HC Deb 01 December 1993 vol 233 cc1024-6
4. Sir Thomas Arnold

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment when he expects to meet his EC counterparts to discuss pollution.

Mr. Yeo

I am attending the Environment Council tomorrow and Friday, when I expect to discuss a wide range of environmental matters.

Sir Thomas Arnold

Will my hon. Friend confirm that the Government will honour their commitment to ratify the climate change convention soon, even if other European Community members fail to do so?

Mr. Yeo

I am very hopeful that discussions at this week's Council will enable those countries at present obsessed with forcing a carbon energy tax on the European Union to overcome their difficulties and allow joint ratification to take place. If not, Britain will certainly honour its commitment to ratify the climate change convention before 31 December.

Mr. A. Cecil Walker

When the Minister meets his EC counterparts, will he make them aware of the terrible pollution problems in Belfast as a result of coal-burning appliances?

Mr. Yeo

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising the matter and I am certainly ready to discuss it in the EC. I am glad to say that positive progress been made recently in Geneva in the sulphur-burning emission negotiations and I am confident that an agreement will be reached on terms satisfactory to this country and other countries in the next few days.

Mr. Marland

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is currently confusion in the EC about the definition of waste and that this is frustrating the work of many pollution-controlling and recycling businesses? I know that my hon. Friend is anxious to find a cost-effective way to clean up the environment and keep it clean. Will he continue to press for a more realistic definition of waste which identifies harmful material to be discarded and material to be reclaimed that can be successfully reused?

Mr. Yeo

I know of my hon. Friend's close interest in the subject. He has been to see me to discuss it recently. The definition of waste is a complex matter, as one man's waste may be another man's raw material and demand for recycled material depends on the state of the market and prices being held for recycled material at any time. I take note of my hon. Friend's comments.

We are wrestling with the complex task of reconciling our existing laws with the requirements of certain EC directives. In that context, I was glad to announce recently that we shall be introducing a waste management licensing system on 1 May next year.

Mr. George Howarth

Are not the Government seeking to weaken or repeal at least three important EC directives—on nitrates in drinking water, on sewage in bathing water and on nitrogen dioxide in the atmosphere—and is not the cause of that nothing to do with any failure on the part of the directives but a failure on the part of the Government? On at least two occasions, they have been taken to court and lost cases arising out of those directives. Instead of wriggling out of their responsibilities, when will the Government face up to their responsibilities and clean up their act?

Mr. Yeo

In welcoming the hon. Gentleman to his new position, I express the hope that by the next Environment Question Time he will be better informed about the subject that he has raised. Our position on the drinking water directive is driven by two considerations. The first is the proper application of the subsidiarity principle which, if rigorously applied, would mean that there would be no need for a directive on drinking water. Secondly, given that we are trying to improve the drinking water directive, we intend to apply the latest scientific research results produced by the World Health Organisation. That is the only point of difference between us and the EC at present.

On nitrates—I am sorry, nitrogen—[Interruption.] I am getting the facts right: I was about to read them out. The fact is that the United Kingdom record compares remarkably well with that of the rest of the Community. In the period from 1988 to 1992, the number of infraction referrals in each member state was: Italy 12, Belgium 11, Germany 8, France 5, Greece 4, Netherlands 3, Luxembourg 2 and the United Kingdom 1. On Mat criterion, it appears that Britain has an exemplary record in the Community.