HC Deb 15 January 1991 vol 183 cc453-4W
Mr. John Marshall

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment if he will make a statement on the outcome of the Environment Council on 20 and 21 December 1990.

Mr. Trippier

I represented the United Kingdom at this meeting.

The Council agreed a new regulation for the control of substances that deplete the ozone layer. This is necessary to implement within the Community the revision of the Montreal protocol which was agreed in London last June, but it also demonstrates our commitment to the protection of the ozone layer by requiring a faster phase-out within the Community. Under the regulation, chlorofluorocarbons will be cut by 85 per cent. by the middle of 1995 and phased out by the middle of 1997—two and a half years in advance of the Montreal protocol requirements. Halons are to be cut by 50 per cent. by the start of 1995, and phased out by the end of the century. Carbon tetrachloride will be phased out by 1998, and 1,1,1-trichloroethane by 2005. In certain cases exemptions for essential uses, such as medical aerosols and some fire-fighting applications, may be permitted, should those prove necessary. I pressed at the Council for an even quicker phase-out of CFCs and halons. Nonetheless, the agreement reached is a major step forward in protecting the ozone layer, and sends a strong signal to the rest of the world that still faster cuts than those agreed in London can be achieved.

The United Kingdom worked actively to secure agreement in the Council of a common position on the proposal for a consolidated directive on car emissions. The strict new standards it contains would come into effect from the end of 1992. They would require the fitting of three-way catalysts to all new cars, and would reduce pollution from each car to about a quarter of present levels. The Council also agreed to invite the European Commission to produce a proposal for a further round of yet stricter standards which could come into effect from 1996. This is excellent news for Europe's environment and confirms the Community's determination to come to grips with pollution from transport. It is also good news for the motor industry, which will now have a much clearer idea of the standards towards which it should engineer.

The Council agreed a directive on hazardous waste to replace the existing directive on toxic and dangerous waste which dates from 1978. The new directive's most important feature is a provision for defining hazardous waste in a clear, practical way. Before the directive comes into force a list of hazardous wastes will be drawn up. Other features of the new directive are controls on the mixing and movement of hazardous waste. The new directive will be implemented by means of the proposed revision of the Control of Pollution (Special Waste) Regulations 1980.

A regulation establishing a programme of action for the protection of the Mediterranean sea was agreed. The programme, known as MEDSPA, will provide pump-priming funds for a range of actions to help deal with the serious environmental problems affecting the Mediterranean.

The Council also agreed a resolution welcoming the European Commission's recent green paper on the urban environment. The resolution notes that, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, the primary responsibility for protecting the urban environment lies with local, regional and national authorities, but recognises that in certain areas there may be a role for the Community to play. The Council has invited the Commission to establish a group of experts to advise on possible further action.

Proposed directives on sewage treatment and on the classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous substances were both discussed in detail. Very good progress was made in each case on resolving a number of outstanding issues, and Ministers expressed the hope that agreement could be reached on both directives at the next Council meeting.

With support from a number of member states, I was able to secure from the European Commission a commitment to review the operation of certain aspects of the existing directive on the protection of wild birds. In particular, the Commission agreed to look at those provisions in the directive that impede action against certain pest species for which control measures are necessary, and where this would not endanger the conservation of the species. This is a welcome recognition on the Commission's part of the need to address an anomaly which has caused some concern here.

The Council also held brief discussions on climate change, on the use of economic instruments to achieve environmental objectives, and on the site of the European Environment Agency.