HL Deb 21 March 1991 vol 527 cc43-5WA
Lord Norries

asked Hers Majesty's Government

What was the outcome of the Environment council on 18th Match

Baroness Blatch:

The Secretary of State for the Environment and the Minister for Environment and Countryside represented the United Kingdom at this meeting.

The council agreed a common position on a directive to tighten up controls on emissions from lorries and buses. The United Kingdom took a lead in pressing for this measure, which will introduce strict new pollution standards for large diesel engined vehicles to match those set last year for cars. The controls, which will come into effect in 1995 and 1996, represent the toughest achievable standards. The motor industry will have a clear target and a manageable timetable for the substantial work which now needs to be done.

Agreement was reached on a directive setting minimum standards for the collection and treatment of sewage. The so-called Municipal Waste Water Directive requires that all communities above a certain size should be provided with sewerage systems, and that sewage should in general receive full secondary treatment before it can be discharged. Additional treatment to remove nutrient substances is required where this is necessary to protect the water environment. The Directive also allows for primary treatment only for certain coastal discharges where this can he demonstrated to be sufficient to protect the environment. Other provisions require treatment of analagous industrial discharges, and an end to the disposal of sewage sludge at sea. This measure represents a major step forward in the protection of the water environment throughout the Community. The Government's decision last year to introduce treatment for all remaining major coastal discharges, and the huge investment programme put in place at the time of water privatisation, means that the United Kingdom is well placed to comply with the Directive.

The council agreed a common position on a Directive amending for the seventh time Directive 67/748/EEC on the classification, packaging and labelling of dangerous substances. The amending directive up-dates requirements for manufacturers or importers of a new chemical substance to provide data on its hazardous properties. It introduces harmonised notification requirements for substances produced in small quantities, with exceptions in certain circumstances to encourage research and development.

A Directive on the content and disposal of batteries and a new framework Directive on waste management, the substance of which had been agreed at a previous meeting, were formally adopted by the council.

The council had a useful discussion on aspects of a proposed regulation controlling the movement of waste within, into and out of the European Community. The United Kingdom, supported by other member states, stressed the importance of incorporating the principle of self-sufficiency in waste disposal, both within countries and for the Community as a whole.

Proposals for a Directive to protect fauna, flora and habitats, and for a Community ecological labelling scheme were briefly discussed. In both cases the United Kingdom called for the measures to be agreed as soon as possible, and the presidency said it would seek agreement at the next Environment Council.

The council had preliminary discussions on two new proposals on the evaluation and control of environmental risks from existing chemicals, and on a Community environment fund—LIFE.

The council also discussed action taken by member states and the Commission in response to environmental problems in the Gulf. Ministers were briefed by Mr. Al Arrayed, health minister of Bahrain, on the environmental situation in the Gulf states. Member states welcomed the efforts co-ordinated by the European Commission to complement initiatives by the International Maritime Organisation and the United Nations Environment Programme. The council agreed on the need to provide further assistance to the Gulf clean-up operations. and to develop proposals for responding to similar disasters in the future in collaboration with member states and other international organisations.