HL Deb 18 June 1991 vol 530 cc7-9WA
Lord Gainford

asked Her Majesty's Government:

What was the outcome of the Environment Council on 13th and 14th June.

Baroness Blatch

My honourable friend the Minister for the Environment and Countryside represented the United Kingdom at this meeting.

The Council agreed a directive to protect water from nitrate pollution from agricultural sources. This important new measure should help to secure improvements in water quality throughout the Community. It strikes a fair balance between protecting the environment and maintaining an efficient agriculture. Up to 2 million hectares of the UK may be designated as nitrate vulnerable zones under this directive, although we will only know the precise areas once the National Rivers Authority and the Government have completed the necessary monitoring and other studies. Within these zones farms will be required to comply with good agricultural practice, for example through controls on the timing and quantity of fertiliser and manure application. Member states will take additional measures where necessary to achieve the directive's objectives, taking account of their cost and effectiveness.

The Council finalised agreement of a directive setting tougher limits for car emissions following receipt of the European Parliament's views. The Council reaffirmed new standards, agreed in principle last year, which will mean that three-way catalysts must be fitted to all new petrol-engined cars from the end of 1992. The directive also sets tight limits on particulate emissions from diesel-engined cars. It was agreed that the standards will be reviewed in 1993 with a view to still tighter limits being introduced in 1996. The Commission indicated that it would also consider proposing a third stage of standards for introduction at the end of the decade.

Agreement was reached, subject only to a reservation from France, on a regulation on the importation of certain furs and the use of leghold traps. The use of all such traps will be banned throughout the Community by January 1995 at the latest. There will be a ban from January 1995 on the importation into the Community of furs of certain animals from countries which have not prohibited the use of the trap or which do not use traps that meet internationally agreed standards. There is provision for the import ban to be suspended for one year if progress is seen to be made in these countries towards applying internationally agreed standards.

The Council welcomed the progress achieved to date in discussions on the development of a European scheme for labelling environmentally less harmful products. Whilst some further work was still required, notably on the role of interest groups and simplification of the procedures for ensuring consistency in the award of labels at national level, it was anticipated that agreement should be reached at the next meeting of the Council.

Broad agreement was reached, subject to receipt of the European Parliament's opinion, on a regulation establishing a fund (NORSPA) for the protection of the Community's northern coastal waters. This will largely parallel a similar instrument established last year for the protection of the Mediterranean and, when finally agreed, will provide financial assistance for certain types of measures aimed at reducing marine pollution.

Substantial progress was made in resolving many outstanding issues on a proposed directive to protect the habitats of wild flora and fauna. In the absence of final agreement on this directive, the Council agreed a restricted version of a proposed regulation for a new Community fund on Action by the Community relating to Nature Conservation (ACNAT). For the present funding will be limited to projects related to the objectives of the existing Wild Birds Directive and to the conservation of habitats and species in danger of extinction.

The Council also briefly discussed a proposal for a new all-embracing Community financial instrument for the environment (LIFE) and the draft environmental protocol to the antarctic treaty currently under discussion in Madrid.