HC Deb 04 December 1981 vol 14 cc247-50W
Mr. McCrindle

asked the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will make a statement about the outcome of the Council of Environment Ministers' meeting on 3 December.

Mr. King

I chaired the Council of Environment Ministers which took place in Brussels on 3 December. My hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State led the United Kingdom delegation. This was a successful meeting at which agreement was reached on a number of proposals including two important issues which have been before the Council for a considerable period but which it has not previously been possible to agree.

The first of these was the directive on major industrial hazards—the so-called Seveso directive. This had been held up previously by a failure to agree on the question of consultation in cases with transfrontier implications. A solution was reached which recognises the obligation to consult other interested States within the framework of bilateral relations. This agreement will enable the Health and Safety Executive to make progress with its proposed regulations on this subject.

The second was the directive on mercury discharges from the chloralkali electrolysis industry—the first directive implementing the provisions of the framework directive (76/464/EEC) on pollution caused by certain dangerous substances discharged into the aquatic environment. This proposal was settled as a result of our agreement, in accordance with the principles of the framework directive, on the controls to be applied to discharges from new plant.

Agreement in principle was also reached on a decision establishing an exchange of information on air pollution. This agreement is subject to any views to be received from the European Parliament and the Economic and Social Committee, which have not yet reported on the proposal.

A decision concerning Community accession to the Berne convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats was also adopted.

Good progress was made on clearing outstanding points on a draft resolution concerning Community implementation of the Washington convention on international trade in endangered species including a provision concerning the right of member States to take stricter national measures in certain circumstances. Final agreement was prevented by a lack of unanimity on the legal form and basis to be adopted, but hopes are expressed that it would be possible to resolve all outstanding difficulties during the next Presidency.

The Council took note of the discussions that had taken place on the draft directive on an air quality standard for lead, and important reservations were removed. The Council emphasised the desirability of moving quickly to adoption of the measure when necessary technical investigation of measurement methods has been completed early next year.

There was a useful further exchange of views on the future direction of Community environmnet policy, in which there was a considerable measure of agreement on the general principles to be incorporated in the programme for the years 1982 to 1986. It is hoped that future work can be done at official level during the remaining weeks of our Presidency, and that the new programme can be agreed under the Belgian Presidency.

Other matters discussed were Community policy on the production and use of chlorofluorocarbons and vehicle emissions.

There was general agreement among the members of the Council that this meeting represented an important step forward in the development of the Community's environment policy both in the decisions taken on specific measures and in laying the foundations for action in the next five years.