HL Deb 23 October 1979 vol 402 cc47-66

4.44 p.m.

Lord ASHBY rose to move, That this House takes note of the 17th Report of the European Communities Committee on draft Directives on the discharge of aldrin, dieldrin and endrin into the aquatic environment (6995/79) (H.L. 65). The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. Your Lordships may wonder why the Select Committee has brought this report for debate. It concerns two very technical Directives which have only a very local application to matters in Britain. Its purpose is to provide for the diminution of discharge of three notorious pesticides, aldrin, dieldrin and endrin, into water. This is a purpose which is entirely consistent with the policies of the Government; and, indeed, the agricultural uses of these pesticides have already been phased out. Deaths due to them, of birds, have diminished from as many as 23 in 1973 to none at all now, and in every way the purpose of these Directives discussed in the report is consistent with what Britain is already doing.

Indeed, my Lords, the Commission sees only two kinds of production of these dangerous pesticides which need legislation at all. One is the manufacture of them and the other is the use of them for moth-proofing woollen products. They are not manufactured in Britain so that that part of the Directives does not apply to us. But dieldrin is still used in one part of Yorkshire and, in a small scale, in some other parts of Britain for the moth-proofing of wool. For practical purposes, it is the discharge of dieldrin into one river, the River Calder, which would be affected by this Directive.

The Department of the Environment find the Directives acceptable to the United Kingdom in principle. This is because a few years ago a very important principle was agreed by the Council of Ministers after a good deal of pressure from this country. The conflict arose because a Directive was published to cover all so-called blacklist substances which were to be discharged into water. The dispute arose not because anyone disagreed that those things should be controlled but because the Commission wanted the control to be by blanket standard emission standards from the sewers and discharge pipes of the factories. This the British thought to be—since it was irrespective of the use to which the river was put and irrespective of the capacity of the river to disperse and dilute the waste materials—a wasteful, expensive and inefficient way of having an environmental control policy.

We pressed for an alternative, one which has long been used in Britain, namely, to set environmental quality objectives in the environment itself. That is done by setting standards for the water into which the wastes are discharged and gradually tightening those standards as science produces new techniques for doing so. It means that the standards used will differ from one stretch of water to another, whether it is being used for a trout stream or whether it is being used to empty the sewers of industrial cities; but the objectives are so set that they ensure there is no damage to human health or to the lives of creatures in the water.

After some argument, in December 1975 the Council of Ministers agreed to this compromise. Member States now have the option to control pollution of these blacklist substances either by controlling emission standards or by setting environmental quality objectives This is what we wanted; and this is what we now have. But we have been waiting for the first specific instance of a control of a specific substance; and now it has come. This is one of the first of several Directives based on the 1975 decision. It is soon to be followed by another one on the control of the discharge of mercury into water. That is on its way. These are going to set a precedent for legislation for many years to come and, therefore, it is important to look at the small print of these Directives.

There is a pair of them, although it was unnecessary to put them into a pair. One deals with emission standards and the other with environmental objectives. They offer a choice between emission limits and environmental quality objectives. So far so good. This is what we asked for. But is it a genuine choice? Your Select Committee does not believe that it is; and that is why this matter has been brought to your Lordships' House for debate.

If one is going to argue this, it is necessary to base it on the Commission's own definition of pollution. Although it is a clumsy one, I would ask your Lordships, for the purpose of the record, to allow me to read it. Its definition is the discharge of substances into water the results of which are such as to cause hazards to human health, harm to living resources and to aquatic ecosystems, damage to amenities or interference with other legitimate uses of water".

My Lords, what this amounts to is that things which cause hazard and harm are causing pollution—and one must distinguish that from contamination, which is the presence of things in water which are not causing hazards or harm. This is the background. What do these Directives about dieldrin and other pesticides require from Member States? I discuss only the requirements of dieldrin from moth-proofing plants because that is the only process which is of any relevance to Britain.

The first Directive sets a limit value for the emission of dieldrin. It is 60 parts per billion (an American billion, a thousand million) in the waste water discharged into the river. Clearly, the Commission considers that this is going to be a little difficult because it allows factories time to build treatment plant. The limit is not to become binding until 1986, six years ahead. The second Directive offers the other option, the one we asked for: an environmental quality objective for the river into which the wastes are discharged. The level proposed for this—and I apologise for these figures—is 0.005 parts per billion. Unlike the first option, this level has to be reached in two years' time, which gives the impression that it is an easier option.

These are the requirements which the Select Committee challenges because they make a nonsense of the options agreed by the Council of Ministers after great pressure from the British Government in 1975. At the risk of being slightly tedious to your Lordships, I must try to explain why this level makes nonsense. First, the two options are mutually contradictory and inconsistent. Suppose we complied with the first Directive? Suppose we reduced emissions to 60 parts per billion in the Calder River? Would this result in an environmental quality objective of 0.005 parts per billion? It certainly would not. After doing a little arithmetic, which is fully within the capacity of the staff of the Commission, it has been found that it would need a flow of one hundred times that of the Calder at its minimum value in order to produce that degree of dilution; in fact many times the flow of the Thames at Teddington.

So the two proposed standards simply do not match. This could either be a deliberate soft option for those Member States that want to choose an emission standard or it is a sign that the scientific basis for these figures is very suspect. That is not the only difficulty. The standard of 0.005 parts per billion is inconsistent with two other Directives which have already been published by the Commission and agreed by the Council on their own definition of pollution. For instance, the Commission has already agreed in principle that the level of dieldrin in water to be used for human consumption is to be not more than 0.1 part per billion—that is, 20 times higher than the level proposed in this Directive—so the limit has obviously not been set to make the water safe to drink.

What about the fish? Three years ago the Commission published its own water standards for fish. In this Directive, which has now been adopted, pesticides are not included at all. However, it is possible to calculate what the safe level will be because it is known that for a coarse fish like the roach—and we are talking about coarse river fishery in the Calder—about two parts per billion is the beginning threshold value for damage, and the level of dieldrin in the Calder varies a good deal; but it is in the region of 0.1 part per billion, that is one-twentieth of the danger level.

So on two counts, both falling in the definition of pollution by the Commission itself—human health and the health of fish—the environment quality objective proposed just does not make sense. There remains a very important fact, that the fish and other living things accumulate dieldrin from water, and they concentrate it enormously in their own tissues. If people then eat the fish they might be at danger. Experts are reluctant to commit themselves to precise figures for the amount of dieldrin which fish and other living things will accumulate from the environment. However, it is a general consensus that it is up to levels like 10,000—a multiple, that is, of 10,000 of the concentrations outside.

If the Calder carried trout, salmon or eels—which it does not because of pollutants other than dieldrin—then there would be an indubitable case for monitoring the dieldrin level of the fish. Then consent levels on the river could be imposed which would guarantee that the acceptable daily intake, if people ate the fish every day—and it is reckoned that about 100 grammes a day is the maximum one might expect people to eat—would be safe. This is exactly what is being done all the time in Britain in waters where fish are eaten. But coarse fish are not eaten in Britain, and the present use to which that stretch of water is put does not justify such drastic lowering of the dieldrin level either—to come back to the Commission's own definition—on grounds of hazards to human health or on grounds of harm to living resources.

Finally, there is a practical difficulty about settling a standard of 0.005 parts per billion which the drafters of the Directive do not seem to have noted. The waters which fall into a river from a mothproofing plant contain many impurities. If one wants to analyse the water containing those impurities for the concentrations of dieldrin, one simply cannot detect levels lower than about 0.01 parts per billion, so the level proposed in the Directive is one which could not in fact be measured, except by most refined and difficult research techniques. So the idea of monitoring concentrations of that level as a routine matter simply is not on.

These are the reasons why I think it is not an exaggeration to say that "nonsense" is the word that has to be used for this option offered to the nation States in the Community which prefer to take environmental quality objectives rather than emission standards. How did the Commission come across this figure? The Directive states that the figure was reached: after consulting a group of national experts", and also on the basis of a study made by consultants in the Agricultural University of Wageningen in Holland. But as with previous Directives about the environment, scientific evidence for the decision is not given and the consultants' report is not published.

However, I have talked with the British experts in this matter and their view is clear from what I have already explained to your Lordships. I have managed to see a copy of the consultants' report. Again for the record, I should like to read the conclusion of that report: This leads to the rather disappointing conclusion that most toxicological studies made so far with the aim to assess the environmental hazards of aldrin, dieldrin and endrin … have been inadequate in the sense that for the aquatic environment no practical environmental threshold levels can be derived from their results".

The Commission then concludes, based on that conclusion, without providing any of the consultants' data that the environmental quality should be set at a level which is inconsistent with two other Commission Directives, unjustified on grounds of safety to human beings or wildlife, and below the limits detectable by routine analysis. As one of our witnesses put it, data appeared to have been plucked out of the air using a concentration factor much higher than the one thought to be reasonable by British experts.

The result is that, despite the compromise agreement made with great difficulty by Her Majesty's Government in 1975, we are not offered a practicable choice between emission standard and environmental quality objective. I am sure that I speak for the sub-committee which scrutinises environmental Directives for the Select Committee when I say that as committed Europeans we all want to reach amicable agreement with the Commission over an environmental policy for the Community, and we all agree that dieldrin is a harmful substance which ought be phased out as soon as satisfactory alternatives are found. The alternatives in use are not at present satisfactory because not enough is known about them. But we see no prospect of amicable agreement unless the Commission can be persuaded to adopt two simple principles when it prepares its Directives.

The Select Committee is asking Her Majesty's Government to press upon the Commission the adoption of these two simple principles. The first principle is to abide by a declaration of the Council of Ministers made in 1973 about the environment. This declaration is the only authority for having a European environmental policy at all. It states that protection of the environment should be achieved at the lowest cost to the Community and that in setting quality objectives proper account must be taken of the specific characteristics of the regions in question".

This means the deployment of our limited resources in places where they could be most cost-effective. It means that we should have different environmental qualities for rivers, depending on whether they carry game fish, coarse fish or no fish at all. Following this policy in Britain over the last 20 years, some of them under the chairmanship of the noble Lord at present on the Woolsack, we have increased the amount of unpolluted rivers by about 4,500 kilometres and we have diminished the amount of badly polluted rivers by about 1,500 kilometres. I doubt whether any other Member State in the Community can match that record. A doctrinaire pursuit of uniform emission standards would wreck this policy; it would waste money which otherwise might be spent on improving the environment elsewhere, so we must insist on flexibility in meeting standards.

The second principle is to insist on free and candid disclosure of the scientific evidence on which Directives are based. It simply is not good enough for the Commission to say, "After consulting a group of experts, we set such and such standards". The Select Committee has now got plenty of evidence that the experts' advice is not always taken. To comply with some of these Directives—for instance, that proposed for fish—would put Member States to enormous expense and to expect them to incur this enormous expense without even seeing the data on which the standards are based is, I suggest, an intolerable situation. I am afraid it is true—and we regret it—that there will be perpetual wrangling over environmental policy in the Community until this freedom of information is secured.

I should like to come back to what I said at the beginning—that we entirely agree with the purpose of the Directives, which is to control the level of pesticides in the environment. We go on to say that they are not even sound for that purpose, because they make no provision for monitoring anything except the manufacture and the moth-proofing processes.

The last report of the Royal Commission on environmental pollution pointed out that there are other dangers of dieldrin. Some of the dieldrin which is used for wood proofing has caused harm to life, and it is the British policy of having an environmental quality objective for the whole of the environment which enables us to distinguish these things and to control them when we find them—a thing we could not do if we adopted a standard blanket emission policy with no variation.

Compared with the Common Agricultural Policy, the Commission's environmental policy for Europe may well be a small matter, but it is a perpetual source of irritation. So the message which I bring from the Select Committee to your Lordships' House is to urge Her Majesty's Government to continue to resist this doctrinaire imposition of fixed emission standards as a means for protecting the environment. It is a sure recipe for not getting the best value for money.

Finally, my Lords, we would urge Her Majesty's Government to persuade the Commission to put into its Directives two ingredients: flexibility to take account of local differences in the environment and local conditions, and a full disclosure of the scientific evidence on which these Directives are based. If this were done we could begin to have what we would like to have—that is, confidence in the Commission's environmental policies.

Moved, That this House takes note of the 17th Report of the European Communities Committee on draft Directives on the discharge of aldrin, dieldrin and endrin into the aquatic environment.—(Lord Ashby.)

5.6 p.m.


My Lords, at the very outset I wish to stress to you—and I am sure your Lordships will join me in recognising this—that the draft Directive which we are discussing is, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, has said, laudable in its general objectives. The substances whose discharge into the waters of Community Members is to be controlled are poisons, as your Lordships will very well know. The effect of these poisons is cumulative and so may not be seen immediately. It may in fact take many years to become apparent. The poisons are absorbed into fish and other living organisms—in the case of fish, chiefly through their gills, because the fish is unable to excrete the poison it has accumulated in its tissues. The poison can be further accumulated in the tissues of predatory creatures, whether birds or men, who eat the fish. The problems in this country in the past have unfortunately brought about death in avian predators rather than in man; but this is none the less a problem of which we must all be aware, and we must congratulate the Commission on turning its attention to the environment and on tackling this one specific aspect at this juncture. I feel it is the duty of your Lordships' House to support the Commission and the Council over this initiative in their efforts to reduce or to eliminate these substances from the environment.

The topic and the discussion—and this includes the discussion of the report of the sub-committee of the Select Committee—are in fact very technical. I suspect that it may be this technicality which has occasioned something which can scarcely be called a debate, when two members of the sub-committee speak to each other across your Lordships' Chamber. None the less, I feel it is perhaps because the terminology, and even the jargon, that are used in the Directive, and to some extent in the report on it, are unfamiliar to your Lordships, so that fewer people felt able to come forward to join in the debate. I feel that perhaps I should not be exaggerating the situation if I were to say that a number of your Lordships, if you were to meet a nanogramme in the dark, would not know whether to stamp on it or to put it on the record player!

This House is therefore extremely fortunate in having among its Members— and this must surely be one of the great merits of this House—the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, who has given your Lordships such an extremely lucid exposition both of the draft directive and of the perils which lie therein. He has highlighted anomalies in the technical aspects of this draft directive. Certain of the aims of the directive may in fact be unattainable or, as he pointed out, if attained, may be unascertainable—simply because the detection methods for discovering the presence of deildrin in the sort of place it is normally found (that is, a river) are inapplicable because of the presence of other pollutants.

Moreover, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, has pointed out, the targets expressed in one manner as environmental quality objectives are not compatible with the alternative targets expressed as levels of emission. This also adds to the extremely unsatisfactory nature of the draft directive as it stands. Capacity to interpret technical documents of this nature is not necessarily expected of members of a national or a Community legislature. Members of such bodies must normally rely on their technical advisers to interpret for them and translate into familiar terms the units, the language and the experiments that are discussed in the technical papers. In addition, as the noble Lord. Lord Ashby, has stressed, the primary evidence itself—the scientific data—must be made available so that those qualified, those national experts whose advice is so important, are able to assess and evaluate the information on which documents such as this Directive are based.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, and myself, in my own smaller way, being connected with the scientific community, feel very strongly that evidence which is not published is evidence which is in a sense worthless. We are accustomed to evaluating scientific evidence, but we require to see the data in every case adequately summarised. We can criticise this draft Directive because it is deficient in this aspect. The technical data—the evidence on which the standards were based—are not provided. Without this, as I said a moment ago, our own national agencies, which are very well equipped with experts whose evidence was extremely important to the sub-committee, cannot assist us with their assessment of the merits of this Directive.

Members of your Lordships' sub-Committee were not informed of the full background to the preparation of this report. It may be a fact that the Commission lacks the extent of technical advisers and interpreters of scientific information that is necessary. A moment ago, the noble Lord, Lord Thomson, referred to the Commission as a small but devoted body. If we are to improve this small but devoted body, and provide it with the technical assistance that it needs, it will obviously cost money. But although it will cost money, I think that Her Majesty's Government may have to look to this aspect, because unless this deficiency is remedied future directives that we can expect in this series may not prove to be any more acceptable than that which is before us this evening.

5.13 p.m.


My Lords, despite the remarks of the noble Earl, that this is really too technical a subject for the bulk of us even to discuss, I hope that your Lordships will allow me to intervene, if only because it recalls some of the great debates that we had 15 or 20 years ago when so much of the avian life—and indeed foxes—was being destroyed by the use of mercury seed dressings and, in particular, chlorinated hydrocarbons. This is a subject with which your Lordships have been concerned over a number of years. After hearing the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, there is really nothing further to say on the merits of the argument. It was a most formidable and decisive speech and I would not attempt to adduce again the arguments that he put forward. I should, however, like to comment on some of the remarks of the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, because he directed his remarks to the system and to how we can improve, particularly in the European Community, the getting of sensible reports on matters of great technical importance.

First, I should like to say that we are very grateful not only here but throughout the country to the sub-committee, and, in particular, to the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, for the part he has played in trying to introduce sense into environmental questions as they are considered by the European Community. I am a little more hopeful about the future, because having recently looked through the list of European MPs on the Conservative side—I confess that I have not looked at the Labour list but there are not many of them, I regret to say—I have noticed that there are a number of Members of the European Parliament who are technically very well qualified, including one Conservative member who is, in fact, an environmental affairs adviser. He happens to be a personal friend of mine and used to work towards me. I hope that this is a matter which will be considered within the European Parliament. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Mowbray, will need no further persuasion on the merits of this question. But I must say that if the European Commission is to produce reports of this kind, it will do real damage to the cause of those who support sensible environmental measures.

The noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, is probably the greatest expert on mammals in South-East Asia, and he and I last met when we were discussing the conservation of forests. But I wonder whether it would be possible to arrange, either through the members of the sub-committee or perhaps through the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, that some representations are made direct to the Commission on the quality of the advice that they are receiving. I agree so strongly with the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, that it is intolerable that the evidence for the assertions and the conclusions of this report is not available. It is only through the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, that we know even that that advice does not necessarily coincide with the conclusions of the report.

Furthermore, I should have liked to ask the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook—and perhaps on another occasion I may do so—to explain the rather interesting philosophic concept that he put forward, that levels may be attainable but they are not necessarily ascertainable. This seems to me to be an interesting philosophic point, which it is perhaps beyond the range and capacity of scientists, as opposed to philosophers, to answer. I hope that I did not misinterpret him. I also hope that the Government will take a firm and constructive line, with a view to ensuring that better consideration is given to these problems in the future. Meanwhile, I strongly support everything that the two noble Lords have said.

5.17 p.m.


My Lords, I am delighted to have had the privilege of listening to both speeches. I stand up here in support of 3 million fishermen, who fish in Britain nearly every weekend. I should like to know, first, how much real consultation there was with the freshwater fishermen of this country; and, secondly, how we are to protect our environment if these insidious pieces of trespassing go on from time to time. Apparently, the philistines think that people are idealists if they want to protect our rivers, our mountains and our beautiful environment.

I want to give full marks to this noble House. It is only in a place such as this that, in this materialistic world, you can have a little debate such as this, which is very worthwhile. I hope that more attention will be drawn to these Directives, and I wish to congratulate the people who have taken the trouble to study this vital problem in depth—and I have read some of the material—and its effects upon our environment.

5.19 p.m.

Baroness WHITE

My Lords, perhaps I might be allowed to add, in reply to my noble friend Lord Shackleton, that arrangements have been made for a visit to Brussels in the first week of December by representatives of the sub-committee of the Select Committee. I trust that the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, and the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, will both be able to come, so that we can try to put to our friends in Brussels the very real difficulties which we find not through any antagonism whatsoever towards the objectives, which are common to both of us—over the scientific methods employed, and the lack of publication of scientific data on which we could reach considered judgments. This is a peculiarly difficult Directive. We hoped that we should not have to discuss these water Directives again. But we were entirely convinced, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, made all too clear, that what we were being asked to do was just practically unattainable or unascertainable. It was a nonsense. The degree of particularity we were required to observe was quite unnecessary and was just not practicable for anybody who had studied the matter with water from a river, not water in a laboratory.

5.20 p.m.


My Lords, perhaps I may make a very short interjection. I have constantly wanted to make the remarks I am going to make in relation to various measures proposed by the EEC. If one makes what I call blunderbuss legislation to apply to detailed matters in all member countries, one is bound to produce something which at times is unsuitably clumsy for the effect it is trying to produce. Here is an example.

It would be very difficult to produce one standard piece of legislation to look after pollution in every country without its appearing to be rather stupid. It has often occurred to me that some process should be available within the EEC Commission for legislating to the effect that each member country has the responsibility of checking its legislation and introducing new legislation where it thinks that it could be improved, subject to monitoring by the Commission and advice from the Commission if it does not come up to the standards which they think should be applied. In other words, we should have a situation in which the Commission can influence each country to produce legislation in its own Parliament that is suitable for its own conditions and make sure that it does so, instead of this blunderbuss attempt which goes on all the time and which at times produces the sort of result we are facing this afternoon and which at other times produces a very absurd situation.

5.22 p.m.


My Lords, it is my very pleasant duty to speak in this debate today on behalf of the Government. I say "pleasant" advisedly, because in our view the report of the Select Committee which leads us to this debate on the draft Directives is an excellent and very useful one. The Government welcome it. The work of the Select Committee in this field is now well known, and not only in the United Kingdom. I understand, for example, that the committee's reports are awaited and read with great interest in the EEC Commission. The authority and quality of the reports by this Select Committee are therefore well established. This latest one on the Drins Directives is no exception.

I should very much like to pay tribute to the quality of the debate. At one time I thought that just the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, and I were going to speak, but I have been much heartened by such learned eloquence from my noble friend Lord Cranbrook and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, followed by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, the noble Baroness, Lady White, who is such an expert on water matters, and the noble Lord, Lord Brown. All speakers have given the Government valuable points to bear in mind.

I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that it is a very technical subject. Indeed it is, and the noble Lord quite rightly paid tribute to the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, introduced the debate and put everything so eloquently and clearly. It is also a great pleasure to me to be able to say to the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, that the forthright views which he has expressed are very similar to those of the Government. We have been pressing—and will go on pressing—during the negotiations in Brussels for answers to some of the very pertinent questions which he has put. In my view, he has rightly identified two of the key issues for the Government in the negotiations on these proposals, and I can assure him that we have taken careful note of the points he has made.

Let me sketch in some of the background to these proposals from the Community. As the noble Lord has said, the important point about these draft Directives is that they are the first offspring of a major parent Directive in the environmental field. This is EEC Document 76/464, adopted by the Council on 4th May 1976, and dealing with "pollution caused by certain dangerous substances discharged into the aquatic environment of the Community". The Directive provides a framework for measures to control water pollution caused by the discharge of harmful substances. These are grouped into a black list and a grey list on the basis of their polluting effects. The main criteria used have been "toxicity, persistence and bio-accumulation".

The 1976 Directive does not in itself establish limits or standards for any of these dangerous substances. The idea always was that these should be laid down in subsequent Directives and it is the first of these which is before us now. The proposals themselves are not of major significance. The drins are, indeed, nasty substances which should be controlled, but they are not in wide use; in fact, as the noble Lord said, the proposed Directives will bear on only two Member States, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. But, as the first in a whole series of Directives, there are principles and precedents at stake here which make our debate today wholly appropriate and justifiable.

One important principle which I must mention has already been referred to. This is the so-called "parallel approach". The vital compromise reached in 1976 and enshrined in the parent Directive is that Member States could operate by either Environmental Quality Objectives, which we call EQOs, or Uniform Emission Standards, which we call UESs. This remains vital to United Kingdom interests. Industry in general, and the water industry in particular, support the Government's preference for EQOs as an effective policy for controlling water pollution, a policy which is soundly based in both scientific and economic terms. I very much welcome the support for this approach in the Select Committee's Report. But, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, has already said, we must ensure that the parallel approach in EEC law is a genuine one. There is cause for a good deal of concern about this in the current proposals. I can assure the House that we will continue to pursue this point in Brussels. This issue goes well beyond the subject matter of these texts, and we must get it right.

I should like to add here that there is no question about the United Kingdom's commitment to controlling black list substances in the environment. Indeed, we consider that our record here is already a very good one. It is simply a matter of making sure that there is parity between these two different—in their environmental effect—approaches in EEC Directives.

I have already referred to the narrowness of these proposals from the EEC. As I have said, they affect only two Member States. So far as the United Kingdom is concerned, the EEC proposals deal only with discharges of dieldrin by our mothproofing industry, which is largely based in Yorkshire. Traces of drins can be found elsewhere in the United Kingdom, but these would not be covered by the present texts. The agricultural use of these pesticides is dealt with in another Directive, on plant protection products. There is some room for doubt as to whether something of such limited application justifies a Community Directive. In the early discussions in Brussels, we have already raised this question. But the Commission has been under pressure from a number of countries to make progress with proposals under the parent Directive, and the drins presumably seemed a simple place to start.

The narrow impact of the proposals obviously means that during the negotiations most Member States are concerned only with issues of precedent. As I have said, we are very interested in these issues, too. We are already in consultation with all those organisations and industries interested in the draft Directives and, with the help of the Select Committee's Report and the speech made by noble Lords today, the United Kingdom will play its part in making sure that all these issues are very thoroughly examined and discussed.

There is one other particular issue I should like to mention before I conclude my remarks. This concerns the scientific basis of the Commission's proposals. I understand the various comments about this made by the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, and indeed those highlighted in the committee's very able report. It is a very clear objective of this Government to ensure, so far as they can, the respectability of EEC legislation, in both scientific and economic terms. My colleague, the Under-Secretary of State for the Environment, explained the Government's commitment to this in a debate in another place during the summer on the Directive on Sampling and Analysis. From this point of view, we cannot regard these drins proposals as an auspicious first step down the road of the new Environmental 131 Directives. They relate only to the discharge of drins by two particular industrial sectors; so any other drins in Community waters can, presumably, be left undisturbed.

The particular quality standard proposed has been very effectively criticised by the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, and by other noble Lords in this debate today. The Government share the doubts which have been expressed about the derivation of this figure, its justification and its implementation. So we do not think these are very good proposals for controlling pollution by the drins in Community waters; nor do they commend themselves, in their present form, in terms of the precedents set for what should be an important series of environmental Directives. The noble Lord, Lord Ashby, expressed the hope that we would adopt the two principles which he enunciated in connection with these drins: the proper protection of the environment at the proper lowest possible cost and also that in connection with evidence on which directives were taken, as my noble friend Lord Cranbrook said, data must be made available for their evaluation. I wish to assure him that we thoroughly support the two principles for which he has asked and we will fight hard for them.

The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, said that the speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Ashby, was formidable and decisive. How right he was. The noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, is himself such an expert on these matters that I feel extremely humble when speaking in reply for the Government in front of so many experts on these complicated chemical matters.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, asked about fishermen. The answer is that the Commission did not consult with fishermen, but this Government have their interest very much in mind and are well aware of the need for present protection of fisheries. The noble Lord, Lord Brown, referred to "blunderbuss legislation". I have already explained that, as the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and others have said, we do not like legislation on which data are not available and therefore we do not know on what grounds it is founded. The noble Baroness, Lady White, will be pleased to know that in connection with the arrangements for further meetings in Brussels the Government are pursuing matters on a parallel course and I was glad to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, was impressed by the quality of some of our Euro M.P.s who will be taking up this matter.

The Government agree with the rest of our partners in Europe that pollution by black list substances into the aquatic environment should be controlled, as I have said. So we welcome the appearance of these first proposals which we have been debating today under the parent Dangerous Substances Directive, Environment 131. But as these drins proposals are the first of their kind, like other Member States we shall be concerned as much with the principles and precedents involved as with the particular details concerning the drins themselves. There are undoubtedly problems in these texts, both general and specific. The Government's approach will be the same as with any proposals within the Community: we shall seek to co-operate with our fellow Member States in order to consider and develop the best solution.

The Government are grateful for the very detailed consideration of these draft Directives on the drins by the Select Committee. Its report, as I have said, is excellent—an important contribution to the consideration of these proposals within the United Kingdom. We are also grateful to the House for arranging this very worthwhile debate today. I can summarise my own remarks in concluding the debate as follows: we agree that in this present form there are many problems with these draft Directives—and some of these problems are important ones; we shall be seeking changes in the texts during the negotiations; to this end we are very greatful for and, I repeat, have taken careful note of, the points made in this report and in the debate today.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, it remains for me to thank those noble Lords who have turned what I feared was to be a duet into a debate, and a very profitable one. I particularly thank the noble Earl, Lord Cranbrook, and the noble Lord, Lord Shackleton, for guiding the discussion into constructive channels be- cause I felt that what I had to say to the House was rather destructive. But the embarrassment which your sub-committee finds all the time is that it has exactly the same aims as that part of the Commission which is responsible for creating an environmental policy, and our difference is only on means. It is to overcome this clash of beliefs in means that a debate such as this may be very healthy and helpful to the Commission.

I was also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Leek, for speaking on behalf of fishermen. My own experience when I was chairman of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution was that very great care was being taken by what are now the regional water authorities to look after the interests of the fish. I think it comes back again to the principle which I was trying to enunciate: the best way to safeguard the welfare of the fish is similar to the best way to safeguard the welfare of people; namely, to deploy limited resources in the places where they are most needed. That is what we have been pleading with the Commission to do, informally and through reports of the Select Committee.

Finally, it is with very great pleasure and satisfaction that we note that Her Majesty's Government find themselves in harmony with the views of the Select Committee on this and I am sure the Select Committee will be grateful if it has made some small contribution to the advocacy of the Government in connection with this case in Brussels.

On Question, Motion agreed to.