could be envisaged under the Directive, will not be affected.

  We understand that this proposal is likely to come up for political agreement at a Competitiveness Council meeting in March or April, and we ask you to let us known the form in which the proposal is put to that Council meeting and the outcome of the meeting. On this basis, therefore, we are content to release this document from scrutiny.

8 March 2007

Letter from Rt Hon Ian McCartney MP, Minister for Trade, Investment and Foreign Affairs, Department of Trade and Industry/Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the Chairman

  Thank you for your letter of 8 March 2007 advising me that the above Proposal was considered and cleared by Sub Committee G on that date.

  As requested, I am writing to advise you that the Proposal was passed, unamended, by the Council on 16 April 2007. I enclose a copy of that text for information (not printed).

30 April 2007

154   Correspondence with Ministers, 40th Report of Session 2006-07, HL Paper 187, pp 550-551. Back

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