HL Deb 20 June 1988 vol 498 cc588-9WA
Lord Marshall of Leeds

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they will make a Statement of the ourcome of the Environment Council held on 16th June.

The Minister of State, Department of the Environment (The Earl of Caithness)

I represented the United Kingdom at this meeting, which was adjourned at 4 a.m. on 17th June and will resume on 28th June.

The council adopted the directive limiting diesel car particulate emissions, on which council had previously adopted a common position.

I am pleased to say that the council reached a common position on the Commission's proposals to ratify and implement the Montreal Protocol on substances that deplete the ozone layer, subject to parliamentary reserves on behalf of the UK and several other member states. The council also agreed a political resolution which emphasises the importance of voluntary action to reduce further the use of CFCs and halons and specifies that such reductions should not be offset by increases in other uses or in other parts of the Community. The Commission was invited to seek voluntary agreement with industry on a Community label for CFC-free products.

I am especially pleased to report that after four and a half years' of negotiation the council was able to reach agreement on the large combustion plants directive, subject to scrutiny reserves by France, Italy and Portugal and parliamentary reserves on behalf of Denmark and the UK. Under the agreement, the UK accepts a phased programme of reductions in sulphur dioxide emissions from existing large combustion plants, from 1980 levels, of 20 per cent. by 1993, 40 per cent. by 1988 and 60 per cent. by 2003; and in nitrogen oxide emissions of 15 per cent. by 1993 and 30 per cent. by 1998. These ambitious new targets will require a very substantial additional effort over and above our existing programme of retrofitting 6,000 megawatts of coal-fired generating plant with flue gas desulphurisation equipment. The agreement represents a firm and positive commitment on the part of the UK which will result in substantial benefits for the environment, and will also give the industries concerned firm targets for their future planning.

There was further discussion of the second stage of exhaust emission standards for small cars (the Luxembourg package). I indicated that the UK was willing to agree to the Commission proposal, subject to parliamentary reserve, and several other member states followed me in doing so. However, I am sorry to say that there remained a blocking minority which prevented progress. The dossier was referred for further discussion on 28th June.

I am pleased to report that the council reached agreement in principle, subject to a UK parliamentary reserve, on a second amendment to Directive 82/501/EEC on the major accident hazards of certain industrial activities (the Seveso Directive). This amendment will strengthen the parent directive's provisions on informing the public and will extend the scope of the directive to cover more premises storing dangerous substances—both isolated warehouses and process-associated storage. In the light of this extension, the Commission undertook to review urgently the list of substances and thresholds in Annex III of the parent directive.

The council had a preliminary exchange of views on a Commission report on the environmental consequences of the changing nature of agriculture and also discussed the export of hazardous wastes to third world countries and current pollution and algae problems in the North Sea.

On 28th June the council will resume consideration of emissions from small cars and will also discuss wastes from the titanium dioxide industry and a proposed pilot scheme concerning environment and employment.